How to speak Chilean

Upon arriving in Chile one of the first lessons that I learned was that the Chilean Spanish the customs official in the airport was  using was definitely not the equivalent of my stateside Spanish vocabulary. After years of formal classroom study of “standard” Spanish , I suddenly felt completely incapable of communication. Not only did Chileans speak faster than my ears were trained to listen, but they also used a host of words I had never even heard of.

To say that the Chilean/Spanish language differences are akin to the US/British English language differences is to neglect to acknowledge the richness and depth of Chileno.  A product of the nation’s unique cultural environment, chileno blends native Mapuche tongue, German cooking terminology, and US pop-culture slang.  [See the following links for further information on the Mapuche and German on the modern Chilean society].

A few Fridays ago, at one of our famous Ruka Pucon Hostal Asados, we invited our guests (all Chileans at the time) to help us create a list of Chilean slang. While we cannot guarantee that memorizing this will turn you into an expert, hopefully it will ease your travels from point A to B (not to mention, it’s always fun to surprise the locals when you pull out the slang). So here we go…

1. To start, Chileans conjugate verbs differently. The typical conjugation of the verb estar in Spanish is:

yo estoy

tú estás

él/ella/usted está

nosotros estamos

vosotros estáis 

ellos/ellas/ustedes están

Chileans have morphed the “tú” version with the “vosotros” version to create a whole new verb ending. Instead of saying “¿cómo estás?”, they say “¿cómo estái?”, pronouncing it eh-st-eye.  Now apply this rule to other verbs:

Ir (to go) — ¿Adónde vai? — Where are you going — pronounced “v-eye“, like the beginning of the word virul

Tener (to have) — Tenei que hacerlo — You have to do it — pronounced “ten-ee

2.  Chileans tend to drop hard consonant sounds.  For example, “muchas gracias” in Chile is pronounced without the “s” sounds, thus “mucha gracia”. The word “todo”, meaning all or everything/one, is pronounced “to-o” (or try saying: tow-oh).

 3.  There are quite a few words rumored to have Mapuche (native) linkage:
bacánbah kahn — cool
(used primarily as an exclamatory remark: “¡Que bacán!” for how cool! or “¡Que hombre bacán!” for what a cool guy! , also can be used to describe a situation or place)

cwat ee koh — cool
(used in ways similar to bacán)

kwee koh — rich or snobby person
(typically used to describe people living in the Las Condes/Vitacura area OR light-skinned people OR well dressed people)

wa wa — baby
(aside from being used to describe children under the age of 5 – and those who act like children – it is also used in a few phrases like “mano de guagua” [a frugal person] and “me duele la guagua” [my stomach hurts])
4.  There are some words that you’ll here all the time…think the California version of “like”:
cachaikah ch-eye (the ending is like chai tea!)– get it?
(used at the end of sentences in a rhetorical manner)
popoh — well, like, etc
(used as a filler type of word, sometimes added to other words like “no po” or “sipo”, which simply mean no and yes with a bit more emphasis)
filo — fee low — whatever
(used in phrase like “ya filo” meaning sure whatever or okay)
ya — yah or jah — (nothing in particular actually)
(used before, after, and in the middle of phrases…could be due to German influence)
5.  And then there’s just a whole bunch of other words that you might find useful:
arto — arh tow — a lot
(used in phrases like “habia arto…” to mean there were soooo many…)
fliate — fly tay — Chilean gangster or wannabe gangster
(used to describe people in Bellavista bars, sketchy neighborhoods, or unliked soccer fans)

 or weón — way own — dude
(used in the same way west coast US teens use “dude”…everywhere and all the time)

carrete —
car reh tay — party
(used in place of “fiesta”, can also be turned into the verb “carretear”)

caña —
 kahn ya — hangover
(used typically with a sense of pride with the phrase “estoy con la caña hoy weón!” to mean dude, I’m totally hungover today)

pololo/polola — 
poh loh loh/lah — boyfriend/girlfriend
(used when two people are dating while the terms “novio” and “novia” are saved for people who are engaged)
Well, that should be sufficient enough for now. Best of luck with your travels…and if you get the chance, pick up a Chilean phrase book!
Your Resident Internationals
Max and Natalie

One comment on “How to speak Chilean

  1. Pingback: an introduction. « geoshanti

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