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:
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).
cuático — cwat ee koh — cool
quico — kwee koh — rich or snobby person
guagua — wa wa — baby
huevón or weón — way own — dude
carrete — car reh tay — party
caña — kahn ya — hangover
pololo/polola — poh loh loh/lah — boyfriend/girlfriend