I started off in Ecuador back in September 2003. Ecuadorian Spanish is beautiful and a great place to start as the accent is extremely clear and there's not too much local slang. After 3 months there, i arrived in Buenos Aires. One of the first things i was asked was "De donde sos?". "Sos"? What the hell was that? This was going to be a challenge...
Actually, after a week or so, i got used to the Argentine accent, intonation and use of "vos" instead of "tu". After 3 weeks in Argentina, i was in Chile. Problem. Chilean Spanish is a whole other language. Comparing Chilean to any other form of Spanish is like comparing Geordie (way-ay) English to the Queen's English. Incomprehensible.
Whereas Argentine Spanish is melodious and sing-song, Chilean Spanish sounds like a machine gun. Actually, i think it sounds exactly like the Martians in the film "Mars Attacks". Ack, ack, ack, ack, ack, cachai? Ack, ack. When i first arrived in Chile, it was just noise pollution.
I moved back to Argentina in early 2004 for a few months, then back to Chile for 3 months and then back to Argentina for another 2 and a half years.
This created a number of problems-problems that i'm very grateful to have had. When i went to Chile, i was laughed at for speaking Argentine Spanish (especially with my English accent). When i was in Argentina, i was laughed at for speaking Chilean Spanish (especially with my English accent). So i learned to speak both forms. Now and again, this would cause problems as i'd mix up local terms and get looked at like i was a weirdo. But overall, it was quite a successful way of doing things.
But after 7 months in Chile, i think my accent is now well and truly Chileanised. To be honest, although i much prefer the Argentine accent, the Chilean accent is far easier to imitate. It just trips off the tongue more easily. But it's a hard dialect to crack at the start. It was almost 2 years before i was able to sit around a table with a group of people and understand just what was being spat across at each other. It was like an epiphany. Suddenly, it just all made sense.
So why is Chilean Spanish so difficult? Here's a run down.
-Firstly, Chileans really hate the letter "S". Many Chileans believe the "S" is actually the devil in disguise*. They just refuse to say it. Gracia, tu quiere, pe'cado etc. Any "S" that's not the first letter of a word just disappears. This causes problems when, for example, someone asks you what you were doing: "Que hacia?" is what is actually said and unless the context is very clear this could actually be a question addressed to oneself, another person directly, another person directly and formally or a third party not present. Confusing and annoying.
-Chileans also have a dislike of saying -ado. So the word pescado sounds like pescao (actually it really sounds like pecao as the "S" in the middle is dropped). Supermercado-Supermercao and so on.
-Chileans invented their own form of the second person singular tu. For -ar ending verbs, the tu form ends in -ai instead of -as. A donde vai?, Como estai etc Verbs ending in -er or -ir have -i as the 2nd person singular ending. Que queri? Volvi? and so on.
-Chilean slang is infinite. I'm not even going to start to try to make a list, but here are some of the most common words you'll hear.
Al tiro-Straight away,
Huevon-Idiot, Hueviar-Annoy/Piss off,
Harto-A lot (used like Mucho),
Ya-Yes, ok, good,
Cacho-Tricky situation, a catch,
There are 1000s more terms-a quick google search will turn up dozens of pages of them...
You should watch local telenovelas to keep on with the slang. Then you'll understand it when someone talks about, pelolais, flaite and pokemonas. Cachai, huevon?
Here's another little post about a quirk I forgot to mention in this article.
*I made that part up completely