Corrugated City

Thursday, 12 July 2007

How to Speak Chilean Spanish

There are many variations of Spanish in Latin America. I've been fortunate to have learnt 3 of the most extreme examples. I can now understand pretty much anyone from anywhere, with the exception of real Spanish people-they just sound ridiculous and all i hear is 'th-th-th-th-th' and the occasional "Ostia!".

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.

Fome-Boring,
Cachai?-Get it?,
Al tiro-Straight away,
Huevon-Idiot, Hueviar-Annoy/Piss off,
Pega-Work,
Harto-A lot (used like Mucho),
Bacan-Brilliant/Great,
Ya-Yes, ok, good,
Cacho-Tricky situation, a catch,
Caña-Hangover,
Guata-Belly,
Gua-Gua-Baby,
Paco-Cop/The Fuzz


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

57 comments:

Lena said...

Great blog- I stumbled across it on the expat webpage.

Great photos, too.

Matt said...

hi lena,

thanks for stopping by. happy to hear you like the blog.

matt

toid said...

Guagua is not slang. It is the Quechua word for a bay. It is also commonly used in Bolivia and Peru. Now in the Caribbean it is slang for a bus (micro).

Matt said...

cool, didn't know that it was a real word-i just thought it was another made up chilean word.... i had heard about the cuban use of the word (the 'bus' meaning) but didn't know it was a caribbean-wide usage. thanks for stopping by.

Brendan said...

A great book for the Chilean slang is "How To Survive in the Chilean Jungle". My wife is Chilean and we keep a copy with us, definitely helps out.

Matt said...

hi brendan, thanks for visiting. i've heard of that book but haven't read it. it'd certainly be interesting...and a good way to work out what the hell people are saying to you when you first arrive in Chile. Although i can't say i understand all chilean slang, i've got used to thinking about the context in which things are said, so even if i don't understand the actual phrase itself i can understand what it's trying to say. Most of the time, anyway. Sometimes i'm just completely flummoxed...the good thing about chilean spanish is that you can just make words up. as it's friday night, i'm off to drinkear...

Santiago FLORES said...

Hi Matt:
A bit of history: by the time smelly europeans arrived in the Américas, Castile has just conquered the south, which was full of muslim Moors and no one could stop her. So Castilian Kings, descendant from the Visigoths, sent their best men to form regiments in Andalucia (the South) and get those Moors to some use. And off they went to the Indies, Visigoths comanding Moors to defeat the "Indians" and grab as much land as they could. And they settled in América and they reach the southern cone. With them, they brought their Andalucian slang, of course calling the language as their masters, Castilian (Castellano), but speaking it differently. So, for instance, TENEIS (thou hast) was divided by the Andes, sending the "e" to the East, where it became "Tenés" and the "i" to the West, where it became "Tenís". And the Andalucians, that never liked the "s" in the first place, tought that to the children they had with their "Indian" women.

Matt said...

Thanks for the explanation...i've never heard that one before so i'm just going to have to take your word for it...!

chris fitzsimons said...

They say guagua for bus in the spanish canary islands as well(fuerteventura, tenerife, gran canaria etc). Nice site :)

Matt said...

Thanks Chris!

Anonymous said...

Hola Matt, me llamo Jimena y soy de Santiago, Chile. Me resultó gracioso leer tus comentarios acerca de cómo hablamos, y tienes toda la razón! Me gustó la traducción de algunas palabras tales como huevón=idiota. Muy buena. Greating to you. Bye.

Special Brew Man said...

Matt you may be interested in this article:

http://inciclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Flaite

As I see it the way the Flaite speaks is the most 'Chilean' way of speaking.

Matt said...

SBM-jeje, that's a funny link...flaite talk is becoming more and more a part of normal teenage talk (especially amongst the pokemones, who are, of course, by definition pretty flaite) but fortunately, most Chileans grow out of this by the time they have to find a job.

Jimena-Gracias por tu comentario!

MeMa said...

I love everything you wrote ...es la verdad weon...lol so funny to hear how somebody from a different country see us and is exactly how we are and I love it ....so unique... I’m in Florida USA for 5 years now and I really missed talking Chilean ....all the friend I have are from tropical countries like Venezuela, Costa Rica, etc...So they have no idea when I say cachay??? ...anyways your blog was great...You definitely put a big smile on my face.....

Thanks!!!

Manuela (& yeah I know what my name means in Chilean )

LOL

=0P

Matt said...

Hey, I appear to out of the loop here...just what does Manuela mean in Chilean Spanish???

Rod said...

Manuela means masturbation. When people masturbates they use their hand (Mano). So when you're about to masturbate, you are going to date Manuela. Cachai? Mano -> Manuela.

Matt said...

ahhhhh...nice.

Sole said...

Hi!
This is a great post. Sorry for my bad english, I read better than write... así que mejor escribo en español (o chileno). Había leído antes artículos sobre la jerga chilena, pero jamás una opinión de alguien extranjero en el país y su propia experiencia. Es excelente... ahora sé que no debo comerme las letras cuando hable con alguien de otro país :D

Matt said...

Sole, thanks for stopping by and commenting...don't worry about your English-from the little you wrote it seems pretty decent...

Anonymous said...

hallo, ich habe gerade dein Blog gelesen.. ich habe das sehr schön gefunden und auch deine erklrärung über die Chilenisch war ganz toll...

jetzt kann ich eigentlich verstehen, was "cachai" heisst.
danke huevón!

ps: I cannot write englisch good... sorry..

Naturali said...

Whoa!
It's quite hard to notice all those...mmm how can I say...tricks? bad language habits? Even if I'm chilean, I almost can notice it's different, but...Oh my, NOT SO DIFFERENT?

:D hee I enjoyed your blog! In fact, I'm thinking about following it!

See ya!

Matt said...

Thanks naturali...

You know, I wouldn't call the way Chileans speak 'bad language habits'...because all Chileans speak the same way (with obvious variations depending on class and location, like any language anywhere). This means that in Chile it's normal to speak like this and therefore perfectly acceptable. It's not 'bad', it's just different, like Argentine Spanish is really different, Spanish Spanish is really different. It's variety and I, for one, enjoy the differences between the the different countries.

Of course, Chilean Spanish is kind of extreme and if you speak it, as a foreigner, in other Spanish speaking countries, it might seem like you've picked up bad habits...but you haven't-you've just picked up a form of Spanish that's different from the rest. Different is good :)

Matt said...

I've just google translated the German...thanks!!

Anonymous said...

I'm Spanish; from Madrid.
A friend from Chile showed me your blog. It's very interesting.
I understand that not everyone must love the sound of our language, but I have to avoid that your considering it "ridiculous" hurted me.
I can't imagine how we sound because it's impossible to me, due that Spanish from Spain is my mother language. But...Do we really sound so ridiculous?
As a little revenge, I'll confess you that for a lot of spanish people, you, americans sound like english people speaking with a sock or a potato inside your mouth. When listening to someone from Texas, for instance, we use to think: "quítate la patata/el calcetín de la boca"...XDDD
It's a joke.
Saludos. ^_^

Anonymous said...

I'm Spanish; from Madrid.
A friend from Chile showed me your blog. It's very interesting.
I understand that not everyone must love the sound of our language, but I have to confess that your considering it "ridiculous" hurted me a little.
I can't imagine how we sound to others because it's impossible to me, due that Spanish from Spain is my mother language. But...Do we really sound so ridiculous?
As a little revenge, I'll confess you that for a lot of spanish people, you, americans sound like english people speaking with a sock or a potato inside your mouth. When listening to someone from Texas, for instance, we use to think: "quítate la patata/el calcetín de la boca"...XDDD
It's a joke.
Saludos. ^_^

Matt said...

Jeje, it's the 'zeta' part of Spanish Spanish I think sounds a bit silly, mainly because I can't understand anything else that is said. Don't take it personally...there are many English accents I also think sound ridiculous but it doesn't make them 'bad'!

I'm English, by the way, not American...and England has a lot of accents that sound weird and, put simply, stupid... Just have a look at this other post from my blog :)

As I've said before, I like the fact that there are differences between regions etc but I don't always like the actual differences!!

Xhell said...

wena loko, me gustó caleta tu blog, ya ..cachaste k soy chileno! :P

es verdad k hablamos como el ajo :) pero así es simpático comunicarse

me gustó la sencillez y la simpatía de tu descripción, en pocas líneas le diste al clavo seco :P

bueno, nus vemos luego xd



now in english (if i can :P)

man, i really enjoyed your blog, u already catched i'm chilean??

it's true we speak as weird as to be understanded just for us, but xd we love to talk in nice and funny ways

it's like to be happier speaking this way, we can say exactly what we want with just a touch of frienship, happinest and mischief

thanks man for your post, it was really clear and funny, as i would say "you hit the iron" xd

byes friend

Matt said...

xhell...thanks for your comment...it's funny, i used to not like how chileans speak. now i've got used to it and understand most of what's being said i really like it. i can't not like it anymore anyway-on my last trip to argentina, my argentine friends laughed at me and told me i'd turned chilean... :)

chileantwats said...

ARGENTINA > shitle

monos feos de mierda!

felipe said...

How can you explain to person who is learning spanish that when a chilean says "soy terrible de malo" it means "you are a very bad person"?

Marissa said...

Good Lord. I'm moving to Santiago next week to take intensive Spanish courses (right now I know none). Looks like I'll have an even harder time than I imagined! Or, maybe with my blank slate, it will be the same. Who knows. Anyway, very excited to get traveling again.

Lovely blog, by the way!

Marissa
http://marissapayne.wordpress.com

Pablo Varela O´Reilly said...

Hi, I´m Pablo from Chile... dont really know how I ended on your blog, anyway. Read your whole experience and I must admit it´s true... here in Chile we use the word "wn" (A.K.A huevón) for everything, to insult someone, the way we call our friends, etc, between Chilean´s we tend to speak pretty quick and with a lot of modism´s, but there still a few of us that can have a normal talk.

What I´m trying to say that our tongue is mostly corrupted on the lower classes, but the people with medium and high status (from teachers to business men) there´s still a good level of spanish.

As an example, like a month ago I used to work in a restaurant called "Montañés" in Farellones/Colorado (east santiago over the mountain, where you can find all these ski centers). Not even once I got a problem with my spanish, the only clients that had problems where Brazilian or Portuguese people (stubborn as hell, bad tips and they wont try to understand your english or spanish)


TL;DR: Most of Chilean people are able and have the knowledges to speak clearly and a good based spanish, it´s just that we managed to simplify our vocabulary to 800 words, when at least we should be using 2000 words. That´s why it´s a hard accent to understand, a few words with tons of uses and modisms

Anonymous said...

I don't think the Spanish from Spain (European Spanish, as I call it) sounds ridiculous. It actually sounds more elegant than most South American Spanish dialects, lisp included. it is like saying that British English sounds ridiculous. You can like it or not. But it doesn't sound ridiculous.

Nathan & Gen said...

Like the blog. I've been living in Chile over 4 years now originally from the US. Yes, chileano is a bit hard to learn when you are used to the spanish spoken by Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, etc. Lots of modismos, slang words and the words cut off. When teaching english, I often compare Chileano spanish to American english, much less formal than the original languages. Just a point, many Chilean words actually come from the original indigenous languages such as mapudungun. i.e., polola (not sure of the spelling) meaning girlfriend, is from the mapuche language, as is guagua, etc. I'm still trying to learn the language. The spanish grammar in general is difficult to learn, than add to it all of the slangs they have here. And don't forget, everything is some type of animal...gallo, cabro, chanco, etc. But it's fun.

Anonymous said...

oh.....in Chile, through the time, we've mixed english words plus indigenous words plus german words (cause of colonization) plus spanish words plus some other latinamerican countries' words....for example...we use some argentinian slang (mina, cana, piola, vos "without the s sound of course") etc etc, though Im not quite sure if they were originally chilean or argentinian. Anyway.... I really think that chilean spanish is not that hard to understand, when I talk to someone from another country I do not use any chilean slang, and so they understand me perfectly... with the only ones I always use chilean slang are my friends (Chilean friends of course)..... mmm..... yeah....it happens in every single language in the world. I GUESS, if we all spoke in the same way it would be so bored and awful.... u know....
BTW: I've been told that chilean spanish and argentinian spanish are derivations from andalucian spanish as they were the first who settled here... i dont know if it is a myth..but it makes sense in a way...I've notices that my gradmother used to say A LOT of andalucian words...I realised that when I met someone from Andalucia and I noticed that this person was saying the same words that my grandmother used to say ..I was shocked..haha..
Finally, for the one who wrote this article..I suppose he/she knows that in Chile there is more than one accent...probably if u go to a corner u'll hear someone speaking in a very different way compared with someone from the next corner (because of a matter of social class) social class influences chilean spanish in a "brutal way" (see "flaites") not considering regional accents...
BYE AND THANKS ..

Anonymous said...

The one who wrote up here is totally right. BTW: the person who wrote this article said that he/she likes argentinian accent..I wonder if he/she knows that there are a lot of argenitian accents...a "Porteño" accent(Buenos aires) is waaaay different compared to a "cordoba" accent and to "Mendoza" accent (this one is pretty close to chilean accent, this city is next to Santiago but in the argentinian side)

Anonymous said...

Just thought I'd point out, most Chilenos don't entirely skip the s, they just pronounce it like a very very very light english h. Most non-Chileans won't really hear it, but it's there if you listen closely

Day Dreamer said...

im so confused :(
my boyfriend is Chilean and sometimes speaks it around me and I really want to learn it for him, kind of as a surprise.... But where should I learn it? Is Spanish Spanish (i dont really know what else to call it) THAT different from Chilean Spanish??
If i took a few Spanish classes, would it make understanding Chilean Spanish easier? Or just completely confuse me even more?
I feel so stupid that i didnt even realise there was a huge difference in dialects... though it does make sense.

Matt said...

Spanish is Spanish is Spanish. Different Spanish speaking countries have different accents and their own slang but it's still the same language, like British, US and Aussie English are all the same at the end of the day.

If you want to suprise your boyfriend, ask him, 'Donde la chucha estai, weon culiado?' next time he's running late and you phone him to find out where he is...might make him hurry up...

sicKJesus said...

Man you're really close to being completely chileanised, I must admit yours have been a good attempt thoug... So when are you coming again?

gustavo said...

sometimes we don't even notice these chilean slangs. VERY GOOD article!

A chilean guy! :)

Nicole said...

hello!!
I really enjoyed of this article, was very funny, I really think that Chilean accent is a little hard for foreign people, even people who talk spanish as well, I'm chilean and sometimes when I've talked with English people, they usually say to me, if can I talk a little more slowly, haha I think this is a big problem of our people too, All of here talk very fast...in my case I love the British accent but is a little dificult to understand for me (sometimes) I'd love to talk a british accent, and I'm practicing
best wishes

aaaa I forgot, sorry for my grammar mistakes, I think there are a lot :S

Pato Novoa said...

Very good article. In Chile also we change the letter "r", for "n", when this is inside the word. We say "viennes" instead "viernes" o "canne" instead carne.
So we say: ¡juntémonos el vienne a comer canne", anybody chilean people say: ¡juntémonos el viernes a comer carne!

Gaia said...

Ah bueno
el idioma de cada país no está hecho para que un extranjero lo comprenda, sino para que quienes lo hablan se comprendan entre ellos. A mi el "chileno" me gusta, me divierte la capacidad de ser plástico en cada situacion (formal, coloquial, jergas, etc). Me gusta el "weón" y todos sus usos.
Gracias a que los chilenos acogemos a los extranjeros con agrado es que nadie te ha dicho que si vas a un país, lo respetas, tal como si yo fuera a tu casa, no me pondría a criticar tus muebles.
Saludos Matt, qué pena que tanto viaje no te haya dado más tolerancia y respeto

Matt said...

Gaia, sugiero que vuelvas a leer el articulo y todos los comentarios porque parece que no cachaste nada, weon.

Anonymous said...

Gais estudia Ingles o vuelve a leert todo, creo que Gaia "Estas cagando fuera del tiesto"

saludos de chile!!

Anonymous said...

Gaia, estudia Ingles o vuelve a leer todo otra vez..

Gaia creo que ..."Estas cagando fuera del tiesto"

saludos de chile!!

Anonymous said...

Gaia "Andai' cagando fuera del tiesto"

Hay...salio bien..XD!

Hannah said...

I stumbled across this blog in hope pf finding a definition for the slang version of "polucion". I am a foreign exchange student from the states and on my second month here in chile. I can understand exactly where you're coming from as I am from Arizona originally and therefore learned rather clean and accent free Mexican Spanish. However, here in chile the slang is everywhere. Today I learned about the three meanings of "paja" and was asked about "polucion" because of having mainly guy friends. So! If you happen to know the latter, it would be appreciated! By the way, love the post. (:

Anonymous said...

I just can't believe I didn't know this blog existed before! So funny and such an interesting perspective of a foreigner trying to learn chilean Spanish. I agree to your point of view completely. Chilean Spanish is not "wrong" spanish, just different.

I'm glad you were able to grasp it before it changed, even though I'm chilean I work on a Spanish callcenter and most of my on-line life is done in English, so, by the time I step onto the streets there are a thousand words I'm going to miss again. Such a dinamic language, we chileans have.

Matt said...

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Okay people, lets get a couple of things clear here. All Spanish is the same. It's the different dialects to a specific culture or region that create variations. Spanish will always be the same.
It's the saaame thing with southern English vs northern English here in the states. It's the same language but completely different slang, entonation, mannerism and tones.

Anonymous said...

I'm Chilean and I speak some good "survival" English, which helps a lot when travelling to the other hemisphere.
Said that, I realized how annoying the language barrier stuff can be, when our foreign friends come around here. I always try to help tourists asking for directions, or struggling to order a "café" at some Starbucks, specially when the counter girl doesn't speak English -which should be a shame for a chain like Starbucks, preferred by most expats.

It just doesn't make sense to push our foreign friends to catch up with our language. Chileans make up about 1/400 of the world's population, and English is spoken by half of this world -and nobody died for learning it.

English is way easier to learn than Spanish -let alone our Chilean "dialect", so we Chilenos want to help making the shortcut and learn English ASAP, just like the Japanese and Swedish do.

Great blog, hitting the nail. Congrats!
Gonzalo

nico said...

I´m chilean and i liked your blog. It´s true all what you say.

Huevon or Hueon or Weon (the same word) i think is the only word in the world tha you can use, to make one phrase repeating this word 3 times ande it still has sense, completely understandable for a chilean.
"Puta el weon WEON wn..."

regards

Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,
Do you still live in Chile? I really enjoyed reading your blog, although I must admit I had to swallow my Chilean chauvinism when you talk about our taste in fashion :-). As a Chilean, I agree that we are very over-sensitive to criticism, but it's also a different communicational style. That's why some of your comments may sound too harsh for some of my fellow countrymen/women.
I've been living in the US-Pennsylvania, for 12 years. I'm a an ESL teacher, and I also train people on culture awareness. Everything you say makes a lot of sense now that I can see it from the experience of living a long, long time out of my country. When I listen to Chilean TV or people that just arrive from Chile, I feel an undescribable sense of familiarity and belonging. As much as criticize how fast we speak and the poverty of our vocabulary (as opposed to other Latin American countries), I feel that an invisible bond connects me to them. Just wanted to share that.
Saludos desde Philly.
Daniela

Jared Romey said...

Matt,

My experience with Spanish is similar to yours but a bit in reverse. I learned Spanish in the US, and then spent 2 months studying in Mexico. From there I went to Chile, where I lived for 3 years. During this time my Spanish become fluent and after being teased early on that I sounded Mexican, that went away as I became more accustomed to Chilean Spanish.

From there I moved to Argentina and then on to Puerto Rico, where at each place I had to learn a new vocabulary and become accustomed to the local accent.

Even now, 15 years later I have a serious mish-mash of accents in my Spanish. Most people are confused. Some hear the Caribbean, some the Chilean, and lots the Argentian.

Somewhere along the way I decided to write a few books about the local Spanish in each country (the series is called Speaking Latino). Not only has that been fun for me, it's exposed me immensely to the varieties of Spanish around the world.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm sure now that your marrying someone from Barcelona that accent's going to rub off a bit on you too.

Jared

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