When I came to Spain, I thought I knew Spanish.
HAH! Boy was I wrong. Not only did I end up living in a southern Extrameño village that neglected to pronounce any and all S’s and R’s, but they essentially speak their own language. It might’ve been two years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday:
Maribel, my wonderful and fast-talking mentor came to pick me up from my program’s orientation. Four years worth of high school and college Spanish classes, and I thought I had a solid enough base to at least understand the gist of what this lady was going to say to me. To say I was wrong? Well, that’s a HUGE understatement.
Two hours in the car ride to our village, and I maybe caught one word: baño. “Oh, sure, sí, I need the baño!” I realized then and there that no Spanish class could’ve prepared me for the next nine months.
Which leads me to this post: For all you Spain-bound travelers heading to the beautiful Iberian peninsula, I’m here to (try and) save your linguistic life! With the help of some reinforcement online Spanish classes (I recommend Lingoda) and the following “street cred” slang listed below, you’ll be good to go. Two intensive years of learning Spanish from las calles, (“the streets”) and I’m here to share with you my ‘hood knowledge. Ya estamos listos? Venga, vale, vamos!
Ready to get some Spanish street cred?
Phrases for practical everyday life:
Guiri: A foreigner in Spain (as seen above).
Direct translation: Me and probably you.
In context: Anybody who is from the outside, really. Even two years later, my Spanish friends still call me “la guiri.” If you’re reading this, it’s extremely important to know, as you probably are one…
Vale/ venga/ vamos: “Ok/ come on/ let’s go!”
Direct translation: Stated above, in corresponding order.
In context: If you ever want to sound like a local but are at a loss for words, just pick one of these three words and you’ll be good to go. Especially vale…you can’t swat a fly without hearing it.
Que chulo / Que guay / me mola!: “So cool!”
Direct translation: All different ways of saying, “That’s so cool!”
In context: You got a new motorcycle? Que guay! Me mola mucho!
Madre mía: “Oh my god!”
Direct translation: “Mother of mine!”
In context: Whenever you wanna say OMG, say this instead. e.g.- anything that’s surprising, frustrating, scary, etc.
Tio/ Tia: Dude
Direct translation: Aunt/ Uncle
In context: No, it has nothing to do with your aunt or uncle. It’s an endearing way to refer to a friend in a funny, heated or casual conversation, similar to dude.
Ponme un(a) / Me pones un(una)…: “I’ll order the [insert food here]”
Direct translation: “Put me a….”
In context: This isn’t slang, but it’s a mistake EVERY “guiri” makes when ordering food in Spanish. So, I must address it. A guiri orders by saying “puedo tener…?” (Can I have…?) NO, NO NO! You will immediately stick out as a non-Spanish speaker. In proper Spanish, you don’t ask “if you can have”. You tell them what you want. IE- Me pones una tapa de queso?
Aquí estamos: “Well, here we are, chillin’ “
Direct translation: “We are here.”
In context: When someone asks you “qué tal?” (aka what’s up) you respond “aquí estamos.” It basically means, “we’re hangin’ out, doin’ what we do.”
Dar una vuelta: Take a walk around
Direct translation: Give it a turn
In context: At a party and wanna see what hotties are there? Go and “dar una vuelta” to walk around and scope out the scene.
Now, the fun part. Phrases to impress your amigos:
Es la caña/ Es la leche!: That’s the shi* !
Direct translation: It’s the small beer/ it’s the milk!
In context: Someone calls you a glass of beer or milk? Say gracias! That must mean they think you’re awesome. IE- That guiri that just moved here is so cool, es la leche!
Buen Rollo: Good vibes
Direct translation: Good roll.
In context: Here’s where it gets tricky. The dearly beloved word “rollo” is used in a handful of instances. You’ll often hear “es un buen rollo tio!” which means “good vibes dude!” However, if you hear “que rollo…” it means the exact opposite: it’s a vibe killer. It’s all in context of the vibe of course, and the intonation that it’s said.
De puta madre: It’s the shi*/ the best thing ever!
Direct translation: Of the bitc*es mother.
In context: Something so great that you can only describe as de puta madre. “I can’t believe I just won the lottery! De puta madre!”
Una cabra loca: A crazy person
Direct translation: A crazy goat.
In context: Our teacher is out of her mind, she’s una cabra loca!
No me jodas: Don’t mess with me
Direction translation: Don’t fuc* with me!
In context: Think someone’s messing with you? Show ’em you ain’t no dumb guiri. IE- Someone: “Did you know I’m the worlds most famous flamenco guitarist?” You: “No me jodas, tio.”
Estar en pelotas: To be naked
Direct translation: To be in balls.
In context: You saw a crazy naked man running down the street. “Madre mía, this dude está en pelotas!”
Un pepino de [bailaora]! : That’s a dope [dancer]!
Direct translation: That’s a cucumber of a dancer!
In context: Yes, another form of flattery. Calling something a cucumber is the utmost highest form of approval. e.g.– Un pepino de coche, un pepino de guitarra, etc.
And about those southern accents…
If you’re traveling to southern Spain (Andalucia or southern Extremadura), WATCH OUT. The accent is gonna be the death of you. As mentioned before, they neglect to pronunce S’s, and often D’s. Example: Formal pronunciation– “Qué has pasado?” Southern Spain pronunciation: “Qué ha paou”. Yea…My advice? Start watching some Spanish movies with characters based in the south to help adjust your ear, like La Leyenda del Tiempo, Nadie Conoce a Nadie, and Ocho Apellidos Vascos (this is great because one of the main character is from the north of Spain and one from the south. You can hear the difference in their accents). Longer list of movies here.
No Spanish base? Learn the real way, and then take yo’self to la calle:
The bottom line is, you can learn how to speak like a native from the streets. However, you gotta’ have some sort of grammatical base! It gives you a base to understand why things are said the way they are, and how to apply new words and phrases into proper grammatical context. (e.g.- conjugating, prepositions, and all that other fun stuff…) Lingoda is a fabulous online resource where you can take classes from the comfort of your very own computer. Get a head start, before you jump into the lives of mean, green, Spanish speaking machines…