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Spanish Slang Variety Pack: Expressions Unique to Different Spanish-Speaking Countries

By: Callie Schaden |

A few summers ago I had the privilege of spending some time volunteering at a children’s home in El Salvador. The kids there go to schools where they’re taught English, so the majority of the time, their communication with me was in English. I knew very little Spanish at the time, but when they talked to each other I would try to focus in on what they were saying and I picked up on the occasional phrase. One of the things I heard over and over again was “que chivo”. I flipped through my mental list of basic Spanish vocab and there was “chivo” floating around in my head right next to the English word “goat”. So the kids were saying, “what goat”? I was not any less confused. Slightly embarrassed, I asked one of the older kids to explain it to me and there I was taught that “que chivo” is an expression unique to El Salvador that is basically equal to “how cool”, (which makes a lot more sense).

“Que chivo” was my introduction to Spanish expressions and slang. We have them in English too, of course, but I never thought about how they might sound when haven’t grown up hearing them your entire life. “Are you pulling my leg”, for example, is an English expression that means to ask a person if they’re joking. But imagine hearing that phrase with no context of meaning. You’d think someone was asking you if you have a literal, physical hold on their leg. Or the word “sick”. Sometimes we use it to mean that a person is ill, sometimes as an equivalent to “disgusting”, and even further from its actual definition, to mean “cool”. I realized that these types of phrases and slang words surely exist in all kinds of different languages. I narrowed my personal digging down to Spanish, of course, because that’s my area of study and the language I’ve experienced in a variety of different contexts, and I learned that Spanish is an official language of 20 different countries, all with their own character and surely, popular phrases. So with the help of some of my Spanish-speaking friends, I compiled a short list of slang and expressions that are unique to their countries. We’ll call it a Spanish slang variety pack.

Español: “Te echo de menos” & “Que guay”

English: “I miss you” & “That’s cool”

I don’t think this one is necessarily unique to Spain, but it’s something I learned while I was studying in Valencia—“echar de menos”, which means “to miss”. But the words translate literally as “to throw” and “less”. The Spaniards also use the phrase “que guay”, which means the same thing as El Salvador’s “que chivo”. It doesn’t translate literally into anything other than “cool”, or “great”, but it is a phrase that is completely unique to Spain!

Español: “parce”

English: “dude”

A friend from Colombia told me that they use the word “parce” in the same way “dude” is used in English.

Español: “Estoy yesca”

English: “I’m broke”

My friend Natalia has lived in a handful of different countries, but she’s originally from Bolivia. She explained to me that, “Estoy yesca” is a phrase they use to mean that they’re completely broke—but the word “yesca” translates literally to “tinder” or “flint”.

Español: “Que lo que”

English: “What’s up”

Flor, who is from the Dominican Republic, taught me that “que lo que” or “que el que” is like saying “what’s up” or “what’s going on”. A literal translation would look something like “what the what” or “what it what”, which of course doesn’t have much meaning in conversation!

Español: “Que chido”

English: “That’s cool”

Very similar to the Salvadoran phrase, a friend from Mexico told me that “que chido” is a popular way to say “that’s cool”.

Needless to say, I left my research with a new bank of vocabulary ready to go in my mind. Although, my friends only come from 6 of the 20 countries that speak Spanish as an official language, so I’ve got 14 more to cover. Maybe (just maybe) it’ll keep people guessing about where I learned my Spanish!

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Callie Schaden is currently an English and Spanish student at Cedarville University. She grew up in a small town in Ohio and has expanded her horizons in El Salvador and Valencia, Spain, two places which have given her a love for the Spanish language and a desire to continue learning outside of her native tongue.

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