How to Speak Chilean, by a Gringa

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I stepped onto my 15-hour flight to Santiago de Chile feeling reasonably confident with my Spanish. Never mind nine years of studying it at school and university, I had five months of experience of living in Spain under my belt. Although I’d been warned by a few Latin Americans I’d met in Salamanca that Chilean Spanish was notorious for being one of the hardest- if not THE hardest- to grasp out of the entire Spanish-speaking world, I naively thought to myself, how different could it be?

I’ve only been here for two weeks, but have already learnt a lot of chilenismos, which are phrases and words unique to the Spanish spoken in Chile. Here’s a list of my favourite ones so far, with the Castilian Spanish equivalent in italics and an English explanation:

Bacán: genial– this means cool or awesome. Filete, which is directly translated as ‘fillet steak’, also means the same thing.

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This view is pretty bacán

Cachai: entiendes- equivalent to the cockney ‘geddit’ but used WAY more often. A useful phrase is no cacho ni uno, which means I don’t understand a thing.

Caña: resaca- not to be confused with the Castilian word caña; in Spain if you ask for a caña you’ll get a beer, whereas in Chile, you’ll be greeted with confused looks as people wonder why you’re asking for a hangover…

Carretear: salir de fiesta- to party! A very important aspect of Chilean culture. Like in Spain, Chileans start partying late and listen to lots of reggaeton music.

Completo: perrito caliente- this is the Chilean version of a hotdog. An italiano is a type of completo piled high with toppings of avocado, mayonnaise and tomato, to represent the colours of the Italian flag.

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You completo me (caption cred: Holly Sloan)

Fome: aburrido- this means boring. Fomingo is a combination of fome and domingo to mean a boring Sunday.

Frutilla: fresa- I kept on seeing this word on menus thinking it was a generic word for fruit, but it turns out that it means strawberry.

Gringo: guiri- traditionally used to refer to Americans, gringo is now commonly used to describe any foreigner!

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Four gringas in Santiago

Guagua: bebé- some words are just fun to pronounce, like guagua, which means baby.

Hueón: tío- used to address your friends e.g. buddy, dude, guy, and can be adapted to hueona for girls. It can also be used in a more offensive manner to mean idiot, or worse, so it depends on the context and tone of voice being used.

Palta: aguacate- avocados are a staple in Chile and are so delicious here! I’ve eaten almost one every day since my arrival and haven’t looked back.

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Palta all day every day

Po: pues- not in fact the name of your favourite teletubby, in Chilean Spanish po normally means ‘well’ but is also a common sentence filler or added to the end of sentences. Sipo means yep!

Pololo/a: novio/a- in Spain, whereas you’d call your boyfriend or girlfriend your novio or novia, in Chile this refers to a much more serious commitment like a fiancé, so stick to pololo unless you’re seriously planning your wedding.

Piscola: pisco + Coca Cola- pisco is a clear or amber-coloured spirit made from grapes which is produced in Chile and Peru. Mixed with Coca Cola and you get the nation’s favourite copete, which means alcoholic beverage.

Taco: atasco- this can be used to refer to the Mexican tortilla dish, but the more common meaning in Chile is, naturally, a traffic jam.

Terremoto: a bizarre cocktail made of white wine, grenadine and pineapple ice cream. Yes, you read it right, ice cream.

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Time to get back to the pool

So there’s my first attempt to speak Spanish like an authentic Chilean. Hope you enjoyed reading it!

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