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Post 3: Language: Chilean is Different then Spanish!

This may be a boring blog post for most people. However, a major reason I chose to study in South America was to learn Spanish, so it seems to be a decent thing to reflect on.

In general, my Spanish skills are slowly getting better, especially in terms of comprehension. I was very excited the other day when I realized that I could evesdrop on others on the street, and pick up on what chilean classmates were chatting about. Understanding those little conversations help me feel much more comfortable here.

Chilean Spanish, I’d been warned, is a challenge. Many people here call it ugly, or at the very least unclear. I’ve mostly found it an adventure but it is fair to say that it is far from the Spanish you learn in a Spanish class in the states, or in any country except chile. Chile seems to do everything its own way, from constant use of diminuitives (“ito”) and english terms (“email”) to new forms of grammar and different words. I’ve highlighted a few differences in detail here:

Grammar: The you/tu form of the verb is conjugated differently in informal situations. I just looked this up and it is called the voseo form of the verb.

Example: I hear “¿Cómo estai?” (not the typical spanish “cómo estás”) almost every day from friends or family. It is just the Chilean way to say “How are you?”

Accent: Chileans speak fast, mumble, and often cut off the last letters of the word they are saying.

Example: Micro (bus) drivers ask where you are going to know how much to charge you. In other countries, they would say, “¿Para donde vas?” “Where are you going?” Here, between the changes in grammar (vas => vai) and accent I often hear “¿Par don’e vai?” Or, “¿Paonevai?” “Wheahyougoin?” It takes some getting used to, but it reminds me of a Boston or New York tone.

Speaking habits/filler words: This may seem random, but Chileans here don’t say um, or em, or ehh. They use words to fill their spaces. Different places do that differently, and Chile has some creative ones that change up the rhythm and comprehension of Spanish here.


Things that are emphasized, and most sentences, end with the word “po” (meaning basically “pues” or “well”) “Si po.” “yeah!”

 One of the most commonly heard fillers is “¿cachai?” (note the voseo form). “¿cachai?” means “get it?” or “do you understand?” but is used sometimes as often as an American might say like.

 Young men/boys often uses the word “wueyon” to mean “dude” and also say that every few words. It literally means something more like asshole (and has an even more vulgar literal meaning, feel free to look it up). Thus, it is only used within a youth context and should be used with caution. “Wueyona” is the female, but I have heard that this should be used with even more caution. “Oye, wueyon, ¡vamos a carretear!” “Hey dude, lets go party!”

the word “cachai” has become such a part of our speech that my friend Kristen (pictured) and I decided to carve it into the sand dunes at Concon.

Slangwords: These are also known as Chilenismos, or Chilean-isms, and are purely Chilean words that don’t exist anywhere else. I’ve already listed a few here (micro, po, cachai, wueyon, carretear) but there are literally hundreds. They are rich, fun to use, and interesting. If you want a more complete list or more information read this or buy this.

Examples: There are far too many chilenismos to list, but I’ll show a few of my favorites to give an example of their range.

Al tiro: Right away. Litterally “at the shot.” Of course, since we run on Chilean time, this can be actually right away, or perhaps in 15 minutes…or an hour…

Apagarse la tele: to be so drunk that one literally “turns off the tv”. Like the term blackout, but much more creative. Just one of about a million terms surrounding Chile’s youth and party culture.

Fome: Boring, dull, annoying. If you are described as fome, time to change your routine!

 Guagua: baby. In mexico and other countries, a guagua is a bus. Go figure.

Pololo/polola: Girlfriend or boyfriend. One of the most fun chilenismos to say, it comes from a Mapuche (indigenous) word.

Taco: In other countries, it means heel of a shoe, or, more familiar to Americans, a type of mexican food.

Regalona: spoiled one in the house. Aka all guaguas, and me.


Although you probably think this is all very “fome,” I could go on for a lot longer. Chilean spanish, for all of its detractors, comes from a rich mix of immigrants, indigenous cultures, and more. It reflects both globalization (with English terms rapidly gaining popularity in daily usage) and individuality (its uniqueness can be a point of pride). It’s worth the stumbling attempts and general confusion to learn about this intriguing culture in its own words.

Bonus Picture, since this post is pretty picture-less:

Last Friday I went skiing at Portillo in the Andes. What a gorgeous setting for some spectacular skiing!


One Response to “Post 3: Language: Chilean is Different then Spanish!”

  1. Rachel Rachel Says:

    sorry, typo: when I wrote the chilean slang word “taco,” I forgot to say that it means traffic jam. oops!

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