Chile’s official language is Spanish, but Chilean Spanish has a very different flavor than other Spanish-speaking countries.
If you ever visited Chile thinking that you speak Spanish, but upon your arrival you were completely confused because you didn’t understand any of the Spanish spoken in our country, don’t worry, it happens to most foreigners. This article might help explain why.
Everyone speaks a dialect
Languages are living, dynamic things that evolve over time and from place to place, receiving unique qualities from their speakers. In this regard, Chilean Spanish is no exception. Like all varieties of spoken language, it’s a dialect, a unique type of Spanish indeed, as it departs from the standard form of the language and has its own distinctive rhythm, pronunciation, and lexicon that represent Chileans.
Speaking Chilean is to depart from the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), which sets the rules and standards of the Spanish language – a similar equivalent to the Oxford English Dictionary. We admit that our language is very different, but it’s neither better nor worse than other Spanish varieties. It is a faithful reflection of the sparkling, spontaneous, and joking culture of Chileans.
How to survive in the chilean jungle
There’s a way to avoid getting “lost in translation” once you step foot in Chile. Get ready to speak Chilean Spanish by learning some of the slang and idioms in this curious dictionary titled “How to survive in the Chilean jungle.”
Book of slangs of Chilean Spanish, by John Brennan – Photo: @crosscultural.cl
A word that explains everything
This word is utilized in so many ways in our everyday speech that it is an essential part of Chilean Spanish and culture. “Hueón” comes from huevo (egg). Depending on the tone and phrase it’s said with, it can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, comma, exclamation, insult, nominative, and can replace almost any word.
It is no coincidence that Brennan, the famous American author of “How to Survive in the Chilean Jungle” has come out with new versions of his book, as Chileans have an impressive inventiveness to create new idioms and sayings. Some of Chile’s favorites are the following:
- ¿Cachay?: A word borrowed from the English verb “to catch” and chileanized to mean “Get it?”
- Sí po/ no po: the utterance “po” at the end of a sentence is equivalent to the conjunction “pues”, meaning thus” or “alright”. It was born among the peasants. To assert, it is like saying, “Obviously yes”.
- Al tiro: Literally, it’s “at the gun shot” and is used to mean “Right away”. It comes from auto racing. Cars could take off at the sound of a gunshot.
- ¿Cómo estay? – Chileans often replace the ‘s’ phoneme with an ‘ay’ at the end of verbs. Likewise, ‘vas’ (to go) becomes ‘vai’.
- Pololear: A term that comes from the realm of love. It’s the Chilean way of saying that two people are a couple.
It is possible that Chilean Spanish is evolving into a new language that will be considered an offspring of Spanish in the future. In the same way that Latin traveled, spread around, and mixed with other local languages and gave birth to new children: French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish. These also traveled, and dialects were born, among them Chilean Spanish, Cachay?