¿What Do You Mean?: Spanish Slang Around the World

By Laura Aviles, Staff Writer

Whenever a person is learning a new language or traveling, there is always a desire to learn about the slang of this other new place. These are the words that are not formal; the common language that people on the street speak. These are the terms that are often metaphorical, playful, and not considered part of the standard vocabulary. Some slang words disappear with time, and new words come into the language. However, there are some words that were introduced to the language as slang but have endured over decades and evolved into standard words. In Spanish, this type of vocabulary is called “jerga.”

jargonSince Spanish is spoken in different countries around the world, the language as a whole has some variances. Some slang words are more common in certain regions than others, and some can have different meanings between countries. They even can have different meanings according to the context they are used. Then, if you are planning to work or travel to a Spanish country and you want to understand or impress others with your knowledge of the language, here is a guide of some of the 10 most common slang words translated from English that you must know to feel like an insider.

How do I say…?

  • Okay: In most Sudamerican countries, “Listo” is said, while in Spain, they say “Vale.”
  • Friend: The standard word is amigo. In Mexico, it is “Carnal;” in Peru it is “Pata;” and if you are a fan of the show Narcos, you have probably heard “Parce,” which is the Colombian slang term. “Tio” is other common slang heard in many Spanish countries.
  • Boy: If you travel to Mexico or Guatemala the word is “Chavo.” In Argentina people say “Pibe,” and in Peru is “Chibolo.
  • Cool/Awesome: “Chido” or “Padre” in Mexico, “Candela” in Venezuela, “Chevere” or “Bacan” in Peru.
  • Money: In Cuba they say “Chavos,” which has a different meaning in Mexico that makes references to boys.
  • Work: In Peru or Mexico they usually say “Chamba.
  • Hey: In Argentina is a very simple and important word; “Che” is just another way of saying “hey” and is used to grab someone’s attention.
  • Party: Usually called “Rumba” in Colombia, “Farrear” in Ecuador, “Pachanga” in Mexico, and “Tono” in Peru.
  • Bus: If you want to travel by bus in Mexico is “Camión” but in other countries, camión usually means truck.
  • What did you say?/ Pardon me: There is a common slang word in Mexico for these phrases: “Mande.

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