Spanish Slang You Won’t Learn from School
When I moved to Spain, I thought I knew Spanish.
Boy was I wrong. Little did I know, my teaching program was sending me to a a rural Spanish village in the deep south of Spain that essentially spoke their own dialect. They neglected to pronounce any and all S and R sounds, and pretty much all consonants for that matter . I remember arriving to the village it like it was yesterday:
Maribel, my speed-of-light-talking mentor came to pick me up from my program orientation. Four years worth of high school Spanish classes and over 80 verb conjugations committed memory, I was confident I’d be able to march up to Maribel and have a full fledge philosophical conversation. I mean heck, I even know my irregular verbs.
To say I was wrong? Well, that’s an understatement.
Two hours into the car ride to our village, I caught one word: baño. “Oh, sure, sí, I need the baño!” I realized then and there that no Spanish class could’ve prepared me for the next nine months.
Those fateful nine months turned into a fully immersive Spanish bootcamp. No classes — just las calles. I was the only English speaker in my village. I had no choice.
Isn’t it amazing what necessity does for us?
The good news is, I made it out alive, flourishing, and yes — fluent.
For all you Spain-bound travelers who want to impress the locals with your Spanish and even earn some street cred, this is for you.
Ya estamos listos? Venga, vale, vamos!
Phrases for practical everyday life:
Literal translation: a foreigner in Spain, often burnt crispy from the sun, rocking high socks, a Hawaiian button-down, and a camera around the neck.
In context: Me and if you’re reading this, probably you. Even two years later, my Spanish friends still call me “ la guiri.” If you are in fact a guiri, it’s extremely important to recognize the word from afar, as they’re probably talking about you.
Vale/ venga/ vamos: Ok, let’s do it!
Literal translation: Okay / Come on / Let’s Go
In context: If you ever want to sound like a local but are at a loss for words, just pick one of these three words (or all three if you’re extra stoked) and you’ll be good to go. Awkward silence vanished, street cred earned. Especially vale — that should always be in your back pocket ready to go.
Que chulo / Que guay / me mola!: So cool!
Literal translation: So cool / how cool / it’s so cool to me!
In context: Your friend shows you his sweet new motorcycle. You respond to him enthusiastically, “ Que guay! Me mola mucho!”
Madre mía: Oh my god!
Literal translation: “Mother of mine!”
In context: Whenever you want to say omg, say this instead. Whip this bad boy out any time you encounter a scenario that’s surprising, frustrating, scary or interesting.
Tio/ Tia: Dude
Literal translation: Aunt/ Uncle
In context: No, it has nothing to do with your aunt or uncle. It’s an endearing way to refer to a friend, similar to dude, except used by everyone, both young and old.
Me pones un(a)… : I’ll order the [insert food or drink here]
Literal translation: “Put me a [beer].”
In context: This isn’t slang, but it’s a mistake every guiri makes when ordering food in Spanish. A typical guiri orders food by asking ever so politely, “ puedo tener la cerveza?” (translation: can I have a beer?) Stop right there. NO, NO, NO. You will immediately lose respect, and you won’t get served nearly as quickly as the table next to you (yes, that’s proven). The more brusk and demanding you order in a busy tapas bar, the quicker your service will be, the more street cred you’ll get. You tell them what you want. Ex: “ Me pones una cerveza!”
Aquí estamos: We’re here chillin’
Literal translation: “We are here.”
In context: When someone asks you “ qué tal?” (what’s up?) you respond “ aquí estamos.” It means, “we’re hangin’ out, chillin’, doin’ what we do.”
Dar una vuelta: Take a walk around
Literal translation: Give it a turn
In context: At a party and wanna see what hotties are there? Go and “ dar una vuelta” to walk around and scope out the scene.
Now, the fun part. Phrases to impress your amigos:
Es la caña/ Es la leche!: That’s the shit!
Literal translation: It’s the small beer/ it’s the milk!
In context: Someone calls you a glass of beer or milk? Say gracias! That must mean they think you’re awesome. Ex: That guiri that just moved here es la leche!
Buen Rollo: Good vibes
Literal translation: Good roll.
In context: Here’s where it gets tricky. The dearly beloved word “ rollo” is used in a handful of instances. You’ll often hear “que buen rollo!” which means “such good vibes!” However, if you hear “ que rollo…” it means the exact opposite: it’s a vibe killer. It’s all in context of the vibe of course, and the intonation that it’s said with.
De puta madre: This is the shit!
Literal translation: Of the bitches mother.
In context: Something so wonderful, so glorious, so great that you can only describe it as de puta madre. “I can’t believe I just won the lottery! De puta madre!”
Una cabra loca: A crazy person
Literal translation: A crazy goat.
In context: Our teacher is out of her mind, she’s una cabra loca!
No me jodas: Don’t mess with me
Literal translation: Don’t fuck with me.
In context: Think someone’s messing with you? Show ’em you ain’t no dumb guiri. Ex: Someone: “Did you know I’m the world’s most famous flamenco guitarist?” You: “ No me jodas, tio.”
Estar en pelotas: To be naked
Literal translation: To be in balls.
In context: You saw a crazy naked man running down the street. “ Madre mía, el hombre está en pelotas!”
Un pepino de [bailarina]! : That’s a dope [dancer]!
Literal translation: That’s a cucumber of a dancer!
In context: Yes, another form of flattery. Calling something or someone a cucumber is the utmost highest form of approval. Ex: Un pepino de coche (a dope car ), un pepino de guitarra (a dope guitar) , etc.
And about those southern accents…
If you’re traveling to southern Spain, Spanish speaker be warned. As mentioned before, they often neglect to pronounce S or D sounds in sentences.
Formal pronunciation: “Qué has pasado?”
Southern Spain pronunciation: “Qué ha paou?”
Yea. Oof. My advice? Start watching some Spanish movies with characters based in the south to help adjust your ear, like La Leyenda del Tiempo and Nadie Conoce a Nadie . One of my personal favorites is Ocho Apellidos Vascos, which features a southern Spanish man and a northern Spanish woman who fall in forbidden love. You can hear the drastic difference in their accents. Longer list of movies here.
What’s your favorite Spanish slang?
12 thoughts on “ Spanish Slang You Won’t Learn from School ”
Me gusto mucho!
Qué pasada (It is amazing) 🙂
Eso es la muerte a pellizcos (that is so much bored, tedious or even complicated and request a huge investment of time and energy)
I’d like to make a little remark on your definition for “guiri”;it could lead to misunderstood:
We use the word “guiri” for somebody who is visiting Spain for holidays,tourism,or if it’s expected to remain in our country for a short lapse of time.That word is used to note that the person is not familiarized with the language or the local uses.We stop using it as that person integrates.
Also I would have to say that “guiri” is not used for people of all foreigner countries (e.g. there are other words used for people coming from South America or Muslim countries;I’ll let you to find out them because they are even less polite than “guiri”).There’s a little racial nuance on the meaning.The term often implies that our visitor is coming from North America or some European countries (the ones that are believed to be more developed/powerful than Spain;this idea comes from the 60s when tourism became one of the major business in our economy).For example;it’s rare to call “guiri” to a Portuguese or an Italian because they have culture and customs very similar to ours.
It was a fairly explanatory post! Thanks for your work
P.S. I’ll leave you one more slang: “¡La madre que lo parió/La madre que lo trajo!” Used for showing sudden anger with someone;for example when discovering they’ve cheated you.
No one in Spain says “Es un pepino de una bailarina”
After two years of learning Spanish slang from the streets, here are the top phrases you must know in order to talk like a local!
- Causes: Remember the Maine!
- War Is Declared
- Spanish-American War Begins
- Treaty of Paris
- Impact of the Spanish-American War
The Spanish-American War was an 1898 conflict between the United States and Spain that ended Spanish colonial rule in the Americas and resulted in U.S. acquisition of territories in the western Pacific and Latin America.
Causes: Remember the Maine!
The war originated in the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain, which began in February 1895.
Spain’s brutally repressive measures to halt the rebellion were graphically portrayed for the U.S. public by several sensational newspapers engaging in yellow journalism, and American sympathy for the Cuban rebels rose.
Did you know? Yellow journalism was the original fake news. The term was coined in the early 18 century to indicate journalism that relies on eye-catching headlines, exaggeration and sensationalism to increase sales.
The growing popular demand for U.S. intervention became an insistent chorus after the still-unexplained sinking in Havana harbor of the American battleship USS Maine, which had been sent to protect U.S. citizens and property after anti-Spanish rioting in Havana.
War Is Declared
Spain announced an armistice on April 9 and speeded up its new program to grant Cuba limited powers of self-government.
But the U.S. Congress soon afterward issued resolutions that declared Cuba’s right to independence, demanded the withdrawal of Spain’s armed forces from the island, and authorized the use of force by President William McKinley to secure that withdrawal while renouncing any U.S. design for annexing Cuba.
Spain declared war on the United States on April 24, followed by a U.S. declaration of war on the 25th, which was made retroactive to April 21.
Spanish-American War Begins
The ensuing war was pathetically one-sided, since Spain had readied neither its army nor its navy for a distant war with the formidable power of the United States.
In the early morning hours of May 1, 1898, Commodore George Dewey led a U.S. naval squadron into Manila Bay in the Philippines. He destroyed the anchored Spanish fleet in two hours before pausing the Battle of Manila Bay to order his crew a second breakfast. In total, fewer than 10 American seamen were lost, while Spanish losses were estimated at over 370. Manila itself was occupied by U.S. troops by August.
The elusive Spanish Caribbean fleet under Adm. Pascual Cervera was located in Santiago harbor in Cuba by U.S. reconnaissance. An army of regular troops and volunteers under Gen. William Shafter (including then-secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt and his 1st Volunteer Cavalry, the “Rough Riders”) landed on the coast east of Santiago and slowly advanced on the city in an effort to force Cervera’s fleet out of the harbor.
Cervera led his squadron out of Santiago on July 3 and tried to escape westward along the coast. In the ensuing battle all of his ships came under heavy fire from U.S. guns and were beached in a burning or sinking condition.
Santiago surrendered to Shafter on July 17, thus effectively ending the brief but momentous war.
Treaty of Paris
The Treaty of Paris ending the Spanish-American War was signed on December 10, 1898. In it, Spain renounced all claim to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States and transferred sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States for $20 million.
Philippine insurgents who had fought against Spanish rule soon turned their guns against their new occupiers. The Philippine-American War began in February of 1899 and lasted until 1902. Ten times more U.S. troops died suppressing revolts in the Philippines than in defeating Spain.
Impact of the Spanish-American War
The Spanish-American War was an important turning point in the history of both antagonists. Spain’s defeat decisively turned the nation’s attention away from its overseas colonial adventures and inward upon its domestic needs, a process that led to both a cultural and a literary renaissance and two decades of much-needed economic development in Spain.
The victorious United States, on the other hand, emerged from the war a world power with far-flung overseas possessions and a new stake in international politics that would soon lead it to play a determining role in the affairs of Europe and the rest of the globe.
The Spanish-American War was an 1898 conflict between the United States and Spain that ended Spanish colonial rule in the Americas and resulted in U.S.