Today I'm delighted to feature a guest post by Diego Cuadros of Spanish To Mind about the local variety of Spanish in Medellín, Colombia.
You're probably already familiar with the fact that are different varieties of Spanish around the world, each with its own slight changes in pronunciation and use of local slang words.
But did you realise that even within each Spanish speaking countries there are often many regional variations?
In this post, Diego explains the notable features of the local Spanish variety in Medellín, Colombia, so you can learn to easily recognise it (and even emulate it if you like!)
Over to Diego…
One of the most famous varieties of Spanish in Colombia is that of the city of Medellín.
In fact, I’m surprised by how many websites publish articles about “Colombian expressions”, ignoring the fact that many of the words, idioms or phrases they include are only used in Medellín.
In this article, you’ll learn about the main features of Medellín variety of Spanish, so it becomes easier for you to understand and use with the locals!
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Culture & its role in the Spanish of Medellín.
- Key features of Paisa Spanish
- The rhythm and tone of speech in Medellin
- Typical filler words from the city
- “El yeismo” in Medellín
- The use of exaggeration in Paisa Spanish
- Diminutives in Medellín
- La “s” arrastrada
- How to use the pronouns “tú”, “vos”, or “usted” in Medellín
- 20 local slang words from the Paisa Spanish vocabulary
Ready? Ok, let's get started…
Ok, let’s get started with a question…
Do you know anyone from Medellín?
Think about some of the most famous people that Colombia has been known for.
People like Fernando Botero, Juanes, Maluma, or even the shameful protagonists who hurt the country in the 90’s during the drug wars.
Both the famous people who have come from Medellín and the culture of the city have made an impact on how the world perceives the dialect of Spanish.
Why do I say this?
Well, because the culture of this region has a direct impact on the way people speak in Medellín.
In Colombia, culture from Medellín is called ‘paisa’.
This means that everything you see that has its origin in the city is referred to as paisa.
For example, it’s pretty common to hear phrases like these:
- El plato paisa
- La bandeja paisa
- Él es paisa
- Ellos son Paisas
Paisas (people from Medellín) are friendly, warm and hospitable.
If you ever need directions or help when in Medellín, most people will be willing to offer assisstance, so you can get easily to any place.
If you’ve ever visited Medellín or spoken with a paisa, you’ve probably heard words and terms like these:
In Medellín, they all mean “buddy” or “mate” and are used all the time by people of all ages and background.
There are also a few different variations for addressing women:
- Madre (depending on your age!)
Paisas use these terms in an effort to create a kind of “friendly” environment, something is practically a “cultural requirement” in Medellín.
Here are some examples of these words used in context:
- Tú: ¿Puede decirme como llegar al supermercado?
- Paisa: Claro calidoso, siga derecho y en la próxima cuadra gire a la izquierda.
- Tú: ¿Cuánto cuesta la botella de agua?
- Paisa: Diez mil pesos mi reina.
- Tú: ¿Vende almuerzos?
- Paisa: Claro parcero, tenemos sopita muy buena, con carnita, arrocito, ensaladita y juguito.
Most people from Medellín like to feel good about themselves, to work and have their own things, to look good and to have fun.
So if you want to go party in Medellín, all you need to do is to ask a paisa to go with you and you’ll have company for the whole night!
When heading out for the night, you’ll hear a variety of cultural slang expressions. Here are some of the most common:
- Rumba (Party)
- Rumbear (To party)
- Polas (Beer)
- Guaro/Guarito (Aguardiente, a popular alcoholic beverage in South America)
- Rayar baldosa (To dance)
- Tomar chorrito (To drink alcohol)
- Un tema (A song)
- Un temazo (A very nice song)
Paisas also like to regularly spend time with their families, so it’s very common that on Sundays people go to visit their parents or grandparents to have lunch.
This is followed later on by a small meal in the afternoon called el algo.
This meal can include something as simple as a piece of bread with coffee, as well as some typical foods like:
- Pan de queso (Bread made with cheese)
- Pan de bono (Bread made with yucca, eggs, cheese, and corn)
- Buñuelo (A fried dough ball made out of flour, cheese, eggs, milk or water)
- Aguapanela or agua de panela (Water with sugar cane)
And the most popular of all: Arepa, which is a flatbread made of maize that can be eaten at any time of the day.
These are just some of the basic features of the paisa culture that have an impact on the Spanish vocabulary of Medellín..
However, a regional dialect is more than just the representation of some aspects of local culture in vocabulary.
The intonation, the filler words, the pronunciation of certain sounds, as well as the common expressions that locals use, all contribute to creating a unique and interesting regional variety of Spanish.
In Medellín, you’ll find people who talk at a fast pace, as well as people who talk slowly.
However, in general, people with a “typical” paisa accent tend to speak slowly.
In fact, the rhythm of this accent kind of sounds like a song that goes up and down at a slow and soft pace.
I’ve had the opportunity to talk to lots of visitors here in Medellín, and most of them agree that the paisa accent is easy to understand.
In fact, it’s one of the clearest Spanish accents you’ll hear mainly because of its moderate rhythm and slow speed Paisas speak at.
Another interesting thing about the Paisa variety of Spanish is how questions are formed.
In most Spanish dialects, questions have a raised intonation, so the voice goes up at the end of the question.
However, when people in Medellín make questions, their tone goes down instead of up.
One of the most interesting aspects of paisa Spanish is the use of filler words.
Paisas use filler words all the time.
These words don’t mean anything really, but they definitely make Paisa Spanish sound unique compared to other varieties.
Let’s look at some of the most common paisa filler words and how they’re used:
This filler word can go in almost every sentence you make in Medellín, and most of the time, it’s used at the end of sentences, for example:
- “¿Cómo estás pues?” = How are you?
- “¿Cómo así pues?” = What do you mean?
- Bueno pues = Ok then…
- ¿Qué más pues? = What’s up?
- ¡Vamos pues! = Let`s go!
This filler word basically means “man”, it’s a short colloquial word that Paisas use to refer to the word “hombre”. It’s like if you were calling the other person a “man”, although it doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a woman or a child, you can always use ome anyway! Paisas use this word at the beginning or at the end of sentences, for instance:
- Estoy cansado ome = I’m really tired man.
- Si ome = Yes, man!
- Ome… ¿Vos qué pensás ome?* = What do you think man?
- ¡No le creas nada a David ome! = Don’t believe anything David says man!
- Tiempo sin verte ome = Long time no see, man!
NOTE: This word is only used as a filler word in colloquial situations. You can’t simply use ome as a shortcut whenever you want to say things with the proper word hombre !Let me show what I mean:
- Incorrect: Vi un ome muy grande y fuerte.
- Correct: Vi un hombre muy grande y fuerte.
Just like the word ome, mijo, or mija (for women) are a kind of “paisa abbreviation” for mi hijo (my son) and mi hija (my daughter).
However, if you use these words, it doesn’t mean that you’re talking to your son or your daughter!
They’re just a filler words you say, and you change their genre depending on whether you’re talking to a man or a woman. Let’s look at some examples:
- ¿Qué más mijo? = What’s up man?
- No mija, estas muy equivocada = No, you’re wrong
- ¿Para dónde vamos mijo? = Where are we going to?
- ¡Ey mijo!, ¿Para dónde vas? = Hey, where are you going?
- ¿Cómo vas mijo? = How’re you doing?
This filler phrase is something Paisas add to the end of questions.
It literally means “or what?” and gives the impression of making the question a choice between two things.
But in reality, it doesn’t really mean anything and people will simply answer the question as if the ¿… o qué? was never spoken. Here are some examples:
- ¿Bien o qué? = you doing good, (or not)?
- ¿Vamos para cine o qué? = Wanna go to the movies (or you wanna do something else)?
- ¿Estás enfermo o qué? = Are you sick (or not)?
- ¿Ella es tu mamá o qué? = Is she your mother (or not)?
- ¿Tienes hambre o qué? = Are you hungry (or not)?
You might think that you’d have to choose the correct context to ask questions like this, but Paisas use these type of questions all the time, with no particular context.
In other words, we can say that this is just another way of asking questions in Medellín.
“El yeísmo” is the variation of how people pronounce the sound of “LL” in Spanish, depending on the region they’re from.
As you already know, in “standard” Spanish the “ll” sounds something like an English “y”.
But in Medellín people pronounce this double L with the same sound that we use for the letter “J” in English words like “jumper”, “Jacob” or “jam”.
here are a couple examples words which use this pronunciation:
- Medellín = Medejín
- Lluvia = juvia
- ¿Cómo te llamas? = ¿Cómo te jamas?
Olly has explained the different “ll” sounds in Spanish in detail in a video on his Fluent Spanish Academy YouTube channel.
So, if you want learn more about “el yeísmo”, I suggest you watch Olly’s video on the topic:
Paisas are very well known across Colombia for having an exaggerated way of talking, although in my opinion this is just how people from this region use language to show their emotions.
All you need is a couple of minutes of listening to native Paisas Speakers talking to each other, and you’ll hear how suddenly their tone goes up and their intonation changes in an effort to express surprise, fear, anger, or just emotion in general.
You may hear loud expressions like these used to express this exaggeration:
This word is used to express how much you feel an emotion.
In fact, the longer you pronounce the “f” sound for, the more emotion you express. So if you say “¡Ufffffffffff!”, that means you’re showing lots of emotion!
You might also use “¡uf!” show that you agree with someone. Here’s an example:
- *Tú: ¡Ese almuerzo está muy bueno!*
- *Paisa: ¡Ufff, demasiado bueno!*
Feeling surprised? In Medellín people use this filler word to show surprise or shock.
This expression can be a little difficult to pronounce for English speakers. Here’s how to do it…
- Think of the final sound of the word “do” in English, it’s something like “oo”
- Then make the same sound and follow it by pronouncing the letter “e” in English
- It will sound something like “ooE”.
Let me show you an example of how this expression works in context:
- *Tú: ¿Viste a esa chica hermosa?*
- *Paisa: ¡Uy si! era súper bonita*
- Tú: Ayer pasó un avión volando muy rápido sobre la ciudad
- Paisa: ¡Uy si! también lo vi, creo que era un
Something very interesting about Paisa culture is the extensive use of the hyperbole, which contributes to making local speech even more expressive or exaggerated.
Here’s a list of some common phrases and idioms that Paisas say using the hyperbole:
- Él es más feo que pegarle a la mamá = He’s really ugly.
- Más fea que un carro por debajo = She’s really ugly.
- Estoy más tragado que tanga de gorda = I’m deeply in love with someone.
- Él es más malo que Caín = He is a really bad person.
- Él se despide más que circo pobre = He says ‘goodbye’ too many times.
- Él habla más que paisa sin trabajo = He talks too much.
- Él es tan feo que no le dieron pecho sino espalda = He’s really ugly.
For some reason, Paisas also see everything in really small sizes…
What mean by this is that it’s very common to hear people using diminutives for everything.
Most of the time, people use these kinds of words to express appreciation, pity or even sarcasms. For example:
- Me gusta el chocolatico caliente
- ¿Quieres un cafecito?
- Compré una casita cerca a Santa Elena
- Esa platica no te sirvió para nada
- Esa cabecita tuya no piensa
La S arrastrada is just a funny name that Colombians give to the way Paisas pronounce their S sounds.
In other words, we can say that “la S arrastrada” is just the way Paisas use el seseo.
In order words, people pronounce the letters c or z with an s sound in Medellín.
It’s even more curious to hear that the ‘s’ sound used by Paisas is a little stronger than that of the rest of Colombia.
So when you hear a Paisa pronouncing a word with s, it may even sound a little like a “sh” instead of a simple “s”.
A very particular feature of Paisa Spanish is the way people mix the three pronouns (tú, vos and usted) which can be used to refer to the second person singular in Spanish.
In this region, there are no specific rules on how to use these pronouns correctly, and if you talk to a native Paisa, you’ll find out that which pronoun they decide to use is more an emotional thing than anything else.
Let me explain what I mean…
Usted and its respective conjugations are mostly used with people who you don’t feel a very close relationship with, or when talking to people whom you want to show respect to.
For instance, if you were talking to the doctor, you could say something like:
- “Doctor, ¿usted cree me voy a poner bien?”
However, in Medellín, this rule is not universal because you may hear close friends and even family members using usted between themselves. For example, you might hear a Paisa saying to his father:
- “Pa, ¿usted me puede acompañar a una cita médica?”
Note: Paisas use the word “pa”, which is short for papá. Also, you may hear this word as a short for para, for example: Voy pa mi casa.
The term voseo refers to the use of vos and its respective conjugations as a second person singular pronoun.
Some people might consider it a “linguistic phenomenon”, but actually, instead of a phenomenon, I just consider it a different way of speaking, which unlike in the rest of Colombia, is really common in Medellín.
This pronoun became a big part of the identity of this region due to the old folklore that was influenced by the Spanish colonies when they came to South America.
Using vos in Medellín gives people a sense of familiarity, and it’s actually, the best pronoun to use if you want to sound like the typical paisa. People use it all the time between friends, and family.
To sound even more like a local, use this pronoun with one of the Paisas filler words, for example:
- Tú: No estoy seguro si irá a la fiesta (I’m not sure If I’ll go to the party)
- Paisa: ¿Qué? Uy, no me digás eso ome… ¡vos tenés que ir pues! = (What? don’t tell me that, you’ve got to come!)
Here’s another example:
- Paisa: ¿Y vos qué pues mijo? ¿mucho trabajo o qué? (So, what about you man? Do you have a lot of work?
- Tú hablando paisa: Si ome, mucho trabajo gracias a Dios.
You also may hear people using tú in Medellín. However, it is not as common as the use of vos or usted.
In fact, the use of tú, which is commonly known as “el tuteo”, may sound a little more sophisticated.
For some people in the city it might be a sign of education and formality.
Nonetheless, used under the correct context, tú could even be an indication of flirting. For example:
- Man: ¿Tú tienes novio? (Do you have a boyfriend?)
- Woman: No, estoy soltera. (No, I’m single)
- Man: ¿Y cuándo salimos pues? (So, when are we going on date?)
I know this example is a little exaggerated, but trust me, you could hear that in Medellín!
The point is that this local variation of Spanish, has no strict rules on how to use these three pronouns, and you may hear all of them at once in just one conversation.
Believe it or not, the features that you’ve been reading about are just the basic aspects of Paisa Spanish!
Obviously, if one of your goals is to emulate this accent in Spanish that means you have to spend a great deal of time listening to it.
Now, even though the intonation, the use of vos, la “s” arrastrada, and el yeismo are all essential attributes of Medellín Spanish, you’re still going to need to learn some local vocabulary if you really want to blend in!
The Paisa vocabulary is very particular and, especially among friends, you’ll encounter slang that you won’t hear anywhere else.
Let’s take a look at some essential words and phrases…
Literally, this can be translated as “what a box”, but for Paisas it means “That’s so funny!”.
- Qué caja ayer que te vi con esa camiseta tan fea – It was so funny yesterday when I saw you with that really ugly t-shirt!
This expression becomes a slang version of the verb “to laugh” for people from Medellin. For example:
- Me gusta tirar caja con películas de comedia = I like to laugh at comedy films
This slang word means to be happy and comfortable at a place or in a situation:
- Estoy muy amañado en Colombia – I’m very happy/comfortable in Colombia
Paisas use this word as an adjective for referring to the word funny:
- Felipe es muy charro – Felipe is very funny
The slang way of referring to a woman of any age. Interestingly, in Medellín, when referring to a man, people say the English word “man” using the pronunciation of the letter ‘a’ in Spanish:
- Esa vieja y ese man se estaban besando en el bus – That girl and that guy were kissing on the bus
This is the slang ‘adjective’ to refer to someone who has bad taste:
- Esa vieja es super mañé, ayer tenía una falta horrible – That woman has really bad taste. Yesterday, she wore a horrible dress.
This slang verb means the act of meeting and hanging out with friends:
- Vamos a la fiesta de Ana y nos parchamos un rato allá – Let’s go to Ana’s party and hang out for a while there
In a different context, it could mean “to kiss”:
- Ví a Sara y a Camilo parchandose en el parque – I saw Sara and Camilo kissing in the park
This is the slang way of saying “yes” in Medellín:
- Tú amigo: ¿vas a venir a mi casa o no?
- Tú: Sizas, a las 7 estoy ahí.
Something negative, that is not to your taste:
- Qué peye esa película – That film isn’t great
A word used as an adjective to talk about someone who says a lot of dirty words:
- María es muy guache, no me gusta hablar con ella – Maria is really foul mouthed. I don’t like talking with her
This slang phrase normally means “unlucky” in Medellín:
- Sergio es muy de malas, perdió todo su dinero en esa apuesta – Sergio is really unlucky. He lost all his money on that bet
Depending on the context, it could also mean something like “I don’t care about your opinion”. For example:
- Tú: No me gusta esa canción
- Tu amigo: De malas, a mi si me gusta
Paisas say this when they want to express joy, or euphoria for something:
- ¡Qué cuca de película la que me vi en cine anoche!* – What a film it was that I saw last night at the cinema!
Just like with qué cuca, people express joy or euphoria with this expression:
- ¡Qué nota comprar una casa! – What joy to buy a house!
This is a slang word that expresses something like “there’s nothing to do about it”:
- Tu amigo: No tengo plata para salir a comer hoy
- Tú: Paila mijo, no podemos ir entonces
Paisas use this word in place of the verb trabajar, which means to work:
- Tu amigo: ¿Vamos el sábado a nadar?
- Tú: No puedo, tengo que camellar
This is how people refer to a person who doesn’t like to spend money. Paisas use this word to talk about men who won’t spend money on the women they date:
- Tu amiga: Juan me invitó a comer anoche y tuve que pagar yo
- Tú: ¡Qué hombre tan chichipato!
Have you ever had a friend who’s never serious? Someone who tells a lot of lies just because he or she thinks it’s funny? Well, in Medellín people call this person a casposo:
- Tu amigo: Me voy a vivir a Japón la próxima semana
- Tú: ¡Casposo!
Paisas use this expression to mean something like, “that person is crazy”:
- Mateo dijo que todas las noches escuchaba voces que hablaban con él, creo que está rayado – Mateo said that every night he hears voices that speak to him. I think he’s crazy.
Yes I know you’re seeing the verb dar, which means to give, but in this case you’re not giving anything away!
Dar visaje is just a very regional way of saying “to act suspiciously” Here’s an example of how Paisas would use it:
- Tú: Necesito ir al baño con urgencia, pero hay mucha gente cerca
- Tu amigo: Vaya rápido y sin dar visaje que yo le paso el papel
Just as the word “rumba”, Paisas use the word farra when referring to a party:
- Tu amigo: Mijo, ¿entonces? ¿listo para la farra hoy?
- Tú: No puedo esperar
If you want to say “I’m nervous” in Medellín, then you might want to use this expression:
- Tú amigo: ¿Estás listo para la entrevista de trabajo?
- Tú: No, estoy un poco asarado
This word is slang for “food” or comida, just replace the word comida for melona and you’ll sound just like a local:
- Muero de hambre, voy a buscar la melona – I’m starving. I’m going to get some food.
More commonly pronounced as “avispao”
Paisas use this word as an adjective that means something like “smart”, “ingenious”, “clever” or “knowing”.
- Ese niño es súper avispado, no sé cómo hizo para conseguir tanto dinero vendiendo solo limonada – This kid is really smart. I don’t know how he made so much money just selling lemonade!
¡Hágale pues! (or simply ¡hágale!) means “ok” or “do it”.
Meaning = “Ok”:
- Tu amigo: Vamos primero a mi casa, yo saco el carro y después vamos a recoger a tu novia.
- Tú: ¡Hágale pues!
- Tu amigo: Voy a ir al baño y ya vuelvo, ¿no hay problema?
- Tú: No, no hay problema, hágale.
Meaning = “Do It”
Context: Your friend is teaching you how to chop a tomato correctly. He or she gives you instructions and then tells you:
- Tu amigo: Bien, es tu turno.
You hesitate, look at the tomato and the knife, and as you keep hesitating, your friend says:
- Tu amigo: ¡Hágale pues mijo!
When talking about money, people from Medellín have their own slang words to use that you won’t hear anywhere else in the world. Let’s look at some examples…
This is money counted as thousands, for example:
- mil pesos colombianos would be una luca
- cinco mil pesos = cinco lucas
- trecientos mill pesos = trecientas lucas
- And so on…
When you talk about millions of pesos, you use the word palos instead of millions. For instance:
- un palo would be one million
- veinte palos would be twenty million
- And so on…
Now, remember that these two slang words are only used with money, Paisas never use them for any other numbers.
It’s also interesting to note that they’re only used for Colombian pesos, never for talk about other currencies:
- Tú: ¿Cuánto te costó el tiquete para venir a Colombia?
- Tu amigo: Un palo
- Tú: ¿En serio? Yo pagué 700 lucas desde California.
Paisas are famous for being friendly and approachable people, and it’s funny that they are aware of this and use this fame to take some advantage out of it!
In fact, it’s common to hear paisas taking advantage of how they use the language in order to convince potential customers to make a purchase!
Don’t get me wrong, but if you’re buying clothes in Medellín, the seller might give you some paisa fake compliments like:
- Se te ve super bonito – It looks very nice on you?
- Mami, ese vestido le horma muy bonito – That dress makes you look very nice. The word horma just means something like “it highlights your figure”
- Reina, ese jean te queda hermoso – That pair of jeans looks great on you, my queen!
- Vea cómo le queda de bonito! – Look! It makes you look so beautiful!
And if you’re in downtown Medellín just looking for stuff to buy, you’ll hear every single seller trying to catch your attention with phrases like these ones:
- ¿A la orden? – At your service
- Amigo, ¿qué buscaba? – What are you looking for buddy?
- ¿En qué le puedo colaborar? – What can I help you with?
- Siga, bien pueda – Come on in
- Sin ningún compromiso, bien pueda – Come on in, no commitment
- Hágale, bien pueda, sin ningún compromiso – Do it, come in, there’s no commitment
- Bien pueda pase y mídaselo – Come on in, try anything you like
- Mono, ¿qué buscaba? – What are you looking for buddy?
Don’t fall into the trap of buying something just because they are being nice to you, but whenever you pick something that you really want, don’t forget to haggle back with paisas and try to do the same thing they do – polite negotiation!
Use typical phrases from Medellín to negotiate and you’ll surely have more success. Here are a couple of examples:
- ¿Cuánto es lo menos pues? How much is the lowest price for this?
- Parce, hágame una rebajita pues Lower the price buddy
- Tireme más suave, parcero Lower the price buddy
- Te doy (x amount of money) por (x product) – I’ll give you x amount of money for x product
- ¿En cuánto me lo deja por ser a mí? How much will you charge me? this phrase is very typical, and it gives the idea that the seller should low the price because you’re friends with him
Paisas are very funny people when you try to negotiate with them, and they will never stop being friendly to you, of course, as long as you don’t offend them!
It’s kind of a game for them to see who gets the best deal.
There’s no doubt that regional accents and dialects are a beautiful part of every language. From Argentina to Peru, Mexico to Peru and everywhere in between, Spanish is full of unique variations that have strong connections with the culture their local region.
The paisa Spanish of Medellín is just one example of the enormous influence that the culture of local people can have on the way they use their language
And of course if you make an effort to understand a specific variety of Spanish, like this one, you’ll be able to connect even more deeply with the people and culture of Medellín.
Have you ever visited Medellín or spoken Spanish with a paisa? What interesting expressions or phrases did you hear? Leave us a comment and let us know!
About the author:
Diego Cuadros helps intermediate Spanish students to develop fluency and confidence when speaking at SpanishToMind.com. He also gives tips and tricks to learn Spanish on hisYouTube channel.