As you learn Spanish, have you ever worried that you sound a little too much like a textbook?
It's not easy transitioning from the syntax of a textbook to the rhythm of authentic conversation.
One way you can sound more like a native speaker and less like you’re reading from a guidebook is to master the local idioms and slang.
In this post, I’m focusing on single slang terms instead of full phrases to help you jump right in and sound more like a native speaker right away.
Not only will using slang help you sound more natural in your conversations, it will also help you understand native speakers better.
By the end of this post, you'll be ready to transition from textbook language to natural conversation with 15 Spanish slang words that you just can't live without.
By the way, if you want to sound even more natural in Spanish, then check out the Fluent Spanish Academy, a library of material with audio and transcripts to help you get off the intermediate plateau.
Almost no one speaks their native language properly all the time. Think about it…
Do you speak English (or another native language) the way someone would learn it in school?
You probably don’t, especially when you are out with friends.
The English-speaking world is full of idioms and slang of its own. In fact, an English speaker from the UK might discover that many words and expressions have different meanings in the US, Australia, or Canada.
It's always a good idea to brush up on slang and common expressions when you're planning to travel to a new place, no matter the language.
Because slang varies by location (and changes with time!), it can be hard to master without getting out and speaking with native speakers. That doesn’t mean you can’t start by familiarizing yourself with the basics…and that’s where this post comes in.
Some of these slang words are specific to Spain, while some have different meanings outside of Spain (but are still used worldwide).
Others have started to travel around the Spanish-speaking world but are so common in Spain that they deserve a place on any list of slang in Spain.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, the following 15 words are some of the most commonly used slang in Spain.
But first, take a minute to learn the following 15 common slang words from Spain.
One of the most common colloquial expressions used in Spain, vale simply means “de acuerdo” or “okay”. It’s so commonly used, in fact, that you will also hear it in place of pues or another filler word.
Guay is another way to say that something is cool or very good. It’s often used with tan, bien, or other similar adverbs.
Having trouble figuring out how to say this one? You’re not alone. Much of the confusion comes from the fact that Mexico has a similar slang word that sounds like “way” in English but is spelled differently— güey. Guay sounds more like “why”.
Anda ya doesn't have an exact English translation because it is more of a reaction than a phrase with a specific meaning. The best way to think of it is as a way to express disbelief or surprise, usually at a story a friend is telling.
In the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, mono means “monkey”. In Spain, it can also be an adjective describing something very cute or adorable.
Technically, puente means “bridge”. Colloquially, it also refers to a single day of work between two vacations. For example, if Thursday is a holiday and Saturday and Sunday are normal days off, Friday would be the puente.
Many Spaniards opt to take the bridge day off. And some business simply close for the day altogether. In practice, hacer puente means to take the bridge day off work, while puente can often refer to both the single day of work between holidays and the entire long weekend.
Chaval/a is a slang term for a kid or young person.
Tapas are the quintessential Spanish snack. These small, savory dishes are served in bars and restaurants all over Spain. They are such a big part of the country's culinary history that there is even a verb for going out for tapas: tapear.
Like many of the words on this list, tío and tía have both literal meanings and colloquial meanings in Spain. Your uncle and aunt are your tío y tía in any Spanish-speaking country.
In Spain, the words are also slang for male and female friends or acquaintances. In most situations where you might say “dude”, “mate”, “chick”, or “bloke” in English, you can use tío/tía in Spanish.
In addition to “to tie”, the slang meaning of ligar is “to flirt”, with a few distinct connotations depending on who you're speaking with.
Just like “dough” and “bringing home the bacon” in American English, pasta is both a food and a slang term for money. You're most likely to hear someone use pasta when referring to cash or a large sum of money.
This Spanish slang word almost certainly comes from the expression “to flip out” in English. The meaning in Spanish is similar, as is the very casual nature of the phrase. Depending on the context, flipar can either mean to be shocked, to really like something, or to be high.
Guiri is another word for a foreigner or a tourist. The word has a negative connotation and almost always refers to Northern European or American tourists.
Colega is a cognate with the English word “colleague”, but in Spain, it can also mean a friend or a pal. Take care with this one! The word is colega whether you are referring to a male or female friend; the only thing that changes is the article (el/la).
If something is chulo in the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, it is cool or great. In Spain, the word can also be used to describe an arrogant person or manner.
Currar is another way to say “to work” in Spain, especially when used with tengo que. In some contexts, it can also mean “to thump” or “to whack”.
And there you have it!
There are many more idioms, slang terms, and colloquial expressions you will pick up as you travel and make friends from across the Spanish-speaking world.
But these 15 will give you a great head start.
Are you ready to put them to the test?
Next time you speak to a colega española, either in person or in an online language practice session, try out some of your newly learned slang and show them how bien guay your conversation skills are becoming!
Over to you. Which of these slang words were you already familiar with? And which ones were new for you? Let me know in the comments below.