Feature photo by ricardo.martins. Photo above by Patrick_coe.

Chile isn’t well known as a destination for language learning, which makes studying there all the more rewarding. All it takes is patience and the ability to laugh at yourself… a lot.

Wilderness

Chile is home to some of the longest stretches of pristine wilderness anywhere in the world. From the Atacama desert to the rivers of Patagonia, the massive glaciers of Tierra del Fuego to the long Pacific coastline, Chile is full of natural wonders that make for world-class outdoor adventuring.

Photo: magical-world (Flickr creative commons)

Amazing people

In your attempts to master Spanish, you will meet many friendly Chileans who will encourage you and help you learn the best (and worst) words in Chilean Spanish.

Even better, once you finish your stint in Chile, you can head to any other Spanish-speaking country with surprising results—they’ll be easy to understand!

Photo by P_R_.

You’ll learn a lot of swear words right away.

Chileans pepper their speech with colorful phrases and plenty of swear words. Anyone under the age of 35 adds huevon or huevona to the end of almost every sentence. Huevon is the Chilean equivalent of dude, but literally derives from huevos, the word for testicles.

Slang.

Chileans use a shortened form of the word pues— “po”– to add emphasis to certain words. The most common are: si po,obviopo, and no po.

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Much like po, cachai and other forms of “cachar” (to get or to understand) find their way into most conversations with Chileans.

It is the English version of “You know?”

If a Chilean is explaining something to you, you will eventually hear “Cachai?”

Often, a rhetorical “You know what I mean?” and a nod of the head (if you do know what the person means) is enough to keep the conversation going.

When you adopt po and cachai into your vocabulary, you are officially on your way to speaking Chilean Spanish.

You’ll learn to mumble like the locals.

Chileans are notorious for speaking fast. Chilean Spanish is also marked by a lack of clarity of speech. The “s” is hardly ever pronounced; the “d” in nouns and adjectives (like estado and complicado) are skipped, making the endings sound like “ao” instead of “ado.”

Plus, the entire tu form is pronounced differently than you learned in high school Spanish class. Como estas? becomes Como estai? and Que quieres? (What do you want?) becomes Que queri?

You’ll learn Mapuche words.

The Mapuche were indigenous people living in Chile before the Spanish arrived. As the two cultures mixed, the Spanish adopted many Mapuchan words: cahuín (gossip or party), guata (belly), and malón (potluck).

These are words won’t be taught in a university Spanish class—it’s only when you come to Chile that you are exposed to them.

You’ll learn about your own culture and language through Chilean Spanish.

Learning Chilean Spanish (and trying to translate English into Spanish in your head) will help you gain a new perspective on your own culture and language. Chilean Spanish has made me realize just how many American English phrases make absolutely no sense.

Try translating and explaining “Junk in your trunk” or “You’re the bomb.” Even phrases like “No way!” or “Sweet!” do not have direct translations. Certainly, there are similar phrases in Spanish…it’s just a matter of discovering them.

COMMUNITY CONNECTION:

Planning to learn some Spanish? Check out the Top 10 Spanish Schools for Waves, Wilderness and Buena Onda!

Or, check in with some Matador members who are currently tackling the language: read How’s My Spanish? by member jgbrandt, or “Perdon, habla poquito castellano” by member laurenkearns.

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