If you’re studying the Spanish language by the book and then take your vocabulary to the streets, you’ll learn a vital lesson about the role slang plays in everyday conversations. Like other languages, including English, Spanish is packed with colloquialisms and idioms that make up the backbone of interactions and exchanges. Peppering your Spanish with slang seems like the right call if you want to sound like a local.
Beware, however, of the minefield of curse words and swearing that permeate most slang. Even as an accomplished speaker of Spanish, you may run amok of cultural norms and social expectations if you get too liberal with slang words even in casual conversations. Take your cues from the list of relatively innocuous terms below and pay close attention to what the situation calls for before interjecting Spanish slang words to impress a local speaker.
Hooray for ¡Guay!
You’re going to hear ¡guay! or ¡Qué guay! pretty often on the streets, exchanged between friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. It’s the Spanish version of “how cool” or “awesome,” and it’s used enthusiastically and without reservation. You’ll also sometimes hear ¡Qué chulo! (“how fantastic”) used in the same way. If you’re in Latin America, you’re likely to encounter ¡genial! or ¡qué chévere! instead.
Me importa un pimiento is a spicy Spanish idiom
On the surface of this Spanish phrase is a puzzling and pretty tame translation. Me importa un pimiento means “I don’t care a pepper” if you want a literal interpretation. But like many colloquialisms and idioms that fall under the category of slang, this phrase is more than meets the eye. It’s used in a way similar to “I don’t give a damn” in English so be careful pulling it out it in mixed company.
It’s perfectly OK to say vale
This is another Spanish slang word you’ll hear tossed around quite a bit. Vale is the Spanish version of “okay” and can also be used in place of the word “yes” to signal agreement. In Mexico you’ll encounter chido used in the same context. It’s also perfectly okay to just use the English version of “OK” because Spanish speakers use it all the time, no rolling r’s required.
What’s up with tío/tía
This can get confusing because tío and tía are the Spanish words for aunt and uncle. Is everyone related in Spain? Don’t worry—you’re not missing something important about familial relations. Tío and tía are used both for relatives and generally as Spanish slang for “dude.” In Mexico, you’re more likely to hear wey used for “dude.”
Get cute with ¡Qué mono!
You’ll want to be careful to only use this one in Spain because in other places it may raise some eyebrows. ¡Qué mono! is Spanish slang for “how cute,” but in Mexico and other Latin American countries, mono is used to mean monkey. This is why you never want to monkey around with Spanish slang unless you’re confident about your audience and local customs.