If you think that Chileans speak Spanish, think again. Chileans speak Chileno: a version of Spanish that baffles even other native Spanish speakers!
Here are some Chilean sayings, expressions and slang (Chilenismos) and language tips to help you survive in Chile.
This is by no means an expansive list (there’s a range of books and blogs on this topic if you want to delve deeper), but it will help you get by while you’re in Chile!
This blog was exclusively written for those who purchased the ebook Digital Nomads Guide Santiago. Any suggestions for additions based on your experiences are always welcome!
Pace, accent and pronunciation
Chileans speak at a very fast pace. Let’s repeat that, a very fast pace! You will most likely need to ask them to slowly repeat what they have said: “Puedes repetirlo más lento, por favor?”
Chileans don’t tend to pronounce the letter s and often cut words short. For example:
English Spanish Chilean
Let’s go Vamos Vamo (the s is often omitted from words)
More or less Más o menos Máomeno (said fast and all together!)
In addition, Chileans don’t tend to enunciate their words very well, meaning they don’t move their mouth a lot while speaking. It can be hard to distinguish sounds and therefore understand the words they are pronouncing.
English Spanish Chilean
What time is it? Qué hora es? Queorae? (sounds like /Ke-ora-eh/
Again as with Máomeno, though technically three words, que hora es is pronounced as though it’s one.
Different verb conjugations for Tú (you)
Chileans use a different (slang) verb conjugation for the informal Spanish pronoun tú (you in English).
Rather than Cómo estás? Chileans will ask Cómo estai?
Rather than asking Dónde estás? Chileans will ask Onde estai? They don´t really bother pronouncing the d at the beginning of dónde if it is preceded by a vowel.
You will see this written in two variations: one ending in y; and the other in i. For example:
Spanish Chilean options
Cómo estás? Cómo estay? or Cómo estai?
Dónde estás? Dónde estay? or Dónde estai?
You get the idea. For those of you who have some knowledge of Spanish, for the verb conjugations relating to the informal you (Tú), end in –ai or -i or -ei rather than –as, -is or -es.
Chilenismos – some important Chilean slang
You got it?
Cachai? [verb] = Do you understand? You got it? You catch it? This basically asks if you understand. It comes from the English verb to catch. Chileans will use this in almost every sentence! It is also used like the English expression “you know” – not as a question but just at the end or in the middle of sentences you confirm that you’re following. A lot of the time it is used rhetorically i.e. a reply is not expected. If referring to the past, they may ask you if you have understood by using “Cachaste?”.
Hueá/Weá [noun] = thing. Using the w is for spelling purposes, it’s very informal.
La weá, Una weá = the thing, a thing. This has many meanings in Chile. Primarily you will hear it used to refer to a ‘thing’. In Chile, it’s often used in place of the other Spanish terms to refer to a thing, like cosa or cuestión. Technically, the term is huevada (comes from huevo meaning egg) but this is more formal and not used in Chile. Therefore, you’ll hear the colloquial terms hueá/weá.
Hueón/Weón [noun] = mate/friend or idiot. Again, using the w is mainly for spelling purposes, it’s very informal.
Weón is like the Australia version of mate, but in Chile weón can be used in a good way among friends or in a derogatory way meaning idiot. So, be careful how you use it. For example, don’t address the taxi driver as hueón, as a friend of mine did! Technically, the term is huevón, but again, it’s more formal and not used in Chile.
Huevear, Heuviar, Weibear [verb] = to joke, to pull one´s leg, to bother. Again, using the w is mainly for spelling purposes, it’s very informal. As above, there is also a verb for hueá/weá. It means to tease/play/muck around/kid/joke/bother. It can have good or bad connotations so be careful when using it.
Some examples of use: Deja de webearme! = Stop kidding me!
Me estai hueveando? = Are you kidding/shitting me?
Po – this word actually has no real meaning. Po is added to the end or middle of sentences. For a similar, but not comprehensive translation of its use, think of it like the -p and -pe added to the English yes and no for a more casual tone:
Yep Si po
Nope No po
It is derived from the Spanish pues which you may hear other South American speaker use. Pues has many meanings including well (when used for expression by English speakers e.g. “Well, that was unexpected!”).
Work, transport and traffic
Una Micro [noun] = used for a local bus instead of bus or Autobús. They use bus for those travelling between towns/cities.
Aúto [noun] = used for a car instead of carro or coche.
Taco [noun] = meaning traffic/traffic jam. You’ll often hear mucho taco (a lot of traffic). Of course, it’s also the delicious Mexican cuisine we love and, for whatever reason, in Chile taco/s also refers to the heel of a shoe/a pair of high heel shoes!
Pega [noun] = used instead of the Spanish Trabajo, meaning work.
Eating out, socializing and dating
Cómo vas a cancelar? = How are you going to pay?
Cancelar is a verb meaning to cancel but here they are asking how you are going to pay (i.e. cancel the bill). This will come in handy when you’re at cafés and shops. Reply either en effetivo (cash) or con tarjeta/con red compra (card/debit). They may then ask you if it’s “debito o credito” (debit or credit).
Carrete [verb] = meaning party, used instead of the Spanish fiesta. It’s also a verb meaning to party, carretear.
Chela (una chela) [noun] = beer (a beer). Used instead of cerveza.
Pololo/a [noun] = boyfriend/girlfriend. Used instead of the Spanish novio/a. In Chile, novio/a means fiancé. Also, used as a verb, pololear.
Written by Digital Nomads Guide Santiago, Author, Jess Whiteman to help you survive while in Chile. Read about Jess’ adventures on her blog Jess OS.