On the Road

Learning Spanish

Espanol or Castellano, as Spanish is commonly known, is one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world, spoken everywhere that the Spanish slaughtered the natives in the golden age of imperialism. The language is spoken in almost all the countries of Central and South America (with the exception of Belize, Brazil and the Guianas), not to mention the huge Latino population of the US.

As a result Spanish slang, accent and colloquial use varies immensely by region and you could be getting along fine in Mexico to find that you hardly understand a word in Argentina. It’s still the same language though, it just requires a bit of adjustment.

Spanish is a Latin language and so shares many words in common with English such as Comprehension and possible, whilst others like democracia and problema are so similar that you’re bound to pick them up at once. The key is to understand the Spanish pronunciation – it’s not enough just to read the words with an English accent. The main points are:

a = ‘ah’ as in ‘father’.

e = ‘e’ as in ‘bet’ or, at the end of a word, ‘ey’ as in ‘hey’.

i = ‘i’ as in ‘pick’ or, in the middle or at the end of a word, ‘ee’ as in ‘cheese’.

o = ‘o’ as in ‘pot’ or, at the end of a word, ‘oh’ as in ‘hope’.

u = ‘oo’ as in ‘future’.

v = ‘b’ as in ‘boy’. This varies though by accent and can sound like a normal ‘v’.

r = ‘rr’ as in the Scottish trill. It rolls not from the back of the throat but with the tongue against the roof of the mouth. If it’s a double ‘rr’ then it’s extended for even longer.

d, z and c in Spain = ‘th’ as in ‘the’.

But once you’ve got the hang of that then it’s a pretty regular language. Don’t forget that you can learn Spanish really cheap in schools in Guatemala, Argentina, just about anywhere in a cheap Spanish speaking country.

Regional Spanish

Spanish spoken in Spain is often very fast and with the ‘th’ sound used so often that it sounds like the entire country has a lisp.

Mexican Spanish is clearer but they have a whole arsenal of slang, almost all of which seems to start with ‘ch’ as in chela (beer), chido (cool) and chingar (to screw).

Cuba and the Dominican Republic take many liberties with the language and just about any name of a fruit also has a sexual synonym.

Central American Spanish is often mixed with words originating from indigenous tribal tongues and they chew the accent so much in places like Honduras and Nicaragua that it can be a struggle to understand them.

Colombia speaks probably the clearest Spanish in the world inland but by the coast the blacks have their own accent that swallows the ‘d’ and ‘s’, ditto for Venezuela.

Chilean also swallow the ‘s’ and ‘d’ whilst Argentines introduce the sound ‘sh’ into every word they can, making it sound more like Portuguese.

Spanish Slang

Hijo de Puta – son of a bitch!

Cabron – bastard. In Mexico can mean ‘difficult’ eg. Es muy cabron.

Gillipollas – wanker. (Spain)

Guay – cool. (Sp.)

Que chulo – how cool. (Sp.)

Majo – nice (person) (Sp.)

Chungo – crap (Sp.)

Mierda – shit (Sp.)

Joder! – fuck! (Sp.)

Me voy de culo – I’m having a bad day (lit. ‘I’m going from my ass’)

Chingar – to fuck. Thus if something is chingado it’s fucked. (Mex.)

Chingon – really cool. (Mex.)

Un chingo de… – a fucking lot of… eg un chingo de gente = a lot of people. (Mex.)

Chido – cool. (Mex.)

Chamba – job. (Mex.)

Chela – beer. (Mex.)

Que onda? – what’s up? (Mex.)

Chale! – oh man! (Mex.)

Orale – okay! (Mex.)

Carajo – fuck! (South America)

Verga – Penis (South America)

Que mas? – what’s up? (Colombia)

Bacano – cool. (Colombia)

Maluco – really bad. (Colombia)

<a href=”http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/“>BBC Spanish Lessons</a>