Top 10 Spanish phrases to get by in Argentina
by Jayson McNamara
To set you on the right foot with Spanish in Argentina, first consider this: in Argentina you don't speak español, you speak castellano (literally meaning Castilian, from the Castile region of Spain). This geographical twist on the language's name is just the first in a series of linguistic novelties that, aside from giving you an idea of the differences between Argentine Spanish and the rest, make the language experience in Argentina incredibly fun. Read on to find more!
With a rich history of working-class migration, Argentine society lacks some of the class divisions that plague other South American countries. And while economic inequality does exist, at least in language use here things feel quite casual and relaxed. The term che is a perfect example of this. A very common phrase in Argentina, it roughly translates to "man" or "pal," and is applied to everybody - old people, young people, old faces, new acquaintances, though is best not used with people in higher social position than oneself (bosses, professors, etc), unless you know them very well.
Minimalists rejoice! Argentine castellano is easier than traditional Spanish in one important way: instead of tú, Argentines use the second person pronoun vos. Easier? With vos there are no irregular verb conjugations to deal with. Let's use the verb poder as an example! In Argentina, instead of "tú puedes" (you can) you'd say "vos podés" (other examples: piensas v pensás, duermes v dormís).
3. ¿Cómo andás?
While you won't be committing any crime by asking someone how they are with the standard Spanish interrogative phrase "¿Cómo estás?", a common Argentine version to keep in mind is "¿Cómo andás?" It roughly translates to "How are you doing?" or "How's it going?" with the typical response being "Todo bien, vos?" (All good, you?)
4. SHo me SHamo ...
We've covered che and vos, now it's time for another typically Argentine phenomenon! In traditional Spanish, the letters 'y' and 'll' will roughly have you pronouncing the term Yo me llamo ...(literally, I call myself…, but meaning My name is…) as "yoh meh yamoh". They ditched this trend long ago in Argentina. Here, these letters are pronounced like the 'sh' in 'shade' or 'shave.' Want to try yo me llamo again?
If in other Latin American countries you're a huevon, in Argentina don't be surprised if the locals refer to you as boludo. Both phrases, incidentally, stem from the same section of the male anatomy that in English we'd call "balls" (in Spanish, this is huevo/egg, bolas/balls or other). Still, don't be offended - with the rough (and clean) translation of this word being "jerk" - in Argentina, boludo can be used as a term of endearment, though is also used as an insult.
6. ¡Qué copado!
Something beginner language students always end up asking is, How do you say 'cool' or 'awesome' or 'rad' in Spanish? Well, perhaps not 'rad' in this decade. In Argentina your best option to exclaim your appreciation of something great is the term copado. The phrase to remember here is: ¡Qué copado! or How cool!
7. ¡Qué quilombo!
Confusion, chaos, a disaster, a ruckus, a mess, a brothel. Wait! A brothel? The exclusively Argentine word quilombo is a historically charged term with roots in the African language of Kumbundu. In contemporary vernacular it means all of the above except brothel, which was its original meaning back in the days when men danced Tango together while they waited in line for female company at the quilombo.
8. Are you a pibe or a mina?
One of the first pair (think masculine and feminine) of nouns Spanish language students learn is chico and chica. Like ¿Cómo estás? you're not wrong to use these words in Argentina. But don't be surprised if you hear pibe or mina instead. These are the colloquial terms for guy and gal in Argentina. (Other common words for the same are nene and nena.)
9. Ni en pedo
Your Spanish teacher might have told you to never make literal translations of words or phrases into English. The word pedo is a perfect example of his or her logic! It translates literally and figuratively to fart in English. In Argentina, farting is no more or less common than in other places. But the word is used in a number of phrases, the most useful of which is, perhaps, ni en pedo (meaning "not even if I were drunk", "no way in hell"). Others include voy a los pedos (I'm going really fast), or hablás al pedo (you're talking rubbish).
10. Buena onda
Let's finish on a high note - or with some buena onda, perhaps. This term in local tongue literally translates to good wave and means something along the lines of good vibrations. As another way of saying copado, buena onda is an ideal term that suits just about any great, awe-inspiring, amazing, nice, friendly, situation, person or thing. Che, ¡qué buena onda sos!
If we've gotten you this far and you'd like to keep learning Argentine Spanish, check out your options with Ailola Buenos Aires - one of the best Spanish schools in Argentina!