How to Speak Spanish like a Chilean

Megan Anger Arcadia in Chile


May 12, 2017

It is no secret that the Chilean accent is one of the hardest accents to understand in the Spanish-speaking world. I was warned many times before coming here that it would probably take a month for me to just start to understand Chileans when they speak. Chileans typically speak very quickly, change/drop/add sounds to their words, and use a lot of words that aren’t taught in traditional Spanish classes (Chilenismos). This makes it difficult to understand, but the Chileans I’ve spoken with have been great about slowing down a bit so I understand everything. Sometimes I need a minute to process what I’m hearing or I need to focus completely on the person that is speaking, but it didn’t take me long to adjust to understanding Chilean Spanish. So have no fear!

Here are a few examples of how grammar changes in informal conversation: When Chileans speak informally, they often drop the “s” sound at the end of a word. For example, “más o menos” becomes “ma o meno.” In most verb conjugations that end with “s,” the “s” is dropped. In addition, they’ll sometimes change verb endings in the “tú” form to a different vowel sound (Cómo estás? becomes Cómo estai?). My favorite part of Chilean grammar, however, is adding the diminutive “-ito/a” to everything. Café becomes cafecito, pan becomes pancito, poco becomes poquito, and the list goes on and on and on. Sometimes when my host mom is speaking, I have to mentally take off all of the “-ito’s” from her words to decipher what she’s saying.

Here’s a short list of some common Chilenismos:

  1. Bacán - cool/awesome
  2. Al tiro - right away
  3. Guagua (pronounced like “wawa”) - baby
  4. Harto - a lot
  5. Buena/mala onda - good/bad vibes (literally “good waves”)
  6. Carretear - to party
  7. Pololo/a - boyfriend/girlfriend (novio/a means fiancé in Chile)
  8. Cachai? - Understand? or You know?
  9. Gringo/a - American
  10. Fome - boring, lame
  11. Weón (huevón/güeón) - can be used as an insult or as a term endearment between friends (kind of like “dude” in English but more vulgar)
  12. **Sí, po / No, po / No sé, po / Ya, po - “po” is a filler word that comes from pues and it is probably the most important and most used Chilenismo

¡(Tip: Before I left for Chile, I spent some time on YouTube watching videos of native Chilean speakers to start getting accustomed to Chilean Spanish. It helped a lot and I definitely felt more prepared and less nervous when I first arrived in Chile.)!