You might have learned your verb conjugations and practiced rolling your r’s until your tongue hurt, but when arriving in Chile you’ll likely feel it was all in vain. Chilean Spanish can seem like a completely different language and one that even other native Spanish speakers admit to finding tricky, if not almost impossible, to understand at times.
Chilean Spanish is certainly a challenge to master but grasping what si po means and what on earth they’re saying when they ask ¿cómo estai? will prove invaluable when visiting this country.
Making sense of Chilean Spanish
Chilean Spanish is known for its liberal sprinkling of slang words that can make it seem like the locals are talking in a completely new language. However, once you’re acquainted with some of the key vocabulary used by Chilean speakers, it becomes considerably easier to follow conversations and make sense of what is being said.
Don’t forget that you can always ask Chileans to speak slower and most are very aware that Chilean Spanish is almost its own dialect, so will likely drop some of the more unusual slang in favor of standard Spanish when conversing with non-native speakers.
Chilean verb conjugations
One of the first things you’ll likely notice about Chilean Spanish is its unique way of dropping the letter s at every opportunity. Instead, questions such as ¿cómo estas? become ¿cómo estai?, with the tú (you) form of the verb being conjugated with this ‘ai’ ending.
Don’t be surprised if a lot of words end in this ‘ai’ sound, but it does take some time to get used to this new way of conjugating verbs!
Important Chilean Spanish slang expressions to listen out for
¿Cachai? – “you know?”, “you got it?”
Taken from the verb cachar (to catch), this literally means “do you catch?”, which in English translates more specifically as “do you understand?”. You’ll often hear this at the end of a sentence.
Po – used after si and no
Derived from the word pues (which is used as a way or pausing), you will often hear Chileans saying po after si and no. Realistically, it doesn’t actually mean a lot and is most literally translated as “well” in English.
Taco – “a traffic jam”
This is something you’ll potentially hear from taxi or bus drivers when traveling through Santiago, where congestion during rush hour can be an issue.
Al tiro – “right now”, “immediately”
You’ll mostly hear this in restaurants and cafes when your host tells you they’ll be bringing your order al tiro. Just remember that service can be a little on the slow side, so take the immediacy implied with a pinch of salt and you won’t be disappointed!
Luca – “1,000 pesos”
The smallest plastic Chilean note in circulation is one luca, which basically means 1,000 pesos.
¿Qué onda? – “how’s it going?”, “what’s going on?”
An informal phrase, you’ll probably hear this if someone asks you how you are.