10 Words to Know Before Going to Chile

In 2014 I studied abroad in Chile for a full year. With a full load of courses in Spanish, understanding the language was essential. I was pretty confident in my Spanish abilities acquired in class and speaking with my Mexican friends, however when I arrived to Chile I discovered that I was quite ill-prepared to converse with Chileans in their vastly unique dialect. After a rough first few weeks, I caught on pretty well and began adding these new Chilean words to my arsenal.

For those of you who speak Spanish, as a first or second language, going to Chile for the first time will take you on a wild ride of vocabulary and pronunciation.

I compiled a list of words that I find interesting and unique to Chile, not necessarily the most popular words you will find when googling ‘Chilean slang’. Even after spending a year there and amassing a fairly good knowledge of the dialect/slang, I still feel like I have only touched the tip of the iceberg. That said, here are 10 words you need to know before going to Chile:

1. Aperrao

Aperrao is probably my favorite word in Chilean. It’s an adjective that refers to a go-for-it or fearless person. The root of the word is “perro” or dog, in other words someone who is like a dog. It’s a word that I heard a lot from the surfers/skimboarders, describing someone who was not afraid to go for the big waves.

2. Caleta

A lot. Many. Mucho. Hella, for you Bay Area folks.

3. Cuico

Used to described rich, stuck-up people.

4. Pololo/a

Boyfriend/Girlfriend. In most of the Spanish speaking world, novio means boyfriend, but not in Chile! This word is also used as a verb. Pololear = to date someone.

5. Cuático

I like using this word because it mirrors a word that is frequently used in English – gnarly. While most other dialects of Spanish are lacking such a word, Chilean Spanish pretty much hits the nail on the head with a direct translation.

6. Taco

You already know what a taco is, right? Not in Chile. Taco refers to a traffic jam. If you wanted to refer to the mexican food, you would have to specify that that’s what you are talking about.

7. Chelear

One of my favorite parts of Chilean Spanish is verbs that describe an action for which English is lacking a verb. Chelear is the act of drinking beer. Whereas in English you would have to say “Let’s drink beer,” in Chile you can simply say “Cheleemos.” Less is more.

8. Que Lata

Common Chilean way of saying ‘bummer’ or ‘that sucks.’ Oddly enough, it literally means ‘What a can.’

9. Micro

The rickety town buses.

10. Luca

In English we have slang words for amounts of money. Example: a grand = $1,000. Chile is no different. Luca, the most common of this type of slang word, means 1,000 pesos (about one dollar and fifty cents.) Other denominations are gamba (100 pesos or about 15 cents) and palo (literally meaning ‘stick’), which is one million pesos or about $1,500 dollars.

This list could go on forever, but there are some of my favorites! To those of you going to Chile, best of luck!

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