Cachai? (Did You Catch That?): A Primer on Chilean Slang

You’ve taken years of Spanish. Maybe you even studied in a Spanish-speaking country. You feel prepared to take on the challenge of interning in a second language. And then you arrive in Chile and suddenly you’re not so sure that what you’re hearing can be described as español – especially since they seem to be calling it castellano!

With its slang and strongly accented speakers, Chilean Spanish can be difficult to understand at first. Once you get used to it though, you’ll realize how fun it is to say things the Chilean way.

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, Patagonia.
Photo Credit: Douglas Scorteganga

In the Workplace

When you start your internship, you’ll quickly find out that your job is a pega. You might take the metro there (that one’s easy!), or catch one of the city buses called a micro. Hopefully you won’t get stuck in a taco on the way to work, since in Chile it’s not the delicious food you’re used to but a traffic jam.

Photo Credit: Germán Saavedra Rojas (No modifications have been made)
Photo Credit: Germán Saavedra Rojas

You’ll learn that if your boss wants something al tiro, you should do that right away. If you do a great job, they may tell you that te pasaste; pasarse is to outdo oneself. If they call you un siete, it’s a great compliment. Seven is the highest grade you can receive in the Chilean education system, the equivalent of an “A”.

Out and About

After work, it’s time to meet up with friends for la once! Despite the name, this does not occur at eleven o’clock. Once is the Chilean version of tea time, taking place in late afternoon or evening and consisting of light snacks and often tea or coffee. Some Chileans use once as a substitute for dinner, and some will eat a full meal later on. During once, you might discover that Chileans say palta for avocado and that manjar is a Chilean caramel or dulce de leche. Don’t forget to try the alfajores, made with manjar. These cookies are found elsewhere in South America, but there are varieties specific to Chile.

Baile Tinku in Candeleria Chile
Photo Credit: Juan Pablo Gallo

When you talk to your Chilean friends, we hope you’ll be able to tell them your internship is bacán, or cool. With any internship, you may have a few tasks that are fome, or boring.  Over the weekend, you might be invited to carretear, or party, with some locals . Be careful though, as Chileans like their copetes quite strong. You don’t want to wake up with a caña, a hangover! If one of your new friends turns into something more, you could end up with a pololo or polola, a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Don’t get confused if someone asks you about a cuestión. It’s the Chilean version of cosa, thing. In Chile, re- doesn’t always mean again. It’s often very, as in re-bacán. You’ll also hear po added to words and phrases for emphasis. Instead of and no, you’ll often hear sí po and no po.

There are so many chilenismos that it’s impossible to list them all here. If you intern in Chile, you’ll learn them firsthand, and pick up some professional skills while you’re at it!

To find out more about Cultural Vistas’ customized 3-month internship program in Santiago, visit our website.

Kristin Wood

Originally from Kansas, Kristin studied abroad in Costa Rica, Chile, France and India and has been working with exchange students in some capacity for the past decade. When she's not at work, you can find her reading, binge-watching Netflix, making her own clothes, and exploring DC.

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Kristin Wood

Originally from Kansas, Kristin studied abroad in Costa Rica, Chile, France and India and has been working with exchange students in some capacity for the past decade. When she's not at work, you can find her reading, binge-watching Netflix, making her own clothes, and exploring DC.

View all posts by Kristin Wood

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