12 Very “Spanish” Spanish Words and Expressions

¿Qué dice la gente?
12 Very “Spanish” Spanish Words and Expressions

Contributed by: Alissa Gamberg

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If you’re an American who studied Spanish in high school and college, you probably learned Latin American Spanish (spoken in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America), which differs from Peninsular Spanish (spoken in Spain). How can you tell which dialect you learned? Here’s a simple test: grab a pen and paper, your iPad, or a laptop, and conjugate all the Spanish verbs you know in the vosotros form. If you’re completely stumped, like most Americans would be, that means you have quite a bit to learn about the Spanish language in Spain! But no pasa nada; you can get by just fine using the ustedes form only. What you should learn, however, are some basic colloquialisms that you’ll hear frequently and that will make you look like a real madrileña once you start using them yourself. The following is a list of some common words and expressions used by Spaniards in Madrid and beyond. Be brave and try one out while you’re here!

  • A ver… is a commonly used phrase that is also quite general and versatile. It literally means “let’s see”, but sometimes adults use it, for example, when rallying up a group of children. Basically, you can use this when someone asks you a question and you have to think before answering. Example: ¿Cuántas personas vienen a la cena esta noche? A ver…creo que van a venir José, Mariluz, Ángel, Miguel… Pues entonces cuatro.
  • (Me) mola means it’s really cool or you dig it. In other words, it’s an alternative to me gusta. Examples: Esa canción mola mucho, ¿eh? or Me mola mucho esa canción.
  • Hombre in Spain is not just the opposite of a mujer, so don’t be offended if someone says to you, Hombre, claro. Its other use is as an intensifier, a way to express reactions like surprise, urgency, insistence, etc. In English we would use a variety of words, depending on the context. For the example stated previously, you might say, “Well, obviously.”
  • Vale, vale, vale we understand that you’re a guiri (Peninsular Spanish for gringa), but you cannot leave Spain without this repetitive phrase reverberating in your head! And yes, the Spaniards really do say vale (“okay” or “alright”) three times in a row like that. Not every time, but…just about.
  • Pues…nada, the conversation is over so there’s nothing more to say. If you want to sound like a local, this is a perfect way to conclude your chats.
  • ¡Por favor! If you think por favor just means “please”, think again! In Spain, we use this phrase as a reaction to anything fuerte. It’s similar to the sarcastic kind of “please” in English, but the Spanish use por favor much more frequently.
  • ¡Qué fuerte! My gosh, that’s intense! Although the madrileños might not seem as bubbly as our Latino neighbors, they are still expressive in their own right. Something is fuerte when it’s very bad, good, shocking, or eerily coincidental, for example.
  • Me parto, I’m bursting with laughter! This cracks me up! (Literally, “I’m splitting in two”.) The full phrase is me parto de risa.
  • ¡Ostras! Oysters! What? Well, ostras really are “oysters” in Spanish, but in this context it’s a term used to express surprise. Why oysters? It’s a less-harsh version of ¡Hostia! which is the Eucharist or Host. Basically, ostras is to hostia what “oh my gosh” is to “oh my God”.
  • ¡Vaya tela! ¡Madre mía! “Wow!” “Oh my gosh!” Another useful expression to react to something fuerte.
  • Qué guay if you like it — it’s cool, or genial.
  • Tiene buena pinta because it looks good, appealing, tasty, attractive, or fun (depends on the context).

This is just a small sampling of typical Spanish words and phrases in Madrid. When you start listening in on other people’s conversations (hey, it’s not eavesdropping when you’re still learning the language!), you will begin to hear the same expressions from different people, and you’ll realize which ones are definitely more Madrid-specific and less pan-Hispanic. It’s important to come to Madrid with an open mind and an eager heart. Be ready to broaden your linguistic horizons and soak up more sayings!

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