Advanced series 2
2: Chile – El lenguaje
Welcome to episode number 2 of our second advanced series. In this episode, I continue my conversation with Sebastian from Chile, and we talk about the slang, and the informal language of Chile. Also, what does 'po' mean, and how do Chileans talk in real life.
The city where I live now is called Terni, which is right in the centre of Italy, if you turn the map and put your finger in the centre, there is the city where I live. It has no coast, it is the only region without coast, it is quite humid, but it is beautiful, really nice.
I think it must be about 14 or 15 degrees or so, I don’t think more. At least there is sun, it’s not so cold, maybe in the afternoon the temperature increases a little, but yes, little by little the rains begin, there is more humidity.
Right. First I was in the north, in Tuscany I was a couple of months and then I move to where I am now. I’ve been in this place now for almost two years, and I spent four months in the north.
Amañado? Like, happy, like, used to it. No, it's more than used to it, for example, you get to a house, you meet some friends, they start talking and it's time to go home like at 11:00 PM, but you're having such a good time that you don’t want to go , then you're “amañado” in that place.
Sure. Yes, absolutely yes, totally at ease, I have made good friends, very good friends, I am now married to an Italian girl and even her family became my family and perfect, to be honest I couldn’t be any better, really good.
Yes. I’m obliged to because my wife, let’s say she’s very Italian, so it would be very difficult that she’d like to move elsewhere. The situation now is not the best, the economic, political, social situation, there is a little tension, as in England I imagine, the political issue too.
Here, too, the economy is pretty bad. Like me, I would like to try my luck for a couple of years out of Italy, but I see it’s complicated, especially for my wife, she doesn’t have that good English, she still hasn’t learned Spanish in fact because we speak Italian among us, so it is difficult to get out of here, for now at least, but I don’t rule it out completely.
Yes, same thing here, we in London. I have a job here, something more stable and like we are at home here, we have been here for a while now, Rob's family, but Rob has already given way a little, with the topic of brexit as … England … we thought about it.
Yes, there is the option that at any time, “Right, we’re done with England”, and we're leaving, but we don’t know where. But, it's nice to know that he also has the idea and that it's not perhaps that he has to stay here in England, no.
Yes. Like I think they are giving in, because at the beginning Rob was also like very, “Live where? In Colombia, no”, but as time goes by everything changes and what you say, the economies, everything, the opportunities change and one also changes with it.
Yes, of course. In addition, I think it’s not like the previous generations, our parents, grandparents, they had a job all their lives, the house, everything was very fixed. Now everything moves, everything is connected, so to change country or city is not like before, to be honest. Imagine that I am, I don’t know, 12,000 kilometres away from my original home and even then I don’t feel like I'm so far away, I talk to my parents every day, I'm in contact with my friends, my parents came to visit me. Once, I was in Chile in June for almost a month, so I don’t feel that distance that strongly, to be honest.
Returning to the theme of the language, of slang, what are those words or phrases that Chileans say are not found in dictionaries?
I think that what could most stand out or differentiate Chilean Spanish with that of other countries in Latin America, at least I feel are very similar, in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, they’re all quite alike, the slang maybe not so much, but the way of speaking is a little more similar than in other countries, Peru, Bolivia too, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay are a very particular dialect, but Chile is unique in that sense, but not positively because we really have a Spanish that is chaos, it doesn’t really seem Spanish. Obviously when I talk to other people I speak normally, but when I talk to friends in Chile and I speak with the slang, the accent and the way we speak, they don’t understand anything.
In Santiago and the most part of Chile we speak with a type of conjugation that doesn’t exist, it is only Chilean. We don’t say, “How are you? Where are you from? What's your name?” We say, “How are you? How did I call you? Where are you from?” They change all the verbs with a conjugation that doesn’t exist. I am a teacher, obviously, I know it, the origin and everything, but people don’t know it, it is not known, it is not famous. If you've never been to Chile, you never even did a Google search to understand what the differences are in Spanish, you go there and they say, “Hi, what's your name?”, “What did I call you?”, What is “llamái”? So, it doesn’t exist, “Llamái”. They change the conjugations of “tú”, only with “tú”. Instead of saying, “llamas”, they say “llamai”, and only with “tú” when it ends in S. For example, if I say to you, “ What did you do yesterday?”, it’s normal, but if I say to you any other conjugation that ends in S, I'm going to change it “¿Cómo estái?, ¿cómo te llamái?, ¿de dónde erís?, ¿qué hací? Oye, ¿querís ir al cine?, ¿cómo te sentís?, ¿qué vais a hacer más tarde?”, it’s only with “tú” and is the most used in a non-formal context, it is used a lot. I meet a friend and I say, “Hi, “weón”, how are you? What are you? I shit, really? “ People are like, “ What? ” The “cachái” for example, the “cachái” is very common because the “cachái” means
-like, “ Do you understand?”, More or less. So, I say, “Hey, cachai?” “It's like … How to say it? As in English when people say, “ You know?”, it's the same as that. So, we say, “Hey, cachái, the other day I went to a party and cachái there was this guy”.
The cachái and the po. The po is added at the end of all sentences and doesn’t mean anything at all, so people say, “What’s up po, how are you?” “Wena” is like, “ How are you doing? How have you been?”, so, “ Wena po”, “Po” means nothing and, ““¿Cómo estái?”, “Wena po, ¿cómo estái?, ¿qué contái?”.
Exactly, something like that. What happens also, I imagine in Colombia too, is that we don’t pronounce the Ss, in the end never. So, we say, “nosotro- somo-” , we don’t pronounce the, eses, in the end. Technically it is, “¿Cómo estáis?”, but people say, “¿Qué hacís?”, “¿Qué hací?”, ¿De dónde erís?”, people don’t pronounce that and they shorten it with “¿Cómo estái?”, “¿Cachái?”. The achái is from “cachas”, from “to catch” and “cachar” is also slang. Cachái means like, “ Do you understand? “, “ Hey, “cachái” Juan?”, “Do you know Juan?”.
There are a lot of countries in South America that have that thing of not saying the eses, we combine that with the “cachai” and this thing is formed, and no one understands what it’s all about. And it also changes from north to south, from north they speak very similar to the Peruvians, north, in the extreme north, they speak very similar to the Peruvians, the Bolivians.
Yes, much more slowly, they speak quite well, Peruvians speak very well. I think that Spanish is quite easy to understand, in the south of Chile, not Patagonia, but in the south they talk … We say “cantadito” because they talk like, “Hi, how are you? Seriously, I ca– Yes, if the other day I went out with some friends and…” and all like that, like singing, all the time. That is the south of Chile and Patagonia is even worse, Patagonian people speak with a very strong slang, only from Patagonia with the “cantadito” accent and with the Chilean mixture of a little more from the north, it is such a strange mixture that, I don’t know, I greet a friend and say, “Hola este won ¿cómo estáis? Me cagó, ayer como te dejaste won si estáis hecho mierda”, and I say that and people would not understand absolutely anything I said.
Yes, but look, I tell you Sebastián that is the Spanish that people want to understand because … I think you also, when you came to Italy and you talk to me I imagine … Apart from Italian do you also speak English? I imagine.
Super. It is the thing about the language as they speak it in the country. I spent some time in Colombia studying English, American English, but when I arrived in London I did not understand anything, this is the same thing. I have friends who are learning Spanish, but who went to Latin countries and zero because … What I said to you is not in dictionaries, it's what you just said, “Hola weón, ¿qué más?, ¿qué hubo?, ¿qué hace? Entonces”. It's how you talk on a day-to-day basis and I think that's like the challenge that people have to start having when they learn a language.
Usually when I teach Chilean Spanish, in my classes I teach Spanish more like from the capital, which is the most standard in Chile, the “Cachai, how are you?” is not that difficult, but if you know Spanish and practice a bit with a Chilean or, for example, I teach them a little how Chilean Spanish works, after they understand it much better, but if you arrive in Chile without knowing anything about Chilean Spanish you won’t understand because they also change the grammar. It is not official because obviously you won’t find it in a book, only spoken, not written, only spoken. When you talk to people who say, ” Oye, ¿de dónde eri?”, you're going to think,” “Eri”, what does “eri” mean?” “And of course there is no “eri”, or, for example-”
For example, if I tell you, “¿Que comí?”, I ate means I ate, in the past, but here I am asking you “What do you eat? “ hey, what are you eating?”.
Interesting, because I had that discussion with a classmate of mine who is studying and she is learning a lot, but in grammar and at the end when you want to learn to speak– Grammar is important, but look, that is the clear example, you go to different countries and people speak differently. There the grammatical rules are not so important anymore. Apart from what you have taught, how do you help students understand that slang? Because it's a bit difficult, that is, it has to be like– Understanding the culture to understand the slang, a bit like that?
Of course, I think you're absolutely right, the slang is very linked to culture, very linked to culture. I believe that the first thing I do when there are people who want to learn Chilean Spanish, the first thing you do is like an introduction to a little of Chile, to culture, how they speak, how are people in general, about register, when people are formal, when they are informal, when they use slang or something else. And after a bit of vocabulary as well, I have vocabulary lists, there are many words that are only Chilean. For example, I don’t know, we change many names to many everyday things that are not called that way in any other country, if I tell you, for example, if you know what is “micro”, or “palta”, “porotos”, there are many things that people-
Or the “micro” is the bus, the bus you take to get around in the city is called the “micro” and so there are many things that change the names . The “bomba” is the gas station, the gas station, they call it the “bomba”. Everything changes and people … If you've never talked to a Chilean, studied a little bit of that … It's very difficult to find also on the internet, I teach them slang and then we do many simulated situations, many role plays. Let's say that we are in a restaurant and I am a Chilean waiter and we make different simulated situations as real as possible, as real as possible.
If we put ourselves in the situation of the student, in a certain way it is also a bit difficult because you want to learn Spanish and to make yourself understood, and understand people, but already to go to each country is difficult. I try to make the comparison, for example, I speak English, there are also regions here where it is very difficult to understand English, as in Scotland or certain parts of Ireland that speak too fast, but the truth is that there is a standard English, for example. And there must also be Spanish as a standard.
I've always had that debate with Rob from– I always say, “We Colombians don’t speak standard Spanish”, but yes, how is it? Because if you see it like– It's hard for someone who wants to learn Spanish, perhaps, “I have to learn Spanish from Chile, I have to learn from Argentina, they're different”. They are not different, but they are.
You learn it with me and then you go to Chile and I don’t know anything about Chilean slang, it would be like a lie. Yes, it is interesting, and the same for me, I haven’t travelled to another South American country to have the experience, but obviously among us– we are talking, we understand each other, it is just like a British speaking with an American, they understand each other.
Of course, yes you obviously adapt a bit to me and with the topic of slang and I adapt to you, we understand each other perfectly. Yes, I think that the Colombian can be quite standard, perhaps the most neutral could be the Mexican, Mexican Spanish is taken as one of the most neutral. I at least make that difference, when my students want to study Chilean Spanish or study normal, neutral Spanish. I only do the Chilean Spanish for the advanced ones because if you don’t know anything I don’t get anything with teaching you, “ Cachai, weón, bacán, carrete”, the truth is you are going to use it only in Chile a little bit and nobody else will understand you . For me they always have to start with good Spanish, a neutral Spanish and then if they want to learn something specific it will be much easier.
The idea of these podcasts is also to try to have that interaction with native people like you because we know that there is already a level of those who are listening to us and that's it … And that happens with languages, it happens to me with English that you already reach a level and you want to start exploring and go further to understand more the culture, why do they use this word? And in a certain way to speak as the natives speak, that is like the top.
Exactly, that's the goal for everyone. In Chile I think that this is what could differentiate more than all the rest of the countries, the slang is very strong … And also what I can say that unfortunately most Chileans can not differentiate real Spanish, well, Chilean Spanish because Chile, for example I don’t know, Colombia is world famous for artists, culture, in many things, Brazil, many countries that are much more famous and have had much more immigration over time, Chile lately is a bit more known for specific tourism, but in general 10, 15 years ago nobody knew Chile. There was almost no immigration, very little immigration, there is now a lot, now there is immigration from Colombia, from Peru, Bolivia there is a lot, we also have an almost massive immigration from Haiti in recent years, but before that nobody. Nobody immigrated to Chile because it was a very low-profile country, as Chileans did not know how to differentiate their Spanish from another type of Spanish, if a foreigner arrived and said “Excuse me, can you help me?”, “ Yes, “al tiro”, and you say, “al tiro”?, people don’t know that “al tiro” is not Spanish, people treat it as if it were real Spanish, and when people don’t understand the Chilean repeats louder as if people were deaf.
He says “al tiro”, but if he doesn’t understand you once, he won’t understand you twice, three times. All my students who travelled to Chile tell me, “All Chileans do the same thing”, when they don’t know English and don’t realize that deep down they are not speaking real Spanish, and they say, I don’t know, for example “la bomba”, “la bomba”. Yes, people know that a bomb is a bomb, but they don’t know that the pump is also the gas station, how will they know? People repeat the same thing, louder, nothing else.
I think that's also an immediate reaction from us as human beings, because it happens to my mum, also with Rob at the beginning. My mum is from a city called Boyacá and they also have a certain slang and when she is with her brothers or with my uncles, they talk like that and Rob doesn’t understand, I say to her, “mum, repeat it”, or my mum repeats it and she repeats the same, “mum, but he doesn’t understand”, she’s also not aware that he doesn’t understand sometimes. Some words because Rob understands very well, but the same thing is the slang, regionalisms drive you crazy.
Of course, for example, your mum could be taken as a person who sometimes has trouble differentiating, that this is slang, this is regionalism, I have to speak with another word. The problem of the Chileans is that the vast majority do that, they will tell you something that only the Chilean, the “palta”, for example, do you know what is the “palta”?
Yes, we call it “palta”, nothing other than “palta”. The people who don’t, I don’t know, who have not travelled, who have not spoken other languages, who don’t have such an open consciousness, they won’t know that the “palta” is only in Chile, they call it “palta”, in no other country. For us the word “palta” is official, I say “ Hey, do you want “palta”? “, And you don’t understand me, “palta”, I will continue with “palta” and the average Chilean won’t know what “palta” is-
Not all. Some yes, some no, that's the issue, because as we're not used to foreigners, immigration, we're very Chilean, that's the thing. The Chilean is very Chilean, the average Chilean, with his Spanish, with his customs, with his everything, he/she is very, very closed in that. It's hard to go out sometimes, to understand other things, that's the problem sometimes with Chilean Spanish. That's why I have many people who study with me only for Chilean Spanish. If you search online and put Chilean Spanish everyone will say the same thing, we speak very badly, we speak with a lot of slang, it’s not well understood, we speak very fast, they all say the same and it is true.
Yes, from Chilean Spanish, but you said there were many famous people in Colombia, but no, I think that in Chile too, when I was at school we saw a lot about poets. Most of the South American poets, many were, that I remember from my school, were Chilean.
Gabriela Mistral also, I once recited poems by Gabriela at school. Those references I have a lot of Chile, the subject of poetry, because in my school almost all poets were Chilean.
Yes they have, it's funny because even poetry, the language of poetry is difficult and still. Interesting. Sebastián thank you very much, thank you very much for this audio, I think it is very interesting and very valuable for the students. I hope we see each other on another podcast.
Exactly. Students who want to learn a little more about Chile or Chilean Spanish, I am always willing and happy to help them with that, thank you very much for your time too and we’ll talk soon.