Learning Colombian Spanish Slang

Santa Marta Colombia sculpture

Day 208: Bogota, Colombia

Tomorrow is the last day of my two month visa in Colombia and I’m moving on. When I first arrived in Colombia I was very frustrated because I could not understand Colombians.

I wasn’t sure if it was because they were mumbling, talking quickly or a combination of the two. One thing I did realize is that there is an incredible amount of expressions that I did not understand:

Listo

Listo literally means ‘ready’ but its also used if something is smart or cool or okay. I hear this several times a day but when I first arrived I thought people were always asking me if I was ready.

A la orden

Colombians are extremely polite and there is a sense of formality in their speech. Anyone serving you, from a taxi driver to a grocery store clerk will say this to you. It literally means ‘to order’ but is more similar to ‘at your service’.

I did not understand this one at all, especially when I would complain to taxi drivers that they were charging me too much and they responded with this phrase which really meant get of the cab gringa.

Con mucho gusto

Another Colombian pleasantry which can be confusing. While in every other country it means ‘nice to meet you’ I started hearing it here from waitresses and other service people when I thanked them.

Caliente

Caliente does not only mean hot but it also means horny. I learned this the hard way when my dance partner did not realize I was saying I was hot temperature wise.

Update: A kind friend just wrote me it was because I said estoy cliente and not tengo calor. Lesson learned.

Claro/cierto/dale

As Tourist2Townie pointed out, if you want to fit in you need to drop ‘si’ and start using local speak.

Lindo/linda

Colombians love to marvel at beauty and bonita, hermosa, guapa and preciosa weren’t cutting it; you’ll often hear them use lindo/linda to describe pretty things.

Chevere/chimba/bacano

All ways to say something is cool although apparently chimba trumps chevre the same way awesome trumps cool. But be careful because chimba also refers to female genitalia – although somewhat nice to see they at least appropriated it in a positive light.

Por’fa

Like our shortened expressions in English ‘por favor’ is too much for many Colombians so it’s become porva.  This was the only slang that annoyed me as I could not find the verb in any dictionary.

Once I mastered these I really felt like I had taken my Spanish to a new level, of course that is today but tomorrow I’ll be in Ecuador and there may be a whole new batch of expressions to learn.

 

Comments

  1. says

    I love this. Local slang is one of those things that seems nearly impossible to learn before spending time in the place. Thanks for the insider info.

  2. says

    Oooh I love learning slang on the road! My personal favorite to date is “budgie smugglers” (Speedos in Aussie). Although I speak Spanish, I’ve never heard a couple of those sayings and would like to implement “chimba!” (exclamation point imperative) into my everyday vocabulary–for the mere sound of it I might add, not it’s meaning! Almost sounds like you’re cutting gown a tree: “timber!”

  3. says

    I realized very quickly that Columbians do not use the diminutive as often as the folks in central america. Whenever I would say “ahorita” for ahora or “cervecita” for cerveza, they would just laugh at me and tell me that I spoke silly Mexican Spanish.

    Colombians on the whole speak pretty clearly, albeit much faster than in central america. Once you get down to Chile and Argentina, it’s a whole new ballgame.
    Kyle recently posted..Photo Journal- Sukhothai After Dark

  4. says

    Great tips as this is the most difficult thing about traveling in a country that doesn’t speak your native language. The basics simply don’t cut it. We had the same problem in Argentina after a few months in Peru and Ecuador. We thought we had a great grasp on the language, then we entered Argentina and thought they were speaking something completely different. It can be quite frustrating.

    What a great, helpful post. Glad you’ve enjoyed your time in Colombia. Still our favorite country we’ve been.
    Adam. recently posted..The Benefits of Slowing Down

  5. says

    Good words there…

    One of the funny things about Spanish is that every single country modifies it in a significant way. While I (native spanish speaker) can communicate fluently with any South and Central America spanish speaker, they all have different words for many things, or they switch words, meanings, and context.

    For example, I know 8 ways to say “straw” in spanish (depending on the country), but each word means different things in every country… Talk about slangs!

  6. says

    Thanks for beating me to a post I’d been wanting to write for months! It’s amazing how once you learn these little slang words, how much you’ll use them, and understand what others are saying. It’s like putting grease in the gears of your (Colombian) Spanish skills.

    I say “listo” and “chevere” like a champ now, but I still have trouble dropping “si” for “cierto” and “bonita” for “lindo.”

    And I try not to throw around “chimba” too much for the reason you mentioned. My friend taught me the more vulgar “cara chimba” if you want to curse someone off!

  7. says

    You probably learned Spanish from a Mexican teacher (like most people in the states), and that is why you could not understand Colombians. After reading some of your blog I realized that your previous idea about some of expressions was inaccurate. It’s true that Colombians use some of the expression in a particular way, but for example: “con mucho gusto” does not mean “nice to meet you”, that is just “mucho gusto”; instead, it means “my pleasure”….
    It’s a subtle difference, and I can see why you were confused. Moreover, if you think Colombians are hard to understand, wait until you speak with Cubans or the people from the Caribbean….

    • Ayngelina says

      @Camilo

      I’m actually Canadian not American so my introduction to Spanish was in Central America, mostly Nicaragua.

      But I agree there are many nuances, I was accustomed to using “mucho gusto” as an equivalent when English speakers say “nice to meet you” so the addition of “con” did not make sense to me at all.

      Oddly enough while many people say Colombians speak the clearest Spanish, I find Ecuadorians much easier to understand.

  8. says

    This is a lot like Costa Rican slang and I’m still trying to get the hang of it! In my particular town, they are known for changing the slang language as soon as everyone figures out what it means. Right now, they are all saying “pescado”, which means fish, but they say it to mean “cool”, or “OK”. And since I know this, it will probably change to something else next week.
    Erin recently posted..Day Hike in Los Chorros Waterfall Park

  9. says

    Por fa is my faaaaaaave! I say it all the time and annoy my fiance haha. I learned about “con mucho gusto” meaning something different when I was in Colombia as well. Another way to say you’re horney is estoy calenton/a.
    Andi recently posted..Cuba- Day 3 Part 1

  10. says

    Great post! I always catch myself using English slang on the road and realise that hardly anyone will know what I am going on about!

    Where are you heading next?

  11. says

    bahhaa, my ex boyfriend from colombia and I used to have some language barriers (especially when he used terms like those). For a good period of time when we first met he would say Linda and I would respond YOU KNOW MY NAME IS LINDSAY RIGHT!? haha… damn slang!
    But at least I didn’t tell my dance partner I was horny!
    OH SNAP! haha
    Hogga aka @ _thetraveller_ recently posted..Travel Photography- China

  12. says

    I’m surprised that Colombians use so many of the same terms as Chileans do! The only one I didn’t know was chimba. I’ve got a glossary of Chilean slang (chilenismos) on my blog if you’re interested!

  13. colombianchick says

    Hey, its ColOmbian NOT Columbia, it pisses me off when ppl do that lol. They are totlly diffrent things!!

    • Ayngelina says

      I think you are referring to the comments section. In North America we have British Columbia, Columbia University and a popular clothing brand called Columbia which is why it is natural for some of the commenters to make that mistake. But now I make the opposite mistake and call it British Colombia!

    • says

      Hahaha guevon! Yes! But they also forgot “berraca” and “oyo?” “Baccan, berraca and chimba” all interchangeable ways to say something is the best or super cool.
      “Oyo?” is their way of saying “You know, or understand?” at the end of a statement such as “We’ll meet at 7pm at the corner of Main and South street, oyo? “

  14. Ed says

    I have spent alot of time in Colombia and for me it is a true Paradise. One slang she left out that puzzled me at 1st was “de pronto”, which oddly enough means, “maybe”. I love Medellin. Me encanta las Paisas.

  15. says

    Hi Ayngelina,
    Just started following you. I love this post. I lived in Medellin, Colombia for 3 years. I am 1/2 Colombiana so all of this resonates with me. Love your writing style….and the name of your blog? Genius! Chao, linda. ;)

  16. says

    It is such a great post! I would say main thing about Colombian slang is that it depends on which region you are visiting. For me it was quite imposible to understand people up north the “costenios” but people from Bogotá and Medellin were quite really cool to talk to. I’m so glad my 6 months stay in Colombia was a complete great experience.

    • Ammery says

      Very true! I live in Barranquilla and the Spanish here on the coast is much harder for me to understand than in the interior! And just like everywhere – different regions equal different slang, so there is a lot of learning to do. You’ve got the big ones there though! Good list :)

  17. Kevin Bentler says

    What about “vacano”? I understand it means “cool!” I learned it from a Colombian friend and at least once in a Colombian film (can’t recall the film).

  18. jerry says

    i live in colombia already long time

    some more slang:

    un tinto = black coffee
    un perico means in bogota black coffee or in dancing a bag of dope
    un pintadito = coffee again

    llave = means friend or amigo in medellin

    marca gato = cheap brand, fake etc…

    mono = when girls talk about you, then this does means your cute and not a monkey

    bizcocho = girls talk, this means your cute

    q’hubo = when contesting phone colombians always say q’hubo que mas when its a friend similar to how are you or whats up

    • Simon says

      Mono or mona is slang for any white or blonde person, it doesn’t necessarily mean she thought you were cute.

      The key to fitting in with the paisas is just saying pues every time you pause of think.

      Some other more subtle:

      Mija / mijo – as in ‘mi hijo’ or ‘mi hija’, it can be used in an endearing way or talking down to someone ‘ahy no mijo!’.

      Bien o que? / vamos o que? – The spanish is Colombia is very direct, takes some getting used to. ‘Good or what?’ ‘Lets go or what?’.

      Sizas – A way that often younger or poorer Colombians say yes. Doesn’t work on its own, but something like ‘sizas ome’.

      Ome – I think its an abreviation of hombre, makes me feel like a mexican in a film when i drop that one in. ‘que mas ome?’

      Polla – Means girl or chick in Colombia, don’t use it in Spain though as it means penis.

      parce / parcero – amigo

      Hijueputa – I love the paisa pronunciation of this word ‘eeh-weh-poota’. It means son of a bitch, but it can also be used as an exclamation point. ‘como un hijueputa’

      chimba – chimba was mentioned, the easiest usage is ‘ahy que chimba parce’ or ‘(something) es una chimba’. Both meaning something is good, although chimba can also mean something is bad.

      gordo/gorda (fatty), flaco/flaca (skinny), mono/mona (whitey), negro/negra (black person)- These are not really slang, but be prepared to be called these sort of things in Colombia. Colombians are refreshingly direct, but it takes some adjusting to. For example, a girl can walk into a shop and the woman behind the desk might say ‘gorda, a la orden’ (literally – fatty, at your service).

      Grilla (pronounced greejah) – a word used in medellin to describe women who liked to drink and party. Like a ‘rumbera’ but with less clase. Women use it as a negative but men are obviously sometimes attracted by the idea. Itagui has been referred to as grillas paradise, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

      I can’t think of any more off the top of my head, but men who don’t like to spend money can be referred to as having chicken-arms (ie, they don’t reach their pockets) and the gesture for this is rubbing your elbow.

      Also, Colombians sometimes point with their lips. Its a skill I haven’t mastered.

      • Simon says

        Ah, another one I like.

        la caliente-huevos / la calentadora (the egg warmer or just the warmer) – this is a phrase used to describe sexy or flirty girls who show interest but don’t want to have sex.

        Another vulgar one is ‘quatero’, which is used by some as ‘wingman’. Use your imagination as to why. This should be used with caution as it is rather an indelicate term.

        Arepa is both a delicious food and can also be used as a slang for lady parts. ‘Te gusta arepa paisa?’

  19. says

    Hullo! I’m new to your site and had to check out the Colombia section since my novio is Colombian. He taught me a few of these phrases after I was CLUELESS about what his visiting friends were saying!

    I learned several new phrases with your post–I’d never heard “a la orden” or “chimba.” Gracias por una clase tan bacana!
    Cassandra recently posted..Alcalá-lá-lá

  20. lhoppen says

    Con mucho gusto
    with much pleasure – that they enjoyed helping you

    mucho gusto
    much pleasure – that they enjoyed meeting you

  21. Nicolas says

    Its funny what happens to Canadians, specially west Canadians, with Colombian Spanish. While for many Americans, British and overall Europeans find very clear Colombian Spanish, Canadians always say we are rumbling words and that they prefere Costa Rica´s or Nicaragua´s Spanish. As a matter of truth for me as Colombian it is almost impossible to tell the diference between people of tis three countries.

  22. Yvonne says

    I am British ad married to a Colombian who is from Medellin-I was there recently and was kept bieng told “tranquila” or tranques which means Don’t Worry,

  23. greenminimalism says

    This is a great post, highlighting some of the best ways to learn slang! Linguist Kato Lomb said that the main thing that holds people back is fear – like a denominator dividing your skill, and I got that sense from your point on body language. Confidence is everything!

  24. Beatriz Herrera says

    Great post, Colombia and Perú(where I am from) are very similar countries and we have pretty much the same slang, but, some of it, has different meaning (don´t ask me why). For example in Peru chimba means cabeza. And we say bacan instead of bacano. We also use a lot of -azo like bacanazo (very cool), o buenazo (very good)and we use a lot the word “pues”, si pues, no pues, claro pues… etc…
    Beatriz Herrera recently posted..Clases de español con: “El Vidente”- “Cuando el río suena es porque piedras trae”

  25. Angelica says

    As a fellow native Colombian I just wanted to mention that although direct, the term Gordita (fatty girl, term of endearment) is actually good, as Colombians prefer women with curves, and the term Flaca (skinny girl, endearment term) is usually not so good. In Calli, we also always use oye, mire, vea as a way of starting conversation and getting your attention on a topic or on something. Berraca can also be used to describe a badass (cool) hard working woman who gets what she wants (fierce) ie. Ella es UNA berraca. but when you make the word an adj. example Ella ESTA berraca, it means she’s mad.

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