Moving to Spain? Learn Real Spanish
Published on March 1, 2019 / Updated on November 4, 2022
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When British and Spain are paired together, the image of crispy pensioners splayed on saturated stretches of sand comes to mind. Looking beyond this, and the trope of Spanish cliches of endless siestas, raging bull fights and free-flowing sangria, Spain emerges as an attractive place to live, with generally low living costs, pleasant weather and plenty of cultural intrigue.
Living in the land of Quixote though means knowing your “pero” from your “perro” and getting to grips with a few local turns of phrase. So, without further ado, here is my introductory guide to speaking the real Spanish of Spain:
When describing both people and things in Spanish, try and sprinkle a few of these little beauties into your phrases.
Majo basically means a person who is nice, friendly and all round pleasant to be around. Did you know the word actually originates from the name denoted to a person from the working-class neighbourhoods of Madrid? No, neither did I. Thank you, Wikipedia.
Example: Pedro es muy majo, siempre me ayuda con esa impresora que me odia que tenemos en la ofi.
Crack is a term used to describe someone who is great at their job and gets stuff done. If your boss says this to you, you’re distinctly above average, woo!
Example: Maria, eres una crack, has cosido un vestido entero, dos blusas, unos guantes y una bufanda en tres horas.
Cuqui unfortunately does not mean you bear a strong resemblance to a delicious baked good, rather that an object is “cutesy” or “sweet”.
Example: Estoy enamorado de esa tienda rosa en la Calle Valverde con más girasoles que un cuadro de Vincent Van Gogh. Es muy cuqui!
Chiquitín can refer to a thing or a person (usually a child – otherwise it could be a touch weird) and means small.
Example: Vivo en un apartamento super chiquitín en el barrio hipster que me cuesta un ojo de la cara, pero me da igual porque soy muy fashion.
Agobiado, especially if you’re working in an office in Spain, is a phrase you will hear from your colleagues around every 8 minutes. It basically means “up to your ears”, “a lot on your plate” or “overwhelmed” and is highly appropriate at all times.
Example: Pedro, no puedo contestar a tu mail ahora, estoy muy agobiado. Tengo que preparar tres PowerPoints para mañana y aún no sé qué es una “slide”.
Liado is similar to agobiado, but is not quite as strong, and can be used to mean “tied up” with a task.
Example: María todavía está liada con la entrevista, así que yo he venido a la grabación de Operación Triunfo en su lugar.
TOP TIP: if you want to sound extra Spanish, try dropping the ‘d’ in these words.
For a while I was convinced this came from the English so-so, but this turned out to be a total falsity, oops. Soso means dull, uninspiring, boring and can be used for both people and things. Another similarly pleasing word to pronounce that means the same is bobo.
Example: Tía, por favor de mi vida, no salgas otra vez con ese chico que te gusta, es muy soso, hay más vida en esta blusa de Zara.
Pesado is another very common expression and literally means heavy. When used to describe a task or person however it means more “a pain” or “a bore”. Imagine someone permanently resting on your back and you get an idea of its meaning.
Example: Ese chico no deja de llamarme y me manda millones de mensajes de voz todos los días, ¡qué pesado es!
I love how onomatopoeic (high brow, I know) this word is. The combination of the “ch” and the “ung” already hints that this is far from complimentary… Meaning wise, “crappy” is probably the best English translation.
Example: Hoy el tiempo está chungo, no deja de llover y es más gris que mi suéter de Primark.
Getting to grips with these verbs will help you seem more Spanish than a generous slab of chorizo.
A more confirmed case of awry anglicisms entering Spanish, flipar is a direct translation of “to flip out” in English and is used in similar contexts. If you want to add extra levels of emphasis/drama, (the words in brackets being the maximum), you can add “en (todos los) colores (del arcoiris).
Example: Yo flipo con esa gente que deja la cafetería más sucia que las calles después del Orgullo.
A caña is a small beer (careful, cana, with no ñ is a grey hair) and is a useful word to know. Darle caña roughly means to “go hard”, “give it welly” and can be used in a variety of contexts.
Example: mucha suerte en la entrevista, haz el mejor esfuerzo posible y dale caña!
Morro literally refers to a (thick) lip, so you can imagine how this word is used with the verb “tener” to mean someone who’s just a tad too cheeky in their requests.
Example: Ya me has pedido ese favor varias veces Juan Pablo, que morro tienes!
Borrarse is one of my favourite phrases in Spanish, but I am not entirely sure as to how widespread its use is. Borrar means “to erase” so when made reflexive means “to erase oneself”.
Example: odio la música en este lugar, yo me borro.
Dar pereza on the other hand is an extremely common expression that relates to laziness or not being bothered to do something. You can use “pereza” with a variety of verbs, how fun.
Example: me voy a quedar en la cama, me da pereza levantarme para ducharme.
I admit this section is a bit slapdash. These are a random assortment of words than you can slot into conversation with ease to add that little Spanish sprinkle, if you will, to your phrases.
No, these are not the Spanish equivalent of tweedle dee and tweedle dum, but they express (in order) decreasing degrees of annoyance, surprise or elation, depending on the context. Be sure to add a customary, tío/tía for that extra razzle-dazzle.
Example: te han contratado por fin, jopé tio, felicidades!
Another phrase that really depends on the tone of voice used while uttering it. It is usually used with “pero” to signal a desire to get something resolved that hasn’t been done so yet.
Imagine you’re giving someone instructions and they’re not following what you’re saying. You would stop them and say “pero, vamos a ver”, before going on to explain it in a different way. Or just repeating the same thing over and over.
Example: – Mamá, nos falta un tornillo para este armario de IKEA.
– Pero, Angustias, vamos a ver, seguro que está dentro.
When you first hear this phrase, you may be taken slightly aback, especially if you are a seafood connoisseur. Ostras means oysters, but when used on its own as an exclamation it is not referring to a sighting of our favourite gulped aphrodisiac but rather a feeling of surprise or anger.
Example: ostras, acabo de ver a la sirenita de Disney tumbada en la playa!
This phrase brings so much joy to me as it stands out in my mind as a real, independent linguistic discovery I made while in Spain. The irony being “hola” is a word even those who speak no Spanish know, so am I the Columbus of linguistics here? No.
You can use this phrase if you express absolute disbelief in what someone is saying or something that is happening. It is a rough equivalent to “you what, mate?” in English.
Example: – Mi plato favorito es una pizza hawaiana.
– Errr hola, no puede ser, no se pone ningún trozo de piña en una pizza,
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So that concludes my guide to the real Spanish spoken in Spain. Don’t forget Lingoda are here for all your Spanish learning needs! Until next time, ¡tronco!