Speak Like a Spaniard with Castellano Street Slang
Even though the Spanish language is the same wherever you go, learning a specific variation of Spanish (Mexican, Colombian, Puerto Rican, etc.) can give you a cultural insight into a specific country. Sticking to one variation can also help you form more of a personal connection with the language.
Castellano, or Castilian, is the variation of Spanish spoken in Spain, and it’s full of unique expressions and words that don’t exist in any other Spanish-speaking countries. Spaniards have their own way of expressing themselves, and they also have their own slang. If you try using castellano slang in Latin America, you may get a perplexed look or even a chuckle (see coger below).
Whether you’ve decided to learn castellano or are just planning a trip to Spain (one day…), it’s a good idea to learn some of the words and phrases Spaniards use in their everyday conversations. You may get some weird looks if you use these in Latin America, but you’ll certainly hear them daily throughout Spain.
Common Spain Spanish Slang Words and Expressions
Whether you’re traveling through big cities like Barcelona and Madrid or you’re visiting Spain’s coastal or mountain regions, you’ll hear vale in every conversation. It’s pretty unique to Spain though and you probably won’t hear it in any other Spanish-speaking countries.
Spaniards use vale the same way we use “OK,” “fine,” or “good” in English. It’s a quick response to acknowledge something your friend says to you or answer a simple question.
- Voy a llamarte mañana. (I’m going to call you tomorrow.)
- Vale. (OK.)
You can find tapas everywhere in Spain, from little beachside hole-in-the-wall restaurants to the most popular fine dining establishments in the center of Madrid or Barcelona. They’re small plates of food that you share with your table and you can have them as a snack or make a full meal out of them.
Tapas can be anything from meatballs and fried shrimp to boiled octopus or even squid ink. They’re a huge part of Spanish culture, and Spaniards go out for tapas so often that they actually created a verb for it! When friends and families are planning a night out or want a snack after a long day, they use tapear.
¿Vamos a tapear esta noche? (Do you want to go out for tapas tonight?)
¡Por supuesto! (Of course!)
Guay is a really common slang word in Spain and you’ll hear it in a lot of conversations, especially between younger people. It’s completely unique to Spain though, so you may get a confused look if you try using it in any other Spanish-speaking country.
It means “cool” or “awesome” and you can use it a couple different ways. You can use it as an adjective to describe both people and objects or you can also just use it as an interjection.
- Nos lo pasamos guay en el concierto. (We had an awesome time at the concert.)
- Llevas una camiseta muy guay. (You’re wearing a really cool shirt.)
4. Tío / Tía
No matter which dialect of Spanish you learn, you’ll eventually learn the words tío and tía. When you translate them directly to English, they mean “uncle” and “aunt.” This is true no matter which Spanish-speaking country you’re in. Spaniards have also given them a different meaning though.
Unless a Spaniard is talking about their actual aunt or uncle, they’re probably using these words as an informal way to say “man” or “girl.” Context means everything when you hear them, but it’s usually pretty easy to figure out what they mean.
- ¿Qué pasó, tío? ¿Todo está bien? (What happened, man? Is everything OK?)
- Voy a estar con esas tías, ¿vale? (I’m going to hang out with those girls, OK?)
Colega is another example of a word you’ll hear in every Spanish-speaking country, but its meaning in Spain changes depending on the conversation. In general, colega means “colleague” or “coworker” in Spanish. This is true everywhere, including in Spain. There’s also a more informal meaning of the word though.
If you don’t know someone very well or they’re more of an acquaintance than a friend, you can call them your colega.
- Colega, has olvidado tus cosas. (Hey buddy, you forgot your things.)
- Tengo un colega allí que podría contestar tus preguntas. (I know someone there who could answer your questions.)
Pavos literally translates to “turkeys” in English, but to Spaniards, it can also be a slang word for “money.” Before Spain switched its currency to the Euro, Spanish people called the 100 peseta coin a pavo. After the switch to the Euro, the term stuck around and became the Spanish way to say “bucks.”
The word pasta is also another way to talk about money. Yes, pasta like the food. These two words are used between all generations in Spain, so it’s not just the younger crowd that says them.
- Esta cosa cuesta veinte pavos. (This thing costs twenty bucks.)
- Él gana mucha pasta. (He earns a lot of money.)
If you’re in a touristy area of Spain, you may hear the locals throw the word guiri around quite a bit. In fact, they may even be talking about you! Guiri is what Spaniards call a tourist.
It’s not necessarily a negative term though. Just like in English, calling someone a “tourist” can be a good or bad thing. It all depends on the context!
- Hay demasiado guiris aquí en el verano. (There are too many tourists here in the summer.)
- Los guiris no hablan español usualmente. (The tourists don’t usually speak Spanish.)
If you travel to Barcelona or Madrid during the summer, you’ll probably see a mogollón de guiris. Spanish people use the word mogollón to describe huge amounts of something. It’s similar to the word mucho, but usually a lot bigger.
If you add de before it though, the meaning completely changes. When you say someone does something de mogollón, you’re saying they do it without paying.
- Había un mogollón de gente en el supermercado hoy. (There were so many people in the supermarket today.)
- Me colé de mogollón en el concierto. (I got into the concert for free.)
This word usually causes some laughter in Latin America. You’ll definitely get some stares if they hear you using it on the streets! That’s because it has a sexual connotation throughout Central and South America.
In Spain though, it’s completely normal to use it in your everyday conversations. Actually, it’s really common! It is simply a verb that means “to get” or “to fetch.”
- Necesito coger a mis niños de la escuela. (I need to get my kids from school.)
- ¿Me puedes coger un vaso de agua? (Can you get me a glass of water?)
Do You Want to Tapear With Spaniards?
Spain is a country with a rich culture and history, amazing food, and welcoming people. Speaking the language allows you to embrace all of these and gain a deeper connection to them.
Whether you learn Latin American Spanish or Castilian Spanish, you’ll be able to communicate with native Spanish speakers wherever you go. Even though there are quite a few differences between the two, you can communicate with locals no matter which dialect you choose to learn.