Mary Johnson is a student at Southern Illinois University and is an ISA Classmates Connecting Cultures blogger corresponding with the International Studies department at SIU. Mary is currently studying in Valparaiso, Chile on an ISA Fall 1 program.
Despite having had 4 semesters of college level Spanish when I got here, I could not understand a thing my Chilean family said unless it was specifically directed at me and spoken incredibly slow. Even then, I was having a hard time. Of course, with time and hearing the language all day every day, I am doing a lot better. Easy verbs that I wasn’t used to hearing and using are now part of my everyday vocabulary.
At first, I felt like this was what I needed to hear:
However, I’ve also learned that Chileans use slang for almost every other word. Both of my Spanish courses have dedicated days to the use of Chilean slang. The book, “How to Survive in the Chilean Jungle” has also proven very useful. It is a book full of slang terms–Chilenismos— that all the locals use (not just young people).
“Po” is probably the commonly used. At first I thought it didn’t really mean anything, kind of like “like” in the US. It does have meaning, but it doesn’t ever actually need to be used. “Po” is short for “pues” (as if “pues” isn’t short enough). It is used for emphasis. “Sí, po” means something like “Yes, of course” or “Yes, obviously”.
“Cachái” is probably the next most common. It means “get it?” or “understand?”. To me, it seems like it is used similarly to “you know?” If you’re reading this and planning on going to Chile, be careful! If you pronounce this word wrong, it means something else that you probably shouldn’t be saying, cachái?
The list of slang words I now know goes on and on. Bacán means cool. Choclo (not a slang word for chocolate as I originally thought) means corn. Palta is a Chilean word for avocado. Luca means mil (thousand) pesos. Carrete means party. And on and on and on.