Want to add some zest to your Spanish lessons?
Imagine your students’ faces when you tell them “se me fueron las chivas” (“my goats got away from me”) as you explain how something slipped your mind.
Think of their reactions as you describe a popular character from a book or movie, only to say “se lo cargó el payaso” (“the clown carried him away”) as a way to tell them he died.
Welcome to the beautiful, expressive world of Mexican slang.
A subset of the Spanish language inspiring everything from famous pop songs to hilarious movie scenes.
Mexican slang is fun, often funny, and most importantly, it will open doors for students that go far beyond the standard Spanish curriculum.
¡Muy Chido! Best Mexican Slang Words for Your Students
With Hispanic-Americans representing almost 20% of the U.S. population—nearly 58 million people, 63% of whom are of Mexican origin—it’s worth helping students navigate the world of slang. After all, what better way for students to make Mexican-American friends than by throwing out some non-textbook Spanish? Their Latino classmates and neighbors will appreciate their efforts to bridge the language gap.
Slang—real street language—might also draw in reluctant Spanish learners who find the textbook dull and dry. In a system where a lot of educational content seems irrelevant and inapplicable to the real world, foreign language is an obvious exception. This is never clearer than when kids see for themselves that they can communicate with new people in the target language.
Students who dream of traveling south of the border will appreciate the opportunity to learn the actual, everyday language of the citizens of Mexico. Textbook Spanish is often stilted and formal, and some books even teach the Spanish of Spain rather than Latin America, but Mexican slang encompasses the real ways that Mexicans express themselves on a daily basis.
Finally, teaching Mexican slang promotes diversity. It validates the language, elevating it to the level of academic content. In a political climate in which Mexican immigrants are often denigrated, this sends an important message of tolerance and respect to our students.
Activities for Teaching Mexican Slang
Teachers can introduce Mexican slang in a wide variety of ways, using everything from straight vocabulary lists to movies and projects.
Host Cross-curricular Projects
Hands down, the best way to learn Mexican slang is by talking to actual Mexican people. Spanish teachers can organize joint projects between Spanish and other classes, pairing students from each group to work on anything from handmade piñatas to Day of the Dead altars. This gives students real-life, one-on-one practice working toward a common goal with someone who speaks the target language.
I’ve paired middle grades Spanish and ESL kids for the piñata project, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it, from the messy task of constructing and painting the piñatas to the gleeful fun of breaking a few of them. A word of caution, however: It gets wild!
I highly recommend an outdoor venue for breaking the piñatas. We took the kids to the football field on the last school day before spring break, and it worked out beautifully.
Vocabulary games like bingo can be helpful for students who are trying to learn new words.
When a student calls “bingo,” teachers may choose to have them say not only the words, but also the definitions in order to win. This encourages students to make notes during the game, reinforcing vocabulary.
I find that students don’t even mind recopying the words and definitions in this context because they want to win—and adding extra credit points on the test for the victor just sweetens the deal!
Another excellent game for slang vocabulary is memory. The teacher makes cardboard cards (I’ve also used notecards; the important thing is to use somewhat thicker than usual and non-see-through paper) with slang words and definitions, then students pair off and play memory, matching the words and their meanings.
I find that assigning the students’ partners cuts down on classroom management issues, as well as allowing teachers to pair a stronger with a weaker student.
Play Mexican Movies in Class
Another way to expose students to Mexican slang is to show movies or movie clips from popular Mexican films. Good titles include:
Just keep in mind that some of these movies contain adult content and language, so it’s best to watch the movie beforehand and determine which movies are suitable for your class.
Students might keep a list of all the slang words they catch while viewing, comparing lists with a classmate before discussing as a group. Playing the movie with Spanish subtitles turned on will facilitate students’ ability to make their lists.
Along with teaching Mexican slang, showing movies in class gives students the opportunity see how Spanish speakers communicate naturally, outside the confines of scripted dialogues. Promote this style of learning by adding FluentU to your classroom curriculum.
As a result, your students get to practice Spanish while being immersed in the culture.
Teach a Unit on International Slang
A lesson or unit on Mexican slang can be part of a larger instructional lesson on lingo from different countries, with teachers noting similarities between various dialect and their slang words. For example, words that mean “cool” in Spanish include:
- Chido (Mexico)
- Tuanis (Costa Rica)
- Bacán (Peru)
- Chilero (Guatemala)
- Chévere (throughout Latin America).
As an introduction, students might make a list of common slang words in their first language. This activates prior knowledge and helps the students make a personal connection to speakers of Spanish.
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11 Popular Mexican Slang Words to Teach Your Students
There’s an abundance of Mexican slang words out there, making it impossible to cover all of them. But the following list, while far from comprehensive, provides a good starting point for teaching Mexican slang.
1. Chido, Padre, Suave/Gacho
Chido, padre, and suave are all words that mean “cool.” Though the latter two have other meanings in Spanish (padre means “father” and suave means “soft”), in Mexico they can be used interchangeably to describe something the speaker likes. In contrast, gacho means “uncool” or “bad” and can be applied to anything from situations to people.
Though fresa literally means “strawberry,” this word is applied to people of either gender who act snobby or stuck-up. Naco, conversely, means “low-class” and refers to people’s behavior, not their socioeconomic status.
3. Órale, Ándale, Sale
Órale comes from a shortened form of the Spanish word ahora, meaning “now,” combined with the suffix “-le,” a sort of grammatical placeholder that adds no meaning to the word.
Ándale builds in the same way on the Spanish word andar, “to walk.”
Sale comes from the verb salir, “to go out” or “to turn out,” as in, todo salió bien (“everything turned out fine”).
All three can be translated as expressions of approval along the lines of “okay” or “right on.”
This word, which comes from the Spanish verb mandar, literally means “command me.” It’s sometimes used in its longer form, mándeme. However, the best translation into English is “excuse me?” or “pardon?” Essentially, it’s a more polite way of saying “¿qué?”
5. No Manches, ¡Chale!
Though the verb manchar literally means “to stain,” the expression no manches is best translated as “you’re kidding” or “no way.” A related word is ¡chale! (“give me a break!”).
The use of the word ¡aguas! to mean “look out!” is said to have originated in the times when people emptied their chamber pots out the windows of their houses and called out in warning to passersby below. Whether true or just legend, the word is still used in Mexico today to give a heads-up.
7. La Neta
La neta, meaning “the truth,” appears to come from the French word net/nette, which means “clear” or “pure.”
It isn’t surprising that Mexico would have borrowed some words from French, considering that France occupied the country for several years during the 1860s after the invasion of Emperor Napoleon III. Even today, residents of states like Jalisco bear the light skin and clear eyes of their French forebears… which doesn’t stop them from partying on Cinco de Mayo, the day the Mexicans routed their ancestors at Puebla!
8. Chamba, Chambear, Feria
Chamba and chambear mean “work”/”job” and “to work,” respectively. A related term is feria (“fare”), which Mexicans often use in place of the official word dinero to mean “money.”
The word bronca means “problem,” and it’s used in expressions like no hay bronca (“no problem”) and tengo broncotas (“I’m in big trouble”).
Though the official word for “favor” in Spanish is the cognate favor, paro is another way of referring to a favor in Mexico. Hazme el paro means “do me a favor.”
Güey is a word that’s meaning changes depending on its usage. It’s often used to demonstrate closeness or friendship among men; they call each other güey directly in conversation, as in “¿Cómo estás, güey?”
But it can also be an insult, especially when used behind someone’s back (está bien güey, meaning “he’s pretty dumb”). In either case, this one is just a shade off being a bad word, so warn students to use it with caution!
This list is only a small sampling of the colorful slang words that Mexicans throw around daily with their friends and families. If you have older students interested in learning more slang, show them this YouTube video on common off-color words and expressions.
As you can see, Mexican slang can be an important addition to the Spanish curriculum. It’s practical, high-interest, and, most of all, fun.
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