Sure, you think you can quack like a duck.
But can you quack in the language of Cervantes?
Or are you going to be at a total loss for quacks someday, when a dapper duckling hops out of an Andalucian pond to present herself, regale you with her life story and maybe mooch a bit of your pan (bread)? (If so, see duck communication at point 3, below).
This post is for those who might be a bit tapped out on learning to speak Spanish to humans, with all their complex slang, metaphors and counter-intuitive expressions. Maybe you’re tired of having to adapt your speech to academic, business or informal settings?
It’s time then to learn to speak to animals, and yes, the Spanish ear has a whole different way of hearing their squawks, honks and roars. What follows is my shortlist of the fauna most worth talking to, accompanied by the noises you should make when communicating with them in Spanish.
I’ve also included the verbs that describe these sounds (just like English’s “a lamb bleats,” “a horse whinnies”). At times, theses verbs and onomatopoeiae provide lovely insight into how Spanish speakers hear and experience these animals, and sometimes they’re just plain fun.
I’ve tried to present the sounds as most commonly used in the whole Spanish-speaking world and the most common spellings, but do note that there are some regional variations out there.
20 Animal Sounds in Spanish: Can You Bray, Squawk and Meow en Español?
1. Frogs — croá, croá
Las ranas croan (frogs croak), of course. But what about that sexy/scary/creepy way that some old (and even occasionally young) Andalusian men hack out syllables through the cigarette tar lining their throats?
In English we’d say that they croak, and the figurative use of croar is fine in Spanish as well. Ellos croan (they croak) can also be used for talking about anyone who is hoarse.
2. Dogs — guau
We live with, love and communicate with dogs all the time, so it’s no surprise that we have lots of verbs for the types of noises that they produce. In Spanish, they are:
ladrar — to bark; when talking about humans, to make noises without follow-through, to bluster
gañir — to yelp, howl
regañir — to repeatedly yelp
gruñir — to growl menacingly
aullar — to howl
arrufarse — to bark menacingly while showing teeth
3. Ducks — cuac cuac
The verb used for duck quacking is graznar, and quite fabulously it can also be used to describe high-pitched, unimportant babble sometimes emitted by humans. An example?
Graznan sus quejas. (They cry out/babble out their complaints.)
4. Birds — pío
A pío (that’s an accent mark, not a dot, so make sure you stress the I: “PEE-oh”) is a tweet or chirp. If you want to emphasize that you won’t reveal a secret, you can say:
No digo ni pío. (I won’t say a peep.)
The verb form is piar, and pipiar and piolar mean the same thing. To trill or warble in your throat, whether you’re a human or a bird, is trinar, gorjear or gorgoritar. Then, of course, there’s the activity that provides meaning to the lives of all, human and fowl alike: cantar (to sing).
5. Roosters — quiquiriquí, kikirikí
If you ever find yourself running dry for conversation in an international business mixer, youth hostel or airport, just ask your fellow world travelers what sound they think a rooster makes. It’s hard to top cock-a-doodle-do for aural silliness, but the Spanish quiquiriquí comes close.
The verb in Spanish is cacarear, and when you hear it used with a human as the subject it means to boast about something. For example:
Cacarea el dinero que ha gañado. (She’s bragging about the money she earned.)
6. Hens — coc co co coc
The verb cacarear is also used for hens, even though their sounds (and the onomatopoeia for them) are quite different.
7. Cats — miau
Cats can maullar or mayar (to meow), bufar (to hiss; for humans it means to seethe), fufar (also to hiss), ronronear (to purr) and marramizar (to howl, caterwaul).
8. Cows — mu
Spanish has the same onomatopoeia for cow noises as English—their phonetic spelling of it is simply superior.
Spanish verbs for the beasts’ communication are also better. Cows can mugir (to moo), remudiar (to moo back and forth between calf and cow) and bramar (to moo loudly/angrily).
9. Wolves — aúúú
Wolves’ speech is described with aullar (to howl) and also, as in English, una persona aulla de dolor (a person howls in pain). Otilar and guarrear are additional verb options for wolf howls.
10. Tigers — grgrgrgr
Los tigres rugen (the tigers roar) employs the verb rugir (to roar). Angry humans and even the heavens can be said to roar using this verb as well, for example:
La tempestad ruge. (The storm is roaring.)
11. Doves — cu-curru-cu-cú, cucurrucucú
You know the dove’s sound in Spanish already if you have any taste in music or movies. My favorite is the Caetano Veloso version of this song, as used in the film “Hable con ella” (Talk to Her).
If you’re not done crying, check out the Lila Downs version too.
Fittingly, the verb for describing doves’ noises, arrullar, means to talk softly and/or lovingly, as with the English “to coo.”
12. Monkeys — i-i-i
Los monos chillan (monkeys screech). The verb chillar is very common in Spanish for describing human shouting, shrieking and yelling too:
Le chillé para que se callara. (I screamed at her so that she would shut up.)
13. Turkeys — gluglú
As with English, Spanish has a ridiculous-sounding verb for this ridiculous animal’s ridiculous noises: gluglutear (to gobble).
14. Sheep, goats — bee, mee
Ovejas y cabras balan (sheep and goats bleat) using the verb balar (to bleat).
15. Pigs — oinc-oinc
Los cerdos gruñen (pigs grunt/oink) using the verb gruñir, which also means to complain, mutter and whine. So Spanish porkers are seen as complainers, but then, maybe they’re tired of seeing their brethren’s cured legs (jamón ibérico) hanging in every home, café, and bar.
16. Cuckoos — cucú
Cuclillo is a cuckoo in Spanish; when used to describe a human it means a cuckold.
17. Crows — cruaaac-cruaac
Los cuervos graznan (crows caw). You’ll notice that in spite of their very different sounds, they have been assigned the same verb as ducks (graznar).
18. Bees — bzzzz
Las abejas zumban (bees buzz). The verb zumbar also means to hit, slap, thump or whack someone. Thus, in the video below, la abeja no zumba in any sense, but rather, Burns zumba a la abeja:
19. Owls — uu uu
Los búhos ululan (owls hoot). The wind, in Spanish, doesn’t howl—it also hoots: El viento ulula.
20. Donkeys — iii-ahh
I’ve never met a language that treated donkeys with any respect. In Spanish, los burros rebuznan (the donkeys bray) and rebuznar means to loudly insult or complain, usually for no good reason. Ser burro means to be incredibly dumb.
I know that these sounds will prove useful for you on the farms and fields of Spanish-speaking lands.
I hope that the way they’re heard and the verbs that describe them will also give you plenty of interesting ways to express yourself when and if you decide to return to speaking with humans.
Mose Hayward is a polyglot nomad and blogs about “20-minute fluency,” drinking, dancing and romance for travelers at TipsyPilgrim.com.
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