How to Lay Down El Salvador’s Slang Like a Local
Are you the kind of traveler who likes hidden gems?
Then put El Salvador on your travel wish list.
This tiny Central American country has more to offer than most people realize.
First off, we’re talking volcanoes—and lots of them. El Salvador is known as tierra de los volcanes (land of the volcanoes) because, despite its size, it’s home to more than a dozen active volcanoes.
Then there are the Mayan ruins at Tazumal. It’s a large attraction, although as yet pretty much undiscovered by tourists so there’s still a chance to view and explore without the buzz of hundreds of voices.
Perhaps you’re just in it for the food. Hey, I don’t blame you a bit.
While you’re in El Salvador, eat on the cheap and get your fill of the pupusa, a corn tortilla filled with meat (often pork), beans and cheese. Many vendors and restaurants will leave the meat out if you request una pupusa sin carne, por favor (a pupusa without meat, please).
Now, already you can see that getting to know some local lingo will be important for your trip.
If you want to experience El Salvador the way natives do, your textbook Spanish alone won’t cut it.
You’ve got to get familiar with some regional slang so you can understand the locals and, ideally, connect on a deeper level with the people you meet.
We’ll show you ten essential El Salvador slang words to learn before your plane lands.
For more fun with slang, check out this post, where we’ve compiled all our Spanish slang posts into one place for your convenience:
What You’ll Hear in El Salvador
Spanish is the official language, although it’s slightly different from what most of us learn through mainstream language study.
Salvadorans use the voseo form of verb conjugation rather than the one most of us know, the tuteo form. It simply means that vos (you) takes the place of the second person pronoun—instead of tú (you). A few other countries use this conjugation variance, most notably Argentina.
Often called Salvadoran Spanish, the speech unique to El Salvador is called Caliche. It’s a mix of Spanish and Salvadoran slang spoken among locals.
Additionally, Nahuatl is still spoken on a limited basis. Historically it has been referred to as Aztec and at this point, some contend it’s a dying language. Others, however, deem it worthy of continued study.
So Why Learn Slang When You Already Speak Spanish?
We all have our own reasons for collecting local idioms and storing regional jargon in our language stash, but there are a few that are pretty standard.
It’s obvious that adding vocabulary with a local flavor can make you fit in with, well, the locals. And for most of us, becoming part of the scene in a new place is—for the time we’re there, at least—important and somewhat satisfying.
It’s always a good idea to be able to say something positive when visiting a new country or meeting people for the first time. True, slang is often associated with swears and insults, but there are other sides to the local lingo, too. If you’re able to murmur a sweet word to a child’s dog or compliment the music, dance or culture of a place, it’s almost a guarantee you’ll make friends!
Communication is key when exploring the world and enhances every experience. Learning some Salvadoran slang might make you feel at home—even if you’re on vacation!
Speak El Salvador Slang Like a Native! 10 Essential Local Words
Don’t expect to hear the furry little friend with a wagging tail following you around the market called perro (dog). You may look at his big, soulful eyes and think perro (dog) but you’ll be the only one with that term in mind.
A dog or even a mutt is called chucho in El Salvador. It doesn’t seem to have a literal translation but it’s applied to dogs instead of the more common and familiar term.
¡Mira! ¡El chucho nos sigue! (Look! The dog is following us!)
This word literally means “marriage,” but don’t get nervous if someone offers you casamiento—they’re not proposing.
Casamiento is a traditional Salvadoran dish made with white rice and black beans—and the two components, rice and beans, are said to “marry” when combined. This marriage gives the dish its name.
This is a staple food, so it’s likely it’ll be offered at least once. If you’re hungry, accept because while it’s simple fare it’s nourishing and tasty.
Prueba el casamiento. ¡Es muy bueno! (Try the casamiento. It’s very good!)
3. Vaya pues
Literally, “go then,” but the expression is used in place of “okay.”
Adiós (goodbye) is rarely heard when ending a phone conversation or even a transaction in una tienda (a shop). Instead, vaya pues (okay) is the standard in such situations so it’s a helpful term to keep in mind.
A chorus of vaya pues will follow you from any crowd if you’ve made at least one casual connection.
This is a minor swear word that loosely translated means, “oh, man!” or “damn!”
The multi-purpose exclamation works in almost any situation that locals use freely.
Did you drop your phone? Miss the last bus back to the hotel? Find the restaurant all out of pupusas for the day?
Feel free to say “¡Puchica!”
The literal translation of cabal is “thorough” but it’s used to show agreement—a word that replaces “exactly.”
El costo del café es demasiado alto. (The cost of coffee is too high). ¡Cabal! (Exactly!)
¡Fue una sorpresa enorme! (It was a huge shock!) ¡Cabal! (Exactly!)
It’s a very useful word and adds to any conversation where two parties are in accord.
This has no literal translation—it’s simply a word commonly used to replace niño o niña (boy or girl).
Mira a esa chera. (Look at that girl.)
Chivo means “great” or “cool.” If you give something a thumbs up, it’s chivo/chiva.
This is one of my favorite Salvadoran slang words because it’s fun to say and its meaning is so positive! I mean, really, who can say this without smiling?
¡Qué chiva! (That’s cool!)
8. Buena onda
Una buena onda translates literally to “a good wave,” but it’s used to show a good feeling about a person, place or situation. In other words, buena onda is Salvadoran for “good vibes.”
El club está bueno, ¿no? (The club is good, no?)
Sí, tiene buena onda. (Yes, it has good vibes.)
9. Tener goma
The actual translation is “to have glue,” but it’s the slang term for having a hangover and is used in other countries as well.
While it’s not exclusive to El Salvador, it’s widely used so you should tuck this one into your slang kit. You may (or may not, depending on your travel plans!) hear it often.
Me quedé demasiado tiempo en la fiesta. ¡Tengo goma! (I stayed too long at the party. I have a hangover!)
Bayunco is the slang term for crazy, so don’t expect to hear loco (crazy) in El Salvador.
Honestly, bayunco is another fun word that rolls off the tongue and brings smiles. And shared smiles in a foreign country? That’s a win/win situation!
¡Qué bayunco! (It’s crazy!)
I never travel to a country without trying to get some of the local expressions under my belt. It just seems natural to want to communicate effectively with those I meet—and besides, it’s fun to be able to lay down the lingo like a local.
Using this list of phrases when you’re in El Salvador will ramp up your Spanish skills, open doors and maybe even garner an invitation or two to some local events.
Speak like the locals, with the locals—and that’s just the best way to communicate, isn’t it?
¡Buena suerte! (Good luck!)