There’s an itty bitty, teenie weeny part of your Spanish vocabulary that’s probably missing.
Nailing down your business vocabulary and travel phrases will help you speak with some popular groups, you know, anyone in business and the general population.
However, there’s a good chance you still can’t communicate with one of the most popular (and adorable) Spanish-speaking demographics: Babies.
Sure, maybe you’ve watched Spanish-language kids’ videos. Even so, chances are, you aren’t yet fluent in Spanish baby talk—but you should be!
Baby talk won’t only help you communicate with babies. You can also use some baby talk in romantic situations or when joking around, being cutesy and talking to pets. Yes, baby talk is versatile and popular!
Baby talk is intriguing, too. Did you know that there are common themes in baby talk across languages? For the language nerd in all of us, you might even want to check out Charles A. Ferguson’s “Baby Talk in Six Languages” for more on baby talk across borders.
Regardless of your Spanish skill level or language nerd status, you’ll go gaga for Spanish baby talk!
Why Learn Spanish Baby Talk?
Learning Spanish baby talk will allow you to understand Spanish baby talk. Maybe that statement seems a bit obvious, but it’s still true. If you speak Spanish, it’s easy to assume you’ll automatically understand Spanish-language baby talk, but that won’t always be the case. Since baby talk often sounds like an entirely different language, Spanish baby talk could be unclear even to well-seasoned Spanish speakers.
Additionally, learning it will provide you with your own cutesy vocabulary. You might want to work some of these words into conversations when you speak Spanish, depending on the situation.
Finally, Spanish baby talk offers unique insight into the language. It’s intriguing and enlightening to see how native speakers change words when speaking with babies. How is it similar to and different from English and other languages?
The Common Elements of Spanish Baby Talk
In Spanish baby talk, the S sound in words is often replaced with a CH sound. This is actually a key characteristic that Spanish baby talk is known for. Why this is common is unclear. When letters are replaced in baby talk, it’s usually to simplify the pronunciation. However, CH is thought to be a more complex sound than S, so it’s not exactly obvious how this replacement started. Perhaps it just sounds cuter that way!
Additionally, baby talk often uses the diminutive (-ito, -ita). You’ve probably heard the diminutive before. In Spanish, it’s often used to indicate affection or small size. Similarly, the diminutive is used in baby talk to soften words. It’s sort of like how in English we sometimes add Y or IE to a word—for instance, “dog” becomes “doggy” and “sweet” becomes “sweetie.”
If you want to practice listening to baby talk in the native accent, check out FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
17 Wee Li’l Words for Spanish Baby Talk
Type nino into any online Spanish-English dictionary and you’ll get the same response: “Did you mean niño?” No, I didn’t. Stop leaping to conclusions.
It’s understandable, though. Niño (child) is more widely known. But in baby talk, nino has an equally useful meaning—it means “nice.”
Fío means “cold” in baby talk. The word seems a bit familiar, no?
That’s because the baby talk word fío comes from the standard word frío which means “cold.” As is common in baby talk across languages, a letter (in this case, R) was simply dropped from the original word.
Remember that, in baby talk, this word is used as an adjective or noun. Otherwise, fío can also be the first person present tense of the verb fiar which means “to sell on credit” or “to trust.”
While it’s really a sound more than a word, in Spanish baby talk ssss means “hot.”
4. Tiquitito / Chiquitito
Tiquitito and chiquitito can both mean small. They’re sort of the Spanish equivalent of English-language baby talk like “teeny tiny,” “itty bitty” and “teensy weensy.”
Tiquitito is used as an adjective.
Chiquitito/a, however, can also occasionally be used as a noun or to address someone affectionately, as ABBA fans will know from the classic “Chiquitita.”
It comes from chico, which can mean “small” or “small child.” The usual diminutive of chico is chiquito—so chiquitito is really the diminutive of a diminutive.
Fuchi means “dirty” or “yuck” in baby talk, but it’s also widely used in common speech.
In common colloquial speech, it can be a bit vulgar and informal. It can refer to a bad smell or a bad mood. It can also just be an exclamation to express disgust or disapproval.
Cabó is used in baby talk to mean “all gone.” It ties to the common Spanish verb acabar (or acabó in the third person preterit) which can mean “to end.”
Nene is baby talk for “baby.” Note that nene is the masculine and nena is the feminine.
Nene/a is also used as a term of endearment, much like you might call a loved one “darling.”
In Latin America and the United States, tata is used in baby talk to mean “dad.”
In Spain, on the other hand, tata can mean “nanny” or “maid.”
Obviously, there’s a wide variety of baby talk terms for parents. Mamá and mami are common for “mom,” while papi is another common word for “dad.” Many of these words can also be used as terms of endearment.
Papa can literally mean “pope.” In Latin America, it also means potato. The similar word papá is yet another term for “dad.”
So what does it mean in baby talk, you ask? In baby talk, papa means “food.” Be careful with your accents and usage! Papa is flexible in meaning, so pay attention to context.
The most common meaning of coco is “coconut.”
However, baby talk has a few other meanings for it. Spanish baby talk often uses it for “owie” (a wound or injury), but it’s also sometimes used to mean “boogeyman.”
If that’s not enough for you, slang meanings for coco can include “noggin,” “genius,” “ugly” and countless other things. It’s times like these when it’s important to remember the role context plays in word meaning.
This is an instance where an S was replaced with a CH, which is common in Spanish baby talk.
Becho is baby talk for “kiss.” It comes from the more well-known word beso (kiss).
Uches is Spanish baby talk for “candies.”
Patitas is an interesting word. One common literal meaning is “female ducklings.”
In baby talk, though, it has an entirely different meaning. It’s used to refer to “feet.” Yup. Feet look like tiny ducks to me, too.
The duckling thing is more fun, but patitas is more likely derived from pata which is used to refer to an animal’s foot.
Upa is baby talk for “piggyback.”
Onetá is baby talk for peek-a-boo.
It’s like a contraction of ¿dónde está? (Where is it?)
16. Michi / Bicho / Miau miau
Michi, bicho and miau miau are all used as baby talk to refer to “cat.”
Michi doesn’t have much meaning outside baby talk.
Bicho, on the other hand, has a number of meanings including “bug,” “pest” and “beast.” Be careful using bicho in Puerto Rico since it can also be used to refer to part of the male anatomy.
In addition to being baby talk for cat, miau miau is also Spanish for “meow.”
Usage note: Much like in the English language, some Spanish baby talk for “cat” has sexual connotations, so pay attention to context.
17. Guau guáu / Gua guá / Babau
Guau guáu, gua guá and babau are all baby talk for “dog.” These terms are also all used to describe the sound a dog makes, like “bow wow” or “woof” in English.
With this Spanish baby talk vocabulary, you’ll be ready to impress even the most discerning infant.
Now, get out there and start befriending those babies!