Spanish in Latin America and Spanish in Spain are about as different as apples and oranges.
Okay maybe I’m exaggerating, we’ll say more like lemons and limes.
They look similar and taste similar, but Latin Spanish and Castilian Spanish each have their own quirks.
One way you can distinguish between the two is their slang. This guide will show you some awesome slang phrases that are unique to Spain.
How Does Spanish Slang Help You?
When I started learning Spanish, I spent a lot of time making sure that I said and wrote everything correctly. I wanted my Spanish to be perfect. Slang was really hard for me, because learning slang requires you to do exactly the opposite. In any language, slang phrases are casual and not grammatically correct. That’s the whole point. So how can learning “improper” or “incorrect” phrases help you improve your Spanish?
- You’ll sound like a native! That’s huge. No native in any language speaks perfectly. Just take a look at English: How many people do you know that say “ain’t?” I know my fair share.
- It’s impressive to know the slang words. It proves to your friends and other Spanish speakers that you know your stuff. You know when to drop the right words and when to slip in the slang without making it sound awkward.
- Your understanding of Spanish will improve. Once you master some slang phrases, you’ll learn how to manipulate the language to create those very phrases.
Let’s go for it! Here are fourteen slang phrases just for you.
Speak Like a True Spaniard: 14 Spanish Slang Phrases You’d Be Crazy Not to Know
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Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
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Learn essential Spanish knowledge with FluentU, and get started on your road to true fluency with these 14 Spanish slang phrases!
1. Es la caña
Literally this means, “it is the cane.” Well, that doesn’t make much sense at all. If someone is la caña, it means that they’re awesome. This is a huge compliment to anyone. You want to be la caña.
However, something (not just someone) can be la caña. You can say that anything is la caña.
Me encanta este libro, es la caña. (I love this book, it’s awesome.)
Es la caña cuando no tengo que esperar. (It’s the best when I don’t have to wait.)
2. Qué chulo
Something is chulo if it’s cool, hip, groovy or rad! Unlike es la caña, this one is typically used to describe items.
Ese tipo tiene un coche tan chulo. (That guy has such a cool car.)
Sería tan chulo ir a España. (It would be so cool to go to Spain.)
Be aware that if you use this word to describe a person, it doesn’t have the same meaning. If a person is chulo, that means they’re cocky.
3. Ir a su bola
If someone decides to ir a su propia bola it means that they’re going to do their own thing. In Spanish, there’s a slight negative connotation associated with this phrase, as if the person is going against logic or not being considerate of others in their decision to do their own thing. Think of this phrase as the child of the phrases “do your own thing” and “blow someone off.”
Ella no viene a nuestras fiestas, ella va a su bola. (She doesn’t come to our parties, she does her own thing.)
No quiero ir a comer, voy a mi bola. (I don’t want to go out to eat, I’m going to do my own thing.)
4. Me cae gordo
If you’ve started learning Spanish you may realize that gordo means “fat.” But this Spanish phrase isn’t for calling someone fat! Me cae gordo means that you don’t like someone or they rub you the wrong way. You usually use this phrase when it’s a first impression or a gut feeling.
Tu hermano me cae gordo. (Your brother rubs me the wrong way.)
Mi nuevo jefe me cae gordo. (My new boss bothers me.)
5. Me importa un pimiento
A pimiento in English is a “pepper.” Translated literally, this phrase means, “It is as important as a pepper.” While we don’t have a phrase quite like this in English, you can probably gather its meaning: that you don’t really care, or it isn’t worth your time or effort.
Use this phrase when you’re talking about an event or a specific item.
La boda me importa un pimiento. (I could care less about the wedding.)
Me importa un pimiento la nieve. (I don’t care about the snow.)
6. Ser un chaval
Do you ever look at someone and think to yourself, “Man, he is just a kid”? If you have, then you already know what this phrase means! Ser un chaval means that someone is a kid.
This isn’t literal; it isn’t something you would say about a child. A chaval is a person who is naive or green, and can also be a person who doesn’t have a lot of experience. So you might hear a 50-year-old man using this term for a 20-year-old guy.
This phrase is also used in the same way we use “dude” in English. Don’t be surprised if you hear the teenagers on the streets of Madrid calling each other chaval or chavala (for females).
Claro que no entiende, es un chaval. (Of course he doesn’t understand, he’s just a kid.)
Oye, chaval, ¿a dónde vas? (Hey dude, where are you going?)
7. Ser la leche
Ser la leche can mean both being really amazing or being awful. It may seem bizarre that the exact same phrase can mean exactly two opposite things, but we do the same in English. Think of the slang word “sick,” which can either mean disgusting (negative) or really cool (positive).
Really, leche is used for all sorts of things. Mala leche (bad milk) can be said when someone has bad luck as well as a bad mood. You can even use ¡Leche! as an exclamation when you’re angry or surprised.
Acaba de graduarse y se cree la leche. (He just graduated and thinks he is all that.)
Tu hermano es muy gracioso, es la leche. (Your brother is very funny, he’s the best.)
Tu hermano siempre contesta mal, es la leche. (Your brother always answers badly, he’s awful.)
8. Mala pata
Sometimes people carry around a rabbit’s foot for good luck. A mala pata literally translated means “bad paw.” So if you have a bad paw, you’re carrying around bad luck instead of good luck like a rabbit’s foot. So the next time you grab a rabbit’s foot, make sure you don’t grab a mala pata!
Son las cinco y acaba de entrar un cliente, qué mala pata. (It’s five o’clock and a customer just walked in, what bad luck.)
Tengo mala pata, siempre tengo que esperar en los semáforos. (I have bad luck, I’m always waiting at stoplights.)
9. Ser mono
Now I made the silly mistake of trying to use this Castilian slang phrase while I was living in Argentina. I’ll tell you, I got some very strange looks. Mono in Spanish is “monkey,” but the whole phrase in Spain means “cute” or “adorable.”
It isn’t uncommon to call a child mono or mona. In Spain that’s okay, because it means that the child is cute, but in Argentina it means they’re a monkey…oops!
Su hija es tan mona. (Your daughter is so adorable).
El vestido que su hija tiene puesto es tan mono. (The dress your daughter is wearing is so cute).
10. Ser un(a) pijo/a
Pijo/a is used to mean “bratty” or “spoiled,” or to describe someone who comes from wealth. You can think of Veruca Salt from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” as a pija.
Su papá le compra todo, qué pija. (Her dad buys her everything, what a spoiled brat.)
Es un pijo, me cae gordo. (He’s a snob, I don’t like him.)
Again, don’t expect this word to work the same way in other countries! In Argentina, for example, this is a vulgar word to name the masculine sexual organ.
11. Ir a tapear
This is probably the most unique phrase in today’s lineup. Tapas are a type of appetizer that’s specific to Spain. They include things like green olives, jamón serrano and different types of cheese.
When someone wants to ir a tapear it means that they want to go out and get tapas. Tapear isn’t really even a verb anywhere but in Spain.
Fun fact for you: In many parts of Spain you’ll get a free tapa when ordering a drink!
¿Vamos a tapear esta noche? (Are we going to eat tapas tonight?)
Me encanta tapear después del trabajo. (I love going to eat tapas after work.)
12. Qué fuerte
You may see this phrase and think of Captain America or the Hulk. Fuerte in English is “strong.” In this case, fuerte is a way of showing surprise, awe or shock. Basically the phrase means, “Wow!” and can be either positive or negative.
You’ll often see this one accompanied by the Spanish wrist shake to emphasize the surprise.
A: ¿Sabes que Raúl dejó a su mujer por su secretaria? (Did you know that Raul left his wife for his secretary?)
B: ¡Qué fuerte! (Oh my gosh! Wow!)
13. Ser una babosa
Did you hear the one about the blonde who walked into the bar? Or maybe the one about the blonde who crossed the street? Of course you have, or at least one like it. Blonde jokes are all over the place. In blonde jokes, the blonde is a babosa. A babosa is a dimwit or someone who’s gullible.
Le dije que los perros tienen cinco patas, ella es una babosa. (I told her that dogs have five legs, she’s so gullible.)
Es una babosa que nunca deja de hablar. (She’s a dimwit who never stops talking.)
14. Ser un depre
You probably know a person who always has something negative to say no matter what, right? Someone who’s a Johnny rain cloud or a real Debbie Downer. Well, that person is a depre.
An easy way to remember this slang term is to think about the word depresión (depression) or depresivo (depressing).
No me gusta estar con Miguel, es un depre. (I don’t like being with Miguel, he is a downer.)
Eres un depre cuando hablas así. (You’re a real downer when you talk like that.)
Now you can walk the streets of Barcelona or saunter the alleys of Seville with confidence. Now that you have these slang phrases in your back pocket, even the natives won’t be sure whether you’re a foreigner or not!
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