I’m never entirely sure of the source of this claim, but I’ve been told on many occasions that Colombian Spanish is the world’s most ‘neutral’ sort.
While I can certainly vouch for the fact that the Colombian accent (in most of the country) is clear and undoubtedly pleasant sounding, the actual use of Spanish language is not 100% ‘neutral’ in the strictest sense of the word. There is a lot of slang. Chat to any local and you’ll quickly see what I’m talking about.
Below, I outline ten of the most common Colombian slang words and phrases you’ll need, whether you’re in the country for just a week or for a year:
1. ¿Qué más?
Colombians like to greet friends like this: “¡Hola! ¿Qué más?”. While you may, at first, think this means “Hi! What else?” it is actually just a local way to say “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?”. It is used in much the same way as “¿Cómo estás?” and you can respond to it identically (i.e. by saying “muy bien, ¿y tú?”).
2. Man / Vieja
Forget the standard Spanish words of “hombre” and “mujer” to refer to men and women; in Colombia these two slang terms are much more popular. The English word “man”, but pronounced in a Colombian way, is a widespread label for a “guy” or a “dude”. The term “vieja”, which technically means “old woman”, is, in reality, used to talk about women between the ages of about 15 and 50.
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3. Parce, Parcero/a
This is the slang word Colombians use for referring to a “friend”. It is basically the local version of the word “amigo”. (I’ve provided some example sentences to demonstrate how to use “ in another post.)
4. Bacano / Chévere
Want to say something is “really good” or “cool”? Don’t limit yourself to saying that it is “muy bueno” and instead go for one of these two hugely popular local terms.
“Rumba” is technically a sort of music/dance originating in Cuba, but in Colombia it invariably means a “party”. “Rumbear” is “to go partying”.
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Dictionaries will tell you that the word “parche” translate as “patch”. Not in Colombia though. Here it means something like: “a group of friends getting together to do something”. Those who don’t have that much going on in their social life are described as “desparchado” i.e. without a “parche” to get involved with.
A popular term for the nation’s favourite tipple “aguardiente”: an aniseed flavoured spirit drink. Most foreigners don’t tend to find the drink massively delicious, but it sure is popular among Colombians.
“Harto” is a common term meaning “a lot of” or “a ton of” e.g. “en el español colombiano hay harto modismos” (“In Colombian Spanish there is a ton of slang”).
This is a word with a million and one meanings, but, for the most part, it is a rough equivalent of the word “stuff” or “thing”. For example: 1. “¿Qué estabas leyendo?” 2. “No sé, una vaina sobre Colombia” (1. “What were you reading?” 2. “Dunno, some Colombia thingy”).
10. ¡De una!
An enthusiastic way to say “yes, absolutely!” or “yes, let’s do it!”. In conversation this might go as follows: 1. “¿Quieres ir a rumbear este viernes?” 2. “¡De una!” (1. “Do you want to go out this Friday?” 2. “Absolutely!”).
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The Many Meanings of “Berraco”
Of all the many Colombian slang terms explained on this blog, one of the trickier terms to get your head round is “berraco”. It is extremely easy to get confused with this one. Technically, a “berraco” is a sort of pig, but if you hear this word in Colombia, it is almost certainly not being used to refer to the animal. But it is not always an easy matter to figure out what the word is being used to mean.
Describing Colombians: The “-ón” Crowd
A classic area to study in Spanish class is how to describe people. The sad thing is that often the focus is very narrow. More often than not you’re just taught how to describe a few physical characteristics. The result is that you can only ever provide a highly superficial explanation of how somebody is. You can say that they are tall, thin, have blue eyes, and so on, but can’t even hint at what they are really like as a person.