Chilean Spanish & Chileanisms

Those travelling in Chile should be able to communicate in Spanish. Most Chileans don't know too much English, even after twelve years of English in school (which says more about the schools than about the Chileans). Especially in rural areas, English won't get you very far. You can make your trip more enjoyable by taking an intensive course beforehand or in-country, and by bringing a compact phrase book. This will help you make contact with the locals and allow you to ask for information in difficult situations.

This website does not wish to replace the intensive course or phrase book. Since even good students of Spanish find it quite challenging to understand the specific dialect and slang of Chileans, we will describe some of the most common national variants of Spanish, which Chileans call castellano (after its origin in Castilia).

Pronunciation & Grammar

The Chileans are among the fast-talkers of the Hispanic world. This wouldn't be too bad if they didn't also swallow parts of words that actually enhance comprehension - such as the final 's', which will leave you guessing as to singular or plural most of the time. So you might at first have a problem with dialogs such as, "¿Cómo estas? - Maomeno noma." (= 'mas o menos, no mas'; in English, 'so-so'). Other suffixes are shortened, too. Often, '-ado' will become '-ao' (volao), '-ada' a stressed '-á' (gallá), and 'para' a short 'pa' or 'para el' simply 'pal'.

As everywhere in South America, the Castilian vosotros with its corresponding conjugation is missing only to be replaced by ustedes after which the verb is conjugated like after ellos.

Chilean slang presents an especially tricky feature: The endings for the second person in the plural ('-as', '-es') are replaced by '-ai' and '-ís', so viajas will become viajai, sabes - sabís. And consequently ¿A dónde vai? (Where are you going?), ¡No seai tonto! ! (Don't be an idiot!), ¿Me podís dar fuego? (Do you have a light?). Using these very informal expressions is strictly sanctioned in some circles, and since they sound strange coming from the mouth of a foreigner anyway, they are best left alone.

A popular means of emphasis that is used in many countries but seems especially popular in Chile is repeating words. This is also done to emphasize trueness or purity. So, in a restaurant, it's a good idea to order café café, if you want the real thing instead of the ubiquitous instant coffee. And someone living in the very center of the city might say, Yo vivo en el centro centro.

The massive use of the diminutive suffixes '-ito' und '-ita' can also be found in other Latin American countries. They do not just mean 'little', as in niñito (little boy) or mesita (small table), but they have additional functions such as expressing endearment by using '-ito/ita' (mamita) or diminishing the urgency, directness or importance of a thing or an action. So, if someone says Espérese un momentito (Wait a moment) that doesn't mean at all that the moment will be short, but instead that the speaker wants to make waiting more palatable while possibly indirectly hinting that the moment may actually turn out to be quite long.

Chilean - English dictionary