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Language in Chile

Almost all Chileans speak Spanish, the country’s official language. Their dialect, however, is not typically Latino, and can be compared closest to Canary Islands Spanish—both speak with aspirated “s” sounds and do not finish pronouncing the word completely. For example, a phrase such as Estoy cansado actually sounds like Toy cansow. Because of this difficult dialect, Chile is not the easiest place for novices to learn the language (Chileans, in fact, often claim to speak Castellano, or Castillian Spanish, rather than Español).


What’s more, Chileans use plenty of slang, referred to as Chilenismos. There are a fare share of books which provide slang dictionaries, translating from Chilean to English and Chilean to Spanish, as many immigrants and Spanish-speaking travelers have a lot of trouble with the Mapuche-infused lingo. Try How to survive in the Chilean Jungle by John Brennan and Alvaro Taboada.


Some examples of Chilenismo slang include:

Pololo: boyfriend—as novio means "fiance" in Chile-speak

Al tiro: a popular phrase meaning "immediately"

Po: the ever-popular slang word used for emphasis. Si po is the most popular way to say and no po is more popular than just no. There's also ya po, which means "hurry up" or "that's enough" and po solo can be used throughout sentences whenever you need an emphasis.

Cachai: a word added to many sentences/words/syllables meaning "ya know?" It can also serve as the Spanish conoces.


This example, cachai, is derivative of a Chilean verb tense slang which seems to come from the formal vosotros form (used in predominately in Spain, though also as slang in Argentina). This tense is used for the singular (you), and ads an -ai where the –er, -ar, and –ir ending normally would be: Me gustai means "I like you" and Cantai? is"Do you sing?" Another popular manifestation of this is Queri? for Quieres? (Do you want?).


In addition to Spanish, there are several tribal languages spoken in Chile; Mapudungun (used between the Itata and Tolten rivers), and Aymara (in the northern mountains) are the two most common. Chilean Quechua, Rapa Nui lan (on Easter Island), and Huilliche/Chesungun are also among the indigenous languages.


Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Chile: Chilean Literature,

By Margaret Rode
A self-professed city girl, sassy staff writer Margaret Rode hails from Chicago where she received Bachelor degrees in English Literature and Spanish...
02 Jul 2009

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