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After moving to Chile, I quickly learned that you have to be ready to change your Spanish vocabulary, depending on the country that you’re in. The vocabulary terms that you may have learned in Spanish class are not always the correct terms. In this post, I’ll be presenting words that I was taught in class, along with the word that is more frequently used in Chile. (Side note: Keep in mind that the first word is also correct and acceptable. Nonetheless, the second option is more common in the Chilean dialect of Spanish).

1. Aguacate → Palta

You will most likely hear the word palta within a few days of arriving in Chile. I don’t know about you guys, but I wasn’t taught this word in Spanish class. Palta is a significant word to know in Chile as Chileans love avocado almost as much as they love marraqueta bread (that means a lot). Avocado is typically spread across bread for breakfast and also eaten again with bread for the Chilean version of tea time, called once. Furthermore, the avocados in Chile look a little different from what you see in the United States. Here, palta is much smaller, softer, and greener. 

Example: Oye, la palta se ve muy buena.

2. Autobús → Micro

If you’re planning on using public transport in Santiago, I recommend memorizing this word now. Las micros are the public buses that run throughout Santiago and can be used by putting money onto a Bip! Card. In Santiago, when referencing regular buses like the ones that run from city to city, these are called buses. However, when talking about Santiago city buses, the word micro is always used. The micros can be a pain because they run at various times and sometimes even drive by you while you are waving them down (I know from personal experience). Thus, it’s quite common to hear the word followed by an expletive (¡Micro culiada!). I won’t translate that…

Example: ¿Cuál micro tomo para llegar a tu casa?

3. Novio → Pololo

I have searched online many a time trying to find the etymology of the word pololo/pololaused in Chile to mean boyfriend/girlfriend. I have yet to find a consensus on the root of this common word, but many people indicate that it comes from the indigenous language of Chile, mapundungunIn Spanish class, I was always taught to use the word novio/novia. However, in Chile the versions of novio/novia indicate something utterly different than pololo/polola: they are used for when a couple is engaged to be married. So, be careful when introducing your boyfriend in Chile, because people may tell you “congratulations” if you use the word novio.

Example: No seai tan jote weon, ella ya tiene pololo.

4. Lo Siento → Sorry

That’s right, Chilean Spanish uses the English word “sorry”, but with the double r pronounced as the typical Spanish rolling r. You’d be surprised at how many English words you can get away with using in a Spanish accent in Chile, and I will make sure to write about this in another post. Be aware that sorry isn’t the only way to apologize as disculpa and perdón are also common, but you really won’t hear lo siento often.

Example: Sorry, no quería hacerte sentir así.

5. Cerveza → Chela

Although the word cerveza will always be understood as “beer”, I find that Chileans more commonly say chela. This word could be derived from the phrase cerveza helada. Popular drinks in Chile also include michelada, which is a mixture of beer, lime juice, salt, and spices.

Example: Queri una chela? Tenemos Escudo y Kuntsmann.

6. Bebé → Guagua

Guagua is another word with an unclear etymology. Some people say that we use the word guagua in Chile for “baby”, because it means “baby” in the Mapuche language, mapundungun. Others say that guagua is an onomatopoeia for the sound that babies make when they cry “guaaaaa guaaaa”. You will hear both the words bebé and guagua in Chile, but most likely you’ll hear guagua used more often in informal speech.

Example: Tu sobrina es la guagua más linda de Chile.

 7. Carro → Auto

I find it quite interesting that the word for “car” varies so much from country to country. When I was living in the south of Spain, it was always coche. In school, I was taught carro (I’m supposing that this is more of a Mexican Spanish variant?), while in Chile the common word is auto. If you use the word carro, you will be understood in Chile, but the word here is always auto.

Example: Vamos en mi autito, será más rápido.

8. Fiesta → Carrete

This one is pretty easy to remember, because you’ll most likely be invited to carretear (to party) during your visit. Although its etymology is debated, this word may stem from its original meaning of a sewing bobbin. Many say that the word evolved from a time of day when women would chat and sew in the evening to a much bolder definition of a full-on party.

Example: El viernes tendremos un carrete en mi depto.

9. Tráfico → Taco

After living in Chile, the word taco  may not be as enjoyable as you once thought it was. You see, while we typically think of a taco being a delicious Mexican food, it means “traffic” in Chile. Particularly for those living in Santiago, taco will become your worst enemy.

Example: Voy a tener que esperar que pase el taco.

10. Trabajo → Pega

Pega is a funny word for your job when you think about where this word comes from. If you have any background with Spanish, you’ll know that the verb pegar typically means “to hit/ to strike”. Therefore, we can conclude that this word has a bit of a negative connotation.

Example: Es difícil encontrar una pega sin un pituto.


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Friday 29th of June 2018

hola! estaba viendo blogs en ingles sobre nosotros los chilenos y me encontré por casualidad con el tuyo, me divertí mucho leyendo esto. Quería hacer una aclaración, con tu permiso, respecto a la palabra "pololo(a)", ya que en mi liceo nos dieron una clase de Identidad chilena y esa palabra estaba involucrada, este chilenismo viene del Mapudungun, el idioma del pueblo indígena Mapuche y hace referencia a la mosca volando al rededor de la fruta (incluso hay un insecto llamado "pololo" en el sur de Chile), también en el mismo idioma Mapudungun hace referencia a "novio(a)". muchos saludos!

Leah Shoup

Friday 29th of June 2018

Me alegro de que te haya gustado el blog!! Y muchas gracias por la información sobre la etimología. Les pregunté a muchos de mis amigos chilenos y nadie sabía sobre la historia de la palabra. Qué divertido!

Las diferentes palabras – Chilean Slang

Sunday 14th of January 2018

[…] […]


Saturday 6th of January 2018

[…] When I began to learn Spanish in school, I didn’t know it at the time, but many of the words I was being taught were variants that just aren’t used everywhere. In fact, I would venture to say that, having learned Spanish in the United States, I was most often taught the Central American version of certain words. Once you start traveling to different Spanish-speaking nations, you’ll notice that many of the vocabulary words are different. This is just like if we were to compare American and British English. So, while words like carro and aguacate are acceptable in Mexico, the terms for these concepts in Chile are auto and palta. I’ve actually written an entire post about this concept, titled: Chilean Vocabulary You Didn’t Learn in Class. […]


Wednesday 22nd of November 2017

I lived in Chile for about a year and got into the habit of using "pucha" and "bakan" a lot. Haha, I love the slang! Your list is great—it brought back some good memories from a few years ago. Oh! Is it unique to Chile that they use "ciao" a lot to say goodbye? I said it around some of my Mexican friends and they gave me funny looks. :D

Tomás Gajardo

Monday 6th of March 2017

Pololear, as in to engage in a relationship, actually comes from the fifht firefighter company's emblem in Valparaíso, this men would often give their emblem to their significant other as proof of their love and loyalty, in wich the insect is tinted green with a brass trim; the insect would often present themselves in large quantities near the lights of the firetruck when fighting wildfires; the members of this company got to be known as the "Order of the Pololo" :).

Attached is an image of such emblem.

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