When I first moved to Madrid, Spain at the beginning of August 2017, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the country, and also by all the cultural differences, especially in the language. I learned Latin American, particularly, Mexican Spanish growing up in the United States. Here in Spain, I’ve learned European Spanish from my host family stay and from Tandem: a prestigious language learning school in Madrid. I’m still learning from my private Spanish classes, my intercambio partner who is a native European Spanish speaker, and from living in Spain! I’ve rounded up 20 differences in verbs, expressions, and what things are called here for your leisure. Of course, I don’t offer an exhaustive list and I will continue to add to it! Have some more words for me? Tell me!
In the majority of American schools, our Spanish teachers skip this form and we only use “yo”, “tú”, “él/ella”, “nosotros”, and “ustedes/ellos/ellas”. This is because they only use the vosotros form in Spain and there are over 20 other Spanish-speaking countries. Sorry, Spain! So if you’re like me and you’re immersed in “Spain Spanish” or otherwise called “Castilian” or Castellano, it sounds like a different language apart from Spanish when you first hear the vosotros form spoken!
For example: “¿Como estáis, chicas?” This means, “How are you?”–to 2 or more girls/women so literally: “How are ya’ll?”
In Spain, this word means “okay” or “alright”. It is used in almost every single sentence, everywhere, by EVERYONE! Once you start using “vale” you’re on your way to assimilating into Spanish culture.
- ¡Qué guay!
This translates to “cool” or “awesome” or “amazing! This word is very highly used from children, to teenagers, to young adults, and to 30 to 40 somethings.
Juice. NO ONE says “jugo”, no one…unless they’re not from Spain…
This is the verb for “to drive”. You may have learned “manejar”. In Spain, everyone uses the word conducir.
I know, I know! This is something Rated R in most Spanish-speaking countries, however, in Spain, this means “to take” (transportation or an object). For example in Spain, “Voy a coger un taxi.” translate to “I’m going to take a taxi”, NOT “I’m going to f*** a taxi”, bahaha.
This is the word for “car”. You might have learned, or use the word, “carro”. If you say carro, half the time they’ll probably know what you’re referring to, but everyone says coche here.
Literally it means, “great!” You’ll also hear this ALL the time! It’s almost like “awesome!” For example, “Omg I’m fluent in Spanish now!” You can respond, “¡Genial!”
- Ahora Mismo
If you say, “ahorita” (translates to “right now”) in Spain, you’ll get some funny looks. They know what you’re talking about; but it’s more common to say “ahora mismo“. It means “right now” or “this very minute” but it also can mean “in a couple minutes” or something you’re about to do next!
It’s the word commonly used for “cell phone” vs. “celular“.
In Spain, we eat dinner around 9:00-10:00pm (21:00-22:00 Spain time). Late late late into the night, after dinner is over you’ll find the Spanish still talking at the same table with friends, lovers and family. This time spent after dinner still talking at the table is referred to as “sobremesa”. You don’t actually use it in speech like, “let’s go sobremesa”, no! But just know there is actually a name for it! When you eat in mosts restaurants, the wait staff do not rush you to leave, even well after you’ve finished your wine and meal. I love this culture…take your time and enjoy life!
- No Pasa Nada.
You will hear this A LOT in Spain. It basically means “don’t worry”.
If you’re taking too long at the grocery store to grab your card to pay at the cash register and you say, “Sorry! Just need to grab my card…” the cashier will probably say “No pasa nada“.
This is literally just like saying “MAN!” or “Oh man (I forgot something)” in American English. Or like “what the heck!” This is usually said in excitement or exasperation. Teachers also say it when a kid is behaving badly and just does not stop.
This basically means, “come on!” and can be said seductively all the way to angrily. It can mean “hurry up”, or “let’s go!” It can be said when an irritated dad is rushing a very slow 5-year old. You’ll hear this a lot!
This word translates to “bridge” but in Spain it also refers to a long holiday break from work or school (like a 3-6 day weekend due to a holiday like Christmas or Semana Santa.)
This word is used for “computer” or “laptop”. In Spanish class in the U.S., you probably learned “computadora”.
- ¡Qué chungo!
This word is a little versatile. Children and adults say it to mean “creepy” or “problematic”. In this way it means “how creepy! or “how problematic!”
However if you were to say, as my private Spanish teacher said, “¡Ten cuidado! Ella parece una chica chunga.” You’re saying, “Be careful! She looks problematic”, or like someone rough-looking that you shouldn’t associate yourself with.
You can also say: “Estoy chungo/a” to mean something just doesn’t feel right, or you don’t feel well but you just don’t know what it is.
In Spain, instead of saying “cheeeese!” when someone takes a picture, you say “patataaaa!”
When you go into a café or one of the many delicious bakeries in Spain, you wouldn’t say you want an espresso with milk, you have to say “¡Quiero un cortado, por fa!” They’ll instantly know you want an espresso with milk. Trust me, I’m always grabbing a cortado on the way to school.
- “¡Ching ching!”
This is how you say, “Cheers!” in Madrid, Spain. It’s also pretty widely used in other languages in other European countries–same sound but different spelling!
And there you have it! I’ll be sure to add to this list as I learn more words! I’d love to hear more words you’ve learned! For more travel tips and adventures, follow me on Instagram: @CravingCultures
(All of my photos are purchased and licensed through Adobe Stock, except the one of me at the top, that’s just a selfie! Haha.)