Spanish in Argentina can be very dificilt to understand if you are not used to it or learned Spanish somewhere else. Maybe you are as worried as I were about not being able to understand a word of Argentine Spanish? Don’t worry!
With this quick guide to 10 useful Spanish phrases you should know before visiting Argentina, I will help you back on track.
The truth is that especially Argentine pronunciation can be difficult for outsiders. On top of that Argentines have a whole catalog of different words that you don’t hear in other Hispanic countries.
Hopefully, this post will help you get some of the most essential words right from the beginning.
Feel free to share your own experience with Argentine Spanish in the comments below. I would love to hear what you think!
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#1 You speak Castellano – not español
The Argentines don’t refer to their language as español as most other Hispanics. No, they speak castellano!
Most people will bear over with you if you say that they speak español…And then they will kindly correct you.
Castellano refers to the Spanish from the Spanish region Castile, and it is assumed that Castile is the origin of the Spanish language. Why Argentines insist on using castellano as the term for their language, I still haven’t figured out.
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#2 Vos is you
One of the most common differences in Argentine Spanish is the use of vos as a second-person pronoun (e.g. you) instead of tú. Honestly, for me, it has been the most confusing thing in Argentine Spanish.
Firstly, sometimes the verb for the second-person changes when you use vos compared to tú! According to omniglot.com the verb conjugations with vos is always regular (whereas, with tú you have many irregular verb conjugations).
For example, the conjugation of the verb pensar (to think) when you use tú it is tú piensas, but with vos it is conjugated vos pensás. Or the verb dormir (to sleep) becomes vos dormís instead of tú duermes. Easier? Maybe. But for sure not when you are used to the tú-way
Secondly, some pronouns change according to the use of vos and some don’t! For example, instead of saying contigo when referring to “with you”, Argentines use con vos.
However, they do say tuyo (e.g. yours) as all other Hispanic none-vos-speakers do. Maybe because it would sound too weird to say “vosyo“…?
Confused? Well, I was as well! Thus, I have good news for you; the Argentines do understand you perfectly if you speak with tú! So don’t you worry; your school Spanish will work perfectly fine.
To make a bit fun of the situation and the obvious fact that I’m foreigner, I started saying to waiters and shop owners; “sorry, I still haven’t learned to speak with vos” (Disculpe, todavia no he aprendido hablar con “vos”). Generally, it creates a big smile on their lips – at least I’m trying!
Brush off your Spanish with this beginner guide to Spanish greeting in Argentina!
#3 Che is like… well, a lot of things
You properly know the word che from the famous Che Guevara. And if you studied Spanish somewhere else I’m sure your Spanish teacher would have mentioned che as one of the words that marks the variety of the Spanish language. At least it was one of the favorite examples of my Spanish teachers.
Thus, che is a very common word to hear in the streets of Buenos Aires. Well, I assume all over Argentina. It is the Argentine way of saying mate, bro, dude etc., and it is used for everybody. Yes, seriously, EVERYBODY!
I don’t know that person to whom my friends don’t use che. However, it should be noted that it is a very informal way of speaking. So, don’t throw a “che, qué te pasa?” if you are at a job interview… Just a tip 😉
#4 The prefix re means very
Argentines place the prefix re in front of almost any word when they want to express that it is very something.
“Está re loco” my friend will say when he wants to express that something is very crazy, or “está re buena la comida” when the food is very good. So this is “re bueno saber” (e.g. very good to know).
Are you looking to move to Buenos Aires? Check out this useful information about living in Buenos Aires!
#5 Coger is to f***
If you like me learned Spanish in Spain, then you are properly used to the fact that the word coger can be used for almost anything to do with “taking”or “catching”: to catch the bus (coger el bús), pick up the keys (recoger las llaves), etc.
Well, watch carefully out to use coger in Argentina. The meaning is quite different here… As it refers to having sex!
It is harder than one thinks to change the habit of each word you use in a foreign language. Little by little, and with a good amount of bullying from my friends, I have so far succeed in eliminating coger from my vocabulary.
#6 Tirar onda is to flirt
A common way to express that somebody is flirting with you is to say that they está tirando onda.
Onda can best be translated as vibe, so this somebody is actually throwing (tirando) vibes at you. Well, something to think about the next time you go out – and for sure, if you are going out in Argentina!
BONUS: to express good and bad things the Argentines as well use the word onda. Buena onda and mala onda, respectively for good and bad thing. Thus, this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with flirting.
Test yourself; how many of these 32 things that nobody tells you about Buenos Aires, did you know?
#7 El subte is the subway
I had no clue what my friend meant when he asked me whether the hostel where I was saying was close to el subte. What the h*** is el subte, I thought.
Though, I quickly found out that el subte is the porteños’ (e.g. citizens of Buenos Aires) name for the subway system.
It made even more sense when I remembered that the Spanish translation of the underground is Subterráneo.
Learn more about how to use the public transportation system in Buenos Aires here.
#8 Colectivo is a bus
The bus in Argentina is another important transportation word to know. The Argentines call the buses in the cities for colectivo. Basically, it means that you are taking the shared or public transportation.
In Buenos Aires, there are 180 different bus lines that can be differentiated by their number and the color on the bus.
All public transportation in Buenos Aires can only be used with a magnetic travel card, called SUBE (Sistema Único Boleto Electrónico, e.g. Single Electronic Ticketing System). However, the great thing is that this card works for all the different types of public transportation (buses, subway, trains) in the city.
The colectivos in Buenos Aires runs pretty often, however, forget about figuring out their schedule. They seem to arrive more or less when they feel like it, and it is common to see two of the same bus running one after the other. On the other side, maybe it is for the best that they don’t have any official schedule because that way they are never late and always on time…Right?
When entering a bus you can either tell the bus driver the direction you are going to or the price.
Finally you might as well hear the word bondi used among Argentines, bondi is the slang for colectivo. In my head, it still doesn’t make any sense… But whatever, not everything has to, does it?
Are you still confused about how to use the buses in Buenos Aires? Check out my complete guide here!
#9 Anteojos is glasses
It is just strange how certain things change names between Hispanic countries. One of them is: glasses.
In Spain, they are called gafas which in Cuba means sunglasses. Instead, in Cuba they use espesjuelos. And then I thought that I was settled to be understood… Well, no!
In Argentina, they call glasses for anteojos! Thus, properly this is the most logical word as it means “before the eyes”.
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#10 Morron is bell pepper
I keep on running into words for fruits and vegetables which are different in Argentina compared to other Spanish speaking countries.
For example, bell pepper is called “morron” in Argentina whereas other places call it “pimiento”. A bit nerdy, I admit it. But isn’t it strange that the same vegetables are called differently?