7 Common Words and Phrases Used in Spain

When you are first arriving to your term abroad in Spain, you may become quickly overwhelmed. Everyone is speaking fast, you hear words you do not completely understand, and it is difficult to keep up with basic conversation.

Trust me, this feeling is normal. I remember being confused with my first conversation with my landlady, when she asked me if I had a “bolí.” She then tried “bolígrafo” and I still did not understand. Eventually, she described it as a “pencil with ink” and it finally made sense. Bolígrafo. I had only learned the word “pluma” in school.

At first, I thought I had no clue about Spanish, but that was not the case. I did know Spanish, a lot of it, in fact. Yet, I was learning words and phrases more commonly used in Mexico. First step when going to Spain, learn typical words and phrases of the country.

1. Vale: One common Spanish word I learned before heading abroad was, of course, vale. I was instructed by professors that I would hear this word a lot, and I did. Upon landing in Spain, it was one of the first words I heard. Well, understood.

Vale is an interjection, which most closely means “okay” or “all right.”

2. Me cae gordo: I heard this phrase a lot during my time in Spain, and the only word I could really pick out  was “gordo,” meaning fat in English. I thought, why is everyone calling people fat?

I soon found out, through this phrase and others, that it is troublesome translating directly.  “Me cae gordo” means that someone is bothering you or you do not like a particular person.

3. Chaval: this word was confusing to me at first because I heard it in a variety of instances.

You can use chaval to describe someone who is naive and does not have a lot of experience. To me, it seems like something a baby boomer would use to describe a milennal. Y’know, those darn chavales.

Also, it is also used as a way to say “dude” amongst younger people in Spain. Another way to say “dude” (which confused me profusely) follows.

4. Tío/tía: I heard teenagers talking on the street, and every other word, I heard a tío or tía. Why are they calling each other uncle and aunt? Surely, they must mean something different in this case.

While these words do meant uncle and aunt when used formally, they mean dude informally.

Like vale, this is a very important word to add to your vocabulary.

5. Ser la leche: you will hear a lot of phrases related to milk while you are in Spain. This one is the most common. While it literally means “to be the milk,” it has a much more complex meaning.

It can either mean one of two extremes, “that’s awesome” or “that’s disgusting.”

6. Mono: I wondered why everyone was throwing the word “monkey” in the middle of their sentences, and simply put, they were not. Mono means cute or adorable in Spain.

Qué mono, ¿no?

7. Guay: I knew every possible way of saying “cool” everywhere besides, y’know, Spain. Quickly, I discovered the words I was using to say cool, awesome, great, etc., that I had learned from my Spanish classes were no longer cool in Spain.

In Spain, you use guay.

I hope you enjoyed this quick, little list of common Spanish words and phrases. I keep thinking of more to add, but decided I will split it up into future posts.

Do you have any funny stories from hearing certain Spanish words and phrases for the first time? I would love to hear your experiences with Castilian Spanish (and so I do not feel like the only one who was completely clueless with it, haha.)

Hasta luego!