Slang Words and Phrases You Can’t Google Translate in Costa Rica

Slang Words and Phrases You Can’t Google Translate in Costa Rica

Learning a language is not as easy as translating words from one language into another. When I first arrived in Costa Rica to study abroad, I would try to translate sentences from English to Spanish constantly. I quickly learned that this strategy is not the most effective because of all the English and Spanish slang.

The words that are unique to Costa Rica are coined Costarriqueñismos.

These phrases are given this name because you can’t Google translate them or even really use them in other Spanish-speaking countries or classes. The Spanish language, like other languages, has formal versus informal words. Costarriqueñismos fall under the informal category.

Ava and her new friends at school in Costa Rica.

The word mae is probably the most commonly used Costarriqueñismo.

When I am sitting with my friends during lunch or riding the bus to and from school I hear mae almost as often as I hear “like” in English. “Mae” is most similar to the word “dude,” and is very informal so it should not be used with teachers or elders.

Also, the climate here is constantly changing. One moment it is hot and I start to get a sunburn, and then bam! It’s raining. In fact, it rains so much here that there are different words for types of rain. When it is just slightly raining or misty it’s called, Pelos de Gatos. But if it’s dumping rain it is called Aguacero.

This constant change in temperature is great because it keeps you on your toes, just like studying abroad. One moment I will be having the time of my life and feel that I never want to leave Costa Rica. In other moments, I feel really sad and think about all of the amazing things I miss back home. When I have these moments, I find it really crucial for me to do things that are stress relievers. For me, being outside is a stress reliever, so I’ve made a habit of sitting outside in the mornings and drinking my coffee.

Ava’s view from her host family home in Costa Rica.

Cartago is known for being a very agricultural province. From my backyard, I can see vegetable and coffee plants. Furthermore, in the supermarket, there is a whole aisle full of local coffees, and most of the people I know drink at least two cups of coffee a day. My host mom here is so crazy about coffee that she will even drink it before bed. When I get home from school, my mom usually makes me coffee with cookies or bread. When my host mom or I feel lazy, and I drink coffee by itself, it is called, Café con lengua. My mother here has lots of little phrases like that.

For example, if in the morning while I’m sitting outside and it’s really dark, or “oscuro,” my mother will say, Mañana oscuro, tarde seguro. This phrase means that if its dark in the morning, it will be beautiful later.

Another cool thing about Costa Rica is the abundance of wildlife here. In the trees near my school, there are toucans, along with other colorful birds. When I first saw a toucan I said, Que chiva. This phrase is most similar to “how cool” in the United States, and is extremely common. My friends use this word almost as often as they use the word mae!

There are also lots of phrases here that are similar to those in the United States. For example, mamas vale prevenir que lamentar means “better safe then sorry.” I hear this phrase a lot because I am not very cautious, and I’m constantly forgetting things. In the morning my mom will say this to me about bringing an umbrella, or a certain amount of money to my school.

I love all of the Costarriqueñismos because there is always something new to learn here. One thing I can say for sure about this place is that it is always beautiful and never boring!

Do you have any tips for learning Spanish while studying abroad? Share them below!

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