I’ve been looking forward to writing an article about the language in Spain for a while. In my town of Villarrobledo, I hang around with a colorful cast of characters from punks to underground rappers. Of course, because these people are colorful characters, they have a colorful vocabulary.
One thing I’ve gained while studying in Spain is that learning Spanish slang is very important. It has a lot of cultural relevance and will help you meld more into the place that has become your home. For example, I have a list in my phone of about 100 colloquialisms, including swear words, local slang and so on. These phrases and words are very hard to learn on your own, because they are rarely included in dictionaries. When they are, it’s often not the same as the local use of these words. I’m going to try to introduce you to some of the terms in this article.
When reading this, please keep in mind that these words are all words that I have learned by living in Villarrobledo in Castilla-La Mancha. Some of these words are only used in my town and some are only used in Castilla-La Mancha. Yet, others are used in all of the Spanish-speaking world. When reading this, also keep in mind my frame of reference and know that these words and phrases might not work in the part of Spain where you are going to live and study.
Vale, pronounced “bale,” is one of the most frequently used words in Spain. It means “okay” and is used in exactly the same way. The first time I came to Spain last year I was completely lost by the use of the word. It took me about two weeks to figure it out. Another rendition of this word that you’ll hear a lot among my peers is “va”, which is an abbreviated version of ‘vale’. It’s one of the most common phrases in freestyle rap here where the intro to many of the verses are, Uno, Dos, Tres, Teimpo, Va, Va, Va, Venga.
These words, which each mean completely different things, may seem like an unlikely set to need to learn together, but in my town knowing these words has been very important. They each signify a different kind of slap. In English you only have one word for slap and that can be a slap anywhere, but in my part of Spain there seems to be a countless number of words for different types of slaps. The three I’ve listed here are the most commonly used.
Right now, you’re probably wondering why you need to know these words and worrying that you are going to be slapped. Well, most likely you will be. People here tend to be more physical and slapping isn’t really seen as an aggressive thing among friends. For example, it’s a custom for boys after getting a haircut to have the back of their neck slapped by everyone in their class. These words come up a lot in everyday conversation making them important words to know.
This is one word I was absolutely lost on until I went to one. A “local” is an empty storefront or garage rented by local students during the winter months when it’s too cold to congregate in the park. Since the storefronts rent for anywhere from 300€ to 500€ per month, groups of students get together and pay a monthly membership “fee” of about 10€.
The locals are communal spaces where anyone with a membership can come and go and bring guest as they please. For me this was a difficult concept to grasp as I’ve never heard of anything like it in the USA. If there’s one thing I can recommend as being an important thing to do during your stay, it’s to make sure that during the fall you find yourself a ‘local’ to join. People are very inclusive here in general, but you have to be proactive in finding opportunities.
“Claro” means ‘clearly’ in English but has a completely different connotation here. In English, when you use the term ‘clearly’, it tends to take on a negative connotation, often belittling the person you are responding to. Here in Spain it is used as a way to verify that you understand what someone is telling you. For example, a situation where you might use this phrase is as follows.
“You know him, right?”
“Yesterday I went down to Sevilla with my family…”
This definitely isn’t a word that you’ll need in any of the larger cities in Spain, but in my relatively small farming community it’s a very important word. “Campo” is the word used for a family’s country estate. This is very common among families in Villarrobledo, as almost all middle-class families who have lived in the area for more than a generation (believe me, there are a lot) have one.
These country estates are often used to grow grapes or just as summer vacation houses. The most common use of these houses during the fall is birthday parties and other private parties. I spent the first two months of my visit here thinking that ‘campo’ was a location, not a word for a country estate. So, I was rather embarrassed when I asked someone, “Where is the campo?”
I know a lot of these word and phrases might seem like things that would never possibly have any practical application. They may not for you, granted, but for me they’ve had a profound impact on my interactions here. I didn’t share basic Spanish words with you because I don’t find them to be indicative of the culture.
These are words I will always remember and will carry with me wherever I go.
These are the words that deck the pages of my journal entries about Spain.
They reflect the cultural values of my town. And embracing new vocabulary is a way of showing respect to your Spanish hosts by respecting their language and all of its intricacies.