Argentina, Español

Speak español like a native porteño en solo diez minutos

Saturday, February 6, 2010  

If are a native English speaker and have a typical high school knowledge of speaking Spanish, or something similar, you may want to fine tune your phrases before traveling to Argentina. Admittedly, after five years of living in Buenos Aires though I communicate well enough here, I can’t hide my gringo-ness 100%. Still, if you follow these few pointers you will avoid appearing fresh off the tour bus.

(A couple of things about the title of this article. First in Argentina and many other countries the language is referred to as Castellano, not Español. Español is an adjective for something from Spain, such as “Paella es un plato español.” A Porteño, in case you were wondering, is someone from Buenos Aires.)

1. LL and Y´s are pronounced harder in Buenos Aires, much like the SH in English. Pollo is pronounced Poe-Show, Ayer is pronounced Ah-Cher (Cher as in Sonny and Cher). Porteños say “Ya!” an awful lot, but pronounced like Shaw! Soy yo is pronounced like ¨Soy Show.”

Mike with Clyde in Buenos Aires

Real porteño or fake?

2. Also important is that the article for the informal you, “VOS” is used here instead of “TU.” It’s an older form from before “tu” existed. (and, logically, before you existed )

Verb conjugations are the same as for TU in all tenses except for two important exceptions: the present and imperative tenses.

In the present tense, the regular form is to remove the final R of the infinitive and replace it with an S. Additionally, add an accent to the last syllable.

  • hablar –> Hablás muy bien.
  • escuchar –> Escuchás todo!
  • venir –> Venís a que hora?
  • tener –> Tenés la hora?

Pretty much like how you conjugate with TU but the accent is different. Of course irregulars are always more difficult. Though with VOS there are fewer of them than with TU. An important question that you will hear a lot is:

  • ¿De donde sos? SOS being the VOS form of the verb SER, whereas with TU it would be ERES.
    Note: Any response EXCEPT “America” will do here.

For imperative it is simple, just remove the final R and add an accent:

  • Parar –> Pará ahora por favor.
  • Venir –> ¡Vení acá! (I say that one to my dog a lot)
  • Escuchar –> Escuchá que dice la señora. ; or with the pronoun: Escuchame
  • Sentarse –> Sentate, por favor. (different from TU where it’s Siéntate)

3. Don’t confuse VOS with VOSOTROS. VOSOTROS is only used in Spain, thankfully one less form to conjugate. Here and in all of Latin America the plural second person is always USTEDES.

4. When to use the informal VOS versus when to use the more formal USTED is not so scientific. No two people use them exactly the same. With Argentine people, especially from foreigners, they are generally OK if you use VOS too liberally.

5. When you pause mid sentence to think, filling in the gaps, do not say “uh.” Using “es de,” will fool them for a second while you figure out which word to utter next.

6. Learn to roll your R’s like a purring cat. Put your tongue on the top of your mouth for any work that starts with a single letter R or has two RR’s in the middle. If you want to get serious about rolling your R’s, try this out for size:

Erre con erre, guitarra,
erre con erre, barril.
¡Que rápido ruedan
las ruedas redondas
del ferrocarril!

Furthermore, learn how to pronounce the 5 vowel sounds. This is the easiest part of Spanish, because each vowel has a single sound than never varies. This is so much easier than the vowel sounds in English, though many non-native Spanish speakers miss the simple practice of pronouncing these correctly. Practice saying A-E-I-O-U:

  • A: as the a in Father
  • E: like Hay without the H
  • I: like the ee in Meet
  • O: as in Oh
  • U: like the oo in Boo

7. Words specific to Argentina, that are often different in other Spanish-speaking countries:

  • You will hear ACÁ used a lot more then AQUÍ.
  • ALLÁ (Ah-Shaw) for Over There
  • CHAU (Ciao) is used much more than ADIOS.
  • Dale for Do it, Come On, or to just agree on something
  • OK for OK
  • Remera for T-shirt
  • Campera for Jacket
  • Gaseosa for Soft Drink
  • Soda for Soda Water
  • Frutilla for Strawberry
  • Manteca for Butter
  • Grasa for Lard
  • Palta for Avocado
  • Poroto for Bean
  • Bife for Steak
  • Asado for Barbecued Food
  • Parrilla for Barbecue Grill
  • Concha for a woman’s privates
  • Cancha for Playing field (At the Fútbol Cancha you hear the word Concha screamed-out a lot.)
  • Torta for Dyke or Cake
  • Puto for Fag
  • Puta for Prostitute (When angry you can say this at no one in particular: ¡La puta que lo parió!)
  • The verb Joder is to bother or to mess with
  • Coger is the love act
  • Hijo de Puta, in the proper context and inflection, is an effective insult (similar to Son of a Bitch)
  • Andá a la mierda: even stronger, like Fuck off
  • Boludo for Stupid Jerk (often used amongst friends)
  • Pelotudo is similar to Boludo
  • Pendejo is not a bad word here, means pubic hair or someone very young, like 14 years old. I once complimented a friend on his 50th birthday: “No sos viejo; ya sos un pendejo.” Still it’s very informal to use.
  • Quilombo is a big mess or complicated situation (though literally means whorehouse, is never used in that context).
  • Last but not least, Bárbaro is just very beautiful.

And I won’t even get into Lunfardo, which is the slang language here with roots from the glory days of tango. “Che, estos chabones siguen cupando unos novis, aunque no tienen ni un mango.” (Though CHE comes from Mapuche, an indigenous language.)

Coming Soon: Understand Argentina politics en solo 100 horas

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One comment for “Speak español like a native porteño en solo diez minutos”

  1. Roberto says:

    Te invito a pasar por mi blog http://neolunfardo.blogspot.com/