¿Te cuento un secreto? (Can I tell you a secret?) No Mexican speaks like a textbook. We make mistakes, use abbreviations and slang. Very often, we even have our own secret “language”. Everyone who uses it is recognized as one of the insiders.
Entonces, ¿qué significa eso para ti (So, what does that mean for you), as a foreigner learning Spanish? Well, if you speak formal textbook Spanish, yes, people will understand you, and that’s fine, supongo (I guess)…
But if you learn how to use some of that secret street Spanish, you’ll amaze native speakers and instantly make them open up to you and like you. It’s your ticket to more friendships and real warm interactions with Spanish speakers!
So, in today’s article I will teach you Spanish chunks that will make you an insider in Mexico (and the textbook alternatives you should avoid).
1. Greeting in Spanish
A Spanish textbook would probably teach you “Buenas tardes. Mi nombre es Cory. ¿Cuál es el tuyo?” (Good afternoon. My name is Cory. What is yours?) to greet someone.
Seamos honestos (Let’s be honest)… Unless I’m in a really formal situation, you won’t often hear me say that. We like to make it more… casual, like this:
- Hey, ¿cómo te ha ido? (Hey, how have you been?)
- ¡Qué onda! Tiene mucho que no te veo. (What's up! It’s been a while since I last saw you.)
- Soy Cory. ¡Mucho gusto! (I’m Cory. Nice to meet you!)
- ¡Encantado! (Nice to meet you!)
2. Saying you’re cold or hot
Here’s how your textbook will probably teach you this:
- Yo tengo mucho calor / Yo tengo mucho frío (I am very cold / I am very hot).
Now, this is what will happen on the street in real life:
First of all, in Spanish we don’t really say Yo tengo (I have / I am); in fact, we usually don’t say the word Yo (I) and just say tengo. The verb conjugation tengo already makes it clear I’m talking about myself!
Apart from that, we have some more colorful ways to talk about heat or cold:
- ¡No manches! ¡Qué frío tengo! (No kidding (lit. Don’t stain)! I’m so cold!)
- Hace tanto frío que mis dedos se congelan (It’s so cold my fingers are freezing)
- ¡Qué bochorno! (What sultriness!)
3. Warning someone
The “textbook” way of warning someone is saying “¡Cuidado!”, but on the street, we normally say things like:
- ¡Aguas! ¡No te vayas a caer! (Literally: Waters! You’re going to fall!)
Let me tell you the origin of this funny Mexican expression…
Many years ago, there was a modern sewage treatment system in Mexico. During this time, people would collect “dirty” water in their home and before throwing it out into the street from their window or door, they would shout “¡aguas!” (waters!) to alert any passerby.
So, if you ever hear “¡aguas!”, you might want to get out of the way lo más rápido que puedas (as fast as you can).
Lo más rápido que puedas is an expression that can help you create many other sentences, such as:
- Déjalo lo más limpio que puedas (Leave it as clean as you can)
- Come lo más que puedas (Eat as much as you can)
- Aléjate lo más que puedas (Stay away as much as you can)
For more chunks like this, download our free Essential Spanish Chunking Kit, where we’ve compiled the most important Spanish chunks you’ll need in any conversation.
Textbooks often tell you to say “realmente” if you want to say “really”… y créeme (and believe me), we don’t say that to express disbelief or to look for assurance.
Here’s the street-Spanish version:
- Mi hermano se casó con su novia después de solo dos meses de noviazgo (My brother got married after dating his girlfriend for only just 2 months)
- ¿A poco se casaron? (Did they really get married?)
- ¡La semana pasada gané la lotería! (Last week, I won the lottery!)
- No, ¿de veras? (No, really?)
- Me peleé con Fernanda el otro día (I got into a big discussion with Fernanda the other day)
- ¿Neta te cae mal? (You really don’t like her, do you?)
All these expressions mean “Really?”, but in a cooler way.
Caer mal is an expression we normally say when we dislike a person, but in Spanish, it’s almost like we ate something that fell bad on our stomach.
This is a great example of a chunk, and the same way you can use “me cae mal” (I don’t like him/her), you may say “me cae bien” (I like him/her).
5. Hablar del cansancio (Speaking about tiredness)
Let’s first look at what the textbook would tell you: Hoy me siento cansado (Today, I’m tired).
Seamos honestos (Let’s be honest)… how many times have you used tiredness as an excuse, when in reality you were being flojo (lazy)?
In Mexico, we own our laziness and say things like:
- Cory, ¡ve a limpiar tu habitación! (Cory, go clean up your room!)
- Tengo hueva (I have roe) —And no, it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s one of the words that will make you sound like a real local!
- ¿Por qué no has hecho ejercicio hoy? (Why haven’t you done your workout today?)
- Tengo fiaca (I’m lazy)
- ¿Quieres ir por unos tragos hoy? (Do you want to go for a drink tonight?)
- No, estoy molida (No, I’m crushed) —Of course, it might be that you are exhausted, so you can use that expression and sound like a real local.
¡Hora de jugar! (Quiz time!)
Ahora veamos si te he enseñado bien (Now let’s see if I taught you well)… with a little quiz comprising 5 questions.
Try to answer them based on what you just learned, and don’t forget to tell me your score en los comentarios (in the comments).
- Esta mañana me he levantado con ________ (This morning I've woken up feeling lazy)
- ¡Qué _______! ¿Cómo has estado? (What’s up! How have you been?)
- ¡Ay, no manches! ¡__________ tengo! (No kidding! I’m so cold!)
- ¿___________ estuviste de vacaciones? (Did you really go on a holiday?)
- No quiero hablar con él. Me __________ . (I don’t want to speak with him. I dislike him.)
¡Muy bien! ¿Cuántas adivinaste? (How many did you guess?)
Now, listen: I taught you a lot of street Spanish from Mexico, but I haven’t even mentioned the most used slang word in Mexico yet… madre! Yes, we use our mothers to say we’re sick of someone, we think something’s awesome, or something is horrible… and much more!
If you’re ever around Mexicans speaking Spanish, you have to know how we Mexicans use the word madre, so I want you read the article prepared by my colleague María Fernanda. She’ll teach you the 13 most important street Spanish chunks with the word madre!