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Six Spanish mistakes to avoid in Latin America

As you may know, Spanish can be a very dangerous language for slips of the tongue.  Perhaps your Spanish mistakes of choice are mispronouncing a letter, assigning the wrong gender to a word (ending in –a instead of –o, for example) or not realising the different slang and terminology as you move from one Spanish-speaking country to another.

For those who learn Spanish from Spain, there’s a lot to get used to. Latin Americans have renamed almost every fruit and vegetable, and each country has their own way of saying certain things. Whilst we’ll let you figure some of these out for yourself, in order to help you avoid some common and humiliating pitfalls, we’ve compiled a list of the top 6 embarrassing Spanish mistakes to avoid during your time in Latin America. 

Don’t forget to also check out these easy phrases to make your Spanish sound way better than it actually is, and in case you’re looking to visit the region in order to pick up the language, our list of the best places to learn Spanish in Latin America.

 

1. Chicken

In Spanish, the word for chicken is ‘pollo’ (pronounced Poy-yo, or Poh-show in Uruguay/Argentina). However, a simple slip of the tongue or gendering mistake to end the word in ‘–a’ and you have very quickly jumped to an inappropriate part of the male anatomy.  Trust Lozzy, it can be humiliating when you accidentally order a d$*k empanada instead of a chicken one. Whilst admittedly this is more of a concern when in Spain itself, with their influence across Latin America (not to mention Spaniards living out there), it is not a risk you really want to be taking.


2. Catching the bus

This is a classic mistake for those who learn Spanish initially in Spain, and then try to use their knowledge during travels in Latin America.  In Spain you would use the verb ‘coger’ when catching the bus, among other things. However, 5000-odd miles across the Atlantic, this word takes a very different meaning; especially in Central America.  A slang word to explain what you did with your one-night stand isn’t really an appropriate thing to casually say in public, especially not in relation to a bus.

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3. Charging your phone

Given how dependant on technology everyone is these days (after all, we aren’t publishing this blog in print…), charging your phone, tablet, laptop or whatever device you have with you can be a multi-daily occurrence.  The Spanish word for charger is ‘cargador’ or the verb to charge is ‘cargar’.  The reason that very important letter ‘r’ is bolded here is because it is one that you really need to remember to pronounce when it comes to speaking Spanish.  That same verb, without the letter ‘r’ is commonly used in Spanish insults, referring to defecating on various things. Or of course if you drop that ‘r’ in the word for ‘charger’, you turn the word into sh*@%er. Another classic, and one I personally know has slipped through when a friend of mine met his girlfriend’s parents for the first time (sorry, mate).

 

4. A flaming llama ringing his flaming llama friend.

Llamas are one of Lozzy’s favourite animals and she yearns to go back to Peru for the sole purpose of seeing more llamas. However, in Spanish the word means far more than just the cute fluffy animal:

  • From the verb ‘llamar’ – to ring/call
  • From the verb ‘llamarse’ – to call yourself (i.e. my name is…)
  • The noun for flame
  • The long-necked fluffball we all know and love

This number of possible connotations for this word can be summed up in what is the most confusing sentence that has ever existed in Spanish; ‘Llama llama en llamas a llama en llamas que se llama Bob’ – a flaming llama rings a flaming llama called Bob.

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So be sure of your llamas, ladies and gentlemen.  Otherwise, you risk misunderstandings on the scale of a famous statue of the symbolic mother of Peru in Lima wearing a crown that wasn’t quite what the Spanish ordered. The story goes that the indigenous people (still learning Spanish themselves at this time) got the wrong end of the stick when it came to the commission for a flaming crown, and instead opted for some teeny tiny llamas.  It happens to the best of us…

 

5. False friends

Don’t be enticed by a falso amigo – a word which sounds like it should share meaning with a similar word in English, yet means something very different.  For example, ‘estoy embarazada’ may sound like you’re embarrassed, but it actually means that you are with child. 


6. Explaining emotional states

One of the most common Spanish mistakes; this one is fraught with danger.  In Spanish there are two ways of saying ‘I am’.  First piece of advice; remember to always use ‘estoy’ [estar] and not ‘soy’ [ser] when explaining your emotional state.  Instead of saying ‘I’m bored’ (estoy aburrido) you could easily proclaim to the world that you are boring (soy aburrido). And whilst you might be, it isn’t something generally said out loud.

And something you’ll certainly encounter across South America is the feeling of being hot.  SO DAMN HOT. But please resist the urge to tell people ‘estoy caliente’, as whilst the word ‘caliente’ means ‘hot’ and ‘estoy’ means ‘I am’, when used together it means ‘I’m horny’.  You could also fall into this trap if you are excited as the phrase ‘estoy exitado’ also means that you are horny. For actual excitement, stick with ‘emocionado’ or just say something like ‘que lindo’!

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So, there you have it! We hope being aware of these common Spanish mistakes can go some way to avoid you getting pregnant embarrassed during your time across South and Central America.

If this is all too much to take in, have a gander of our list of best places to visit in Latin America if you don’t speak Spanish for some easy destination ideas!

 

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