Colombian Slang: How to Use Spanish Slang Like a Native
Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, so it has numerous dialects. If you go from Mexico to Spain to Chile, the Spanish vocabulary you’ll hear changes drastically. One word can be completely acceptable in one country but a vulgar expression elsewhere. If this sounds confusing to you, you’re not alone! Native Spanish speakers also experience a learning curve when they travel to a new country.
One Spanish-speaking country that is world-famous for its accent and slang is Colombia! To make sure you’re prepared to understand and navigate conversations, we have put together a list of the 15 essential Spanish slang words in Colombia.
Colombian Spanish Overview
If you are learning Spanish or already speak the language, you may have already come across Colombian Spanish through popular shows like The Queen of Flow and Pablo Escobar. However, if you’re more accustomed to a Mexican or Central American Spanish accent, it might be a shock to watch these shows in Spanish.
The first time I watched a Colombian show, I was already fluent in Spanish. Nevertheless, I had to put on subtitles because I couldn’t distinguish the words they were saying. Even with Spanish subtitles, the Spanish slang stumped me. Now, living in Colombia, I have grown to love the musical accent and fun vocabulary.
There are several different accents in Colombian Spanish, but the most popular might be the acento paisa. A paisa or something paisa is from Medellín, a city famous for its tumultuous history with Pablo Escobar and the drug trade. The city is now known more for its innovation and things exclusively paisa—like the accent. Imagine singing a song while speaking Spanish, and that’s what the paisa accent sounds like. Words are elongated and accentuated, and the intonation of a single sentence goes up and down many times.
While the paisa accent is unique, the Colombian accent, in general, is musical as well. Keep that in mind while reading the words and sentences below.
Top 15 Colombian Spanish Slang Terms
Parce is short for parcero or parcera, and means “friend,” “dude,” or “man.” This is one of the most important Spanish slang terms to learn before going to Colombia, as you will hear it everywhere. Practice it with your new friends! While this term is for a “friend,” it is not exclusively used for your closest circle. Parce and parcero can be used in any informal situation, for anyone from your taxi driver to someone you are giving directions to.
Pronunciation: pahr-say, pahr-sair-oh(ah)
Examples: Dios le bendiga, parce. – God bless you, man.
Muchas gracias, parce. – Thank you so much, dude.
Bueno, parcero. Ya me voy. – Well, friend. I’ve got to go.
2. Quihubo, Qué más
Quihubo is a combined form of Qué hubo that literally means “what was there?” However, the actual translation is “what’s up?” Combine this greeting with our previous word for the quintessential Colombian slang: ¿Quihubo, parce?
Qué más is another common greeting that is not only used in informal greetings. This can be used with bank tellers, elders, and friends. It literally means “what more?” but loosely translates to “what’s new?” When you first hear the phrase, it can be confusing because in other countries the meaning is quite literal.
Pronunciation: key-oo-boh, kay mahs
Examples: ¿Quihubo, parce? – What’s up, dude?
¿Qué más? ¿Cómo está? – What’s up? How are you?
¿Quihubo? ¡Qué bueno verte! – What’s up? It’s so good to see you!
¿Qué más, pues? ¿Qué me cuenta? – What’s new? Tell me!
3. Berraco, Bacano
Berraco can mean a variety of things, from cool to angry to difficult. It all depends on the situation and intonation! Bacano, on the other hand, is specifically for something awesome or cool.
Pronunciation: bair-rah-koh, bah-kah-nah
Examples: Ese carro está bien berraco. – That car is so cool.
Ella está berraca. No le hables ahorita. – She is angry. Don’t talk to her right now.
La tarea estuvo berraca. No la pude terminar. – The homework was so hard. I couldn’t finish it.
¡Qué bacano estuvo la película! – The movie was great!
¡Bacano! Nos vemos entonces. – Great! I’ll see you then.
4. Luca, Plata
Each Spanish-speaking country has at least one Spanish slang word for money, and Colombia is no exception. Just like English uses the word “buck” for a dollar, luca is a common word for the smallest bill, 1,000 pesos (in case you’re curious, 3,500 Colombian pesos equal one US dollar). You can use it in the singular and plural form to talk about money.
Another common slang for money is plata, or “silver.” This is a more general term and refers to uncountable money.
Pronunciation: loo-kah, plah-tah
Examples: Necesito 20 lucas. – I need 20,000 pesos.
Prestáme 10 lucas. – Lend me 10,000 pesos.
¿Tenemos suficiente plata para comprar un carro? – Do we have enough money to buy a car?
5. Rumba, Rumbear
Colombia has a rich dance and musical culture which are often showcased at a lively party, or rumba. Similarly, the verb form of rumba is rumbear, which means “to go out” or “to party.”
Pronunciation: room-bah, room-bay-ahr
Examples: Estuvo buena la rumba de anoche. – The party last night was great.
¡Vamos a rumbear! – Let’s party!
La rumba estuvo aburrida, así que nos fuimos. – The party was boring, so we left.
What does this word look like to you? If you said “camel,” you’re right, to some extent. This word literally means “to camel,” or to work as hard as a camel. As such, camellar is to work a job.
Examples: No puedo ir. Tengo que camellar. – I can’t go. I have to work.
¿Ya vas a camellar? – Are you going to work now?
Está ocupado. Está camellando. – He/she is busy. He/she is working.
How many slang words are there in English for “thing?” We have stuff, thingamabob, thingy, and thingamajigger, to name a few. While these words aren’t formal, they still find their way into our spoken language. Similarly, dozens of different words for “thing” are used throughout Latin America, including vaina. This word in a formal setting means “sheath,” but in Colombia, you’ll hear it used to refer to literally anything.
Examples: Coloque bien esa vaina. – Place that thing correctly.
¿Dónde dejé esa vaina? – Where did I leave that thingamabob?
Pasáme esa vaina. – Pass me that thingy.
Pieza means “piece,” right? Well, in Colombia it means a piece of living space. If you want to rent an apartment, don’t ask for un apartamento or departamento. Ask for a pieza. While it may seem strange at first, compare it to the British word for an apartment, “flat.”
Examples: ¿Cuánto cuesta una pieza aquí? – How much does an apartment cost here?
Estamos alquilando una pieza en el centro. – We are renting an apartment downtown.
Tenemos que encontrar una pieza barata. – We have to find a cheap apartment.
Tinto generally means red wine, the color red, or something that is stained. However, in Colombia, it is a black coffee. If you go to a café and ask for un café, por favor or un americano, por favor, they will probably ask you if you mean a tinto.
Examples: Me gustaría un tinto, por favor. – One coffee, please.
¿Cuánto cuesta un tinto? – How much does a coffee cost?
¿Te gusta el tinto? – Do you like black coffee?
In the rest of the Spanish-speaking countries, listo means ready or smart. However, Colombian Spanish has an additional use for it, which translates to “okay.” You’ll hear this at the end of sentences, and it is basically a way to check your comprehension or to make sure you’re following instructions.
Examples: Vas a ir derecho hasta la esquina, y después a la izquierda, ¿listo? – You’re going to go straight until the corner and then turn left, okay?
Un día más y todo bien, ¿listo? – One more day and everything will be set, okay?
Nos quedamos en 300,000 pesos mensuales, ¿listo? – We decided on 300,000 pesos monthly, right?
Tombos is an incredibly common slang word in Colombia, but it is quite derogatory. It is used to refer to the police and literally means “pigs.” With Colombia’s violent history, it makes sense that the police are often not the people’s favorite. You will hear this term used to talk about the police, but don’t directly call a police officer a tombo.
Examples: Allí van los tombos. – There go the police.
Ponte la mascarilla porque ya vienen los tombos. – Put your mask on because the police are coming.
¿Te arrestaron los tombos? – Did the police arrest you?
Just like tombo, the Colombian Spanish slang word chimba has controversial meanings but is widely used. If you look up chimba in a Spanish dictionary, it will tell you that it is a word for female genitalia. However, if you listen to conversations in Colombia, the people use it without a second thought, and it does not have a vulgar connotation. Instead, it means great!
Examples: ¡Me parece una chimba! – That sounds great to me!
¡Qué chimba! – That’s great!
¡Qué chimba de rumba! – The party was great!
We have yet another Spanish slang word for “cool:” chévere. This word is not only used in Colombia but is spoken all across South America. Just like bacano and berraco, chévere also means great, terrific, and fantastic.
Examples: ¡Qué chévere que ganaste! – That’s great that you won!
¡Qué chévere! – That’s so cool!
¡Qué chévere tu blusa! Me gusta mucho. – Your blouse is so cool! I really like it.
Cuadrar looks a lot like “to square,” and that’s how it’s usually used: to square or to agree with. However, in Colombian Spanish slang, cuadrar means to make plans or schedule something.
Examples: Cuadremos una hora exacta para la reunión. – Let’s schedule a specific time for the meeting.
Ya cuadramos todo. – We already scheduled everything.
Ella no puede venir. Ya cuadró con Carlos. – She can’t come. She already had plans with Carlos.
Yes, mono does mean monkey in Spanish. However, it also means someone who is light-skinned or blonde. Colombians have a wide variety of skin color, and it is not at all offensive to call someone mono or mona if they are lighter-skinned. Mono can refer to light hair color, skin color, or both. You will hear mono or mona on the street as people call out to other people trying to sell them something or grab their attention. You may also hear it used between friends if one of them is much fairer than the other.
Examples: ¡Oye, mona! Se te cayó un billete. – Hey, blondie! You dropped a bill.
El mono va a pasar por su mochila más tarde. – The blonde guy / light-skinned guy will come by later for his backpack.
La mona me va a prestar su tarea para estudiar. – The blondie / blonde girl is going to lend me her homework to study.
While we’ve gone over some key Spanish slang, there are some other important components to Colombian Spanish to keep in mind.
Colombians express the diminutivos of nouns differently than other Latin Americans. A diminutivo, or diminutive, is the form of a noun that expresses something small. For example, un poco can be changed to un poquito. The -ito ending makes the meaning change from “a little” to “a little bit.” Other examples include hijo y hijito (“son” and “little son”) and perro y perrito (“dog” and “doggy”). All of these examples use the ending -ito, but that is not the only acceptable ending! In Colombia, you will hear the comparable ending -ico added to numerous nouns.
Momento – momentico (moment – short moment)
Rato – ratico (a bit – a little bit)
Plata – platica (money – a little bit of money)
While you will still hear the -ito endings in popular words like hijito, the -ico diminutive ending is considerably more popular than countries in Central America.
A Confusing Word
One of the funniest things for me to hear in Colombia was the use of coger. I learned Central American Spanish, and in that region, coger is an extremely vulgar term for sexual intercourse. In Colombia (and most of South America), coger is commonplace.
Coger means “to get,” “to take,” or “to grab,” and is used in place of the more common Central American verb agarrar. If you’re like me and learned Mexican or Central American Spanish, don’t be shocked when you hear ¡Vamos a coger un taxi!
Tell Us What You Know!
This is just a short list of Spanish slang found in Colombia. If you have been to the country (or are from there!), leave a comment with more Colombian slang words. Or you can comment with your favorite word and try to use it in a sentence. ¡Qué bacana la clase de español colombiano!
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¿Porqué hacer tanta referencia a Colombia con Pablo Escobar? Porqué no hacerla con Juan Valdez (nuestra reconocida marca de café a nivel mundial), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (ganador de un premio Nobel) o Shakira!!! Es algo molesto para los Colombianos en el exterior que se nos reconozca por la oscura y violenta época de Pablo Escobar. Lastimosamente es una realidad que sufrió el pais en los años 80, pero no es algo que se deba estar recordando todavía actualmente, habiendo tantas caras positivas en nuestro país y reconocidas a nivel mundial. Este artículo además, se centra en su mayoría en Slangs provenientes de Medellín – imagino que por eso se nombra tanto a Pablo Escobar también-, cuando la ciudad capital, Bogotá, es la mas representativa de nuestro país. Considero ofensivo resaltar a un país por aspectos negativos que afectan su imagen y promueven su cara violenta, peor aún cuando en este espacio de carácter pedagógico incluso hay un enlace para ver el show de Pablo Escobar en Netflix, sabiendo que estos artículos son leídos también por ESTUDIANTES o NIÑOS de diferentes edades!!!!
No me parece nada acertado este artículo, fuera de contexto, inapropiado e incompleto, además del enfoque violento que se resalta del país. Como escritora, le sugiero realizar una investigación mas exhaustiva, positiva y enriquecedora cuando desee publicar un artículo sobre un país en el que no nació y no ha vivido lo suficiente como para pretender conocerlo.
Gracias por su atención.
Hola! Gracias por tu retroalimentación. Como has dicho, este post se centra en jerga de Medellín, lo cual está especificado en la introducción al artículo. Nos gustaría aprender jerga de otras regiones Colombianas, en caso te animes a compartir algunas con nosotros. Tomaremos en cuenta tu opinión para los artículos que escribamos en el futuro. Para nosotros es importante representar a los países de los que hablamos en su totalidad, e incluir la amplia gama de ejemplos que mencionaste en tu comentario es parte de eso.
Mi llamo Chris y estoy un estudiante de lespanol en el novel intermedio mi gustaría diceir que tu artículo y metodo para explicar las palabras “slang” frecuentemente usando en Columbia esta muy bueno. Su estilo y los ejemplos están muy descriptivo y fácil para leer. Gracias para la información y sigue con su gran escritura!
Tenga un buen día