Spanish to Communicate and Spanish to Feel Like a Local


Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Kuzey Ates

My first direct interaction with Colombians and Spanish was in 2012 when I went to the U.S. for a summer job and to sightsee. During that summer, all the people I lived with, worked with, and hung out with were Colombians and even though we communicated in English, there were many moments when I felt like becoming invisible when they would start speaking Spanish to each other.

But since I was the only “extranjero” among them, they were always trying to teach me Spanish words and short sentences with great interest. And, of course, most of the first words taught were slang words and curses in Colombian dialect. Such as… Or let’s pass for now.

“Guayabo” A Colombian word for hangover. Source: El Dorado

Language Learning and Internalizing

Whichever language you are beginning to learn, it is said that the first things that your language-speaking friends will teach are curse words.

At first, even though this seems funny and maybe even useless, as your language learning process progresses and your speaking abilities become more fluid; knowing some words that some very well-meaning friends warned you that “you should never learn!” builds an important basis for internalizing the language and having a richer understanding and speaking ability.

Especially if you are living in the country where that language is spoken.

Coming to Colombia and Adjusting My Spanish

I came to Colombia for a month in 2013 after having taken Spanish lessons in Turkey for a few months, and in 2014 I met many Spanish people with whom I practiced the language while I was an Erasmus exchange student in Portugal.

However, because I had learned Castilian Spanish, I spoke using ¨vosotros¨ and with Castilian pronunciation and so the first reaction of many Colombian people when they heard me was the same: “What’s up with this guy?”

Although it was not perfect, I spoke considerably fluent Spanish when I arrived in Colombia but due to its many slang and idiosyncratic expressions, I’ve spent two years trying to get used to Colombian and especially Paisa Spanish.

I’ve gone through quite a few painful times asking questions that sometimes make people laugh or asking questions like “what does this mean?”, “Doesn’t that word mean something else?” or, eventually, just pretending to understand what people say.

However, I feel much better now that the effect of having learned so many slang words and idioms is that I can almost converse like a local, and can even pretend to be a Colombian sometimes.

It is a great feeling to be able to speak some Spanish, and to communicate with the people of Colombia who live their everyday lives as usual.

It was one of the greatest reasons that I fell in love with Colombia: the feeling you get among the people and their lives: “You are in Latin America! And this is Colombia!” Instead of living like a witness to a play and only sometimes getting in and interacting with its characters, by learning their colloquial language, you can truly become one of the characters in the play.

If you want to fully get to know the Paisas, and be able to better empathize when they are happy, sad, angry or excited; learning their dialect, even just a little bit is crucial.

Finding the Right Methodology

At this point, it’s incredible to find a methodology that admits that there is no need for proper Spanish all the time and that Spanish can vary a lot according to the country or even the city. For me, the turning point was when I found El Dorado Cultural Center by chance and registered to take a few lessons at the end of my first year in Medellín.

In addition to teaching Spanish as grammar and usage as it should be taught, Spanish teachers added a great deal of flexibility to the use of Spanish by dissolving the Colombian Spanish, and especially the Paisa Spanish, in their lesson plan without ever overlooking their differences in slang and accents.

Moreover, it’s great to find new materials to be helpful both in and out of the classroom. The Facebook page Spanish Lessons Medellin is one of them. The page posts Paisa slang words and idioms daily that you can use in your everyday life.

Do you think the taste of Colombian dream can be fully enjoyed without learning a few little words that come out of the heart of Medellin? ¡Oigan a este!

This is a sponsored post written in collaboration with El Dorado Cultural Center.

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  1. I am Colombian but I live in London for @lmost 6 years even when I arrived I speak American English so I tried to live with non-Spanish speaker it was a tough process and I am in the process to be fluent in English in London.

    I was a teacher in Colombia and I enjoy to teach, learn, I know how to teach and I am friendly and open mind, so I am looking for someone who is interested to learn Spanish so I am getting to improve my speaking skills.

    • I am an Americano in Medellin for two more weeks. I am trying to learn Espanol I would appreciate the chance to learn from you and help you in your effort to learn english Brian

  2. Ah, another journey in Spanish. I was expecting to hear and see a lot more vulgar expressions when I moved to Medallo not because anybody ever told me that Paisas are vulgar, but because I’ve been on the same journey in Spanish for quite a while in other countries. By and large the Paisas I meet and overhear are some of the least vulgar people I ever met. They know how to handle themselves when it comes to the ladies too, which is to say that they are just as electrified as anybody else from anywhere would be but they are much more discreet and courteous than a lot of guys would be. I must admit that my 14 month experience in Medellin is pretty shallow and my travels to other places around Colombia are from a long time ago but I haven’t missed a day in a Spanish speaking milieu for over 36 years so I do have a good exposure to the overall Hispanic world. Paisa culture is good.