Che, vos! Your Guide to Speaking Like a Local

Argentines generally don't have any qualms in telling you what's great and unique about their country. They've got Maradona, Messi and the unrivalled local football talent (just don't mention Brazil). Great pasta and wine. The best beef in the world. And let's not forget Tango, the dance of love. Or Pancho the People's Pope!

In all of this, one thing Argentines do tend to overlook is the importance of language use in setting them apart from other Spanish-speaking nations. Known locally as Castellano, it will be one of the most striking differences you'll discover on a visit to Argentina, with an accent that's more Italian than Spanish, and vocabulary that's – well – almost indescribable!

So, to help you enjoy Castellano in all its glory, we've prepared a short guide on Spanish use in Argentina.

Vos

In Castellano the second person pronoun vos replaces . It also often overrules Usted, so don't be surprised if the old man at your corner kiosk tells you to call him vos! For foreign language students visiting Argentina, the best news in all of this is that there are no irregular conjugations to deal with when using vos. Take a peak!

  • Vos podés instead of Tú puedes
  • Vos dormís instead of Tú duermes
  • Vos pensás instead of Tú piensas

Che!

It's one of the most common words in the Argentine vernacular, and translates roughly to “man” or “pal”. Argentines attach che to pretty much every phrase they use, so you probably won't have any issues in picking it up! Just keep in mind that you're a che, she's a che, grandma's a che, the busdriver's a che! We're all ches! It'll be rolling off your tongue in no time!

Italianisms

Explosive hand gestures and the colourful accent might give this away! But in case you don't realise, the influence of Italian migration is all through Castellano in Argentina. This phenomenon is no thing of the past, either! Check out some of the very common words of Italian origins that Argentines use on a daily basis:

  • Laburo (from lavoro) means work
  • Auto (from auto) means car
  • Valija (from valigia) means suitcase
  • Baúl (from baule) means trunk/boot
  • Fiaca (from fiaccio) means laziness

Lunfardo

In other parts of South America you'd be a chico or a chica. In Argentina, you'll either be a pibe or a mina. Lunfardo was a dialect of Argentine Castellano that originated in Buenos Aires. Today it refers more loosely to local slang. Here are some examples:

  • guita – money
  • quilombo – ruckus, mess or brothel (from the Kimbundu word kilombo)
  • morfar – to eat (from the French slang word morfer)
  • zafar – to get by

Shhhhh!

Language students and visitors to Argentina are often surprised by the slight change in pronunciation they hear in the local accent. What's different, you ask? Argentines pronounce the Spanish letters ll and y like the sh in the English words shoe or shell. For example, in Argentina the phrase – "Yo me llamo Guillermo y ella se llama Guillermina" – would be pronounced – Sho me shamo Guishermo y esha se shama Guishermina.

Want more advice? We've prepared a special section on our website with free tips and resources on Spanish, including Argentine Castellano.

Jayson McNamara

Jayson McNamara

I'm an Australian freelance journalist, writer and a TV production fixer in Buenos Aires. I have reported for broadcast media in Australia and New Zealand. I'm passionate about travel and history.

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