How to speak Cuban Spanish if travelling to Cuba?

Posted: 07-Jun-16 14:20

As it happens with almost every language, some Spanish words and phrases can have very different meanings according to the country or the region in which it is spoken. Cuban slang differs substantially from popular expressions in other parts of Latin America, Spain and the United States, where most of the Spanish speakers come from. For tourists planning to go to the Caribbean island, knowing the basics of the local slang could prove very useful.

How to speak Cuban Spanish if travelling to Cuba?

Cuban slang is very particular, to the point that a recent article published in Cosmopolitan magazine highlighted some words and expressions that only locals can understand. Now that going to the island is in vogue (as the U.S. and Cuba agreed to re-establish normal relations between both countries), holidaymakers might want to familiarise themselves with some of the most widespread popular phrases and words used by the locals before venturing there.

Cuban contributions or modifications to the Spanish language are a manifestation of its culture, definitely marked by the influence of the music, the all-year-round hot temperatures, the mixture of Spanish, Asian and African roots, and the fact that the country itself is an island surrounded by the Caribbean Sea.

As Cosmopolitan rightfully points out, popular contemporary musical genres like reggaeton have played their part in the propagation of these unique words and phrases. Internationally famous Cuban singers and artists like Pitbull and Gente de Zona (performing alongside Marc Anthony and Enrique Iglesias) have included some of them in their lyrics.

Even American president Barack Obama has echoed some of these popular phrases in the local vernacular during his visit to Cuba in March this year. As a guest in the television show Vivir del Cuento, the first seated U.S. president to have visited the island in nearly a century used the expression “Que bola?”, which is the way in which Cubans say hello, an equivalent to “What´s up?” in English.

Although “Que bola?” is by far the most used phrase in Cuban slang, the word “asere is also very popular, mostly used among male speakers when addressing each other in an affectionate way. It means “friend”, “brother”, “buddy”, and it has been labelled by the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language as “the most autochthonous” of the Caribbean country.

In an article published recently, Cosmopolitan selected other 12 Cuban words that only locals can understand, such as “punto”, which is used to designate “a person who is weird and shady”, although its literal meaning is “dot” or “point”.

The magazine also refers to “yuma” (used to refer to the U.S. mostly or to a foreigner), “pinchar” (which means to work, as opposed to “pinching” or “poking”, as the literal translation would suggest), and “jama” or “jamar” (the Cuban slangs for “food” and “eating” respectively).

From the top Cuban slang expressions used the most today, the style and fashion magazine also selected “tremendo mangon”, explaining that it should not be confused with the literal translation of a "big mango”. If someone says this to you, the article explains, it means they think you're hot (like smokin' hot).

Some of these expressions are so popular that the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language has included them in the most recent editions of its prestigious dictionary. Cuba, where the population is about 11 million inhabitants, ranks as the 11th country in the list of Spanish-speakers in the world.


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