Can I Speak My Costa Rican Spanish Here?

Well, you’ve gotten away with speaking English, and Tico Spanish is way closer to our Spanish than that, so sure, go for it
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Spanish is one of the romance languages, meaning its in the Romance language family in the Indo-European languages. The biggest Romance languages are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Romanian. They are called romance languages because they originate from a language spoken by Romans.

Spanish  is the second most spoken language in the world, as there are more than 21 countries where Spanish is the mother tongue. More than 560 million people speak it, with varying accents from country to country, even more so, from province to province, town to town and region to region. However many language snobs in Europe believe here is only one kind of Spanish, Castilian Spanish, spoken in northern and central Spain, or as the language standard for radio and TV speakers. Castellano, not Castilian, is the proper way to call the language. 

There is no such thing as Mexican Spanish. Please, at all costs avoid saying there is if you don’t want Mexicans to think you’re a complete uneducated  donkey. Canadians don’t speak Canadian, right? Sure, Mexico does have its own accent, and it varies from north to south, central, coast to coast.

However, there  are eight formal classification distinctions of Spanish: Castilian, Andalusian, Canary (from regions in Spain), Mexican-CentroAmerican, Andean, Chilean, and River Plat (from regions in South America). There are even some words that mean a completely different thing in different places; for example, “Panocha” is a slang and ugly word for the woman’s reproductive organ, while in Sonora is the way they call piloncillo (traditional cone shape in which the sugar is produced). How do we know if we’re not being insulted? Well, from the moment you hear a different accent you expect some kind of Spanish differences.. 

Geographical variances in Spanish, called dialects or geolects, differ in many ways. Phonetically the most common one is the pronunciation of the C and Z sound. In Mexico, we pronounce the S the same way; passing air through the clenched teeth, in pretty much everything. In Spain, some S sounds involve a little more tongue and teeth action. Then, there are grammatical differences, like using “vos” instead of “tu” when saying “you”. Finally, there are vocabulary variations, especially when it comes to semantics: the names of fruits and vegetables, dress items, and daily use objects, the biggest difference being in slang and swear words.  

The Royal Spanish Academy (RAE, Real Academia Española) is an institution created in Madrid in 1713, with the goal to make the most comprehensive dictionary in the Spanish language. It is dedicated to the promotion of linguistic unity between or within the various territories that make up the Spanish speaking world, guaranteeing that even through  changes in the language occur, it will never break with the original unity of the Spanish language. 

After the independence of the Hispanic-American countries, the Royal Spanish Academy promoted the birth of other academies, motivated by the fact that all these new countries had the same language and literary heritage. It was organized in 46 chairs, one that specialized in a letter of the Spanish alphabet; upper and lower case, plus eight chairs from different regions of Spain.

The Academy assembles once a week and to discuss and propose decisions on words.  If no agreement can be reached, the proposal is submitted to vote. 

As a foreigner in Mexico, it must be tough to speak the language, even if you are carrying a dictionary, as it might give you the Castilian word, not the Mexican word. Of course, we will understand, but we will know you’re Gringo if we can’t tell by your light hair, tourist shorts or sandals. Here are some pointers:

1. Wey (goo-ay): only used with buddies, means dude but it’s a little bit of a swear word. It came from the word buey, bull, making a reference to how bulls are kind of dumb. 

2.Qué pedo? (khe pay-doh): also a tiny swear word, very informal way to say “what’s up?” Pedo literally means fart, there is no explanation of how it came to be what it is now, or if there is, I don’t know it.  

3.Qué onda? (khe onda): a nicer way of saying what’s up. Onda is a wave, but also an idea. 

4.Guapa (goo-apa): to beautiful woman, kind of “hottie”. Same goes for men, but substitute the final a for o. Guapa has been a word to call beautiful women on a regular basis, not really slang. 

5.Pinche (peen-chai): swear word similar to “freaking” but worse. Can be used for pretty much anything. Pinche can be a person who helps in the kitchen or it can refer to pinching literally, pinching between the fingers. There is also no record of how it became such a wide swear word. 

All of these have been verified and accepted by the Royal Spanish Academy, which is why I’m explaining them to you.  Most of them are accepted in many Spanish speaking countries but not always with the same connotation we give them in Mexico. To learn this kind of street Spanish, befriend a local. You can have fun teaching foreigners bad words like we do with our Gringa boss around the office. First we teach her the bad words and then we try to hush her up when she blurts them out in polite society. She tends to do that kind of like letting a pedo rip in church.