Mexican Slang: 10 Expressions to Avoid Sounding Like an Abuela

So you’re on your way to mastering Spanish. You’ve completed the Spanish tree on Duolingo, read tons of articles in El País, and spent hours practicing conjugations of gustar. You’re all set to flex your language muscles during your next vacation to Mexico City.

But once you get off the plane, you can hardly understand a word. Chamarra, chela, chava…none of these words ever appeared on Duolingo.

This is a really common problem that language learners face. Though apps and textbooks are great for gaining a basic foundation of the language, they can’t teach you how people on the ground speak.

But if you’re looking to add to your repertoire of Mexican slang, you’re in the right place! Here are 10 words that will surely show up during your next trip to Mexico:

1. ¿Qué onda?

Though this expression isn’t strictly used in Mexico, it can go a long way in helping you sounding more like a local. ¡Hola! and ¿Cómo estás? are perfectly fine greetings, but they can get a little…stale. Luckily, ¿Qué onda? is there to spice up any conversation.

¿Qué onda, Thiago? — What’s up, Thiago?

2. Güey

Similar to ‘dude’, güey is ubiquitous in Mexican speech. Güey can also be used as a filler word, similar to ‘like’ in English. If you want to sound more like a native, be sure to add this word to your vocabulary.

Ya te lo dije, güey. — I already told you, dude.

3. ¿Te late?

If you’ve already mastered gustar, then you’ll have no problems with te late since it’s conjugated the same way. This expression is the perfect way to casually propose plans.

¿Te late si vamos al cine mañana? — Are you down to go to the movies tomorrow?

4. ¡Qué padre!

Surprisingly enough, father can also be synonymous with ‘cool’ in Mexico! ¡Qué padré! is the go-to expression when anything cool or awesome happens. Hopefully you’ll have plenty of opportunities to use this phrase!

¿Ella ganó un premio Grammy? ¡Qué padre! — She won a Grammy? How cool!

5. Chamba

Chamba, and its corresponding verb chambear, mean to work. If you’re looking to sound more like a local, drop trabajar for chambear ahora mismo!

Voy a acostarme, la chamba empieza muy temprano mañana. — I’m going to bed, work starts really early tomorrow.

6. Chavo/a

Spanish-speaking countries have a TON of slang words to refer to children, and Mexico is no different. Chavo or chava is the Mexican equivalent for the English word ‘kid.’

El chavo ya está en la escuela. — The boy is already at school.

7. Fresa

In addition to meaning ‘strawberry,’ fresa is also used in Mexico for someone who is snobby and stuck-up beyond belief. Think: Regina George in all her glory.

Esa chica con la minifalda rosa es una fresa. — That girl in the pink miniskirt is a snob.

8. ¡No manches!

This phrase is similar to “No way!” or “Are you kidding me?” in English. When someone tells you about something surprising, or something that sounds too good to be true, just give them a shocked “¡No manches!

¿Encontraste a Kim Kardashian ayer? ¡No manches! — You met Kim Kardashian yesterday? No way!

9. Neta

Speaking of too good to be true, neta refers to things that actually are true!

Dime la neta, ¿a dónde fuiste? —- Tell me the truth, where did you go?

10. Lana

Dough, bread, cheddar…a fair amount of English slang for ‘money’ is food-related. Mexican slang has opted for fabric-related vocab instead: this word meaning ‘wool’ is commonly used to refer to dinero.

La empresa está en quiebra porque no tiene más lana. — The company is bankrupt because they don’t have any money left.

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Hopefully these words will help you sound more like a Mexican native—and feel free to try them out during your next lex!

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