Six funny Spanish mistakes to avoid in Latin America

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As you may know, Spanish can be a very dangerous language for slips of the tongue.  Perhaps your funny Spanish mistakes of choice are mispronouncing a letter, assigning the wrong gender to a word (ending in –a instead of –o, for example) or not realising the different slang and terminology as you move from one Spanish-speaking country to another.

For those who learn Spanish from Spain, or are learning Spanish in LatAm for the first time, there’s a lot to get used to. Latin Americans have renamed almost every fruit and vegetable, and each country has their own way of saying certain things. Whilst we’ll let you figure some of these out for yourself, in order to help you avoid some common and humiliating pitfalls, we’ve compiled a list of the top 6 funny Spanish mistakes to avoid during your time in Latin America.

Don’t forget to also check out these easy phrases to make your Spanish sound way better than it actually is, and in case you’re looking to visit the region specifically to pick up the language, our list of the best places to learn Spanish in Latin America.

6 funny Spanish mistakes to avoid in LatAm:

1. Ordering chicken vs penis

In Spanish, the word for chicken is ‘pollo’ (pronounced Poy-yo, or Poh-show in Uruguay/Argentina). However, a simple slip of the tongue or gendering mistake to end the word in ‘–a’ and you have very quickly jumped to an inappropriate part of the male anatomy.

Trust me, it can be really quite humiliating when you accidentally order a d**k empanada instead of a chicken one.

2. Catching the bus vs sexually assaulting the bus

This is a classic Spanish mistake for those who began their learning in Spain, and then try to use their knowledge during travels in Latin America. In Spain, you would use the verb ‘coger’ when catching the bus, among other things.

However, 5000-odd miles across the Atlantic, this word takes a very different meaning; especially in Central America. A slang word to explain what you did with your one-night stand isn’t really an appropriate thing to casually say in public, especially not in relation to a bus.

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3. Charging your phone vs shitting your phone

Given how dependant on technology everyone is these days (after all, we aren’t publishing this blog in print…), charging your phone, tablet, laptop or whatever device you have with you can be a multi-daily occurrence.

The Spanish word for charger is ‘cargador’ or the verb to charge is ‘cargar’. That same verb, without the letter ‘r’ is commonly used in Spanish insults, referring to defecating on various things. Or of course if you drop that r in ‘the charger’, you turn the word into ‘the shitter’.

This is a Spanish mistake that I personally know has slipped through when a friend met his Spanish girlfriend’s parents for the first time (sorry, mate).

4. A flaming llama ringing his flaming llama friend

Llamas are one of my favourite animals and I yearn to go back to Peru for the sole purpose of seeing more llamas. However, in Spanish the word means far more than just the cute fluffy animal:

  • From the verb ‘llamar’ – to ring/call
  • From the verb ‘llamarse’ – to call yourself (i.e. my name is…)
  • The noun for flame
  • The long-necked fluffball we all know and love

This number of possible connotations for this word can be summed up in what is the most confusing sentence that has ever existed in Spanish; ‘Llama llama en llamas a llama en llamas que se llama Bob’ – a flaming llama rings a flaming llama called Bob.

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So be sure of your llamas, ladies and gentlemen. Otherwise, you risk misunderstandings on the scale of a famous statue of the symbolic mother of Peru in Lima wearing a crown that wasn’t quite what the Spanish ordered…

The story goes that the indigenous people (still learning Spanish themselves at this time) got the wrong end of the stick when it came to the commission for a flaming crown, and instead opted for some teeny tiny llamas.  It happens to the best of us…

5. Watching out for false friends

Don’t be enticed by a falso amigo – a word which sounds like it should share meaning with a similar word in English, yet means something very different.

For example, ‘estoy embarazada’ may sound like you’re embarrassed, but it actually means that you are with child. Don’t get your grandma excited for no reason.

6. Explaining the right emotional states

One of the most common funny Spanish mistakes; this one is fraught with danger.

In Spanish, there are two ways of saying ‘I am’, so my first piece of advice is to remember to always use ‘estoy’ [estar] and not ‘soy’ [ser] when explaining your emotional state. Instead of saying ‘I’m bored’ (estoy aburrido) you could easily proclaim to the world that you are boring (soy aburrido). And whilst you very well might be, it isn’t something generally said out loud.

And something you’ll certainly encounter across South America is the feeling of being hot. SO DAMN HOT. But please resist the urge to tell people ‘estoy caliente’, as whilst the word ‘caliente’ means ‘hot’ and ‘estoy’ means ‘I am’ in a temporary sense, when used together it means ‘I’m horny’.  

You could also fall into this trap if you are excited as the phrase ‘estoy exitado’ also means that you are horny. For actual excitement, stick with ‘emocionado’ or just say something like ‘que lindo’!

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So, there you have it! We hope being aware of these funny common Spanish mistakes can go some way to avoid you getting pregnant embarrassed during your time learning the language in South and Central America.

If this is all too much to take in, have a gander of our list of best places to visit in Latin America if you don’t speak Spanish for some easy destination ideas!


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Last Updated on 30 January 2023 by Cuppa to Copa Travels

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