Latin American Phrases

8 Latin American Phrases I Will Take With Me Wherever I Go 4

Learning Spanish has been both fun and helpful. It’s great when you can actually communicate with locals, even when I thought the neighborhood kids wanted to eat my toilet. But what I like even better is using fun Latin American words and/or phrases similar to ones that I would use in English, like these 8 Latin American phrases (or words) I learned below:

#8. Chino

Meaning: Chinese, but in Panama it can mean the corner store.
PanamaDude pathetic attempt at phonetics: cheen-oh

These are referred to as pulperias outside of Panama, so its kind of funny that Panama adopted “chino” as their term for a corner store. It’s because most (if not all) corner stores are owned by Chinese people. It sounds racist, but it’s not, and it reminds me of the Monty Python song…I like Chinese.

Used in a sentence:

ME: Which chino sells the best veggies?
EXPAT #2: The chino by the gas station, but if they’re out, the chino with the big green sign beside Pio-Pio.
ME: Oh, okay, I know the chino you’re talking about.

#7. En serio?

Meaning: Seriously/Really?
PanamaDude pathetic attempt at phonetics: in-sehr-ee-oh (almost like saying in-cheerio)

We use this one a lot. And you can use this phrase as part of a sentence, or as a sentence itself to denote surprise, or question something. It all depends on HOW you say it.

Used in a sentence:

ME: Hey, did you know that chino by Pio-Pio closed?
EXPAT #4: En serio?
ME: En Serio!

#6. Ojalá

Meaning: I wish/hopefully
PanamaDude pathetic attempt at phonetics: Oh-hal-ah

This one just sounds fun when you say it. Kind of sounds like saying “Holla”, but I’m too old to say “Holla” and can’t really pull it off, plus I’d probably put my hands in the air in a “raise the roof” type motion further alienating myself by the improper use of “holla”. Woa, digressed, but you’re used to that…ojalá

Used in a sentence:

YOU: Ojalá, PanamaDude never uses “Holla” again.

#5. Pupusa

Meaning: A tasty disc shaped food originating from El Salvador.
PanamaDude pathetic attempt at phonetics: Poo-poo-suh (yeah, I’m giggling too).

If you haven’t had one of these bad boys you need to go out to your nearest…um…pupusa retailer? I love these things, probably not the best thing for the heart, belly or waistline, but man, not only are these things tasty, it’s fun to say.

Used in a sentence:

ME: Does the chino sell pupusas?
EXPAT #4: Whatta ferd in da Mercado!
ME: En serio Expat #4? You’re hammered and it’s only 10am! Expat #2, does the chino sell pupusas?
EXPAT #2: No sé.

#4. No sé

Meaning: I don’t know (that’s the meaning, not “I don’t know the meaning”)
PanamaDude pathetic attempt at phonetics: No-say

When we first got here and we’d ask questions, we got a lot of “no sé” in return. Our Spanish teacher joked “Yeah, we don’t know anything!”. But we understand why it’s used so often.

Used in a sentence:

ME: Does the bus to Panama City leave at 10?
LATINO: No sé.
ME: When is the next bus?
LATINO: No sé.
ME: Will there be another bus?
LATINO: No sé.

#3. Chuleta

Meaning: Pork Chop
PanamaDude pathetic attempt at phonetics: choo-let-ah

This one should resonate with anyone from the Azuero peninsula in Panama. Chuleta means pork chop, but out on the Azuero it’s like saying…”Ah crud” or “ah shoot”. It’s not swearing…chuuuuuuleta! If I were to get another dog I’d probably name it Chuleta and there would be an even higher probability I would just call him Chewie for short.

Used in a sentence:

ME: Hola chino, tienes pupusas? (Hi Chino, do you have any pupusas?)
CHINO: No, no hay. (no, not here)
ME: Chuuuuleta! (Ah crud)

#2. Como no

Meaning: of course/why not/how come
PanamaDude pathetic attempt at phonetics: Coe-Moe-No

We don’t even use this one that often, but I really need to start. We hear it from the locals a lot. Si, como no! It has a few meanings too, depending on the sitch.

Used in two sentences because there’s two ways of using it:

Sentence One:
ME: Hay baños aqui? (Are there bathrooms here)?
LATINO/A: Como no. (Of course)

Sentence Two:
ME: No me gusta la papaya. (I don’t like papaya).
LATINO/A: Como no? (Why not/how come).
ME: Porque huelen como vómito. (Because they smell like vomit).

#1. Mas o menos

Meaning: More or less
PanamaDude pathetic attempt at phonetics: Ma-zoe-may-no-sss (say it all really fast)

This saying more or less translates to…more or less.

Used in a sentence:

YOU: Do you like pupusas?
ME: Mas o menos.

EXPAT #2: Do you speak Spanish?
ME: Mas or menos.

ME: Is EXPAT #4 still drunk?
EXPAT #2: Mas o menos.

The pupusa factory


And en serio, I do hope I continue to use these Latin American phrases. I think both my wife Cheli and I will take these wherever we go because you can use these in so many situations. Well, except for the pupusas and chinos…unless you’re in China…or you work at a Pupusa factory.


Later Dudes!



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