WorldTeach volunteer Gaby McKay gives readers back home a lesson in Costa Rican slang.


The month of September is probably the most chaotic, or so I’m told. Independence Day is the 15th and Dia del nino (kid’s day) is somewhere in September also. This month the students are practicing a baile tipico and we even have a band now. Okay the band is more like a really large drum line with just snare drums. But whatever, they’re loving it. I promise pictures or videos after Independence Day.


On the flip side of all this chaos and patriotic activity is where I stand, waiting for September to end so my teaching schedule might get back to normal. So instead of some descriptions of my life here that go along with my lesson plans, (because my lesson plans consist of hand print flags and other crafts) I’m going to teach y’all a bit of Spanish.


First of all, if you learned Spanish at any point in your life you will probably use the tu form when talking to someone. Not so in Costa Rica. Here they always use usted, which is considered more formal in other countries but totally normal here. It was very strange to get used to people using usted when talking to children.


There are also a ton of slang words or dichos. I’ll try to write the most often used ones here:


MAE– Pronounced like my. I was first told this was like when two guy friends call each other “asshole” but when I hear it used it sounds more like “dude” because they call all their friends mae but they don’t call their moms or girlfriends mae. And women definitely don’t say mae.


QUE DICHA! – This is like saying “how cool!” or showing that you like something. I’ve also heard “que chiva” used in the same context.


CHINEADO—This is like saying someone is babied or spoiled. So anyone who wants to be babied or pampered is chineado. Even people’s dogs can be chineado.


CHUNCHES—This one is probably my favorite. Chunches means things or, in normal Spanish, cosas. So I can call any object I don’t know the name of a chunche, “esa chunche” “estos chunches.” It’s the greatest and it’s fun to say.


PURA VIDA—Literal translation would be “pure life” but it’s used in all sorts of contexts. If I ask someone how they are a popular reply is “pura vida” to show that they’re doing great. If they ask me what someone is like, saying “pura vida” means this third party person is a pretty cool/chill person. Pura Vida is the country’s motto.


Even though those of the dichos here, I think the thing I hear the most is “que calor” because it’s always hot. Some days my students come to school and say they’re cold but I still think saying “que calor” is appropriate. Another popular topic is talking about the polvo or dust because we live on a giant dirt road and there is always dust floating around. I sweep my classroom like three times a day and it’s still dusty. But supposedly in September and October it rains a lot and that means there won’t be as much dust, just mud. I don’t know which is preferable so I’ll let you know when I’m falling in the mud or suffocating on dust.