Languages in Chile

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Languages in Chile

Spanish is the official language in the country and is spoken everywhere. Chileans use a distinct dialect called Castellano de Chile with a variety of differences in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and slang usage. Spanish-speaking foreigners won't have problems understanding it and will only think it sounds funny, but non-native speakers often struggle to understand it, even with years of practice. If you ask people to speak "neutral Spanish" they can do it for you; people only speak this dialect in informal situations and it doesn't translate to a formal difference in grammar (like with Argentine Spanish).

Here are two of the most common Chilean expressions:

  • Huevón (pronounced usually as weh-VOHN) could be translated into different words according to its context. Originally a swear word meaning "jerk", it can be used also as "friend" or "dude".
  • Cachar (pronounced ka-CHAR) comes from the verb "to catch" and means "understand". Also, is commonly used in a weird conjugated form as cachai' at the end of the sentences, similarly to "y'know".

English is widely understood in large cities, especially in Santiago, but also to a (very much) lesser extent in Valparaíso, Concepción or La Serena. Since English is now mandatory in schools, younger people are far more likely to speak English than older people, the latter (over 40 years old) being unlikely to speak any English, unless they are tourist industry workers.

Various indigenous languages are spoken in Chile like Mapudungun (in Araucanía and Bíobío regions), Quechua (in Atacama and Tarapacá regions) and Rapa Nui (in Easter Island), but only between indigenous people, which are less than 5% of the population. Even a lot of people identifying with one of these groups are not able to speak their native language and speak Spanish instead.

Some people understand some French, Italian and Portuguese (because of its resemblance with Spanish) and also there are some German speakers, especially in the south of the country, where a lot of German migrants arrived in the second half of the 19th century.

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