When I first moved to Nicaragua, my Spanish skills were minimal. I had learned the basics using Duolingo, but found myself faced with a wall of sound whenever someone spoke to me. I probably looked like a deer in headlights whenever anyone would speak to me for the first couple of months. Since that time, my Spanish has improved and I’ve been able to get by in most everyday situations. I can make myself understood, even if I sound like a cave woman.
To complicate things further, I have to try to decipher the local lingo and accent. There are some general differences between the standard Latin American Spanish I learned and Nicañol (Nicaraguan Spanish). The most noticeable thing is that ‘S’ isn’t pronounced at the end of a word. ie. ‘gracias’ is ‘gracia’. I have picked up this quirk, which is probably going to make me sound weird when I travel to other Spanish speaking place.
What I like most, though, is learning the little things that make Nicañol unique. It makes things harder, but much more interesting. Here are some common words or phrases (and a few that I just really like):
Chele/Chela – A light-skinned person. It is roughly the equivalent to “gringo/a” in other places in Central America, but can also be used to refer to a light-skinned Nicaraguan. Sometimes this is shouted at me in the streets to get my attention, though usually they use the more neutral “chica” (girl).
Dale Pues – The literal meaning is “Go ahead” but is just another way of saying yes or expressing agreement.
Deacachimba – Also shortened to “Deaca” this is one of my favorite Nicañol words because it’s so fun to say. It means cool or awesome.
Tuani – Used to say something is cool, often clothing. It’s considered somewhat old-fashion these days, being something like the word “groovy” in English.
Pulperia – A small corner shop.
Carro – A car. This confused me for awhile because I thought it was just an attempt by English speakers to say car in Spanish. Then I saw it in a car rental ad and it all made sense.
La policia acostado - This literally means “sleeping policemen”, but is used by Nicaraguans to refer to speed bumps which are everywhere. Some of them are “unofficial” laid down by locals to stop speeding cars.
Ideay? - A way of saying “what happened?”
pinche – In Nicaragua, this word means stingy. Use this word with caution in other places, though, because in Mexico it is the equivalent to the English “fucking”.
Chunche – Nicaraguan Spanish has a lot of words for a generic thing ie. thingy or thingabob, but this is probably the most commonly used. Caution: this word can also be used to refer to female private parts so make sure you understand the context!
buena onda – A common name of hotels and hostels in the country, it literally means “good wave”. It has the added of meaning of being “easy-going”. Picture a chilled out surfer dude and you get the picture.
Buen Coco/Cabeza de Coco – Literally: Good Coconut or Coconut head. While this seems like it would be an insult, it actually is used to refer to someone who is smart.
Salado – While the literal meaning of the word is “salty”, it means something unlucky has happened.
Chava – This is a weird one I think, which is why I included it. “Chava” literally means a female goat, but is used in Nicaragua it denote danger.