As anyone learning Spanish will know, it’s a language that changes a great deal in tone, style and even lexicon from country to country. Don’t be surprised, for example, to find yourself uncapable of understanding Argentinian Spanish if you learnt the bulk of what you know in Spain.
We already posted a bunch of vocabulary you need to know in Colombia, but today we want to look at the language more generally, and to give you some hints and tips on how you should speak when on a vacation in Colombia.
Colombians are extremely proud of their Spanish and rightly so – it’s widely considered the clearest, best Spanish in Latin America. It’s worth noting, however, that certain areas of Colombia are extremely difficult to navigate linguistically. As a general rule, you’ll find the surrounding areas of Bogota very clear, Antioquia clear but with a fair amount of slang and the coast pretty much impossible.
Colombians are effusively polite and you’d be prudent to brush up the ‘usted’ form of address if you skipped over it like I did. Almost everyone, aside from close friends, uses this way of speaking. In addition, addressing people as ‘señor‘ or ‘señora‘ is extremely common. Colombians are generally raised to address their parents in this way and are scolded if they don’t hear something and respond with ‘que‘? As such, among friends you’ll hear people call each other ‘señor‘ or ‘señora‘ as quickly as ‘marica‘. Sounds strange to my British ears, but you don’t ask questions.
As well as this formal address, you’ll also hear a great deal of politeness as you walk around the street. The words ‘que pena con usted‘ are probably four of the most common you’ll hear in Bogota. They don’t have any chicken left? Que pena con usted. Someone bumps into you? Que pena con usted. Taxi driver doesn’t fancy going the way you’re going? Que pena con usted. Girlfriend arrives one hour later than she said she would? Que pena con usted.
On the flip side, if you ask for anything expect to hear an enthused ‘con mucho gusto‘ (with pleasure). Take me to Parque 93, please sir. Con mucho gusto. I’ll have the soup, please madam. Con mucho gusto. Could you tie my shoelace please? I’m feeling lazy. Con mucho gusto. Ok, maybe not all of those would work, but the excessive politeness in every day speech is something very unique to Colombia.
If you’re planning on going somewhere to learn Spanish, Colombia is a great place to come as it’s universally understood wherever you visit. Equally, if you’ve learnt Spanish you’ll most likely find Colombians extremely easy to understand. Just remember, politeness and formality is the key and you’ll fit right in.
That is, of course, until you ‘ir a la rumba‘, when all the niceties are forgotten in place of a big bottle Aguardiente. Que chevere.