Planning a trip to the beautiful island of Cuba?
Or maybe you want to understand the slang used by your Cuban friends when you hear things like Asere or Yuma (no, Google translate won’t help you.)
Well you’ve come to the right place. I’ll break down the unique way Cubans speak Spanish, and give you some insight into one of the toughest Spanish dialects to understand.
Cuba is a Caribbean island with a distinct culture, history, and diverse population.
The Spanish spoken in Cuba is unique in the way people speak, the vocabulary, and colloquial expressions that are used.
The official language of Cuba is Spanish, as is the case with most of Spain’s former colonies. The Spanish spoken in Cuba, however, is not exactly like the Spanish spoken in Spain, Mexico, or South America.
Why is Cuban Spanish Different?
There are a few reasons for the unique language spoken on the island.
Cuban Spanish has been influenced largely by west-African languages of the enslaved people the Spaniards brought when they colonized the island.
It also contains elements of the indigenous languages of the island’s original inhabitants.
Cuban Spanish is intelligible to other Spanish speakers, but at times with difficulty due to the aforementioned influences.
The Cuban Accent
The Cuban accent is quite heavy—it is spoken with a lot of bass in the voice and has been said to sound like one is speaking with a mouth full of marbles.
Cuban Spanish speakers drop many letters from words and transform others into different sounds. Phrases and words in Cuban Spanish are also blended together and spoken in rapid succession.
Like in other areas of the Caribbean, many words ending in “-ado” sound like “-a’o,” and words ending in “-ada” sound like one stressed syllable: “–á.” The “d” is dropped creating a rounder (-a’o) or sharper (-á) sound.
You will also hear that the final “s” in words is often omitted or aspirated so it sounds like a breath of air.
Often, a final “r” is also pronounced as an “l” sound. The word “pinchar” (to poke) will often be pronounced “pinchal.”
Regional Differences within Cuba
In terms of accent and vocabulary variation within the country, it follows a simple pattern: the further east you go, the more the accent is exaggerated.
In many cases, entirely different words are used in different parts of the country.
The word for “bucket” changes from “cubo” to “balde”, and the word for “banana” switches from “plátano” to “guineo.”
In essence, the closer you get to the Oriente (East), the more the Cuban accent sounds like the Dominican accent.
Cuba has its own distinct words that are used in daily conversation.
Learning these everyday words and phrases will help you situate yourself in Cuba, whether you are planning a trip or speaking with Cuban exiles in your community.
21 Cuban Spanish Words, Phrases, and Slang Terms
Here are some common Cuban words and phrases you will hear from Cuban Spanish speakers.
You may even notice some of these words in Cuban music and in TV shows.
Note: The following words are an excerpt from the book Cuban Spanish 101—a bilingual guide to Cuban Spanish with over 120 words and phrases.
a) (noun) Drinking straw, short tube for drinking beverages.
b) (adjective) Person that is overly demanding of attention.
¿Me pasas un absorbente junto con la lata de refresco?
Can you give me a straw with the soda can?
Me llama tres veces al día. ¡Es tan absorbente!
He calls me three times a day. He’s such an attention seeker!
- Arranca’o/Arrancá (adjective)
Having very little or no money; broke.
No puedo pagar la cuenta hoy, estoy arranca’o.
I can’t pay the bill today, I’m broke.
- Asere (noun)
Dude; friend, only used among men.
Daniel salió en bici a encontrarse con sus aseres.
Daniel left on his bike to meet with his friends.
- Bola (noun)
Piece of unsubstantiated information that goes around; gossip.
La bola es que la muchacha está en estado.
The word on the street is that the young lady is pregnant.
- Coco (noun)
a) Tropical fruit (coconut)
b) The human head
Me di en el coco con la puerta.
I smacked my head on the door.
Me encanta el coco.
I love coconut.
a) (noun) Person that feels no shame, that acts purely of self-interest and in a dishonest way.
b) (adjective) Good-for-nothing, shameless
Ese descara’o no cuida a sus hijos. Los visita una vez al año.
That good-for-nothing doesn’t take care of his children. He visits them once a year.
No seas descará y págame lo que me debes.
Don’t be shameless, pay me what you owe me.
- Donde comen dos comen tres (saying)
Literal translation: Where two eat, three eat.
Meaning: There’s always enough to go around.
- Estar de Carnaval (phrasal verb)
Wearing many pieces of jewelry and being well-dressed, as if for a celebration.
Sonia está de carnaval, ¡mira lo que trae puesto!
Sonia is dressed to kill, look at what she’s wearing!
- Fajarse (verb)
Action of physically or verbally fighting; to fight.
Carlos se fajó con Ricardo después de la clase.
Carlos and Ricardo fought after class.
- Fresco/Fresca (noun)
Person that is disrespectful and makes insinuating remarks.
No seas fresco, respétame.
Don’t get fresh, respect me.
- Guapería (noun)
Attitude of superiority and machismo of someone who feels invincible; bravado.
La guapería es típico de los hombres cubanos.
Machismo is typical of Cuban men.
Learn over 100 Cuban Spanish words, expressions, and phrases with audio, examples in context + English translation
- Jamar (verb)
The act of eating.
¿Dónde quieres jamar?
Where do you want to eat?
- Más viejo que andar a pie (saying)
Literal translation: older than walking (by foot)
Meaning: extremely old
- Pan (Comerse un) (phrasal verb)
To do something with great ease; no sweat.
Para mí, doblar la ropa es fácil, como comerme un pan.
For me, folding clothes is easy, piece of cake.
- Pesa’o/Pesá (noun)
a) Person that is very dramatic, that takes everything too seriously, and reacts in a crazy and exaggerated manner; b) A situation that is difficult to accept.
Julio es un pesa’o, se queja de todo.
Julio is a drama king, he complains about everything.
Dicen que viene un huracán directamente hacia nosotros, ¡qué pesa’o!
They say a hurricane is coming directly towards us; how sad!
- Qué volá (Qué bolá) (interjection, greeting)
Phrase meaning “What’s up?” or “How are you?”
Oye, Mauricio, ¿Qué volá?
Hey, Mauricio, what’s up?
- Son (noun)
Type of cuban music fundamental to salsa music.
- Tata (noun)
term of affection for an older brother
- Tita (noun)
term of affection for a grandmother
- Titi (noun)
term of affection for a girlfriend or wife
- Yuma (noun)
a) The United States
b) A foreigner, especially North American
Toda mi familia se ha ido pa’ la Yuma.
All my family has left for the US.
Los yumas siempre traen mucha plata.
Foreigners always bring a lot of money.
I hope this gave you some insight into the unique Spanish spoken in the beautiful island of Cuba.
Want to learn more Cuban Spanish? The Cuban Spanish 101 Course teaches you authentic Cuban Spanish through conversations with Cuban Spanish speakers.
¡Hola! My name is Tamara Marie. I’m a language coach specializing in brain-friendly methods to learn foreign languages faster. I speak English (US native), Spanish (advanced), and Brazilian Portuguese (beginner). I’m a Latin music & dance addict and passionate about helping people learn languages.