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Pura Vida: 19 Costa Rican Spanish Phrases You Must Know Before You Visit

    costa rica spanish phrases
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    Costa Rica, like many other countries, is rich in expressions or idioms.  Costa Ricans are colloquially called “ticos” because of their frequent use of the diminutive ending -ico.

    Colloquial expressions characteristic of Costa Rica, or tiquismos, are used frequently in the country.

    Pachuquismos, on the other hand, are street Spanish expressions that can be considered vulgar and offensive if used in the wrong context. Many of these words, even when found in a standard Spanish dictionary, don’t have the same meaning in Costa Rica.

    Learning colloquial expressions can be a guide to understanding the humor and character of the Costa Rican culture.

    What is Costa Rican Spanish?

    Many Costa Rican idioms (like playo and tombo) are not used or understood by any other Spanish speakers.  One of the most common Costa Rican expressions, pura vida, can be understood even though it’s not used outside of the country.

    Some expressions have a national origin while others come from outside influences. They can also be classified according to the age of the population that uses them, since there are common expressions throughout the population (zaguate, carajillo), while others are common to the youth (tuanis, mae).

    Costa Rican Flag

    Is there a Costa Rican accent?

    Despite its small territorial size, each province in Costa Rica has distinctive features in its speech, accent, and phonetics. The province of Guanacaste (to the north) has much influence from its neighboring country Nicaragua.

    The province of the Costa Rican CaribbeanLimón, presents totally unique characteristics in its speech and culture, influenced by the Creole English and the Jamaican immigration that occurred there.

    The distinguishing characteristics of Costa Rican phonetics include the following:

    • Many Costa Ricans pronounce the “rr without the trill, as it’s pronounced in most Spanish-speaking regions.  It sounds much more like pronunciation of the R in the word pero versus the rr in perro.
    • An emphasis is placed on the letter S in most of the country, contrary to the rest of Central America where it is often omitted.
    • In rural areas, the pronunciation of the D at the end of a word is omitted and the last vowel is accentuated. For example, calidad sounds like calidá, and usted sounds like usté.

    If you want to learn Costa Rican Spanish words and phrases, I highly recommend the Costa Rican Spanish Course by Spanish Pod 101.

    It’s found in their regional Spanish series and it really helped me prepare for my trip to Costa Rica a few years ago.  I noticed several words and expressions from the course when I was out and about in Playa Tamarindo and San Jose.

    The course includes 32 dialogues that give you the English, “standard” Spanish, and Costa Rican Spanish versions of conversations.  These are practical scenarios that you’ll likely encounter in Costa Rica.  Plus each lesson comes with audio, vocabulary, and transcripts.

    Costa Rican Spanish Course from Spanish Pod 101
    Costa Rican Spanish Course Lessons from the Spanish Pod 101 App

    Here is a sample of what you’ll hear in one of the lessons:

    Spanish Pod 101 Costa Rican Spanish Series ~ Sample Lesson

    You get access to this course when you sign up for Spanish Pod 101, and you can start with a free membership to check it out.  Click here to try out the Costa Rican Spanish Course.

    Costa Rican Spanish Course Free Lesson Sample

    19 Spanish Words You’ll Only Hear in Costa Rica

    So let’s get to it, here are 19 tiquismos you’ll want to know before you visit Costa Rica.  Each one has an example in context so you’ll know how it’s used, plus audio of a native Spanish speaker from Costa Rica so you can hear how it sounds from a tico

     1) ¡Pura vida!

    This is by far the most popular expression in Costa Rica. When you hear pura vida, you know you’re talking to a tico!

    In general terms, it means satisfaction or approval: “Everything is fine!”  But it’s used so often in daily conversation it can be a greeting, a way to say good-bye, a confirmation (like “OK”), or a way to ask how someone is doing.  I’ve even heard it used to ask for directions!

    Ejemplos (Examples):

    ¿Pura vida, mi amor? Te ves agobiado.

    Is everything okay, dear? You look overwhelmed.

    ¿Cómo estás? – ¡Pura vida! ¿Y tú?

    How are you? – All good! And you?


    2) Achantado

    Unwilling, with laziness, discouraged, bored. That has neither the motivation nor the will to do anything.

    Ejemplo (Example):

    Pablo estaba achantado en el sillón, sin querer hacer nada.

    Pablo was lazy on the couch, not wanting to do anything.


    3) Bocas

    Food prepared in a bar or canteen to eat while having a drink or a beer. It’s served in small quantities. Snack.

    Ejemplo (Example):

    ¡Qué buenas bocas dan en esa cantina!

    In that bar they give very good finger food!


    4) Brocha

    Do something to look good with someone. Flatterer, bootlicker.

    Ejemplo (Example):

    Julia era una brocha con su papá para que la dejara ir a la playa y no lo convenció.

    Julia was so flattering to her dad for him to let her go to the beach but she didn’t convince him.


    5) Casado

    Typical Costa Rica lunch. Food dish containing rice, beans, salad, ripe bananas and is added either: fish, steak, pork chop, usually eaten at lunch.

    Ejemplo (Example):

    En ese restaurante cocinan unos casados con carne muy buenos.

    In that restaurant, they cook very good Costa Rican lunch with meat.


    6) Chaine

    Clothes that are worn. Good looks.

    Ejemplo (Example):

    Ese amigo va bien chaineado para la fiesta.

    That friend is well dressed for the party.


    7) Chapulín

    Young thief. Juvenile delinquent.

    Ejemplo (Example):

    Los chapulines asaltaron a la señora y se llevaron su dinero.

    The hoodlums robbed the lady and took away her money


    8) Galleta

    It refers to a smart, intelligent person.

    Ejemplo (Example):

    José es un galleta en matemáticas.

    José is good with math.


    9) Pelón

    Party, celebration.

    Ejemplos (Examples):

    Nos fuimos de pelón toda la noche.

    We went partying all night.

    Ese pelón estuvo buenísimo.

    That party was great.


    10) Muca


    Ejemplos (Examples):

    ¿Ustedes alquilan mucas?

    Do you rent bicycles?

    Pedí una muca para mi cumpleaños.

    I asked for a bicycle for my birthday.


    11) Perro

    Unfaithful man.

    Ejemplo (Example):

    Luis es un perro.

    Luis is a cheating dog.


    12) Pichel

    Countenance, Face. 

    Ejemplo (Example):

    Mi mamá tiene el pichel más bello del mundo.

    My mom has the most beautiful face in the whole world.


    13) Sapo

    Someone who says everything. Snitch, informer.

    Ejemplo (Example):

    Jefe, hemos descubierto quién es el sapo que le anda contando todo a la policía.

    Boss, we’ve found out who the snitch is that’s been telling everything to the police.


    14) Sorompo


    Ejemplos (Examples):

    Si no entiendes esto es porque eres un sorompo.

    If you do not understand this is because you are a fool.

    Me sentí como un sorompo en aquella fiesta.

    I felt like a fool at that party.


    15) Colgar los tenis

    To die, to pass away.

    Ejemplo (Example):

    Cuando cuelgue los tenis no quiero que me llore nadie.

    When I die, I do not want anyone to cry.


    16) Echar el cuento

    To flirt. To woo a person. 

    Ejemplo (Example):

    Le estoy echando el cuento a esa chavala.

    I’m courting that girl.


    17) Filo

    Hungry. To feel like eating. 

    Ejemplo (Example):

    Tengo mucho filo!

    I am very hungry!


    18) Fregar 

    To annoy, to bother.

    Ejemplo (Example):

    A estos niños les encanta fregar a los mayores.

    These children love to annoy the elderly.

    19) Cañas 

    Colones (moneda costarricense)

    Colones (Costa Rican currency)

    Ejemplos (Examples):

    Ese confite vale 20 cañas.

    That candy costs 20 colones.

    La mamá le dio cien cañas para que comprara algo.

    The mother gave him a hundred colones to buy something.

    There you have it, 19 Spanish words and phrases you’ll only hear in the land of pura vida.

    Want to learn more Spanish expressions from Costa Rica?  Get your copy of the Costa Rican Spanish 101 Bilingual Spanish Dictionary & Phrasebook.

    Costa Rican Spanish 101 Phrasebook

    Learn more Costa Rican Spanish with the Costa Rican Spanish Regional Spanish Course on Spanish Pod 101.

    Costa Rican Spanish 101 Regional Spanish Course

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