A Spanish textbook will certainly get you to a good level of communication, but there are a lot of shortcomings. In the real world Spanish vocabulary often changes from what is taught in class. Sometimes, the words you learn in class have a synonym that is used much more often and varies depending on the country. This is not to say that the words you learned are incorrect, never used or won’t be understood, it would just be good to be aware of the commonly used synonyms in Spanish as well. These alternate words in Spanish are not considered slang, they are accepted and you can be perfectly comprehended if you use one or the other. Here are a five examples from Argentina and Puerto Rico that demonstrate the diversity of the Spanish language.
1. Learned: Funcionar | Used: Andar, Servir
Funcionar means “to work or to function.” Andar literally means “to walk,” but it is often colloquially used to replace funcionar.
For example: Mi auto no anda, ¿puedes pasar a recogerme en la tarde?
2. Learned: Caminar | Used: Pasear
Caminar means “to walk”. Pasear also means “to walk”, but more in a leisurely “I’m going for a stroll” kind of way, which is why you will hear it more often than caminar.
For example: Andaba de paseo en el parque con María.
3. Learned: Comprender | Used: Entender
Comprender and entender both mean “to understand.” I assume the reason comprender is used in classes is because it is a cognate to “comprehend,” but you will hear entender much more often.
For example: No comprendo lo que me estás diciendo or No entiendo lo que me estás diciendo.
4. Learned: Beber | Used: Tomar
Beber means “to drink” while tomar literally means “to take,” but tomar is often used interchangeably with beber.
For example: Vamos a tomarnos unas copitas de vino.
5. Learned: Ducharse | Used: Bañarse
Ducharse literally means “to shower yourself.” Bañarse means “to bathe yourself,” but many students think of it as “to take a bath.” As it is much more common to take a shower than a bath in the US, students tend to insist on using ducharse even though bañarse is much more common.
For example: Voy a bañarme y después salimos.
1. Learned: el auto | Used: el carro
The word auto (or automóvil) is the same used in English and in Spanish, but carro is the most common word use in Puerto Rico and is more similar to the word “car” in English.
For example: Tengo que comprar un carro nuevo.
2. Learned: el vestido | Used: el traje
Vestido and traje are interchangeable to refer to a “woman’s dress.”
For example: Mi traje para el Senior Prom va a ser color rojo.
3. Learned: el césped | Used: la grama
These set of words are used for “grass”.
For example: El sábado tengo que cortar la grama.
3. Learned: la habitación | Used: el cuarto
Both of these words means “room” and can be used interchangeably. Habitación is a formal word for cuarto and in Puerto Rico is often used in the hospitality or real estate industry.
For example: Compré una casa de tres habitaciones y dos baños or Voy a estar en mi cuarto en un rato porque no me siento bien.
5. Learned: el refrigerador | Used: la nevera
Refrigerador translates to “refrigerator.” In Puerto Rico, the common word for this appliance is nevera that means “cooler.”
For example: Guarda la comida en la nevera.
Can you think of any words you learned in school only to find that a synonym is much more widely used in the real world?
Check out these other articles about the Spanish Language.