Spanish Vocabulary & Common Slang
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Spanish is officially recognised as the second most commonly spoken native language in the world, with more than 420 million people speaking it as their first language. In total, it is estimated that in excess of 470 million people speak the language with native competence and these people are spread all across the globe.
Of course, there are numerous dialectal variations, with some of the most popular being Iberian Spanish, Mexican Spanish and Caribbean Spanish. This, combined with the fact that all active languages are in a continuous state of evolution, means it is difficult to accurately state how many words are in the language.
According to the largest Spanish dictionary, the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, the Spanish language has somewhere in the region of 100,000 words. Nevertheless, the issue is rather more complicated, because that does not include different inflected forms of the same word; a key feature of the Spanish language. It also does not include newly coined words, which often take several years before being included in dictionaries.
Moreover, some Spanish words are universally recognised across the different dialects, while other words, especially in American Spanish, are not recognisable to people speaking other variants. Then, there is also the question of slang words, which make up a significant amount of the average Spanish speaker’s vocabulary.
How Many Words Do Spanish Speakers Use?
The question of precisely how many words are in the Spanish language is one thing, but it is important to understand that, like with any other language, Spanish contains a huge number of archaic or unusual words, which are not part of the average person’s vocabulary at all. Even a fluent speaker will only know a fraction of the total number of Spanish words, so a more pertinent question is: how many words do Spanish speakers actually use?
Although it is difficult to measure this exactly, several sources state that the average native Spanish speaker has an active vocabulary of around 10,000 to 15,000 words. However, that only includes words they actually use themselves; the typical passive vocabulary is more likely to be in the region of 25,000 words.
Yet, it is also worth considering that this is not the amount of words a person needs to know in order to speak everyday Spanish. In actual fact, the vocabulary of the average native speaker is far larger than the total vocabulary of many people who have learned Spanish and would consider themselves fluent in the language.
The Pareto principle states that roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes and some have attempted to connect this with language use, in order to show that a small percentage of words make up the vast majority of words actually utilised in text or in conversations. In truth, the number is far lower than 20 percent.
Indeed, some linguistic experts claim that knowing 5-7 percent of the most common words a native speaker knows will allow you to understand between 90 and 95 percent the words found in a typical piece of text.
The 95 percent figure has some significance, because this is the stage at which it is usually possible to fill in the blanks through contextual awareness. When applied to the Spanish language, this would mean a passive vocabulary of 1,250 words and an active vocabulary of just 750 words could theoretically see you through most situations.
Use of Slang Words In Spanish
A fluent Spanish speaker will have a number of slang words and phrases added to their more conventional vocabulary. While many of these words will not appear in official texts or in formal situations, they are a part of everyday social conversations. Therefore, it is crucial to make slang words part of your vocabulary.
Below are some examples of common Spanish slang words that you may come across:
|Slang Word||Translation||Example of Use||Translation|
|Colega||Friend, mate (male or female)||Estoy tomando algo con mi colega.||I am having a drink with my mate.|
|¡Ni di coña!||No way!||Ronaldo es mejor que Messi? ¡Ni di coña!||Ronaldo is better than Messi? No way!|
|No pasa nada||It’s all good / Don’t worry about it||Está un poco quemado.” – “¡No pasa nada! Me lo comeré de todas formas.||It’s a bit burnt.” – “Don’t worry about it! I’m still going to eat it.|
|Pasta||Money (similar to the English slang ‘dough’)||No tengo suficiente pasta.||I do not have enough money.|
|¡Qué guay!||How cool!||¿Tienes un coche nuevo? ¡Qué guay!||You have a new car? How cool!|
|Tío / Tía||Guy / girl, pal, mate||¿Qué pasa, tía?||What’s up, girl?|
|Vale||Okay, sure, yes||Me voy, ¿vale?||I’m leaving, okay?|