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Cuban Spanish 101: Slang, Phrases, & Pronunciation

The Cuban Dialect of Spanish is extremely unique, so much so that where I am writing this article right now (in Panama) they have jokes about it being a different language.

Nonetheless, it isn’t. There are some differences in pronunciation and expressions. But that's about it.

However, if you dedicate just one month to studying and understanding Cuban Spanish, you’ll have little to no problems comprehending it.

Let’s jump into the most common and unique words, phrases, and pronunciation differences in the Cuban Dialect of Spanish!

picture of the havan in cuba

Summary of Cuban Spanish

Some of the most important vocabulary to know before embarking on a trip to Cuba are:

  • Pinchar - To work

  • La jeva - Girlfriend

  • Jamar - To eat

  • Fresco/a - Somebody rude

  • Gao - Home

  • Guarachar - To party

Among the others listed in this article, here are a few phrases to get you connecting with the Cuban people, and their idiomatic expressions:

  • Házme la media - Help me out/Accompany me

  • Meter la cuchareta - Get involved in something you shouldn’t

  • Amanecer con el moño virao - To wake up on the wrong side…

  • Tirar un cabo - To help someone out

If you want to learn many more, read this full article and practice the terms with the quizlet I made for you at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!

The Vocabulary Of The Cuban Dialect of Spanish

picture of animated cartoon people standing infront of the cuban flag and words that say "Cuban Vocabulary"

Chama/chamaco - Kid 🙋‍♂️

In the Cuban dialect, one of the most common words for a child is chama or chamaco. Ex:

Mira a ese chamaco jugando en el jardín

(Look at that kid playing in the garden)

La jeva - Girlfriend 👫

Whereas in standard Spanish the word for a girlfriend is novia, in Cuba they say jeva. Ex:

No él no está aquí, está en la playa con su jeva

(No he isn’t here, he’s at the beach with his girlfriend)

Papaya - Female Genitalia 🍑

No need for an example with this word, just know that if you want papaya - ask for la frutabomba. In Cuban Spanish, Papaya means something else…

Pinchar - To work 👷‍♀️

In Cuba you’ll be understood if you use the word trabajar, meaning to work. However, they have their own word for that - Pinchar.

Ey quieres salir esta noche? - No, tengo que pichar.

(Hey, do you want to go out tonight? - No, I have to work)

Jamar - To eat 🌭

The word jamar means to eat, and it isn’t just used in Cuba, you can also hear this word being used in Argentina, Costa Rica, and Peru - to name a few. Ex:

Ando con el tanque vacío, ya voy a jamar

(I am running on empty, I’m gonna go eat)

Yuma - Foreigner 🕴

The word yuma seems to be a word that is 100% unique to Cuba. Usually, this word refers to visitors from the USA, but can also be used just as the word foreigner that speaks English. Ex:

Yo ví 4 yumas por allí

(I saw 4 foreigners over there)

Fresco/a - Somebody who's rude 🤬

To be fresh in Cuba means to be rude. For example:

Escúchame bro no seas fresco.

(Listen to me dude don’t be rude)

Comemierda - Stupid/Arrogant 🤡

The word Comemierda, literally meaning sh**eater - is used to describe a dumb or arrogant person. For example:

No hablo con esa comemierda desde hace rato

(I haven’t spoken with that d**k*ead for a long time)

Chivo - Bicycle 🚴‍♀️

If you hear somebody say they are going to ride their goat to the store, know that what they mean is - they are going to take their bike to the store. Ex:

Me robaron el chivo ayer

(They stole my bike yesterday)

Gao - Home 🏠

A gao is just a home, like the word casa. For example:

Ay Malena mañana te espero en el gao, nos vemos allí

(Oh Malena tomorrow I’ll wait for you in the house, I’ll see you there)

Un mango - Hot/Attractive 🥭😍

If somebody calls you a mango, don't be confused. This is a way a Cuban might flirt with you and call you attractive.

Él es todo un mango…

(He is so hot)

La pincha = The work 👩‍🏭

Just like the word pinchar means to work, the noun pincha is a job. For example:

Ey jefe voy a llegar un poco tarde a la pincha, mi chivo no está funcionando

(Hey boss I’m going to arrive a bit late to work, my bike isn’t working)

Surnar - To sleep deeply 😴

A more imaginative way to say that you slept well last night might be saying that you were surnando. This just means that you slept very deeply! Ex:

Casi no podía levantarme esta mañana, yo estaba surnando

(I almost couldn’t wake up this morning, I was out like a light)

Guarachar - To party 🥳

This word is used in Mexico too! Guarachar - meaning to party, is a fun way of saying that you saliste anoche (went out last night). For example:

Sí anoche fue increíble, guarachamos hasta las 4’

(Yeah last night was incredible, we partied until 4 o’clock)

Almendrón - The old Cuban cars 🚕

You know those super cool-looking cars in Cuba that are from the ’50s, ’60s, and 70’s that are well maintained. They call those almendrones in Cuba!

A picture of a classic cuban car

Phrases That Are Unique To Cubans

The phrases that are commonly used in Cuba might seem pretty confusing at first. I know for me a lot of them were.

For example, what does it mean if somebody asks about "the ball"?

Or if they say you are a filter?

We'll go over those and many others in this section!

a picture of animated cartoon characters infront of cuban flag that says "Cuban Phrases"

Házme la media - Help me out/Accompany me 👭

This phrase literally means - make me the middle, and is used to ask somebody to help you out or come with you to a place. For example:

Ey mamá ¿Podrías venir conmigo a la universidad hoy? ¡Por favor! Házme la media

(Hey Mom, could you come with me to the university today? Please, help me out!)

Ser un filtro - To be smart 🧏‍♂️

To be a filter in Cuba means you’re extremely smart. For example:

Ese chamaco va a ser muy exitoso algún día, sin duda es un filtro

(That kid is going to be very successful one day, without a doubt he is super smart)

Aseré ¿qué bolá? - What’s up man? 🙋‍♂️

This is an extremely unique phrase. Just like in the Dominican Republic, they say “qué lo que” - in Cuba they say “qué bola”, meaning - what ball? Ex:

Ey qué bola José?

(Hey what’s up José)

Meter la cuchareta - Get involved in something you shouldn’t 💁‍♀️

This means something like “to be nosey”. And you can also just call somebody a “Cuchareta” in Cuba (meaning small spoon) to say that they are nosey. For Ex:

Voy al piso - I am going to sleep 🥱

This phrase which literally means I am going to the floor - is a super common way of saying that I am gonna go to sleep. For example:

Ya es tarde, voy al piso, nos vemos mañana

(It’s late, I am gonna go sleep, I’ll see you tomorrow)

Amanecer con el moño virao - To wake up on the wrong side… 🙃

This phrase, which means literally To wake up with the ponytail/bun flipped means to wake up on the wrong side of the bed. For example:

Él ha estado muy fresco hoy, parece que amaneció con el moño virao

(He has been very disrespectful today, seems he woke up on the wrong side of the bed)

Tirar un cabo - To help someone out 🤝

The phrase tirar un cabo, which literally means to throw a cape in Cuba means to help somebody out. For example in the sentence:

Podrías tirarme un cabo? No entiendo esta tarea

(Could you help me out? I dont understand this homework)

Formarse tremendo belebele - A bad situation occurs 😦

Whenever something bad happens in Cuba, you can say that a tremendous belebele was formed, for example:

Después de eso se formó un tremendo belebele

(After that everything went to sh**)

Tener más rollo que película - To talk too much 🗣

To have more role than a movie means to talk too much, or be a fake person. For example:

Ese chamaco tiene más rollo que película

(That kid talks too much)

Estar apasmao - I am broke 🙅‍♂️

If a Cuban tells you that they’re stunned, that means that they are broke. For example:

Ayer perdí mi trabajo y ya estoy apasmao

Yesterday I lost my job and I am broke

Estoy muerto con ella - I am in love with her 😻

To be dead with somebody doesn’t necessarily sound the greatest. However it is, it means to be head over heels for someone. For example:

Esa muchacha es distinta a todas, estoy muerto con ella

(That girl is different than everyone else, I am in love with her)

Cuban Dialect: Pronunciation

Animated cartoon characters infront of a cuban flag talking with words that say "Cuban Pronunciation"

Aspirated S? Or something different?

It is super common to hear the S in different dialects being pronounced as an English H. However, in Cuba, that aspirated S turns more into a throaty H sound. Almost as if the S is replaced by a Spanish J. For example, the word Casco might sound like Caj-co.

Sometimes Cubans can even cut the S out of a word completely. For example in the word Esta which becomes E’ta. Or the word Estaba which becomes E’taba.

The R? Pronounced as an L? Does it even exist?

The R can make 2 unique sounds in Cuban Spanish. Both of these Rs are fairly consistent with what one should expect from a Caribbean-Spanish dialect.

1 - it can be like in the Chilean Dialect of Spanish, where the R can completely disappear from a word whenever it comes before a consonant.

Such as in the word Hermano which can become Hemano.

2 - like all other Caribbean Countries, the R at the end of a word usually turns into an L.

For example, the word Amor would become Amol or the word Escribir would become Escribil’.

Disappearing D

Just like in other Caribbean Dialects, the D usually disappears in Cuban Spanish. Like in the word Interesado which will become Interesa’o or Motivado which will become Motiva’o.

Frequently Asked Questions About The Cuban Spanish Dialect

picture of an old car in Cuba

What's the difference between Cuban Spanish and Mexican Spanish?

Cuban Spanish is notably different than Mexican Spanish due to their difference in slang, expressions, and pronunciation. Many Mexicans have a hard time understanding Cuban speakers. While both are still Spanish, Cuban is Caribbean-Spanish which varies greatly from most other dialects.

Is Cuban Spanish spoken fast?

Cuban Spanish is indeed one of the fasted spoken Spanish dialects. The speed at which Cuban Spanish is spoken can be compared with Chilean and Dominican Spanish. This makes it harder for people who are not accustomed to the pace. However, one can get used to these dialects by simply listening to enough content in the dialect.

Do Cubans speak Spanish differently?

Cubans speak Spanish very differently from - Argentina, for example. The Spanish spoken in Cuba is distinct due to its fast pace, goofy and fun slang. Cuban Spanish also comes equipped with hilarious and comprehensible expressions to use in the day to day. On the other hand, it still is Spanish, and one can understand a Cuban as long as they talk slowly and clearly.

What does Papi & Mami mean in Caribbean Spanish?

Papi and Mami are common "nicknames" that are thrown around in the Caribbean-Spanish speaking world. While it might sound sexual at first, know that it is indeed just a normal way of saying "buddy" or "darling." For example: A grandmother might call her granddaughter "Mami" and her grandson "Papi" - and this would be completely normal.

Conclusion: The Cuban Dialect Of Spanish

The Cuban Dialect of Spanish is hella unique, so much so - that where I am writing this article right now (in Panama) they have jokes about it being a different language.

The truth is that as Spanish learners, we can either choose to avoid “harder dialects” because they don't speak “real Spanish” or we can fall in love with the differences.

Since I started this series on this website “Dialect Breakdowns” it has made me fall in love with the differences of every dialect.

Not only has it been enjoyable, but I have been able to communicate and understand everybody better because I am used to the differences, and I expect them.

I challenge you to learn a little bit about the dialects of people that you interact with in Spanish. Check out the Spanish Dialect Breakdown series here!

Have a wonderful day/evening/night!

- Ben


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