Top 6 Spanish Words That Make me Speak Spanglish in Mexico

By: Susannah Rigg

I have a confession to make. I used to think people who spoke Spanglish were just being lazy or worse just showing off their proficiency in both Spanish and English. However, having lived in Mexico for almost three years now, Spanglish has become my language of choice. There are some words in Spanish that cannot be translated easily or for which we have no concept in English. This makes Spanglish the best option when speaking "English", but it means that when talking to non-Spanish speakers I have to think harder.

These are the top 6 Spanish words that make Spanglish a necessity for me:

Estrenar, means to use or wear something for the first time, as concept that doesn't really exist in English. For example if you buy a new dress, the first time you are wear it you would say “Estoy estrenando mi vestido” (almost like I am premiering my dress). I find myself with Spanglish speakers saying “I am estrenando-ing my new top today” or “Come over for dinner, I want to estrenar my new table”.

Desvelado - The first time I heard this word, I grabbed the dictionary and found it translated as sleepless. Huh? Sleepless? That wasn’t something I had heard before. I thought it perhaps meant not being able to sleep, but in fact, the word is used to describe the feeling of not having slept, either due to partying late or because of things on your mind. Those romantic Mexicans even have a song about a guy who is “desvelado” because thoughts of his love keep him from sleeping.

Aprovechar - Every Spanglish speaking foreigner I know, uses this one. It is just such a useful word. It kinda means to “make the most of” or “take advantage of” time or a situation but it comes in one easy word, that sounds so much nicer. All my friends can be heard saying things like “I am going to aprovechar the fact that I am here, to talk to my friend who works nearby” or “You might as well aprovechar your time stuck in traffic to listen to a great show on the radio”. When speaking with solely English speakers I always have to stop and think about what to say instead.

Ganas is one of the first words that started my Spanglishness. 'No tengo ganas', is so hard to translate adequately, but essentially means, I don’t have the desire, but it is just so much better than that. It expresses that feeling when you just don’t want to do someone or conversely the real desire to do something.  My spanglishiness sounds something like this;

Boyfriend “Do you want to do something tonight”

Me “Nah, I don’t really have ganas to even leave the house”

Tocayo/a - This word doesn’t exist in English, making it undoubtedly an entry into the Spanglish dictionary. It is a super word meaning someone who has the same name as you. So anyone I meet here called Susannah, I refer to as my tocaya. It is a sweet way of feeling connected to people who share your name.

Empalagar - “Oh have you empalageted yourself?” is a common phrase that enters my Spanglish, often directed at my sweet-toothed boyfriend. This is the feeling that you have eaten too much sweet stuff or something that is too sweet, it makes you and your mouth feel funny. In English there is a word, “cloying” but I have only ever heard it on Masterchef and would never have used it myself. Perhaps the common use of this word is a testament to just how much easier it is to empalagate yourself in Mexico…

So as you can see, speaking Spanglish is not a lazy person’s tool but a necessity to express myself nowadays. It works the otherway round too, my Spanish is littered with English as well, but somehow that doesn't seem quite so cool!

What would you add to the Spanglish list?

About the author

Expat Blog ListingSusannah Rigg is a British expat living in Mexico. Blog description: This blog developed out of a profound love of Mexico and a sadness about how it is currently portrayed in the world’s media.
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Contest Comments » There are 78 comments

Helen Anne Travis wrote 10 years ago:

Great post. I'm glad you found the ganas to share your Spanglish with us!

Ricardo De Los Rios wrote 10 years ago:

So as I was estrenating my new laptop, my tocayo told me to check out this cool blog about Spanglish. I told him I didn't have the ganas to read anything because I was very desvelated but I figured I could aprovechar the fact that he was here so that he could translate anything that I didn't understand. I ended up loving this blog so much that it made me want to go out there and empalagate myself with a jar of cajeta... but I didn't because my tocayo didn't have ganas.

Laurie Thompson wrote 10 years ago:

Fun article! Spanglish has got to be one of the fastest growing languages. Thanks for sharing!

Mani wrote 10 years ago:

I love this blog and I loved this post. I am a Mexican married to an American who doesn't speak Spanish, and so many times I've wanted to use these words, especially empalagar.

Jody wrote 10 years ago:

This post is ON the money. I have tons of these, too. Now, you're making me think about them. Monolingual/monocultural people do NOT have more fun. We trilingual/bicultural (Spanish/English/Spanglish) people do!



Layla wrote 10 years ago:

So true! There's a lot of swearing that seems more effective in Spanish...!

Elsie wrote 10 years ago:

Great post - I learned some new words and love it! Jonny and I also love throwing the word "pinche" into seems to flow just as easily in English as it does in Spanish. I am going to try out some of these phrases later!

Christian Steiner wrote 10 years ago:

My all time favorite: enchilarse! Like when you put too much salsa verde on your tacos or whatever... If this is even a real word.

Emilie Vardaman wrote 10 years ago:

Que wonderful posting! I will have to add thse words to my Spanglish.

Francisco Arteaga wrote 10 years ago:

Excelent post. I'm a native spanish speaker and I've always said that english is great 'cause you can create verbs from common names just like adding ing at the end, but never thought that we have words without indigenous origins that aren't able to be translated.

Terri wrote 10 years ago:

This is a brilliant post! The English language is made up of so many words we've borrowed from other languages, and it's fascinating to see that language development in action. Thank you for teaching me some new words, I'm off to practise my Spanglish!

Jessica wrote 10 years ago:

As always, you pretty much always write exactly what I'm feeling. My Mexican soul sister! Honestly aprovechar and ganas are my fav as well.

Lindsey Bryan wrote 10 years ago:

I am in the US after 2 years in Mexico and am now realizing just how much Spanglish I use with my English-speaking friends in Mexico. It's suddenly become more difficult to just speak in English! I keep having to restrain myself from saying "aprovechar", "ganas" and "buena/mala onda". They'd better start teaching this in schools.

Jess wrote 10 years ago:

Spanglish is my children's mother tongue. No miento, Whatever word comes to mind first is what comes out of our mouths. So hard when speaking with only-English AND only-Spanish speakers. Suerte, amiga.

Mon wrote 10 years ago:

Really enjoyed this post!! As a Mexican living in the UK, and missing my country, I found this post very soothing :D. Thank you! :D Excellent.

ROLANDO wrote 10 years ago:

I really like very much your post! I am a Mexican living in UK and still using those words very often.

Anne wrote 10 years ago:

Very interesting blog - you are so right - I am premiering a new dress is something we would never say in English - shame really as it is a great idea. I have heard occasionally people say they are christening a new set of crockery or table glasses and now I think about that it seems a really odd word to choose so we are lost for this word. Time to invest a new word perhaps. Excellent food for thought!

Ephemera Wilde wrote 10 years ago:

Thanks for this Susannah ~ I did not know any of these terms before now, so will add them to my slowly growing vocabulary.

Saskia wrote 10 years ago:

Love this post! Although there is not (yet) such a thing as 'Spanerlands' (Spanish and 'Nederlands' - Dutch) there are certainly similarities in the way I use Spanish words in my Dutch vocabulary and can't think of a proper translation!

Sue F wrote 10 years ago:

We don't use many of those, but should . Our favorite is chipi chipi, the rain that's more than a mist, not really drizzle.

Ingrid Lawrie wrote 10 years ago:

This is fascinating, and says a lot not only about language but about the psychology of the people using the language. My favourite word (and concept) is tocayo/a.

Megan wrote 10 years ago:

I've always thought that over the years of living in Mexico my Spanish hasn't improved; my English has just gotten worse. But perhaps I failed to notice that my Spanglish is incredible!!! Great post!

Katie wrote 10 years ago:

Ha! Hilarious! I want to hang out at the estrenar of your new table!

Marisela wrote 10 years ago:

Great post! When I go to Mexico, I spend most of my time desvelada due to partying late...LOL!

Dhaniella Falk wrote 10 years ago:

Great article Susannah, and so true, I use all of them on a regular basis. "Me enchile" would be another food-related one (directly translates to "I chillied myself¨"- or I couldn´t quite deal with the level of spice in my dish!)I have also found myself using the word "Gabachero" quite a lot with my fellow female expats, to describe a local Mexican who is into foreign chicks!

Aerin wrote 10 years ago:

okay, what are my other favorite non-translatable Spanish words??? empeño... brindar (when it does not refer to toasting someone or something)... definitely aprovechar is in there too. oooohhh... there are so many more but they are not coming to my mente right now.

Tania wrote 10 years ago:

Great post Susannah! As a recent transplant my Spanglish is in full force, however, I have the ganas to improve my Spanish considerably. Looking fwd to your next post :)

Steve wrote 10 years ago:

Love it. Estrenar is a great word, I'm going to try and use it!

Eva wrote 10 years ago:

Haha, sooo true. Great post! I am German native speaking, living in Mexico and speaking English with my boyfriend and many friends! I soo recognized all of them, my favorite: approvechar! Using it all the time!

Nikhol wrote 10 years ago:

Mexico Retold once again with the most clever of posts! So true, and these words are what make it tricky when going back and forth between English and Spanish ... the English translation often doesn't exist for Spanish words we use, as you noted here. Well done!

Roque wrote 10 years ago:

Well done, this is a great post! These words make the Spanish-English translating and learning fun and funny.

Kate Hart Highfield wrote 10 years ago:

Well said! Spanglish is here to stay - be it in Spanish or English-speaking countries.

Moravia wrote 10 years ago:

This is wonderful! I keep finding myself speaking Spanglish more and more and having a hard time with having a monolingual conversation. Pues hay que aprovechar no?

Cathy wrote 10 years ago:

A couple of times I busted out in carcajadas while reading your post! I have to share this!!! Thanks for the laughs!

Hortensia wrote 10 years ago:

Excelente post!! I'm a Mexican living in London for 26 years and sometimes it is hard to think of the right words when you thinking in two languages. I used to get annoyed when people asked me If I speak MEXICAN!! But now I realised that WE Do have our own Language!! It is hard when you want to translate a Mexican phrase/joke/word cause you end up saying a whole sentence for just ONE word!!! So in Mexico WE DO SPEAK MEXICAN!!!

Ben wrote 10 years ago:

Loving this! I also enjoy translating English phrases into Spanish and failing to be current fave is brincando la pistola...never works.

Mary Soco wrote 10 years ago:

Susannah, great post! as Mexican, I speak Spanish naturally, and although my English is fluent, I had never noticed the absence of some of our everyday words in that language. Greetings!

Leonardo wrote 10 years ago:

Great post! This is so true. Me and my buddies actually have a drinking game where you say a word in Spanish/English and you have to translate it into a single word into Spanish/English. These words always get my friends. There are plenty more I could think of but I don't want to give them away in case my buddies are reading this.

Ben wrote 10 years ago:

Well this is very nice and helpful blog on a particularly helpful explanation of Spanglish. I've just got back from Central America and heard one or two of these words along the way. Now I know why. My spanish is littered with English too, because I'm so terrible at learning spanish.

Celeste Ariel wrote 10 years ago:

Love this, Susannah! I've always loved the sound of "desvelado" but rarely have occasion to use it. Perhaps I can work some more of these phrases in next time I'm in Oaxaca! Besos

Brian wrote 10 years ago:

For Desvelado, why can't it be translated as tired? "the word is used to describe the feeling of not having slept, either due to partying late or because of things on your mind" Feels like I would say I was tired or sleepy to describe the feeling of not having slept

Jill Prodenchuk wrote 10 years ago:

This makes me realise how boring English is. The romance languages are so lovely!

Susannah wrote 10 years ago:

Thanks for the lovely comments everyone. Now I want to write part two as there are so many other words I could have included. Brian: I see what you are saying but tired is a bit less expressive than desvelado. You can be tired for many reasons but desvelado specifically means lacking in sleep/ sleepless rather than just tired. I think it explains more to the listener. Thanks again everyone and VIVA!

Pete Noll wrote 10 years ago:

Thx for the blog. I had never used "A hug" to conclude an email to my male counterparts, but I like "Un abrazo". And "Salud" to start off a round of "chelas".

Sophie wrote 10 years ago:

Brilliant and insightful- thank you for sharing this! So I think "ganas" has to be my favourite and will def feature in my vocab at work from now on. Actually just in general :)

Karen Otter wrote 10 years ago:

Great article and quite humorous as well. Thanks for the vocabulary lesson!

Tamara Jarvis wrote 10 years ago:

Great post, really enjoyed reading it! thanks for sharing this!

Laura Estrella wrote 10 years ago:

Great article! I'm a Mexican Spanish maestra :) and I enjoy reading Susannah's articles. They are fun and informative. They are also very useful for my students to learn about Mexico. We have muchas ganas to read more!

Annette wrote 10 years ago:

Particularly like "ganas" and imagine someone "desvelado" thinking of a new romance ! What a great article

Jennifer Grant wrote 10 years ago:

I love this writer. Her blogs make me laugh, teach me new things and make me want to go to Mexico at every opportunity. Surely that's the hallmark of a great travel writer.

Willem Vervaeke wrote 10 years ago:

Great post, and I agree 'pinche' should definitely be included!

Kathy Wells wrote 10 years ago:

I appreciate your thoughtful blog. I like the photos --- well chosen and often funny. And I especially like your love of Mexico, with all its flaws and delights. Spanglish is a lot of fun, going back and forth between the languages quickly. Kathy Wells

Alejandra McCall wrote 10 years ago:

Brilliant article!! I found the words and their use so funny that I had to share it with my husband (scottish)! I am a Mexican living in London, with constant use of Spanglish and making up my own as well!! Every day I still have to "ubicate" myself (ubicarse = locating?) when I'm wandering around London's roads. And then my husband would say "Venga chica, andale, vamonos", and I would answer "Ahi voy, ahi voy" or "Si.. Ahorita...." and then I would use something like "wow! que chingon!" not in a bad way but as an amazement of something that caught my eye, and there's absolutely no translation for the use of the CH word and it's versatibility! I'm sure you have come across with this word already Susannah!! Have you heard of the "Chingonario"?? It's a Chilango's Masterpiece!!

Sophie wrote 10 years ago:

Yes! Bringing back memories of Oaxaca and my frequent Spanglish usage ...

Cynthia Hernandez wrote 10 years ago:

Always love to read your post! I find fascinating how some phrases get lost in translation

Shannon wrote 10 years ago:

Riquísimo post! Muchisimas gracias for adding to my very slowly growing Spanish vocabulary.

Louisa wrote 10 years ago:

As a solely English speaker with hardly any Spanish it's fascinating to see words we just don't have! I have just begun a Spanish beginners evening class and these words will definitely be going in my vocab book. Take me back to Mexico!

Aurelia wrote 10 years ago:

I really enjoy the post! Now I know one word more: empalagar!

Margarita wrote 10 years ago:

Hahahaha... Or: "jajajajajaja"... I really enjoyed this blog, but I gotto say, this IS legit spanglish! When people use words such as "troca", "parkear", "parqueadero", or the absolutely worse one: "bika", I fume at such blatant disrespect and violation of the language. That IS laziness, or flojera mental!!! It was funny reading about this, and after 20'some years in the U.S., I'm just beginning to do some legit Spanglish myself. My kids say funny things like: "mamá, vamos a ir a Tita's casa?" Lol!!

Lydia Gregory wrote 10 years ago:

Being Mexirican (half Mexican, half Puerto Rican) Spanglish comes naturally - it's my third language! As my friends would say, don't worry about it, it's just a bobbery (bobería) lol Loved your post, it really captured what I've been trying to explain to my gringo friends all along!

Leigh Newman-Bell wrote 10 years ago:

Love it! I work on my Spanglish skills every single day!

CMT wrote 10 years ago:

Great post! I was just talking to my (English-only speaking) husband today about how certain words from French and Spanish just can't be conveyed in plain English. "Buen provecho" is another one that I find just says it so much better than in any other language. Good luck!

Adrienne wrote 10 years ago:

Love this article, makes me want to come and try out some of my own spanglsih! Keep on sharing your story!

Rebecca Bailey wrote 10 years ago:

Hahaha I love Estrenar and empalagar , two of my favourite things to do!

Jena wrote 10 years ago:

I have SO many favorite words. I think my favorite might still be chido, which I regularly drop into my English.

Ariella wrote 10 years ago:

I love this post and want more like it! I thought I knew quite a bit of Spanish, but I learned a few very interesting words that I had never heard before. Please share more!

Horder wrote 10 years ago:

Fab blog, always look forward to the latest one and always an enjoyable read

Gabriela Blanco wrote 10 years ago:

This so perfectly describes what has happened to me my whole life! Love it Mexico Retold!

Annalisa wrote 10 years ago:

Great article! I feel my soul more when I speak Spanish. Sometimes there are no words in English for how I am feeling.

JA wrote 10 years ago:

I forget that not everyone in the States knows these words that some of us use so commonly - it's fun listening to the evolution of Spanglish.

Jessica wrote 10 years ago:

I love using 'antojar' because its onomatopoeic, just sounds better!

LaVitaminaT wrote 10 years ago:

I love this blog. It is one of my faves! If eyes are the window's to the human soul, words are the windows to the soul of a people.

Jim Van Matre wrote 10 years ago:

Great blog, thank you so much, I really appreciate the knowledge.

Karen Rasmussen wrote 10 years ago:

Love this blog Susannah! Learned a few new words and gained new insights into Mexican culture.

Tania wrote 10 years ago:

I really like claro! I *love* your blog. Thanks for making my transition as a newbie much easier!

Susan wrote 10 years ago:

That is so true!! I always find myself asking "Como se dice?" And they reply "No se" :-(

Renontheroad wrote 10 years ago:

Love this post! It perfectly encapsulates that closeness to a culture from knowing its language and quirks. Great post, making me extraño my own Spanglish

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