As Cuba has been opened up to business and tourism over the past few years, it's emerged as one of the hottest destinations in the Caribbean. While most English speakers will get by just fine in amongst the tourist-orientated locations dotted around the country, with a knowledge of Spanish, the entire country is opened up to exploration and experience.
Cuban Spanish – not wholly unlike its Castilian cousin – does differ to "regular" Spanish, though. To help, here's everything you need to know.
As with residents of any Spanish-speaking country, Cubans vocalize sounds differently to the norm.
Basic pronunciation is perhaps the biggest hurdle you'll face, but there are some fundamental rules you can learn that will help out a lot.
Firstly, Cuban Spanish often assimilates the /r/ and /l/ sounds into the following spoken consonant whenever these sounds are in the final syllable position, and what's more, many people will use the two sounds interchangeably. The same goes for /g/ being assimilated into the following consonant sound and /k/ being pronounced as a /d/.
/D/ sounds, when pronounced at the start of a syllable, are often omitted entirely – one of the biggest changes that Cuban speakers make to the language – and /s/ sounds are often omitted or aspirated (in the English pronunciation of /p/ in "pin" and "spin", the former is aspirated). In general, consonants are pronounced weakly throughout Cuban speech.
Whereas regular Spanish uses diminutive endings such as "ito" and "ita", in Cuban, these are usually changed to "ico" and "ica". "Plato" (plate) turns to "platico", and "cara" (face) is pronounced as "carita". "La" and "las" are replaced by "le" and "les" in some instances as well.
In terms of phrase structure, Cubans will often swap around the position of tú – "¿Qué quieres tú?" becomes "¿Qué tú quieres?", for example. "Lo cual" can also be used as "but" or "while", and female speakers often use the indefinite "uno" instead of "una".
There are all sorts of words and phrases that have developed to become common aspects of Cuban speech, and a knowledge of them will undoubtedly improve the experience and enjoyment of anyone travelling to the island nation.
"Yuma" – Often used by native Cubans as a means of referring to foreigners, particularly those who come from the USA.
"Asere" – A word that was introduced to the island by African slaves, "asere" is used by Cubans to mean "good friend" or "buddy". It's regularly used as part of the greeting, "¿Que bola, asere?" (how's it going, buddy?). The word "compay" can also be used in the same context as "asere".
"Me tienes hasta el último pelo" – A phrase you might hear from locals if you're getting on their nerves, this literally means "you have me up to the last hair".
"Compañero/compañera" – In keeping with Cuba's socialist nature, many residents will use the word for "comrade", instead of señor or señora.
"Socio" – Loosely translating as "homeboy", this word is often used by younger Cubans to refer to one another, especially when the person is part of a group or family.
"Tremendo mangon" – If you find yourself flirting with the locals while staying in Cuba, if you're lucky you might be referred to as a "tremendo mangon", which, while literally translating as "big mango", means that the speaker thinks you're particularly attractive!
"Punto" – Conversely, if you're referred to as a "punto" by people you're talking to, you'll probably want to move on – it translates as "weirdo".
"Dale" – This word is used to ask someone to hurry up or "come on", as in "dale, vamos para la playa" (come on, let's go to the beach).
"Ay que rico" – While Mexican Spanish speakers might say "ay caramba" as a form of exclamation, Cubans will instead say "ay que rico".
"Fruta bomba" – If you want to purchase papaya fruit in Cuba, use "fruita bomba" instead – papaya is a word used to describe the female genitalia, so a mis-step in your word choice may elicit some strange looks!
"Tienes swing mami/papi" – Another phrase that demonstrates the rather passionate nature of Cuban culture, this means "you have flavour, baby" – a popular saying among men and women across the country.
"¡Tu maletín!" – Literally, this phrase means "your briefcase", but in everyday speech it means "that's your problem".
"En talla" – Literally meaning "at the size", you might hear this if you're talking to someone in Cuban Spanish and you both find that you're on the same page.
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