Spanish, commonly referred to as castellano, is the official language of Argentina and is spoken throughout the country. Also known as rioplatense (from Río de la Plata), the brand spoken in Buenos Aires has a strong Italian flavor to it, from the sing-song of its intonation to the amount and variety of gesticulation employed. (Among the many ‘Argentine’ jokes told elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world, one of the kinder ones is ‘If an Argentine falls overboard, how do you prevent him from drowning?…Just keep talking to him.’) Quite a few porteños study English, especially those in tourism and business, though you should never assume.
The practice is slipping these days, but some members of immigrant communities have retained their native language as a badge of identity. For example, literary giant Jorge Luis Borges, whose grandmother was English, learned to read in that language before Spanish. Though Argentina’s largest historical immigrant group was Italian, the language is not as widely spoken (or even understood) as some visitors from the Old Country expect it to be. Speakers of German are numerous enough to support their own weekly newspaper, Argentinisches Tageblatt.
Visitors have many opportunities to study almost anything in BA, from Spanish to cooking to tango. Most cultural centers offer a variety of classes at affordable rates.
Those proficient in Spanish and seeking to brush up on their cooking skills can try the highly regarded Instituto Argentino de Gastronomía (IAG; 4816-1414; www.iag.com.ar; Montevideo 968) or Mausi Sebess (4791-4355; www.mausisebess.com; Maipú 594), located in BA’s suburb of Vicente López.
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Spanish is Argentina’s official language, and you can make your stay in Buenos Aires a whole lot more rewarding simply by learning a little lingo before you go. You’ll find that locals genuinely appreciate travelers trying their language, no matter how muddled you may think you sound. It’s not difficult to pick up a few basic phrases, but even better is undertaking a language course once you’re there – with so many good language schools to be found in the city, you’re certainly spoiled for choice.
In addition to their flamboyance, an Argentine’s Italian-accented Spanish pronunciation and other language quirks readily identify them throughout Latin America and abroad. The speech of Buenos Aires in particular abounds with words and phrases from the colorful slang known as lunfardo. Although you shouldn’t use lunfardo words unless you are supremely confident that you know their every implication (especially in formal situations), it’s good to be aware of some of the more common everyday usages. Argentines normally refer to the Spanish language as castellano rather than español.
If you want a more comprehensive introduction to Spanish than we’ve included here, pick up a copy of Lonely Planet’s comprehensive but user-friendly Latin American Spanish Phrasebook.
Where’s the post office?
¿Dónde está el correo?
I want to send a...
fax un fax
parcel un paquete
postcard una postal
I want to buy a/an...
Quiero comprar un...
Where’s the local internet café?
¿Dónde hay un cibercafé por acá?
I’d like to...
get online usar internet
check my email revisar mi correo electrónico
What time does the... leave?
¿A qué hora sale el...?
What time’s the... (bus) ?
¿A qué hora es el... (colectivo) ?
Is this taxi available?
¿Está disponible este taxi?
Please put the meter on.
Por favor, ponga el taxímetro.
How much is it to...?
¿Cuánto cuesta ir a...?
Please take me (to this address).
Por favor, lléveme (a esta dirección).
Help! It’s an emergency!
¡Ayuda! ¡Es una emergencia!
¡Llame a...! the police la policía a doctor un médico an ambulance una ambulancia
Could you help me, please?
¿Me puede ayudar, por favor?
Where’s the police station?
¿Dónde está la comisaría?
Where’s the nearest...?
¿Dónde está … más cercano?
dentist el dentista
doctor el médico
hospital el hospital
I’m sick. Estoy enfermo/a. (m/f)
I need a doctor (who speaks English).
Necesito un médico (que hable inglés).
Where’s the nearest (night) chemist?
¿Dónde está la farmacia (de turno) más cercana?
I have (a)...
headache dolor de cabeza
pain (here) dolor (acá)
I’m allergic to...
Soy alérgico/a... (m/f)
antibiotics a los antibióticos
nuts a las frutas secas
peanuts a los maníes
penicillin a la penicilina
seafood al marisco