If learning a second language is nearly impossible by solely relying on language dictionaries and reference materials, then there is no way someone could adequately learn Spanish slang by only using books and websites.
The same principles to learning the intricacies of a second language also apply to learning slang, and possibly even more. The reason is because in order to properly use slang (yes, there are many times grammar rules that apply), you need to already have a strong foundation in the language in general.
Trying to learn Spanish slang before understanding Spanish is like playing in a basketball game before even learning how to shoot the ball. Sure, you can try it. And, yeah, you might even not make yourself look totally incompetent in the process. However, you won’t ever be as good as you could have been by having the appropriate skills down in the first place.
So if you want to learn Spanish slang, have a decent command of the Spanish language first.
During college, I took a class that taught about the Spanish being used on the southwest border between the U.S. and Mexico. It was one of my favorite classes I took in college and really opened my eyes to how Spanish slang works.
There really are rules that speakers tend to follow in their use of various kinds of slang, and if you don’t know those rules, either consciously or subconsciously, you’ll never get to sound like a native speaker.
So, in order to help you improve your Spanish slang, I’ve put together a short list of methods that you can use to become more slang proficient. I’ve used these methods myself, and while I’m no expert in learning Spanish slang, I have used them successfully to improve my Spanish-speaking abilities.
Make friends with a native speaker
This is the single best method for learning Spanish slang (and learning how to speak Spanish in general). One of the things to remember, though, is that slang is different in almost every Spanish-speaking country, so if you want to learn Spanish slang from Ecuador, find someone that is from Ecuador. It only makes sense.
One thing to remember about this technique is to be sure and practice your Spanish in a setting where you will learn the Spanish you want. When you’re friends with a Spanish speaker and practice speaking, make sure you do so in an environment where you’ll learn the words you want. Sitting in a library one-on-one with a native Spanish speaker, and talking about your upcoming assignment or essay in Spanish class probably won’t give you the practice you need. Instead, think about hanging out with a group of Spanish-speakers in a more relaxed environment where you can hear the slang being tossed around much more freestyle.
Sure you might not get the exact meaning of every slang word begin tossed around, but as you participate more and more, you’ll get a better handle on the words and improve your own vocabulary at the same time.
Practice your listening
Another way to learn Spanish slang is to find some listening material somewhere where people are using Spanish slang. The best places for this is on TV and on the radio. TV shows in Spanish use a lot of Spanish slang phrases and idioms and are good practice.
Videos are a huge bonus for the language learner, and especially for the person learning Spanish. Videos on YouTube and other video-channels provide a ton of listening material that you can use to learn Spanish slang. I’ve watched plenty of Spanish-dubbed movies on YouTube that provided plenty of Spanish slang.
I also find that listening to the DJs on Spanish radio stations will give you a lot of exposure to slang. I listen to a great Spanish radio station here in Washington, D.C. (El Zol) and have learned quite a bit. Depending on the station and the background of the DJs, you might only be getting slang from a certain region. In that case, you’ll need to keep that in mind when listening. It might not make too much sense to someone from the Dominican Republic when you start using slang terms that you learned from an Argentine radio host.
Practice using it yourself
As much as you might feel embarrassed, it’s important that you try to use the slang that you learn. Make sure you try it on someone that won’t be offended if you use it incorrectly or say something inappropriate. However, I’ve noticed that this is hardly a concern because most people aren’t offended from me using language incorrectly. In fact, they’ve been very accommodating and helpful in improving my language.
Move to a Spanish-speaking country
This really is a no-brainer for anyone wanting to proficiently learn another language and not just slang. Spanish slang is different in the different Spanish-speaking countries. You’ll have to make sure to study in the country of the slang that you want to learn.
The best method of all is to use all these techniques in conjunction with each other to improve your language. Doing so will definitely give you the advantage as you go about on your quest to learn Spanish slang.
P.S. Want more tips and techniques on becoming a world class translator? Read my book.