If you’re planning on traveling to Mexico, it’s important that you learn some of the most used Mexican phrases and expressions. What better way to explore Mexican culture than by speaking like a local? If you’re thinking about traveling to a Spanish-speaking country and want to talk to the locals, it’s helpful to know at least a few local Spanish phrases and expressions (modismos in Spanish!). See? You’ve already learned a new word!

Of course, there are many more Spanish idioms than these five, but we want to start with the 5 most common Spanish idioms used in Mexico; these will help you navigate the streets of DF (deh-eh-fay, or, distrito federal) or make some friends in Guanajuato. Ready to impress people with your native slang? Let’s go!

So, What is an idiom?

Idioms are phrases that don’t always have a literal translation, and they can be difficult to understand if you’re not familiar with the language. As you might know, there are plenty of expressions that don’t really make sense when translated word-for-word but we still use them without knowing why.

Idioms exist in every language, and they can help us to understand different aspects of each language, such as the culture behind it, ways of thinking, and sometimes even beliefs. Without further ado, here are (in our opinion) the five most common Mexican idioms that you can start using right away.

1. No manches: No manches is a phrase used whenever you want to express incredulity but in an exaggerated way. It literally means “don’t stain/mark it” but is used colloquially to mean something like ‘no way,’ ‘are you kidding me?’ or ‘you’ve got to be joking!’

You can use it for example in order to express that something is very expensive: your friend says, “Look at this nice jacket,” and you say, “¡No manches – está bien caro!” Meaning, no way, that’s crazy expensive.

2. Neta: Neta is the idiom that we use to express something that is truly real. In other words, we use it when something seems so strange that you have to make sure it’s true.

We can translate neta as “truth” or “real thing”, and we also use it in a shortened form: ¿Neta? which is an expression of disbelief at what someone has just said.

For example: ¿Neta dijiste eso? (Did you really say that?)

3. Ya te cargó el payaso: This is a very well known phrase that most people find really weird since it can be translated as, “You’re being held up by a clown” but, this expression is used whenever we know that something bad happened and it’s out of our control/can’t do anything about it.

For example, when you see a kid crying and the parent seems upset as well, we say “Ay no, ya le cargó el payaso” (Oh no, that’s rough.) But again, in the sense that the situation is out of our control and the parent’s control. Like, what can be done? Nothing.

4. Mal de puerco: This one can be translated as ‘bad of pork.’ So, yeah, it doesn’t make any sense, right? But that’s the beauty of idioms! They often don’t have a logical translation and they’re usually used to describe a feeling or an emotion. That’s why you really have to learn Spanish idioms in context, so you can use them again when you experience a similar situation.

Mal de puerco is used to express the sensation after eating a lot. For example, sleepiness, being unable to move, etc. So if you are very full right after eating 27 tacos, you’ll probably get mal de puerco.

5. Chale: Chale is one of the most useful idioms in Spanish; it can be used to express any feeling from sadness to disbelief or even joy. It’s just a shortened form of “ya chale” which translates as “It’s already enough”. But when we use chale on its own, it has so many meanings that it’s hard to define them all.

Some of the most common usages for chale are: when we’re surprised, amazed, or shocked by something “¡Chale que bueno!” (Wow, that’s great!) or when we don’t believe what someone has just said “Chale, ¿Neta dijiste eso?” (You’ve got to be kidding me, did you really say that?).

Put Your Mexican Idioms to Use

As you can see, it’s very easy to start learning idioms in order to step up our Spanish language game. We use them every day, and they can help us to convey our feelings in a more fun way.

So whenever you’re traveling or talking with someone from Mexico, try adding some of these 5 common Spanish idioms in your conversations, and you’ll see that a lot of people will be impressed and you’ll have much more fun with them!