Jul 302012

Smiling Mother and ToddlerI’m sure it happens in any language – when you become a parent, you are suddenly introduced to an entirely new set of vocabulary, which changes and expands as your child grows.  It starts off with “Braxton-Hicks” and “colostrum” and goes on to “separation anxiety” and “parallel play.”  Don’t know what I’ve just said?  Then you probably haven’t had children in the last twenty years (or, perhaps, you are a father).

The same expansion in vocabulary happened for me in Spanish.  Although I had spoken Spanish for years and traveled throughout Latin America, after our little Monkey was born I suddenly learned words I had never known (or needed) before.  And I learned even more during our latest trip to Costa Rica, now that our little Monkey is a toddler.  (By the way, I never heard anyone use a Spanish equivalent for the English term “toddler” – does anyone know of one?)

And so I’ve compiled a list of some of the words that I have found useful when parenting a toddler.  While many of these are universal, I’m sure others are specific to Costa Rica.Baby in Diaper


Baby: Bebé (beh-BAY) – By the way, this is not to be used in the English sense of being the “baby of the family.”  I recall the strange looks I got in Bolivia when, as a twenty year old, I used this expression to say that I was the youngest of my siblings.  I quickly learned to say that I was la menor (“the youngest”).  Made much more sense to them!

Child: Niño/a (NEEN-yo or NEEN-ya) – Remember to use the masculine “o” for a boy and feminine “a” for a girl.

Cute: Lindo/a (LEEN-doh or LEEN-dah) – This can mean “pretty,” as in a dress or a little girl (“¡Qué linda!”), but it can also be used in general to mean “cute.”  My little Monkey holding hands with his Daddy while walking down the street?  ¡Qué lindo!

GearTravelers with Baby in Stroller

Stroller: Coche (KOH-chay) – You will want to double check this one depending on where you are, since in some places coche is used for “car.”

Diapers: Pañales (Pahn-YALL-es) – A word that comes in very handy when out shopping, as in “Where are the pañales??  We’re almost out!”

Wipes: Toallitas or Toallitas húmedas (Toe-ah-YEE-tahs OO-may-dahs) – Again, fairly essential if you need to do any shopping for supplies when you’re traveling.  Literally it means “little moist towels,” which is pretty accurate!


Milk: Leche (LAY-chay)  Ever wonder where the term “La Leche League” came from?  Now you know…Kids on Beach with Ice Cream

Water: Aguita (Ah-GWEE-tah) – “Wait a minute,” you’re saying.  “I thought the Spanish word for water was agua.  It’s the one word in Spanish I know!  (Other than taco and burrito, of course).”  You are absolutely right, except that I have never heard someone offer a child water to drink without using the cuter, diminutive form of agua.  (Just as when chica becomes chiquita or Señora becomes señorita).  “Have some aguita, sweetheart.  It’s hot outside today!”

Tea: Te (Teh) – Okay, so maybe most toddlers don’t drink tea, but what can I say?  My little Monkey loves it!

Crumbs: Borones (Bow-ROWN-es) – This was one that I learned for the first time this year.  Thanks to my little Monkey’s enthusiastic eating of the good foods his grandmother and aunts made, it seemed like I had reason to talk about crumbs at least once a day.  As you may know, toddlers are not known for neat eating habits!Girl Peeking Over the Counter at Cookies

Mess: Reguero (Reh-GAIR-oh) – This is usually in the sense of a spill, as in rice or liquid.  Another word I used a lot on our trip.  “He does well feeding himself, but it’s always un reguero!”

Yuck: Guácala (WAH-kah-lah) – I suspect that this is a word that varies greatly from region to region.  I love it, because it feels in your mouth just like what you are trying to express.  I have trouble saying it without making a face.  “Don’t put that in your mouth, little Monkey!  It just fell on the floor.  ¡Guácala!

At Play

Car: Carro (CAR-row – Roll the “r” if you can).  My little Monkey had so much fun playing with his cousin’s carros during our visit!

Train: Tren (Trehn).  I even learned how to say “engine” and so on, but I doubt I will retain that for long…Fire truck toy

Firetruck: Camión de bomberos (Cahm-YON day bom-BEAR-ohs) – My little Monkey loves firetrucks, so we used this phrase a lot!

Dog: Perro (PEAR-oh).  Our relatives had several little dogs that, thankfully, were used to being patted and tugged by little hands.  And what sound does a dog in Costa Rica make?  Not “woof-woof,” as in the US, but “wow-wow”!

What vocabulary did you learn when you became a parent?

This post has been shared at Milk and Cuddles’ Mommy Club, The Magic Onions’ Friday Nature Table, Taming the Goblin’s Kids Co-op, and One Creative Mommy’s One Creative Weekend.

  6 Responses to “Spanish for Parents of Toddlers”

  1. ¡Hola! How interesting! I speak Castilian Spanish and I work as a translator, so, obviously, I loved this post! I don’t think we have a word for “toddler”, “cute”, we say “mono” (yes, it also means monkey!), agua/ agüita, yes, we love to end things with -ita so they are tiny (tiny is always cute, or very cute, monísimo :-)), woof woof is “guau”, not to be confused with “guay” (cool), and for stroller, we say carrito or cochecito. If you have any doubt, feel free to write me! Best regards from Barna,

    • Hola, Marta! How fun! I especially love “mono,” of course! I love learning about the variations in Spanish in different regions. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I wish I had done this with my kids. Learning another language is so valuable. I taught them a lot of sign language, but since I don’t use it with them now, it probably won’t help them much now! (It sure helped when they were little, though!) Thanks so much for linking up at One Creative Weekend! I hope to see you back tomorrow!

    • Thanks, Heidi! And I wouldn’t be so sure it didn’t help! Even if they don’t remember sign language itself, I think the experience of learning a new language, especially at a young age, affects the wiring in the brain, making it not only easier to learn a language later on but to learn anything new and to see things in a new way. And sign language is great because it helps develop motor skills and connections between physical and mental. So way to go, mama!

  3. Love your post Leanna! Thanks for sharing.
    Interestingly, we say in Colombia that we speak castilian…but I read a post above that has a different castilian…never thought there was more than one…lol!
    In Colombia, we say mono o rubio to someone with light hair. I called my boys micos (monkeys) because they climb everywhere. And I say que hablan como loritos (speak like parrots because they never stop 🙂
    Don’t think we have a word for toddler either. We refer to young ones (1-2yr old) as ninos de jardin o guarderia (kids that go to daycare).
    How nice to see different words and comments. Thanks for giving us the opportunity Leanna!

    • Hi Ivonne, thanks for sharing! It’s so fascinating to learn about all the regional variations. My Spanish teacher in high school was from Barranquilla, and I remember she used to tell us she was teaching us “Castilian.” In Costa Rica they call people with light hair/fair skin macho/macha (which was really confusing for me at first, since I was used to the Mexican and American meaning for “macho” as in “machismo.”)

      And I love “mico” – I’ve never heard that before. And ninos de jardin sounds like it fits the same age range as toddler, although with a different reasoning.

      Thanks for your comments!

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