Volunteer Speak

Much like Spanglish or Creole languages, which exhibit linguistic elements of two or more languages combined, the Peace Corps Volunteers in Nicaragua have developed an idiosyncratic method of speaking to one another that has taken the best elements of Spanish, English, and Nica-isms and morphed them together to create a uniquely Peace Corps Nicaragua vernacular.  It is called Volunteer Speak.

I have developed a Volunteer Speak to English dictionary of the 20 most common words and phrases for your convenience.  Please enjoy.

  • Fachenta [fah-chen-tah] adj.: Fancy, well-off, classy.


    Fachenta things include, but are not limited to: McFlurry ice cream; getting dressed up; spending more than $5 on a meal; a house with running water.  Super fachenta would indicate something that is truly above and beyond the normal means of a Peace Corps Volunteer, such as a hotel with hot running water. Example: Wow, check out that fachenta house.  It has tiles, screen doors, and an indoor bathroom.

  • Capacitate [cah-pa-sih-tate] vb.: Based on the Spanish word, capacitación, which means “a training session,” most volunteers mistakenly use to capacitate as an English verb.  It’s not, but we know what it means and use it all the time.  Example: I want to capacitate the doctors on how to administer a rapid-HIV test correctly.
  • Vago/a [vah-go (m)/ vah-gah (f)] adj.: The Spanish translation of vago is “a lazy person, a wanderer.” When Nicaraguans use the term, they either use it to refer to unsavory characters, like the drunk men that hang out on the street corner, or like teenagers that roam from town to town picking up different women; or, they can also use it in a joking manner, such as calling someone vago for leaving town for a couple of days.  Similarly, volunteers use the term vago to describe ourselves when we’re out of site and traveling.  Example: I wish I could be more vaga but I really need to get some work done this weekend; You’re so vaga! You’ve been out of site for 3 nights!
  • Chavalo/a [chah-vah-low (m)/ chah-vah-lah (f)] n.: A kid, a teenager.  For some reason, if we were hanging out with some American children, we’d describe them with the term “kids;” yet if we were hanging out with some Nicaraguan children, we’d describe them with the term “chavalos.” Weird, huh?  Example: Person 1: What’d you do yesterday? Person 2: Nothing really, just played soccer with some neighborhood chavalos.
  • Novio/a [no-vee-oh (m)/ no-vee-ah (f)] n.: boyfriend, girlfriend.  Similar to the term chavalo, if a Peace Corps Volunteer were dating another Peace Corps Volunteer, or any other American, we’d use the English term “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” (or, let’s be honest: who wouldn’t prefer the terms “lady friend” and “man friend?”) Yet if a volunteer were dating a Nica, we’d generally use the term “novio” or “novia.”  Example: Person 1: So what’s the deal with you and Enrique?  Person 2: We’re novios.
  • Saber [sah-bear]:


    The Spanish verb, “saber,” means “to know.” When used correctly, it can also mean, “who knows?!” The key is to drag out the syllables so that “sah” last about 2 seconds and “bear” lasts, well, as long as you want.  The longer you drag it out, the more emphasis you place on it.  You should also hold both hands up while doing this, as if the police just told you to put both hands where they can see them.  This expression is very popular amongst volunteers.  Example: Person 1: What did that last e-mail from the Peace Corps office mean?  Person 2: Sabeeeeer!

  • Charla [char-lah] n.: It literally translates to “chat,” but when volunteers are talking about charlas, they are referring to the non-formal educational sessions they give on specific themes.  For example, since I am a health volunteer, I might give a charla on breastfeeding to a group of pregnant women who are waiting to see the doctor.
  • Necio [neh-see-oh] adj.: Silly, stupid.  Nicaraguans generally use this term when talking to or about their children or their neighbors’ children: No seas tan necio!, or, Don’t be so silly/stupid! Volunteers have sometimes adopted this term in fits of (mild) rage to describe encounters with children that have behaved badly.  Example: He’s so necio; he always comes into my house and throws my markers on the ground.
  • Bolo/a [boh-low (m)/ boh-lah (f)] n.: a drunk person. In the Nicaraguan sense, a bolo is a man that is so drunk that he either is peeing on the side of the street, stumbling around, or passed out on the side of the road.  A bola (a female drunk) is generally unheard of.  However, in the volunteer sense, you can jokingly call each other bolos or bolas in any situation involving alcohol.  Example: Are you sure about ordering that second beer, bola?; or, I’m not that bola.
  • Conseguir

    "I'll be conseguiring that ship now, love."

    [con-seh-gear] vb.: To obtain, to get. This may not apply to everyone, but I love using the Spanish form of this verb instead of its English equivalent “to get” because it reminds me of the very Jack Sparrow pirate word, “commandeer.” Example: Before I can come work on the charla, I need to conseguir some paper and markers.

  • Aprovechar [ah-pro-vay-char] vb.: To take advantage of.  Aprovechar is just easier and faster to say than its English equivalent, “to take advantage of,” so many volunteers have incorporated it into their English vocabulary. Example: Let’s aprovechar the nice weather and go to the beach.
  • Are you sure you don't want to probar this?

    Probar [pro-bar] vb.: To try something for the first time. Sometimes the Spanish word is just easier or more fun to say.  Probar is another instance of this. Example: This coffee is delicious. You should totally probar it.

  • Mejorar [meh-whore-are] vb.: To improve. This is another example of a Spanish verb that has proven to be more effective than its English equivalent.  Example: I think there are some ways I could mejorar this french toast, for instance, I could add powdered sugar and chocolate chips to it next time.
  • Ganas [gone-ahs] n. Willpower. I use this word so frequently that I have had to correct myself more than once when speaking to my family in the States.  For example, this is how I described my situation when I was sick with dengue: “ I have to get out of my site because I don’t even have the ganas to feed myself.”
  • Entonces [en-tone-sase] prep.: Entonces is often used by volunteers in lieu of the English “so” to start a conversation, to end a long awkward silence, or to encourage someone to make a decision faster.  Example: Entonces….do you want to come with us?
  • Toña [tone-yah] n.: Toña is the most popular Nicaraguan beer.  Because of this, many volunteers will use the word “Toña” instead of “beer.”  Example: “Let’s go out for some Toñas” (even though they might order a Victoria Frost).
  • Eskimo [eh-kee-mo] n.: Similarly, Eskimo (emphasis on the “kee” rather than on the “eh”) is generally the only type of ice cream available to us, unless you find yourself being all fachenta in Managua.  So, many volunteers will say “Eskimo” when what they really mean is “ice cream.” Example: It’s hot. Want Eskimo?
  • Panza [pon-zah] n.:Belly.

    Another activity for panzas: hello! la la la...

    Many volunteers pack on a few extra pounds in Nicaragua.  It’s hard to avoid when an average meal consists of three different types of carbs and a slab of fried meat. As a result, many volunteers use the term “panza” to talk about the belly weight they’ve gained.  Example: “I’ve definitely gained weight.  Check out this panza!” (For more emphasis, two-hand tap aforementioned panza a couple times).

  • Chinear [cheen-ay-are] vb.: To carry close (a baby, a puppy), to squish in tight. Nicaraguans have used “chinear” with me when I walk down the street cradling the puppy in my arms; however, the first time I ever heard the word used was amongst volunteers when we were squishing into a microbus (a 10-person van that usually carries at least 30 people) and they wanted me to push in more. Example: Everyone needs to chinear! We still have 5 more people to fit in here.
  • Campo [cahmp-oh] n.: Rural, country side, field.  Volunteers use this term to describe very rural areas in Nicaragua, especially when referring to someone’s site, or part of their site.  Example: I went out to the campo yesterday for work—there was no electricity and I had to sleep on a hammock, but we made fresh tortillas and it was delicious.

So now that you’re a little more well-versed in Volunteer Speak, the next time a volunteer says, “You know I have the ganas to be vaga with you in that fachenta hotel, but first I need to conseguir some materials to finish this project with the chavalos so that we can capacitate some people in the campo with a charla on how to aprovechar their natural resources,” you’ll completely understand what they’re talking about.

On another note, those GRE’s should be fun.  I hope they understand Volunteer Speak.

This entry was posted in Peace Corps, Volunteer and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Volunteer Speak

  1. nicaraguanotes says:

    I loved this… and think this should be mandatory reading in training!


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