13 essential Ladino words and phrases

There’s no Duolingo course on Ladino yet. Until then, here are some must-know sayings!
In this photograph taken on December 8, 2019, 30 year-old Can Evrensel Rodrik who was taught Judeo-Spanish when he was a child by his grandmother, shows a book written in Judeo-Spanish during an interview with AFP in Istanbul. - In an attempt to save this pillar of the identity of the Jewish community in Turkey, the largest in the Muslim world with 15,000 members, a handful of resistance fighters are fighting a fight that seems lost in advance. Mixture of medieval Castilian, Hebrew and other languages such as Turkish, Arabic and Greek, Judeo-Spanish, also called Ladino, was born after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 who mainly dispersed in the Ottoman Empire. (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)

Ladino, also known as Judeo-Spanish, is the written and spoken language of Jews who originated from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). The language originally developed from Medieval Spanish blended with elements of Hebrew and Aramaic.

Unlike Yiddish, there’s no Duolingo course on Ladino quite yet. Hopefully someday that will change, said Alexandra Fellus, the editor of the Sephardic Brotherhood of America’s Ladino magazine. She is one of the small but mighty group working to keep the centuries old language of her Jewish ancestors alive. 

We partnered with Fellus, who runs the Instagram account and blog ‘Ladino with Lex,’ to bring you 13 essential Ladino words and phrases everyone should know. 

Ke haber?

Ke haber is an essential Ladino greeting that translates to “what’s new” or “what’s up?” It’s the Ladino equivalent to the English, “how are you?”

Guay de mi

Guay de mi means “oh my” AKA the Ladino version of “oy!” It’s used to express frustration, sympathy or concern.

Ladino with Lex tip: The “guay” is pronounced like “why” in English. Make sure to nail the pronunciation if you want to sound like a pro!

Kerido

In Ladino, Kerido is a term of endearment that means “my love.” 

Mi alma/ Mi vida

Mi alma and mi vida are also two terms of endearment which mean “my heart” and “my life.” We know— calling a loved one “my life” might sound a little strong in English. In Ladino, these phrases are used much more regularly and aren’t that intense. A parent might refer to their child as mi vida, mi alma or kerido just as much as a romantic partner.

Ijo/Ija de ken sos tu?

Ijo(masculine) or ija(feminine) de ken sos tu is a phrase that means “you are the child of whom?” This is something you’d say when you meet someone for the first time. Simply put, this is used to play Sephardic Jewish geography.

Echar lashon

Echar lashon literally translates to “to throw tongue.” It used to mean chit chat or even gossip— it’s bascially the Ladino equivalent of schmooze.

Kaminando kon buenos

Kaminando kon buenos means “let’s walk with good” AKA surround yourself with good people. Pretty sage advice.

Una grande bamya

In Ladino, when you want to say “oh no!” you might say es una grande bamya which literally means “it’s a big okra”— Yes, like the vegetable okra. This phrase is commonly used to mean “a big problem.” We’re not sure what native Ladino speakers had against okras.

Bendichas manos

This is an important one if you like to cook and eat. Bendichas manos literally translates to “blessed hands.” This Sephardic phrase is used to compliment someone for their cooking. For example, if your aunt makes the best bourekas, you might tell her she has bendichas manos– especially if you want her to make them again.

Diremos bien para ke todo se aga bien

This Ladino phrase means “let’s say everything is good, so that everything will be good.” In other words, be positive if you want to manifest a positive outcome. An optimistic phrase we can all get behind.

Si kere el dio 

Si kere el dio means “if Gd wills it” or more simply “Gd willing.” Most importantly, this phrase is used to protect yourself against the evil eye.

Nochada buena

In Ladino, “good night!”

What phrases did we miss? Let us know on InstagramTwitter, and TikTok!