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So You Think You Speak Spanish? Think Again.

So You Think You Speak Spanish? Think Again.

Spanish, the second most spoken language in the world, has 437 million first language (L1) speakers, according to the latest data available from the Ethnologue website. It is spoken in 31 countries. Approximately, the total number of Spanish speakers around the world is 570 million.

Spanish translation services are in very high demand in the United States, where there is a huge community of Spanish speakers (about 41 million native speakers). It is projected that the number will continue to rise.

Can you speak Spanish?

Spanish though is not just one common language as there are several variations of it. If you go to Andalusia, you won’t be hearing people speaking “Spanish” that you are used to hearing, the one that you learnt in school or heard on TV. In Andalusia, they speak “Andaluz” that sounds like Andalutthhh. The accent of Spanish speakers in Andalusia is very different to the standard Spanish that you are used to.

For example, “see you later” translates to “hasta luego,” which is very easy to pronounce. If you remember your Spanish lesson, the “h” is silent so you say “asta luego.” Locals in Andalusia though have different ways of saying see you later. You’ll either hear ‘a’ta luego, ta wego, ta we’o or just we’o. If you are not used to the accent, you’ll never know what it means.

If you are traveling to Spain and have the foresight to take a crash course in the language, it’s fine. You’ll be able to get by in Madrid. But if you’ve joined a tour package that will take you to Cadiz, Granada and Seville, you might find it difficult to converse with most people. Even the helpful phrase book would not be so useful, if you cannot understand the replies locals give to your straight-from-the-book questions.

What do these things tell you? If you want to learn Spanish, the best thing to do is to go to Spain and learn the language there. Or learn the language from a native Spanish speaker at least. And here are some reasons why it is better to study the language in the country where it originated.

1. Pronunciation is very important in Spanish.

Spanish in Spain is different from the Spanish in South America. In Spain, ci is pronounced as “thee,” while ce is pronounced as “the.” In South America, it becomes si as in ‘’seat'’ and se like in ‘’cemetery.'’

The double L (ll) is pronounced as y in Spain while in South America, locals pronounce it as lya.

2. When a language is exported to another country, its pureness becomes diluted.

Some words are added to it and often these new words are never sent back to the country where the original language came from. It’s comparable to this example. The English word for a round bread is “bun” but it became known by different names in specific parts of England, where the bun can be a bridie, stotty, buttery, bap or cob.

It’s the same with Spanish. The verb “to drive” is conducer in Spain. But when you go to Colombia and Ecuador, you’ll learn that they use manejar for the word. Dinero is the Spanish term for money whereas in Argentina, it is called plata, which is the English and Spanish word for silver.

It does make sense to study Spanish in Spain because it gives you a good foundation in the language, as it allows you to pinpoint the local changes that happened to it.

3. Textbook Spanish is different from native Spanish.

Enrolling in a Spanish language class in your own country is admirable, but nothing can beat learning the language in the country of its birth. It cannot replicate the authenticity you’ll get if you are learning it in Spain.

4. You are exposed to the language everyday.

At the same time you are immersed in Spanish culture and lifestyle that deepen your understanding of Spanish. You will be able to pick up common vocabulary that you’ll not get from textbooks. You’ll be able to make sense of local expressions and understand why phrases are constructed in such as way. Hearing Spanish spoken from the moment you wake up until you retire for the night will help you avoid word for word translation, as you will get used to the delivery of real Spanish sentences.

5. You’ll receive excellent lessons from teachers who are philology degree holders

You also will have the advantage of integrating the language into your everyday life very easily because you have no recourse but to think, speak, live and breathe Spanish.

Variations

It can be daunting to know that there are many variations of the Spanish language. If you’re a learner, you might be intimidated and get shy about speaking the language, afraid that you might not be understood. It’s formidable, isn’t it? But as a learner, it is also important to know the variations of the language.

  • Castilian. This is the official Spanish language. It is spoken in Central and Northern Spain.
  • Andalusián. This is a dialect that is prevalent in Southern Spain. It is the second most popular Spanish dialect. It varies greatly with Castilian, as mentioned earlier. It is also distinct for the dropping of the final consonant in a word, the exclusion (emission or elision) of the letters ‘d’ and ‘r’ as well as the aspiration of the letter ’s’ at the end of the word. This makes Andalusián Spanish more fluid and softer sounding.
  • Murcian. It is the dominant language in the Autonomous Region of the Community of Murcia, which is located in Southeast Spain.
  • Catalan. It is the official language in Andorra and some parts of Northern Spain. their official language is.
  • Basque. It is a language isolate, spoken in the Spanish community located in the Pyrenees.
  • Galician. It is the dialect spoken in Northwestern Spain. It’s also distinct because the language is influenced by Portuguese.
  • Extremaduran. In the autonomous community in Western Spain called Extremadura, they speak a three-branched language.
  • Equatoguinean Spanish. This is the only official Spanish language spoken in Africa is. Its pronunciation patterns and some of its vocabulary are influenced by immigrant Germans and native Guineans.
  • Caribbean Spanish. It prevails in Central America, the East Coast of Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba.
  • Rioplatense Spanish. This is spoken in the River Basin region between Uruguay and Argentina and across both countries. It sounds more like Italian than Spanish.
  • Latin American Spanish. This is spoken in many places, including Central and South American countries, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and mainland Mexico.
  • Canarian. This is the Spanish dialect spoken in Canary Islands. It is similar to Caribbean Spanish. It is influenced by Portuguese and is distinct among other Spanish dialects because the letter ‘h’ is pronounced.
  • Llanito. This is another Spanish dialect, which is a combination of British English and Andalusián Spanish. It is spoken in Gibraltar.

Sounding like a local

Sounding like a local

Knowing that there are several variations of Spanish can be quite intimidating. However, you have nothing to fear, as there are many words that are understood and used by Spanish speakers around the world. Here are some of them.

  • Vale means ‘’okay.'’ It is an important word that you will often use, especially if you’re traveling around Spain. You can use vale if you mean ‘’understood,'’ ‘’sounds good,'’ and ‘’all right.'’
    - Example: Desayunamos a las 6h. ¿Vale? (We’ll eat breakfast at 6:00. Okay?)
  • Hello in Spanish is buenas. Use this instead of ‘’hola'’ because it is the most commonly used term in Spain and applicable at any time.
    - Example: Buenas. ¿Puedo ayudarte con algo? (Hello. Can I help you with something?)
  • If you learned in high school Spanish that tío/tía means ‘uncle’/'aunt,’ in Spain the term is used an as a nonformal way to refer to or address someone.
    - Example: ¿Qué te pasa, tía? ¿Estás bien? (What’s going on, girl? Are you okay?)
  • When referring to things as ‘’cool,'’ such as a good book, an experience or a restaurant where you’ve enjoyed the food, you use guay. Use majo when you want to refer to people, especially if you mean that they are attractive.
  • If you’ve been used to saying “no hay problema” if you want to say that ‘there’s no problem,’ in Spain they use no pasa nada (don’t worry about it) in both formal and informal occasions. Another phrase they use is no te preocupes.
  • Pinchos is another term for tapas, which is more commonly used in Northern Spain. Although almost the same, pinchos are normally served on skewers and placed over bread. They are also bigger than tapas.
  • If you wish to express disbelief or have experienced or seen something incredible, use the Spanish phrase ¡Venga ya! Its equivalent in English is ‘’no way!'’
  • Pasta is the colloquial term for money. It’s like when you’re in the U.S. and you say ‘moolah’ or ‘dough’ to mean money or cash. Una pasta means a fortune.
  • When in Spain, you will not often hear people saying adiós. Spaniards commonly use hasta luego or ‘’see you later'’ when they say goodbye. Often, they will call out the compressed version, ’sta logo.

There you have it. Now you know that textbook Spanish is quite different from actually learning Spanish from native speakers. The Spanish language is very interesting, isn’t it?

Author Bio:

Sean Hopwood, MBA is founder and President of Day Translations, Inc., an online translation and localization services provider, dedicated to the improvement of global communications

Emmersed in Xalapa - Life in Mexico

Life in Mexico

Kris Morris, that’s me, is a perpetual student, traveler, and writer. After living in Oaxaca and Guanajuato, I made Xalapa, Veracruz my home. Surrounded by cloud forests, lush vegetation and intermittent drizzle, I find Xalapa a perfect place to search out the fantastic in the details of daily life.

I began studying Spanish in high school. However, it wasn’t until I began traveling to Mexico and Central America that I fell head-over-heels in love with all things having to do with the language and cultures of Latin America.

After numerous journeys south of the border, I finally packed up my bags for good. I landed in Xalapa, the capital of the state of Veracruz. It’s a cool, collected city known for its drizzle, or chipi chipi. It’s surrounded by cloud forests and overgrown with vegetation. Here I met my husband and started our bicultural family.

It’s not always easy living in another country. Every day is an adventure. While it can be trying, it is the absolute best way to learn another language. I invite you all to join me on my journey through Xalapa and the Spanish language.

Click here to learn more about the Spanish language and the Mexican culture!

Hey Tú (You)! - How to use ‘tú’ in Spanish

Hey Tú (You)! - How to use 'tú' in Mexican Spanish

When I first began living here in Xalapa, Mexico, I strolled over to the nearest verdulería (a fruit and vegetable store) to buy some mangos. I remember seeing only vegetables and asking the shopkeeper, “¿No tienes mangos?” (You don’t have mangos?) He replied, “No seño, pero pasa usted mañana y habrá más fruta.” (“No ma’am, but come by tomorrow, and there´ll be more fruit.”)

That’s when I realized that I’d made an embarrassing mistake. I should have said, “Usted no tiene mangos?” [You (formal) don’t have mangos?] There was no going back now. I’d lost my grammatical footing and was unsure of how to save face. Once the mistake was made, once I used , it would be awkward to suddenly switch to usted (formal - you). That could be interpreted as putting up a barrier after I had used the friendly . My escape tactic? I started using ustedes (formal - you, plural), referring to him and his wife, until I was sure he had forgotten the incident.

You see, the usage of and usted is a very complex and very cultural part of Spanish grammar. If this young man’s wife, or for that matter my husband, had overheard me refer to the shopkeeper as , I would have found myself in an uncomfortable situation.
One of the many ways in which we can use and usted is to define one’s intentions when speaking with the opposite sex. When I speak with men who are merely acquaintances, e.g. waiters, shopkeepers, delivery boys, etc., I always use usted. Most respectable men do the same. This rule, of course, varies from country to country and region to region. Here in Mexico, it would be wise to use usted more often than not. It sets limits and helps avoid potentially aggravating situations.

Many other factors go into play when deciding whether to use or usted. It may be used as a sign of respect for a person’s profession, age or social stance. It may be used to create a barrier, to distance one’s self from another person or, likewise, to draw in a person, to break down barriers. It takes experience and practice to master and usted. There will be plenty more discussion on the topic in upcoming posts.

Vocabulary

  • – You (Informal)
  • Usted – You - singular (Formal)
  • Verdulería – A fruit and vegetable store
  • Tener – To have
  • Seño – Ms. It is used when one is not sure if señorita or señora is appropriate.

Want to learn even more about Mexico?
Check out our Culture File: Mexico series!

The Importance of Greetings in Mexican Spanish

The Importance of Greetings in Mexican Spanish

The other day I rented the movie The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. There is a scene in which Tommy Lee Jones’s character enters into a tienda, goes directly to the fridge, takes out his beverage, sets it on the counter to pay and says something like, “¿Cuánto cuesta?” That’s when you realize that he is still hasn’t mastered the subtlties and nuances of Mexico.

This character supposedly knows Mexican culture inside and out. It’s just one, small detail that shows you that he doesn’t. When a Mexican walks into a store, he or she almost always greets the employees. That may not be the case in Mexico City or maybe not even in Guadalajara or Monterrey. It is the case in smaller cities and pueblos. It is most certainly the case here in Xalapa.

When you walk into a store, a doctor’s office or a restaurant, you say, buenos días, buenas tardes or buenas noches, depending on the time of day. If you, like me, wander through the day a little unsure of when morning turns to afternoon, a simple buen día will suffice. When you leave you say gracias and maybe even something like hasta luego, even if you’re pretty sure you’ll never see this person again.

Greetings go a long way in helping you to blend in and to come across as a traveler rather than a tourist. Imagine how it looks to the Mexican shopkeeper when ten locals have wandered into his store, all saying buenos días, gracias and hasta luego. Then in walks an American, silent and looking only at his objective: potato chips. He grabs his bag of chips and hands them to the store keeper. He’s told how much they cost, pays, grabs his chips and walks out. That is what gives tourists a bad name.

It pays to master the niceties before visiting a foreign country. This is especially true for Mexico. Look around, listen, and see what the locals do. Even if your Spanish is minimal, a little courtesy can go a long way.

So check out these Mexican Spanish greetings:

Vocabulary

  • Buenos días – Good morning
  • Buenas tardes – Good afternoon
  • Buenas noches – Good evening / Good night
  • Buen día – Good day
  • Buen provecho – Bon appetit
  • Gracias – Thank you
  • Hasta luego – See you later
  • Tienda - Store
  • ¿Cuánto cuesta? – How much does it cost?

Want to learn how to greet someone in Mexican Spanish?
Check out this FREE lesson: 3-Minute Mexican Spanish - Greetings

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year From SpanishPod101.com!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from everyone here at SpanishPod101.com! We’re grateful to have listeners just like you, and we’re eagerly waiting for the upcoming year to learn Spanish together!

And when the New Year comes around, be sure to make a resolution to study Spanish with SpanishPod101.com!

Have a healthy and happy holiday season.

From the SpanishPod101.com Team!

A Look at the Maya

I came across a great “documental” (documentary) called Develop: Mayan Territory (http://blip.tv/file/386835). It takes you on a journey through areas populated by the Maya in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. You get a look at two sides of these communities, the poverty as well as the ingenuity, creativity and communal spirit that unites them.

An underlying theme in the documentary is that of using what is on hand, what you already have around you, to better your surroundings. It is not necessary to look “más allá” (beyond) that. However, by combining forces with people from all over the world, we have the ability to create a closer-knit global community that works for common solutions.

The film is about “el poder de la ideas” (the power of ideas) and the will to make them reality. It provides foreigners with a humble and respectful look at what it means to be Maya and what is possible to accomplish. It is a much needed documentary. “La probreza” (poverty) and “la corrupción” (corruption) often seem to run so deep that it’s hard to believe that there are “soluciones” (solutions). This is especially true if you see it (todos los días” (every day). It’s easy to fall into apathy. This documentary is a reminder that something can be done.

This is especially important for those of you interested in the language and culture of Latin America.

Practical Concerns

My son has been terribly sick… again. So I decided to take this opportunity to talk about practical health concerns in Mexico.

Americans are known for being very, shall we say, particular about what we eat, where we sleep and the risks we are willing to take. In the School for Foreign Students here in Xalapa, Americans are often a cause for frustration. Sometimes they refuse to put the toilet paper in the wastebasket instead of the toilet. Sometimes they demand immediate medical attention for bug bites. For Mexicans, this is understandably exasperating as these are all things that are part of daily life down here. For Americans, it just takes someone who knows the ropes to get them out of the beginner’s crisis.

I love to do exactly what a foreigner should never do: eat tacos at street stands. They are delicious and authentic, yet they’ve also given me Typhoid Fever. And as far as the water goes, I brush my teeth with it and cook pasta in it and haven’t had a problem. I know people, though, who have gotten really sick just by rinsing their mouths out with tap water. It just depends on the individual.

The other day I decided to buy chicken breast. It seems to be a simple enough operation. There are several people near our home who sell it. At one woman’s stall, I’ve seen the chicken laid out on the sidewalk next to bird poop and chewed gum. I kept on walking. At the next stall, a young couple sat beneath a beach umbrella and kept the chicken covered by a clean cloth. One person handled the money and the other person handled the food. It would have been an ideal place but they were already sold out. So I went to the last stand. Here was a man swatting wasps from his chicken parts. I’ve seen a lot of people buy from him so I imagined he was a safe option.

I started to doubt my decision when I saw how he handled money, his cell phone, ran his hands through his hair and then handled the chicken. I thought maybe I was just being a picky American. So I bought the chicken breast, took it home and washed it before cooking it. We all ate lunch and later on that evening, my baby started throwing up. No one else got sick. I can’t be sure that it was the chicken but I don’t think I’ll be buying from him again. It all comes down to finding the fine line between doing what the locals do and being aware of your own sensibilities.

Mal de Ojo

Before coming to Mexico, I learned that it is not polite to look at babies and children without touching them. As an American accustomed to the large amounts of personal space we need, I always preferred to comment on how lovely the baby is but not to touch her. Here I learned that if I complimented a baby without touching her, it could lead to the baby receiving “mal de ojo,” or evil eye. I needed to touch the baby on the head or the arm. This contact assured that she wouldn’t suffer any negative effects due to one’s admiration. The idea is that if someone admires something so much that she wishes it were hers or feels envy, this negative energy is transferred to the baby, however well intended it may be.

In every market in Veracruz, you can find a seed called “ojo de venado,” or deer’s eye, attached to a small, beaded bracelet. Sometimes this seed has an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe or a saint superimposed, but not always. These are used to protect little babies from strangers and the vibes they may carry. My mother-in-law explained to me that many mothers in past generations placed an open pair of scissors, in the form of a cross, beneath the baby’s pillow as a form of protection. You can also wear anything red or attach a red string to the baby’s wrist. These beliefs are limitless, and many have changed over time.

My son has worn the “ojo de venado” he was given and we’ve picked out red socks for him on more than one occasion. I no longer get nervous when strangers go out of their way to touch him on the head. What’s more, I’ve learned to do the same.

Susto: A Personal Experience

Since we’re talking about “susto,” I’d like to share a personal experience. When my son was only few months old, he fell. As new parents, we were sick with worry and fear, even though Diego showed no sign of injury. He didn’t seem in the least bit affected by his bump. My immediate reaction was to let out a cry and swoop him up in my arms, examining him and running my hand over his little body. Letting out a cry, it seems, is a surefire way of bringing about a case of “susto.”

Shortly after that, he always had cold, sweaty feet. When I say sweaty, I mean drops of sweat ran from his toes down to his heels. He began to wake up in the night crying, something he’d never done before, and any loud noise or unwelcome stranger would make him scream and grope at my neck. At my mother-in-law’s request, we took him to a woman known for having the ability to cure children of “susto.”

The “curandera” (healer) was a happy, round little woman with gray curls and a warm smile. She took Diego into her arms and gently took off his clothes all the way to the diaper. She then reached over to a clay bowl filled with a warm, herbal infusion. She quickly rubbed him from his head to his toes. He began to cry and look around the room for familiar faces, for mommy and daddy. I thought, “Well this obviously isn’t working.”

When she handed him over to me I noticed that his feet were a warm, pink color. They felt warm and dry for the first time in weeks. More importantly, he was back to being his happy, easygoing self. Some things are not easily explained.

Los malos aires

When traveling in Mexico, you should be aware of “los malos aires.” Literally translated as “the bad winds,” this phrase can refer to a cool breeze or even negative vibes.

This is the reason mothers bundle their children up beneath three layers of flannel blankets, two layers of pants, a couple shirts, socks and good tennis shoes. I remember when I went to the US Embassy in Mexico City. Mexican mothers carried their babies beneath layers of clothing and cloth while American mothers held their babies in nothing but shorts and t-shirts. They obviously hadn’t heard of “los malos aires.”

This is also the reason one should never run around barefoot. Here in Xalapa, you should always wear shoes, even if it’s hot. Since I grew up barefoot, this has been a point of conflict between my “suegra” and me.

When my son was a newborn baby, people frequently came by to see him. They wouldn’t hold him as soon as they stepped through the door, though. They would wait for “los malos aires” to wear off before exposing the baby to them. In this case, “malos aires” refers to street vibes. Xalapa can be quite chaotic. All the traffic, smog and grumpy people can be considered “mal aire” and can affect the littlest people more than adults.

Don’t be surprised if someone stops you in the street to tell you to bundle up. They are only trying to save you from “los malos aires.”