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Lesson Transcript


Michael: How does formal Spanish work?
Cesar: And when is it used?
Michael: At SpanishPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Adolfo Gonzalez Borrego, a high-school student, comes across his neighbor, Karen Lee. He says,
"Mrs. Lee, how are you?"
Adolfo González Borrego: ¿Señora Lee, cómo está usted?
Adolfo González Borrego: ¿Señora Lee, cómo está usted?
Karen Lee: Bien, gracias. ¿Cómo estás tú?
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Adolfo González Borrego: ¿Señora Lee, cómo está usted?
Michael: "Mrs. Lee, how are you?"
Karen Lee: Bien, gracias. ¿Cómo estás tú?
Michael: "Fine, thanks. How are you?"

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we'll talk about how formal Spanish functions within the Spanish language.
Michael: As a native English speaker, the idea of a separate personal subject pronoun to indicate formal language may be new. In English, we do not have a separate pronoun, but might instead indicate formality or politeness by using honorifics, like "Mr.," "Mrs.," or "Miss," as well as using specific phrases, like "May I…" or "Could I..." In Spanish, on the other hand, we have a separate personal pronoun to address someone politely: Namely,
Cesar: usted,
Michael: meaning "you." You will likely come across this word when in a business setting, talking to someone much older than yourself, or when speaking to someone of a high authority level. Note that verbs are conjugated differently when you talk to someone politely, as in
Cesar: usted está,
Michael: than when you talk to someone in a more casual manner, as in
Cesar: tú estás.
Michael: This is true for all verbs in Spanish: They will be conjugated differently when using the formal pronoun
Cesar: usted,
Michael:and when using the more casual pronoun for "you,"
Cesar: tú.
Michael: Let's see a couple more examples:
Cesar: Usted tiene. Tú tienes.
Michael: You have, politely. You have, casually.
Cesar: Usted va. Tú vas.
Michael: You go, politely. You go, casually.
Michael: You can find the conjugation pattern for both of these subject pronouns in any Spanish conjugation chart. Note that the verb conjugation for the polite pronoun
Cesar: usted
Michael: follows the same conjugation rules as the third person singular form, used for the pronouns "he" and "she." Thus, in the following example, the verb is conjugated exactly the same way for the three pronouns:
Cesar: Él tiene, Ella tiene, Usted tiene.
Michael: "He has," "She has," and "You have, politely."
Michael: Recall for a moment how in the dialogue we heard Adolfo say,
Cesar: ¿Señora Lee, cómo está usted?
Michael: Other than from the use of the honorific
Cesar: señora,
Michael: we also know that this is formal language from the conjugation of the verb
Cesar: estar,
Michael: meaning "to be." As you may have noticed earlier, to say "you are" politely, one would say
Cesar: Usted está.
Michael: In the dialogue, Adolfo, who is a teenager, is using the formal register as a sign of respect to Karen, as she is an adult.
Michael: In response, Karen says,
Cesar: Bien, gracias. ¿Cómo estás tú?
Michael: Here, she uses the informal conjugation of the verb "to be," as in
Cesar: tú estás,
Michael: meaning "you are." She is using the informal register because Adolfo is clearly younger than her.
Michael: The use of the formal register in Spanish speaking countries varies from country to country. In Mexico, for example, it is more common to use the informal register when speaking casually with family members, friends, co-workers, and people who are younger than you, even if you don't know them well. In other countries, however, the polite form is used even with family members that are older, such as uncles and grandparents, as a sign of respect.
Michael: You can keep in mind that formal Spanish may be used more sparingly in Spain and Mexico, for example, than in parts of Central and South America.
Michael: When evaluating which register is most appropriate for a specific situation, just be aware that any time you are using the
Cesar: tú
Michael: form, you are asserting a certain level of informality. You should avoid using this casual form when speaking to people in authority or to elderly strangers. The form should also be avoided in business situations, unless the use of the informal register has been encouraged in that specific environment. When in doubt, it's wise to begin with the more formal form, and you'll soon learn if it's more appropriate to use the less formal form, based on the person you are talking to or the situation you are in.
Practice Section
Michael: Let's review the sample conversation: Respond to the prompts by speaking aloud, and then listen carefully as Cesar models the correct answer. Repeat after him, with the focus on your pronunciation. Are you ready?
How do you say, "Mrs. Lee, how are you?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Cesar: ¿Señora Lee, cómo está usted?
Michael: Did you get it right? Listen again and repeat. Remember to focus on your pronunciation.
Cesar: ¿Señora Lee, cómo está usted?
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Cesar: ¿Señora Lee, cómo está usted?
Michael: Let's move on to the second sentence. How do you say, "Fine, thanks. How are you?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Cesar: Bien, gracias. ¿Cómo estás tú?
Michael: Did you get it right this time? Listen again and repeat.
Cesar: Bien, gracias. ¿Cómo estás tú?
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Cesar: Bien, gracias. ¿Cómo estás tú?
Cultural Insight
Michael: In some parts of Latin America, such as Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Costa Risa, instead of the pronoun
Cesar: tú
Michael: people use
Cesar: vos,
Michael: which also means "you" when talking to someone casually. Note that the verb forms used with
Cesar: vos
Michael: vary from country to country, so they are best learned locally. The use of this pronoun is called
Cesar: voseo.
Michael: Another interesting fact is that in some countries, like Chile and Colombia, the pronouns
Cesar: usted and tú
Michael: can be used interchangeably in informal speech. This is called
Cesar: ustedeo.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Cesar: ¡Hasta la próxima!
Michael: See you soon!