Traveling the world, learning languages, and immersing myself in new cultures.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

17 Interesting Things This American Has Learned About the Spanish Language

Since I've been in Navarra a little over two months now, I am basically fluent in Spanish, as I know about 1.78% of the common words; but I know them really well. You will never hear anyone say 'hoe-lah' (hello) and 'ah-dee-yo-ss' (goodbye) as fluently as me! But, on my quest to learn the language, I have found some interesting things that really don't make sense in, or have no relation to, the English (or French) language. I'm sure a lot of these are specific to Navarra, but maybe some apply to Spanish in general. Most of these are not so much grammatical, but rather the manner in which the Spanish speak. Of course, some of the grammar is interesting too... Behold, the 17 most interesting things that I have learned thus far.

Check out part 2part 3part 4, part 5part 6, part 7, part 8

1. Whenever you see Ma written, it means Maria
You KNOW why this picture is here :-P

2. Molestar means "to bother". You could imagine my surprise when I first heard kids talking about being "molested" by their parents and other kids. 

3. Pintxos (Euskara) are tapas (Castellano) in Navarra and Basque country. This word was my first introduction to Euskara, the Basque language.

4. Viejo means "old" and is not polite to use when referring to older people. However, anciano, which means "ancient" is perfectly acceptable to use.

5. Señor and señora are not as commonly used as "Mr." and "Ms." are used in the United States. In Spain, it is considered super formal, and only used when speaking to really anciano people, kids for adults they don't know, or people of authority. When I was growing up, all of the adults around me were Mr. or Ms. whether I knew them or not.

6. Sometimes it seems every word has like 15 syllables. "Parking" (2) is estacionamiento (8) and "town hall" (2) is ayuntamiento (6) are just a couple. Also, ayuntamiento is a word that uses all the vowels.

7. More on length of words. I thought the Germans were the only ones who combined several words into one, but the Spanish do it too: lavatelas is "wash your them (hands, for example)" or devolvertelo is "to give it back to you".

8. There are many common expressions that I hear daily, but my favorite is ya voy because it sounds like "yeah boy". I often chuckle when I hear it because it sounds like everyone is walking around imitating Flavor Flav. 

9. Ser vs estar ("to be" vs "to be") - all I know is the Spanish have two different words to describe the state of being, yet they "have hunger" and "it makes cold" outside??? 

10. People can say "hello" with buenas, but without the time of day: dias, tardes, noches (morning, afternoon, night). It's funny because people are just greeting each other with "good".

11. I often hear people answer the phone dime or digame, which means "tell me" or what I would translate as "talk to me". They are so cool here.

12. Mañana doesn't always mean "tomorrow" or "morning", but also "later" or "eventually".

According to a study done at the Univ. of Salamanca

13. Tu, the informal "you", is used by everyone, even children with parents and adults. It seems formality is not a matter of respect, but rather familiarity. If I know you, I'll use tu, and if I don't know you, I'll still use tu, but the native speakers would use usted, the formal "you".

14. It sounds like everyone has a lisp and it's pretty darn funny to me. Za, ce, ci, zo, zu sounds like "sstha, ssthey, ssthee, ssthow, ssthoo", which is the correct way to pronounce these sounds here. 

15. R suave y r fuerte (soft r and hard r). The soft one sounds like an "r" and the hard one sounds like "rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr", yet somehow, they sound the same to me.

16. Accents change the meaning of the word. If you change the accent in English, the word just sounds funny, but the meaning doesn't normally change. In Spanish, it likely the difference between tenses of a verb (for example the present tense of hablar: HAblo [I speak] and the past tense hablÓ [s/he spoke]). More examples are esta (this) vs está (s/he/it is); el (the) vs él (he); se (oneself & 15 other meanings) vs sé (I know).

17. Punctuation ¡sorpresa! (surprise) and ¿pregunta? (question) will randomly appear in the middle of a sentence, and depending on the font or handwriting, can be confused as a letter, changing the entire meaning of a sentence. 

I spent 10 minutes looking for "ique" in the dictionary

This is probably the funniest and most clever video I've seen on the difficulties of speaking Spanish.

See part 2part 3part 4part 5part 6, part 7 of this series!

What do you think? 

This list is based on my experiences and I'm curious if you agree of disagree. For the non-Spanish who have visited Spain and/or Navarra, what experiences you've had? For the Spanish, how do you feel about these, or the alternatives, from other cultures? 

Thanks for reading! For more on my life in Navarra, check out VEN con TMax.

(some of the images/videos used in this post are from other sources and not my own)

Location: Pamplona, Navarre, Spain


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