Talking el español

I speak Spanish fairly well, but some things mystify me. How about this missing letter n.

The Spanish word for demonstrate is demostrar. The n disappeared!  Why? Latinos do lots of inexplicable things. The Spanish word asistir does not mean assist. It means to attend.

Embarazada does not mean embarrassed. It means you’re pregnant. You gotta take care with that out in public.

Spanish often drops the subject from sentences, relying on the verb form to make it clear to whom or what you are referring. This is nice in theory. In practice, it sometimes does not work.

I think this is why there’s such confusion in the Latino world.

When I stepped off the Delta jet in Guadalajara in 2000, I knew scant Spanish in spite of living in Puerto Rico almost two years during the 1970s.  I was focused on rum then, not Spanish.

My first two years in Mexico, I studied Spanish like a wild man. Rum was in the past. I studied morning, noon and midnight.

When I was not into the textbooks, I was on the plaza collaring and talking to the natives. In time it mostly jelled.

I don’t study Spanish at all anymore, but I should because sometimes I don’t understand people, primarily folks who don’t speak clearly, the mumblers and the uneducated.

I understood everything former President Calderón said on television, but the current presidential clown can stump me. And the carwash guy on the plaza at times is a challenge. I go days without speaking English, and I speak Spanish all day. At home, mostly.

Starting a new language in your 50s is a challenge.


Yes, The Unseen Moon has taken on a slightly new look. And the subhead that’s been up top for many years — Fact, Fiction and Opinion Stirred in an Odd Pot — has vanished because this WordPress theme does not do it, but it continues in my heart.

23 thoughts on “Talking el español

  1. Ah, I remember those days well, my friend. Such good memories when we would challenge locals to determine who spoke Spanish better. I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to embarrass you on your own website. 😉

    Learning Spanish later in life, I was in my 40s, was a true joy and great pleasure. Little did I know how much it would benefit me going forward in employment opportunities.

    ¡Asi es la vida!

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    1. Marco, P.S.: Even now, two decades into it, my Spanish lacks subtlety, which my English does not. My Spanish is hillbilly music and my English is opera.

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      1. Have you made it ever around Veracruz, Jalapa? The way they speak Spanish there is incredible. It’s almost as if they are singing. I think my trip there is what helped me to fall in love with the language. I always think of those beautiful Veracruz señoritas sing-song their words. It was surreal.

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        1. Marco: Nope, I have yet to hit that area. As for their way of speaking, I suspect there is a Caribbean influence, which would explain the sing-songy.

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  2. Hey, can I steal this story for the Bulletin? I am running a column on my language experience as I went country hopping as a child. This would go perfect with it.

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    1. John: Sure, no problem. Just one thing though. You must promise to vote for Trump in 2024. Or DeSantis.

      Just kidding. Copy away. No need even to mail a check. Enjoy the day.

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      1. Thanks. The link to the paper is mybulletinnewspaper.com. It will be published in the July 13 issue. Do you want the byline as Felipe Zapata or something else? Could you write a sentence or two about yourself or want me to – to attach to the end of the story? My email is john.bulletin@gmail.com

        Liked by 1 person

  3. During your Spanish studies you apparently missed the chapter on cognates and false cognates. And the part about the missing letters? You were obviously joking.

    Being bilingual myself, Spanish is my native language and having a very high degree of fluency in English, which I started learning at a very young age, all I will add is there is no confusion among native Spanish speakers when it comes to the relationship between subject and verb. Most times it is extremely obvious and other times it can be more subtle, but it rarely confuses. And context usually defines it clearly enough. But as you yourself confess, your grasp of Spanish fails at subtleness.*

    I’ll leave you with an old joke about multilingualism.

    Q: What do call a person that speaks three languages?

    A: Trilingual

    Q: What do you call a person that speaks two languages?

    A: Bilingual

    Q: What do you call a person that speaks one language?

    A: American

    * Let me also add the same goes for your grasp on our culture.

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    1. Antonio: No, I did not miss the chapter on cognates, real and false. Yes, I was joking about the missing letters. Yes, I know you began English at a younger age than I began Spanish, far younger, it seems, and that makes a world of difference.

      As for confusion created by Spanish’s lack of obvious subjects at times, I think it does create problems. You likely do not notice because it’s your native tongue. I think there is a fairly high level of confusion in the Latino world due to that language defect. Feel free to disagree.

      The joke is a good one, if it is a joke. Americans are famous for speaking only English. Why should they learn more languages? They rule the world, and it’s up to others to fall into line.

      As for your thinking I lack a good grasp of Mexican culture, I think my grasp is quite good. I am very perceptive. You simply do not like my view of things at times. That’s okay. Opinions differ.

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      1. You know how some things small or insignificant that happen years ago stay with you for forever? Something will trigger them in your mind? I remember a comment made by a fellow architect during my long ago internship in London. His outspokeness rubbed many people wrong, but I found him entertaining. One evening at the pub he was being criticized as a know-it all by others in the program. One fellow spoke up in his defense and what he said has stayed with me, “I prefer genuine arrogance to phony humility.” Our conversations sometimes stir that memory.

        BTW, I like the new format. Nice and clean. The way I was taught design.

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        1. Antonio: You’re an amusing fellow. But I am not arrogant. I simply display a high percentage of accuracy.

          Yes, I like the new look here too, of course. I haven’t changed the theme in quite a long time. I used to do it more often. I was in a sour mood earlier today, and started looking at themes to distract myself. And just a few minutes ago, I noticed it looks quite different on a cell phone than it does on a PC, which is my preferred instrument. Normally, the themes are more consistent, cells, tablets, PCs.

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    2. Antonio, P.S.: The Americans rule the world. Let me rephrase that. They did for a good while, but they do not anymore even though many Americans think they still do. The Chinese rule the world now.

      And the Americans plummet downhill with incredible rapidity that increases by the day.

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  4. Let me add another note of praise for the new format. I like it enough that it has planted a seed to change mine. We shall see how the seed grows. Blogger still has Google-restricted options. Yeah. I know. Change to WordPress. I may.

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    1. Señor Cotton: With all due respects, as they say, your blog looks lamentably dated and has for a long time. Appearances matter. And switching to WordPress is the only way to go, in my opinion. It is far better in numerous ways. Yes, there is some effort involved, but time is what you possess in spades. My recommendation is what I did. Leave a final “essay” with a link to the new one, and start fresh on WP. The number of people who go back into the archives of your current site likely can be counted on one hand. Plus, you can always link back to Blogger when you wish. Would be fun.

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    2. Señor Cotton, P.S.: Here’s another problem you could eliminate with a new look, preferably on WordPress. On that bloglist you have running down the side, 10 have not posted in over a year, and of those 10, four have not posted in over two years, two over three years, one over four years, and two of them are actually dead. Time to spruce up, amigo!

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  5. Felipe, couldn’t agree more with your comment that learning a new language in your 50s is a challenge. I’ve been working on it for 5 years now and I’m still pathetic. Know lots of words but stringing them into sentences and carrying on a conversation is near impossible.

    Regards,
    Troy

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    1. Troy: Hate to tell you this, but here’s your problem: You’re married to a Gringa and you speak English all day long. That, combined with the advanced years, means that becoming fluent likely will not happen. Oh, well.

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      1. John: Yep, that’s a popular one among the Gringo set down here. I wonder how many folks it turns into real Spanish speakers, especially if they are speaking English all day long with their significant others.

        My first year here, I was communicating online with an American woman in another part of Mexico who had lived here for a long time. She advised me that if I really wanted to learn Spanish, I should completely avoid other Gringos for at least a year. That probably was good advice, and I sort of followed it, but marrying someone who does not speak English was what did the trick for me. Alas, if you move down here with a spouse, that’s not going to work.

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        1. Agreed. I was born in Hungary and my mother and I escaped to Vienna, Austria, in 1966. In about a year I had German down enough that I could communicate fluently and pass my classes. We then landed in the USA, and it took me another year to become fluent enough in English. I was just dropped into these new environments and had no choice if I wanted to be understood. By age 12, I knew three languages. Then German started fading some. In HS I learned Spanish, but not really enough stayed with me to become fluent, so I’m using duolingo to get it back. But it’s not the same as being completely immersed in the language in a country.

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          1. John: You were lucky enough, if one can say that given the situation, to have learned German and English when young. Youth is the key. Where you live there in Texas now, Spanish is the most important language because so many of us Mexicans are moving there and settling in. I’m guessing soon you won’t even need to know English.

            An old fellow I knew here years ago — he was about 80 at the time and had retired here from Florida — spent his childhood in Mexico City for some reason, and Spanish was his first language. His family returned to the United States when he was still fairly young. Flash forward 60+ years, and he retires to Mexico. Couldn’t remember a word of Spanish. I always thought that was odd.

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