Speaking the Lingo – some handy hints

The Spaniard is very strict about making me speak and write in Spanish – almost all of the time.  In fact, we just had our first row about it.  Well, to be fair, I had a row with him about translating something I’d written into Spanish for me.  I went off on one when he had the temerity to suggest I should try it first and he would correct it – instead of reacting to my rant, he graciously capitulated and did it for me.  Frankly, I think this was a clever ploy on his part to move me from righteous indignation and fury, to shame-faced sorry person in seconds – and it worked!

The Spanish language has fewer words than English, (have a look at the relative thickness of the Spanish and English sections of an English/Spanish dictionary – Exhibit A).

Exhibit A

I guess this is because the English language stems from many different sources – all those people who conquered our shores gave our language a lot of sources and nuances, whereas Spanish is mainly Latin, with a bit of Arabic thrown in from when the Moors occupied the Iberian peninsula in the Middle Ages (any word beginning with ‘al’ comes into this category).

Having fewer words means one word is often used for many different meanings, almost to a ludicrous extent… Take the word ‘pasar’ – even in my poxy little Oxford Minidictionary (the only one that would fit into my Ryanair baggage weight allowance) – it lists its meanings as: pass, put, strain, spend, swallow, show, tolerate, give, happen, come, go (come and go!).  I guess it’s all in the context, but this makes it quite difficult.  For example, my friend Miguel introduced me to his wife’s aunt, Tia Esperanza, last week, who kindly said I was ‘very blonde and very fine’.  Unsure what she meant by ‘fine’ (fina), I checked out the OM when I got home, to find she could have meant: slender, shrewd, keen, polite, refined or dry (pretty sure this last only applies to sherry!). I still have no idea which she meant…

The Trusty OM

It’s also difficult for them trying to translate into English – the Spaniard told me I was really hitting him the other day.  Bewildered (I am not abusing the poor man, I assure you), I looked up ‘hitting’ in the OM – it seems to have an implication of ‘affecting’ someone emotionally, as well as punching them.  Hope it’s a positive effect – still not sure….

One thing that makes Spanish easier for us Brits however, is that every word we have that ends in ‘tion’ or ‘sion’ is the same in Spanish as it is in English (e.g. education = educacion, television = television).  This means, you start out already knowing 100s of Spanish words – just put the emphasis on the end of the word and lisp a bit when there’s a c involved (e.g. educacion pron. educathion).

On the other hand, there are occasionally what are known in the language teaching trade as ‘false friends’ – that is a word that sounds exactly the same, but has a different meaning… I discovered one of them in a rather embarrassing manner at the pharmacists, when asking for something for my constipation (I know, too much info, but bear with me).  I couldn’t understand why she kept offering me Lemsips, until, on consulting the trusty OM, I discovered constipacion is having a cold – bunged up nose… The word for constipated, in case you need to know, is ‘estrenido’ – you can remember that, sounds like ‘straining’….

Back soon with more startling insights.

Hasta la vista x

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