Friends mock me for choosing Spanish as my second language. Spanish, they maintain, barely requires teaching, as you simply add an â€˜oâ€™ onto the end of an English word and you can make yourself understood anywhere on the peninsula or Latin American continent. I overheard someone shout at a Spanish-speaking barman the infamous words: â€˜un gino with tonico por favorâ€™. I had to concede they had a point, as in actual fact this not far from correct.
Whilst there may be an element of exaggeration in these claims, the number of English loan words in Spanish is growing as the â€˜global villageâ€™ threatens to become a reality and the language-killing potential of English looms. Unlike the Academie Francaise, the Real Academia Espanola has yet to make serious moves to prevent the spread of Englishisms, but with the ever-increasing use of the internet it is unsurprising they slip into casual conversation on a regular basis.
There are few more daunting landscapes for novice Spanish speakers than Santiago de Chile. Despite their notoriously fast speech, prolific use of â€˜chilenismosâ€™ and only 2% of adults having a moderate level of spoken and written English, even here the influence of our own language is very noticeable in everyday conversation. I confess, I anticipated that the accent would take a bit of getting used to, but I never expected to be so flummoxed by the use of my own mother tongue.
For weeks I was baffled by the presence of â€˜Pie de Limonâ€™ on dessert menus.Â Knowing the meaning of the Spanish word â€˜pieâ€™, I wondered why on earth anyone would want to order such a foul-sounding pudding as â€˜Foot of Lemonâ€™. As a mother dons her waterproof jacket you might overhear her say she has â€˜un feelingâ€™ it is going to rain. You eat your packed lunch out of â€˜un containerâ€™, watch television in â€˜el livingâ€™ and look for a job in â€˜marketingâ€™ (imagine a rolled â€˜râ€™ and a short â€˜aâ€™), whilst websites commonly ask you to â€˜click aquiâ€™ on a link.
Quite aside from these sometimes bizarre appearances of English words, I was already struggling enough with differences between Spanish from Spain and what I was hearing on the streets in Chile. My very first conversation on arriving in the country proved difficult enough: inexplicably, the word â€˜guaguaâ€™ means â€˜busâ€™ in the Canary Islands and â€˜infantâ€™ in Latin America (the etymology of the word completely eludes me). Understandably the burly airport officials were tickled when I asked, laden with suitcases, where the I could catch the baby. Soon after, my taste-buds proved hopeless when I first tasted â€˜zapalloâ€™ – I failed to recognise it was pumpkin (I had always known it as â€˜calabazaâ€™) and went on to enthusiastically extoll it as a delicious exotic vegetable, impossible to buy in the UK.
I always find that the opportunity for comedy in misinterpretation and misunderstanding between people using different languages, dialects and even registers cannot be underestimated or undervalued. In an attempt to move away from beheadings, social unrest and illegal operations onto a more light-hearted topic this week, I invite you all to share your favourite examples of Spanglish (a technical term), or of misunderstandings arising out of the differences between Peninsular and Latin American Spanish. Comment away!