Thursday, May 30, 2013

Adventures in Spanish

 So There is a local fruit store that is on the way home from the metro, and they have very good produce. Usually, I get in and out without any real spoken interaction. This, sadly, is my goal because although I speak Spanish, when I get nervous the weirdest stuff comes out and I make no sense at all. 
Spanish has two things that English doesn't really have: A sex for every object (ex: table is female), and a complex grammer system. There is different ending to a verb for almost every person (I, you informal, you formal, we, they), a lot of irregular verbs, and many different future and past tenses. I will not get started on the slang and idioms.

OK, so I am at the fruit stand where Paco has recently discovered that I am an English teacher and he wants to learn English. He is being a friendly business man and likes to talk about our "shared" interest, or he is flirting, or he wants me to teach English for free, OR a combo of all above. We never, however, talk in English. This is good practice for me as most of my life, even in Spain, is in English.

I do not speak Spanish well when I am nervous. I get even more nervous when strangers can hear me (I kind of know Paco). Spanish people like to listen to me speak Spanish and have no qualms about openly listening/staring. This phenomenon leads to my husband and I speaking mostly English in public. If we speak English, we are less likely to be impeded by the people trying to listen to us (they literally get in your way or slow down to listen). I have many theories about this: it could be that my accent is drop dead sexy in Spanish, or it could be that my grammar mistakes are too hilarious to miss. Like this one:

Paco: Did you bring your own bag as usual?
Me: Yes I brought my own bag, but I bought a lot of fruit. I weigh a lot, may I have two bags?
Paco gives me a look but continues to pack the fruit in one bag. It is important to note that there is a woman behind me in line buying three bananas. I am buying a lot of produce. I have never felt glutinous buying produce before.
Me: Can I have another bag for these two things? I weight a lot and I have to walk a bit far. 
I hear the giggle from the woman behind me, and who can blame her. At this point my brain wakes up, gives me the correct grammatical version of the verb and I mutter it. "it weighs" Spanish people do not mutter, they well have never heard me.

Ahhh, adventures in another language. It does help to have sense of humor about your mistakes. I hope mine made you smile. Do you havelanguage mishaps to share?


  1. I too speak way worse Spanish when I get nervous and especially with people I don't know all that well. So they end up thinking my Spanish is just okay when in fact I am quite good at Spanish (not to toot my own horn, but it's the truth)! It's like this self-fulfilling prophecy because the more nervous I get the worse I speak, and the worse I speak the more nervous I get!

    1. Yes! That is exactly the cycle I was referring too! Even though I am sure that your Spanish is much better than mine. But that is another thing, how to measure a language? If we did it successfully we would be millionaires!

  2. Kay, I appreciate your stories. I have definitely made similar mistakes in French which has similar obstacles to Spanish. I am doing better and have had to speak to people in French several times this week. We're back in Normandy for a couple weeks. Today I had to ask where we could take some yard waste. I'll try to remember some embarrassing mistake I've made in the past and share it.

    One of the embarrassing problems we have is with the numbers. In French instead of saying 80, you say 4-twenties. and 99 is 4-twenties-nineteen. I still have trouble with those numbers. One guy needed to know Jim's birth year and we told him 88. He gave us a funny look and we realized the mistake and said no 48. Jim doesn't look like he could have been born in 1988.