5 Ways My English Has Changed Since Moving to Madrid

Living in a Spanish-speaking country, as well as teaching English to Spanish speakers, has left it’s mark on the way that I speak. Here are the top 5 ways my English has been subtly refashioned since coming to Spain:

1) Borrowing from Spanish

Perhaps this is the most obvious one: American girl moves to Spain, girl learns Spanish, girl sprinkles Spanish expressions in her day-to-day English. There are, truly, some expressions that don’t exist in English or, at the very least, don’t sound as good as their Spanish counterpart. These include “tener ganas,” “verguenza ajena,” and ” quitarse un marrón.” I would look like a blabbering idiot in English if I went around saying “I have no gumption to leave my apartment” or, even worse, “I’m going to get rid of a big brown this weekend!!” But, since these ideas are now so rooted in the way I think, I simply mix the Spanish expression in with the English. That’s how I got the ganas to write this blog entry, vale?

2) Avoiding false friends like the plague

Ask any language learner for a story involving false friends, and you’re in for a good time. My own story involves telling my Costa Rican host mother that I liked her food because she didn’t put condoms (preservativos) in it. I’m still cringing about that one. Unwilling to make these linguistic gaffes again, I do my best to avoid any English words that might be misunderstood by Spanish speakers. For example, I absolutely avoid the word “college” to refer to my continuing education. Because this word is too similar to the Spanish word colegio, or primary school, I simply change it to “university.”

3) Adopting British-isms

Because most Europeans have studied British English (understandably), I have also incorporated expressions such as “timetable,” and “brillant” into my speech to be better understood. The American word I have turned my back on the most, however, has to be “soccer” which I now exclusively refer to as “football.” I knew this was truly cemented the day I actually said “footballer.” Footballer! Only a few years ago I would have giggled at this word, but when in Rome…

4) Selecting words that are easy for Spanish speakers to understand

In my first language class, I thought learning Spanish was a breeze. There were so many words that were easy to memorize due to their relatively short distance from the same-meaning word in English. “To decide” was decidir, “to prefer” was preferir, etc. It seemed that all you had to do was add a snazzy ending to the English word and the Spanish word would magically appear!

Unfortunately, this naive chapter only lasted until the next unit of the book; soon I had to memorize verbs and nouns that had no common origin with English. For my own English-learning students, then, I try simplify things when possible by guiding them to a familiar-sounding word. Instead of using “devote,” for example, I use “dedicate,” which is more similar to a word that they will recognize and understand. Only when speaking English with native speakers do I realize how much I´ve adopted this practice–their English vocab seems huge compared to mine!

5) Using English words…with the Spanish meaning

This is the sneakiest of all five changes, and perhaps the most fun. For example, I am now used to proclaiming that something is “Impossible!”…even if it is totally, absolutely, without-a-doubt possible. (Spanish people will often say something is “impossible” as an answer when you invite them to do something and they already have plans. So while it´s technically possible for them to be there, it represents a sincere doubt for the chance of it happening.) Ditto for always using “to take advantage of” (aprovechar) with a positive connotation, as well as directly translating “Dime” into “Tell me.” And that´s just the beginning…

Ahh, language. How has living abroad changed the way you speak?