“Iva” or “Iba”? “Haber” or “a ver”? At least I’ve got “tejer” down.
One question that I get a lot from friends is, “What language do you and your boyfriend speak?” The easy answer? Spanish and English. However, being a language enthusiast, this is something I ponder as well–what propels us to speak in one language or the other? While I haven’t figured out exactly why we switch from English to Spanish and back again, I’ll let you in on 5 facts about the way we communicate.
My boyfriend is from Colombia and I am from the US, and the truth is that we speak a mix of English and Spanish.
English? Spanish? Spanglish? How ’bout a mix?
We tend to speak slightly more English than Spanish. Andres attended bilingual school from a young age, went to college in the states, and continues to do a lot of reading in English. Because of this his second language abilities (accent, pronunciation, vocab…) far outshine my own. I can’t always find the right nuance or expression or even term that I want in Spanish, which makes it tempting to switch back to English when we’re chatting en español. But hey, that’s all the more reason to practice Spanish, right?!
Luckily for me, Andres helps translate phrases when I’m at a loss for words. He has proofread countless emails and maybe even a few school assignments. However….
We both make mistakes in our second language. Whatever wise guy proclaimed that “practice makes perfect” has never tried to learn a language.
The other day I was ranting about catching a cold and accidentally said, “Cotorra tras cotorra!” or “Parrot after parrot!” when I meant to say “Cold after cold!” [Note: cotorra = parrot, cotarro = cold] Cue laughter. And, as much as I am impressed by Andres’ English, he also makes mistakes every once in a while. Sometimes a word he’s only seen in print comes out funny–last week it was “curmudgeon.” Other times the mistakes are so endearing I’m also afraid to correct them lest he stop saying them. This is the case with toes, which Andres calls “fingers” [Note: Spanish doesn’t differentiate much between fingers and toes].
Did you know…I’ve taught Andres some Southern American English? I’m fixin’ to share some more expressions one of these days.
Knowing both Spanish and English doesn’t always mean that we understand each other perfectly. There are English terms I use which sound a bit odd to Andres. And, of course, Colombian Spanish also leaves me bewildered. When some friends of Andres’ visited, I had a hard time following the rapid-fire string of “full,” “vaina,” and “bacano.” Suddenly, “listo” had a different meaning, there was no lisping, and add to this the confusion created by switching back and forth between vosotros and ustedes. Even though I learned ustedes first, I have been using vosotros so long that now me cuesta cambiar! See, even just writing about it makes my head spin and my languages tangle.
Did you know…in Colombia a coffee is called un tinto? That’s red wine in Spain!
Living in a culture that is foreign to both of us results in linguistic head-scratching. Being from two different contenints yet living in a third, there are cultural aspects at play that keep us on our toes. For example, I am the expert on the Spanish from Spain. At times I’m the translator when we go out to eat and an Iberian-specific dishes pops up on the menu. I was the first person to introduce him to the idea of a “caña,” and I’ve had to warn him multiple times, “Don’t order callos, that’s tripe!”
No callos at this table!
And then there’s the addition of slang, lovely slang. Andres has chuckled more than once when I used terms such as “pachucha,” “piripi” and “no es moco de pavo,” which sound funny to him. One of my favorite language-related tales comes from last summer when I was staying with Andres after coming back from camp. We were discussing our plans for the rest of the afternoon when I asked, “Puedo hacer una colada?” I was referring to the Spanish “colada,” which is a load of laundry. He gave me a puzzled look but nodded his agreement. Later it came out that the only “colada” he knew of was a piña colada— “I wondered why you suddenly wanted to make cocktails at 2 in the afternoon!” he laughed.
What linguistic or cultural mishaps do you encounter when mixing languages? Spill your stories!