17 December 2013

Do you speak Spanglish?

My neighbour said to me yesterday, “oh no, I don’t need to learn Spanish. Not round here.” She then went on to explain that even a hint of Spanish was just not necessary for an expat living in a valley almost exclusively inhabited by other English-speaking expats, who shop at Lidl and go to “bridge ‘n’ chat” evenings once a month. She sort of has a point. If she only mixes with people who don’t speak Spanish how on earth would she ever practise what she’s just learnt in class. But that’s the point, though. If she learnt to speak the native language of most people in the country then maybe she’d meet more Spaniards. Tricky one, though. In the meantime, I suppose “I’d like a carrier bag”, “hola” and “gracias” will suffice.

There are, of course, other expats who wholly embrace the linguistic challenge that stands proudly before them. They embark on lessons, teach yourself courses and “intercambio” language exchanges, whereas others think they’ve mastered the “lingo” by using, God forbid, Google Translator. It’s not easy learning a foreign language at an advanced age (apparently, so we’re always told), but maybe it’s more a problem of  learning a foreign language when you’ve never learnt one before. When you’ve never really thought about how language works, not even your own. Let’s be honest, a lot of people have a problem expressing themselves eloquently in their own language, innit.

There is indeed a strange linguistic phenomenon at large amongst the expat community who do try and learn a little Spanish. A curious, but distinct peppering of their own language with random Spanish words. As if showing off, Dean and Carol would never be heard saying “rubbish bin” or “rubbish”, oh no, “I’m just taking out the basura, dear”. Having listened to this linguistic mix up for a number of years, I’ve noticed some words have made their way into this Spanglish mess more than others. Who in the right mind round here would say “valley” or “dried up riverbed” when speaking English? No one. If in conversation with another expat you mentioned you lived “two valleys beyond Santa Maria”, they may not even understand you! “Oh, you mean “rambla”!

I can understand someone’s vocabulary growing under the strain of new foreign words never used before in your mother tongue. If you’ve never done roofing or construction work before you may never have needed the word “beam” and the first time you might have used the word is here in Spain where you learnt to call it “viga”. I love a dab of schadenfreude, though and can’t help but smirk when someone is convinced they have learnt a word correctly, can’t wait to randomly slip it into their own version of Spanglish and they get it wrong. All that showing off for nothing. Instead of “viga”, they say “vega” and consequently order 30 concrete fields as opposed to 30 reinforced concrete beams.

I had an odd experience once with an English neighbour who confronted me with “sorry, I thought you spoke Spanish”. Yes, I do, but we’re speaking English now. Turns out my neighbour wasn’t. He’s obviously soooo integrated into Spanish life that he now only speaks Spanglish. “Yes, we’ve had a nightmare lately with our calenderdor”. “I’m sorry? With your what?” “Our calenderdor. Been a nightmare, mate.” “Sorry, I don’t know what you mean.” “The thing that makes your hot water!” “Oh, calentador.” How was I to know he was going to throw in a Spanish word into the middle of an otherwise English (admittedly Yorkshire) sentence. What’s wrong with “boiler”?!! It’s not exactly a weird technical word that’s bound to trip people up. No, obviously I’m slacking. Must brush up my Spanglish. Not my Spanish. Who needs that round here!

No comments:

Post a Comment