Tag Archives: Spanglish

¡Qué Difícil es Hablar el Español!

Oh my. This is so good. Even if you only understand a fraction of it, this is a witty, entertaining, and talented take on the frustrations involved with learning a global language like Spanish, with all its differences around the world.

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Language Practice (that you’ll actually do): Spanish Music

The single best thing I ever did for my Spanish was to move to Spain, live with Spanish people, and struggle to survive in a world where I couldn’t always default to English, even when I was seriously tired/frustrated/just wanted to get something done without pulling out a dictionary every five seconds. I highly recommend doing the same to anyone who wants to learn a foreign language or improve skills they already have, but let’s be honest, that’s only going to be feasible for a few lucky souls. (If you are one of those souls, go here!)

So now I’m back in the US and I am scared of losing what I learned. The good news is, we have a lot of Spanish speakers here. In fact, according to Wikipedia, over 12% of the population speaks Spanish. That means that the US has the 5th largest population of Spanish speakers in the world (outnumbered only by Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia). That’s a lot of Spanish! And in San Francisco, it’s pretty much all around me. But here’s the bad news: it’s just not the same. Most of the people who speak Spanish also speak English, and they speak it as well as or better than I speak Spanish. It’s so easy to never speak Spanish because it’s so much easier to just speak English. I have to be honest with myself and admit that I am never going to be the person who orders from a taquería in Spanish or strikes up a conversation with the wonderful woman at my grocery store (seriously go there if you live in the neighborhood–great orange juice) who clearly is a native speaker or even tries to give directions to some obviously lost and confused Spanish tourists in Chinatown. I’m a little bit shy and a lot a bit nervous about speaking rusty Spanish, and sadly I only wriggle out of my little Anglo shell when I am forced to.

So now what? Obviously it would be best to just talk as much as possible to whoever would listen (and hopefully have them talk back), but let’s get a little less ambitious for a moment and think of things that might actually get accomplished. I’ve noticed that when I get decide to go big on practicing (taking a 3-hour night class at SFCC, joining a meet-up group, etc.), I tend to not get that far. It’s too big of a commitment and after a while I always drop it. But there are a few things that I have stuck with consistently since I left Spain, a year and a half ago now, and while they’re not going to make me fluent any time soon, they certainly are improving my vocabulary and teaching me new things all the time.

The first and easiest of these things is listening to Spanish music. I used to not really like Spanish music, but that was because I had only heard Mariachi bands (and even those are growing on me now that my comprehension is better) and Reggaeton. But in Spain I was exposed to a fuller spectrum of Spanish music and now I listen to it almost exclusively. I’ve often posted music and music videos on this blog, and most of them are great resources for maintaining language skills and perhaps for adding a little Spanish flair to your day. I sometimes have to remind myself not to get too discouraged by lyrics that I can’t understand because they are a little abstracted (Um, example! And here is an example of something I never would have fully understood from just listening to that song and only ever looked up because I listened to that song.) But still, a great way to add unexpected words to your brain, like funambulista. Where else would I ever have learned that?!

If you don’t know where to begin, music services like Spotify and Pandora are great places to find new Spanish music if you have a song or artist as a starting point (you can also check out current top hits in Spain via Spotify, though many of them are American songs, so it’s not always the most helpful resource). If you don’t have a starting point and have only ever heard Spanish songs in the discouraging Mariachi or Reggaeton genres….well, that’s what I’m here for! Here are a few bands that I’ve been listening to that should get you started (all links are to Spotify tracks):

Juieta Venegas: Female vocalist from Mexico, formerly more independent but gained success when she went a little more mainstream. Clear pronunciation, reasonably intelligible lyrics, catchy songs!

My favorite tracks: Limón y Sal, Lento (even better are the live MTV Unplugged acoustic versions!)

Vetusta Morla: Spanish alt-rock that kinda reminds me of a Coldplay mixed with Radiohead mixed with something else in Spanish. Their lyrics can be hard to fully comprehend, but they are a vocab GOLDMINE.

My favorite tracks: Too many to name! Copenhague, Los Días Raros,  Baldosas Amarillas, Un Día en el Mundo, Año Nuevo

Love of Lesbian: Kind of kooky Catalan band with very distinctive vocals (lyrics are in Castellano, don’t worry). Kind of an 80s-ish vibe, totally awesome. For some reason their album 1999 isn’t available in the US on Spotify, but this song is great too.

My favorite tracks: Un Día en el Parque, Shiwa, Me Amo, Noches Reversibles, Marlene, la vecina del ático.

Juanes: Colombian pop-rocker with lots of fans in the US and around the world and a constantly evolving ‘do.

My favorite tracks: They are kinda the same song, really….La Paga, La Camisa Negra

La Bien Querida: A recent find on my part, female vocals, kind of has a modern-indie-raspy thing going on. Slower and easy to follow, lyrically speaking.

Favorite Tracks: De Momento Abril, Ya No

Ojos de Brujo: Pop flamenco collective that refers to their genre-defying style as “jip-jop flamenkillo.” Good luck getting all these lyrics down (they’ve cut the back end off half the words, even in the song titles!), but it’s very Spanish and Na En La Nevera is a great challenge if you want to practice listening to a less intelligible, truncated version of the language….if you’ve ever lamented not being able to follow a quick-paced, slang-laced convo among nativos, this is a good resource.

My favorite tracks: Na En La Nevera, Sultanas de Merkaíllo, Corriente Vital

Carla Morrison: Adorable Mexican singer songwriter with girly vocals and plenty of delicate acoustic guitar.

Favorite Tracks: Pajarito del Amor, Una SalidaTu Luz

There are also plenty of other artists who I am just getting to know, and while I am not familiar with too many of their songs, I can at least share the few that I know and like so far:

Ely Guerra: Te Amo, I Love You: Don’t let the intro fool you, this girl starts belting it out about a minute in.

Ellos: No Te Enamores: Kinda 80s pop vibe that reminds me of this joint in Madrid and its soundtrack of 80s and 90s Spanish pop hits.

La Casa Azul: Todas Tus Amigas: Another one that picks up a bit as you go along. Modern disco throwback that is still providing me with vocab challenges. Ugh.

Jarabe de Palo and Chambao: Dejame Vivir: A current flamenco-ish fave with super easy lyrics (though a bit muddled and andaluza on the pronunciation if I do say so myself).

Estrella Morente: Volver: Tango turned flamenco by way of the Almodóvar soundtrack.

Buika: No Habra Nadie en el Mundo: Coolest raspiest voice ever! Born in Mallorca to parents from Equatorial Guinea, she developed her vocal style among gitanos (Spanish Romani) in her neighborhood, resulting in a super distinct style that mixes a little bit of everything, including flamenco and jazz.

So there you go! Get listening! Doing a “similar artists” search on any of these or popping them into Pandora or Spotify radio should have you on your way to a library of Spanish music just bursting at the seams!

And once you find a word you don’t know, or a phrase/idiom/sentence/entire set of lyrics, remember: Google and WordReference are your friends. The latter I use pretty much exclusively to look things up, especially in the language forums all the way at the bottom of the page. They are invaluable for understanding the nuances of a new word or phrase, plus you can always ask for help there yourself. And if you’re just looking to get a transcription of lyrics, most any of those can be found online by typing in a string of a few words that you understand from the song, or by googling the song title and the word letras, Spanish for lyrics.

Happy Listening and Learning!

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Lost in Pronunciation

Ok so I always thought that California accents were the most neutral, most TV-personality anchorman laundry detergent commercial generic accents that you could get in America…or anywhere. We pronounce things pretty much as you read them and we don’t drop any letters or anything, right? Well, turns out that Californians, and Americans in general don’t really pronounce the letter “t” which can be really confusing for non-native speakers, even when the dropped t is part of a really short or simple word.

It either comes out as some kind of alveolar plosive (yeah Linguistics 1!) as in the word “letter” which we more accurately pronounce as “ledr,” or as nothing at all like in the word “twenty” which comes out more like “twuny.” Anyways, I never ever ever noticed this before Spain but sometimes it causes problems when I am speaking to beginners, like the dad of my host family, and I have to make sure to pronounce all the leTTers in everything thaT I say. They also tell me I sound like a rat when I am helping Bruno eat because I say “Eat! Eat! Eat!” but it comes out as “EEE-EEE-EEE!!!!!!”

So today I was playing with Bruno, and by playing I mean he was destroying a number of old family photo albums and I was sitting next to him saying “no no no!!!” The dad was sitting in the room at the computer. I finally got a little frustrated and said “Ok no more photos!” and took away the album, but I said it really fast because I wasn’t saying it with the intention of Bruno or his dad understanding. The dad turned to me and said “Wait what did you say?” in Spanish. I told him that I had said “No more phoTos,” being sure to pronounce the T. “Ohhhh,” he said, laughing. “I thought you said “No me jodas!”

No me jodas translates to something along the lines of “DON’T FUCK ME.*”  Gotta make sure to pronounce those T’s!!!

*Ok it can also mean “don’t mess with me” or “you have to be kidding” but the literal definition is just waaaay better.

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Inappropriate Words/Phrases I have taught my students/friends this week

Here is a list of all the incredibly important, totally appropriate words that I have covered with my middle-aged male business English students and my non-native friends in the past few weeks.


Gold digger

Pot, Weed, Bud (in the literal and slang senses of the words)

Playing Footsie

Snort (as in cocaine)

Take advantage of (physically)

Check out (physically)


Hook Up

Make out







Hair of the Dog (in Spain evidently they keep it literal and just say “Have another beer!” but the idea is the same)

So evidently I have some kind of problem with the degree of professionalism I employ in my classes….but actually thinking about it I don’t think the teaching of these words was completely unsolicited. Keep in mind that some of my students don’t know how to say “tall” or “ugly.” But they sure could get through a night at a bar!!! God.

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Words of the week:

Sonova Bitch: “Son of a bitch” pronounced like “SoNOVA Bitch,” as read in Catcher in the Rye where Salinger always writes it as all one word.

Lamster: This one might be the cutest error of them all and I feel a little bad because I laughed a LOT when I heard this one, just because its such a funny combination of lobster and hamster. Lamster  is technically a word, but it was used in this context: “You are not pink like a lamster!” which just sounds incredibly, incredibly weird. He was going for “You’re not all red like a lobster!” in reference to a sunburn which I had told him I was suffering from. Can you imagine what a pink lamster would look like?

Next time I will try to include the Spanish words I have botched….because there are many.



I think it’s a well-known fact that English is a pretty influential language in the world, and a lot of people want to speak it. I’m not saying that English is the most amazing language ever, but there is no denying that in today’s world, it’s an important one to learn, and its universality appeals to a lot of people for a variety of reasons. It also comes up a lot in pop culture in a lot of non-English speaking countries, and in every foreign country I have ever been in, there has been a constant stream of English music, stores with English names, products with English labels, and usually best of all, T-shirts with heinous English slogans slapped on them. I think we do this a bit in America with French because we think it looks/sounds romantic and exotic, and I am assuming its the same line of thinking that leads people to put “COOL BABY ACADEMY” or “BONE ME” on a child’s sweatshirt besides the picture of a dinosaur skeleton, but I can’t be sure.

I think most of the time we associate crazy English errors with a generic Asian country (see the culturally insensitive but incredibly funny website www.engrish.com for some prime examples.), but really, linguistically incorrect hilarity can ensue in any country without inglés as its mother-tongue. Today I had a particularly cute day of funny English errors, and I’ve decided to start writing them down. Now, I don’t want to seem like a jerk who is laughing at the errors that the people around me make, and I have no interest in making fun of people or anything like that. More than anything, I think it’s an interesting reflection of our pronunciation, of what people subconsciously think of English and Americans, and other things like that. God knows I make enough ridiculous errors every day to keep my host family AND Spanish teacher laughing (one example from last week was when I looked out the window and said that there were a lot of clouds and it looked like it was going to start CRYING instead of raining.), so I am not about to point any fingers. So don’t be offended if you are one of the people who said one of these things! I just find it interesting. Here are some examples from today:

Firstable: He meant to say :”first of all” but with our fast and loose pronunciation, it sounds EXACTLY like firstable. I think this should probably be made into a real word.

I have to go party: Today one of my German friends asked me why little children are taught to say this when they have to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about, then I realized she had always thought they were saying “party” when they were really saying “potty.” In the context of heading off to the toilet, this one is particularly awesome.

Party training: Pretty much in line with the above explanation. I guess if you’re training to be party-ready you should know how to not poop your pants, so on some level this could work, but I don’t see it going mainstream anytime soon.

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