Sunday, March 09, 2008


I lived for 9 months in Venezuela when I was 12 years old, and I was unfortunately not diligent enough in my studies to pick up enough Spanish to make it last a lifetime. It meant I did pretty well in Spanish class in high school, but it was not of much use to me otherwise. However, last year I was in Guatemala for 3 weeks, and was surprised by how much had come back to me. And this time around, it seems like I am picking up where I left off last year, which is good, because Ken and I are staying with a host family that doesn't speak much English.

Ken´s Spanish is more rudimentary than mine, but we make a good team. When my brain starts to lock up on long sentences, he will pick out a word, and we will be able to piece it together, along with hand gestures and a not very useful Spanish dictionary I brought. We are staying with a single mom and her two kids, and they are a lot of fun to be with. The 12 year old likes to play Uno and Clue, and the 6 year old now has a special bond with Ken - I wish I were able to upload some cute pictures right now. Two things I´ve learned about Ken during this trip is that he is unable to pass by a baby without holding it, and that children naturally flock to him. Oh, also a third thing - he is unable to pass by any kind of woodworking shop or lumber area without peeking his head in, too.

So, here are a few language observations/stories:

1. Upon arrival, Wilmer wanted to say how much he loved something or other. I can´t remember what now, but for the sake of an example, let´s say it was his phone. He used the Spanish word for "I love", which is "Amo," so he said Yo Amo Mi Telephono. However, in Spanish, Amo is reserved for romantic love. So, what he said was I am amorously in love with my telephone. He meant Me Gusto TelephonoMe gusta el telefono, which means "I like my telephone", but after seeing how much he uses his phone, I think both could apply.

2. I keep confusing the word hermosa with esposa. Hermosa means beautiful, and esposa means wife, but hermosa is often used as a pet name for one´s wife, like honey, or my beautiful wife. Alba, our hostess, always laughs when I say this, because it is cute to always refer to one's wife as my beautiful. I keep trying to learn it the right way, but it is now imprinted on my brain the other way. Besides, my wife is beautiful, so I shouldn´t mind so much if I get laughed at for it.

3. Me, standing on a sidewalk atop a cover that says peligro: "Hey, what does Peligro mean?"
Amanda: "It means danger"
Me, quickly stepping off cover: "OK, thanks!"

4. Sometimes it only takes a single word at the end of a very long series of sentences to get the basic meaning. This morning Alba said a whole bunch of things before bringing out our hot breakfast, ending in frio. Frio, frio - that means cold, right? Oh, she wants us to eat now so it won't get cold. Got it.

Last year, something similiar happened when Aaron and I were ordering our daily ice creams at the store. We asked for some flavor (probably Mango), and were told a whole bunch of incomprensible things, ending in maƱana. Good enough, we guessed they were out, and will be getting some tomorrow.

5. Smiles work in every language. I sure do notice smiles a lot more when I can´t understand what it going on. They almost always mean the opposite of peligro.


PG said...

A good thing to learn about "gustar" -- to please -- is that it is used reflexively. Something, like Wilmer's telephone, pleases him. So he wouldn't say "me gusto" he would say "me gustA el telefono." In other words, the verb ending takes the third person -- the "a" instead of the first person "o" ending. "Me gusta el telefono" means "The telephone pleases me," or -- as we translate it -- "I like my telephone." I talked to your beautiful wife this morning in church and she was very, very happy to hear that you were fine. We're fine here, too.

brownie said...

In Spain, the way I learned to say "love" (as in ice cream, not my "wife") was to use encontar (enchanted). As in:

Me enconto helado.

Or literally, "Ice cream enchants me.". Don't know if it'll make the same sense in S. America as it did in Castilla La Mancha, but it might be worth a try...

Rebecca said...

Brownie is right -- though it's encantar, not encontar.