Tuna Anyone?

I was at the store one day and spotted a bottle of shampoo that was tuna scented. I wondered, “Why would anyone want to smell like tuna?”

Then I was served this fruit:

THIS is tuna – the fruit of the cactus. It tastes a little like a kiwi crossed with citrus.

When I told my Mexican friends that in America, tuna is a fish, they thought that was pretty funny. Everyone knows the fish is called atun!

Well, now you know too.

No preocupado

Everybody here is always saying, “Don’t worry.” “Don’t worry.” And I always think, what is there to worry about? I finally figured out that “No preocupado” (Don’t worry.) is used in the same way that we say, “No problem.”

So don’t worry, be happy!

Fanciful frogGo ahead and smile. You know you want to.

No worries! Now doesn’t that feel great?


Early on an acquaintance said, “You don’t speak much (Spanish) but what you do, you speak well.”  A compliment and a curse. It is nice to know that I pronounce words well, but that leads to the impression in the listener that I also understand well and I don’t.

As frustrated as I still feel, I guess I am making progress though. Not only did some people I haven’t seen in a few weeks comment that my Spanish is mucho mejor (much better) but I recently took a quiz in my book and, according to them, I am doing “superior work,” the very best.

I still wish that translated into real conversation but all good things come those who wait, right?

I will practice patience and hit the books some more.

Studying Spanish in a hammock Ocotito, Mexico


Yo no estoy de pie

I am learning a lot about anatomy of late. Words like rodilla (knee), tobillo (ankle), pierna (leg), and pie (pronounced pee AY) which means foot.

Yet even with this added vocabulary, the expression above (Yo no estoy de pie), part of a recent Spanish language lesson, had me scratching my head and saying, “What?”

I literally translated it as, “I am not of/on/from foot,” and sounded like I was saying, I do not have feet. But that could not be right, could it? Why would they put such an example in a language primer?

Mexican friends to the rescue. In Spanish that expression means, I am not standing, or without the “no,” I am standing.

Since then I have come across several “de pie” expressions, all of which are equally confusing translated literally. Thankfully, I now know the basic concept and can figure out what they mean.

Studying Spanish in a hammock

Yo no estoy de pie


By jove, I think I have it

Tools for learning SpanishThere are two ways to say “I am” in Spanish, confusing in itself, yet the two ways, “estoy” and “yo soy,” though they have very different root words, are, one might say, a bit too close sounding for comfortable use.

Yet, since estoy and yo soy mean two very different things to Mexicans, it is important for a foreigner to understand the difference. This is not necessarily easy since you are given long, complicated grammatical explanations which are even more confusing.

Here are a couple of the simpler explanations:

  • Estar indicates a “condition” which can change, like your physical condition or location. Como esta?
  • And ser is used when talking about the essence of something; an unchangeable condition or an aspect that never changes, such as a place of origin, occupation, nationality, date, time or place.So, yo soy (ser) from Wisconsin but estoy (estar) in Mexico now. OR,  the apple es (ser) green in color or is esta’  (estar) green as in unripe.

Got that? I have 5 flash cards defining these words with lists of when to use them and I am still not quite sure.

But today someone explained, “It’s simple really, all you really need to remember is to use ser (Yo soy) for things that are solid and permanent. Estoy is for things that are less permanent like emotions and locations.”

Understanding this can make the difference between saying:

Soy aburrido.      I am boring. (solid and permanent)
Estoy aburrido.   I am bored. (temporary state)

“It is ALWAYS,” they added, “Donde esta‘ and Como esta’. And nouns,  ALWAYS use es (el elefante es grande.)

Now that is an explanation I can get my mind around. You?

“Ich bin ein Berliner,” anyone?


Learning a language can be quite comico at times.

I was at a meeting recently, struggling to understand what was being said. I had recently learned that unlike in the US where tamales is plural and tamale is singular, in Mexico, you have one tamal.

Tamales, MexicoWant some salsa with that?

As I was listening to the speaker, I kept hearing the word tamal. “Tamal” here and “tamal” there, “tamal,” “tamal,” “tamal.” This was a serious discussion though and I could not figure out what tamales had to do with it. Finally I asked my companion, “Why is he talking about food?”

She looked at me quizzically and asked, “What?”

I replied, “He keeps saying ‘tamal.’ What does food have to do with the discussion?”

She had to stifle a laugh, then explained that he was saying, “esTA mal.” “It is bad.”

Sounded like tamal to me.


The word of the day is amigos – friends.

If this guy took a bath once in awhile, we might be grande amigos.

Two bearsFYI – If your friend is female, she is your amiga. But if your group of amigas includes just one muchacho, then they are all amigos.  Just one of the frustrating things about learning this language, not only do you need to know different verb tenses but all the words change (including the pronouns) depending on who is the subject of the sentence, not just singular or plural but feminina and masculina as well.

Would somebody please tell me why a man’s tie (la corbata) is feminine and a woman’s dress (el vestido) is masculine?

Word Play

Tools for learning SpanishLast week I wrote about Spanish words that are confusing. I seemed to have struck a chord (Huh? Hope you didn’t hurt yourself.)

The responses are rolling in — with examples of words and funny expressions that we use to liven up our language but actually make no sense to someone from another county.

One friend wrote, ” Getting your head around a language is understanding the culture.” I agree. Only by understanding the background of the speaker can you truly understand what they are saying. For example, the adage attributed to Native Americans about walking a mile in another’s moccasins. To understand that, you first have to know what moccasins are.

My friend shared her frustration with learning Kayah, a tonal language native to Southeast Asia, spoken by a group of refugees where she lives in Texas. She wrote, “TOE is both yes and no. Yes is said high and no is said low. NGO is both tears or word. PREH can be person or again. If you use the wrong tones you can be telling them, “no again word,” which gets very confused looks, when you are trying to say, “Yes the person cried.”

Spanish has its share of tonal variations. Si‘, with an accent, means yes, but without means if. El with an accent on the e means he and el without the accent means the. Vino can mean come or wine.

Esta means this; accent the first syllable though (ESta) and it means this one (not that one), but place the accent on the “ta” and it is a form of the verb to be — esTA mal (it is bad.)

English has a fair share of tonal, or just plain confusing, words also. Read, for example — I read (reed) a book today, but I read (red) it yesterday. You, can mean one person or a group of people; with the exception of the deep South, we have no word for you all. And then there is here and hear.

And if you really want to have some fun, analyze the meaning of common idioms. What in one language is part of our cultural heritage and perfectly understood, makes another wonder “Que?”

Here are just a few:

Right now — How is now right? Can it be left (or wrong) too?
I’m under the weather — Do you need an umbrella?
He’s over the hill — Which hill?
See you — Well, of course, I am standing right here.
Time will tell — Time talks? Do you have a talking watch?
Hit the books — Why? What did they do wrong?
Feel free — At no cost? Great! But feel what?
Knock it off — What do you want me to knock off?
Go figure! — Figure what?
Get on the ball  — It keeps rolling out from under me.
Go fly a kite — But it’s storming!
Day in, day out — How is that?
Look up (something) — If the book is on the lower shelf do I look it down?
To each his own —Own what?
Polished off — Your plate needs polishing?
Stand corrected — And if not corrected do I sit?
Run over — Won’t that hurt?
Cut him off at the knees — That must really hurt!
Noodle on those for a while.

Played this classic Abbott and Costello skit for my English students this week. It is the perfect example of how confusing the English language can be.

Don’t die laughing!

Ahorita now

I love it when my readers can shed some light on the meaning of some of the things I see and hear in a foreign place.

Sun"s rays streaming through the clouds, Taxco de Alarcon, MexcioMy mystery word has been demystified! It is ahorita.

Now that I see the root word ahora (now) it makes perfect sense. Since “ita” means little, ahorita actually means in a little while.

As my lovely and very gifted daughter, who lived in Peru for a time, explained, it could mean, now, in a moment, etc. or in the case of an impatient patient at the doctor’s office, in a little while, which may stretch to 10 or 20 minutes or more. It is used in a similar manner as our saying right now (which also makes no sense taken literally.)

I have gathered from friends here that it could also be used as a blow off statement, with a meaning similar to “I’ll get around to it,” which is where the “perhaps, sometime” comes in.

English words and expressions can also create confusion in non-native speakers. She told me about a Peruvian friend who was a hostess in a restaurant and couldn’t figure out why people reacted strangely when she greeted incoming patrons with “Good night.” Afterall, night and evening mean the same thing, no?

Sometimes I think it would be nice to go back to the time before the Tower of Babel, when everyone spoke just one language. But then again, I’m not too fond of sackcloth and I would really miss my computer. Better to look forward to the whole world having one language in the future. In the meantime, I will keep studying my Spanish.

Pyramid of Sun - TeotihuacancanDo you think the builders of the ancient temples of the Aztecs and Mayans, like this Temple of the Sun at Teotihuacan, outside Mexico City, are related to those in Mesopotamia who built the Tower of Babel and other ziggurats?

Ya, no!

Tools for learning Spanish“Ya, no” is an everyday Spanish expression that is a bit of a conundrum to me.

Where I come from, “ya” is slang for yes and “no” is no, so to me, what the speaker is saying is “yes, no.” Yes, no, what? Which is it? Yes or no?

Even though I now know that “ya, no” means not anymore or no longer (literally “already, no” or “no already”), I still hear “yes, no.”

This is just one of a number of confusing expressions such as:

  • La manana de la manana – the first manana means the morning, and the second manana means tomorrow. I don’t know how many times I have tried to say I was going to do something in the morning and we ended up in a whole conversation about tomorrow? No, I meant today. Esta manana.Now really, you’d think they could come up with a different word for one of the two!
  • And why is it you say, “Buenas dias,” instead of Buenas Manana Heaven forbid you should say, Buenas dias (literally “Good day”) past noon. Are Mexicans so fanatical about their greetings because the listener would not know if you were wishing them “Good morning” or “Good tomorrow?”
  • There are similar words like caro and carro. The first means expensive, and the second is actually a cart but is used to say car. The difference is the two rrs are rolled or trilled, which I cannot do (yet anyway). So I could be talking about a car or something expensive, unless I am talking about a caro carro.
  • Words that look exactly like an English word but are pronounced totally differently really throw me. Try getting your mind around the word idea pronounced “e DAY ah” starting with a long E. Same word different pronunciation.Or sea – that is not sea as in  “sea to shining sea,” it is “SA ah” a form of  ser (to be.)
  • Perhaps my favorite word of all is pronounced “au REE ta;” don’t ask me how to spell it though, because I could not find it in any dictionary. I was hearing it all the time in conversation and asked what it meant and the answer I received was that it could mean: now, right this second, in a moment, wait a minute, in a short while, after a while, sometime, and even, perhaps, maybe, but not likely anytime soon. Or something like that.

Ya no?

What is an example of your favorite language conundrum?