Translation Please

There is no doubt about it, learning another language is hard (unless, maybe,  you learn as a kid.)

Spanish, being a romance language, shares many Latin root words with English that are the same or very similar in both languages (university is universidad). From there on, though, Spanish is pretty much opposite in structure (aka grammar) from English.

To give you a few examples, adjectives follow nouns rather than precede them (the boy small or the house beautiful) and when you say you do not want… or something is not…, the negative is added to the front of words and phrases (No want… or I no go…) and there are two words for to be (is, are, etc.) that have two distinctly different meanings, though both meanings translate to the same word in English.

So like my great grandmother who might have said, “Throw me down the stairs a hankie,” I have to learn to think and speak backwards. Like I said, it is not easy.

Blue Bear & Friend, Taxco, MexicoI have found though, that if I am having trouble making myself understood, I should speak with a woman — preferably one who has raised children.

I was relating a story in Spanish and was pretty sure that I was using the correct words and even phrases. Though the women were smiling and nodding, one hombre in particular kept shouting, “Speak Spanish,” to which I replied, “I thought I was.” He turned to his wife, and said, “Do you understand her?” And she replied, “Yes.” He said, “Only a few words here and there, right?” to which she replied, “No, every word.” He, of course, was dumbfounded.

As my hostess Irma, likes to say, “Many words fly into the air,” however due to their experience in raising little ones learning to talk, mothers will most likely catch most of those words, fill in the blanks, and understand what you are saying no matter how badly you mangle the language.

Here are just a few of the women who understand me.

Palabra del Dia – Word of the Day

I live with a Mexican family, that other than the usual pleasantries (Good morning, good night, etc.) do not speak English, and though my vocabulary is growing my ability to truly communicate is vastly limited. I try though.

I am told that I am learning quickly, although I do not feel so confident in my abilities. My head literally hurts some days as I try to understand. And, there are times my brain absolutely refuses to speak Spanish no matter how hard I might try.

Tools for learning SpanishTo over come my inadequacies, I have downloaded two language apps that unlike Google translation, work offline. One is an English-Spanish dictionary, just like the book form only handily kept on your Smartphone where it is easy to reference and less likely to be left behind somewhere. The other is a translation program, Jibbigo, that translates phrases or sentences in a number of  languages, so if you and the person you are trying to communicate with can both read and type, you can actually have a simple two-way conversation. The phone will even do the talking for you, in case your pronunciation is horrible.

As we were sitting around the dinner table recently, Irma’s granddaughters were curious about my translation app so we played around – translating and pronouncing different words. It all started because I wanted to say something was funny, so I looked it up – co’mico  (pronounced CO mee co). When I was trying to help them pronounce funny, which proved to be difficult for them (Spanish does not have a short u sound). I said it was similar to the name of Irma’s daughter, and the girls’ mother, Fanny (pronounced Fahn ee). We made ” funny” the word of the day and went on comparing other words in Spanish and English.

Later when I asked Carlita (Fanny’s youngest daughter) what the word of the day was. She thought for a moment and said, “Mama?” So much for word association! Yet, we all got a big kick out of her answer.

The following morning Irma questioned me about “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “good night,” and tested out all the other English words she thought she knew. (Quite a few actually!) Despite her initial objection that she was too old to learn English, she just might learn after all.

In fact, we (the whole family) will all learn together. Much more fun than studying a book for hours on end; more practical too because you learn the words you will actually use.

Our word for today is amiga/amigo – friend.

My Mexican family

Irma (R) and some of her family.