¿Hablás castellano?

If you don’t speak Spanish, this post isn’t worth reading (especially the end). 

I started learning Spanish when I was 14. I was in 9th grade and I didn’t even want to take Spanish. I wanted to take French or German but my mom made me take Spanish because it would be more useful (not sure if I ever thanked you for that… thanks, Mom!) 

I always got As in Spanish and it kind of came easily to me but I didn’t really like it that much, except for Señora Hammen’s class because she made it fun. I was really bad at remembering how to conjugate preterit, and forget those tenses like he/había/hubiera whatever + ado/ido. I had no clue. 

But when I was a senior, in Spanish 4, we got set up with kindergarten/first grade buddies at Escuela Vieau, a bilingual elementary school in Milwaukee. We were pen pals all throughout first semester and right before Christmas, we went to Escuela Vieau to meet the kids and bring them Christmas presents. We learned some songs in Spanish class like “Los peces en el río” and sang with them, and they danced for us. 


The kids dancing for us in the gym


My buddy! I wish I remembered this girl’s name!!! She’s like 13 or 14 now which blows my mind.

That was the day that I realized that I could speak Spanish. Granted, I couldn’t speak it well. But I could speak it. 

Once I decided I was going to Marquette, I took the placement test and got into Spanish 9, which basically is like a quick review of high school Spanish 3 and 4. I had a really good teacher and we got to skype with people in Colombia every Friday. The next semester I had a teacher from Perú and she had us do Service Learning as part of the class. I was super confused by this but it sounded cool, and Escuela Vieau was on the list of places to volunteer! It didn’t work with my schedule though… so I found another bilingual elementary school in Milwaukee, Lincoln Avenue. 

This was singlehandedly the experience that most shaped my career trajectory and passions. I ended up volunteering in the same classroom there for 1.5 years and became super passionate about education and ELLs.

After I studied abroad in Spain in 2010, my Spanish was good. According to ACTFL, Advanced Mid good. It was also basically Spain Spanish, but without the “lisp” – I used it when I said gracias and -ción words, but the rest of the time I forgot about it because I thought it sounded weird. I also felt like a poser, trying to be Spanish when I actually wasn’t. So although the accent didn’t stick, the vocabulary certainly did. Melocotón. Maíz. Móvil. Haaweo (AKA hasta luego). ¿Cómo estáis? Boli. Bici. Ordenador. Patata. Coche. ¡Qué mono! ¡Oye, tío! ¡Venga, hombre! ¡Vale! 


My host family in Spain, Amelia and Cristián.

When I spent time in Guatemala and Ecuador during the summer of 2011, I was surprised at how “neutral” the Spanish was. I NEVER had major problems understanding people. The accent was “normal.” In Guatemala I always, always used usted because we were working in a very traditional indigenous community and everything was very formal. But other than that, getting used to their Spanish was so easy! 


My friend Elyse and I with some of the kids in Guatemala

As I started to prepare for my time in Argentina, I downloaded this app on my phone called Porteño Spanish. I panicked. I didn’t know more than 5 of the words! Ahhhhh! 

Che. Ananá. Palta. Pileta. Bárbaro. Valija. Remera. Pancho. Canilla. Omnibus. Colectivo. ¿Cómo andás? No, andar does not ever mean “to walk.” 

That isn’t even including voseo or the ll and y. The other thing is that in this part of Argentina, the ll and y sound different from each other AND they don’t roll their Rs. 

So let’s break down what’s struck me as interesting so far:

1. Vocabulary. There are simply some words here that I simply don’t remember ever hearing or seeing in my life. Every single day here I hear or read a word that I don’t understand, and although it’s frustrating at times, I also feel like my vocabulary is growing a ton because of this! 

  • Ananá – Pineapple (not piña)
  • Palta – avocado (not aguacate)
  • Pileta – swimming pool or sink (not piscina or lavabo or lavamanos)
  • Bárbaro – awesome, excellent, geat
  • Valija – suitcase (not maleta)
  • Remera – t-shirt (not camiseta)
  • Pancho – hot dog
  • Canilla – faucet/tap (not grifo)
  • Omnibus, Colectivo – the bus (not autobús)
  • ¿Cómo andás? – How’s it going/how are you doing? 

2. Voseo. Vos replaces tú here. What is fascinating to me is that vos doesn’t exist in any other tense except the present and commands. Subjunctive is conjugated just like tú (Quiero que vengas a mi fiesta). 

In the present, vos is conjugated as such:

  • Regular verbs: Vos hablás. Vos bebés. Vos vivís. (Same as tú form, but accent goes on the last syllable). 
  • Stem changers: Pensar = vos pensás. Querer = vos querés. Tener = vos tenés. No stem change! 
  • Ser: Vos sos. 

Commands are conjugated as such:

  • Just get rid of the R and put an accent on the last letter. Pedí, tomá, poné, reciclá, mirá, vení, bailá. So yes, -ir verbs in vos commands are identical to the yo preterite form. All about context, I guess. 


3. LL / Y. The interesting thing to me here is that in Salta, these letters are pronounced a little bit (basely distinguishably) differently but in Buenos Aires they’re pronounced the same, I think (?). The ll, to me, sounds like sh –> me shamo instead of me llamo. But the y sounds more like zh –> mayor sounds like mazhor. 

4. The rr, or lack thereof. It took me literally weeks to realize this. But the rr doesn’t get rolled here, it’s “assibilated.” The word horror is pronounced like hoshor, and perro is pesho. At the beginning of words like rico, I can’t figure out if it’s rolled or not. I’m still working on listening for that. 

So, needless to say, adjusting to the language here has been a bit of a challenge compared to my time spent in other countries. Nevertheless, I am thankful for this experience because I am learning so much and my fascination with the Spanish language is only growing. 


1 Comment

  1. You’re a very good writer. I’m currently trying to learn Spanish. I’m at the point where I can read and write pretty well but it’s still very hard to listen and speak. I recently started my own blog, on which I’ll occasionally write about language-learning, if you have any interest in taking a look.

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