Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lies my teachers told me

If I recall correctly I had six different Spanish teachers over all my time studying the language in the United States, and they all lied to me. Every. Single. One. A few examples of the atrocities imposed on my Spanish:

I learned that this is called a pluma,
which is just wrong. That is a bolígrafo, or boli for short. This is a pluma:
I can see how they're related. Pen--> fountain pen--> feather. But I got some strange looks when I asked someone to pass me a pluma.

A car is not a carro (that would just be way too simple), it is a coche. You don't manejar a car, you conducir. What I learned is a computadora is called an ordenador in Spain. Angry is enfadado rather than enojado. Don't even try telling a Spaniard that a tortilla is this:
 rather than this: (Okay, that vocabulary didn't come from a classroom, but it's still a difference I discovered here)

In retrospect, these are silly little vocabulary differences which reflect the differences between Castellano (Spanish Spanish) and Mexican or Latin American Spanish (Quite parallel to what I'm experiencing with English differences now). I grew up and studied Spanish in Southern California, which logically means most of the Spanish I learned was Mexican. I have to give some of my teachers credit for teaching both pluma and bolígrafo, among other examples, but it wasn't until coming to Spain that I thought about why I learned two words that mean the same thing. Here, one of them is the proper term they use, and the other is hillbilly language.

These little confusions are fixable. I retain one of the words and store the other one away for future use in a more appropriate location. I can forgive my teachers for this much. What I cannot forgive is providing me with incomplete grammar that affects the fluidity of my language.

By far the worst lie I was told: "No one uses the vosotros (second person plural) verb form and you're never going to need it, so we're going to pretend it doesn't exist." At the time I thought that seemed great. I only have to learn how to conjugate verbs in five ways rather than six. Sweet! Boy is that coming back to haunt me.

My Spanish grammar is, thanks to my education, horribly incomplete for use in Spain (You know, that place where the language came from). Spain definitely uses vosotros. I often get to really awkward points in conversations when my words are flowing, I'm carrying on nicely using preterite, future, and even subjunctive verbs. I might even sound like I can speak the language. But then, bam! Out of no where I reach a point where I want to use the second person plural, and I have to stop and think about how to do so, even in the most basic present tense. Teachers use vosotros all the time in addressing groups of students or the class as a whole, and I'm painfully conscious of my words when ever I do so. I've taught myself all the different forms of vosotros, but it will still be a while before they are ingrained into my head the way the rest of the verbs are. The chant in my head is still "soy, eres, es, somos, son" when it should really be "soy, eres, es somos, sois, son."

A plea to Spanish teachers all around the world: please teach your students vosotros. They just might find themselves in Spain some day.


  1. Good post! I remember our high school teachers being all "do y´all think you´ll go to Spain someday? Because if you do I will totally teach you vosotros." And of course we are all like NO WAY we only want to go to Latin America! Also we are high school students so easier is better!

    Note to high school teachers: fifteen year olds don´t know what they want or where they´ll move when they´re 24. Teach them vosotros.

  2. I was born and raised in Spain, full blood Spanish. I went to school and I learnt British English, I went to university to become an English teacher and we learnt British English, then I moved to England one year and later on I moved to Louisiana, USA, for two years. Imagine my shock when I got there and for the first month I couldn´t understand anything at all. They swallow the letters, they said "shrimp" instead of "prawn", etc, etc. I thought all my years of learning English was a waste of time.
    I was a Spanish teacher over there in kindergarten, 1st and 2nd Grade. Before me, there was a Mexican teacher who taught them the colours as "anaranjado, rosado, café" or things like "carro, computadora, tickete, etc". I understood there are more than one way to learn Spanish so I told them both ways were right.
    And I also understood we, Spaniards from Spain, are the only ones who speak that kind of Spanish. There are 21 countries that speak Spanish in the world (plus old colonies as the Philippines) and we are the only ones who say "boligrafo" instead of "pluma", "coche" instead of "carro" and so on. So I can accept that the Spanish you learnt in the USA was Latin-American Spanish. It´s understandable if you take in account what kind of inmigrants you have, which what kind of countries you export and import and also, how many amecicans cross the Atlantic Ocean to come to Europe in their lives, not many. Sad, I know, but it´s the truth.
    I think the language is the same, the base has to be the same, grammar and all that but they didn´t lie to you, they just taught you only one Spanish. So now you have the opportunity to enrich your Spanish, you are lucky, you have both kinds of Spanish and I´m sure when you will go to Latin-America you will be grateful. :)

  3. Amy! I love this post! My "Spanish" experience here has been SO similar! Thanks for capturing it "on paper" - when others of us have not! ;)