Whoever said learning a foreign language was easy should be shot.
Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but still. The thought always crosses my mind when I make a giant mistake in Spanish, usually in public, as my face burns red with humiliation. “Did I really just call that girl a frog?” or “did I really just order a dick sandwich?”
It happens. Learning a new language is always trickier, harder, and usually more embarrassing than one expects when they put “learn French” on their New Year’s Resolutions.
In my case, I’ve been learning Spanish for just over a decade, and I’ve been traveling and living around Spain for the past 5 years. Am I fluent? Más o menos.
But before I even open my mouth, no one is ever going to mistake me for a native speaker (bright blonde hair, green eyes, big white teeth that I always show off and a penchant for wearing flip flops and athletic shorts). Even now when I say “I’m fluent,” I know I still sound foreign and make mistakes. Part (all) of it is pure laziness on my part. I can understand everything (more or less) and I can always say what I need to say, minus an incident on a bus after San Fermín in Pamplona where I was too hungover to form a coherent word. Learning Spanish is an ongoing process. It never ends. There is always some new mistake to be made and something new to learn.
The best way to learn a language is to go live (even for a short while) in the country where they speak it. For me and for a lot of you, that would be Spain.
Spain Spanish is nothing like the tex-mex Spanish they teach us in the States. We don’t say ándale here and I can’t remember the last time I used the formal “you” usted or ustedes (maybe I’m just rude). People eat tortilla de patata here, not corn tortillas or tacos. Burritos are small donkeys, not a tasty budget dinner option.
But don’t worry, youngins. It won’t happen overnight but if you make a conscious effort to hang out with locals, get to know your teachers, and force yourself to speak as much Spanish as possible, you’ll improve. Accept that you will make mistakes and move on. Accept you will say at least one truly embarrassing thing, and learn from it.
And don’t fret (ladies) about finding a Spanish lover to help you practice either. Over three years here and a slew of dates, mistakes and novios españoles, but mostly single, and I think I speak Spanish just as well as many of my friends who are in committed bilingual relationships.
But you aren’t here to read about my international love affairs, cough cough, catastrophes (or are you?). You want to hear the ridiculous mistakes I’ve made to make sure you don’t repeat them, am I right?
So here you go, some of the things I have learned NOT to say in Spanish, what are yours? Got any embarrassing things to add? Leave a comment and I’ll put them on the list! (don’t worry, you can stay anonymous if you want)
What do you think this word means at first glance? Here’s a hint; it’s NOT embarrassed. This is probably the classic mistake English speakers make in Spanish. Embarazada means “pregnant.” If you want to say you’re embarrassed or something embarrassed you in Spain, we say me da vergüenza. Write that down, you’ll need it later if you forget some of these ones.
Actually this is usually the other way around, when Spanish speakers learn English. Estoy constipada in Spanish means I have a cold or I am stuffed up (in the head haha). However, how many years later in Spain, and I still cannot bring myself to say constipada to a pharmacist with a straight face. So mature.
Ok, elementary Spanish, we learn that words that end in “o” are usually masculine and ones that end in “a” are feminine. Easy peasy. However, when you are in a foreign country and you are thinking on your feet, it can be a whole lot trickier to keep those endings straight in your head. Most of the time, people understand you, nbd. However there are a few instances where you really need to be careful. Pollo is chicken, however, polla is something entirely different (read here). Make sure you remember this at 5am when you are drunkenly ordering a chicken kebab, otherwise it can lead to some pretty awkward moments.
The same goes for zorro, which means “fox” in Spanish. But just a little twitch and putting an “a” on the end gets you a whole new word: a fantastic cross between “bitch” and “whore.”
Pecho is breast or chest of people, not animals, so if you want to order chicken breast, it’s pechuga de pollo, NOT pecho de pollo, chicken boobies. It’s the little things. Don’t want to start off on bad terms with your local butcher.
When Americans come to Spain, one of the first things they do is hit up the crazy night life here. Tons of bars and clubs where you can drink and dance til dawn, Spain has a plethora of night spots to chose from. However, once you have finished at the bars and you want to go get your dance on, you head out to the club. Except dance clubs in Spanish are discotecas or discos. To put it mildly, a club in Spanish is usually a whorehouse on the side of the highway aka puti club. Stick to disco and you won’t have any issues.
7. Estoy caliente
One of the biggest problems where Spanish and English differentiate is when you cannot translate word for word. Many times you can get pretty close, but a lot of words in English that use the verb “to be” in Spanish use “to have.” The most hilarious example? Man, it’s really hot outside (this happens a lot in Spain), and you want to say, “damn, I’m hot, I want a cold beer.” In Spanish, we say joder, tengo calor, quiero una cerveza fría. Literally we say in Spanish “I have heat.” If you translate it literally, it’s estoy caliente, and well, that’s referring to hot of a whole other kind, you know…seeeeeexual.
This one isn’t bad or embarrassing. Rather I just find it baffling! In Spain billón doesn’t mean billion like we know it in the US, it means trillion. 1,000,000,000,000 for me is 1 trillion but in Spain it’s billón. So confusing, can someone please explain?
This one is another false friend in Spanish. It does NOT mean preservatives, like in food. Preservativos are condoms. That’s right, condoms, rubbers, a raincoat (really, urban dictionary?) Remember that the next time you want to know if a food has certain preservatives in it (conservantes).
This just goes to show you that even the pros like me (just kidding!) still make dumb mistakes and are always learning. Nowadays, one way I consciously attempt to improve is to try to use new vocab words I hear my Spanish friends say. It usually works about 95% of the time, but man, that 5% where I completely eff up is so embarrassing!
The other day in class, I was trying to explain that this girl I know is like a total pig, really gross, eats like a pig. I’ve heard many of my students call each other marrano, meaning like a pig, so I thought I’d go ahead and whip out a new vocab word. However, I thought they were saying más rana, because the double “r’s” and then a word that begins with an “r” in Spanish are both trilled. Basically I called her a frog instead of a pig and my friends will never let me forget it.
Written by Liz and was published on September 12, 2012 in Learning Spanish, Living in Spain, Moving to Spain, Spain and tagged in auxiliares de conversación, funny spanish mistakes, language learning, language mistakes, learning spanish, Spain, spanish
Writing an Essay
8 Steps of Essay Writing
- 1) Understand the Title/Question
- Read the essay question carefully.
- Pay special attention to the verbs used in the question, as they require specific approaches when answering the question.
- If there is more than one part to the question, break the question up and be sure to answer each section accordingly.
2) Get Organised
Get organised early on!
◦ When is the deadline?
◦ Create a timeline: work backwards from the deadline, allow for editing, revision and unexpected developments.
Gain an overview of the subject matter.
◦ Use your notes as a starting point!
Do a search for relevant literature to see how much material is available.
◦ Be selective! Students often go overboard on researching and never get around to writing.
Critically read the information you select, evaluating the relevance and validity.
◦ Remember to keep track of all references and to always note which ideas are your own and which are the author’s.
4) Plan Your Essay
Using the essay question as a guide, make a skeletal outline or mind-map of your essay.
◦ List the key points you want to address in each section.
Write one topic sentence per paragraph to sum up the main argument of what you are about to make.
Always refer to the plan as you write!
5) Start Writing
Never start with the introduction!
◦ Begin with the first paragraph instead.
Make approximately three key points; one point per paragraph.
Create a well-structured and coherent argument by sticking to the ideas outlined in your essay plan.
Always reference as you write, in order to avoid any problems later!
5.1) Main Body
Be selective about the material you include.
Demonstrate that you have:
◦ Conducted research, allowing you to reach an adequate understanding of the topic and then used these sources to develop your insights.
◦ Supported your argument(s) by including evidence and relevant examples.
5.1.1) Make a Strong Argument
Take a stance and argue for a particular point of view.
◦ Simply reeling off information will not do the trick; support your argument.
◦ Include irrelevant information; it will cloud your argument and convince your lecturer that you don’t actually know what you’re talking about!
5.1.2) Be Clear & Structured
- Wants points explained clearly and simply.
- Does not want to re-read your work to find the argument; therefore make it obvious and arrange it in a logical and persuasive manner. .
- Does not want ambiguity, otherwise s/he will assume you don't understand the topic and/or your own argument. Subsequently, the connections between each stage of your argument and the original question should be evident throughout.
A good introductory paragraph identifies the topic, sets a direction and, awakens some interest.
The Purpose of the Introduction
- To convey the subject matter of the paper
- To imply the structure and line of reasoning
- To clearly state your proposed argument
- Worded slightly differently to the introduction, the conclusion ‘wraps up’ an essay.
- Touch upon the key points of the essay.
- Summarise the argument.
- Be sure that the conclusion sounds confident.
- Introduce new information.
- Qualify your conclusion with ‘buts’ or ‘maybes’; these will weaken your argument.
6) Revision of Draft
- Reread the draft aloud.
- Cut out any unnecessary words or paragraphs that don’t fit the purpose of the essay.
- Rearrange your essay so that the writing and argument flows logically.
- Be critical; look at words and phrases, check grammar and spelling, and avoid ambiguity.
- Stick to the word limit (Leeway of 10% of the total word limit allowed).
- Finally, check the presentation of your work.
A percentage of marks are allocated for spelling, punctuation and grammar.
◦ Always use spell check.
◦ If you are unsure of a word, look it up!
◦ If you tend to repeat the same words or phrases, check the thesaurus for synonyms.
◦ If a green line appears under a sentence in Microsoft Word; rephrase it!
◦ Review rules of capitalisation.
Ask a trusted friend or family member to proofread your work.
- Does the essay answer the question that was set?
- Does it cover all the main aspects in sufficient depth?
- Is the content accurate and relevant?
- Is the material logically arranged?
- Is each main point well supported by examples and evidence?
- Is it written plainly and simply, without clumsy or obscure phrasing?
- Is there any repetition?
- Are the grammar, punctuation and spelling acceptable?
- Do you acknowledge all sources and references?
- How persuasive are your conclusions?
8) Review Feedback
◦ When you get your essay back, make sure you know why you received the mark you did!
◦ Read the comments and ask the lecturer to explain any comments you don’t understand.
◦ Examine how you can improve for your next writing assignment.
◦ Make a list of mistakes you made in this essay and review it before you write your next essay to ensure that you don’t make the same mistakes twice!
Academic Writing Skills
Academic Writing Skills
- Dos & Don’ts of Essay Writing
- When Writing Use:
- Formal Language
◦ Passive voice
◦ Advanced vocabulary
◦ Linking words such as; consequently, conversely, etc.
◦ Complex sentences
◦ Quotations and paraphrases
◦ First/ly, second/ly, etc. (be consistent)
- Topic sentences
◦ Introduce the main idea of each paragraph.
- Pay Attention to:
◦ Ideally three main paragraphs (+ introduction & conclusion – both of which to be written at the end).
◦ Separate Paragraphs by a line shift or indent, Not both.
- Do Not Use:
- Informal/colloquial language
- Contractions (don’t, won’t isn’t, etc.)
- Emotional Language (“I absolutely detest…”)
- Strong language (“I know” - instead use “it feels to me that...”)
- Clichés (“The writing on the wall…”)
- Personal examples (When I was young...”)