Lost in translation?


Luisa Gomez
Luisa Gomez

Learning a second language is a very difficult task. The pronunciation and the subtleties of the English language may seem daunting to a native Spanish-speaker. Even though I was a school-aged youngs- ter when I learned English, I encountered many challenges in the process.
I also experienced some very amusing language fiascos as you will learn in the next few paragraphs.
Diction is one of the main hurdles. For a Spanish speaker not to roll their r’s is as difficult as it is for an English speaker to do so. In my early days of learning the language, the word “squirrels” came out sounding more like “skittles”. I once wrote a story which I read out loud to my 6th grade
class: “The skittles look so pretty when they fly from tree to tree”. This elicited many laughs from my classmates who thought I was crazy to see colourful candy becoming airborne.
Then there is the letter “y” is which pronounced like a “j”. Jes, it is as true today as it was “jesterday”. To add another layer of complication the “j” is pronounced like a “y”. So do not feel shocked if you ever find your Latino friend eating “jellow yello” as opposed to yellow jello.
In the Spanish language there no such thing as a word that starts with an “s” followed by a consonant. This combination of sounds is almost impossible to master without the utmost concentration and mental preparation. As a result we “eh-stop” our cars at the red light on the “eh-street” or buy things at the store when they go on “eh-special”. I “ehspeak” the truth.
The letters “b” and “v” generate identical sounds in Latin American Spanish, so if you Latino beau or girlfriend ever admits to “Lobbying you”, don’t assume they are trying to sway you to cater to their political beliefs, they are just telling you that they are fond of you. Spanish-speaking people are also pro’s at shortening contractions. So if this same Latino boyfriend or girlfriend ever tells you “Don go” what they really mean is “don’t go”.
That “t” at the end of the word was sucked into a linguistic black hole.
As if pronunciation was not enough of a challenge on its own, there are English words that sound similar to Spanish words but have completely different meanings. When my volleyball coach told me not to get embarrassed when I ran for the ball I thought he was telling me not to get pregnant (no te embarazes). How that could happen while chasing a ball was a mystery to me.
pecesOh, but hold tight, it gets worse. The Spanish verb “molestar” means to tease or bother; a far cry from the English equivalent of “molest”. I wish I had know this when I told my sixth grade ESL teacher that Richard the class clown had been “pulling my hair and molesting me all week”. This tiny misunderstanding cost us a trip to the principal’s office with a teacher on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Once I was hanging out with a friend who wanted to eat pizza while I wanted to eat sandwiches. This boy asked if we could reach a compromise. I was taken back since in Spanish the word “compromiso” means engagement rather than meeting somebody half way as it does in English. I did not understand how we went from arguing about pizza to talking about marriage.
So if you are a native Spanish speaker trying to master the English language please remember you are not alone, and with enough perseverance you will master the new language. If you are somebody who is having a hard time understanding the accent of a native Spanish speaker, have some patience. Just imagine trying to pronounce the letter “ñ” or the word “otorrinolaringologo”. Does it roll trippingly off the tongue? I didn’t think so.

*Escritora colombiana, radicada en Bratford, Ontario.


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