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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Spanish - The Difference a Letter Makes

I first learned Spanish when I was in the 8th grade, junior high, in the little country town of Port Angeles, WA, back in 19 (muffle, muffle).  I kept questioning (which I did a lot of later in life) WHYYY am I learning Spanish when there isn't a single Spanish person around for at least a hundred miles??  Where and when would I ever use it?  Likewise, other students opted for French or German.   The use of those would be even FURTHER away!!!

Years later, when I was 18, I moved to San Diego which is right on the Mexican border.  I began using my Spanish, what I remembered of it, working in the hotel and restaurant industry.   But, I got off to a bad start when I pronouced a co-workers name as Jesus (Gee-zus) instead of Jesus (Hay-zus).

My Spanish in the ensuing years was pretty rudimentary.   'Mas frijoles por favor' (more beans please), 'Dos margaritas por favor' (2 margaritas please), 'Donde esta el bano?' (where is the bathroom?), and '!@#$@$' (^## (#&*(@+)  (expletives I won't go into here).

Fast forward many, many more years when I purchased some Spanish lesson CD's at Costco in preparation for my trip to Panama, and later that year to Cuenca.    The CD's were tedious and I didn't have the attention span to study (my sister inherited that talent...not us brothers).    But, I was able to re-load old memory disks long collecting dust in my brain and revived some of the knowledge I learned lo' those many years ago.

Slowly but surely, I have expanded my vocabulary....a little more every day.  Right after I arrived in Cuenca and took possession of my newly purchased house, I launched in to remodelling (which you would KNOW if you've been reading my prior blogs!!).   NONE of the workers spoke a word of English.   So, I was forced to use what I knew, body language, and the good ol' internet and it all worked out very well.   As I roamed about the city, I would see some of the same words or phrases repeated.  I would try to remember them so when I came home I'd enter them into Google Translate to see what they mean.  Also, if I was in a wi-fi area, I could connect using my cell phone and look up words on the spot, like at a restaurant if I didn't know an item on the menu.     Coupled with english-speaking Ecuadorian friends who'd help me out and my asking 'Como se dice....pointing to an item such as a bathtub?' (translation 'How do you say.....?') and the person I asked would respond 'TINA!!' very loudly thinking I'm also deaf...my Spanish-speaking skills continued to grow daily.

Finally, I decided to enroll in Spanish classes as a result of a promotional offer for free classes for the first week.   Though I know a lot of words, I don't always know how to assemble a complete sentence AND use the proper tense, etc.  There were only 2 of us in the 'class' to the 1 teacher who was great.  My classmate sorta annoyed me as she kinda hogged a lot of time.  After a week, I decided I would enroll in a different time slot....which I have yet to do.

Now you're up to date on my Spanish capabilities and history.   Let me share with you some of the idiosyncracies of the language.  There are soooooo many rules, just like there is (are?) in English.  If you tried to teach English to someone, you'd probably get stumped over and over when asked 'why?'....because who remembers the rules WHY...we just know HOW

Trying to learn all the rules in Spanish....feminine vs masculine ('a' ending vs 'o' ending), past tense vs present, modifying the base word based on pronouns (he, she, I, we, they), and those gawd-awful rules that conflict with what you were first told, is mind-boggling to say the least.

Example:   If 'Esposo' = Husband (ends in 'o'...masculine), and 'Esposa' = Wife (ends in 'a'...feminine), then when you read text referencing 'Esposos', wouldn't you think that's a gay couple of two men?   WRONG!!!  EHHHHHH!!!!  (bad buzzer).   It means a 'couple'.  Couldn't they have come up with a word like 'Esposoas'?   Then what ARE the words for two men in a relationship, or two women in a relationship?  I dunno.

To make matters more challenging is the verrrrry slightest of difference between two words, let's say just one letter, can mean a world of difference in the resulting meaning.   Be vehwy, vehwy careful!!!!
  • Vieja = old woman, Viaje = trip
  • Caro = expensive, Carro = Car
  • Casado = married, Cansado = tired (don't make the mistake of saying 'I'm very married')
  • Venga a mi casa = Come to my house, Verga = (starts with 'c' and ends with 'k'...another word for penis).  (You don't want to run around town saying 'verga' 'verga' 'verga' when you meant 'venga' 'venga' 'venga'!!!)
  • Fuera = outside, Fuerte = strong
  • Pero = but, Perro = dog
  • Por Que? = why?, Porque = because
  • Cuando? = when? = Cuanto = how much?
  • Cuarto = room, Cuatro = 4
  • Ciudad = city, Cuidad = care
  • Jugo = juice, Juego = game
  • Lave = wash, Llave = key
You get the point....

Then, there's the same words that have a different meaning depending on the context (like our 'cool' (temp) and 'cool' (nifty).
  • Escalera = stairs, or ladder
  • Cafe = cafe/restaurant, or brown
And, of course, there are multiple words you can use to say the same thing.   But, which one do you choose?  There are RULES!!!
  • 'El' vs 'La' (the)....based on whether it is masculine or feminine.  If you want to say 'the building', you must know if it is a masculine building or a feminine building.   HUH?   So, if it's a pink building it's 'La Edificio' and if it's blue it's 'El Edificio'?????   ARRGGHHHH!!!!
  • 'Su' vs 'Tu' (you)...based on whether it's informal or formal (I'm not going there)
  • 'Saber' vs 'Conocer' (to know)...based on whether it's intellectual knowledge or knowing the building is pink
  • 'Pequeno' vs 'Poquito' (small)....based on whether it is size or quantity.

So, if you're wondering why I'm not flatulant in Spanish yet, just think about all these rules one has to know.  And, ask yourself if you can answer the question 'In English, what are the rules to determine when it is proper to use 'me' and 'I'?'.  HA!!!   Ain't easy is it?


  1. Great post, Dan. You hit the nail right on the head to the nth degree, but I keep struggling along and I'm sure you do too. Won't it be interesting to see how far along we have come with the language a year from now.

  2. Hello Dan,
    Have just discovered your blog, well it must have been a couple of hours ago by now :)

    I will return to read more, and to look at all your renovation adventures. Meantime wonder if you might share the name of your Spanish teacher and that school with a wonderful promotional offer :)

    And, as the person for whom English is not the first language, may I suggest that you do NOT get stuck on the rules and difficulties. Instead, concentrate on all the words you know, even though in a different pronunciation. Count your blessings, because you are in Ecuador, rather than in China or Russia :)

    Best luck with your bathroom and thanks for a wonderful blog !

    IdeaMerchant at gmail.com

  3. Hello Dan,
    I am Erika from TravelerVoice, a new social network for travel bloggers.

    I just found your blog and I really like how you described your stories in Ecuador with beautiful pictures and assertive comments! It's exactly the kind of writing we are looking for our Living abroad section, please feel free to register :)

    I am looking forward to hearing from you :)



  4. By the way esposas are handcuffs.
    The rule about whether a group is masculine and feminine is this. If everything in the group is feminine such as 2 or more female cats(gata). then the group is feminine gatas no matter how many females in the bunch introduce one male and the entire group become masculine. So 101 female cats and one tom becomes 102 gatos. I think of it as one drop of testosterone poisons the whole batch and turns it masculine...
    I always have trouble with el agua, el clima, el problema..for obvious reasons I sometimes say La problema....


  5. I know this blog entry is from October, but I just wanted to let you know about a wonderful Spanish course I found online, called Fluenz. I like it a lot. They have the course set up in social situations. One is in a restaurant teaching you to order food and drink. One is in a taxi cab having a conversation with the driver. One is in a business environment, one is in a hotel and so on... It's a great course and you can do their first class online at their site before you decide to buy anything. I bought it to teach myself Spanish before we visit Cuenca. :) You can see it at Fluenz.com if you're interested.

    Loved this entry, BTW. I know EXACTLY what you're talking about. English is just as bad, if not worse though. I admire people who learn English as a second language because it's soooooooooo difficult to grasp all the nuances of it.

  6. I have a Mexican daughter-in-law and she does so much better in English (although she struggles) than we do in Spanish. All of us try very hard and learn much but it is never enough.

    Check out my website on Retiring in Mexico and my observations. It is not an on the spot observation due to the fact that I am not retired yet therefore am unable to go and live in Mexico for the time being.

    Full disclosure: My website is geared mostly for writers and helps and incentives for writers but there is a lot of other useful information which I continually update. Give it a try:



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About Me

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Palma, Mallorca, Spain
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Spain, in the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca in the middle of the Mediterranean sea!! I moved from the USA to Cuenca, Ecuador, South America and lived there for 7 years before moving here to Spain in early 2018. To read about my adventures in Ecuador, check out my other blog "Ahhh Cuenca!!". I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live in Europe....across the pond.

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