El Acento Andaluz-Part 1

Sarah Matthews Guest Blogger BA Spanish and Business Management at the University of Manchester
As a student, the phrases “last-minute revision” and “rote learning” are familiar to me, but neither of these, no matter how hard you try, fit into the brief of learning a language. Knowing a language is, in my opinion, about immersion, accents and culture, and so in this post, I’d like to share my thoughts on foreign language learning. My degree, titled Modern Languages and Business Management (Spanish), devotes just three measly hours a week to tutored language learning, suggesting that the remainder of our learning is through “individual study”. This blog entry is not an excuse to whinge about my institution, but instead, to remark on how difficult it is to self-teach a language in the “wrong” country, ie one where the language you are learning is not spoken. On a personal note, the weakest part of my language attainment is grammar; I’m just not that good at it. It isn’t that I don’t understand the imperative tense or even the infamous “subjunctive mood” but, instead, my problems arise when putting them into action. To rectify this, a huge positive that comes with studying languages at many universities in Europe is the often-compulsory year abroad. I came to Spain having achieved an overall 2:1 for my second year at Manchester, but boy was I in for a shock. After five years of learning Spanish, nothing a teacher or my A*grade had taught me was going to prepare me for understanding different Spanish accents, especially that of Andalucia. As I mentioned in my first blog, my biggest challenge on arrival was deciphering el acento andaluz, and that challenge is still being addressed! I’m not alone in my view either; scholars and academics alike seem to give the intricacies of el acento andaluz more attention than any other Spanish accent. It is, perhaps, because of the drastic linguistic differences between pure Castillian Spanish, and the language as spoken in Andalucia. Although there are no actual grammatical differences between Andalusian Spanish and Castillian Spanish, the expression and pronunciation differ tremendously, which further hinders my problems. I’ll try my hardest not to make this a linguistics lesson, but here are a few examples: 1. Softer or omitted consonants; where hablado (spoken) becomes habla’o (pron: habl-ow, rhymes with “cow”) or madre (mother) becomes ma’e 2. Softer ‘c’; where Andalucia becomes Andaluthia 3. Omission or aspiration of final ‘s’ sound; las casas becomes la(h) casa(h). If you can imagine these three examples being applied in every possible daily scenario, it’s very easy to get lost in translation with simple sentences ‘¿Quie’e do(h) vaso(h) de agua?’ (¿Quieres dos vasos de agua? Do you want two glasses of water?) Not only that, but entire tenses can be changed in Spanish with just the final letter which can result in misinterpreting the whole situation! To highlight this, a friend and I were on our way to nearby shopping centre La Cañada when we both found each other ear-wigging in on the conversation behind us, trying to understand what they were talking about. After a pause in their conversation, and hearing ‘Ma’e Mia’, I turned to my friend and asked, ‘What are they talking about that’s yellow?’ my friend looked confused, ‘I thought they were talking about one of their Mums’ she replied. I had heard ‘amarillo’ meaning ‘yellow’ and my friend heard simply ‘Madre’ meaning Mother. However, as we later discovered, ‘Madre Mia’ is an expression meaning something similar to ‘My word’, or ‘Wow’ Having been here for six weeks, my ear is finally starting to become accustomed to the Andalusian accent, but now I have the issue of whether to reply in an Andalusian or Castilian accent. Going back to my original point of language learning, there is no way these variations can be taught in a classroom, where students are trying to grasp not only a whole new vocabulary but, on top of that, pronunciation skills. The only real way to ‘know’ a language is to be immersed in it, to experience it and become a part of it, not just to learn it from a book or a classroom. At least I'm on the right track, now I just have to put it all into practise.
Blog published on 9 August 2010