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El Acento Andaluz-Part 2

Sarah Matthews Guest Blogger BA Spanish and Business Management at the University of Manchester
To continue on from my previous, language-themed post on Monday, today I’m going to focus on misunderstandings and real experiences of Malagueño (from the Malaga region) words and phrases. After having invested a lot of time learning the intricacies of Spanish, when I arrived here I found that I didn’t know much slang or everyday Spanish phrases. We take expressions like “How are you doing?” for granted, especially when they are used regularly but are not semantically correct – like, for example, “What’s up?” We also forget how many metaphors and similes we use on a daily basis. Soon after my arrival, my boss handed me a book called Streetwise Spanish by Peter Christian. This book had been sent in to the office to be reviewed, but instead it has become my poolside bible over the last seven weeks. As the title suggests, it is full to the brim with authentic, local Spanish language secrets and practical insights into the Hispanic culture. While books like this are a brilliant way to learn a small selection of phrases, I am also constantly picking up new trucos (tricks) by listening in to conversations at work. For any guiri (foreigner) learning Spanish, challenges such as idioms and metaphors can present a variety of problems, so I’d like to share with you a few of my own experiences as well as some from my colleagues. I live in a flat in Estepona with an English friend who is also her on her year abroad learning Spanish, so we try to speak Spanish to each other as often as possible - or in fact in Spanglish - especially in public situations, like at the pool. Surrounded by Spanish families, we want to prove we’re not just tourists and are trying our hardest to learn the lingo. We even chat to the children, or at least try to do so. It ends up more as a theatrical production, as we try to act out words we are unsure of, like ‘dive’, to explain what we mean, and we have had plenty of funny looks as we attempt to communicate. In fact, we are finding that it is actually easier to understand the children than their parents. It’s probably because of the simple sentence structure employed by the average five-year-old, and the fact that they don’t use (or know) any of those confusing sayings or metaphors yet. In the office, it is a different game altogether. With phrases muy andaluz like que malapipa tienes, which is directed at someone who doesn’t laugh at jokes or is grumpy, or estirar la pata, which directly translated means ‘to stretch the leg (of an animal)’, the equivalent being ‘to kick the bucket’, things become a lot trickier. As a learner, you have to get past the fear that you are an annoyance by asking ‘What does that mean?’ all of the time. You will make some mistakes but don’t worry, ‘it’s all part of the learning curve’, or so they keep telling me. A howler that many guiris make (including one in this office) is the difference between estar caliente and ‘ser caliente’. The first is used to describe something hot in temperature like food or a plate, but the latter should be used with extreme caution and only intimately…if you haven’t made this mistake already, I’ll leave you to figure it out for yourself. Moving on, I’ve also discovered that, as in England, some phrases are region-specific. When reading Streetwise Spanish with an Andalucian colleague, it was interesting to see how many phrases she didn’t understand or had never heard of. La senda de elefantes or ‘bar crawl’ is simply ir de ruta in Andalucia. I think my enthusiasm to learn a foreign language comes from each one’s own individual peculiarities. Without them, the world would be a much duller place, and since language is formed by the people that use it, new phrases are always popping up. So next time you misunderstand a sentence completely, remember that language is never static, but instead it is continuously shifting, changing and readapting to developments in popular culture, media and technology. As I mentioned above, even some Spaniards might be ignorant of a certain phrase. Here are a few more Andalucian sayings for you to mull over: tiene más peligro que un indio detrás de una mata más lento que el caballo del malo eramos pocos y parió la abuela picando billetes tener más miedo que vergüenza tener más salidas que el cordobés el vivo al bollo y el muerto al hoyo
Blog published on 12 August 2010