Okay. So it's been about three weeks? Four weeks? I'm losing track. But in the time that I've been here, I can already tell that I'm learning more and more Spanish every day. However, you know what they say: "You learn from your mistakes." If this saying is true, then I should be a master at Spanish by now, because with these three or four or however-many weeks, I've made quite a few fantastic fumbles. So today, I'd like to share with you five of the follies for which I've fallen in the past four fantastic but failure-filled weeks:
1: "Two by Two" or "Like a Polaroid Picture"
One of my biggest problems when speaking Spanish (and occasionally in English) is that I will confuse two words that sound very similar. For example, one when I was describing a situation from my Traditional Dances of Chile class to one of my Chilean friends, I wanted to tell her that we all had to get into pairs for a dance we'd learned. However, the word "pareja" meaning "pair" has slipped my mind and had been replaced by "pájaro"...meaning bird. So I told her that we all got into birds and started the dance. When talking with the same friend, later in that conversation, I was trying to ask what the word "shimmy" was in Spanish. She didn't recognize the English word, so I tried to explain in Spanish that "It's when you shake a part of your body. Like when you shake your shoulders" However, "hombros," the Spanish word for shoulders, is quite similar to "hombres" the Spanish word for men. So I explained that "It's when you shake your body. Like if you shake your men." Of course she thought this was hilarious and asked if it was common in the U.S. to get into birds and shake men.
2: "Greener Please!"
The following is not a problem I have with Spanish, but with the Chilean accent in Spanish. The language is more or less the same as what is taught in America (though with a few different words here and there), but understanding Chileans is especially difficult because they speak very fast and very slurred. It's not uncommon in the Chilean accent to drop final syllables of words or to take an "s" in the middle of a word and exchange it for a short exhalation (which may or may not be audible). This is what I assumed happened when one day my host mother asked if I could pick up some bananas on the way back from class. I agreed I would and then she added what I thought was"Necesitas comprar bananas mas duro." Translation: You need to buy harder bananas. This made sense, I thought since if you didn't want to eat them for some time it would be better to get greener ones so that they don't spoil right away. On my way back from class, I stopped by the market near my metro stop and bought one thousand pesos (about $2 USD) worth of the greenest bananas they had. When I got home and presented the verdant fruits to my host mom she gave me a strange look. "No te dije que necesitas comprar bananas mas duro?" (Didn't I tell you to buy harder bananas?) "Sí," I responded, "Pero esos fueron todo que tendieron." (Yes, but these were all they had). "Ah ya. Pues, la próxima vez compras unos mas duro." (Ah yes. Well, next time buy harder ones.) I was confused at this point. These were pretty hard and pretty green as well. So I asked, a little astounded "¿¿Más verde??" Then I realized what she'd been saying when she repeated it again, "No. Maduro!" Maduro means mature or ripe. I can't say that mistake is totally my fault since their accent does set the precedent for such errors to be made. Still, it was a rather humbling moment.
3: "You trust them how much??"
Some of our idioms in the U.S. carry over to other countries. Some do not. Occasionally I'd been trying some out in Spanish to see what did and did not translate. I don't do that anymore. Not since I once said, "I trust him about as far as I can throw him" (though the translation was probably much rougher). But then I learned. You don't say that. You just don't. "To throw someone" apparently means something ENTIRELY different here in Chile. Entirely different. I've stopped testing our phrases against theirs in common conversation now.
4: "Do you happen to have an artichoke?"
Sometimes, even I've learned that I confuse some words, the words keep mixing themselves up in my mind. "Enchufe" and "alcachofa" are two that do this for me still. I know that enchufe means outlet or plug-in. I also know that alcachofa means artichoke. That still hasn't seemed to stop me from embarrassing myself when asking café workers if there's an artichoke I can use for my computer.
5: "All in the family..."
Okay. This is one of the first mistakes that I made while speaking with my host family. And it's a big one. We were sitting around the table and they were asking me basic questions. Where am I from. Where do I go to school. What am I studying. Then someone asked how big my family is. I was trying to explain that there were five people, me, my parents, and one brother and one sister, so I said, "5 personas. Mi madre y padre, y una hija y un hijo"
"¿Hijos?" My host mother asked
"¿De tú?" asked my host brother. (Yours?)
"Claro que sí. Son mis hijos" (Of course. They are mine.)
I was fairly confused at this point, but so were they. Until my host mom repeated, more emphatically:
Then it hit me. Hijos means children. Not siblings. Hermanos are siblings.
"NO!! No! Hermanos! Una hermana y un hermano!"
Everyone laghed. I did too, though more uncomfortably than the others.
Aaaand that was how I met my host family. Good first impression, I think. Just a 20 year old with two kids who he's willing to leave for 5 and a half months. Glad that one got cleared up.
Anyway, this has been a fairly common occurrence in my life in the past 3-4 weeks and I've been trying to keep track of the best (and worst) mistakes I can find from both myself and from others. It's reassuring when I talk with some of my other foreign friends and find out that they've been making similar mistakes. Like what I'm doing isn't so dumb, and is just a natural part of the process. However natural and normal it may be, I hope this phase doesn't last for too much longer since I'm starting to worry what might unwittingly come out of my mouth next.