Random thoughts on Language

I realized when looking through the archives that I haven’t written much about language. Since then, I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts on the subject and have had a difficult time trying to stay coherent, so bear with me.

While we have friends who speak English, almost all of our social activities take place in Spanish. I am really grateful for this, as it provides me with a relaxed place where I can try to explain myself to friendly people and practice, practice, practice.

I still have moments when trying to tell complicated stories when I see people’s faces go blank and I realize that I’m not making sense and I’ve lost them.

I try really hard to speak Spanish with Adolfo when we are out in public, because I want people to hear me speaking Spanish and I want them to speak to me in Spanish. In fact, it makes me feel a confusing combination of uncomfortable and at ease to be out in public speaking English. At ease, because I’m speaking in my native language and uncomfortable, because I want the people around me to know that I speak Spanish.

Last week, we went to a panel discussion about the U.S. government’s point of view about migration from Mexico (the Consul General spoke). I felt proud and terrified that I was able to stand up during the question and answer period and tell the guy, in Spanish, that I thought he had no idea what he was talking about (in the nicest possible way).

A woman approached me after the discussion to ask if I would be willing to be interviewed about migration on her radio show on the university’s radio station. We exchanged e-mail addresses. (Now that will be terrifying, if it happens.)

I am still petrified of the phone and am going to have to start answering the phone at work next week.

I’m learning more Mexicanisms, and I really like the phrase “sacada de onda” which has a literal translation of “taken out of, or removed from, the wave.” It means: shocked or stunned. Mexicans are really fond of the wave, using such phrases as, “que onda?” as a greeting, like “how’s the wave?” which really means something more like “what’s up?” The onda can be loosely translated as the happenings or the theme.

I’m still not comfortable enough in my Spanish to say “Órale” or “Mande” which are both very Mexican words.

Órale is an affirmative word used to agree with someone or to signify that something is impressive. Órale is also a stereotype-inducing word and me using the word Órale is probably something akin to a foreigner in Texas saying y’all. People would notice and not for the best reason.

Mande is a response like “What?” except that it comes from a root word, which is related to the English word Mandate. Mande, literally is a request for the other person to mandate something, or to order them to do something. In other Spanish-speaking countries, mande is a word used by servants asking to be ordered to do something. In Mexico, mande has lost that boss-servant connotation, but for those of us who learned Spanish outside of Mexico, it is very difficult to un-learn these lessons.

7 Responses to “Random thoughts on Language”

  1. aj burke Says:

    Ok, 1. What did the guy say that you needed to correct him on?
    2. What did you say to him?
    3. Do they say ‘Dime’ in Mexico? (‘Tell me.’)…That’s the super-typical Chilean greeting when you walk into a place of business. No ‘hello’, etc., just “What do you want?” I always found that very pressuring. I can’t tell you what I want – I just got here!! Let me look around!! 😯

  2. Paul Says:

    I envy your experiences with the language. We natives who remain natives don’t ever get to experience what you are. Even if we travel into a foreign country and test our lingual skills, we don’t get to really experience the people like you can only do through their language and these little nuances. Even in Wales, where they speak primarily english, I felt cheated when we were in northern Wales where they still speak Welsh. So you go girl, and play around with your colloquialisms.

    What’s the latest on the bus survey?

  3. aj burke Says:

    Also, I want you to blog on your office experience in Mex. v. office life in the U.S. I’m very interested in those observations.

  4. deeb Says:

    Thanks Paul! I had several bus rides lately where I had to cram myself into the back door, so there was no chance of checking out the iconography.

    AJ – They do say ‘dime’, but not so much as a greeting. I’m not going to write about my job here, so you will just have to call me to find out about the differences.

  5. aj burke Says:

    Are you at least going to tell us how you slammed the Consul General?

    You could write up one of those ol’-fashioned “E-MAILS” and tell us about your office experiences…?

  6. xrudrax Says:

    Hi, I speak spanish, and I wanna learn English too…

    Saludos desde Chile!

  7. deeb Says:

    AJ – if you connect I’ll be happy to tell you all about these things.

    (And, calm down, don’t be so aggressive.)

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