Spanish, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.
Like everyone studying a new language, I have to do some mental work-arounds to understand the language as it relates to my mother tongue, English. For example, in English we have the phrase, “It’s raining.”
But irf you think about that phrase for more than two seconds, you’re going to have questions. Like, what is “It”? Is it the sky? Is it the clouds? Is it weather in general?
In Spanish there’s a similar construction, “Está lloviendo/hace lluvia,” or “[It’s] raining – [It] makes/does rain.” The It here is a bit unusual, because Spanish doesn’t really have a genderless pronoun, meaning It in this case is probably a male noun or a female noun.
Spanish gets complicated.
But if you’re learning Spanish, you might find these gripes a bit familiar. And who knows, maybe they have answers? I know for English, questioning why Moose and Goose have unusual plural forms does have an answer (their language origins), so chances are there’s some answers for these Spanish quirks. If you’ve got the answer, drop me a line in the comments. For now, here’s some language gripes I have with Spanish. Please be aware, lots of language nerdiness to come.
- Just make “Agua” masculine! It makes no sense to me that Agua, or water, is a feminine word that doesn’t work as a feminine word. As a primer, in Spanish, nouns are masculine or feminine. For the most part, if a word ends in an O, it’s masculine, if it ends in an A, it’s feminine (it gets wayyyy more complicated than this, but it’s the basics). But in practice, it’s weird in Spanish to say “La agua,” just try saying it now. It’s weird to hold your mouth open for back to back vowel sounds, so Spanish’s compromise is to make the article for agua masculine, thus “El agua.”
- This bothered me when I first started learning Spanish, but it reared it’s ugly head again here in Spain when I saw a sign for bottled water, “Agua fria!”, “cold water.” The adjective fria is agreeing with the feminine noun, agua. I asked my homestay mom, Carmen, about this, and she said, “Well the full sentence is, ‘El agua está fria.'” Sure. Yep. Totally.
- It’s not like there’s no precedent for a word like agua being masculine, there’s lots of words that you have to commit to memory that do not follow the O/A formula (many Greek loan words in Spanish, for example (poema/poem, clima/weather, problema/problem, idioma/language, drama/drama, sistema/system, programa/program) are masculine)). Do it, Spanish, just do it.
- Why does cariño have only one gender? Nouns in Spanish have one of two genders….. but not always. Cariño means sweetheart. I first heard this word when a waiter called me this not thinking I knew what it meant (I didn’t, but I recognized it as a word that denotes affection, because it is in Portuguese). But it occurred to me, why is it not cariña? You see, nouns change depending on the gender and number of things you’re talking about, so if you’re talking about Me, you’d modify your noun to be feminine because I’m a lady. We do the same in English sometimes, with Actor/Actress, for example. Spanish is pretty consistent about it… usually.
- Basic things that don’t make much sense but you just have to REMEMBER: Like I said before, when studying a new language, I have to associate new concepts with things I already know as an adult. It isn’t always the best thing to do, because for example, phrases in English might not exist in Spanish and vice versa, but I have to remember them regardless. The other day, I was having a particularly tough time with the phrase, “Hace muchos años…” It means, “It’s been many years / many years ago,” except it doesn’t really. For some reason, my brain wasn’t making the connection, and I never really felt like I was using it properly. It felt alien on my tongue, and mostly because I was translating it, “It makes many years.”
This is one of the hard parts of learning a language, it’s the difference between fluent and native. These tiny phrases pile up fast, and if you try to translate things you’ll sound foreign. One my favorite Family Guy jokes refers to this phenomenon with two “foreign guys” who almost sound American.
Okay, that’s enough for now. I have far many more gripes, but I think I’ll just dole them out over time.
I’m still trying to figure out a schedule while I’m here. I’m slowly building up an arsenal of Spanish language media to consume- movies, Youtube channels, podcasts and so on. I’m also trying to figure out if I should continue studying Portuguese on the side, I don’t want to forget it nor do I want to get as rusty as my Spanish. I don’t know! But I’m going to commit to a stricter plan once I start working to counteract all the English I’ll be speaking at school.
If you’re learning Spanish, what are some things that annoy you about the process? Share your gripes!