Forging Spanish bonds in Andalucia
Almost every afternoon after I finish classes, I walk back to my apartment, where I greet my host señora with a big smile. “Estoy terminada!” I tell her. “I’m done!” She usually laughs in response.
Only yesterday did I learn that “estoy terminada” is not a direct translation from English to Spanish (in which it would be expressing the relief that I feel upon being done with class for the day). Instead, “Estoy terminada” means “I’m (almost) dead.”
I’ve been living and studying in Granada, a small city in the south of Spain, for almost two months now, and I still make mistakes like this daily. Thankfully, there is almost always a native speaker around to help correct any grave grammatical errors (although I suspect my señora let my “estoy terminada” mistake slide for the sake of her own amusement).
My Spanish is improving—slowly and painfully—and I love every minute of it. And I believe that I owe my improvement to the fact that I’ve become more comfortable making mistakes. When I first got to Spain, I was often hesitant to share a story or an opinion because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to say it correctly in Spanish.
Now, I launch into stories before I have time to second-guess myself. Sometimes I get halfway through an anecdote and realize I don’t know a crucial word, but at that point there is no turning back.
When this happens, I find other ways to describe the word. My roommate and I had quite the time trying to describe a blueberry to our host señora (I gave her dried blueberries from Barrels as a hostess gift. Unfortunately, to her they were just tiny shriveled black balls until we were able to figure out the word “arándano”).
If describing a word doesn’t work, I usually resort to saying it in English with a Spanish accent, hoping that it is a cognate (this method can be surprisingly effective). And sometimes I find that it is easier to act things out. A couple of weeks ago, I had a stomach virus and spent the entire night throwing up. The next morning, I tried to explain to my host señora that I was sick, but I didn’t know the verb for “to vomit.” I proceeded to act it out (with sound effects), only to learn that the verb was—of course—“vomitar.”
I don’t just have to learn standard Spanish, however. I have to learn Andalucían Spanish. Andalucía is the southernmost region in Spain, and the people who live there are famous for their signature brand of Spanish. Andalucíans speak with a heavy lisp and often leave off the end of words. With this combination, words like “gracias,” in Andalucía, sound like “grathia,” and I usually have to translate words from Andalucían Spanish, to normal Spanish and then to English, in my head before I can understand them.
That being said, I now understand that “ma o me” means “más o menos,” and I am even beginning to embrace the Andalucían accent when I pronounce words. I have already perfected my “grathia,” and my “ha luego” (instead of “hasta luego,” which means “see you later”), and I feel like the lisp is going to sneak into my vocabulary more and more as I interact with locals. I will most likely return to the United States with a lisp. But I will be much more cultured.