Cara de queYou’ve done the hard work. You’ve studied your conjugations. You’ve built vocabulary. You’ve practiced until you were positively blue in the face. You’ve achieved a measure of conversational fluency in Spanish.  You can even talk on the phone in Spanish.

Congratulations!

I know how tough this is because I’ve been there. I’ve struggled to think of how to say what I want to say, and I’ve been out with Spanish speakers and hopelessly been unable communicate seemingly simple ideas like, “We should have parked the car somewhere else.”  (When once upon a time we couldn’t find said car…LOL.)

But I’m past all that (after a LOT of hard work), and now can converse in Spanish pretty well. Some even would claim that I’m fluent.

That is until…the Spanish speaker decides to drop some English word (or entire sentence) into his speech. At this point, I”m always left with the classic “Cara de ¿qué?” As in, “What in the heck did you just say?”

Because the hardest thing in the world to understand in Spanish is English.

Let me explain. Mexicans are exposed to tons of English. All of them have had to study it to some degree or other in school, though you might never know it. They also see tons of Hollywood movies with subtitles, not to mention hearing lots of American and British popular music. And lots of them, particularly those who fancy themselves more international,* will casually drop English words into their Spanish with no warning.  The problem is when Mexicans do this, the word in question does not sound English in the least. In fact, these words sound just like Spanish, sort of, but no Spanish word you’ve ever learned.  They just come out with the Mexican speaker’s natural accent, which sounds NOTHING like English.

F was very fond of dropping these English phrases or sentences into conversations when I least expected them. And I invariably didn’t understand. Like, as in “never.” Not once. I was always left with this confused expression of, “what the heck did you just say?”  And he was always frustrated that I never “got” it. Though he was always polite, I could always imagine him thinking, “Jeeze…this is your native language and you don’t understand it?!?” And he wasn’t terribly sympathetic when I tried to teach him the correct pronunciation of the words in question once he had explained what he was saying. I simply should have “just gotten it.”

So my advice to you is this. If you don’t understand something that someone has said in Spanish, make sure it wasn’t English.

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* Be careful using the term “internacional” to describe a Mexican. Why? It’s a term used in the gay community to describe someone sexually flexible, i.e., who can be a top or bottom. Consider yourself warned.

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