Spanish for gringos

Chip

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In my now 13 years of trying to master Spanish I've come up with some useful personal observations.

1. Confidence is king. There is always a struggle between confidence based on "perceived" abilities and one's actually abilities. For those really eager to learn it would appear confidence might trump ability. Those who never learn the confidence trick rarely make it far.

2. Confidence happens over time but can be accelerated by reading and understanding grammar. There is nothing like understanding most of what is spoken to you to inspire confidence even though you couldn't repeat it. Lot's of reading is a good solution for increasing vocabulary. I recommend US based Spanish speaking sources like Univision as it seems to be a simpler Spanish than many other sources.

3. Don't try to imitate the locals in everything, take the best and leave the rest.

4. Speak relatively slowly and you will do better and be respected more surprisingly.

5. Accents can rarely be gotten rid of but they can be minimized to the point that it would rarely be a deterrent for conversations.

6. Dominicans are always impressed by foreigners who are polite and respect their customs and like their food so this can help one relax when making conversation.

7. When you "fall down" just remember you are a gringo and are supposed to, besides humility looks good on you. :)
 

dv8

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Sep 27, 2006
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to me it's two things:
1. use the language. no need to be ashamed or embarrassed. no need to fear that you'd be making mistakes. your primary concern should be communication. use synonyms, be descriptive. get the message out.
2. f**k the mocking. when i get mocked i look at a person thinking: how many languages do you speak, a**hole? what is your education? and then i feel better :) or, strive for better :)
 
Dec 26, 2011
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to me it's two things:
1. use the language. no need to be ashamed or embarrassed. no need to fear that you'd be making mistakes. your primary concern should be communication. use synonyms, be descriptive. get the message out.
2. f**k the mocking. when i get mocked i look at a person thinking: how many languages do you speak, a**hole? what is your education? and then i feel better :) or, strive for better :)

Always strive for better. We'll settle for perfection(the German in me). :)
 

jrhartley

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Sep 10, 2008
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ive been trying for for five years and still cant understand a word anyone speaks to me unless they are a gringo speaking spanish which rather defeats the object of it
 

DennyDee88

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Sep 12, 2011
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This thread is great! I am to the point that I can understand most Spanish speakers, except the super mumblers. As far as speaking, I am ok but.

I love dv8's "How many languages do you speak" comment. That's classic!

I speak Spanish ok but, I tend to find the reception I get depends on the class of the person I am speaking to. If they are uneducated, I get the gasface (The face they make when you pronounce a word wrong and they turn up their nose as if something stinks). If it is someone who thinks they are smart but has no clue they are even dumber than they think I am, they will say that they do not speak English, when it is probably only one voul I am pronouncing wrong. In both cases I just walk away but, if I decide it is an occasion when I want to make them feel small, I will pull out a piece of paper and a pen and write it in Spanish. I find it pretty easy to write in Spanish. Once I do this I get the upper hand, in my mind, because usually the person who just tried to belittle me can't read. LOL!!!!

Now, if the person seems is educated, ( I guess i base my opinion on my location) I usually apologize first, let them know I don't speak Spanish that well, and then proceed to hold an entire conversation.
 

jackichan

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Jun 23, 2011
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Confidence is the key. Just this morning I wanted to get some Arepas for breakfast from a nearby canteen. I was in the line waiting to place my order and three EDUCATED dominicans cut thru me and shouted their orders. I did walk away. I'm not confrontational and more so with my average spanish skills
 
Dec 26, 2011
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Confidence is the key. Just this morning I wanted to get some Arepas for breakfast from a nearby canteen. I was in the line waiting to place my order and three EDUCATED dominicans cut thru me and shouted their orders. I did walk away. I'm not confrontational and more so with my average spanish skills

Rudeness and command of the language have nothing to do with one another. I speak, read and write better Spanish than those three but I'm not an asshole so I don't push ahead in lines or shout orders at people.
 

pelaut

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Aug 5, 2007
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I've studied seven languages and retain fluency, though not eloquence, in four of them. I've lived in Latin America, mostly the DR now, for 33 years. Yet when Domincans, instead of talking Spanish, talk to me like a mumbling rapid fire machine gun, leave off the endings of all words and don't differentiate between v and b, t and d, or f and s (forget c, z and s, or g and j), then I politely launch the following at them:


"Perdoneme! Pero soy un gringo estupido y no le entiendo sino Vd. habla despacio y distintamente, mordiendo las palabras. Desculpeme por favor."


If that doesn't succeed, such as it does not with some cajeras, I bend over and confidentially let them know that:


"En mi pa?s hay muchos estranjeros, y cuando los me encuentro, yo trato de hablar con sencillez y claridad para que puedan entenderme ? es s?lo por cortes?a ? ya sabes!"


If that doesn't work, I ask for the manager and deliver a stinging rebuke for their lousy, perhaps racist, customer service and walk out without buying anything.

Try it.
 
Dec 26, 2011
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Yet when Domincans, instead of talking Spanish, talk to me like a mumbling rapid fire machine gun, leave off the endings of all words and don't differentiate between v and b, t and d, or f and s (forget c, z and s, or g and j)

When I went there for the first time, at eighteen, I read and wrote Spanish fluently. I was depressed for the first few days of the trip because I was not understanding a lot of what was being said. A young man asked how I was fairing with the language and laughed when I explained the trouble I was having. He gave me "the code". From that point forward, I trained my ear and all was well.
 
May 29, 2006
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I'd say 4 is the most important. What I found very helpful was to memorize a few songs in Spanish. It really improves your accent, inflection and cadence. In my second year college Spanish class, you would get people who either had good vocab and accents, or people who had a grasp of the grammar, but there wasn't much crossover.

It can also help to talk with little kids. They often speak slower and more clearly than adults and are more patient.
 

jrhartley

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I get a bit annoyed that often people have no clue what Im trying to say when I attempt Spanish, Im sure it cant be that difficult, there are only so many ways to say the same word surely....I know gooed moaning is really good morning.

I was in a shop shouting ajo at everyone, theres only so many alternative ways to say it I would think, maybe they thought I was calling them arseholes
 

Chirimoya

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Dec 9, 2002
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It should come as some consolation that it happens to fluent Spanish speakers too - some sort of mental block the moment they hear you speaking with a different accent. Not just to me - a friend from Ecuador, whose accent couldn't be clearer, used to complain about it.
 

Chip

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Jul 25, 2007
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With all due respect the Dominican "eye twitch" doesn't generally mean Dominicans think they are better only that they don't understand.

cheerio!
 
Aug 21, 2007
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My Spanish always improves after I have had an alcoholic beverage or two. Don't know if it is because my tongue is looser, if I am less inhibited, or if it is simply my drunken imagination.

Lindsey
 

dv8

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Sep 27, 2006
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I get a bit annoyed that often people have no clue what Im trying to say when I attempt Spanish, Im sure it cant be that difficult, there are only so many ways to say the same word surely....I know gooed moaning is really good morning.

ah, jr, i think it largely depends on how people's mind work and how they use words. miesposo is well educated and he speaks very good english. but his understand of language and the way he operates it is so different than mine...
once my mind got stuck and i could not remember the word ca?ada. i tried to explain what i meant by description: it's like a river or a stream. no, nothing. i said cu?ada, ca?a. no, nothing. at the end i got it right :) but i could not understand, how on earth he did not what i was talking about having been given a description and a word that was just one letter away from what i was looking for?
 

flyinroom

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Aug 26, 2012
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My Spanish always improves after I have had an alcoholic beverage or two. Don't know if it is because my tongue is looser, if I am less inhibited, or if it is simply my drunken imagination.

Lindsey

....lol. It's probably a little of all three.
 

Luperon

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If Dominicans actually spoke Spanish it would help. I understand Chips Spanish better than his southern drawl.
 
Oct 13, 2003
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It has rarely happened that I don't understand them... but if it happens, I'll ask them to repeat themselves please, claiming I was distracted... that way they don't feel insulted (because they know their 'panol' is crap) and can have another go..

For those laughing at me, I laugh with them... and ask them to help me do better .... which most will be happy to do..
 

Chip

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Jul 25, 2007
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Santiago
A few other tips:

1. Spanish is hard in the beginning, and easy later. The main challenges are the following:

- verbs
- set phrases, mostly which verbs take which prepositions
- learning lots of vocabulary

2. Dominicans are easily impressed by speaking grammatically correct Spanish, even with an accent. Put the "s's" where they go and they might start calling you licenciado. :)

3. Learn your "comfort zone". We all have to deal with a limited vocabulary at times during conversations depending on the topic at hand. This can be frustrating but it is best to try to use the words one has available rather than making up words or guessing, as this can often times cause the native speaker to wonder if you can speak Spanish at all. In summary, always speak your most correct Spanish, even if it is very simple. An exception are if you have a good native speaking friend that is willing to help during conversation. However, sometimes I will ask the native speaker to verify the correctness of a phrase or word but I do this on purpose in order to make people feel more relaxed.