Today I want to talk about a common fear that many of my Spanish-speaking students have when it comes to learning English. They are attempting to have a fluid conversation, yet they arrive to a word they’re not sure about and will stop because they’re afraid the word might be “Spanglish”.
This is also a chance to practice your reading skills, so I have written this article at a B2 level. New phrasal verbs will be in purple, and difficult vocabulary will be in red, with definitions below. Complex grammar structures will be in green.
What do I mean by Spanglish? In this case, I don’t mean just using a Spanish word when you don’t know the word in English, I mean using a word which is a direct translation from Spanish.
The most recent example was with a human resources consultant talking about dealing with clients. Here’s a snippet of our conversation:
Ben: What projects are you working on this week?
Student: At the moment I’m looking to hire a customer experience manager
Ben: Okay, so what does a customer experience manager do?
Student: Well, they’re responsible for dealing with the…nece.. ne.. Hmm, I don’t know the word..
Ben: Try! You might know it.
Student: Necessities of the client?
Ben: Great! So the CEM is responsible for the needs of the client?
Student: Yeah, their needs!
You might read or hear that and think, “Wow, I hate making mistakes like that. Why did Ben say it was great?” When that happened in my class, I was thrilled. This is Spanglish speaking at its finest. I want to argue that rather than being a problem, speaking with Spanglish and making these kinds of mistakes is exactly what every native Spanish student should be doing. Why?
Firstly, as a teacher this example shows me that the student has started making connections between their own language and English. This is especially important in Latin based languages where so many words share a common origin. If you know that a word with the ending ‘-idad’ in Spanish is usually the same but with “-ity” in English, you have the potential to immediately know the translation of more than 30 common Spanish words. These are called ‘cognates’. For example:
Actividad = Activity
Varieded = Variety
Realidad = Reality
Posibilidad = Possibility
Sometimes my students look bashful when attempting a word that they’re unsure about, they think that maybe it won’t be right because it sounds too much like “Spanglish”, but it’s better to try. You’ll be surprised at how often you are right. Sometimes this doesn’t always work perfectly; here, “necessity” isn’t the perfect word for the context. But could I understand? Yes. Was the correct word learnt? Yes. So rather than stopping your sentence, say it like you mean it and you’ll find out if it was a mistake!
Importantly, Spanglish is at least a form of communication, even if it’s not perfect communication. Your basic goal as an English learner is to be able to communicate. At the beginner level being able to say “My name Ben”, “I am English teacher” is infinitely better communication than saying nothing at all. The same applies at a more advanced level. “The customer experience manager deals with the necessities of the client” is better than “The customer experience manager deals with the… I don’t know the word.” Communication is the goal, and Spanglish usually gets our message across, even if its not perfect. So don’t be afraid to make a mistake if it’s stopping you from actually speaking. At least you’re saying something.
Spanglish is good precisely because it is wrong. Perhaps the most fundamental skill in learning English is the ability to make mistakes. In my view, if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re probably not learning at all. Learning Portuguese here in Brazil, and as a Spanish speaker myself, I’ve started using “Portuñol”, a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese. Speaking with my housemates, they’re very quick to correct me every time I use a word that doesn’t actually exist in Portuguese. It’s a little bit embarrassing, and to be honest it makes me feel quite foolish, but that embarrassment is what encourages me to remember my mistake for next time. As a teacher, when a student makes a mistake, that moment lets me know what a student does and doesn’t know, and gives them a crucial opportunity to improve. Think about it, if you only say what you know, how will you ever improve? Its the same with everything in life, we learn from our mistakes, so why should it be different when learning English?
You’re contributing to the enrichment and creation of language itself. Okay so maybe this is a less convincing part of the argument, but in countries like the United States where Spanish is widely spoken, Spanish words are rapidly entering into the English language precisely because of people who have dared to make mistakes. Words like ‘canyon’, ‘sierra’, ‘tornado’, ‘macho’, ‘guerrilla’, and ‘salsa’, all have their origins in Spanish.
When living in Colombia, me and my friend Anthony would talk about how Colombians often made the mistake in English of saying “Don’t worry, I’ll invite you” when telling us they would pay for a coffee. To a person fluent in Spanglish, this means “I’m going to pay”, “Yo te invito”. While in Spanish that might imply that you are going to be the one paying, an English native speaker will just interpret that as being invited to share your company. Recently, Anthony told me that when he returned to the USA, he went for lunch with his brother and accidentally told him “I’ll invite you.” His brother hadn’t understood what he meant until they got the bill. This, I think, is a perfect example of a Spanglish mistake actually influencing the English language in a new and interesting way.
So in conclusion, don’t be afraid to use Spanglish. You are making new connections, communicating, learning from your mistakes, and influencing others around you whenever you speak it.
To help turn your Spanglish into authentic English, contact me at Ben@BensEnglish.com to start your private classes via Skype with 50% off the first class. All mistakes are welcome!
Snippet – very small piece, fragment
Thrilled – happy, excited
Bashful – shy and embarrassed
Nothing at all – absolutely nothing
Foolish – stupid
Dared to – take a chance to
Deal with – handle, manage
Rather than being – Expressing a preference
Telling us they would pay – Reported Speech (Future)
Hadn’t understood – Past Perfect Tense (Negative)