Spanish Blunders: Or, the lessons that I learned the hard way.
Learning Spanish on the go
Before traveling in Central America for the first time, I had taken one year of Spanish classes in high school (five years prior) and a five day crash course upon arriving in Costa Rica.
In terms of fluency, I was far from it. But when it came to getting by, I could do alright. Though not without many, many blunders. I reasoned that without much formal teaching, my mistakes were one of my best tools for learning. Especially when someone bothered to correct my mistakes, which didn’t always happen. Sometimes, I learned the hard way.
And most of the time, the mistakes weren’t so bad. Like the time I ordered a pastel (cake) for breakfast, which is apparently not the same as pasteles (pastry). Who doesn’t love cake?
Sometimes, however, the mistakes were a little more embarrassing. Which brings me to the start of my list of words that you should learn before traveling in Central America:
Embarasada: Okay, so this is actually a mistake I avoided, after having witnessed its misuse first hand. However, it is my go-to example of words that sound similar to English words, but have a different meaning in Spanish.
Embarasada means pregnant. It does not mean embarrassed. Hearing Kate, a classmate, apologize to a visiting professor for a fellow classmate’s behavior, by telling him how pregnant she was, helped drive home the word’s definition.
Miedo/Mierda: not knowing either word before I began traveling, I learned both words audibly. Being a strong visual-learner, this meant that I mixed them up several times before realizing my mistake.
Tengo miedo: Literary means, I have fear. Or, I am scared.
Tengo mierda: Well, it would translate as I have shit.
How many times did I tell someone that “I have shit” when I was trying to say, “I am scared.” Several. How many times was I corrected? Not once. (Thanks, everyone.)
Jamon, Jabon, Sopa. What do these three Spanish words have in common? Perhaps only that I could not get them straight for my first week in a Spanish speaking country.
Maybe it’s just me. But I have asked if I could please have some soup after using a public restroom. And also for some ham. Soap and cheese sandwich. Yep. I’ve asked for that as well.
Punto/Puta: two more words that I had picked up through conversations and had trouble distinguishing at first.
Punto: Period. As in, what I am going to use to end this poorly constructed sentence.
The mistake I made was in telling the young man who worked at a hostel I was visiting that my email was “julia bitch m bitch flint @…..”
This is not a mistake I recommend making.
However, mierda happens… and we keep on tramping.