Should Immigrants Learn the Language?

**Note: When writing this post, I struggled with accuracy between terms like immigrant, expat, American, English-speaking, native English-speaking, Mexican, hispanic, etc etc etc. I did my best with the terminology considering that different definitions exist for many of these, so please bear with me.**

You know how in the USA, many Americans complain when hispanic immigrants don’t bother to learn English?

Turns out… Americans aren’t much better!

Over the past few years in Cancun, I’ve spent more time with local English-speaking (American/Canadian/British/Australian/etc) expats, and the fact that many of them do not bother to learn Spanish is a popular topic in the expat community. In my time in Cancun, I’ve known 5 English-speaking expats who learned fluent Spanish, myself included. A select few speak somewhat advanced Spanish, while most speak light conversational Spanish or just a few key words.

"Hola Jorge. Mucho gusto."

Personally, this isn’t something that bothers me. I feel like many immigrants tend to gravitate toward their own culture when they move to a new country, so whether it’s Mexicans in the US or Americans in Mexico, there’s often no need to learn the host language. In Cancun, almost all of the locals speak excellent English anyway.

It’s also interesting to me that while many Americans are angered by immigrants not learning English, Mexicans (at least the Cancun locals) really don’t seem to care whether immigrants to their country learn Spanish or not. On the contrary, most of my Mexican friends are more than happy to practice their English!

I’m not really trying to make any points here, to be honest. I just find it interesting that the whole “not learning the host language” is not exclusive to one culture.

How to Speak Like a Mexican: Desvelado

The Spanish language has many words that don’t exist in English (and vice versa), and one of my favorites is desvelado.

The word desvelado comes from the verb desvelarse, meaning “to stay up late”. So desvelado (or desvelada, if you’re a lady), the adjective form, means something along the lines of “tired from staying up late”. Something we’ve all experienced, but there’s no exact word for it in English.

Here’s a version of one of my favorite songs, Desvelado, sung by Victor Garcia. The song is about a guy who is desvelado because he spends his nights wandering the streets, looking for a woman whose voice he heard on the radio.

Victor Garcia won second place several years ago on the show La Academia… kind of like the Mexican version of American Idol. He also looks a lot like my husband, Jorge. So that’s a plus. I chose this particular video because it has a lot of “Mexican” stuff in it like a cheesy set and cowboy gear, plus what Mexican song is complete without some whistles and yells? Love it!

 

How to Speak Like a Mexican: Blah, blah, blah

In English, when we fast forward part of a story, we use “Blah blah blah” (and a few other fun phrases).

However, I kinda like the Mexican version: Sha la la, Sha la la

Example:

  • English: I went to the store to buy eggs, then blah blah blah I ended up buying an entire cart of food!
  • Mexican: Fui a la tienda para comprar huevos, sha la la, sha la la Terminé comprando un carrito lleno de comida!

Much more sing-songy, doncha think?

Vazquez Sounds

I dunno if these kids have become at all popular in the US yet, but for the last few months the Vazquez Sounds have been taking Mexico by storm. This family of 3 kids became famous with their cover songs on YouTube, and they are really good! (and adorable)

The one thing that bothers me, as my hermosa amiga Jessica from Mexican At Heart pointed out, is that all their cover songs thus far have been English songs… and the lead girl seriously needs to improve her accent. I’m not saying all Mexicans should speak English, but if you want to make a living off of doing cover songs in English… learn English! You can tell she just memorizes the sounds and doesn’t really know what she’s singing.

Accent pickiness aside, they’re really good, especially because they sing a lot of my favorite songs. Check out the Vazquez Sounds:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=xbHI6nMsVHE

What do you think? Amazing? Sickeningly cute? Annoying accent? Charming accent?

How to Speak Like a Mexicano: Chancletazo

In yet another one of the fascinating mysteries of Mexican slang, I bring you… the -azo.

This phenomenon is quite possibly my favorite part of learning Mexican Spanish. It’s not something they’ll teach you in school, even though it’s part of everyday language. I think the reason I love the -azo so much is because it’s so incredibly convenient, yet we have nothing like it in English.

Here’s the gist of it: Add the ending -azo onto any tangible noun, and it will translate to something like “a punch/hit/slap with a …”

I’ll give you some examples.

Mi hermano me dio un codazo = “My brother hit me with his elbow.”

Le dio un cabezazo al balón. = “He gave the ball a hit with his head.” (Often used in soccer, it’s the equivalent to the English term for heading the ball.)

A "cabezazo" by Chicharito (the David Beckham of Mexico)

My favorite is chancletazo, from the Mexican slang word chancleta, meaning “flip flop”. Jorge uses this one A LOT when killing cockroaches. Le voy a dar un chancletazo! =  “I’m going to smash him with my flip-flop.”

A few other examples:

sartenazo = a blow with a frying pan

rodillazo = a hit from the knee

toallazo = a towel snap

puñetazo = a punch (from the word puño, meaning “fist”)

avionazo = an airplane crash

There are other more specific uses for this ending, but I won’t confuse you with the subleties quite yet. 🙂

Bottom Line: Add the -azo ending onto ANY TANGIBLE THING and it will make sense. Anything that could possibly come into physical contact with you. Seriously.

How to Speak Like a Mexicano: Ahorita

When I moved to Mexico 6 years ago, I had a pretty good grasp on the language after 7 years of Spanish classes. I would soon find out that in Mexico, there were thousands of local words and phrases that I had yet to learn.

One word that perplexes me to this day is ahorita. Most of you have probably heard the Spanish word ahora, meaning “now”. In Spanish, there are also diminutive words ending in -ito, -ita, -itos and -itas (depending on plurality and word gender). When adding these endings onto a word, it implies that something is small. So the word “ahorita” would directly translate to something along the lines of  “little now”.

I first learned that ahorita means “right now”. Ahorita lo hago would translate to “I’ll do it right now.” Easy, right? It’s just a matter of quick memorization of one commonly-used phrase!

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

For months, a Mexican might tell me “ahorita lo hago” and I would be confident it was being done right away. Sometimes, however, nothing happened for hours or even days, causing this gringa to get pretty encabronada. Eventually I was told that ahorita actually has two meanings… it can mean “right now”, but it can also mean “in a little while”. WHAT?

Six years later, I’m still bothering Jorge every time he says “ahorita lo hago“. My response is always, “ahorita, ahorita? O ahorita al rato?” (Ahorita right now? Or ahorita later?) Luckily Jorge’s ahorita usually means “within the next half hour”. I guess I still haven’t figured out the subtle nuances of the Mexican people.

"No te preocupes, amor... ahorita lo hago!"