From Castellano to Mexicano

I’m starting a new job fairly soon. I’ll be teaching English. (Wait, again?) This time, though, it won’t be to surly, unwilling Spanish high school students, but to hyperactive elementary school children, mainly from Mexico. As a part of my job, I also work as the school liaison to the Spanish-speaking community.

Hopefully, my translating skills are at least better than that.

This Monday, as a part of my job, I worked for new student registration. My principal had asked me to do so, just in case any families came that couldn’t speak English. Only one did, but I soon realized I am very Spanish in my Spanish. (Confused yet?)

You see, in high school, they taught us Mexican / South American Spanish. So, when I went to Spain in the first time (2008), I had a lot to learn. After having spent a long stretch of time there, as well as having a Spanish boyfriend, my Spanish has been transformed. I speak Spain Spanish. While talking to this mother and her little boy, I tried (if somewhat unsuccessfully) to speak Mexicano and not Castellano (Spain Spanish). No go.


Here’s how I know:

  • I use vosotros all the time. I like it; it’s useful; why don’t Mexicans use it? It makes no sense.
  • Ceceo. It’s not a lisp, and I hate it when people make fun of others for using. That’s how it’s done in Spain. It’s not being pretentious to mimic their accents. It’s how you sound good, near native. I don’t think it’s odd when non-native speakers mimic American accents if they live in the U.S. or English ones if they live there. It’s just what you do.
  • Leísmo. This one I know is grammatically incorrect, but when I hear people doing it daily, it’s hard not to mimic. (If you don’t know Spanish at all, you probably won’t get this.) Le veo…wrong, but oh so right (at least in Spain).
  • Coger. That word is another example of extreme usefulness. Coger el bus, coger una idea, coger una cosa. In Spanish, they mean get, catch, capture…in Latin American, the F-word. Yeah, so I’m going to try desperately to avoid using that one. Ever.
  • La jota. The J in Spain Spanish is very strong. I loved it when my students would pronounce ham like chhhhammmm (like in Chanukah – you have to haaack when you say it!). I tend to overdo it, even in Spain, so imagine what my hacking sounds to Mexicans. Ha.
I am trying to remember that people won’t necessarily think I’m weird/snobby for speaking this way. It’s a habit. A very ingrained one. Wish me luck!

10 thoughts on “From Castellano to Mexicano

  1. Congrats on the new job! That’s so exciting! I spoke Spanish with a cab driver from El Salvador last weekend in Vegas, and we joked around about the differences between the slang any my over-use of the word “vale.” Definitely was nice to be able to speak a little Spanish after over a month of not using it at alL!

  2. I studied Spanish in Spain too. When I started teaching High School Spanish int he US I had to change my accent because all the other Spanish teachers in my department spoke Mexican or South American Spanish.

    It was so hard to switch my mind and speech..especially when talking with friends still in Spain.

  3. Congrats on the job!! I completely understand adjusting to other types of Spanish. I get a mix bag of reactions here in PR, mostly resulting from confusion over what I mean, for example piso/apartamento/suelo mixups, coche/carro, etc. Here, coger means the same as in Spain, and they use it all the time like in Spain too, so at least I don’t have to change that! Then there’s the uniquely Puerto Rican things (like oranges aren’t naranjas, they’re chinas. Even the orange Fanta here says Fanta chinita on the bottle!) that add another layer of confusion.

    I say in the end, it’s best to speak how you feel most comfortable. Since it’s not our mother tongue, it’s normal for accents to change depending on your environment and as your language skills “evolve”. Good luck!

    1. I completely agree with your comment Ashlee, especially when you say that your language evolves. I have only really had experience with “Spain Spanish” but spent a lot of time in the Canaries before living in Seville, which is very similar to Latin American Spanish. When I arrived here I was speaking with a Canarian accent, using ‘ustedes’ and terms that are unknown on the Peninsula (guagua – bus, the most common) and the longer I have been here and emerged in Sevillano culture, I have developed a very strong, rural accent. I ceceo (but with ‘s’ too), I eat ‘s’ and ‘d’ sounds (vivo alao) and I use phrases that are typical here.

      I think I must be very receptive of accents, as I do exactly the same in the UK, absorbing friends twangs like a sponge. But, in a foreign language, just being able to detect a different accent or localised term means that your level and understanding of the language is above par – so ladies, I think we should all give ourselves a pat on the back!

      1. I 100% agree! I remember a time when I was so busy focusing on just understanding the words, that detecting different accents and how those words were being pronounced was not even on my radar.

        Expanding on a point that Kim touched on… many of the conquistadores were Canarios (and Andaluces), and they brought their accent with them. As vosotros isn’t really used in las Canarias or in parts of Andalucía, it was never brought to las Américas, either. It’s used for liturgical purposes, but other than that, for those who haven’t been exposed to Peninsular Spanish, it sounds how “thee and thou” might sound to modern English speakers. (Just like the excessive use of ustedes can sound funny to Spaniards as well.) Similarly, “usted” is used a wholeeeee lot more in Latin America than in Spain (where it’s almost nonexistent in some places). In fact, in parts of Colombia, usted used almost exclusively, even couples don’t use “tú”!

        Okay, I apologize for the unnecessary linguistics lesson. I’m a nerd and can’t help myself!

      2. No, no, I think generally speaking, if you’re (plural!) into language, you’re more likely to be a bit of a geek – I put my hand up. As they say here, I’m a friki! I was explained about the Latin/Canarian/Andalusian by my Canarian friend :) Some places still use “vos” too, don’t they? I had some Honduran friends (a couple) and she always used it with her boyfriend! I find the use of “ustedes” and “vosotros” really funny here in Seville, as they mix it all the time, even in the same sentence sometimes!

  4. Congrats on getting the job! As for the accent/different kinds of Spanish issue, I’d say stick to whatever you feel more comfortable with; no use in trying to fake a way of speaking that doesn’t feel natural to you since people will eventually get what you wanna say no matter what. I can’t for the life of me fake a Latin American accent, and even if I’m talking to somebody from a different country, I know that a few Asturian words will inevitably slip out at some point, which won’t keep me from getting my message across. I’ll explain their meaning and we’ll all end up learning something new. I personally think the weird/snobby thing would be to adopt the local manner of speaking when it’s obviously not your own (you can see what I mean here:
    Plus little misunderstandings are most times quite funny and a great way to learn new words/expressions since you’ll be more likely to remember what something means when you have an embarrasing side story to go with it :D
    So enjoy your new job and embrace your Spain-Spanish speaking ways!

  5. The same thing happened to me after I came back from Puerto Rico. I can’t imagine what I’m going to sound like after coming back from Madrid, a little bit of everything from Spain to El Salvador, to PR, to Mexico.

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