The Language We Speak

Inspired by Rachel’s post, First Language Limits, I got to thinking. (I do that sometimes, you see.)

I love language and thinking about how it affects everything. Some have argued that language is the window through which we see the world and, although the theory is debatable, I like to read about it and wonder how others experience the world.

Image taken from this great article on how language may influence the way we see the world.

For instance, English lacks a strong subjunctive tense. Yes, you should say “I wish I were (an Oscar Mayer Weiner),” but many people say instead “I wish I was.” Now, in Spanish, the subjunctive is ever-present and quite difficult to master. I do it right 95% of the time, but I sometimes get stumped. I don’t get why you wouldn’t use it with “fingir” (to pretend), but you don’t. After years of rote memorization, I finally get it. But explain it? Uhh…


Anyway, tangent over. I started off this entry wanting to talk about language and how it affects us – particularly, Mario and me. Mario and I met in Spain. I was learning Spanish. (Still am! Amazing how it’s a lifelong process!) I asked him to speak to me only in Spanish. He agreed, as his English really didn’t need that much improving. The only thing he has gotten from me is slang. You’re welcome.

It didn’t last long. When I’m frustrated, the words pour out in English. I think I sound more eloquent in English, surer of what I want to express. They are poor excuses, to be sure, but our relationship was affected by our switch from Spanish to Spanglish. To this day, our relationship is a mishmash of languages.

Collage de Picnik

From September 2009 to February 2011 to the present – Spanglish.

Sometimes, a whole conversation is conducted in one language with nary a word in the other. Sometimes, we abruptly switch. All it takes is him or me to start speaking the other language – the other will follow suit. Sometimes, we insert whole phrases or words in the other language. For example:

  • Eres muy cute. (Am I the only one who hates using “mono” for “cute”?)
  • Te I love you.
  • We had eggs, jamón, salchichón y queso. Some words just have to be in Spanish. Ham? Not nearly the same as jamón.
  • Vamos a ver una peli en el movie theater.

You know, normal stuff. I’m not really sure if this affects us, but it does expand our vocabularies. Plus, it’s way useful to be able to converse in another language so people can’t understand. After I’ve been around Mario for a while, I sometimes switch to another language with my mom or my friend Hilary so the other people can’t understand, forgetting that, um, neither can my mother or Hilary. Ooooops, Spanglish is getting to me.

So, if you don’t mind, tell me about your bilingual relationships, what you think of them if you don’t have one, and whether you think language affects how we see the world or if that’s all just a bunch of rubbish.

17 thoughts on “The Language We Speak

  1. I totally believe that language affects the way we view the world. I have this book called Through The Language Glass which is all about this topic, actually. It fascinates me! Many words are not able to be translated directly from one language to another…which means (in my opinion) that people’s views/thoughts/world are shaped by the ways in which they can explain or understand them (with their language’s vocaulary). It’s so hard to explain, but such an interesting thing to think about!

  2. My fiancé is not bilingual. He understands a little bit of Spanish from high school classes, but that was years ago. I always thought I wanted someone who spoke Spanish, English y Spanglish también, but it wasn’t exactly a dealbreaker. We share a lot of music. Many of my favorites are in Spanish and I just translate the lyrics for him. Translating is tough.

    Most of my friendships and all my family relationships are bilingual. I do a lot of code switching when with friends and family. We throw in some Spanglish and pochismos like “parquear.” Code switching feels very natural to me. Sometimes, the English word doesn’t come to me as quickly as the Spanish word (despite being English dominant). I have to be conscious to not be exclusionary around Sean since I know I might use a word he doesn’t understand immediately.

    1. Translating is tough. It’s fascinating to me that I can understand a rather complicated novel – but try to translate it? That’s rough, even if it is translating it into English (mi lengua materna).

      It would definitely be interesting to be bilingual but have your partner not be. I just take for granted that Mario understands everything and he obviously does most of the time, but not always.

  3. I think it´s so fun to be around people who know the same languages (plural) as you. Last night we were doing Botellón in the park and between the 7 of us we had 7 english speakers, 6 spanish speakers and 2 french speakers. For completely arbitrary reasons and without thinking we would switch which language we were using and the conversation just keeps going! If you speak both languages, it’s like it didn’t happen, you’re brain just goes with it. But then my sister, who was the only monoglot, says, “yea, you lost me.” Oh right!!

    1. I had a very weird experience when my parents visited and met Mario’s. Both sets are monolingual and so Mario and I were the only ones quienes se enteraban de todo. :)

  4. I literally laughed out loud at the jamon comment. You’re right…there are certain words that must be said in Spanish. Did you study Spanish BEFORE Spain, Kaley? And which would you say was stronger, Mario’s English or your Spanish?

    You’re right about frustrations just pouring out in your native language. I can’t help sometimes but have an emotional sentence come out in rapid English in the middle of a Spanish conversation. Kind of like Gloria from Modern Family (if you watch that, you know).

    Love the blog so much. You’re one of the only ones I’ve really started to read religiously. Keep up the wonderful posts!

    1. Thanks! And yes, I did study Spanish before Spain – three years in high school (including AP) and all through college. I went to Spain my junior year, too. So I had a background.

  5. I totally agree but my case is French- Spanish. We make some weird sentences and make up new words! And about using a language so someone won’t understand? I speak to my friends or family in French without knowing! :)

  6. The same happens to me and my friends. Living in Mallorca where we have two offiicial languages and, because of the tourist industry, we are in contact with foreign languages, makes easy to find a group of people mixing languages the way you’re saying. Something like:

    “Ei, mestre, whatchadoin? Qué t’anava a dir? Que vamos a ir unos amigos y yo a prendre something luego, a un sitio que ponen tapas decentes. Las kartoffel bravas están que te cagas. ¿Qué dices? Sounds good? Venga, pues mos veïm allà. Later!” is not uncommon at all, at least when talking to my friends.

    Thank for your posts Kaley. Merry xmas


  7. FBF and I are constantly switching languages with one another. I think a lot of the time I’ll start a sentence in either language, and then realize that the verb I’ve chosen can’t be used that way in the first language, so I just switch over to the other one, haha.

  8. Can I say that I adore your blog? I should be going to bed, but… I am here getting fun and learning with your blog!
    I am living in Canada with my husband, but we both are from Brazil. So, we speak Portuguese all the time. Not good because I am doing a Master degree and I spend all day at home, so I do not practice English…
    I totally agree with you when you say about expressing yourself in English. For me, it is not the same to express my emotions in English. It seems that I cannot express how much exactly I am feeling using English words…
    Thanks for sharing!

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