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Spanish For Dummies
By Susana Wald
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-5194-9
Chapter OneYou Already Know a Little Spanish
In This Chapter
* Recognizing the little Spanish you know
* Saying it right (Basic pronunciation)
* Using gestures
* Understanding typical expressions
If you're familiar with the term "Latin Lover," you may not be surprised to know that Spanish is called a Romance language. But the romance we're talking about here isn't exactly the Latin Lover type - unless you love to learn Latin.
Spanish (as well as several other languages such as Italian, French, Romanian, and Portuguese) is a Romance language because it has its origins in the Latin of ancient Rome. Because of that common origin, Romance languages have many similarities in grammar and the way they sound. (The fact that they all sound so romantic when spoken is purely a bonus!) For example, casa (kah-sah), the word for "house," is identical in looks, meaning, and sound whether you speak Portuguese, Italian, or Spanish.
The differences in the Romance languages are not terribly difficult to overcome, especially in South America. Any Spanish-speaking American can talk with a Portuguese-speaking Brazilian, and they will understand each other even if the other person sounds a bit funny. Still, each Romance language is different from its sister languages. Spanish is a language that comes from a region of Spain called Castile. So in Spain and some Latin Americancountries, such as Argentina, they call the language castellano (kahs-teh-yah-noh), which means Castilian.
This book concentrates on the Spanish spoken in Latin America. Throughout the book, we also explore the differences in the words used in these 19 countries and mention some variations in pronunciation. Latin America consists of all of the Western Hemisphere with the exception of Canada; the United States; the British and French-speaking Guyanas; and a few islands in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, Haiti, and Curaçao, where English, French, or Dutch are spoken.
This chapter is the foundation for the other chapters in the book. Subsequent chapters in this book discuss pronunciation, gestures, and body language. We also give you a few quickie phrases that show Spanish speakers you're one of their bunch.
You Already Know Some Spanish
The English language is like an ever-growing entity that, with great wisdom, absorbs what it needs from other cultures and languages. English is also a language that is like a bouquet of flowers plucked from many different roots. One of these roots is Latin, which 2,000 years ago was spread all over Europe by the Romans and later by scholars of the Middle Ages.
Because all of these live elements exist in the root of the language, you can find many correspondences between English and Spanish in the words that come from both Latin and French roots. These words can cause both delight and embarrassment. The delight comes in the words where the coincident sounds also give similar meanings. The embarrassment comes from words where the sounds and even the roots are the same, but the meanings are completely different.
Among the delightful discoveries of similarities between the languages are words like soprano (soh-prah-noh) (soprano), pronto (prohn-toh) (right away; soon), and thousands of others that differ by just one or two letters such as conclusión (kohn-kloo-see ohn) (conclusion), composición (kohm-poh-see-see ohn) (composition), libertad (lee-bvehr-tahd) (liberty), economía (eh-kohnoh-meeah) (economy), invención (een-bvehn-see ohn) (invention), and presidente (preh-see-dehn-teh) (president).
Beware of false friends
The trouble begins in the world of words that French linguists have designated as false friends. You can't trust fool's gold, false friends, or all word similarities. Within the groups of false friends, you may find words that look very similar and even have the same root, yet mean completely different things. One that comes to mind is the word actual, which has very different meanings in English and Spanish. In English, you know that it means "real; in reality; or the very one." Not so in Spanish. Actual (ahk-tooahl) in Spanish means present; current; belonging to this moment, this day, or this year.
So, for example, when you say the actual painting in English, you're referring to the real one, the very one people are looking at or want to see. But, when you say la pintura actual (lah peen-too-rah ahk-tooahl) in Spanish, you're referring to the painting that belongs to the current time, the one that follows present day trends - a modern painting.
Another example is the adjective "embarrassed," that in English means ashamed or encumbered. In Spanish, embarazada (ehm-bvah-rah-sah-dah) is the adjective that comes from the same root as the English word, yet its use nowadays almost exclusively means "pregnant." So you can say in English that you are a little embarrassed, but in Spanish you can't be just a little embarazada. Either you're pregnant or you're not.
Recognize some crossover influence
Word trouble ends at the point where a word originating in English is absorbed into Spanish or vice versa. The proximity of the United States to Mexico produces a change in the Spanish spoken there. An example is the word car. In Mexico, people say carro (kah-rroh). In South America, on the other hand, people say auto (ahoo-toh). In Spain, people say coche (koh-chen).
Here are just a few examples of Spanish words that you already know because English uses them, too:
Reciting Your ABCs
Correct pronunciation is key to avoiding misunderstandings. The following sections present some basic guidelines for proper pronunciation.
Next to the Spanish words throughout this book, the pronunciation is in parentheses, which we call pronunciation brackets. Within the pronunciation brackets, we separate all the words that have more than one syllable with a hyphen, like this: (kah-sah). An underlined syllable within the pronunciation brackets tells you to accent, or stress, that syllable. We say much more about stress later in this chapter. In the meantime, don't let yourself get stressed out (pardon the pun). We explain each part of the language separately, and the pieces will quickly fall into place. Promise!
In the following section we comment on some letters of the alphabet from the Spanish point of view. The aim is to help you to understand Spanish pronunciations. Here is the basic Spanish alphabet and its pronunciation:
a (ah) b (bveh) c (seh) d (deh) e (eh) f (eh-feh) g (Heh) h (ah-cheh) i (ee) j (Hoh-tah) k (kah) l (eh-leh) m (eh-meh) n (eh-neh) ñ (eh-nyeh) o (oh) p (peh) q (koo) r (eh-reh) s (eh-seh) t (teh) u (oo) v (bveh) w (doh-bleh bveh) (oobveh doh-bleh (Spain)
x (eh-kees) y (ee gree eh-gah) z (seh-tah)
Spanish also includes some double letters in its alphabet: ch (cheh), ll (ye), and rr (a trilled r).
We don't go through every letter of the alphabet in the sections that follow, only those that you use differently in Spanish than in English. The differences can lie in pronunciation, the way they look, in the fact that you seldom see the letters, or that you don't pronounce them at all.
Consonants tend to sound the same in English and Spanish. We explain the few differences that you can find.
Inside the Spanish-speaking world itself, you'll find that consonants may be pronounced differently than in English. For example, in Spain the consonant z is pronounced like the th in the English word thesis. (Latin Americans don't use this sound; in all 19 Spanish-speaking countries on this hemisphere, z and s sound the same.)
In the Spanish speaker's mind, a consonant is any sound that needs to have a vowel next to it when you pronounce it. For example, saying the letter t by itself may be difficult for a Spanish speaker. To the Spanish ear, pronouncing t sounds like te (teh). Likewise, the Spanish speaker says ese (eh-seh) when pronouncing the letter s.
Only a few consonants in Spanish differ from their English counterparts. The following sections look more closely at the behavior and pronunciation of these consonants.
The letter K
In Spanish, the letter k is used only in words that have their origin in foreign languages. More often than not, this letter is seen in kilo (kee-loh), meaning thousand in Greek. An example is kilómetro (kee-loh-meht-roh) (kilometer) - a thousand-meter measure for distance.
The letter H
In Spanish, the letter h is always mute. That's it!
The pronunciation brackets throughout this book often include the letter h. These h's generally signal certain vowel sounds, which we cover later in this chapter. In the pronunciation brackets, the Spanish h simply doesn't appear, because it's mute.
Following are some examples of the Spanish "h":
The letter J
The consonant j sounds like a guttural h. Normally you say h quite softly, as though you were just breathing out. Now, say your h, but gently raise the back of your tongue, as if you were saying k. Push the air out real hard, and you'll get the sound. Try it! There - it sounds like you're gargling, doesn't it?
To signal that you need to make this sound, we use a capital letter H within the pronunciation brackets.
Now try the sound out on these words:
The letter C
The letter c, in front of the vowels a, o, and u, sounds like the English k. We use the letter k in the pronunciation brackets to signal this sound. Following are some examples:
When the letter c is in front of the vowels e and i, it sounds like the English s. In the pronunciation brackets, we signal this sound as s. Following are some examples:
In much of Spain - primarily the north and central parts - the letter c is pronounced like the th in thanks when placed before the vowels e and i.
The letters S and Z
In Latin American Spanish, the letters s and z always sound like the English letter s. We use the letter s in the pronunciation brackets to signal this sound. Following are some examples:
In Spain, z also has the sound of the th in thanks, rather than the s sound prevalent in Latin America.
The letters B and V
The letters b and v are pronounced the same, the sound being somewhere in-between the two letters. This in-between is a fuzzy, bland sound - closer to v than to b. If you position your lips and teeth to make a v sound, and then try to make a b sound, you'll have it. To remind you to make this sound, we use bv in our pronunciation brackets, for both b and v.
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