HomeQ&AAnswer: two kinds of Spanish

Answer: two kinds of Spanish

13
votes

I have been thinking lately about some of the questions and games posted, and about how difficult it is often to both understand and explain informal Spanish.

So I came to what may appear as an obvious-bordering-on-silly conclusion; only it must not be so obvious, given the level of frustration this issue tends to generate:

There are two very different kinds of Spanish (or most other widely spoken languages for that matter): The "standard", formal, school-taught version, and the informal language that people speak on a day to day basis in the streets and at home.

Of course, there are many more variations than that: Academic language, Royalty language, Professional Slang, Diplomatic Language, Legalese, and so forth. But for practical purposes, and for the concerns of this site, it's those two kinds I mentioned.

As has been often stated, it is good and desirable to learn "standard Spanish" (the kind taught in Span¡shD!ct's lessons, and most schools and commercial courses), because truly most of what you can say with that language will be understood in any Spanish speaking country.

But if you want to feel fully at ease with the locals, if you wish to blend and be able to call yourself "Certified Fully Locally Fluent", you must learn the second version - and that's a lot trickier. The thing is, Standard Spanish conforms (as far as such things do) to certain universally agreed rules and conventions. But your Informal Spanish is a different kind of monster, that often contradicts or openly violates the RAE's rules, much to the confusion and frustration of the casual visitor.

Many of the questions we receive here may contain expressions along the lines of: "..but my native friends said this!", or "I read this when I was in...", or "I swear I heard this on TV in ...."

Yes, you probably did. Yes, they were speaking Spanish. Yes, that Spanish is correct for them. No, it's not quite the same Spanish you learned with Rosetta's Stone - in fact, it may be very different at times.

Don't fret about it. If you want to speak like a native, just be aware that you're going to have to spend a long time practicing with the locals, and basically learn a new subset of the language. If you don't have the time or ambition, that's fine too. Learn Span¡shD!ct's brand of Spanish, and you'll be able to communicate well enough in most places. Just don't expect to pass as a native, and don't feel frustrated if the locals tell you that whatever you said should be said in a different manner. Perhaps you should take it as a compliment that they like you well enough to try and teach you the "right" way to speak!

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9254 views
updated May 18, 2011
posted by Gekkosan
Well done, Gekkosan. But where did you find that picture of me? - MLucie, Apr 14, 2011
Thank you for a well-reasoned treatment. Any of us could write a similar essay about our own native language, whichever it is! - pesta, Apr 14, 2011
Very well written, Geko! - bandit51jd, Apr 14, 2011
Couldn't have said it better myself. =) - DJ_Huero, Apr 15, 2011
Excellent explanations Gekko that will really help to open up many people's eyes to the differences that exist and especially how to speak like a native :):) - FELIZ77, Apr 15, 2011
Gekko, perhaps the differences that exist between, for example formal English and the colloquial English spoken on the streets is more widely recognised and better accepted than - FELIZ77, Apr 15, 2011
the same kind of differences that exist in Spanish between the schools Spanish and the street spanish - FELIZ77, Apr 15, 2011
Great opinion and oh so true! - pacofinkler, Apr 29, 2011

8 Answers

5
votes

Excellent, Gekko!

I wonder what led you to post a thread like this. Doesn't this happen in all languages??? or do you think that in Spanish this phenomenon is especially important?

I agree in a great extent, of course. Colloquial and formal Spanish are worlds apart in both, written and oral expression. But I don't think that most of colloquial Spanish is so linked to grammar rules' violation. In fact I think the use of colloquial language is often more correct than another registers, just because people find it more familiar and tend to feel more comfortable using it.

I also think that while some sentences are officially correct, they sound so awkward, inappropriate and artificial that they must be corrected, even if the dictionary supports to you.

Actually, I feel there is not such a long distance between the Spanish people are learning and the Spanish we speak around here. Once you master certain aspects of Spanish I think it shouldn't be so difficult to get used to the variations of each area.

updated Apr 15, 2011
posted by cogumela
Exactamundo! (yes, the infamous made up slang word meaning "right on!") It's kind of like, you first learn how to talk about the weather and stuff, but generally you don't walk up to anyone and start talking about the weather unless you're joking or... - DJ_Huero, Apr 15, 2011
Cogu, I especially agree with you that some of the correct sentences can sound awkward this happens in Eglish too and I suspect most languages where there is a written form as well as an oral tradition passed down :) - FELIZ77, Apr 15, 2011
it's really bad/ noticeable outside. - DJ_Huero, Apr 15, 2011
3
votes

For example, very often Heidita's "Mystery Sentence of the Night" are simply a string of words that look like Spanish, but are devoid of any logical meaning to me.

...and you will never be able to understand sentences like those if you only study "Standard Spanish".

Well, don't worry... smile Honestly, so are them often to me. Understanding Pablo's staments is a real exercise of creativity.

What Pablo says and what my friends tweet is Spanish in both cases, but they are very different kinds of Spanish.

This happens even between different areas here in Spain. And obviously, the differences become even more relevant between different Spanish-speaking countries. I have to look up to RAE's diccionary several times a day to be able to correct the word and the picture of the day. Spanish is not an easy thing to manage even for us, native speakers. I keep on learning Spanish every day.

But let's not drown in a glass of water. This not-understanding among Spanish speakers is nothing serious, and is very relative. It can generate some funny situations, but it's not real misunderstanding, because you know the most words, you can get them, you can even figure out them and fill in the blanks if you didn't hear them very well. Maybe I wouldn't express myself in the same way you do, but eventually, we speak the same language. Do you need to speak like me to understand what I'm saying? No, you don't. Do I want to speak like you so you'll think I am so cool? No I don't, that would be just ridiculous! Who on earth wants, needs or can to speak like the native he/she is not?

Two kinds of Spanish, did you say...? I'd say there are hundreds, maybe thousands of them.

updated Apr 15, 2011
edited by cogumela
posted by cogumela
did you say? Good point. - BellaMargarita, Apr 15, 2011
Thanks, Bella! :D - cogumela, Apr 15, 2011
"figure out them" → "figure them out"...."can to speak" → "can speak" - Izanoni1, Apr 15, 2011
Very nice commentary, Cogu. :) - Izanoni1, Apr 15, 2011
2
votes

Formal written Czech has barely changed since the 15th century while the spoken language has evolved and changed like any other. (because the written language died out and was resurrected using old texts). For this reason there are huge differences between written and spoken Czech, and even Czech students have huge difficulties writing their own language, much more than in English where being remotely well read will result in knowing that something like "I should of gone" is wrong. Imagine trying to write using the grammar of the 15th century!

The fact that I can pick up a newspaper and understand a lot of it already after only studying Spanish for a year tells me I have nothing to worry about!

updated Apr 15, 2011
posted by rabbitwho
Wow! That's daunting! - Gekkosan, Apr 15, 2011
2
votes

I wonder what led you to post a thread like this. Doesn't this happen in all languages??? or do you think that in Spanish this phenomenon is especially important?

I was motivated by a number of questions, where I can perceive a great degree of frustration because what people here on the street, or talking to their native friends, is sometimes very different from what they have learned. And yes, it applies pretty much the same way to all the major languages.

But I don't think that most of colloquial Spanish is so linked to grammar rules' violation. In fact I think the use of colloquial language is often more correct than another registers, just because people find it more familiar and tend to feel more comfortable using it.

That's debatable, Cogu. Puerto Rico is one example where standard grammar is constantly broken in informal speech and even public notices and advertisements. Other times it is not so much a matter of grammar, as a different interpretation of the meaning of words. For example, very often Heidita's "Mystery Sentence of the Night" are simply a string of words that look like Spanish, but are devoid of any logical meaning to me. Likewise, I know that some of my Mystery Sentences are completely foreign to those of you in Spain, even though they are written in "Spanish". What Pablo says and what my friends tweet is Spanish in both cases, but they are very different kinds of Spanish. And you will never be able to understand sentences like those if you only study "Standard Spanish".

I also think that while some sentences are officially correct, they sound so awkward, inappropriate and artificial that they must be corrected, even if the dictionary supports to you.

That is absolutely true - because it is a different language, in fact. I know a lot of people, in various countries, that would just give me a blank stare and ask "...what??", if I spoke to them in the same way that I write here. So in fact most of us are actually multi-lingüal, even if we only speak English or only speak Spanish, because we must be able to manage different versions of our native language, and know when to apply them.

updated Apr 15, 2011
posted by Gekkosan
And for this one also! - pacofinkler, Apr 15, 2011
2
votes

Thanks for a true and thoughtful post Gekkosan. Language is a moving target, wherever you move, you will find variations.

updated Apr 15, 2011
posted by pacofinkler
2
votes

Thanks for sharing that brother. I live in California and have met people who moved here from Mexico, they expressed the same frustration. Saying that they learned English in school and when they got here, " Woe, this is different". In my opinion they speak English just fine, they can communicate. For me, I think it will be easier to learn Span¡shD!cts brand of Spanish and then more of what the locals speak. I use the word ¿cómo? too much now, jeje. I am already experiencing people telling me the other ways of saying things though.

Hasta luego en el foro mi hermano,

                       Amor y paz
updated Apr 15, 2011
posted by EL_MAG0
I am training myself to stop using por favor so often lol :) - FELIZ77, Apr 15, 2011
2
votes

Now , if you can explain the same thing to English learners, I am sure they will appreciate it. wink

updated Apr 15, 2011
posted by chileno
1
vote

So, I won´t be so confused if I see a grammar rule broken. As far as slang I learn it as I go because I normally don´t use it.

updated Apr 15, 2011
posted by BellaMargarita
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