What I Know Now About the Spanish Language

What I Know Now About the Spanish Language

When I moved to Madrid, Spain to teach English, I didn’t know that I would also end up being a student of the Spanish language. Here I was, teaching English by day, learning new Spanish words and expressions, and training my hearing to the Spanish accent by night. As a Latina born and raised in the US, I grew up listening to, and muttering my first words in Spanish thanks to my Mexican parents. A gift I truly appreciate, and one that I knew I surely had a good understanding of. That was, of course, until I moved to Spain and learned that I had some more learning to do. Here are five things I learned about the Spanish language, as a native speaker myself.

1. Not All Spanish Language Is the Same

I consider myself to be fully bilingual in English and Spanish. I can write, read, speak and understand Spanish pretty well. However, the more I spoke with Spaniards and the more I listened to conversations around me at work, and with my host parents, the more I started to question what I thought I actually knew about the Spanish language. 

I realized through funny mistakes and misunderstandings on both sides that Mexican Spanish was actually very different from Spain Spanish in many ways. From the differences in accent, to vocabulary words and slang, to different meanings of words used in Spain vs. in Mexico. It was a lot that I did not anticipate, maybe foolishly, but it made for great learning experiences. I had plenty of funny ice-breakers with strangers. I grew a deeper appreciation for the Spanish language. 

For instance, let’s take the word “heater” which in Mexican Spanish, we would say calenton. In Spain, they would say estufa, which means cooking stove in Mexican Spanish. The funny thing here is that it makes total sense. However, it’s just not a word I would use for a heater. Yet that was the word they used in Spain.  

Another quick example is the word “straw.” In Mexico, we would call this popote, while in Spain, the word is pajita. Two completely different sounding words that can cause quite a moment of confusion for both Mexicans and Spaniards.  My mom learned this the funny/hard way when she was visiting me in Madrid — thanks, mom! 

I was suddenly hearing Spanish words for everyday things that sounded like a whole different language at times. It was intimidating in the beginning. However, I realized the grand opportunity to re-learn the Spanish language in a country where Spanish was the main language.

2. I Unexpectedly Relearned a Language I Thought I Already Knew

Moving to Spain meant a lot of changes and adjustments. One of them was expanding my knowledge of the Spanish language, which I did not expect. Relearning Spanish in Spain allowed me to learn words I didn’t know in Spanish to begin with, which was surprisingly refreshing.  Every day I was learning new vocabulary words that back home, I would have never used. For example, insurance? In Spain, it’s seguro. I would have said aseguranza which is not an actual Spanish word. It’s Spanglish. And like this, I learned a lot. I realized that senderismo meant hiking, andar meant to go for a walk, and nevera meant refrigerator. I used completely different words for these words. 

I’ll admit that the first few months, the constant and unexpected relearning of my native Spanish felt a bit intimidating. It was a bit of an identity crisis each time someone didn’t understand me, or vice versa. I had always identified as a fluent Spanish speaker. All of a sudden I faced the challenge of not being able to communicate with my peers that well. 

I felt nervous to speak, and even dumb at times. However, being an English teacher, I was reminded every day by my students what the process to learn a new language was like. I learned how to be ok with feeling silly at times. It’s not that serious, and it can be fun to learn new words in a foreign language. At the end of the day, I was grateful to know the Spanish language, whether it was slightly different or not.

3. Speaking Spanglish and Other Dialects

Maybe Spanglish is not a fully recognized language. But the truth is, there is a whole population of us that speak Spanglish in the US. Approximately 40 million people in the US speak Spanglish, a hybrid language of English and Spanish. This “agreed upon” language came about after the Mexican-American War of 1948. A unique combination of sounds, words, and meanings became widespread during the 50’s and 60s  with the waves of immigrants from Latin America coming to the US. 

After coming back from Spain, my new workplace in the US involved a lot of Spanish speaking — a continuation of my learning and appreciation of the Spanish language. This time, however, with my recent experience of being in Spain, I couldn’t help but think about this other variation of Spanish – Spanglish. I thought about the different versions of Spanglish spoken throughout the US the more I interacted with other different Spanish speakers in the US. The Spanglish that people in Texas and California speak is different from the one in Florida, or New York for instance. It reminded me of the differences in Spanish spoken in Andalucia vs. the Basque Country within Spain, or the different dialects of Spanish spoken all throughout Latin America.  Different, yet similarly understood. 

What I know now about the Spanish language is that it’s much more diverse, complex, beautiful, and rich than I ever really thought it was. I cultivated such gratitude to know this beautiful language. In fact, I’m now learning a few of the different dialects in other Spanish-speaking countries. I’m paying more attention to other countries and their specific and beautiful ways of speaking Spanish — from their accents, to their slang, and unique and cultural Spanish words. 

4. The Spanish Language Is Much Richer Than I Thought

I began to experience a newfound appreciation for Spanish after being in Spain for just a few weeks. I came to a realization of the differences between Spain and Mexican Spanish dialects. Every single day I learned a new expression or word. I had never really realized the richness of the diversity – the bending of the meaning of words that differ between countries and cultures. How amazing is it that approximately 18 countries in the world speak Spanish, with each having their own version of it? That one expression can mean one thing in one country, and it can mean something completely different in another? It’s exciting, funny, wonderful, and extremely interesting.

Another very interesting thing I learned about the Spanish language was the complexities of Spanish, and how it’s spoken differently not only between Mexicans and Spaniards, but also within Spain regionally. That was a whole other level of learning that allowed me to dive deeper into how rich — culturally and linguistically — Spanish is. What I know now about the Spanish language is that language in and of itself is such a powerful tool to communicate and get to know a culture. It is also an incredibly helpful tool to make friends, connections, get out of your comfort zone, and to appreciate something you already knew, just a bit deeper.

5. The Spanish Language Gave Lasting Friendships

Whether I am at home, or I am living in Spain, knowing the Spanish language has always allowed me to make friends with other Spanish speakers. It’s a common thread that connects people, knowing the same language. Although it makes sense, it rings especially true when traveling. Whenever I reflect on my living experience in Spain, I can’t help but feel even more gratitude for speaking Spanish, no matter how different it sounded to Spaniards. 

Speaking Spanish allowed me to connect with my co-workers, have conversations, learn how friendships are made in a foreign country, and also share more of myself authentically with locals. Whether it was a conversation over cultural differences at dinner with my host parents, or sharing my travel plans with my co-workers and getting suggestions from them, speaking Spanish facilitated my ability to connect with the people and culture of Spain so much. In the same way, it was an opportunity to share not only Mexican culture with my host parents, but also cook for them a Mexican feast. If I hadn’t known Spanish, my experience would have potentially looked very different. 

The Wrap-Up

The irony of it all was that when I first arrived in Spain, my Spanish host family, co-workers, and friends didn’t understand me completely because I spoke Mexican-Spanish and Spanglish. However, when I came back home, my Mexican family and friends struggled to understand some of the expressions I was using.  

Now, I had learned and expanded my own knowledge of the Spanish language, while living and immersing myself in Spanish culture and dialect. I used words like que guay, estropear, and other interesting words unique to Spain that I couldn’t let go of. 

In the end, I learned quickly that Mexican-Spanish differs in many ways from Spain-Spanish. While I felt very grateful to know some version of Spanish, I didn’t know that my year teaching English in Spain would also deepen my appreciation for a language I already thought I knew. I realized throughout my time living in Spain that Spanish comes in all sounds, speeds, and expressions. Language in and of itself is such a powerful tool to connect and learn about a culture on a deeper level. Especially when it’s your own. 

55 thoughts on “What I Know Now About the Spanish Language

  1. What I’ve learned over the years is that the Spanish we learned in school is more proper than most people use. Now that I’m married to someone whose first language was Spanish, I have learned much more.

    1. You’re right Heather! There is so much more to the Spanish language than just the proper words commonly taught in classrooms. Thanks for your comment!

  2. I could definitely learn more Spanish, it’s all so different. What I’ve picked up is really from being immersed and listening/learning.

    1. It’s honestly an amazing (if not the best) way to learn a language! Nothing like seeing/listening to it in action :)

    1. Yes, that’s right! We have a few words in common between Spanish and Tagalog like the words for shoe and horse if I remember correctly.

  3. I’m surprised you also have Spanglish. We commonly use Taglish too in the Philippines. Combination of Tagalog and English. And Tagalog too is heavily influenced by Spanish.

    1. Oh wow, that’s so interesting too! The U.S. is such a diverse country, that it makes all the sense to have these almost hybrid languages here :) thanks for sharing about Taglish, Alita!

  4. Spanish is so much easier for me to learn as a second language. I always watched Spanish drama and I love the sound of it.

    1. That’s so cool, Elizabeth! Spanish drama telenovelas are a good way to immerse yourself in the language! And entertaining as well :)

    1. Oh yes, I bet Texas has a lot of Spanish speakers! The interesting thing too is that Texan Spanish speakers will most likely have a different sort of dialect of Spanish to Spanish speakers from California, New York, or Florida – so interesting to get all these varieties even within the U.S.

  5. I took Spanish in high school and our teacher taught us the Spanish spoken in Spain. She pointed out to us the difference pronunciations in Spanish spoken in Mexico.

    1. That’s awesome, Lori! That’s really helpful and important. I could have used that lesson before moving to Spain 😅

  6. Spanish is spoken in so many places. It’s a language I’ve not learnt unfortunately. I’ve managed to learn a few words so far.

    1. Yes! Spanish is definitely becoming a widely spoken language in many parts of the world. You’re getting closer and closer to fluency with each new word :)

    1. That’s so exciting! You’ll have the best time. Haha yes! It was such a plot twist, but one that worked out really well thankfully.

  7. My husband speaks Spanish well and uses it often in his job. We have a lot of people here who are native to the Spanish language.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Tara! I agree, it’s definitely becoming widely spoken in many parts of the world, especially within the U.S. too.

  8. This is super interesting and I wish I had taken Spanish in High School. I took Latin and what a waste LOL…. If I could do it all over it would be Spanish. :)

  9. It’s the same with the Chinese language. The Taiwan dialect is different from the mainland, but if fluent, you can easily talk to one another. I do think knowing another language is very useful, which is why I enrolled my daughter in Chinese immersion.

    1. That’s so cool, and an amazing gift to give your daughter! I am very grateful that I was able to practice both languages growing up, as it’s so helpful to know later on in life! She will thank you later on.

    1. Hi Terri, thanks for your comment! Yes, I agree! Languages are really amazing, and we can definitely keep learning about our own.

    1. Hi there! That’s right! There are so many details and dialects that change the Spanish language all across the world. It was really cool learning this while in Spain, and learning the Spanish spoken in Spain as a speaker of Mexican / Spanglish Spanish myself :)

  10. For me, the Spanish language sounds really intelligent and hot. :) The Philippines have been colonized by Spaniard for hundreds of years. That’s why us Filipinos have simple Spanish words incorporated into our daily language. Example of these are numbers uno, dos, tres, quatro, and many more!

    1. Yes, you’re so right! We have that in common, and it is really interesting to learn how we have some words in common!

  11. It’s so beautiful to learn a new language and to have the opportunity to speak it! Everyday you discover something new!

    1. Hi Catalina, yes I agree! There’s always something new to learn, especially when traveling to these destinations!

    1. Love Duolingo! Thanks for your comment Irena! I’m always interested in hearing how other people hear and like Spanish :)

  12. I tried learning Spanish in school and continued until University. I was obsessed with it, and I love that the pronunciation is so much easier than English.

    1. Hi Beth, thanks for your comment! That’s really cool, I bet you can hold a conversation with locals really well if you got the pronunciation down :)

  13. I find it so interesting that you have learned so many different forms of Spanish. I lived in Louisiana so I was around the French dialect for such a long time. Now I am in Florida and hear more of the Spanish you hear in the Florida area. After reading your post I understand what you are talking about regarding the different types of Spanish than what I might hear in Texas etc. I find your articles so interesting. I enjoy ‘living’ your travels through you.

    1. Hi Elizabeth, thank you so much! I’m happy to hear that! That’s so true though, the U.S. has so many different pockets where different languages and accents are spoken, and I agree it’s so cool to discover and hear it for ourselves.

  14. Wow, after reading this even I learned something new. It’s great that you get to learn more in-depth about the Spanish language.

    1. I’m really glad to hear that Angela, thanks for your comment! Yes, I am really grateful for the experience and the new appreciation for Spanish.

  15. This was so nice to read! I took French in high school but I wish I had taken Spanish! I think I would’ve used it more.

    1. I’m so glad to hear that, thanks, Brianna! French is such a beautiful language and I hope to at least learn the basics one day. So many languages, so little time haha.

  16. Even if you’re not fluent, Spanglish can sure help in countries that don’t speak a lot of English. I have seen it be beneficial as a teacher too. ;)

    1. Thanks Elise! I am so glad you found it interesting! Learning a new language can also include learning more about the language itself.

  17. Learning a new language is so fun and useful! My bestie works as a Spanish resource in an IT company. I seriously like this language and after reading this post, am more interested in learning the Spanish language now :)

  18. How interesting! I have been trying to learn a little Spanish for our trips to Mexico, but it is very slow going. I wish I was fluent!

    1. Hi Marysa! Thanks for your comment! I hope the Spanish learning is going well and that you’re enjoying Mexico!

  19. I loved reading your article. I can only imagine how shocked you were after you arrived in Spain and discovered that you need to learn your own language. I visited Spain many times and lived in the UK where I had many Spanish friends. I always wanted to learn Spanish but I had to prioritize learning English. I never knew that there are so many different versions of Spanish…. until I moved to Puerto Rico. “Vosotros” is nowhere to be found here :) Even my Costa Rican, Guatemalan and Puerto Rican friends have some difficulties to understand each other. So what are the chances of Polish person like me learning 18 Spanish dialects? :) I’m only beginner at Spanish but I already see that Spanish in my grammar book is very different from the one in Duolingo app or on Puerto Rican tv. Not to mention all podcasts I listen on spotify or youtube. They are probably from all over the world. Wish me luck :)

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