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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Learning Spanish: Chochear to be senile

Chochear to be senile

I looked that word up a while back and wrote it down in one of my notebooks. I do that with every word that I look up. I will write the name of the book that I am reading at the top of a page and then write down every word that I look up along with the definition in English. It seemed like a good system. It still seems like the only system for trying to learn a language. If anyone has a better system, please feel free to share it with me.

Some time ago I looked up the word chochear and wrote it down in a notebook. I was looking through my notebooks the other day and I noticed that I had looked up and wrote down the definition for chochear three different times…no kidding, three times. I’m not smart enough to make that up; just ask around. If I find that I wrote down the definition to this word on four separate occasions I think the irony of not remembering the Spanish word for “senile” is going to turn to despair at realizing that approaching senility may be a reason for my troubles with learning the language.

Chochear isn’t one of those truly obscure words that I have no chance of running into twice in the same lifetime in Spain. You never can tell when you’ll need to pull a word like jabalí (wild boar) out of your ass. I was in a bar the other day and there was a wild boar’s head on the wall. Had I not known the word for this animal it could have been awkward. Instead I was able to say to the bartender, “Menudo jabalí, tío!” which I think means “Cool pig, dude!” Nor is chochear one of those words that are difficult to define or have various meanings depending on the context. Take this word as an example:


1 (una cosa, enfermedad) to catch (a disease, illness)
2 (atropellar) to run over
3 (sorprender) to catch (to surprise)
4 (un chiste, una idea) to get (a joke)
5 (robar) to steal

As well as some colloquialisms like me pilla de camino meaning “it’s on my way” and pillar cacho means "to hook up." If I stay in Spain another couple years I may understand all of the nuances of that word. Of course, it probably has different meanings in Latin American Spanish.

After a year living here in Spain I have had any Latin American colloquialisms beat out of me by the locals. People will flat out correct me for saying something that is perfectly grammatical and common in Mexican Spanish. Whenever someone does correct me I point out that 180 million Mexicans might disagree with their views on the language.

I switched my accent to a Spanish version when I first arrived here. I didn’t speak it well enough at first to stick with the Latin American accent so I just thought it would make things easier if I adopted the Castilian Spanish pronunciation where they lisp the Z and Ci sounds instead of pronouncing them like an S as they do in Latin America and Andalucia. They call these places "zonas de seseo." Latin Americans who move to Spain don’t switch their accents, just like I wouldn’t start speaking like a Brit if I moved to London. A Spaniards sure as shit wouldn’t start speaking like a local if he/she moved to Mexico or Argentina. They can barely tolerate hearing a Latin accent let alone try to imitate one.

The most difficult aspect of speaking Spanish imperfectly is that it is a challenge to say anything funny. I was at a dinner party last night and the France/Spain football match was on the television. It was only a friendly game, but all of us were intently watching because it a sporting event and it’s on TV. I was sort of half-way following a conversation with someone I should have probably been paying closer attention when she asked me if I was listening. I said, “Of course I’m listening. He just said that Torres is out with an injury and the score is still tied 0-0.” Not a very sophisticated joke but it got some laughs. I’ll keep looking up words and writing down definitions. I hope the jokes will start coming easier.

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