In the window box of my new apartment, there’s a pigeon and her two pidgelets. I’ve watched over them since they were wee little eggs, and now I watch their growth and increased plumage (and poopage) every day, several times a day. So when the mama pigeon seemed to disappear for around a 12-hour period, I panicked. It didn’t help that there are always these sleazy-looking cats slinking around the interior of the apartment building. I was certain the two little chicks were now alone in the world, and I was going to Google what to feed baby pigeons, how to keep them warm, and, potentially, how to teach them to fly when the time inevitably came. (And maybe ask my parents to look around and see if they still had our VHS version of Fly Away Home) Just as I had fully mentally assumed my new role as Mother Pigeon, I heard their frantic cheeps/píos píos and looked over to see the real Mother Pigeon back. Did she meet a man? Just need some me time away from her needy little wards? I’ll never know, but I was relieved to see that she hadn’t been eaten, nor had she abandoned her helpless kiddos. She looked a little guilty, but all was well.
Did you like the story? I tell it to say that, in the same way, I haven’t abandoned the blog. I just didn’t really have Spanish on the brain for a while, there. A month passed where I seriously felt like the only new word I learned was how to say funnel in Spanish. (Embudo) Blazing new Spanish trails, I was not. There was a lot of English, a lot of silence, and a lot of Spanish that more or less consisted of the same ol’ same ol’. And new relationships, dwellings, work, activities, and studies that kept me away from the blog. Oh, and there hasn’t been internet at my apartment for almost three weeks now, thanks to a real gem of a Spanish gentleman who took it upon himself to cut the cable because he suspected us of stealing from his connection. But, just like Mamá Paloma, I’m back and ready to be Spanish blogger extraordinaire again, hitting the books, so to speak, and teaching you how to express your rad self in Spanish. Before I share something new, let me (re)share something old: my second column from The Bogotá Post. I first wrote this post in October 2011, but this version is revamped, improved, and definitely more accurate than the first go, thanks to a sidekick who’s helping me out. And you guys? How’s the Spanish going?
Let’s make a collaboration!
At first glance, colaborar and collaborate seems to be one of those translation pairs we like best. One means one thing, the other means the same thing, and everything’s hunky-dory, right? But then you come to Colombia and you start hearing colaborar used left and right, whereas in English it’s one of those words you hear rather infrequently. What’s going on? Are Colombians just a particularly collaborative bunch? Are they renowned for playing well with others?
In English, “collaborate” gets bandied about in power breakfasts between businessmen, trade deals between governments, and newspaperese. Not being a company bigwig, politico, or journalist largely exempts me from using this word in my day-to-day parlance, though. Spanish, however, does use this word quite often, and Spanish speakers will often reach for colaborar when we would use a more run-of-the-mill word such as plain old “help,” “work together,” or even “volunteer.”
What does this mean for you, oh-so-diligent Spanish learner? Well, make sure you realize that it’s used much more in Spanish, meaning you should be using it more often. Don’t worry; you won’t sound excessively fancy. Whereas in English it generally means working together on some kind of intellectual effort, joining forces and brainpower to attain mutual goals, in Spanish it just means two or more people co-laboring on . . . well, just about anything.
As you can see, it’s often used with the more watered-down meaning of “to help.” To whittle it down even further, Colombians like to dispense with the prepositions. Thus, people regularly say the Spanish equivalent of things like “I collaborated her” or “Will you collaborate me?”, treating the word as if it acted like “to help,” instead of “I collaborated with her” or “Will you collaborate with me?”.
¿En qué le puedo colaborar? ¿Le colaboro en algo?
Can I help you? Be prepared to hear this from ten different salespeople when you walk into stores. Note that in these constructions the phrase is colaborar en, but it’s otherwise colaborar con.
Do you need help? Here, let me give you a hand.
Con mucho gusto les colaboro con las traducciones.
I’d be happy to help you with the translations.
If you’re the one in need, a smooth ¿Me podrías colaborar? will be sure to elicit the aid you’re looking for. As the word is so vague, context and body language will convey the nature of the favor you’re looking for.
¿Usted me podría colaborar acá con una empujadita?
Would you mind helping me out and giving it a push?
Oye, ¿me colaboras un momento con estos libros?
Could you hold these books for a second?
Mona, ¿me colaboras con una monedita?
Hey, blondie, can you spare a dime?
The noun form -colaboración- is also very common.
Cualquier colaboración será bienvenida.
We appreciate each and every donation, no matter how small.
Necesito su colaboración para poder entregar los documentos a tiempo.
I’m going to need everyone to make an extra effort so we can turn these documents in on time.
Rather unkosher, but the word colaborar also tends to show up when, say, someone tries to dodge a ticket from a police officer.
Uy, ¿y será que usted no me puede colaborar con eso?
Isn’t there a way we could work this out between the two of us?
Or, when you’re just a few decimal points shy of passing your class and need to beg your teacher for some leniency.
Uy, profe, colabóreme ahí, por favor.
Come on, please help me out! Just this once!
You generally use colaborar with a stranger or with someone with whom you speak formally (like a boss, for example). It’s a kinder, softer way of phrasing things, and it slyly includes the listener in the action so you’re not just asking for a favor point-blank. It’s also A-OK to just use ayudar. To use colaborar with someone you’re close to could sound a bit cold and formal, as if you’re trying to signal distance all of a sudden. When you’re annoyed with someone you’re close to and want to let off some steam, it’s an ideal word to use.
Oiga, pero colabóreme porque llevo todo el día haciendo aseo y usted en un segundo llega con las patas cochinas a ensuciarme todo.
Hey, how about a little help now and then? Here I am cleaning all day, and then you just track mud in and make it all dirty again.
When pressed to explain why one would choose colaborar over ayudar, an old boyfriend once told me that ayudar sounds more formal around here. Sure, you could just say ayudar, but wouldn’t it be more exciting to collaborate, as if you’re working together on the problem instead of you just looking for a handout?