Pardon me, but I think I’m in love with your Spanish

Have you ever had a language crush on someone? I don’t mean falling for someone who just happened to be a native speaker of the language you were learning which then made for oh-so-convenient benefits. (Profovios? Ha, that’s a joke. A common word for “friends with benefits” is amigovios. Amigos + novios. Here I am trying to acuñar a word for people you date with the perk thrown in that they’ll teach you their language.) Been there, blogged about that. No, I’m talking about swooning over how well someone (a native speaker of your language) speaks the language you’re learning. In most of our cases that would be an English speaker who speaks Spanish like a god. Or a goddess, as in my case. By definition, gender is of no importance whatsoever in these language crushes, romance and sex are completely beside the point (and, thus, out of the picture), and these crushes are inherently unrequited. The object of your veneration is only peripherally aware of your existence, let alone the fact that you too are giving Spanish your best shot, despite your sorry level. They’re far too busy being so excruciatingly “Spanish” and kindly explaining to todo el mundo in rapid-fire Spanish that they are not from here, that, aunque parezca increíble they’re American, all the while speaking with a flawless accent and effortlessly interweaving idioms that only the locals know while coolly sipping aguapanela like they’d been drinking it all their life. ¡Da rabia! I’m telling you, these people are really asking for it. And, yet, in the most inhospitable places, love springs.

While in Colombia, I had a big fat language crush on a girl named Eva. She and I received the same government grant to go to Colombia, and we were roommates during the orientation in Bogotá when we first went down there. After orientation, I saw her a week later when I spent the weekend in Medellín, which is where she was living. I then saw her a few months later in Mexico, where our group had a something or other. I can’t quite remember. Anyway, I kind of worshipped Eva and her Spanish, despite the very small amount of time I got to spend with her. No matter. It was enough. Enough to drive the stake into my heart–her Spanish was simply divine. Mine, on the other hand, was pitiful. Her Spanish was poised and intellectual, wore miniskirts and drove around in a convertible; mine was bumbling and had stringy hair, always had embarrassing stains on its clothes and it sat around on the weekends, staring at the phone and imploring it to ring. Her Spanish’s phone rang off the hook. Everyone wanted to hang out with her Spanish, my scraggly self included. I was in awe.

Canonization aside, she really did speak great Spanish. Sure, I was just comparing it to my own. I probably wouldn’t be so cowed now (or, who knows, maybe I would). Still, it’s a moot point. While I’ve improved by leaps and bounds in the last two and a half years, so has she, and now that she’s married to a Colombian . . . well. I’m pretty sure I’m now at a permanent disadvantage. I’ll never catch up to her. When we went down there, she had had a Colombian boyfriend for three years. (Although he is not to be confused with the man who is now her husband. Long story! And not really mine to tell.) On the first night, she Skyped him and had a long video call with him on her bed, which was right next to mine. I listened completely transfixed. I couldn’t believe my ears. By the time she hung up, I was ready to pounce. Oh, Eva, you should have TOLD me you were a native speaker! As if, you know, she had cheated and broken the rules. The thing was, though, she wasn’t. Not at all. Her very Slavic last name should have made this only too clear. As I tagged along with her over the next few days, I couldn’t help but notice that she knew how to say, simply put, absolutely everything. Next to her, I felt like a total chump.

By the time I visited her a week later in Medellín, I had one week of Colombia under my belt. I’d been swallowed alive. Day by day, hour by hour, utterance after error-pocked utterance, I’d come to realize that my Spanish was like an ugly boyfriend, and I was embarrassed to be seen with it. With Eva that weekend, we spent some time with locals, and I was on pins and needles trying to play it cool and keep my Spanish under wraps. But then I had to ask her to remind me how to say “favor” in Spanish. Yes, “favor.” Sí, ¡favor! ¡Imagínate! I’m pretty sure that was one of my most humiliating and humbling moments in Colombia, and I have plenty to choose from. If I remember right, this happened in the metro station, and I’m just glad that I somehow managed to keep from hurling myself onto the tracks. I seethed. I suffered. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Those days were so good for my pride and vanity, though! I now wish they happened to me every day. I get a lot of praise, and it doesn’t motivate me. But if every day I were to be consumed with the desire to crawl into a hole and die? It would be awesome. If I had to wear a scarlet ‘U’ on my chest for unfluent? You’d better believe that that would not be the case for much longer. I don’t want you to think I’m not motivated by healthy things, because I am. I just can’t deny, though, that shame and envy also do wonders for me. The positive motivators tell me: I can do it! The day I put my mind to it, I’ll have this thing in the bag. There’s nothing about a time frame, though. I’m always holding out for a language deathbed conversion of sorts. I’m repeatedly reminded that no hay afán and encouraged to take my time. The negative motivators tell me: I’d better do this right now. I can’t stand to live another second with mud all over my face. I refuse to be so pathetic and not achieve my goals. I won’t live forever. For all I know, I’ll die in a car accident tomorrow. Do I want to die monolingual? I’d better get on the ball. Don’t tell me you can’t appreciate the difference.

It turned out that my ex also knew Eva, and he once casually confirmed to me what I’d feared all along–her Spanish was stellar. Oh, how I despised her (and him) in that moment! A pox on both their houses! I never forgave him that infidelity. I’m completely kidding, of course, but we used to talk about how few motivators can trump envy. Is it just me? Surely not. I really liked Eva a lot. We talked semi-regularly and kept in touch a little once she and her husband moved to the US. At the end of the day, I simply admired her. She was a role model for me. She’d taken translation courses and had also studied Portuguese and Italian. She hadn’t gotten lucky or taken any shortcuts–her level was just a reflection of years of hard work and devotion put into her Spanish. And she wasn’t a genius ni nada por el estilo. Smart, yes, but so am I. There’s no reason why I can’t attain exactly what she has. Skills are the result of time and effort (done in an efficient manner, of course) put in, punto. Mad skills mean mad time and effort. Eva simultaneously became a role model and an archrival for me. I like to create imaginary villains to compete with–life’s more interesting that way. Ay, ¿pero y qué se cree la creída esa? Who does she think she is to be speaking Spanish like that? Who do I think I am not to? Unfortunately, by the time I moved to Medellín, she had already moved back to the US, but if she had been there, I would have been a glutton for punishment, seeking humiliation by her side every day if I could have. Maybe one day we’ll bump into each other, though, and I’ll get that sweet mortification I’ve so dearly missed.

So, there you have the story of my first and so far only language crush. I need a new one, though. Feel free to suggest yourself if you think you fit the bill. Where to look? Hopefully I’ll meet one while interpreting at the hospital. Eva set the bar really high, though, so I’m certainly not impressed with just anyone. And I don’t get smitten just for the sake of being smitten. Too many risks. I’m perfectly content to not be taken with anyone. It’s springtime, though, and I can’t deny that it would be so wonderfully delicious right now to fall in love.

What about you? Can you relate? Do you have any language crushes, or do you think I have a screw loose? Do you know anyone who speaks Spanish/English/whatever language you’re learning so well that your jaw drops and you get googly-eyed? What experiences have you had where envy or shame or other negative elements helped you in your language studies? I can’t be the only one, surely.

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34 responses to “Pardon me, but I think I’m in love with your Spanish

    • Don’t quite understand what you’re saying. I’ve never seen that movie, but I read the summary. Yikes, I hope you’re not saying that I’m like that creepy roommate. The summary kind of reminded me of All About Eve. As for Eva being vain, I really can’t say because I wasn’t able to spend a lot of time with her. She didn’t come across that way to me, though. If anything, she’s probably like I am now– proud of the level she’s achieved but (perhaps overly) modest because she’s always aware that there are still many things she doesn’t know. Let see if we can get her to comment! :)

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  1. I had a Thai Crush! Yeah he was technically half Thai and Half American, but he was born in the US and his parents never technically taught him Thai. But he grew up listening to it and that gave him an intuition about Thai that would take me ALONG time to catch up on even though he became a missionary 6 weeks after me to the DAY(I know I counted). It was the greatest motivator to not get lax with my level of Thai. I was always trying to get better because of him.

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    • Great! Yes, these crushes are SO effective!! That’s what I was trying to focus on in this post, not some sort of weird “crush.” Although this guy definitely had a leg up with his ethnic background and by listening to it. Maybe someone somewhere has since developed crushes on me and you and we’ve unwittingly inspired and challenged them to step up their game :)

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  2. I love this! Especially “Do I want to die monolingual?” This may become a t-shirt or poster in my classroom. I had a language crush on a friend’s son-in-law. However he had the advantage of being British, so his Spanish just sounded more “royal” to me.

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  3. I enjoyed this post. When I was studying Mandarin in college, we all had a language crush on our second-year professor Alexei. It was so embarrassing to hear his perfect Mandarin and have to turn in recordings of our poor pronunciation and have him make us repeat it over and over. Never mind he had a Taiwanese wife and had been speaking Chinese for like 15 years, he was definitely like a god. Some also had a crush on our first-year prof who was actually Korean, but spoke better Mandarin than native speakers, he was more of the genius type though as he also spoke several other languages, had perfect calligraphy, could run backwards on the treadmill, and then proceeded to beat my friend in swimming…

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    • Thanks, Manu! Goddess-like status must be our goal. I am aiming for divinity, no more and no less. Are you keeping up your Mandarin? What other languages do you speak/have you studied?

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      • I try to keep up my mandarin though it’s hard to remember how to write all those characters. I’m a bit more focused on French right now though since I want to do my doctorate In France. It’s true what you say, hard work, consistency, and tons of motivation are really the key.

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        • Yes, motivation. When I’m just competing with myself… well, it’s often not enough. But throw another person in there, and suddenly I am dying to improve, for my own dignity if nothing else. Wow, your doctorate in France? So, then I take it you’re doing your masters now–? Very cool. I also want to do a masters, and I’ve toyed with the idea of doing it in Latin America. I really look forward to meeting you and picking your brain a little in Bogotá. I might even get a crush on you, watch out ;)

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          • Yep. You should totally do it here it’s much cheaper, well the national university anyways. We should totally meet up I always like to hear people who speak good Spanish and make effort with the accent. Hehe I dunno if I really count Spanish is my native language.

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  4. One of my old Spanish teachers was a linguistic expert and if I had to have a “language crush,” I’d have to say it was on her ability to so fluently adapt to the exact Spanish dialect of whoever she was speaking with. While Spanish was her first language (Argentina), my Venezuelan roommate told me she spoke to him like a native Venezuelan and I witnessed how her Spanish so effortlessly adapted to that of the teachers and students from Spain and Puerto Rico as well. That’s definitely the ideal in my mind!

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    • That’s great! I don’t even aspire to be a language chameleon like that! If only I could master one region! (Guess which one)

      Thanks for the comment.

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  5. A Venezuelan once told me I sounded Mexican which in his mind was an insult. Since I’d just spent several months in Mexico it’s no wonder I’d pick up that accent. At least it’s not a gringo accent which I’d heard a lot of while down there. Some had much better grammar than me but the accent was like nails on a chalk board! So I haven’t known anyone who’s Spanish I envy in that way.
    While I was in Mexico, a cab driver asked if I was from Argentina which has also happened here when I was picking up some yerba mate at the latin tienda. I’ve since tried to sound as neutral as possible while having reasonably good pronunciation. I don’t worry about it too much. I’ve since been told my accent sounds cute!

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    • Mexican? Argentinian? That’s great! Ugh, the gringo accent! I don’t know how people can STAND it! Don’t they realize how GOD AWFUL it sounds? What’s the point of speaking Spanish if you’re going to speak it in your horrendous Southern drawl? (I’m in Tennessee.) Me hace mucho daño a los oídos, ¡no lo soporto pues!

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  6. I’m almost never around any spoken Spanish, so I don’t know that I’ve developed any language crushes just yet, but I wonder if it could happen with some well-written Spanish online :)

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    • To paraphrase a line from a movie I just saw: Beware of Internet passions, Jim. They always lead to something ugly.

      I should know. I’m only half-serious, of course. I had one and it led to something beautiful. Still, the flesh-and-blood variety of crushes are so much more satisfying! We’ll have to set you up with someone ;)

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  7. When I studied my year abroad in Spain, most of the other students there were French or Italian. Particularly the Italians picked up Spanish in three or so months, despite being law or medicine or rocket science students… I a student of Spanish, nodded and smiled for nine months only ready to participate in conversation after a botellón or a day of beers in the sunshine!
    OF course, I remember one girl, French, pretty enough, perfect Spanish in a matter of weeks but with a dainty French accent. Bad Spanish + Irish guiri accent does not give off the same linguistic lust appeal. I have to say I’m still toting the scarlet U, still bringing the ugly boyfriend to social gatherings and trying to avoid introductions. Love the article :)

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    • See, that’s why I specified that for my crushes, one of the rules is that the person must have the same native language as me. Otherwise, we’d be comparing ourselves to others who have a leg up (those whose native language is a Romance language, the Scandinavians with their language powers, basically all Europeans in general) and feeling bad about ourselves unnecessarily. I insist on comparing apples to apples! Although I suppose we all have something or other. Perhaps someone could scrutinize my language-learning background and find different examples of “cheating” if they really wanted to create excuses.

      Thanks for the comment and your kind words. Your Spanish can get better! And so can your accent. It’s all about practice and motivation :)

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  8. I would ask your spanish on a date in a heartbeat.

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  9. 1. I assumed your Spanish was female.
    2. Tell “it” I said, “nada.”

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  10. In Spanish the words flow together unlike in English and I think therein lies the problem. The gringos I met who had great grammar but bad pronunciation didn’t have the flow so the their Spanish sounded really choppy and awkward. I don’t know why but I never had that problem.
    I had the hardest time with rr’s though so my Venezuelan girlfriend gave me a child’s poem to learn. RR con RR cigarro…. etc… have you heard of it?
    The problem is that different languages don’t use the same mouth muscles so it’s necessary to exercise them. Child’s poems are very useful for that.
    I think the key for me was definitely practice but also really listening. I listen to latin music all the time and sing along which I think has made a big difference.

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    • Yes, I’m sure the music has played a large part in you being able to nail the accent. Good for you!

      No, I don’t know that poem, but I’ve been fortunate and have never had a problem with “rr”s!

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  11. Your Spanish is much better than mine, but I’d say my real language crush is Mike Campbell (www.youtube.com/user/Glossika) (Mandarin)

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    • Yeah, he’s good!

      I was never trying to make anyone feel obligated to have a crush on me, btw. In any case, I’m mentally and emotionally unavailable ;)

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  12. Nice Post, base emotions make great motivators… I was told once that I would never be able to speak French properly (I used to roll my r’s at the front of my mouth), so I learnt German for 3 months to improve my glottal pronunciation. My French accent is now good enough to fool a foreigner, plus now I can order a bus ticket in German!

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    • Wow! You are really on a roll at digging up old posts and breathing life into them again! Thanks! This one just happens to be one of my favorites :)

      That’s great that you were so successful with French. Yes, base emotions can be very effective, but I also think there are two sides to every coin. I was very envious of Eva, but I also admired her and felt very inspired. When you were told that you’d never speak French properly, I’m sure you felt a mix of rage, disappointment, hurt, resignation, failure, etc. But at the same time incredibly determined! All that matters is what we DO with these emotions.

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  13. Pingback: A blog birthday | Vocabat

  14. Pingback: Colombia: A simple country | Vocabat

  15. A few months ago on one forum I fell in love with one guy’s English and I gave him a link to this post :)

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