Kids, take your vocab

Because you just never know when that obscure, pedantic, fancy-pants word you learned in eighth grade English class ostensibly to boost your SAT score will come in handy in real life. If it seems essentially useless in English, try Spanish and see if you can’t get more mileage out of it. You’ll likely find that big words get much more facetime with our neighbors to the south (and Spain! I’m sweet on Latin America, sure, but I’d never want to give the impression of being anti-Spain). Good news! Those words no longer have to simply collect dust in the recesses of your brain! You can put them to work, starting right now. Make them earn their keep.

On the flip side, a great way to learn more Spanish is to learn more English. Whaddaya mean, I’m a native speaker! Yeah, yeah, I know. Still. You can always further enrich your vocabulary. It’s amazing how I discover more and more Spanish-English cognates as I learn more English, thereby making Spanish easier and more familiar. When was the last time you used a word in English for the first time?

Anyway, here I leave you with my new (old) word. Last saw “celerity” circa middle school, but it was right there on instant recall when I saw it in its Spanish getup, meaning that I didn’t have to waste any time getting confused, thinking that these works were advancing with celery’s dad or any such inanities. See, no bit of knowledge is ever wasted. Everything shows up again, although often in a very different form. For many reasons, I’m very grateful for the endless lists of English vocabulary we had to learn in middle school and high school. I had no idea at the time that I’d one day be so nuts about Spanish, nor did I realize that I was unknowingly already expanding my Spanish vocabulary word by seemingly pointless word, a vocabulary that would lie dormant for a few years. The point ended up being that I could skim the headlines of this Colombian newspaper today, and I could do it with–what else?–great celerity.

Oh, and the Metrocable is pretty cool, by the way. The picture of me on the About page was taken inside it. Full disclosure: I might be receiving a lot of money for this post. It’s all a PR set-up to enhance Medellín’s international image. That doesn’t discredit the language insights in any way, though, does it?

What about you? When you learn new words in English, do you ever then realize that a certain Spanish word is a cognate and that you just weren’t aware of it before? Have you ever found vocabulary that you learned back in your schooldays to be useful in helping you learn and recognize Spanish words, even if you don’t necessarily ever use those words in English? 


4 responses to “Kids, take your vocab

  1. Bueno, a mí me pasa algo parecido, pero en inglés. Muchas veces encuentro palabras muy formales que provienen del Latín y son re fáciles de entender… ¿Te acordás de esa entrada que escribí en Lang-8 sobre “predilection/predilección”? Ese es un buen ejemplo :P



    • Sí, me acuerdo de esa entrada. Pues, me suena. Chévere que a ti te pase igual. Es bacano enriquecer no solo el vocabulario de los idiomas que estamos aprendiendo sino también el de nuestras lenguas maternas. Saludos a ti. He estado pensando muchísimo en tu país en las últimas semanas, pues no veo la hora de conocerlo :)


  2. Unfortunately, this usually happens to me in reverse. I’ll come across an unfamiliar Spanish word and the translation will be a very similar but equally unfamiliar English word!
    For example, I just ran across “calendas” which translates to calends (or kalends). I have to say that did not clear anything up for me. For the record, it’s “the day of the new moon and the first day of the month in the ancient Roman calendar”.


    • Hi Alice,

      Yes, that happens to me as well sometimes. Can’t think of any examples at the moment, but they abound. It comes out to be a 2-for-1 and you learn two new words for the price of one :)

      However, if you’ll excuse my impertinence, I’ll venture to say that words whose definition you don’t know even in English are probably not very useful words in the long run.

      Thanks for the comment!


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