Re-Learning Spanish

Posted on September 13, 2010

When I first arrived in Paraguay I thought my Spanish was horrible.  The first time I thought my Spanish was horrible was in the airport in Sao Paulo (Brazil) when I was talking to a German fellow who had lived in Paraguay many years.  Not far into our conversation, I realized I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.  Turns out he’d slipped into German without noticing (I don’t speak German).  So big sigh of relief, I think I’ll be okay…

The second time I thought my Spanish was horrible was in Paraguay.  Sometimes I couldn’t understand half of what people were saying.  And then I finally realized a week later that it’s not that I don’t know the language, I just can’t hear it properly!  The accent in Paraguay is very different from what I was listening to on the radio and on TV in the U.S..  Similarly, I was saying the right words, I was just pronouncing them differently so it was hard for people to understand me.  (There’s also the ‘jopara problem’, I’ll talk about that more later.)

So since my arrival I’ve been trying to re-learn my Spanish to suit the Paraguayan dialect.  Some of the things I’ve re-learned:

  • “Vale!” (Okay!) = “Dale!”  (with a little bit of a “th” sound in the “d”)
  • Paraguayans have a tendency to drop “s” from words (particularly the ends).  So “Nos vemos” (We’ll see each other) becomes “No vemo”.  Some people apparently drop the “s” from “Como estas?” (How are you?) to “Como e’ta?”  But that’s not a classy way to talk.
  • The double l (“ll”) which I learned to pronounce as a “y” is actually pronounced more like a “ly”.  So the word “toalla” (towel) shouldn’t sound like “toaya”, it should sound like “toalya”.  More or less.  I have a really hard time making this sound properly.  I’m told I need to use my teeth and the sides of my mouth more.  I need to learn from the “llamas que llama” (llamas that call):

A rough translation of the joke:

Hola? (Hello?) Cuartel de bomberos de Parana? (Parana firehouse?) Sabe quien habla? (Do you know who’s calling?) Habla la llama! (The fire (llama) is calling!) No se caliente hombre..!!! (Don’t get heated up man…!!!)  El bombero esta en llamas! (The fireman is on fire (llamas)!)

Llama is the word for both flames, llama the animal, and to call (llamar).

This one really cracks me up too (this is for Isa):

Back on topic.

The jopara problem is this: Paraguay has two official languages, Spanish and Guarani (an indigenous language!).  Jopara is when people speak with a mixture of these two languages (so it’s like a third language).  The only jopara word I know is tranquilopa, which means everything is chill.  The first part comes from the Spanish tranquilo, and the pa is Guarani.  If you want to know more, I came across a great blog for learning Guarani by a Peace Corps volunteer the other day:

And then when I head out to the Chaco I’ll be learning another language, the local indigenous one (not Guarani)…

Posted in: Language