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The Witchcraft Of Spanish Vocabulary

The very first step to conquering a language is to tame its vocabulary. And sadly, that's the part that puts off most novice learners because memorizing strange-sounding words is too darn boring! A never-ending chant of rote rehearsal and a nervous prayer can see you through an upcoming test, but the process just won't cut it if your goal is to actually use the language in the street. It's a mystery how this incredibly inefficient method has survived this long and still continues to be perpetuated by schools and educators around the world. So is there any nirvana around this assault of monotony in our miserable lives? Anything that could make learning foreign words less painful?

Six Words That Rule The Streets Of Mexico

Having more Spanish speakers than any other country on the planet, Mexico naturally holds the lion's share in vernacular creativity. Mexican slang lexicon is not only matured and complex but also as colorful and diverse, if not more, as any of its counterparts. Given the proliferation of Mexicans in not only entertainment but rather every aspect of life and trade in the Western world, we already enjoy a healthy exposure to its slang vocabulary. Although an exhaustive study of any country's colloquialism would be overkill, learning some of the most common expressions is mighty fun and useful. Here, we explore ten of them from Mexico.

So Many Ways "To Pull" In Spanish!

Languages don't always work in predictable ways. They have rules and they break their own rules. They have more than one word for the same thing and the same word for more than one thing. This makes them frustratingly complex and it is this complexity that makes them beautiful. This complexity is the very hallmark of an organic language setting them apart from the likes of Klingon and Dothraki. One such fun aspect of Spanish is its translation for the English verb "to pull." If you've just started out with the language, it's a no-brainer: halar. But there's more than meets the eye. Turns out, Mexicans and their neighbors don't even like the word!

Comprender Vs. Entender: Do You Understand?

These are words that get mixed up by even native speakers, let alone noobs like us. Going by the dictionary, both are synonymous and have the same translation in English. However, the two have quite dissimilar connotations. Now the good news here is that mixing up comprender and entender is not a exactly deal-breaker like mixing up, say, ser and estar or por and para. So depending on how far ahead you are in your Spanish learning program, this might be a non-issue. However, if you're like me and suffer from an itch for perfection, knowing where to use one instead of the other is surely the difference between a rookie and a native.

Decode Mexican Place Names Like A Native

When the Spaniards first arrived in Mexico, they asked the indigenous locals for directions and that's where this story begins. The Indians, you see, didn't speak Spanish (duh) and named their cities in ways only they could pronounce. First line of defense, maybe? Who knows. But the Spaniards did their best to learn. And in the process, wound up thoroughly messing up those names. This is what happens when you try to write a word that not only doesn't exist in your language but is also nearly impossible for you to pronounce. The mistakes, however, stuck and with time gave Mexican place names their unique tongue-twisting character.




7 Bands No Spanish Learner Must Ignore

There’s no better way to consolidate your knowledge of the Spanish language than Spanish music. It draws emotions into learning thereby serving as an important linguistic anchor in your subconscious. Deep cultural insights notwithstanding, contemporary music exposes you to the limits and flexibilities of Spanish as well as the poetry of its vocabulary, puns, and metaphors. Native speakers love to play with their Spanish and this is not manifested in any other medium as beautifully as in the sheer range and fervor of música Latina. Today this language boasts of a rich array of musical choices for fans of every genre.

Music not only offers you the option to choose your favorite band and make Spanish acquisition more entertaining and less of a rigor, but also gives you the “bragging rights” of being able to sing to your friends in an exotic, alien lingo. So essentially, there seems to be little to lose in giving music a chance to teach you some Spanish. While you are free and urged to build your own list of favorites drawing upon your personal tastes, I am listing down my list of favorites here which you can use as a starting point in case you are as alien to Latino music as I was ten years ago.

Los Enanitos Verdes (Rock; Argentina)


If the Spanish you wish to acquire is that of Argentina, you would do yourself a great favor listening to this band. Not only do they have some of the best acoustics, but also heart-warming lyrics with deep meanings. They are an absolute pleasure to the ears and the lyrics tend to stick to your subconscious for eternity. Though almost everything they have done is a veritable masterpiece, I strongly recommend El Guerrero, Amores Lejanos, Guitarras Blancas, and Lamento Boliviano for the most discerning ears.

Malacates Trebol Shop (Ska/Rock/Pop; Guatemala)


The most dance-inspiring result of fusing Ska with Latino-Rock, Malacates Trebol Shop have probably the shortest of all discographies (only four albums) yet pack a whole world of punch and culture. Their hit single, also my top favorite, Tómame officially represented the 2005 summer campaign for Cerveza Gallo, the most popular beer in all of Central America.

Amparanoia (Latin/Reggae/Rock; Spain)


A delight for Spanish learners for her clarity, Amparo Sánchez (the lead singer and founder) has the rich bluesy voice that rings in your head for years even if you listen to her just once. While the band’s debut album, El Poder de Machín was bright and exuberant with a heavy Latin influence, their 2002 album, Somos Viento was a more acoustic blend of Cuban and Reggae forms. Amparo’s lyrics offer social critiques drawn from daily life and this is what makes this band ideal for anyone aspiring to acquire Spanish organically and rapidly.

Chavela Vargas (Ranchera; Mexico)


Chavela Vargas: La voz áspera de la ternura
Chavela Vargas: La voz áspera de la ternura
photo credit: Raúl Serrano licensed CC BY-SA 2.0
Isabel Vargas Liza (popular as Chavela Vargas), died on August 5, 2012 but left behind her haunting voice that won her the title, La voz áspera de la ternura (The rough voice of tenderness). She came to Mexico from Costa Rica at the age of 14, dressed as a man toting a gun in her tequilla-drenched youth, and enjoyed a short, steamy romance with Frida Kahlo; Chavela Vargas lived the romance of her signature red jorongo-clad songs. Her music is way more than a Spanish-learning resource; it is a cultural cornerstone for those who wish to live Latino and not just speak Spanish.

Cultura Profética (Reggae; Puerto Rico)


One of the best representation of the legendary Carribean sound, complete with touches of Ska, Jazz, and the quintessential Afro beats, and Funk, Cultura Profética have the fresh and chilled sound that’s just perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon study. Their lyrics used to draw heavily on socio-political issues (until La Dulzura, where the emphasis is on romance) which is great for those whose dream Spanish is Puerto Rican Spanish.

Lucha Reyes (Música Criolla; Peru)


Luchila J Sarsines Reyes is La Morena de Oro del Perú (Peru’s Black Woman of Gold) and is perhaps the most definitive voice of Peru one can ever afford to hear. She was symbol of Peruvian nationalism and this nationalist pride and heartbreaking love can clearly be heard in her legendary lyrics. The genre, Música Criolla draws heavy influences from indigenous and African roots and has a lush and romantic character. A brilliant starting point for Spanish enthusiasts is her self-titled album.

When most of North America celebrates Halloween, Peru observes the Día de la Canción Criolla (Day of the Creole Song) marking Lucha’s death anniversary. Today, Lucha is to Peru what Pelé is to Brazil.

Manu Chao is a close friend of Amparo Sánchez
Manu Chao is a close friend of Amparo Sánchez
Photo credit: Luis Tamayo licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

Manu Chao (Reggae/Son/Salsa/Pop; France)


With Basque and Galician roots, Manu Chao is a French singer who sings in many languages including Spanish. His Spanish numbers are excellent for Spanish learners due to their complex grammatical constructs, rich Latin American colloquial jargon, and the transparent rendition of the Hispanosphere’s socio-political landscape. Other than being one of the most accessible window to the Latino culture, Manu Chao’s songs are too ubiquitous to be ignored; his is a familiar voice in any bar or club anyplace in the Spanish-speaking world. A close friend and some-time collaborator of Spain’s Amparo Sánchez, Manu Chao is an absolute must-have on any Hispanophile’s iPod.

Already keen on starting with your own collection of Latin music? Check out our section on learning Spanish through music – the possibilities are endless!

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6 comments

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    1. Thanks for your feedback, Anonymous. Honestly, no, I never considered this thus far but now that you have pointed it out, I sure will. You should see more multimedia in my future posts that should make the reading more engaging. Feel free to check out the last couple of posts to see some embedded videos!

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  3. Thanks for your feedback, Anonymous. Honestly, no, I never considered this thus far but now that you have pointed it out, I sure will. You should see more images in my future posts that should make the reading more engaging.

    ReplyDelete
  4. El articulo titulado “siete bandas aprende de español debe ignorar” es muy
    interesante porque yo aprecio y toco música. La primera banda Enanitos Verdes es muy interesante. Me gusta
    su canción titulado “Lamento Boliviano.” Ellos sonido similar a las bandas de Estados
    Unidos. Mi banda favorita de la lista es Malacates Trébol Shop. Ellos son
    buenos músicos. Me gusta el canción
    titulado “Nunca Me Faltes Tu.” Me gusta el uso de los cuernos.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Gracias por tu comentario, Owen. Su español es impecable. Es compañero estudiante o hablante nativo? Malacates son una de mis principales favoritos también! Nos puede recomendar sus canciones preferidas por ellos?

    ReplyDelete

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