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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?

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.

Cool Trick For The Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive

Subjunctive, let alone imperfect subjunctive, has been terrifying rookie Spanish learners ever since the beginning of time. Why do we even need to deal with those cryptic conjugations anyway? Do they even matter in regular conversations? Well, you’ll be surprised to know that they not only do but do so way more than their English counterparts. Much has been written before on this subject and the grammar of Spanish subjunctive is as plenty easy to access. This article is not about reinventing the wheel. Instead, what we’ll do here is learn some super-cool tricks to nail the conjugation without a single minute wasted toward rote rehearsal.

Fresas And Nacos: The Preppies And The White-Trash Of Mexico

No linguistic study of any human culture can ever be complete without a fair understanding of that culture’s social stereotypes. Yankees, redheads, hicks, yuppies, preppies, Valley can’t fully understand the Americans unless you understand their clichéd stereotypes. In a similar fashion, if you are learning Mexican Spanish, it won’t hurt to get acquainted with the stereotypes that define their lifestyle and culture. While stereotypes are rightly frowned upon for their prejudices, using them without being judgmental can immensely help understand some of the most colorful and interesting aspects of a culture.

When it comes to Mexican Spanish, stereotypes run deep and are often at the very heart of most prejudices and social humor. While these can come off as potentially offensive if one is not sensitive enough while bringing them up, they are too ubiquitous to be ignored. Mexico has a whole spectrum of such stereotypes and at the two extreme ends of this spectrum are the clichés that have divided the Mexican society for generations. These are the nacos and the fresas, the souls of too many social jokes and parodies in the country.

The fresas

Generalization is the salient feature of any social stereotype and those of Mexican Spanish are no exceptions. While fresa is Spanish for strawberry if the dictionaries had their way, it’s also a Mexican Spanish slang term for what the Americans would call a preppy. Mostly used by the teenagers, this is a stereotype of the superficial, high-class Mexican – snobbish, arrogant, shallow, selfish, fussy, and tasteful.

A typical fresa haunt
A typical fresa haunt
Photo credit: Michael Rael licensed CC BY 2.0
Fresas are usually either wealthy or act like they were. They tend to imitate the American culture in an attempt to sound and appear cool and elite. The hallmark of their vernacular is a generous sprinkling of English phrases on their Spanish; “¡Qué cool!,” “O sea (Like, used as a filler),” “super,” “vales mil (you are very important),” “fresh,” and so on. Other than such adulteration, the fresa accent is also typically faked to sound different from the otherwise slow-pitched Mexican accent. There’s a difference in their tone and they typically consist of a more “proper” vocabulary.

Fashion is the first tell-tale sign of a fresa as they are mostly clad in top brands like Armani, Lacoste, Banana Republic, American Eagle, Abercrombie & Fitch, Zara, Polo Ralph Lauren, Hollister Co., Furor, and Wayfarer. In a nutshell, they would be found imitating the style and dressing of the characters in Rebelde Way, a popular TV show in Mexico. Often, wannabe fresas would be seen in cheaper knock-offs of these brands in an attempt to appear rich and classy. Fresas would mostly be found shopping in expensive malls and using cards more than cash for payments.

Stereotyping continues with other non-linguistic fresa traits as well, music being one of them. A fresa would typically follow bands like Nikki Clan, Rebelde, Luis Miguel, Mecano, Pandora, Maná, RBD, Timbiriche, Kudai, Sasha, and Flans.

Though this word is now well understood across Latin America thanks to the growing dominance of Mexican television, other Latin American countries have their own terms for stereotypical parallels. One such example would be the Venezuelan sifrina which refers to a rich, spoilt girl. The regular Spanish for popcorn, cotufa, is also a Venezuelan slang term for a “dumb blonde” stereotype with no direct association whatsoever with the subject’s hair color. Coming back to Mexico, fresa kids are also, more traditionally, referred to as niños bien (fine kids) or gente bien (fine people).

The nacos

At the other far end of the socio-economic spectrum, you have the nacos. Generally, they are less educated, pretentious, classless, and uncouth – the “white-trash” of Mexico. Their language is more vulgar, laden with swear-words and double-entendres. This is in sharp contrast with the fresas, who consider it a statement of class to speak refined Spanish and use English words and phrases in their speech.

The word itself goes back to the colonial times of Mexico when the Church used to be the single most important institution in the Catholic Mexican society. A regular church attendance was one of the ways to continue being respected and considered elite in the society. So, to make life easier for themselves, the wealthier families would have their naco (servant) run to the church and reserve their seats well before the mass began.

Mercado Jamaica (Mexico City): A typical naco haunt
Mercado Jamaica (Mexico City): A typical naco haunt
Photo credit: Luigi Guarino licensed CC BY 2.0
Nacos typically follow mariachi, banda, or norteño music, such as Los Tigres del Norte, and down cheap tequila. Their favorite food is street tacos and they enjoy lucha libre (free wrestling) and soccer. They are not very brand-conscious when it comes to their clothing and style. Many dye the front of their hair blond and wear a mullet at the back. Brands like Chivas are their pick and they rarely buy anything American.

While the fresas are too particular about toting around the latest gadgets, especially American-made, nacos rarely go for anything non-Mexican or expensive. They watch only Spanish movies, especially old ranchera flicks, as Hollywood doesn’t appeal to them. They are often completely ignorant about even the most widely-known Hollywood celebrities like Nicole Kidman!

In Guadalajara terms, while a Plaza Galerias would be the typical fresa haunt, nacos would rather be found shopping at Mercado Libertad in San Juan de Dios or the working-class neighborhood of Oblatos. Cheap supermarkets are where the nacos are at. Flashy malls are only for those who are or want to “appear” rich.

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