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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?

The Essential Black Friday Spanish Vocabulary

Thanksgiving is over and so is the charade of thanking the almighty for all you have. With that bit out of the way, now's the time to ammo-up for the big loot, better known as the Black Friday. I mean when does one have just enough? That's ridiculous. When the discounts are this big, enough is never enough. So if you're planning to survive the soul-churning stampede, here's a quick lesson on words that could come in handy should you find yourself plundering a store in one of those Latin quarters in town. You never know the store management might just be impressed with your vocabulary enough to offer you a welcome freebie, right?

Show Off Your Spanish Skills This Thanksgiving

This post is for our American friends learning Spanish. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and we just can't wait for the big turkey dinner with friends and family. Now, although the occasion isn't exactly observed by the Spanish-speaking world, a fiesta is a fiesta. Let's face it, Thanksgiving is all about food and so are the Latinos! So, now would be as awesome a time as any to brag about your Spanish before an audience of clueless folks. The millions of Spanish-speakers who call America home enjoy the day as much as you do if not more. And why not! A day off is a day off, after all. And the turkey dinner. So let's dive in and get it over with.

Este, Ese, Aquel – One Trick To Nail'em All

It might sound extremely simplistic at first glance but the demonstratives in Spanish often stump learners well into their programs. The problem is they sound too similar and there's usually no memory hook offered for one to remember them by. Oh and in case you're wondering, demonstratives are words like this, that, those, these, etc. Spanish has three of them – Ese, este, and aquel. English has just two – This and that. That's another problem with Spanish demonstratives – Why three when you can make do with just two? It's like teaching a fourth dimension to non-physicists who can only comprehend three. So what's going on here?

Life After Destinos: Sol Y Viento

Through with Destinos and Extr@ Spanish and raring to step up your Spanish comprehension game? Here's something crafted just for you. It's called Sol y Viento. Sol y Viento is a Spanish learning program seamlessly guised as a feature-length movie. If you liked Destinos for its simplicity and focus on Spanish comprehension, you'll love this one all the more because of how smoothly it challenges you to upgrade your comprehension skills while at the same time doing away with the often redundant recaps and summarization, the only aspects of Destinos that made it a tad too slow to chug along with. Sol y Viento is Destinos on steroids.

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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