Author Archive for Jamie

Eating Abroad: What to Call Your Waiter in Spanish

As we know, the words Spanish speakers use to talk about different things varies based on location: a Spaniard might not recognize what an Argentinian is saying because the words used are completely different. By the title of this post, you can assume we're going to talk about saying the word waiter in Spanish.

So why do different Spanish-speaking regions speak so differently? There’s a lot of reasons, usually to do with different cultures that have invaded different parts of the world. Different words were “borrowed”, creating different variations, accents, and phrases. Latin America and Spain are on different sides of the world; even though both languages came from the same place, they’ve had a lot of years to evolve into different animals.

What to call your waiter in Spanish​

So let's get down to it: the word waiter in Spanish. We’ve got several different words to choose from, depending on what country we want to talk about. Camarero/a and mesero/a are pretty common, and are the words you’ll come across in most Spanish textbooks.

However, we can’t go on accepting other words don’t exist, like mozo in South American countries like Uruguay and Peru, and mesenero in Venezuela. To keep it interesting, Uruguay uses camarero/a too, but more in hotels than anything else. What a wild ride, huh?

So how did all these different words for waiter in Spanish come to be?

Camarero

Do you see that cama prefix? That there’s a clue. Let’s take this conversation back a tick.

Camarero/a comes from cámara, which translates to chamber (and yes, camera, but that’s besides the point), or bedchamber. Back in the day, Spanish nobility would have a camarero or camarera, something like a maid, who would help out around the cámara, or bedchamber. These maids would clean the cámara, dress their noble employers, etc. Think like a Victorian maid. Make sense so far? A camarero/a would always be waiting on their noble. Yep, this is where we get the term for a waiter in Spanish!

Mesero

Well, okay, this one’s not quite so complicated. Mesero/a comes from mesa, meaning table. A mesero/a waits on the mesa. Pretty simple.

Mesonero/a

Like above, the word mesonero or mesonera hijacked the word el mesón, meaning large table. This is a bit fancier and more formal – think of, again, those Victorians who had long, elegant tables just to show off how fancy they were.

Normally, though, a mesonero/a would refer more to a waiter working in a tavern or inn, or another place that would entertain a significant amount of guests. This would be a more common place to find a large table, of course.

Mozo/a

This term goes way way back to the Medieval days, where mozo/a referred to a page, apprentice, or someone else who served others. Again, very simple.

So there you go. While these variations seem whacky and random, there’s a reason for everything, especially in language. Besides all the crazy ways to refer to a waiter in Spanish, what is your favorite funky word variation?

5 Words That Could Make or Break Your Trip to Spain

The thing with Spanish and English – and any other languages, really, since you’d never believe how some seemingly random languages are related – is that sometimes words seems really, really similar. Sometimes they mean the same things, but sometimes they mean something totally and utterly different.

Some of the words below are going to be like this, and some of them are going to be little cultural quirks you’ll find in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries that might throw you through a little bit of a loop. While these make for great stories sometimes, they also can make an already stressful trip abroad just a little bit harder.

Hola guapa/o

This translates to hello pretty (or handsome), and isn’t used in the sense that it would be used in English. You definitely won’t see any green witches cackling “hello, my pretty!” (Wicked Witch of the West joke, anyone?), but you’ll almost certainly come across complete strangers who will refer to you as such, as well as using other forms of greetings. Sorry guys, it’s not really a compliment, either – it’s just show Spaniards acknowledge each other. It is a nice touch though, don’t ya think?

Embarazada

Ah, false friends. False friends are words that are so similar across languages that you’d assume they mean the same thing, but they really, really don’t. This one’s a good one to get you into all kinds of weird situations. While it looks and sounds like embarrassed, it actually means pregnant in Spanish. I know, right? Like I said, SO much opportunity for an embarrassing situation (pun absolutely intended).

Bueno

This one’s more along the lines of hola guapo/a. Bueno can be used as a lot of things that don’t necessarily mean good (its direct translation). For example, bueno might be used as a placeholder, like well, okay, or so. You might also use it to answer the phone. Bueno is a nice, positive word that can be used in a variety of situations. Take your pick!

Molestar

Don’t worry, this one’s a false friend, too (fortunately). This one can definitely be a doozy for the beginner Spanish learner, because it really does not seem like the kind of vocab you’d be learning right off the bat, right? Molestar does not mean to molest, but to annoy or bother. So yeah, this translation definitely makes a lot more sense to learn pretty early on in your Spanish career.

Constiparse/una constipación

Well you already know you’re not going to be forgetting this one, right? Constipation? The thing where your body does that thing that maybe we shouldn’t be talking about on this blog? So this false friend would have you believe! Constiparse actually means to catch a cold, while una constipación is a cold. You’ll always remember the most ridiculous words, so you can count on this one!

What about you? What's your favorite false friend? Has it gotten you into any sticky situations?​

A Car, a Cuban, and a Chance: the Day Travel Saved Me $500

If you know anything about travel, you know that the lessons you learn out in the world can always be brought home. For example, learning a new language can get you out of (and into) a whole mess of situations. Here’s a story of the day my Spanish saved me a good chunk of change.

It was about 8 PM, so pretty pitch black outside. I got in my car, began backing out of my driveway, and felt a thud. Oh, no. I had hit something.

When I got out of my car to check out the damage, I found out a truck had been parked just outside my driveway. Like, close enough that while my car had hit it, my car still hadn’t totally left my driveway.

Then I met the driver.

Well, I heard the driver. I heard moans and huffs and “how could you do this to me?”-esque things. As it turned out, the driver of this truck didn’t speak much English. While I began taking fault and reassuring him that it wasn’t actually that bad, he got really….excited. He immediately began demanding I call the police (well, holding his hand up like a phone and saying the word “police”) and cursing me.

Fine. I called the police. Who was I to not? I mean, yeah, this guy had parked his truck that was so important to him right in front of my driveway, but I hit him and I was just trying to meet a friend and, you know, hopefully not get beat up or something.

Once I got off the phone with the police, I went back to calming down this very angry man. I could tell from his accent that he spoke Spanish, so I switched it up in the brain and continued in a weird, mangled version of Spanish, since I wasn’t prepared and was also really stressed.

You know what? He started calming down.

Then a neighbor came out, assessed the situation, and started handing out his cards. Turns out he owns an auto body shop, and he could get the guy’s door fixed no problem. He gave me a quote: with cash, $500; with insurance, it’ll be much higher, and my insurance rate would go up.

Once he left, I explained the damage to my Spanish-speaking friend. I told him that a new door would cost $500. The first thing he said was that we don’t need the police anymore. Sweet!

Then he demanded the $500. Uh, what? Maybe I’m weird, but I didn’t feel comfortable giving this strange man $500 and just calling it a day. Problem is, I’m a bad liar, so I stumbled around trying to find a reason behind not just producing the money.

I told him that I don’t have $500 right now, maybe after I get paid. No, no, he said, I need it now.

This is where I started to get lucky – he started haggling with me!

He brought it down to $300. Yeah, still feels iffy, right? $300 is a lot of money, and I didn’t know how legit this guy was. Even though he said he would leave me alone once I paid him for his door, who was I to trust him?

He kept haggling and haggling, until he broke: “soy Cubano. No tengo mucho dinero”. All of a sudden, I saw a hint of desperation in his eyes. Okay, this guy was legit. I mean, I still didn’t get why he cared so deeply about this truck that he had left haphazardly in the street, but that didn’t matter anymore.

He brought it down to $100. I weighed my options. Well, this guy was so desperate for whatever he was trying to get out of me, he had decided he only needed $100 from me. He had allowed me to call off the police, which meant my insurance rate wasn’t going up. I’d never tried to haggle before, but something told me that this was as good as it gets.

Fine. I told him I needed an ATM, so I got in my car, he got in his car, and he followed me to an ATM. Still kind of on the sketchy side, but you take what you can get. He waited outside while I went and got the money, I handed him the $100, and he walked away without even checking it.

And you know what? I haven’t seen him since.

So tell me, have your foreign language skills ever gotten you out of a messy situation? What about other things you’ve learned while traveling?

Adjectives and Nouns in Spanish: Which Goes Where?

The adjectives and nouns in Spanish are one of the first things we learn; more specifically, that nouns come first, as opposed to what they do in English. It’s such an interesting little quirk, and we spend a lot of time getting into the habit of sticking that adjective where it belongs!

And then we get a little better at Spanish, and we see sentences where the adjective is…before the noun? What? Wait, I thought the noun came first! Whose side are you on!?

As it turns out, sometimes the noun comes first, sometimes the adjective. And you have to learn the difference, because sometimes, depending on the order you choose, you may not be saying what you’re trying to say!

So what’s the difference? When it comes to adjectives and nouns in Spanish, which goes where?

Easy.


There are two reasons to put an adjective before its noun in Spanish: when the adjective is common sense, and when the adjective puts a little poetic justice into what you’re saying.


Let me explain.

The white snow. El blanco nieve.

Well, yeah it’s white snow. Obviously. I mean, unless it’s yellow snow, but that’s besides the point. Snow is white. We know this.

The black night. La negra noche.

Clearly, nighttime is black. The sun’s gone. We know this, too.

As you can see, adjectives and nouns in Spanish sometimes have a different relationship than we originally thought. We put our adjectives before their nouns when the descriptions are already known. We’re not trying to differentiate the black night from anything else, because the night is black and is always black. Compare this to, for example, la camisa roja, or the red shirt; in this sense, the adjective roja differentiates this camisa from the camisa verde. We need this adjective to tell us which shirt you’re talking about.

Okay, back on track. When else do we see the adjective before the noun in Spanish?

For one, when we’re talking about la increíble mujer who rescued a starving orphan from a burning house and raised him as her own! How incredible, right?! That’s an amazing woman!

Or how about for el pobre hombre who had his electronics stolen from his locked car? That’s such an unfortunate situation, we definitely want to truly express how sad it is.


So, we sometimes see an adjective before a noun in Spanish when we’re trying to highlight something. Really express a certain concept, maybe evoke a strong emotion.


This contrasts from using an adjective after the verb, as the language is, again, used in a different way. We don’t want to specify that we’re talking about this shoe as opposed to that one, but we’re trying to really accentuate the concept about el pobre hombre.

Now, with the concept of using adjectives in order to describe a concept regarding a noun, this means that sometimes, depending on where an adjective is placed, the adjective may carry a different meaning.

Let’s go back to el pobre hombre. This poor, poor man. He’s come across such misfortune, having his computer stolen!

But wait! If we put pobre after hombre, the man because someone who simply doesn’t have a lot of money. It’s a fact. We are differentiating the poor man from the rich man. We don’t feel sorry for the man with less money, just stating that he is not rich.

So, as you can see, in Spanish we use adjectives to make our statements a bit more precise than they are in English. We kind of brushed up on this before when talking about mal, mala, bien, and bueno, and when to use those adjectives. If we talk about the poor man in English, well, it could very well mean both poor as in unfortunate and poor as in not wealthy. Though, to be honest, in the English language, they both mean the same thing. You don’t have money? Poor, poor you.

When to Use Mal, Malo, Bien, and Bueno

Every once a while during your Spanish learning career, you stumble upon random concepts that take a bit to settle into a place of understanding in your head. For me recently, that was the different between mal and malo/a and bien and buen and bueno/a and why are all these words so similar yet clearly have their own reasons for existing.

I’ll start with mal and malo/a, since that’s what started my dive into this adjective/adverb nonsense.

Which is which? Well, malo/a is an adjective. Mal is an adverb (when it’s not a noun, but that’s besides the point right now).

Wait…what?

Adjectives describe nouns.

Adverbs describe verbs.

So, when you want to say “I feel bad”, you need an adverb to describe the verb (to feel). Therefore, you get:


Me siento mal


If you say “the food is bad”, this time you need an adjective to describe the noun (the food). So this time we get:


La comida está mala


Then we can get into the whole shtick about using adjectives before or after nouns, but that one’s for another day.

Now, what about bien and bueno/a (we’ll save buen for that next post about adjectives)?

This one’s a little bit easier, because these words actually have different translations. Bien translates to well (adverb), while bueno/a translates to good (adjective). So, if you’re into English grammar, you’ll have a pretty good idea as to which one to use when.

If you’re not, let’s use the same examples so you can see the adverb/adjective concept.

“I feel well”. Again, using an adverb to describe the verb ‘to feel’, we get:


Me siento bien


“The food is bad”. Here we need an adjective to describe the noun “food”, so we say: 


La comida está buena 


(carrying the feminine quality of comida to buena, of course).

Make sense? While you’re learning, it’ll take some thinking about what you’re talking about, whether it’s a noun or a verb or an adjective or an adverb. Don’t worry though, after a while, you won’t even realize you’re doing it.

Confused? Need a clarification? Absolutely lost? Let me know in the comments!

Language Learning is Hard! The Ultimate Guide

So you want to learn a foreign language. That’s a seriously awesome endeavor, and I commend you for it! For real though, there are literally zero reasons not to learn another language.

Okay fine. There is one. One tiny, insignificant reason to not learn a language.

Language learning is hard

It’s hard.

And you know what? Lots of people will let that teeny tiny little fact stop them from pursuing their dreams of being a world-class language learner. But you won’t. I know you won’t. You wanna know how I know?

You’ve got me.

I know every side of the language learning struggle. I’ve been at this stuff for years, and you know how far I’ve gotten? Not nearly as far as I’d like. But you know what I have done?

...but so, so worth it!

Language learning is life-changing. It can move you to the other side of the world. It can create relationships that otherwise would have never existed. It can get you out of tough situations. It can get you an amazing job, make you more money, and even make you smarter.

Basically, learning another language is a super power.

So, so what if it gets hard sometimes? So what if you have to learn new vocabulary, new grammar, even new alphabets (depending on your foreign language of choice)? All that stuff is one and done, and you know what?

I’m right there with you.

I’m learning right by you. I get to the point sometimes where I look at a word or phrase or sentence and say “welp, I haven’t checked Facebook in a while!”. I do, and I’m not afraid to admit it. You know what I also do? I get right back to it and I conquer it. And you know what I also also do? I write about it. I explain the hardest concepts in my language learning journey because it helps me to learn them, too. Like when I had to learn the Spanish past tense. Yeah, that crap is hard the first time you stick your face in it! But you know what the important thing is? That you stick your face in it at all, because you can’t conquer anything if you don’t even try.

Don’t worry, kid, I got your back. I like to write about the hard stuff. It’s interesting. And I like to write about the actual interesting stuff, too. I like to write about, for example, the weird, random rules that come with Spanish numbers.

Culture's important, too!

Of course, I can’t forget the most important part of this blog (to me). Crashed Culture’s namesake, its humble beginnings. Culture. The one thing that goes hand-in-hand with language (well, maybe besides food). Culture creates language which creates culture. Yeah, I write about that too.

And really, the culture corner of this blog is where things go saucy! I mean hey, I’m brutally honest. I’ll talk about the negatives, like the things I don’t like about Spanish culture. And more things I don’t like. But the important thing is that I keep it level. I also yammer on about what I love about Spanish culture. And more things I love, too! Because the thing that we as a people, as language learners, need to know about languages and cultures and other places with other people who are sometimes really different from us is that there are pros and cons to everything. There’s the beauty of Córdoba, Spain, and then there’s the controversy of bullfighting. Because you know what? Nothing, nobody is perfect. Sorry kid, but I keep it honest here

What’s THE most important thing to understand about language learning? You are just as capable as that polyglot you follow online. Because it’s not about skills that we walk out of the womb with, it’s about skills that we work for and earn. Skills that you have just as many rights to as anybody else.

How to Rock the Spanish Past Tense

​The Spanish Past Tense

The Spanish past tense. Man, even typing those words out stresses me out! When you’re learning Spanish, the big clue that you’re graduating from beginner to intermediate is the past tense. It’s the first legitimately difficult thing Spanish language learners address, and honestly it’s made me quit a few times!

What makes it so difficult for us native English speakers to figure out the Spanish past tense? In our language, our conjugations are pretty minimal compared to Spanish. While Spanish speakers conjugate verbs in different ways depending on who they’re talking about, we keep it pretty simple, and our conjugations seem more like rule-breakers than actual rules. For example:

To Speak (English)

I spoke
You spoke
He/she/it spoke

We spoke
You guys spoke
They spoke

Hablar (Spanish, preterite)

Yo hablé
hablaste
Él/ella/habló

Nosotros hablamos
Vosotros hablasteis
Ellos/ellas hablaron

See what I mean? Keep in mind that that’s only one of the Spanish past tenses. When Spanish language learners address the past tense for the first time, they’re faced with el pretérito and el imperfecto, and that right there chases a lot of people off. Yeah, including me.

DON’T WORRY!

Look, I know it’s daunting. That’s a lot of conjugations and before we even get to think about the conjugations themselves, we have to worry about which tense we even use! Fortunately, there’s a pretty simple difference to get a hang of, and the more you practice, the easier it gets! Funny, I think I’ve heard that concept somewhere before…

El Pretérito

El pretérito, or the preterite tense, is used when we talk about something that happened before and now it’s over. We know that the thing stopped happening, either because it’s said in the context clues, or because it’s something obvious. This Spanish past tense is used for sudden, sometimes interrupting actions. For example:

We went to the pool on Saturday.

See? We know it happened once, and we know it happened Saturday.

I walked through the door.

This is an example of something obvious. When you walk through the door, you walk through the door. Unless you’re stuck in some kind of space-time continuum, it happens once and then it’s done.

El Imperfecto

El imperfecto, or the imperfect tense, is used to talk about things that aren’t quite so positively over. Maybe we’re talking about something that happened habitually, or the thing might still be happening, we just don’t know. This Spanish past tense gets interrupted by the preterite. Actions in the preterite tense (I opened the refrigerator) interrupt actions in the imperfect tense (when I was sick). For example:

We used to go to the pool on Saturdays.

Habits. This happened more than once, and we don’t know when, or if, it ever stopped happening.

I was walking through the door.

Ah ha! See where it might get a tad confusing? In this instance, the action didn’t necessarily end. I mean, yeah, it ended, but not in this sentence.

Another important part of the imperfect tense is when saying things like “when I was five years old”. Yes, this is imperfect. It covers a span of time, and we don’t know exactly when it started or ended, just a vague age.

Now it’s your turn: what’s the thing about learning Spanish that just makes you want to quit?

The Greatest Language Learning Challenges (and how to conquer them)

I’ve been studying foreign languages for years. No, I’m not a poloyglot. I’m not even bilingual. I’m just an English-speaking white girl who’s pretty comfortable in Spanish (for the most part, and only if I’m listening to a specific accent). That being said, I’ve made good friends with the my own language learning challenges, and I’ve learned to conquer a lot of them. If you’re still trying to get past a road block, here are some suggestions.

Frustration

For me, this is the number one language learning challenge, probably because it’s so general – you can get frustrated with literally anything in the world. I get frustrated that it takes me so freaking long to learn a foreign language! I see stories of people learning languages within months, and I wonder why I can’t be like that! In the past, it’s definitely screwed up my goals, and I’ve definitely learned that getting frustrated with myself is definitely a giant language learning mistake.

Solution: don’t put so much pressure on yourself! The amount of time it takes you to learn a language is exactly how long it’s supposed to take you. There are people who will learn faster than you and slower; these people aren’t important because you know who they are? They’re not you. And comparing yourself to other people who aren’t you is just a silly way to set yourself up for failure.

It gets boring

Look, nothing’s fun all the time. It’s just not. If it were, you’d get bored all the time – even fun is boring when it’s monotonous. How does language learning break up the fun? Memorization. Grammar. Vocabulary. These tend to be the greatest language learning challenges. While finally hitting that moment where you can really communicate in a foreign language is giant breath of fresh air, getting to that point isn’t very fun for a whole lot of people.

Solution: make it fun and easy! Take new words and concepts in little bitty bites. Give yourself the chance to feel accomplished much more often. If you sit yourself in front of a list of 100 new words, you’ll get flustered and give up. On the other hand, give yourself 5 new words to learn. You’ll get them down in half an hour, and then you have every right to get excited about your progress! 30 minutes of struggle, 5 minutes of pride and accomplishment. Sounds like a pretty good ratio to me!

Overwhelm

You better believe learning a foreign language is overwhelming. Even when I’m just thinking about tackling a language, I look at how many words there are in the language, and how many words it takes to be fluent (‘cause let’s be real, that’s always the goal). I mean, that’s just asking for another language learning challenge. Depending on your source, you’ll generally find it takes tens of thousands of words to achieve fluency. Holy crap! Yeah, talk about overwhelming! Then when you look at sources to use and you just can’t understand a thing because you haven't actually learned anything yet, and it’s even worse. When you get overwhelmed, you know what you do? You give up.

Solution: don’t think so hard! Don’t worry about it. Take a breath. Focus on short term goals. Don’t think about what you want to achieve in the end, think about what it will take this month to work towards that goal. Think about this week, this day, this hour! Give yourself a small chunk to accomplish, tackle it, and keep tackling mini goals. Focus on what you can do here and now, not what you want to be able to do later in some inappropriately-chosen period of time.

I’ve been studying language for years, and these three things have held me back more than I’d like to say. Do you have any other challenges that you’ve had to conquer? What about challenges you’re still trying to conquer? Language learning is hard, and I've got tons of advice!

Spanish Numbers: What You Need to Know

Rules, rules, rules. These are the things that make language learning so bloody difficult. They’re important, though – more important than using British slang when I’m an American! But seriously though, rules. There’s some that are not often spelled outright for us to learn, and about 107% of the rules in your own native language are probably completely unknown to you. So let’s talk about them with numbers, because we’re going to talk about Spanish numbers today.

So yeah, English numbers are pretty easy, right? Pretty much common sense, nothing tricky, yeah? That’s all fine and good, except for the idea that, for the most part, there are no rules because experts literally cannot agree on them. The rules that the experts do agree on, though, are pretty good to know. There is one, for example, that tells you which numbers should be spelled out instead of just digit-ed. I know, I know, you’ve probably wondered back in high school essays or in professional emails if you should be spelling out numbers or not. (Psst. If they’re small numbers, centuries, decades, or the beginning of the sentence, spell’em out!)

So Spanish numbers. Here we have a completely different animal, mostly because they’re in a different language. So they’re not a completely different animal, just a kind of weird one. Why weird? Because Spanish numbers have their own little picky rules. For example.

Let’s take the Spanish number one. Uno. See how it ends in a vowel? Uno will follow suit with whatever gender the word after it says it should be. So for example, say ‘a boy and a girl’. Un niño y una niña. THERE! Did you see it? You get what I mean? See how uno changed?

Now we’ve got something with Spanish numbers that we don’t have to deal with in the entire English language as a whole: accents. Spanish numbers have some weird accents. And by that I mean random Spanish numbers have accents stuck on top of them. 16, 22, 23, 26. Those Spanish numbers have accents. That's it. Completely random, I know.

Oh! And then if we want to combine these two rules, check out 21, or veintiuno. This Spanish number also follows the masculine/feminine thing. Not only does the o/a change with whatever gendered object it’s talking about, but it also drops an accent entirely! Check out 21 days and 21 weeks: veintiún días, veintiuna semanas.

While on the subject of dropping random parts of Spanish numbers, let’s talk about 100, or ciento. Ciento becomes cien quite often. Like, before any noun, as well as before the numbers mil and millones. Speaking of millones, this word gains a de before any noun, like millones de dólares, and also comes with an accent when there’s only one of them; millón.

One last one for ya: you know when to use commas and periods in English, right? With Spanish numbers, they’re flipped. 100%

There you have it! Well I mean, there’s a few more that I haven’t talk about, but these are the interesting ones (I think). What about you? Caught onto any interesting Spanish number habits I haven’t talked about?