I thought that maybe this trip around, language wouldn’t be a big part of it. I would arrive fluent in Spanish, and fluent in Chilean Spanish besides. I would probably improve my writing skills and maybe even get a little more comfortable with the sense of humor and slang.
However, that hasn’t been the case. Language has been a topic of conversation almost every single day at work. Why? Because as I’ve mentioned before, I work mostly with other foreigners- non-Chilean Latin Americans and a handful of Spaniards and French. Several of them have also arrived in the last couple of months, and they don’t always understand (cachar) Chilean Spanish. They use their own slang and their accents really are a lot different. The office is a big, colorful mix of different sounds and slang (bakán vs. chévere, po vs. che, weon vs. pendejo), and we never stop talking about it.
Here’s a rundown of the different accents I have encountered this time around:
Chilean: very fast, very poorly pronounced. Heavy on slang.
Colombian: Very well pronounced, very clear, almost slow. Somewhat nasal and throaty.
Central American: can be very fast, but in general well pronounced. They use the “vos” form instead of “tú.” That took some adjusting. Clean s’s. Which is refreshing.
Mexican: entirely based on my one Mexican coworker, but this was corroborated by others recently. Well pronounced, a little slower than others, very clear and strong s’s. Not something the Chileans are known for!
Argentinians: very fast. Highly rhythmic and lyrical, almost Italian. They are very emphatic and demonstrative. They also use “vos.” The “ll” (as in, llamar or llaves) is technically pronounced in Spanish as a consonant “y.” In Caribbean Latin America, it is often pronounced as a firm “j.” In other parts of Latin America, it softens a bit. In Argentina- which is arguably what identifies them- it is pronounced as “sh” or “zh”. For example: “Yo me llamo Yolanda” = “Zho me zhamo Zholanda.”
Spaniards: an average speed, I suppose? Not too fast, not too slow. This has probably been the most difficult accent for me to understand, for whatever reason. Soft c’s and z’s are pronounced as “th.” Some Spaniards pronounce their s’s almost as a “sh” sound instead of a pure “s.”
Foreigners: we all sound different! You can often pick out where a foreigner is from based on their accent in Spanish. Gringos are notorious for not being able to roll their r’s. I think vowel formation also sets us apart. The French still sound French, because of their vowels. Gringos can’t relax their vowels. German vowels in Spanish are a lot of fun.
Any moment where you are really, genuinely complimented on your second language is a big moment. It means someone has noticed and that they really do indeed understand what you’re saying. Other Latin Americans still crack up when they hear me say “po” or “cachai” or “wea.” Most Chileans don’t even notice it.
Major moment the other night? When a Chilean girl I had just met asked me where I was from, because when I introduced myself to her, I was absolutely unidentifiable as a gringa. And then her German friend who said he had never heard an American speak Spanish so well before. Any moment where I confuse or mislead people as to my origin, I am happy and validated in my efforts.
That’s all, friends! More may be coming later this week. More reflections on a return trip, and what I’m learning about myself this time around. Te tinca?
I will leave you with this series of photos I took early this evening. One second, the sky looked like this:
And then it did this.
Just your daily dose of mind-blowing beautiful.