Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Understanding Spanish!

Because of my longing to perfect my Spanish, I have a lot of empathy, admiration, and respect for people trying to perfect their English because we are all facing similar issues.

As my Spanish develops through interactions with native speakers here in the US and through Latin-American travels, I am developing appreciation and respect for foreigners who come to this country and learn to speak English, regardless of their level of fluency. I can testify that learning a new language is not an easy task. One of the things I really admire, even among limited English-speakers, who come to the US is their ability to understand Americans from varying backgrounds and levels of education.

In the English language, needless to say, we have a lot of different accents, not to mention the fact that many of us slur our words, chop our words, mumble, and speak very rapidly. Then we have others who do not speak English properly. All of these things can confuse and throw off those who are learning to speak our language. Well I'm learning, particularly through my travels, that Spanish-speakers offer the same challenges for people like me who are learning to speak Spanish.

Throughout my travels, and even my interactions with Spanish speakers here in the U.S., I've found some Spanish-speakers easier to understand than others. For example, Mexican people seem to speak at a nice even pace, pronouncing every word fully, where as in Lima and in Southern Perú, where I go every year, people mumble rapidly and chop their words. Even though I grew up around Nuyoricans (New York Puerto Ricans), and even though many Spanish-speakers tell me that I sound Puerto Rican,  I don't find them very easy to understand either. I shouldn't feel so bad because I've heard Spanish speakers from other countries say the same thing about Puerto Ricans as well as Cubans.

When I was in Cuba, I too, found it challenging to understand what people were saying, but I got by. In fact, I understand Cubans better than I understand Peruvians and Venezuelans. In Venezuela, on more than one occasion, I had to tell people to slow down; Spanish is not my first language! This was particularly acute when I went into a store run by Chinese immigrants speaking Spanish with a heavy accent. It seems to me that the more educated the speaker, the easier it is for me to understand, regardless of where they are from. It's the everyday, common people who speak their language the way we everyday, common Americans speak ours with all of our slang, Ebonics, colloquialisms, accents, and other speaking styles.

Below is a list of Latin-American nationalities whom I've encountered where, #1 being the easiest to understand, and  #13 the least.
  1. Mexicans
  2. Ecuadorians
  3. Spanish (Spain)
  4. Hondurans (Catrachos)
  5. El Salvadoreans
  6. Costa Ricans
  7. Colombians
  8. Mexican-Americans
  9. Cubans
  10. Puerto Ricans (Boricuas)
  11. Peruvians
  12. New York Puerto Ricans (Nuyoricans)
  13. Venezuelans