On this blog we’ve talked a lot about different Spanish expressions you may want to know, what they mean, and how you can use them in conversation. But, if we’re being honest, it’s not always easy for guiris like us to insert native-like expressions without raising some eyebrows.
The most common words like vale and no pasa nada can generally be utilized without drawing much attention but if you use some of the others you may get more of a reaction. For example, using an expression like no hay de que may result in a pause in the conversation as you get a nod of approval for knowing an expression that’s not so well known by language-learners, just like saying something like me cago en todo may surprise your Spanish friends as they might not expect you to say something so fuerte (strong). Even after living here in Spain for five years, my friends will occasionally chuckle when I talk about other foreigners using the term guiri (which, sure, I guess is fun because I’m a foreigner too…but it also feels frustrating after they’ve just used the exact same word a minute before and my use of it was based on wanting to fit in).
It can be frustrating at times that I feel like I’ve amassed a decent arsenal of native-like expressions, yet don’t use them all on a regular basis. In the same way that I know I make mistakes but sometimes would rather just move on with the conversation, I occasionally shy away from using the best expressions I’ve learned because I know they may get a rise out of the people I’m talking to—and not necessarily in a bad way either! Sometimes, it’s just that I worry the conversation will turn into “Wow, look at how well our guiri talks! Where did you learn that?” instead of continuing with the discussion I wanted to participate in.
In the same way that many people correct your mistakes out of kindness, I know this often comes from a place of love and that my friends want to commend me for a job well done—especially when they didn’t expect me know that kind of expression—but it feels like it can sometimes get in the way of my ability to communicate. Of course, this is the part that makes it most frustrating as I was trying to communicate more fluently and instead the result was that it killed the fluidity of the conversation.
At the same time, though, I get it. It’s the same way in which we may laugh when someone who’s an English-learner uses a really good expression (especially a witty, strong, or dirty one) when we least expect it. It’s not that we’re TRYING to make a big deal about what they’ve said, it’s simply normal to react a bit to the unexpected, whether it’s that we’re taken aback or impressed. I know I’m always a bit surprised when a student uses popular slang or swear words in class, but because I’ve experienced this more I’m now better at hiding my surprise because I don’t want to discourage them (at least with adults in terms of the swearing).
Still, I have to admit that back in my college days I wasn’t as empathetic towards this and I remember all having a good laugh when a Chinese friend made the same joke we had been making for weeks. When we all laughed more than normal he immediately got nervous and started explaining himself, assuming he had made a big mistake. “No, no. It’s right! It’s funny…it’s just so much funnier when you say it” we ‘assured’ him. However, now that I think about it, I recognize that that wasn’t necessarily ‘assuring’ at all. I wish I could go back and make less of a big deal about, simply pat him on the back and say ‘nice’ the way I would have had it come from a native-speaker.
It’s a slippery slope that I’m so much more aware of now that I’ve been on both sides of the equation. As the language-learner, do you just go for it (ideally getting better and more natural using said expressions with time) or do you hold back and instead fit into the box of how you may be expected to talk? Of course, I want to give you the advice to just go for it! Who cares if you mess up or if you use it perfectly but others think an expression “sounds funnier coming from you”? It really shouldn’t matter and so I hope you look past the potential overreactions. At the same time, I know how it feels to have to go through the whole ‘big deal’ reaction and thus shy away from going for it all of the time. If you’ve been a bit discouraged with your experience thus far, know you’re not alone!
I guess the moral of my story is simply to be as understanding and compassionate as possible when it comes to language-learning. You may not be able to change the way others react when YOU use a new expression, but you can be as supportive as possible when someone else does! Whichever side you’re on in a particular conversation, try to remember how you would act if the roles were reversed as well as how you would like someone else to treat you in a similar situation. It’s not always easy to take something you’ve learned theoretically or through context and put it into practice but it’s something that we all strive to do as language-learners and so I encourage you to react in a way you think most empathetic. We could all use the confidence boost from time to time!
Have you had similar experiences with trying to work native-like expressions into your conversations? Or do you actually enjoy surprising natives with your knowledge of their slang? We love to hear your stories!