The best way to learn a language: Typical Mexican

“I think I just need to go to France for a few months… I’d do some French classes and pick the language up along the way”

“Yeah, that’s the best way”

– Overheard in the kitchen at my office.

Peddled by many a wannabe-language learner and perpetuated by popular belief, this is the most common, convenient and counter-productive of excuses. Ever so efficiently, the learner shifts responsibility to the teacher, and blinds themselves from the abundant opportunities available to a global citizen of an international city.

This is the first of a number of posts that will celebrate the tiny incremental moments of progress towards becoming fluent in a language that you might not notice, value, or know about at all.

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This 6 minute video contains so much more than you’d expect it to.

“Un típico mexicano yo creo que no existe, es un estereotipo que se nos ha inyectado a fuerza de muchos medios de comunicación…. Sería la parte por los Estados Unidos, el mexicano que está abajo de un cactus con un zarape y un sombrero.

“Pero no lo circunscribiría nada más al mexicano como que esa cuestión nacionalista está de más, no? O sea, somos seres humanos todos y tenemos una diversidad cultural que es lo que – a lo mejor – nos hace diversos pero no más ni menos que unos ni que otros.” – 3:45.

Well said. Ever wondered why your ‘Mexican-themed’ party is ‘politically-incorrect’? It’s because you’re reducing a huge post-colonial country down to one or two stereotypes you got from the media, rather than celebrating its rich cultural diversity.

And notice the choice of language the man uses:

“Ay como… emprendedor… un poco machista aun y… muy malinchista” – 0:50.

  • Malinchista – Since watching this video, this has become one of my favourite words. It derives from the name of Hernán Cortés‘s Nahua mistress La Malinche, who is now attributed with betraying her people and assisting the Spaniards’ with their conquest. Essentially, the word is used to describe people who sell out their own culture for another’s out of disdain or a feeling of inferiority. Read more about it hereWhile I’ve been to Mexico and have gotten to know many Mexicans, I can’t say with much conviction how widespread malinchism is in the country. However, it was certainly interesting to see the term used so naturally.

Below, is a list of some other words and collocations that stuck out to me in this video. After some research, I found that many are specific to Mexican Spanish and haven’t been co-opted by official dictionaries:

  • Parradero – Alguien que le gusta mucho salir a fiestas, bailar, beber.
  • Mujeriego (adj + noun) – Aficionado a las mujeres (that’s the polite way of saying it).
  • Luchón – Mexicans like to add ‘ón’ to adjectives to make them stronger e.g. “saladón” means “really salty”.
  • El albur – Mexican Spanish for “juego de palabras”.
  • El desmadre – wild party, rave, disaster area. Also, desmadroso, an adjective form which isn’t in the dictionary.
  • Mañoso – Skillful or handy, i.e. from the word la mano.
  • Echarle ganas al trabajo – Basically: to “bend your back into work” i.e. “work very hard”.
  • Despreocupado – Unworried i.e. carefree, happy-go-lucky.
  • Fiestero – Someone who likes fiestas!
  • La hueva – Laziness… So “tener hueva” means to feel lazy. Also, “tener flojera”, which I’ve heard more from Peruvians and Chileans (but don’t quote me on that!).
  • La brecha, como “la brecha generacional” – gap, hole, opening, breach.

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In language learning, where you are matters less than what you do. Are you waiting for someone to teach you or are you actively interacting with the language? As this post demonstrates, it isn’t difficult to get a hold of media in your target language that interests you. Similarly, there are numerous language exchange meetups out there if you live in a city like Sydney. As you listen, read and converse, those vocab lists and grammar lessons from your textbook will come to life – you will be able to notice them, better understand them and, ultimately, use them with greater confidence.

Thanks for reading. You can find more language learning tips in the menus in the right-hand column. Subscribe to get Tim Spricht delivered to your inbox. And get in touch with me via timspricht@gmail.com or @TimSpricht. Qué aprendas mucho!

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