Anyone who has studied a foreign language knows that words are a funny thing. Very easily one can end up asking for something quite inappropriate or out of context if it is not stated correctly and properly. Do not fear or be ashamed, as this is part of the unique learning experience when you study abroad. Plus, they are great stories to share with your friends and family at home!
At Expanish Spanish School in Buenos Aires, not only do they teach you Spanish, but help integrate you into the local porteño culture with ease. The first way to do this is through simple communication, more importantly – proper communication. This of course Involves a phonetics class or how I would like to call it, “how to not sound like a foreigner” class. My professor Eduardo had all of his students, including myself, very precisely go through the Spanish phonetic alphabet reiterating the sounds we heard. I have to say, I felt like Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady” trying to repeat the sounds correctly, but the “rr” is my demise. Somehow my tongue just does not want to roll as beautifully as everyone else´s, but practice makes perfect. Obviously this is important as there is a big difference between the words pero (but) and perro (dog) or cero (zero) and cerro (hill). I´m sure at some point I´ve probably said “me gustaría una empanada perro, tengo cerro pesos.” Meaning, “I would like an empanada dog, I have hill pesos!”
We also learned that there is no difference in pronunciation of “b” or “v,” so vota (he/she votes) and bota (boot) sound exactly the same, but must use the context of the conversation to understand (like English´s would and wood). The most beneficial for me was discovering that I have been saying words like costa(coast) and hasta (until) incorrectly forever! You should only slightly enunciate the “s” before a consonant and definitely avoid sounding like the Terminator “Hasta la vista baby” – a clear sign that you are a foreigner!
I´ll leave you with a few trabalenguas (tongue twisters) to practice for yourself:
“Había un perro debajo de un carro, vino otro perro y le mordió el rabo.”
“Como poco coco como, poco coco compro.”
“Tres tristes tigres tragaban trigo en tres tristes trastos sentados tras un trigal. Sentados tras un trigal, en tres tristes trastos tragaban trigo tres tristes tigres.”
“¡Qué ingenuo es Eugenio! ¡Y qué genio tiene el ingenuo Eugenio!”