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Ask Juan: Is It Possible To Speak Spanish Quietly?

is it possible to speak spanish quietly juanofwords
Like our cultura, our language is a celebration.

So the other day I just happened to overhear this conversation.  Believe it or not, I wasn’t even trying to listen.  My Metiche tendencies have very purposely been subdued over the past couple of months.  Okay, okay… so not really.  I’ve just been kind of too busy to be as chismoso as usual.  I promise to change that.  I promise!  De cualquier manera at the end of the conversation, which was the only part that I really caught, one person leaned over and asked their lunch partner this question.  They sounded sincerely curious and since I had not caught the beginning part of their conversation I immediately decided it wasn’t even worth getting worked up about.  But the question did pique my curiosity.

Is its possible to speak Spanish quietly?

Now granted the people speaking Spanish in the room were speaking quite loudly.  They were four young people, two men and two women, chilangos or regios from what I could make out, and they were carrying on about some of their friends or acquaintances that had been at some type of event with them recently.  The jokes were flowing, as were the carcajadas, and well, I just gotta tell you, some of their cracks (mostly about their friends or acquaintances who weren’t there) were actually kind of funny.  That’s one of the things I do when eating alone in public places, observe and listen to anything interesting that’s taking place around me.  Hence the metiche part of my personality.  Come to think of it, I think I was chuckling quite loudly, at one point even turning around to smile at them and let them know that I was a Spanish-speaker too and was enjoying their banter.

That’s probably why the pair of curious lunch mates on my other side had all but completely gone unnoticed until they got up to leave and asked that question.

In that moment, when I overheard the question, my eyebrows went up, my eye balls kind of rolled back a little bit.  Their question didn’t really offend me, but in some way it seemed very inappropriate.  Later that day and in the ones after, that’s when my mind seriously began to obsess over the question.  I know, it is possible to speak Spanish quietly.  People tend to think everyone in my family is completely soft spoken.  I guess we are, mostly when we’re speaking English though.  When we use our native Spanish, for some reason, it always seems we can’t help but to raise the volume in our voices too.  I know plenty of others as well who are not as soft spoken in English as we are and who are WAY louder in Spanish.  I mean WAY LOUDER!

Why is that?  I wondered.

Then a thought raced into my mind.  Of course we speak Spanish more loudly!  Like our Latino culturas, our language is all about celebration.  We’re celebrating the fact that we have preserved our language over so many generations.  We’re celebrating the fact that so many of us, across the globe, and across so many borders can speak the same language.  We’re celebrating like that Gloria Estefan song that says hablemos el mismo idioma, dame la mano mi hermano.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that there are so many more words in the romanticism of el español.  Whatever the case, I now had the answer to this stranger’s question.

No.  It’s not possible to speak Spanish quietly.  And even if it were, we wouldn’t want to anyway!

What do you think?  Do you speak more loudly in Spanish?  Why do you think so many of us do?  I’d love to read your perspective on the subject.

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Ask Juan: Why is Spanish so Hard to Learn?

The other day a reader emailed me with the following question: Since you are Juan of Words, what do you do when life gives you a whack in the back of the head? I’ve been trying to learn Spanish through a local community college and I’ve tried for two quarters and just can’t get a halfway decent grade.  And it isn’t for lack of studying.  It’s all I do.  I don’t have much of a life.  So, Juan of Words, how do I smack back at life?

Dear Frustrated:

Lessons in Spanish

First off, let me just say I totally understand where you’re coming from.  I’ve never had to learn a new language, at least not as an adult.  We learned English as kids in our family and, well at that age we’re all like little sponges, capable of learning and absorbing so many new things.  In high school I took French classes, but that was only because we were required to take two language classes and I didn’t want to bother with Spanish.  Little did I know had I taken Spanish in high school I might not have had to take Spanish for native speakers in college.  In any event, all these years later I can probably count to 20 in French and recite the alphabet y una que otra palabra, but that’s about it!

My subject of terror and constant frustration has always been math, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that in high school when all of the other kids were learning Algebra I was too busy “living my life” skipping school and hanging out with my girlfriend at the time.  Alright, so sometimes it was driving to the local Burger King to order two croissant-wiches and eating them in my first beat up old car by myself before heading to school!  I was a healthy sized boy!  What can I say?!

Needless to say when I got to college algebra I was completely lost.  The teacher might as well have been giving us the lessons in French!

That first go around I just quit college all together.  I stayed away from school for a good two years until I realized my teachers had actually been right, without college I was going to be stuck at a job I didn’t want.  Of course, as soon as I registered again for classes Algebra was one of the first courses my guidance counselor required.  This time I actually tried my best to learn something and still failed the class miserably at the end of the semester.  I was very disappointed, but at the same time there was a little pride in myself there too.  I had not quit this time.

That’s one thing about me.  I never like to quit, unless it’s something that I know I have to do.  Growing up the way we did, I honestly think it really is hard for my siblings and I to quit anything.  The word luchista and my mom’s catch phrase hay que ser luchistas just keep playing over and over in our heads, all of the time.

That third time around, though, my teacher was African.  English was her second language and she had to enunciate a lot more than any of my other Algebra teachers, which meant she relied a lot more on her notes on the chalkboard to teach us the lessons.  I must have gone through at least six spiraled notebooks that semester writing down every single thing she wrote on the blackboard, complete with little reminder notes for myself about why certain calculations were important.  To my surprise I actually passed the class with an A this time around and somehow managed to ace all of the remaining math requirements in my degree plan.  For a brief moment – a very brief one – I actually considered making math my major.  Then I looked at all the higher level math courses I’d have to take and decided against it.

A few years after graduation I started working for an all Spanish-language newspaper.  Remember those Spanish for native classes I had to take?  Here is when it really became apparent why they were actually a blessing in disguise.  Even though I’d spoken Spanish all of my life, it wasn’t what my editors considered “correct” Spanish… as in what the Real Academia Española would approve of.  To improve I began reading more in Spanish, watching television only in Spanish, listening to the radio in Spanish all of the time, and holding more of my own conversations exclusively in Spanish.  Before I knew it I was thinking, dreaming and living my life almost completely in Spanish!  It was really bizarre.  Sometimes I’d forget certain words in English.

Today, many years since working for this publication, my Spanish is still not perfect, but it is a hell of a lot better than what it once was.

I don’t know if this response will actually be helpful, or if it even answers the question you sent me correctly, but I hope it does.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that perseverance pays off and even though sometimes it’s hard to see that light at the end of the tunnel, if you keep plugging along, pushing yourself and accepting that it’s okay to fall and get back up, you’ll eventually get to where you want to be.  And hey, there’s nothing wrong with not having much of a life.  Sometimes our most exciting outing in a week is to Walmart.  I don’t think it gets much sadder than that.



If you’d like to submit your own question for Ask Juan, please email me your questions.  I would be glad to try my best and provide an answer.

Ask Juan: How to tell if you’re at a Pachanga?

¡Charanga, Pachanga, Charanga, Pachanga!

It should be pretty simple to tell.  I mean you can’t pass off a tamal or a torta for an hors d’oeuvre, much less frijoles pintos or asado… though in all fairness, word around the street is that these new gourmet food trucks are doing wonderful things with our comida.  But for this question I figured (well Anjelica pointed it out to me) that it would be better to let Los Metiches answer for all of us.  Check it out!

Ask Juan: Why are all Latinas on Spanish-language television so “HOT”?

The infamous dance.

There’s a reason my television at the office is never tuned in to one of the Spanish-language networks.  Only when it’s late at night or there is nobody else in the building will you catch me watching anything on Univision, Telemundo, Telefutura, or any of the other half dozen canales en español that my dish network service carries.  The reason for this: the Latinas on all of the Spanish-language networks are – in the words of countless individuals who’ve walked in on me while I’ve been trying to sneak in a couple of minutes of my favorite programas, definitely more guys than gals – muy caliente!  

That’s literally what they’ve said after staring crazy-eyed at the television screen for a couple of minutes.  Then there’s the awkward explanation of what exactly it is I’m watching.  Yes, the ladies on Primer Impacto are actually reporting serious news.  Yes, Charytin and the rest of her very cleavage-advantaged and “bootylicious” co-hosts are supposed to be entertainment journalists.  Yes, dancing is an essential part of the job for the women of Despierta América! Much in the same way forced smiles and always looking like you are having the time of your life are a part of the job description for all of the presenters on Good Morning America and The Today Show.  Was the whole Tom Hanks-Chiquinquirá Delgado dance on Univision not explanation enough!?

By the same token, yes, all of the gents on shows like Escandalo TV and Sábado Gigante have to wear their shirts unbuttoned and open at least three buttons down to expose their chest.  Yes, these guys have to wear skin tight pants so as to leave very little to the imagination about just how “big” their packages might be.  Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable for Don Francisco to make inappropriate remarks about his very young and sexy female co-hosts.  So he’s been accused of sexual harassment.  So what!  Yes, all of those women in two piece bikinis sharing a jacuzzi with El Gordo de Molina find him irresistibly sexy, and by default of appearing on his show must do a complete 360° turn to show off their complete and full assets on all sides.  It’s just a part of their brand of entertainment.  It’s the same concept behind Spanish-language dating shows like 12 Corazones.  

It wasn’t really that popular of a show, but the contestants always exposed as much of their skin as possible to win the date.  For the eligible bachelors that meant pants squeezed into so tight they looked like they were about to tear if they bent down just far enough and no shirt whatsoever on their chests.  The ladies kept it classy with skintight, usually tube-topped dresses, that barely made it past their derrières and in which they jiggled just enough so that nothing would pop out sin querer queriendo. Janet Jackson could have definitely learned a thing or two from these chicas!  Then there was the banter.  Every single topic of conversation on the show was innuendo, sexual innuendo, and to be completely honest, that’s what made it so entertaining, as well as one of my guilty pleasures.  It just made for great mindless television.  No se enojen conmigo, it’s just the truth of the matter. I think.

So while it might not be the most appropriate or even the most politically correct activity to take place on such a powerful and far-reaching media as national television, I have a feeling those “HOT” Latinas will continue dancing and shaking what their momma’s gave them until we stop watching.  Those gents will continue bearing as much of their chests as possible, and all of us Latino men on television, regardless of how short, stocky, old, bald, fat, ugly, or naco we might look in real life, will also continue being the “HOTTEST” thing since sliced bread to the women of Univision, Telemundo, etc.  Because, after all, television is all about entertainment and guess what, SEX sells!

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