American in Spain

Language Immersion Anecdotes

September 24, 2008

One of the things I love about living in a foreign country immersed in a foreign language, is that sometimes your minimal understandings of things leads you to draw conclusions that, in retrospect are humorously idiotic, but that, at the time, seemed perfectly reasonable. Here I provide two of my favorite anecdotal instances.

Danish Homosexuals

Marga's first experience immersed in a foreign language was when she went to Denmark and had to survive speaking only English. As I have mentioned before, Spanish has acquired many English words that are pronounced with a Spanish pronunciation. You probably know what the Spanish pronunciation for "ay" is (think "¡Ay caramba!"). When the word "gay" changed meaning in English, it was adopted into Spanish with its new meaning. As you might imagine, it's pronounced the same as the English word "guy". So put yourself in Marga's brain, not knowing the English word "guy", hearing sentences like, "I was talking to this guy on the street yesterday, and these other three guys came up to us and..." Naturally, her reaction was, "Good lord, there's a lot of homosexuals in Denmark!"

There's something about Marí­a José

My first Spanish language immersion came in England, when I moved there to live with Marga. One of the first people I met was a woman named Majo (which I later learned was short for Marí­a José). Later, as I was listening to Marga converse with other Spaniards, I kept hearing Majo's name come up. I was fairly certain they were talking about something else, and then they'd mention Majo. I thought, "Man, they talk about this Majo girl all the time!" What I later learned was that, as with Marga's confusion in Denmark, the word "majo" is very common slang in ordinary Spanish conversation. It generally means "nice". Erik es muy majo. It can also be used as a generic name for a male friend. ¡Majo, mira a esto! I can't remember if I figured out this meaning on my own or if I asked Marga and she explained it to me after she stopped laughing. I think it was the latter.