Spanish: A Language of Unparalleled Semantic Variation

A Friend’s Video on the Nuances of Spanish Language Difference Goes Viral

In February of 2012, brothers Juan Andrés and Nicolás Ospina released a song titled “Que difícil es hablar el español” or “Oh How Hard it is to Speak Spanish” that quickly became viral.  Now with 8.5 million hits on YouTube, this song has entertained many people who likely nod their head in agreement.  Spanish is a living language of unparalleled semantic variation making it difficult to acquire.  Or more simply put, Spanish is very hard to learn because everyone speaks it so darn differently.

I must mention that I was also quite ecstatic at the time this video came out because song composer Juan Andrés Ospina is a good friend of mine.  As a touring musician from Colombia, Juan Andrés had previously shared stories of misunderstandings while traveling on the road and communicating with other Spanish-speakers from various regions.  As a non-native speaker, this was humorous and I was relieved to know that even native speakers struggled sometimes with differences within a language.

Music and lyrics by Juan Andrés Ospina and Nicolás Ospina

 

Personal Journey Learning Spanish

My personal journey learning Spanish has been somewhat arduous as a non-native speaker.  I was exposed to the Spanish language growing up in Orlando, but didn’t begin learning it until college while living in Miami, when I took a basic course with a teacher from Cuba.  I had spent my childhood learning French as I attended a French immersion program for six years followed by spending a year in France, so it wasn’t a focus until later in life.  I missed the “critical period” and learned how hard it was to acquire a language at a later age.

When I moved to New York City in 2008, I befriended many people from Argentina who felt more comfortable communicating in Spanish and as a result, I picked up on many of their expressions and vocabulary words.  I had learned for example, that a suitcase which I once called a “maleta” would now be called a “valija” with my new friends  (Side note: I also developed their accent eventually after a year or so, pronouncing the double ll as a “sh” sound)

A Spanish-Speaking Speech Language Pathologist

Fast forward seven years later to the present time, where my Spanish has become much more fluent and natural, and my vocabulary has changed drastically in order to work effectively as a speech language pathologist with bilingual children in the Bronx, from countries which include (but are certainly not limited to) Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.  My Argentinian accent has faded (and I rarely have the opportunity to use words like “valija” unfortunately) but my awareness of different accents and vocabulary has become heightened, as I constantly adapt the language to the various styles of Spanish here.

For both native and non-native bilingual medical professionals and educators, it’s imperative to research and understand language difference within a specific language.  Bilingual adults who work with children in medical and educational settings are often the professionals who paint a clear picture of the speech and language abilities and possible impairments of these children.  It’s a big responsibility.

 

Music and lyrics by Juan Andrés Ospina and Nicolás Ospina

Translated by Juan Andrés Ospina, Sebastian Betti and Lindsay Oesch

 

In closing, when Juan Andres asked if I would help in translating his viral video to create a version with English subtitles, I jumped on the opportunity for the learning experience.  Whether native speaker or non-native speaker, we all have a lot to learn from the diversity of the Spanish language.

 

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