You say potato, I say…freezer? Mastering Spanish accents

Here’s the thing about language: no one speaks it exactly the same way. In the case of all the countries in South and Central America, those differences in speech can result in dramatically different, sometimes offensive interpretations.

Recently I got the chance to meet and talk with a few other Spanish speakers. One was a non-native speaker just like me with an American Spanish accent. Another was from Honduras. The third guest had recently arrived from Costa Rica. And then to top it all off, a Puerto Rican woman was present too.

Of course, we were all speaking Spanish regardless of our dialects. But I found that I had much more trouble understanding some accents than others. While the Honduran accent was easygoing and easy to understand, the speed and pitch of the Puerto Rican accent was a mental workout.

Growing up with Spanish teachers who haven’t been native speakers, I’ve always been exposed to very ambiguous Spanish accents. In seventh and eighth grade I was taught by a husband and wife team who had lived in Peru and Paraguay for years working as missionaries, despite being native English speakers. Other than being exposed to Peruvian food (which I’ve craved ever since) and picking up a bit of a “j” sound on my “y”s and “ll”s, I haven’t been taught the Spanish of specifically one country yet.

One one hand, this is a good thing since my speech isn’t bogged down by culturally sensitive idioms. I won’t find myself using slang that’s inappropriate because of cultural differences. But, if I ever really want to sound like a native speaker, I need to find MY country. That is, the country that I am “from” when I speak Spanish.

There are so many different countries around the world that identify Spanish as one of their official languages. That’s why Spanish is one of the most widely spoken (and learned!) languages in the world. But, like most Americans, I am not aware of all the cultural distinctions between them.

My quest this year for Spanish is to finish. And by finish, I mean become fluent. I know there is no end to what you can learn with language–there’s always more culture and vocabulary to learn no longer how long you’ve been at it. But I want to finally be able to say “I can speak fluent Spanish” when I’m asked. And I think that I’m only a couple hundred hours of communication away from that goal. 😉

But what will really make the difference, at least in my mind, is finding a country to call home. That sounds easy enough…except I have nowhere to start.

Multiple google searches have turned up nothing but touristy guides to language, but I know that there are some gems in there that can help me find my mother country. Well, my adopted mother country.

The three main criteria that I’m looking for are as follows:

—-> Do I like the way the accent sounds? Is it fun to speak? Do I think I can master it and sound like a native?

—-> Would I ever want to visit this country? Do they have customs and culture that I think are interesting? What about the music and literature?

—-> Do I have friends to talk to that come from this country? How easy is it to find information and music from the country? Could I ever have the opportunity to travel or study there?

If you are interested in finding your mother country too, join the new Facebook group for anyone who is interested in improving their Spanish along with me. I’m going to learn one new accent (vocabulary, culture, etc) each week and I hope you’ll join me!

Sydney Sauer • January 30, 2016

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