Posts tagged ‘Ecuador’

May 15, 2012

To Be Or Not To Be An Accent. That Is The Question.

What’s in an accent? Accents come in all shapes, sizes and tones.

All countries have accents that are regional. We know that here in the US, because there are southern accents, New England accents, New York accents, etc.

And then there are the accents of immigrants when they speak English.  Again, this is universal. I remember that I was 10-years old when I met my grandfather for the first time in Argentina. He was originally from Poland, and to my surprise, he spoke Spanish with a heavy accent!

I started really thinking about accents because my social media specialist, Rob Whitley (who is awesome by the way) asked me how I feel about the way my name is pronounced. So for example, when he says ‘Brigitta’ on the phone, he said he could say it with a Spanish accent, the way Samantha [Samantha Villegas, my awesome public relations consultant] says it, which is with a soft G. But he said that he often says it with  a regular G sound. He also asked, when or if someone whose native language is English, and they DO make the effort to pronounce my name in a Spanish way, do I care if the ñ is accented? But mainly, he wanted to know whether I appreciate it more if someone makes this effort altogether when the language that is going to be spoken during that conversation is English for example.

Rob’s question made me realize that this was a very important topic, and one that has hit close to home for me my whole life. First  because I grew up in a household of immigrants with accents, also because I married an immigrant with an accent, and  because I have a difficult name to pronounce, no matter what country you’re originally from.

The quick answer to Rob’s question about my name is that I prefer for people to pronounce  it with a Spanish accent (soft G). But I don’t create perceptions or assumptions about people if they don’t pronounce it correctly the first time. Maybe this comes from growing up in the 60’s and 70’s where there was not much diversity in Alexandria, Virginia, where I grew up. EVERYONE had trouble saying my name, or even attempting to pronounce it. I was constantly having to pronounce my name, and I admit that at that time I pronounced it with a more “American” accent – so as not to complicate matters. Today, I pronounce my name with a Spanish accent for many reasons – including the diversity of names that I hear around me.

My parents came to the United States from their respective countries, Argentina and Ecuador, as adults. They spoke English with very heavy accents. Then I married someone from Central America who, as my parents did, came to this country as an adult, and speaks English with an accent. I have been surrounded by accents my whole life!

Research shows that when someone leaves their native country as an 11-year old or younger, they will be able to learn the language of their new country without much of an accent ( Age Vs. Learning A Second Language Study).  My own experience with that are two cousins that came from Ecuador to live with my family when one of them was 13-years old and the other was 10-years old. The 13-year old ended up speaking fluent English with a slight accent and the 10-year old ended up speaking fluent English with no Spanish accent at all.

I was born in Maryland and grew up in Virginia so I don’t speak English with an accent, except for a slight “Northern Virginia” accent. Is there really such a thing as a “Northern Virginia” accent though? Well, when I was a teenager I visited family in Michigan, and the native Michiganders (and yes, they have  accents) asked me if I was a southern belle because they could distinguish somewhat of  a southern accent.  I had never considered myself a “southerner,” but there you go – someone heard that accent in my speech! Now, there are some people that suspect I’m from another country only because they say that I enunciate words clearly. That person must have a very fine ear…

Rob then asked me: “Overall, when you  hear a person whose native language is English, speak Spanish fluently in sort of an “English” way versus trying to speak it as if Spanish was their native language, what do you think?”

Another great question. I  am thrilled when people learn more than one language and have the courage to try to speak the second or third language without being shy about making mistakes. So I applaud anyone that does their best to converse in their new language, whether or not they are speaking it with the “correct” accent.

What about Siri on the iPhone. She doesn’t  understand people that speak to her with an accent. How do you teach a “machine” to understand accents? There are accents everywhere, right? That’s a challenge for Apple, but if any company were able to tackle it, Apple could, and I believe they will.

At least Siri has an excuse for her issue. She’s a machine that hasn’t yet been programmed. But how do we program people to understand accents, or at least have the patience for those with them? How do we teach tolerance throughout the world to people who are listening to others trying their best to speak their new language: can we learn to be patient with the person speaking our language with a heavy accent, and making grammatical mistakes? Can we agree that speaking louder to the person learning the new language is not going to help? Isn’t there a better way than yelling out, “What? I don’t understand you.” Yes, it’s frustrating, but instead of impatience, or annoyance, I think a drop of tolerance and patience will go a long way for a person learning their second or third language and it will bridge together our ever-growing melting pot of cultures.

February 27, 2012

Music As Our First Language

I was recently reading an article in Psychology Today called Music Matters by Professor in Music Cognition – Henkjan Honing. Although Professor Honing believes that music comes before language and that he “…emphasize[s] that these very early indications of musical aptitude are not in essence linguistic…” –   I believe that the first language I learned as a baby was the language of music. My first memories are of my mother singing and playing the piano. It is through her voice and those sounds that I began to feel a connection to her, and I strongly believe she reached me through music in a way mere words never could.

In the article in Daily Mail Reporter called Babies develop an ear for classical music at just 5 months of age, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience – Ross Flom, who conducted a musical study on infants says, “Infants’ discrimination of music is important because music, like speech, is communicative and a basic function of music and speech is to express meaning through emotion.”

My mother, who was originally from Ecuador, was a musician. She played the piano, guitar, organ, harp, and she sang beautifully.  Her mother (my grandmother) lived with us and she also sang and played the guitar. She always encouraged my mother to play, and for a time, as a child, I played the piano, violin, and I sang.

Holistic Baby Specialist and Dance Movement Therapist, Brigitta White* from  WholeMe! Programs states that “newborns already carry with them inherent nonverbal communication knowledge, such as recognizing your mom’s voice as a newborn.  Our first language or communication method is nonverbal.  Pre-verbal language or communication is made up of sounds, music, rhythm, body movement, body gesture, dance or measured interactive dynamics.  As an infant, you are learning about your self in the world in relation to those around you. Therefore, the style of communication from your parents, the sounds around you and how you create sounds are part of your psychological make-up.”

Sadly, my mother passed away 6 years ago (almost to the day). Very recently, I was looking through some of her things and I found a musical composition that she and her mother had composed together. It’s the sheet music with the music by my mother and the lyrics by my grandmother. Such a gift and treasure.

Family heritage musical composition

There is no doubt in my mind that music was my first language. Although I haven’t sung or played an instrument in many years, I believe my mother’s and grandmother’s musical talent are at the heart of my love for music and languages today. I look forward to carrying on their tradition of connecting and speaking through song with my own grandchildren one day.

Do you have early memories of music in your life? How do you think it shaped your language and your relationships with those who played it for you?

* Full disclosure: Brigitta White is my daughter and she did not have as much music as her first language as I did because I wasn’t as talented as my mom. But I did sing lullabies to her!

September 19, 2011

Folkloric Ecuadorian words

I recall my mother and grandmother’s rich Ecuadorian language.  Yes, they spoke Spanish, but every country has folkloric words that are used just in their countries. These are some of the idioms that I remember!

It is pretty common in the mountainous region to hear “quichuismos” or words borrowed from the Quichua language or that reflect linguistic Quichua structures. Some words are used throughout Ecuador.


Achachay: exclamación utilizada para denotar frío, físico o figurativo. Proviene del Quichua – expression used when something is cold

Alhaja: placentero – a pleasant person, nice

Ananay: exclamación utilizada para denotar gusto o placer, figurativo. Proviene del Quichua – so nice

Aniñado /aniñada : quien presume de su estatus social o de su situación económica aventajada – cocky or childlike

Aquisito nomás: muy cerca – a non-specific expression meaning a close or near

Arrarray: exclamación utilizada para denotar calor excesivo, físico o figurativo. Proviene del Quichua – expression used when something is hot

Atatay: exclamación utilizada para denotar aversión, asco; físico o figurativo. Proviene del Quichua – expression used when something is disgusting

Ayayay: exclamación utilizada para denotar dolor intenso, físico o figurativo. Proviene del Quichua – expression used when something hurts


Buena facha – good dresser


Cachas: ¿entiendes? – do you understand?

Cachos: chistes – jokes

Caleta: casa – home

Camellar / camello : Trabajar, trabajo – work

Canguil – popcorn

Chagra – 1) Cowboy from the Andean region, usually from the town of Machachi.  2) Insult

Chapa: agente de policía – disrespectful term for a policeman

Chiro / chira : sin dinero. Ej.: ‘No puedo ir, ando chiro’ – without money

Cholo/a: Ethnic slur created by Hispanic criollos in the 16th century, and it has been applied to individuals of mixed or pure American Indian ancestry, or other racially mixed origin. The precise usage of “cholo” has varied widely in different times and places.

Chompa: abrigo – jacket

Chuchaqui: resaca, malestar producido tras ingerir grandes cantidades de alcohol. Proviene del Quichua – hangover

Chumado : borracho – drunk

Chuta – expression of surprise

Conchudo: pícaro – a person with no scruples

Culebras verdes – expression of exasperation


De una: inmediatamente – right away

De ley: Asegurar algo, dar aprobación de un tema. Afirmar – for sure


Encamador: fanfarrón, mentiroso – liar

Elé : “Ahí está.” – You see


Fachosa – badly dressed

Farra: fiesta – party

Fresco: no hay problema, no pasa nada, todo sigue normal, sin novedad – no problem


Guagua: niño pequeño (m/f). Proviene del Quichua – baby or small child

Guambra: hombre/mujer muy joven. Proviene del Quichua – kid

Guaso: grosero – rude


Jama : comida – food

Joder : hablar mucho. Ej.: “Esa man (chica) como jode”. / Hacer bromas de mal gusto a otra persona. Ej.: Ese man me está jodiendo – to talk too much, bother


La leona : tener hambre atroz. referido específicamente a los efectos del THC. Ej. : ‘¡Ando con la leona, loco!’ – as hungry as a lion

Llapingacho: plato típico ecuatoriano que consisten de tortillas de puré de papa rellenas con queso = typical plate from Ecuador that are potato patties made with cheese and fried

Loco / loca : amigo, amiga. La forma más informal de aludir a segundos o terceros durante una conversación y un ambiente coloquial – friend

Locro: plato típico ecuatoriano que es una sopa hecha con papa, leche, queso – typical plate from Ecuador that is a soup made with potatoes, milk, and cheese

Llucho/a : desnudo /a – naked


Mande: Sí señor, señora- yes sir (ma’am), do you need something?

Mechas: pelo – hair

Melindrosa: remilgado – picky eater

Mono/a : en la Sierra se usa para referirse a alguien de la Costa – a person from the Coast of Ecuador – derogatory term

Mucha: beso. Proviende del Quichua – kiss

Mushpa : menso. Proviene del Quichua – dumb


Ñaño / ñaña : hermano, hermana. Proviene del Quichua – term of endearment for sibling or aunt/uncle


Omoto: niño pequeño – kid


Pelado / pelada : 1. chico/chica 2. sin cabello o pelos 3. dícese de la persona con la que se mantiene un vínculo amoroso (el novio, la novia) – girl/boy

Pluto /pluta : ebrio, ebria – drunk


Quien con lobo se ajunta, a aullar aprende  – If you run with the wolves, you learn to howl


Sapo: corrupto – corrupt, takes advantage of situations

Serrano: en la Costa se refiere a la gente de la Sierra de manera ofensiva debido a su acento – what people of the Coast call people from the mountains, derogatory term

Shunsho : persona poco inteligente, tonto/a. Proviene del Quichua – Fool

Simón : aseveración sobre algún tema, puede significar ‘te creo’

Sota: de la moneda anterior a la dolarización ‘diez mil sucres’

Sumercé—Your mercy (usually used in the Sierra between a person of indigenous origin and a
white person or one of a higher social status)


Taita : padre. Proviene del Quichua – father

Tuco : corpulento (fuerte, no gordo) – strong

Tutuma: Cabeza – head


Viejo /Vieja : el padre, la madre, mujer, hombre – mother, father, woman, man

Some of these terms are used in other Latin American countries now. Do you know of other Ecuadorian idioms to add to this list?

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