Posts tagged ‘Spanish’

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.

April 19, 2012

Equal Health Care For All?

April is National Minority Health Month, and the current debate over health care in America has me thinking about the kind of care my parents received. I am not talking about co-pays and deductibles or in-network or out of network issues. I am talking about an issue that has not been given much focus in today’s debate – the role of quality communication and interpretation, if needed, in the provision of quality health care.

One of the main things that I remember about my childhood (besides music), was spending a lot of time in hospitals visiting my mother. And then as an adult, I spent a lot of time in hospitals visiting my father. My mother had many different surgeries during my youth, including an appendectomy, gall bladder issues, and passing kidney stones, to name a few. She even got a concussion once from slipping on ice. Needless to say, she experienced many health issues and needed a lot of care. My mother passed away seven years ago.

My father was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 46. Soon after, he developed cardiovascular disease. Only 20 years later, after significant health issues, my father passed away. That was 13 years ago.

Both of my parents were originally from South America. My mother was from Ecuador and my father was from Argentina. Their English was not great. I remember they relied on me quite a bit in the doctor’s office starting when I was about 10 years old to assist with interpretation, and I worried what was missed when I was not there. I worried then and still often think about now, whether they received all the care they needed, given that language barrier.  I know they would have benefited from receiving translated information about their illnesses in their native language – Spanish, and by having an interpreter at the doctor’s office or at their bedside in the hospital, when I, their only child, wasn’t available. There wasn’t a lot of that available several years ago. I wonder now, to what degree the language barrier affected their long-term health. Would they still be here today? Consider your own experience. What if you couldn’t read the doctor’s instructions written for you? What if you couldn’t ask all the questions you wanted to of the doctor or pharmacist, or understand everything perfectly that your doctor said? How do you think it would affect your health?

So amidst all the talk lately focusing on the equity of cost and quality of our future health care, I am wondering about another part of that equity equation – whether we’re adequately addressing the needs of all of our citizens, including our immigrant citizens, like my parents. This article from Reuter’s Health highlights the importance of having professional interpreters in a hospital setting, especially based on how “[a]n estimated 25 million Americans have limited English proficiency — that is, they say they speak the language less than “very well.””

Did my parents receive the same quality of health care that non-Hispanic Whites receive? Or was there a disparity in care? Communications is such an integral part of good, quality health care. How can we be sure that an appropriate effort is made to address communications barriers to ensure equity of health care for all Americans? Bringing light to this issue through my Blog and social media channels is how I choose to mark National Minority Health Month. You can mark the event by helping  me to keep the conversation going, or share how you will mark the occasion.

February 15, 2012

Hispanic or Latino?

That is the question! Many people feel very strongly about being identified with one or the other term.

Hispanic is a term created by the U.S. federal government in the early 1970s in an attempt to provide a common denominator to a large, but diverse, population with connection to the Spanish language or culture from a Spanish-speaking country. It has been used by the U.S. Census since 1980. It often reflects the origin of Spanish-speaking people from Mexico, Central America, South America, or the Dominican Republic. Many people from the eastern region of the United States identify themselves as Hispanic.

The term Latino reflects the origin of people from Romance-language countries such as Spain. But there are many people from the western region of the United States that identify themselves as Latino. In the year 2000 U.S. Census, the government also started to use the term Latino after it was commonly used in the community.

What exactly does “origin” mean? It refers to the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States.

People who identify their origin as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race, and so the U.S. Census categorizes Hispanics/Latinos with an ethnic distinction.

Although the terms Hispanic and Latino are often used interchangeably, neither label is universally accepted by the community.  A 2006 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center found that 48% of Latino adults generally describe themselves by their country of origin first; 26% generally use the terms Latino or Hispanic first; and 24% generally call themselves American on first reference. As for a preference between Hispanic and Latino, a 2008 Center survey found that 36% of respondents prefer the term Hispanic, 21% prefer the term Latino and the rest have no preference.

What are your thoughts about using Hispanic or Latino? Is a label necessary? Can we be one happy family with a common language and culture that links us?

January 11, 2012

Do you speak Spanish?

If you are Latino/Hispanic, have you ever had a boss ask you “Do you speak Spanish?” (Or it could be that you’re from a different country and speak a different language – but same scenario.)

Next thing you know they are asking you to translate the company’s brochure into Spanish.  What do you do? You’ll probably translate the brochure… You are willing to do this because you think: 1. it may affect your performance review if you say no; 2. you might win brownie points; 3. how bad could the translation be that you produce?

This is a critical issue in offices throughout the United States. Many companies believe that if they use a bilingual employee to translate their materials, they are saving the company money. But are they really? They are actually putting their companies at risk because if the translation is not done correctly, the company may be liable for something that is incorrectly translated.

I always use this example: Would a company use their accountant to write their marketing materials? No. Just because a person is fluent in English, does not mean that they can “write” marketing materials.  By this same token, just because a person is fluent in Spanish, does not mean that they can translate into Spanish. Everyone has an expertise and companies should have their employees focus on the tasks in their job description.

Professional translation companies exist expressly for this purpose: to expertly translate organizations written materials into other languages. These companies have vetted the professional translators and the translation is put through a quality control process. At UNO Translations and Communications, LLC we also offer graphic design service, so a company can receive a print-ready document.

This is a classic case of “you get what you pay for”. Don’t let your company be humiliated by sending out a poorly translated document! And don’t put your bilingual employees in a difficult situation…

October 19, 2011

Folkloric Nicaraguan words

These are the unique Nicaraguan folkloric words. My husband is from Nicaragua. I’ve heard him, his family, and friends say these phrases. They are quite delightful!

Brief history of the Nicaraguan language:

The influence of the ancient Maya is ubiquitous throughout Central America, and many Mayan-language words are present in the everyday Spanish spoken in modern Nicaragua.

After the fall of the Mayan empire in 900 A.D., the Nicarao and some of the other indigenous groups of Nicaragua may have originally fled south to Nicaragua in order to avoid subjugation by the aggressive Aztecs. These migrating groups of people brought with them the Aztec language and culture, both of which persist in various forms today in Nicaragua. *

There is also a radio character named “Pancho Madrigal” that showcases the essence of Nicaraguan folkloric life stories. Some of these terms come from that character also.


Agarre su gallina que mi gallo anda suelto: mi hijo está soltero y puede andar con las mujeres que quiera –

A la fija: seguro – direct

Amanecer de luna: amanecer enojado – wake-up on the wrong side of the bed

A mecate corto: limitado – on a short leash

A medio palo: inconcluso – not finished

Aprovecha macario, que esto no es diario: hay que aprovechar esto porque no se ve todos los días – take advantage of this because you don’t see this too often

A tuto: molestia – bothering



Cachimber boy: hacer mandados – do all the errands

Cada oveja encuentra su pareja: cada quien encuentra su pareja: everyone finds a partner

Casa de herrero, cuchillo de palo: en casa de una persona de cierta profesión, no se encuentra esos objetos arreglados – in the home of an electrician, there are electrical things to be fixed

Chavala/o: muchacha/o – girl/boy

Coyunda: látigo – whip

Cuando llueva chingue: Cuando llueva fresco – It will never happen


Dan da ran dicen las campanas, si el culo me dan el culo les doy: Si vos me das algo, yo también – If you give me something, I’ll give you something

Deacachimba: buenísimo – excellent

De la esquina a la vueltecita: De aquí allá – right around the corner


El mono aunque se vista de seda, mono queda: No importa que la persona se vista preciosa, siempre se va a ver igual: No matter how nicely you dress, your true self will shine through

El que va para viejo va para pendejo: Entre más viejo, las personas te dan vuelta – The older you get, the more that people take advantage of you

Echar un pelón: siesta – nap

El que con niño se acuesta, cagado amanece: un adulto no debe meterse con niñas – stay away from relationships with a person that is much younger than you

El buey solo, bien se lame: está bien andar solo – It’s better to be by yourself and independent

El que a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le cobija: el que anda con buenas personas, buenas cosas aprende – if you spend time with good people, they set examples for you

En el mundo de los ciegos, el tuerto es rey: La persona diferente resalta – it’s ok to be different and stand-out

Entre mayo, junio y julio: más adelante – some time in the future

Es chiche: es fácil – it’s easy

Es mejor solo, que mal acompañado: es preferible no tener compañero, cuando esa persona no es buena – better to be alone, than with a bad person

Esta dijo mena: no te creo – I don’t believe you [from Pancho Madrigal]




Háblame claro y pelado: háblame directo – speak truthfully and directly to me

Hacerse una melcocha: asustadizo cuando le hablan/retorcerse – – shy when spoken to/ squirms

Hasta un ciego ve eso: es muy obvio – it’s very obvious

Hombre: admiración/desesperación  – wow, that’s great/ oh no



Jodido: molestoso o con problema   – jerk or in trouble



La sinhueso no debe hablar: Mejor no hablar – It’s better if the tongue doesn’t speak

Llorar las tristes: que se queja mucho de la vida – complains too much about life


Matar dos pájaros de un tiro: hacer dos cosas a la vez – kill two birds with one stone

Meter la cuchara: opinar donde no te concierne – give your opinion when it’s not asked for


Ni bonita ni fea que asusta: regular – fair

No confundas gordura con inflamación: que no se confunda la persona – do not get things confused



Pelar el ajo: morirse – to die

Perro zompopo: lagartija – lizard

Pinolillo: fresco – sweet cornmeal and cacao-based traditional drink in Nicaragua

Por la mierda grande: lejos – far away


¿Qué tal?: ¿Cómo estás?/¿Qué piensas de eso? – How’s it going?/How about that?

¿Qué quiere decir Cristiano?: Eso está claro – That’s clear from what I heard



Sacarse un clavo: solucionar un problema – solve a problem

Soltar la perra: pantalón metido entre las nalgas – wedgy


Te fuistes tiste: caer en la trampa – fall into the trap

Tener culillo: tener miedo – to be afraid

Tula cuecho: querer saber la vida de todos – gossip


Un clavo saca otro clavo: un problema saca otro problema – solving a problem by creating another problem





Ya viene elver – el vergazo de agua: lloviendo fuerte – a rain downpour is coming


Zorro del mismo pinar: Que son de las mismas – people that are alike

The phrases are never-ending! There are so many and so entertaining! Feel free to add any that you know!

* Read more: Nicaraguan Americans – History, Indigenous societies, Colonial period, Independence, Modern era

October 6, 2011

Folkloric Argentinian words

The other day I posted Folkloric Ecuadorian words that I remembered hearing my mother say. Now I’m posting some of the Folkloric Argentinian words that I heard my father say and others that are now common in Argentina. Some of these words/phrases are considered Buenos Aires slang or lunfardo –  a cross of Neapolitan, Genovese and Sicilian dialects. Lunfardo is also known as the language of the Argentinian tango.  I love to hear the Argentinian accent – the intonation and accent is beautiful!


Ananá: piña – pineapple

Asado: barbecue


Bañadera: tina – bathtub

Barrilete: cometa – kite

Boliche: bar or nightclub

Bombilla- metal straw used to drink mate

Bronca: enojado – angry


Campera: chaqueta – coat

Cancha: campo – field

Che: somewhat equivalent to “man”

Chimichurri: steak sauce

Choripan: sausage sandwich

Colectivo: autobús – bus

Confitería:  pastelería – pastry shop


Dale: ok


El que nace barrigon, el ñudo se lo desata – a leopard does not change its spots (Martin Fierro poem)

Empedado: borracho – drunk


Facturas: pan dulce – pastries

fiambre: embutidos – cold cuts


Gauchada: favor

Gaucho: cowboy

Goma: llanta – tire

Guita: dinero – money


Heladera: refrigeradora – refrigerator

Hincha:  – fan





Laburar: trabajar – work

Listo: I understand


Malla: traje de baño – swimsuit

Masitas: pan dulce, pastries

Mate: special type of tea that Argentinians drink

Mear fuera del tarro: equivocarse – to be wrong

Micro: bus that goes from one city to another

Milonga: place to dance the Argentine tango


Nafta: gasolina – gasoline



Pancho: perrito – hot dog

Parrillada: barbecue

Pebeta: muchacha – girl

Petisa: pequeña – small one

Pibe: muchacho – child

Pileta: piscina – pool

Pollera: falda – skirt

Porotos: frijoles – beans

Porteño:  person from Buenos Aires



Remera: camiseta externa – t-shirt

Remis: taxi


Sandwiches de miga: tea sandwiches


Tal cual: yes, exactly, I agree

Tipo: hombre – guy



Viste: you know

Vos – In Argentina the word “Vos” is used, but simply as a substitute for “Tu” (You)




Ya fue: it’s over

Yuyos: hierbas – herbs


Please help me add to this list! I welcome that!

Watch for our blog on Nicaraguan folkloric words!

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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