Spanish lessons from a soup can

While waiting for some soup to heat up, I noticed that the instructions come in both English and Spanish. The value of such parallel texts is that you can learn new words without any extra help!

Click to enlarge

For example, I learned that the Spanish word for “stovetop” is “estufa.” The phrase “lista para servir” (which I already recognize as “ready to serve”) implies that the word for soup (not mentioned) must be feminine (which it is, “la sopa”!). I also learned that a saucepan is a “cacerola.”

Interestingly, for “covered microwavable bowl” they use “recipiente cubierto apto”, suggesting that either there is no word for “microwavable,” or they assume that since this is in the “MICROWAVE” section, the meaning of an “apto” (“suitable”) bowl should be pretty obvious :)

Because these are instructions, they include a lot of verbs in the imperative tense:

  • agregue – add
  • caliente – heat
  • deje – leave
  • revuelva – stir
  • refrigere – refrigerate

The final instruction, “refrigere lo que sobre,” posed a fun puzzle. “Lo que sobre” apparently is intended to mean “leftovers” or “that which remains.” But at first I couldn’t find a verb from which “sobre” would come from (sobrir? sobrer?). (I did find that there’s a Spanish lovesong called “Lo Que Te Sobre” by Son De Cali.) After more poking around, I think that “sobre” actually comes from “sobrar” (“to remain”), which makes sense, but it means that the verb is in the subjunctive! Oh subtleties! I guess this is because you MIGHT have some leftovers but you might not. :) To me, this suggests that the translation was done by a human, because I doubt any automated translation has that level of sophistication. (Google translate turns “leftovers” into a simple noun, “las sobras.”) In English, perhaps we could modify “Refrigerate leftovers” to “Refrigerate what may be left over” (more literal) or “Refrigerate leftovers, if any” (more natural).

Dipthongs in Spanish

I’m going through an interesting course on Spanish phonetics with the goal of improving my pronunciation. The course started out by going through the alphabet with pretty basic stuff, but now it’s getting more interesting and challenging. In lesson 5 we tackled dipthongs (los diptongos), which are two vowels that are blended into a single sound.

We have a lot of these in English, but as native speakers we don’t really notice them until they’re called out. An example is “ay” in “ray” – it’s really two vowels (“eh” and “ee”) that are blended together. (Here are more English dipthong examples, aimed at Russians learning English!).

Spanish identifies quite a lot of them, and these helped me finally understand some details I’d noticed but couldn’t figure out before. For example, “día” (day) is only one syllable, but I kept wanting to pronounce it as two (“dí-a”). Instead, it’s “dyah”, one syllable. And in general Spanish seems to default to stressing the second-to-last syllable, with an accent employed to override this; the dipthong concept now explains why “comedia” (which is stressed on the second syllable) doesn’t need an accent on the e: “dia” is (again) one syllable, not two!

This contrasts with the hiatus, which is when two adjacent vowels are pronounced separately (and in separate syllables). An example in English is, in fact, the the “ia” in “hiatus” :). In Spanish, words like “caer” (to fall) and “leer” (to read) have hiatuses.

Next up are lessons on where the stresses are placed in Spanish words!

Learning Japanese through Spanish

I love to learn new languages, and I’ve been working on my español for a few years now. But I’m also tempted by Japanese. I took some classes on Japanese years ago, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit Japan twice – each time renewing my interest in the language! But who has time to learn two languages?

It occurred to me that there might be a way to learn them both AT THE SAME TIME. What if I tried to learn Japanese… in Spanish? That way I could leverage my (larger but still only lower intermediate) understanding of Spanish to learn Japanese.

I sought out some Japanese language learning materials aimed at Spanish speakers. They learn Japanese too, right? And I found this delightful website called Hablemos en japonés. It uses anime-style graphics and schoolgirl voices to illustrate sample dialogs. Each 10-minute lesson is conducted in Spanish (with adult Spanish voices)!

Here is a screenshot from Lesson 1 (I encourage you to check out the whole thing):

Soy Anna

I’ve gone through the first three lessons and enjoyed them greatly. (And already I learned that “haga clic” is how you tell someone to (make a) click!) At this level I already know both the Spanish and Japanese lesson content, but refreshers never hurt, and listening to the explanations in Spanish requires concentration. But who doesn’t want to know how to ask where the bathroom is in multiple languages?

I still haven’t figured out why Anna, who’s from Thailand, is somehow a native Spanish speaker (she writes in her diary in Spanish). But it’s convenient for me! There are 48 lessons total – enough to keep me busy for a while. :)

さようなら and adiós!

Harry Potter en español

I picked up the first Harry Potter book, in Spanish, as a fun opportunity to practice (and improve) my Spanish skills. The writing level is a bit above my current reading level, but it’s fun to be pushed a little, and my vocabulary is definitely benefiting.

Reading this translation also raises interesting questions about the translation process — which is one of those topics that you think you understand until you think about it a bit more.

Some American readers will be amused by the Spanish title, which is “Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal” (the Philosopher’s Stone) — which is the literal title in British English, but not the American one. It was changed to “the Sorcerer’s Stone” apparently due to expectations that “philosopher” would not appeal to American children, and that they wouldn’t know what the Philosopher’s Stone was.

Chapter 1 is titled “El niño que vivió”, which again is literally the same as in English: “The boy who lived.” However, the verb “vivir” in Spanish doesn’t quite have the nuance that “live” does in English (that it can also mean “survive”), so it probably comes across a bit oddly to Spanish readers.

The first sentence includes a bigger translation gap. The English reads:

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

That final phrase (“thank you very much”) is a clever injection of the characters’ voices into what is otherwise simple narration — a charming bit that apparently wasn’t translatable. The Spanish version replaces this phrase with “afortunadamente” (“fortunately”), which gets the meaning across, but loses the charm.

One of the other large gaps is in dialect. Hagrid appears near the end of this chapter, with his rough, uneducated dialect (e.g., “Lily an’ James dead — an’ poor little Harry off ter live with Muggles”). Apparently this is hard or impossible to convey in Spanish, so he sounds (as far as my limited ear can tell) like a normal person: “Lily y James muertos… y el pobrecito Harry tendrá que vivir con muggles” (“Lily and James dead… and poor little Harry has to live with Muggles”).

There is one place where the translation, I think, improves on the original. When Albus Dumbledore walks along Privet Drive, putting out street lamps with a silver lighter, that lighter is called the “Put-Outer” in English, which is awkward and clunky. (One thing Rowling is generally very good at is coining apt and elegant names, so this stands out.) In Spanish, it is the Apagador, from the verb “apagar” (to put out, turn off, extinguish), and that has such a better feel to it!

I’m up to chapter 5 now, make slow but enjoyable progress. Once I finish this book, I want to move on to some books at a similar level that were originally written in Spanish. That should give much more of a “real” feel for the language, without the obstacles posed by translation.