How one’s native language creeps into Spanish—and what to do about it

MEI Market Note 204 – Drilling Deeper into Spanish-202

intercultural-communicationIn Market Note 203, we continue our reports on the art and science of intercultural communication. We urge a linguistics-informed understanding of the Spanish phonological system as the path to improve one’s ability to hear and speak Spanish in professional situations. We build on earlier reports on the theme of “Overcoming the American Accent in Spanish.”

What is fresh is our insistence that to speak better the student has to learn to hear better; and–here is the unexpected part–in order to hear better the student needs to learn basic concepts from linguistics. Our experience is that as one’s hearing improves improvements in speech follow naturally.

Some people react negatively to this approach, remarking “What difference does it make if you say /es.sta/ or /es.ta/? The Spanish speaker will understand you in either case.” There are at least two answers to this objection: one answer is that what may be true for speaking may not be true for listening. Thus, if you don’t know the rules of liaison in French, hearing the spoken language is impossible. Said differently, if you don’t know what to listen for, you won’t hear it.

An answer of a different character is about the body language, so to say, of being able to speak Spanish with most of your phonological luggage left on the other side of the linguistic border. Speaking Spanish without a heavy accent in English, French or Korean tells the native speaker something about your intellect and character that cannot be communicated in words. It tells the native speaker that your have cared to listen attentively to the way his linguistic community communicates. It tells that native speaker that you can be trusted not to misinterpret something important that is being said. Said differently, you build trust as you learn to listen better and speak with fewer carry-overs from your native language.

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Written by

Mexico Energy Intelligence

Baker & Associates offers niche-market business and policy intelligence related to Mexico's oil and gas, power and chemical industries. Over 1,000 reports have been issued in the last 20 years. Subject matter expert and publisher George Baker, who directs the firm, has carried out consulting assignments starting in the late 1970s at the height of the Oil Boom in Mexico. He brings bilingual and bicultural skill-sets to understanding and responding to challenges of business and public policy, coupled with a deep familiarity with the history and idiosyncrasies of the Mexican operating environment.