DSCF2610 When I woke up this morning the first words I heard were, ‘Feliz aniversario’… Carlos and me have been officially together for six months. We remember our anniversary every month, not with gifts, but with words: we talk about our story, remind ourselves of how back in April, by chance (or destiny) we stood shoulder to shoulder at La Glorieta in a tanda break, managed to keep talking with no common language, persevered through all manner of false starts… mainly involving me being fiercely determined to stay single in my new independent life in my new country. We laugh at how I once said or should I say shouted, ‘I don’t want a boyfriend. No more hugs, no more kisses, no more holding hands in the street. Just friends and dancing. That’s it.’ Carlos does a great impression of me stuttering this out in loud broken Spanish. I was so full of conviction at the time, but I think he was probably always chuckling inside at my confusion, even though he never showed it on his ‘oh so serious’ face. But now we laugh together at my words.

Later this morning we decided to speak English for a while. If his passport arrives in time (fingers crossed all around the world for us please), he will be coming to England in January to meet my family and my friends… none of whom speak Spanish. Now it’s my turn to giggle at his attempts to string the words together. I stop myself from smiling though, apart from with encouragement. I know what I sounded like in the beginning with my Spanish. To be honest he is adorable when he speaks English. And everyone who hears him says so. I think it is extremely difficult for a Spanish speaker to learn English: the pronunciation, the order of the words, the huge number of irregular verbs. He is trying so hard, and gaining a little bit more confidence now. I am proud of him. The trouble is, it is far easier for me to speak Spanish with him than English, and I now need to help him by insisting that we speak ‘Ingles’ some days. Today I decided that I would make a start. Our conversation went something like this and it took about ten minutes:

Me: We will talk English now.

C: (silence)

Me: We speak English now.

C: Yes. Speaking English.

Me: (silence)

C: How is?

Me: How is what?

C: What?

Me: What? Que? (encouragingly) How is… que?

C: How you is?

Me: How are you. Good. I’m good. I’m happy.

C: I you love… too. Me too.

Me. I love you too… Where are you going now?

C: (silence)

Me: Where you go now? (now I sound like him!)

C: Two hours.

Me: Where? Donde? Where?

C: I to go my house to work. Come back two hours.

Me: Great. Great. Well done!

C: (silence, but a beaming smile of pride)

This was amazing: a conversation that included questions, answers and even love thrown in the middle. Yes, I am proud of him.

Words have played a huge part in our story, their presence and their absence too. Here are a few of the reasons why:

  • I can talk about things using Spanish words that I would find it far more difficult to talk about in my own language. The Spanish words are just words… they have no emotion attached to them, no personal history, no embarrassment. I can be far more honest in Spanish, tackle tricky subjects, talk about sex as if I am talking about the weather.
  • Because my vocabulary is limited I can’t be subtle in Spanish. Sometimes what I say, especially in an argument, comes across as too strong, firm, harsh, even rude. Carlos will often repeat back to me something I have said and tell me how he interpreted it… and it is wildly off the mark. I have to back track and try to explain what I really meant. I can hurt him without meaning to just because I am speaking perhaps as a child might speak.
  • I don’t waste so many words in Spanish as I used to in English. It’s more effort to speak so there is less trivia spoken. I say what I need to say, what is important, what I really want to say. Carlos talks more than me. I listen more. I hear more. I see more. And we are both at peace with spending time in silence.
  • It’s impossible for me to ‘bicker’ in Spanish… you know, that thing that often happens between couples when they throw away quick remarks to each other when they are annoyed about tiny things that don’t really matter: the toothpaste cap left off, the towels on the bathroom floor… I’d never waste  effort on such things in Spanish, so they will never get said, and the side effect is I’ve stopped thinking them at all.
  • We laugh so much at each other’s language attempts that we can never spend very long without a chuckle, and that of course is great for our souls. Some small things that have made us smile:

Me: Estoy tan caliente (loudly, on the bus). Wanting to say, ‘I’m so hot.’ but actually saying, ‘I’m so turned on.’  Carlos laughing, raising his eyebrows and saying, ‘Shhhhhhhhh’ all at the same time. What I meant to say was, Tengo calor.

Carlos: (also loudly on the bus, with headphones and Melody’s MP3 player, singing to Damian Rice, Rootless Tree) Fuck you, Fuck you… he knows the words are swear words, but they have no meaning to him, no embarrassment and so he sings them loudly and defiantly like a child would, and of course no-one in the bus even turns round. The English: me, Melody and Shaun, are all frantically going, ‘Shhhhhhhhh!’, but the Argentines don’t bat an eyelid. And Carlos sings on.

Carlos: Bloody hell! or Anyway… or I know… spoken in perfect imitation of me. I think there is a growing band of people who have visited Argentina and met me from all corners of the globe, who now are in the ‘Bloody Hell!’ club. Gabriella (though from Estados Unidos) says it like a true Brit, and now so does Carlos: when there are no taxis, no buses, the coffee is terrible, Canning has no milk… need I go on? Anyway, the point is that when he speaks these little phrases he sounds totally fluent in English. Ah, so misleading…

Carlos: (when Melody asks him what he is going to say when he meets my mother) You my mother. Thank you for my small princess. I mean, how is she going to be able to resist him…?

There is no doubt that in the beginning of our relationship my lack of Spanish and his lack of English made things more difficult, and more frustrating at times. But as time has gone on I think that not having a common language has actually enriched our experience: we use fewer words but say more; we listen more carefully because we have to; we smile more often.

Someone recently asked me if I think that I am a different person in a different language: is my character moderated because of  my lack of words? I think that the reverse is true. In Spanish I express more  of the truth of myself than I have done in English in the past: yes, the words I dress myself up in are simpler, less intricate, perhaps less colourful, but they are also more straightforward, more honest, less masking. If I want to, I can still be sharp in Spanish, even funny. I can vary my tone, be sarcastic, complain, and be adorable. With the words I have in my vocabulary I can find a way to say anything now, but I’ve just stopped wasting words. In Spanish I am Sally: the core of Sally, and I speak from the heart with honesty and simplicity. And, the great thing is that I think it is rubbing off on the English Sally. These days I speak from the heart in English too. And that is the way I want to live, in whatever language, with all the words I have.


16 Responses

  1. English is the language of diplomacy, a million ways to say one thing and mean another. It is good for poetry and cryptic crosswords. Carlos does not have any idea what horrors await him as he learns more!

    Incidentally, the “I’m so hot” blunder also works in German, where my old teacher got a slap for using the wrong word.

  2. This is my favorite post you’ve written so far. It’s just so cute 🙂 🙂 🙂

    I know what you mean, I’m that way in Italian…more myself. It does carry over into my English sometimes too.

    Happy 6-month-aversary!

  3. Bloooooody Heeeell Sal! I’m still saying it and trying, single handedly, to start a trend here! I love the dialogue between you and Carlos-too cute! Thanks for making laugh on this Monday morning. I can imagine your tone and his perfectly.
    Feliz Aniversario! Besote pa’ los dos!

  4. Kieron, just trying to master the basics of english is ‘horrors’ enough for a spanish speaker, but at least it gives us plenty of laughs, and I think it always will. Meanwhile, I am trying to say exactly what I mean these days… in whatever language.

    Tina, and he really is that cute… really, really cute!

    Gabriella, Yep my friend you are imagining exactly right…


  5. That post was adorable. I’m sure all of your friends and family will hang on every tiny word Carlos says and love each one. I hope that his passport will come through with no worries.

    Keep in mind that you’ve been speaking tango fluently together for months now, so that got you off to a great start until the words began to flow.

  6. Great post Sal; very funny!! And oh so sweet!!
    I can identify with your comments about speaking Spanish…and it’s just wonderful that you see all of the positive aspects of what could otherwise be a tricky situation.
    My fingers are crossed for Carlos’s passport and ‘Feliz aniversario’!

  7. SC,

    Love is a universal language, non? Understand that then there is no problem to learn any other languages in the world.



    I am loving BsAs.

  8. 🙂 Great post!!! You made me smile, remembering my first relationship with a non-spanish speaker. We were both non-native english speakers, too, but his english was much better than mine. I found it–as you have–that I couldn’t really argue, or be sarcastic even when we had disasgreements that really merited it. My own native spanish allowed me to do it, but not the more removed english, where every word seemed so matter of fact. It was as if I couldn’t be completely *me* in english. It is amazing how much languages become part of us, and how words acquire intense meanings, becoming ours, and claiming a history. Letting that same history and attachments develop for a second language takes time, but I do think it happens, at some point. By now, after a few relationships in my non-native language, I’ve learned to fully express myself, and somehow, the words in english are much more mine than they were years ago…

  9. very cute sally…the two of you and your language trials…i burst out laughing with the “estoy tan caliente”…and his “shhh”…”shhh”… I can just see it… it’s nice to be happy and in love and dancing tango… saludos…

  10. TP, Charlotte, Tangobaby, Alex

    Thanks to you all for your affirming comments on this post. I am happy that I made some of you smile. I love it when I read a post on another blog and it does that for me, or makes me laugh aloud. It’s nice for me to feel that I have put something ‘smiley’ into your reading!


    You have made me recall that I have been sarcastic in Spanish a few times during arguments – I think my Argentine calls it ‘con ironia’. He doesn’t like it when I do it and so I have stopped. I have noticed that I have more choice about things like this in Spanish. I can actually use the opportunity to change my ‘spoken behaviour’. It’s like I have fallen into patterns with my English but I don’t have to make my Spanish behaviours the same. Because the words are more removed I can choose how to use them, whereas in English… because of the past, the attachments, sometimes it’s almost as if the words have control over me! The whole thing fascinates me. I am so interested to see how my Spanish language history will develop, and how I will develop along with it. Thanks for sharing your experience of this with me. I love everything that you say.


  11. Oh and by the way, BLOODY HELL!

  12. Tina, chica linda, WELCOME to the club! SC

  13. This is so lovely! I hope people will be as patient with my hesitant attempts at Spanish.

    An Argentine friend of mine always says that Spanish is much more precise than English – that it took him a long time to adjust to the way we don’t say literally what we mean.

  14. Yes, I too slipped up 3 weeks ago when I asked a guest at a wedding in Ireland (he was German) if he was hot (horny!)


  15. I just remembered a time when I was trying to tell a boyfriend in Italian that I was ticklish. This was a few years ago.

    I said what turned out to be: “I am a tickle.”

    🙂 hee hee

  16. Tina
    That is so sweet!
    It made me giggle and think of the ‘Mr Men’ books… I think there is a Miss Tickle, or a Mr Tickle anyway…

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