Cómo se dice…

In Buenos Aires, The Art of Travel Fall 2015, Language by Nina1 Comment

The person you talk to most in the world is yourself. Internal conversations, funny thoughts, plans for the week. You can be open with yourself in a way that is difficult or even impossible with others. I am certainly no stranger when it comes to talking to myself, whether it is out loud or internally. I compose entire stories in my head as I stroll down the street, hold imaginary conversations with strangers as I cook in my kitchen, or design itineraries for possible trips as I zone out in class. Though I have always been conscious of this phenomenon, the constant stream of self-talk has never been so evident to me since arriving in Buenos Aires. I take particular notice of it here because now I find myself translating my conversations as well. A simple sentence like “I really like what she is wearing” takes double the effort as I internally translate afterwards to “Me gusta mucho lo que ella está llevando”. Often I find myself struggling to translate exactly what I want to say and try to find short cuts around the words. For this reason, I am (unfortunately) reminded of how much I still have to learn to feel completely comfortable in my grasp of the Spanish language.

Buenos Aires is the perfect place to bolster my Spanish speaking skills as the frequency with which one comes by English speakers is much less here than if I were in Europe. In my trips to European countries in the past, as I attempted to communicate with waiters or shopkeepers, the minute I revealed myself to be American with my less than perfect accent and stumbling on  words, they would instantly respond in English. So I am forced, though in a way I appreciate, outside my comfort zone. It invites far more opportunities to learn, practice and improve, albeit very slowly. Not being able to speak with absolute ease and confidence as quickly as I had fantasized, I will admit is a bit humbling. But with each new store I visit, stranger I ask for directions, or dinner with my solely-Spanish-speaking host family, the chronic embarrassment diminishes and is replaced by an inkling of pride and sense of accomplishment.

However, there are definite road blocks to learning the language in Argentina. Most of Latin America mocks Argentina for its interpretation of the Spanish language. Known as Porteño, Argentine Spanish is almost its own unique dialect. Ask someone where to find the stop for the “autobus”? You will be met with a chuckle as you remember that the buses are referred to as “Colectivo”.  Tell your host family you are going to the “disco”? You will only encounter confused stares as you fumble to remember the word “boliche”. And worst of all, you say that you are going to “coger el subte”? You will be riddled with shame when you realize that coger has an entirely different (BAD) meaning in Argentina. (Reader, you will have to look that one up on your own!) Though many lament these differences, I try to embrace them as I navigate an unfamiliar language, with its own unique form!


  1. Hey Nina! I was a little surprised at how aware you are those little conversations that we are all constantly having with ourselves. I took a class last semester that focused quite a bit on my “inner voice”, as we called it, so I think it is great that you have a strong sense of it already. I would agree that the best way to improve your Spanish speaking skills is to be completely immersed, but I can only imagine the struggle it is to have to be constantly aware of how to translate and say something correctly. It is always good for someone to be positively pushed out of their comfort zone, and expanding your comfort zone through language is a risk not many people take. Although language, for most people, is a strength, sometimes you have to suffer a little to really improve. Good luck!

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