The language barrier has definitely been the most difficult thing about moving abroad to a country where English is not the first language. When I arrived to Santiago I had an extremely basic level of Spanish (I had just about mastered the Hola, no hablo espanol, estoy perdido and adios). The foundation for any great conversation.
The English level is generally pretty poor in Chile (which perhaps explains the huge demand for English teachers here). On top of that, it is widely acknowledged (even by Chileans themselves), that Chilean Spanish is the most difficult of any Spanish to comprehend. In fact, it is often regarded as a separate language in itself: Chilean. First and foremost, is the speed at which people speak to each other, with a complete lack of clarity. Each word runs into the other so quickly and seamlessly that it is only really after six months that I have begun to gauge some meaning from natural conversations between two Chileans. Another thing: Chilisms. These are a collection of words that make absolutely no sense in other Spanish speaking countries but are used so frequently here they are second nature to most. A few examples of these Chilisms include:
Weon- I still really have no idea what this means. Anything from ‘mate’ to ‘you piece of shit.’ Depends on your mood I suppose.
Cachai– ‘you know what I mean, yeah?’
Po – this doesn’t mean anything in itself but is added as an extension to many existing words for emphasis. I thought sipo was a brand- new word until someone informed me that it simply means ‘yes’…po.
I also discovered after moving here that ‘naturally submerging myself’ in the language was not going to cut it, and I was not going to wake up one morning miraculously fluent in Spanish. Learning any new language can be a slog. The verbs, tenses, adjectives and noun agreement… quickly it can become overwhelming, dull and most of all frustrating when you do not see instant results.
And so, in order to make my Spanish learning experience more enjoyable besides memorizing verb tables, I turned to an old friend, Senor Potter. As a self -proclaimed Harry Potter fanatic, I have read and re-read all seven books many times and know them so well there are passages I can almost recite word for word. I bought myself a copy of ‘Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal’, and with some trepidation began reading my first book in Spanish. As previously admitted, it was not such a special feat considering this was 70% a memory test. But it was extremely useful identifying these previously unknown Spanish words in a Wizarding context. Grammar phrases that seemed dry in my grammarbook suddenly made a lot more sense when Harry was finding the perfect wand in Ollivander’s or defeating trolls in bathrooms.
Additionally, there were a whole host of new words that I have never discovered in ‘100 Spanish Useful Phrases’ that I’m sure will come in useful one day (perhaps at a Latin American Harry Potter convention or if I do ever get a letter from Hogwarts, 12 years late). For example, Nick Casi Decapitado (the fantasma of Gryffindor), Grageas de todos los sabores (Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans), and la Capa para Hacerse Invisible (the Invisibility cloak, which also includes a bonus reflexive verb). All valuable words I can incorporate into my daily language.
Anther nice thing about reading Harry Potter in Spanish (besides re-visiting the world of Hogwarts again after many years) was the universal Wizarding language. Funnily enough, Quidditch and spells such as Wingardium Leviosa and alohomora appear to be the same in every language, and so you can never get too lost. Although I did not understand every word, through a combination of memory, my existing knowledge of Spanish and google translate I have gotten through the first book surprisingly fast. Now for Harry Potter y La Camara Secreta. Hola Dobby el elfo doméstico…