Friday, November 7, 2008

Our Spanglish Love

One of my favourite bloggers Miss Fned recently wrote about her multicultural/multilingual relationship and how it evolved. From her post, the idea was born for a "group blog" and I am happy to be able to participate and share a little peek into the linguistic relationship I have with Hubby.

When I arrived in Mexico five years ago, I spoke nary a word of Spanish, "cerveza, baño, cenicero, cigaro" and the all important "por favor" and "gracias" were about all I had learned for my "vacation". I met Hubby on the beach after only a couple of weeks in Mexico, not realizing that he would be the reason for me to stay. Hubby spoke English well and that is how we communicated, there was no need for us to speak Spanish to each other. In fact, there was no need to speak Spanish at all on Cozumel, everyone I met spoke English and that was the language of the community we played and worked in. My first six months in Mexico didn't require me to study at all, though I certainly picked up phrases as I went along.

When we moved to Cancun, things did change. We were now in the big city and living downtown, if I was going to survive I needed to be able to communicate in Spanish. Hubby was working all day and I was on my own to take care of grocery shopping, etc., so I was forced to really begin sucking in the language. And suck in the language I did, I was terrible! Hubby certainly didn't make things any easier, he is not the most patient man in the world so having him try to teach me was not working out. Often my attempts at the language were mocked, he still reminds me to this day of the funny mistakes I made that caused his ribs to hurt with laughter.

So, I was alone in the city, no money for Spanish classes, no computer for internet lessons, nothing but a dictionary and newspapers. I would sit with a paper and the dictionary and do my best to try to understand what was happening in the world. This was valuable, until I tried to pronounce the words, they all came out with French pronunciations! I realized that all my years of French in school in Canada was both a detriment and an advantage. I could understand the meaning of the words as they were often quite similar, but the pronunciation was a disaster, French and Spanish are quite different and my "Frespañol" was quite ugly. And so our relationship continued in English.

Over the years I have learned a lot from taxi drivers, co-workers,students and web sites like, but still haven't had a formal class. My Spanish has improved immensely and I am able to not only survive but I can discuss politics, tell a joke, deal with household service providers, etc., etc.. In the last few days (after reading Fned's challenge), I've been listening to our conversations in the house more closely to see what we really use with each other. I realize that we are truly a Spanglish couple. It's really mixed up, I'll throw Spanish words into English sentences, ask him a question in English and he'll reply in Spanish or vice versa, we very rarely have a conversation that is solely in one language, though English certainly is still the prevalent tongue in the house. He still laughs at my Spanish, but I've built up a tough layer of skin so I can laugh along with him now.

The one place that we do not mix is with Max. When Max was born we read a lot about raising a bilingual child and we decided to use the "OPOL" (one parent, one language) method. I only speak English with Max and Hubby only speaks Spanish. This method is working wonders, Max's language skills surprise me everyday. He never, ever speaks Spanish to me and he won't speak English to Hubby, no matter what language we are speaking to each other. If I do speak Spanish to him, he really doesn't like it and he says "English mommy, English" and the same is true with his Daddy. He thinks it's pretty funny when Daddy speaks English to him, it just doesn't fit his world even though he knows that Daddy is bilingual and he usually only responds in Spanish.

Language has certainly caused some problems in our house, misunderstandings, miscommunication and even jealousy. The phrase "te quiero mucho" has been a source of angst for a long time. It means "I love you a lot", for me a phrase reserved for my romantic partner, letting them know that they are special and different from everyone else. Hubby will use that phrase with others and it makes me very angry, I no longer feel special and I feel that it's inappropriate for him to say that to friends (particularly female friends). He insists that the phrase can be used for both friends and romantic partners, no matter how often I tell him that it bothers me. I guess you can't change old habits. I wish there were an equivalent to "love ya" in Spanish, I use that phrase with non-romantic friends, "I love you" feels too strong for me and doesn't fit a friendly relation. I've asked Hubby to try to use "Te amo" with me, it also means "I love you" but it would make me feel that I was different than the friends he so casually uses "te quiero" with. Of course, being a man, he used it a couple of times and forgot so I am relegated to "TQM" once again. I'll take it, being told "I love you" in any way should make you feel good, I've got to get over it I guess. As Hubby says, "Es tu pedo", "it's your fart", meaning deal with your own issues!

I'm looking forward to the next few years to see how our language relationship develops. I have noticed that more and more Spanish is making it's way into our home, in chat and text messages and in conversation as well. I don't know if it will ever be the main language of the house, I think after five years of being primarily English speakers, we're probably set in our ways. I do wish we had a secret language, something we can use to speak when we don't want Max to know what we are saying, the spelling game just gets confusing for both of us! "Don't give Max any more "C A N D Y"". "Que dijiste?" "C A N D Y". "QUE?" "D U L C E S". "Oh, candy!". Great, Max heard that one, sigh, give him the damn chocolate bar......


Fned said...

Ah Canucka! An excellent post as always! You and hubby remind me so much of my parents (in a good way!). "Es tu pedo" is probably word by word what my dad would answer my mom in the same situation. LMAO.

I think you're doing a great job with Max and sticking to the OPOL method. As you read on Minshap's blog my parents eventually gave in to us and I know some of my siblings had more trouble learning English in their teens than others afterwards. That's so great that Max has already embraced his parents' bilingualism at such a young age!

I agree with you on the TQM thing too.. fortunetly in French there is a BIG difference between an "I love you" and an "I like you". It comes in the word of "bien".

I love you: "je t'aime"
I like you: "je t'aime bien".

Oufffff!!!! :)

My Way said...

I decipher the whole TQM thing in sort of the same way as you except I didn't think it was wrong to say TQM to friends.

My Mexicano bf's explained to me that TQM can be said to friends but is also acceptable to say it to your significant other. Where it differs is that you should also say Te Amo to your significant other since it is a stronger LOVE. So sometimes I'd get a quick Te Quiero but other times, I would also get a Te Amo.

In short, Te Quiero to me IS luv ya, and Te Amo is, I love you as in I am in love with you.

But what's most important is that I love ya and if you really want, I shall tell you te amo tambien.

One love.


minshap said...

Hmmm, ...'te quiero'. My partner has never said that to me. He has always used "te amo" and I wouldn't like to be told by him "te quiero"; it doesn't sound sincere enough to me. Also, somewhere along the way, we started saying to each other "te estoy amando", and we like that expression the best. When you put it in the present continuous (oops, that's the English teacher in me), there's no misunderstanding - love is, after all, a moment-to-moment experience!
Good for you sticking to the OPOL method... I think it's the best way to make sure the next generation can use both languages equally well.

Kathy said...

Te amo! desde el primer momento en que te vi y hace tiempo te buscaba y ya te imaginaba asiiiiiiiii

Te amo!!!

(well, that is all I can remember and I've probably butchered it)

I've always used amo with mis amantes. quiero is much more flojo. But I've never taken a lesson either so a native speaker would be better.

3LittleFlowers said...

OMG!! Im laughing so hard that I almost wake up the girls!!!! I have tears running down my cheeks, specially with the last line... That is sooo typical in my house: C-A-N-D-Y... Que?? D-U-L-C-E-S, oh Candy! ... I cant stop laughing... One thing I know is that Max and the 3 Little Flowers will be winning spelling bees VERY soon!!!! As for I love you, I think he needs to smoke the pedo and tell you Te amo... =)
BTW, if you see Santo Domingo two times in Sitemeter at the same time, is just because I HAD to tell hubby to read and we were both reading from each computer at the same time...

CancunCanuck said...

Fned- Thanks for a great group blog, so great to read everyone else's experiences! OPOL is definitely working for us, makes me very happy to see Max embracing both his languages and keeping them separate. The TQM thing has me in a bit of a twist now, time for another talk with Hubby!

My Way- Yeah, the TQM thing. Maybe it's just another manly problem of not being able to truly say "I love you". Or, maybe it's just my own insecurities, jealousy and suspicion raising it's ugly head and I should just let it go. I always kind of looked at "te quiero" as a mix of "I love you and I WANT you" which would imply something intimate. "Quiero chocolate" for instance, lol.

Minshap- All these TQM comments have got me a bit twisted now, teehee. I like "te estoy amando" (the English teacher in me is all about grammar terms, bring it on!). OPOL works, it works, I know it isn't right for every family, but in our situation it certainly seems to be the most effective method and we've all embraced it. The years ahead will be interesting, I expect some language rebellion at some point but am secretly hoping it never comes.

Kathy- I'm still thinking that TQM is perhaps a manly/macho way of not having to say "te amo", avoidance rather than laziness. Listening to his family talk, it does seem like he got the expression from them, I've never heard any of them use "te amo", it's always "te quiero". Ech, can't get myself all twisted up about it I guess!

Momto3- Glad you got a giggle out of it, I suspected that other mommies would totally get that part of the post, lol! And yes, I better be hearing some "te amo" really soon!

Anonymous said...

Interesting, the whole te quiero/te amo debate....never really thought about it before. My bf is from Mexico and we use "te amo" most of the time, with the occasional "te quiero" thrown in. His best friend is female and Mexican (I am also good friends with her, they're like siblings) and she's told me she loves him- "lo quiero" etc (it was relevant to the conversation we were having- I mean, she didn't just say it out of nowhere, ha ha). It didn't bug me or anything, I knew what she meant, and she knew I understood. Ella lo quiere, pero yo lo amo ;-)

A Chilean friend once told me that "te quiero" is like a way of saying "I care about you very much" but lacks the punch of "te amo"- that's what you reserve for someone you LUUUUUUV. But I also think it varies from person to person.

I guess this just goes to show how fluid and flexible language can be- isn't it fascinating? I think it's awesome that there are so many ways to express love/caring/desire in Spanish. In English we love people, we love ice cream, we love our job, we love our new President elect (ha ha).....we're soooo lame, we only have ONE way to express the concept.

As long as YOU know exactly what your man means when he tells you "te quiero", that's the only thing that matters!


Islagringo said...

It might help you to know that men say TQM to men also. My (straight) Mexican male friends say it to me alot. But then, I am a lovable guy!

Islagringo said...

It might help you to know that men say TQM to men also. My (straight) Mexican male friends say it to me alot. But then, I am a lovable guy!

Anonymous said...

In that case, I think you simply *need* to hear te amo regardless of what it means to him or anyone else.

One very effective way might be to tell him that te quiero = peck on the cheek and te amo = sex. See how that flies. :)

This is Kathy - I don't know why stupid Google logged me out. Argh

CancunCanuck said...

Jen- Hi and thanks for the great comment! It's always interesting to see how the language is used in different countries. The good thing is that Hubby does say "I love you" in English frequently, now I just have to push for that elusive "Te amo" more often.

IslaGringo- You are very lovable, te quiero mucho! :)

Kathy- I like the kiss/sex thing, it just might work, LOL! And yes, I think at this point it is what I need to hear, not what he thinks he is saying.

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