One of the hardest adjustments, language-wise, has been hearing the Rioplatense accent. Making the connection between what I hear and what I was used to hearing, and figuring out what it means. Big disconnect. Yes, I know I’ll get there, but right now I’m not.
There’s the accent. All “y” (except at the end of a word) and all “‘ll” (elle) sound like “sh” … so you have yo = sho and playa = plasha plus llegar = shegar and so on. Ella and ello are pretty easy, but things like silla (chair) sounding like sisha confuse me.
And the “s” sound is usually dropped at the ends of syllables. “Dos y tres” becomes “do y tre” – more or less, because there’s an echo of the “s” sound that remains. Hard to describe. Easy to hear. Not so easy to mentally translate what that word you think you heard is supposed to be. Definitely not easy to translate it quickly enough to understand what’s being said!
And oh wait. Uruguay is pronounced sort of like ooh-oo-WHY, though there’s a very soft “g” in there, almost swallowed, at the end of the second syllable. You might get a similar effect if you pronounce the WHY with a breathy WH instead of a hard-edged WYE sound. At least, that’s one way of pronouncing it – I’ve heard a lot of variations, none of them remotely like the harsh “American” way that sounds like YOUR-oog-way.
But then, all consonants are much softer than in norteamericano English. I really noticed it when I returned to the US for a brief visit, after only a month in Uruguay. As I changed planes and passed through different airports, the sound of voices seemed increasingly jarring to my ears. But this is true in most hispanohablante countries and regions, which all have their particular sounds and vocabulary.
Vocabulary can be different from textbook Spanish in classrooms in the US, or from anywhere else. ‘Red peppers’ and ‘for rent’ and a host of others have variations in Uruguay that make no sense anywhere else. México and Spain each have their own words that cause bewilderment from visitors, even those fluent in Spanish. Here’s a glimpse of just a few.
European immigrants from the Iberian peninsula and Italy influenced the native language when they arrived between 1870 and 1950. Wikipedia says “Differences between dialects of Spanish are numerous; about 9,000 Rioplatense words are not used or, in many cases, even understood elsewhere.” Oh great.
Juan suggested three ways to learn online:
- listen to Urugayo noticias (as in evening news presentations) from Uruguayan or Argentinean stations
- listen to and watch movies on YouTube with subtitles in English – there are some movies from Uruguay but many from Argentina, with its thriving film industry
- Google “Uruguay song karaoke” to find popular songs with lyrics on the screen – plenty of them on YouTube – and gain, sticking with those from Argentina or Uruguay
I was doing pretty well, más o meno, in speaking it when I read aloud in class. And with 3 hours of class each weekday for a couple months, I read — and listened — a lot. Now, though, as I’m getting into working on the book every day, I’m immersed in the nuances of the English language. With the writing process already mentally challenging, I’m not finding the energy to work on my Spanish. Reluctantly, active pursuit of fluency will have to wait. I absorb some of it in the few interactions I have in Atlántida, and I certainly eavesdrop when I’m riding the bus. Eventually I’ll be impossible to understand outside the Río de la Plata area of Uruguay and Argentina!