08/14/2017 17:30 EDT | Updated 08/14/2017 17:33 EDT

I Spent My Whole Life Thinking This English Word Was A Spanish One

Languages adapt in funny ways in Canada.

Growing up, I felt like I wasn't able to deeply communicate with my parents. Even though I was fluent in Spanish, I always felt like I was missing words to get across my deeper feelings. I was born speaking Spanish first, but I learned English in school at almost the same time. It's a strange situation when you feel like you can't fully communicate with your parents. As I grew up, I needed to expand my Spanish vocabulary. I wound up taking Spanish courses up to university level, but somehow they weren't exactly what I was looking for. In addition to that, there were other language quirks going on that I never thought about.


Spanglish — we've all heard the word. On first impressions, we think that it's just a fusion of Spanish and English. As I mentioned in another article, Spanish-Speaking Canadians Like Me Are No Strangers To Identity Issues, language may take on a whole new twist when your parents speak their mother tongue, are learning a new language, and speaking that mother tongue to their kids.

My previous example consisted of me thinking my whole life that "estor" was the Spanish word for store. It wasn't and I found out in the most embarrassing way overseas years later. My parents used it and I adopted it as a Spanish word. For your information, the correct word is tienda. Confusion about correct words aren't limited to just pronunciations though.

A Sicilian friend explained that when he came here four years ago, his Canadian-born cousins didn't seem to know the difference between trattoria and ristorante. Neither did I, in fact. He explained that trattoria is a less expensive eatery. Ristorante is more like fine dining. Who knew.

Another example would be using similar-sounding English words for a Spanish word which I thought was equivalent. Batería is not a double-a battery, the correct term would be pila. Batería does actually exist, but is used for more complex batteries, such as a car battery. A Portugese friend tells me she would often use the word linha for lineup, but it's actually suppose to be fila. Linha is more like a line that you draw or a piece of string. I made this mistake in Spanish too.

It's comforting to know that I wasn't the only one confronting these language difficulties.

Italiese (italiano + inglese) was coined for the Italian spoken in Canada by Italian immigrants. My sister-in-law said that growing up, the word truck was commonly referred to as "trocco" or store as "storo." We would say parquear for estacionarse, meaning to park.

It appears like Montrealers have some unique language adjustments due to their trilingual nature too. See Fabrizio Sciola's The New Official Saint-Leonard Dictionary for more on Montreal Italian. He's been cataloguing these language adjustments for about 18 years.

An Armenian friend, whose parents came from Lebanon, says that she grew up thinking that the words gateau or auto were Armenian words, but she later learned in school that these words were actually French, the second language in Lebanon. Her parents had been using them instead of the Armenian words.

My son, whose grandparents speak to him in Spanish, will mostly reply back in English. Lately he will try to reply back in some Spanish that he has picked up by ear. When he conjugates his verbs, I can hear him make errors as I did as a kid. For example, if my parents would say, "¿Quieres helado?" meaning, "Do you want ice cream?" the reply my son gave was, "No quiere." This response is incorrect and means, "He doesn't want ice cream." It should have been, "No quiero." meaning, "I don't want ice cream." We were repeating back how we heard the verb conjugated by a third person.

Different pronunciations, changes in meaning, mixing languages, creating new or merging words are just some of the ways that languages adapt in Canada. It's comforting to know that I wasn't the only one confronting these language difficulties.

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