The Growing Presence of English in Latin American Spanish

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Perhaps one of the most attractive things about the Spanish language is just how far reaching it is. Mexico, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and more than 15 other countries recognize it as their official language, with some 350 million people around the world speaking it every day. Anyone with even the most elementary knowledge of Spanish knows that there are seemingly countless regional variations of the language from country to country, and sometimes even city to city. In this blog post from a few months ago we talked about a few of these nuances.

Although I’ve spent many years as a bilingual, it continues to amaze me that there’s more than just regional twists on the language, there’s also varying degrees of influence of the English language. Having learned Spanish in South America as a kid, I remember laughing at the teacher in an American high school Spanish class when he suggested that shorts were called “pantalones cortos.” I’d never heard them called anything other than “shorts,” as in “No te olvides de llevar tus shorts a la playa.”

Part of the Language, Ingrained in the Culture

English is developing as a dominant language, with an ever-growing number of Latin American kids learning it in their home countries as part of their regular academic studies. But it’s interesting to think that lots of children, even in remote areas where English isn’t a part of their schooling, say words in English every single day without even knowing it. While some of these words are simply inspired by an English word, others are lifted verbatim. Take a look at these phrases that depict some of the words that are part of many everyday conversations among non-English speakers throughout Latin America:

Tengo mi portafolio y traperkeeper en mi locker. También tengo un overol y un polo para cambiar después de clases.

¡Prepara un popcorn para ver el show que nos encanta an TV!

Le ofrecí al guachiman un snack, pero dice que esta full del almuerzo todavía.

¡Quisimos jugar pingpong pero esta full el lugar!

See a few words you recognized? There are probably more than you even realized. Here’s a translation for any non-Spanish speakers out there:

I have my portfolio (folder) and trapperkeeper in my locker. I also have some overalls and a t-shirt to change after class.

Get some popcorn ready to watch that show we love on TV!

I offered the watchman a snack, but he says he’s full from lunch still.

We wanted to play pingpong but that place is full of people!

A Changing Language, A Changing Culture

But English’s presence in Latin American Spanish didn’t stop there. Latin Americans today are exposed to flashy advertising campaigns, the increasing popularity of U.S. TV shows that stream online, and a growing trend for international travel, all of which invite the English language into their homes more than ever before. Over the last few years, English has crept into Spanish-speakers’ lives, with these words and phrases infiltrating conversations:

Vamos a janguear en el parque. / Let’s go hang out at the park.

Él tiene un look todo hipster. / He has such a hipster look.

Parqueamos el carro aqui. / Let’s park the car here.

Vamos a turistear este fin! / Let’s go out touristing (traveling around) this weekend!

Es todo relax en esa playa. / It’s so laid back at that beach.

Tu nuevo deck es super cool. / Your new deck is so cool.

With more and more English words becoming part of the mainstream in many Latin American countries, we can’t help but wonder, will we all be speaking Spanglish soon?

Ultimately, we all know that the Spanish language isn’t going anywhere. Sure, hipsters may be walking our streets, looking super cool and jangueando at coffee shops. Workers in the travel industry are learning English to accommodate all the tourists who arrive to see the natural and cultural beauty of Latin America. Kids are taking English lessons in school to become more marketable and competitive in the workplace later in life. But, everyone still speaks Spanish when they go home at night. They tell their stories in Spanish, they tease each other in Spanish, they live life in Spanish. English plays a large role in the lives of many who call Latin America home, but it will never replace Spanish as the lead character.

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If you’re interested in learning Spanish or enhancing your skills, grab the bull by the horns and go for it. You will open the door to communicating with new people all around you, gain a new understanding of other cultures, and push yourself to learn and master a new skill. To learn more about the classes we offer, be sure to contact us today. ¡Vamos ya!