Spain-splaining is a term a fellow Hispanist has come up with. I have been on the receiving end of the phenomenon quite a few times, so I know what this blogger is talking about.

Once, an acquaintance from Spain decided to prove to me that my Spanish could not possibly be as great as I thought it was.

“Let’s see if you know these very difficult words in Spanish,” he said and proceeded to list them.

The words he thought had to be impossibly complicated for me were: urbanización, existencialismo, colonización, internacionalización, and other similar words.

The poor guy was crushed when he discovered I knew what they meant. He was even more shocked to find out that these words sounded almost exactly the same in English, Russian, and French.


14 thoughts on “Spain-splaining

  1. Yes, those words are pathetically easy! A much better language assessment with the goal of stumping someone would consist of short words.

    Regarding your Spanish, do you still regularly come across and learn new words? Be it through reading, TV shows, talking, etc. Just wondering.


    1. Yes, I make efforts to learn new words. I usually write out sentences with new words that I encounter in my readings and then I go over them on a regular basis. I do that for both Spanish and English. You can never know too many words, I believe. And simply doing a word list doesn’t help. It’s important to know the context where the word can be used. This is why I write out entire sentences or paragraphs. I write them out by hand because this allows me to memorize them better.


  2. I realized once we got to higher-level spanish classes that it was much easier to learn the vocabulary because it was “complicated” words like these.
    Also, in Mexico once, I went on a tour of a glass factory with some other American students. Our guide gave the tour in English, but wanted to tell us that the process for making glass had been “clandestino” many years ago. She didn’t know the English word, so I easily supplied “secret.” It turned out that none of the other students knew that “clandestine” is a word in English too, although we mostly seem to apply it to our intelligence agencies.


  3. Could it be that some of these words have shades of meaning that are ever so slightly different from their obvious English cognates? I remember Pope Benedict XVI experienced some interfaith relations fallout due to something getting lost in translation from the French:

    As for the unfelicitous phrase “autoerotic spirituality” it turns out that the Cardinal’s views were written first in a French Catholic journal, and in French, the phrase “auto-erotisme” means “self-absorption,” or narcissism. Unfortunately, the English-language press heard it the term without benefit of translation and it came out sounding much more parochial than perhaps, it was intended.


    1. Yes, but we are Spanish professors. We know those shades of meaning as well as the obvious English cognates. For example, urbanización is a housing development, not “urbanization.”


    2. And explaining to language professors that cognates sometimes have different meanings is itself an example of this type of condescending “[ex]plaining.”


  4. HAHAHA OMG my Spanish is lousy and even I knew what those words meant. There are, if I recall, so many simpler words that trip people up, like the differences between “ser” and “estar.” But like most native speakers of anything he didn’t think of the simple things. People do the same thing with English, I’ll bet.


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