Monday, September 7, 2009

Phrasal Verbs

So, I've spent the better part of my Labor Day holiday morning watching Spanish talk shows (in particular one called, "Quien Tiene La Razon?" which basically means, "Who's Right?" where they bring on a feuding family and after a bunch of trash talking, a panel of judges decides who's right).

I've been studying Spanish seriously for a couple of years now, but I have to admit, I can't really get into Spanish TV shows (except for their version of Family Feud, called "Que Dice La Gente?" or loosely translated "What do the people say?"). That show is hilarious because it's filmed in Miami and most of the contestants can speak English, so when they don't know the Spanish word for something, they'll shout it out in English.

Gotta love that Spanglish. I spent a weekend recently with my Cuban inlaws and it was Spanglish city. I'm not really sure why people do that. I guess I should ask. But it's pretty funny to hear, "Mira, that man over there is so gordo" or something like that.

I've been taking private lessons for a couple of years (group lessons were so not my thing) and the biggest problem I have (besides direct and indirect objects which I loathe more than I thought possible) is how informal English is. Or conversely, how formal Spanish is compared to English.

Spanish is a Romance language which branched off from Latin and English is a Germanic language which later absorbed many Latin words and Norman/French words. This means that we usually have 3 or 4 cognates for a word. (ie. rise, mount, ascend, get up).

When I'm trying to say something in Spanish, I have to think of the most formal way possible to say it in English or, when I don't know a word in Spanish I think of the most formal English word and give it a shot.

For example:
--instead of asking for a raise from your boss, you ask for an aumento (which is like the English augment or increase)
--you don't punish a child, you castigate it (again, we have this word in English but I've yet to ever hear anyone say it)
--instead of anger, it's ira, colera or rabia in Spanish (again, basically words we have in English but I can't imagine anyone using them except Frasier Crane at a Harvard cocktail party)
--instead of getting up in the morning, in a Spanish speaking country, you levantarse (kind of like levitate, I guess)

One of the biggest stumbling bocks for me (and as I know from my time spent teaching ESL, for everyone else) is with phrasal verbs.

Those are basically a verb + preposition combo that native English speakers don't even realize we use.

For example: shut up means to be quiet or close your mouth; throw away means to discard, run into means meet accidentally and get up means to rise from a place.

These have the advantage (or disadvantage depending on your proclivity) of making English much more informal sounding than Spanish and I'm sure, other Romance languages.

They strike fear into the hearts of non-native English speakers because there's nothing to be done with them except memorize them and they are pervasive throughout the English language. Just try listening to casual, everyday speech and you'll be amazed how many you hear.

Of course, it's completely possible (and often accomplished) to learn English without ever learning phrasal verbs. The drawback to this is that you tend to sound like a robot or automaton. Kind of on par with people who refer to themselves in the third person.

Phrasal verbs. Possibly the bane of the English language. But I love em.

No comments:

Post a Comment