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What About You?... and you and you and you?...in Spanish Grammar

“Seriously?! There are four ways to say YOU in Spanish!

What’s wrong with just YOU?” Muttered Lori from Wales as she

shook her head.

“What do you mean, a table is a girl? It’s a thing, anyone can

see it’s an IT!” Exclaimed Mike from England.

“Good grief! I can never memorize all those verb endings,”

despaired another student from New Zealand.

I don’t respond immediately to these exasperated outbursts. I

let my students entertain these “unfathomable” concepts until their

defenses relax.

That was my morning Spanish Grammar class. In the evening, the

Spaniards come for their English class; and, I patiently listen to the

English and Spanish learners comparing languages
The Adult Immersion Class contemplating the «Big Questions»! Photo by Darcie Khanukayev

same comments… only different:

“Why is there a W in ANSWER if you don’t pronounce it?”

“Why is everything backwards in English?”

“If DO means HACER, why do you have the word MAKE ,

which also means HACER?” These questions don’t have proper

answers.

It’s become normal for my budding polyglots to compare and

defend their English language skills against Spanish, and vice

versa. It is pointless to justify the “correctness” of your native

language, since languages represent different thought systems,

different ways of organizing and communicating the world around

and within us.

Things really get fun when the Bilingual Adult Immersion class

meets on Fridays. This is where the big questions get discussed as

natives of the two languages meet head on head. Questions like: “If

Spanish is a phonetic language, why do you have an H and not

pronounce it?”

Last Friday, a couple from Ireland joined the group for the first

time. They were excited and had a list of questions for the native

Spanish speakers.

”Which YOU do I use to talk to all of you in Spanish?” Alice

smiled, waiting eagerly for a rational explanation.

María, in her Spanish accent (which us Americans think is

gorgeous, but don’t tell my students working on accent reduction!)

explained that “It depends on the person’s age in relation to yourage, the social context, your relationship with the person, if want to

compliment an older person you might want to use the TÚ form, if

you’re angry, you may use the USTED form. With friends always use

TÚ, except the older people always use USTED. With us, just use

VOSOTROS, we’re all friends here! Does that make sense?»

Concluded María with a smile.

Wide-eyed horror had replaced Alice’s faded smile. Before she could

compose herself, Sonia added her supportive two-sense:

In Argentina, we don’t use VOSOTROS, only VOS which is the

same as TÚ. For this group, you can use USTEDES!

Alice didn’t ask more questions from her list that evening.



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