When we talk to others we make unconscious adjustments to our speech to communicate. Without even thinking about it, we always simplify and slow down our language when we speak to children, we often raise our volume to older people and possibly clean up our speech if we are worried about offending. We may also modify our regional accents when speaking to people from other areas of the country. Something I have often noticed with some amusement is how English people “Spanishify” their names in an attempt to make them more understandable to the Spanish. We often get rid of diminutives so that Pat and Bert would introduce themselves to a Spaniard like this: “My name is Patrrisshhhaaaa and this is my husband Al-beeeerrt”. Some years ago I had a student from Bristol who also insisted on pronouncing it “Brrristaall” when she was speaking Spanish (changing the final “o” to an “a” for reasons I could never quite understand!)
A similar phenomenon occurs with the Spanish who are used to dealing with English people in their everyday lives. They soon notice which Spanish words are understood and which go right over our heads, and so they adopt a kind of “Englishified” Spanish to get their message across. An example of this is their use of the verb “comprender” for “to understand” in preference for the verb “entender”. Both verbs exist, but “entender” is most commonly used when we are talking about understanding language. However, when the question “¿entiende?” is met with a blank stare whereas “¿comprende?” is met with an enthusiastic nod, it doesn´t take long to catch on. Another example is the suppression of the more common “la semana que viene” (next week – the coming week) for the more understandable “la próxima semana”. Again, both forms exist, but the one most often addressed to us foreigners is the one we respond to, not the one more often used amongst the Spanish themselves. The strangest example I have ever heard of this phenomenon was when I overheard a Spanish market stall holder selling children’s shoes to some expats and saying that they were for a “bambino”. Possibly both parties thought that “bambino” meant “child” in the other person’s language, although in fact it is Italian. Further aberrations that come to mind are “finito” and “kaput” – Italian and German respectively, but here forming part of the common bridge-building lingo, when knowledge of the other person´s language is little or none.
I like to promote another form of bridge-building, which is available to all of us, whether we are currently studying Spanish or not. One is to ask the question: “¿Cómo se dice en español?” (How do you say in Spanish?) whilst pointing to a particular object or product. People are usually really happy to teach you the Spanish word, and whether you are likely to remember it or not, it just sounds so much more friendly and intelligent than shouting the English equivalent at them with a Spanish accent.