FAP: Frequently Asked Preguntas :: Part II

Part Dos of the preguntas most frequently asked…. And no. There will not be a Part Tres. At least not until Julio (HOOH-lee-yoh) July.

Q: Why did my 3 years of high school Spanish fail to teach me anything?

A: Let’s take it easy on Spanish teachers. You know how to say CERVEZA, BAÑO, LAPIZ, and TAREA. So you learned something. Just not much. But hey – what other clase allowed you to make up your own name, eh? That was kinda cool, wasn’t it? My Spanish name was Igor in high school. Not sure why. It’s more Russian than anything.

I digress. Back to your question…. Why didn’t you retain more? Other than the fact your hormones were out of control? Well, because for some reason foreign language teaching revolves around learning the rules of the language – not actually, you know…. speaking it.

Ever notice how the native Spanish speakers always got C’s in high school Spanish? They knew how to speak the language, but they didn’t know the rules.

Profesora: Jorge, I noticed you used the pluperfect subjunctive there. Why?

Jorge: What? Who me? I jus‘ said it like you say it…. Pluperfect what?

Meanwhile the girl with the worst accent in class picks up the trophy for the year-end foreign language award. She can’t speak a lick but, boy lemmetellya, she knows her grammar. (Yes. It still burns.)

The purpose of a language is to open your mouth and communicate with another human. The subjuntivo shouldn’t stand in the way of that.




This is what fluent looks like.

Q: How long does it take to become fluent in Spanish?

A: Who cares? The goal should be to begin bridging the language gap as soon as possible. Start with Caveman Spanish™ – say a Spanish word, point, and gesture like a man having minor convulsions. Act your way into a new way of thinking. Communication is 63.5% non-verbal anyway (or something like that), so act your way through it.

A great way to build your vocabulary on the job is to establish a Cómo se Dice Quota: a minimum number of times each day you will say Cómo se Dice (KOH-moh say DEE-say) to a Spanish-speaker and then point to something.

Cómo se Dice means “How do you say….” Set your quota today (Start with 2. Don’t hurt yourself.) and document the answers.



He’s a great MD, such a sponge. Keep an eye on that dirty pañal though…

Q: I’ve heard you cannot learn a language effectively after the age of 12. Is this true?

A: No. That’s idiotic. This fallacy stems from the fact we all learned a language at a young age. Right. Indeed. And we were all “esponjas” at that age. Well, if that’s the case, shouldn’t the best age for smarties to attend medical school be around, I dunno, 6 years old? Sponges, right?

You can do anything you put your mind to. In fact, take this little test below to see how your vocabulary has grown in the past few years….

DIRECTIONS: Say “Sí se puede” after each line item you recognize.

  • Justin Bieber
  • WTF
  • LEED AP®   
  • Kim Kardashian 
  • Twitter
  • Caramel Macchiato
  • iPad
  • Angry Birds
  • Facebook

How’d you do? A few years ago these things meant absolutely nothing to you. Nada. Now they do. Someone says one of these today and a host of Thoughts (Bieber), Ideas (iPad), Smells (Macchiato… and Bieber), Emotions (Angry Birds), and Associations (the ubiquitous LEED AP®) arrive instantly.


Because you learned new words. But unlike Kardashian and Angry Birds, learning and applying Spanish on the job will make you more valuable to your jobsite and your company.




Q: I’m always hearing Spanish-speakers call each other “Way” – what is that?  

A: Good ear – you’ll hear that a lot. It’s guey and it’s borrowed from buey – an ox. An ox is a hoofed animal, just like an ass. So… it means ass. Still with me?

Guey is the José Oquendo of Mexican insults – the ultimate utility man. Oquendo played all nine positions in a single baseball game and was incredibly versatile… just like guey.

When you hear guey, identify the intent of the person saying it. If that someone is scowling at you with an index finger one centimeter away from your face… this guey is not a compliment. If the person is laughing and joking around, that guey is probably fine.

A common phrase that is helpful to know and occasionally drop when you know you are being messed with is this: “No mames, guey.” (no MAH-mays way).

You can google the literal translation (we’re a family blog here…), but it effectively means, “Quit BS-ing me, man….” Drop this unexpectedly and you will get some howling laughter. Guaranteed.



If you have any other questions you’d like answered, send them my way, guey!




Bradley Hartmann is founder and el presidente at Red Angle (www.redanglespanish.com), a Spanish language training firm focused on the construction industry. 

Categories: Jobsite Leadership

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