Spanish Lessons


Papel: It's a role

El papel principal del gobierno es promover el desarrollo.
[Caption 17 , Con ánimo de lucro > Cortometraje > Part 3]


Most of us know that papel is "paper," not only do they sound alike but if you've ever taken Spanish class no doubt your teacher has often asked you to take out una hoja de papel, "a sheet of paper."

However, papel is also "role" (as in "the role of technology in education"). So, in the phrase above we have:

"The main role of the government is to promote development."

El papel de la ONG ha sido un papel auxiliador.
[Caption 23, Con ánimo de lucro > Cortometraje > Part 3]

"The role of the NGO has been an assisting role."

Organización No Gubernamental (ONG), Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)

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Radicarse: To relocate yourself

Eso fue cuando hicimos Inconquistable Corazón que yo ya tenía que radicarme acá.
[Caption 29 > Natalia Oreiro > Biografia > Part 5]


The verb radicar can mean "to be situated/located (in)," and so what Natalia is saying in the quote above is:
"This was when we did 'Inconquistable Corazón' that I had to relocate here."

Con la crisis económico, me tuve que radicar en España.
"Given the economic crisis, I had to relocate to Spain."

Radicarse en otro pais es dificil.

"To establish yourself in another country is difficult."

El problema radica en la falta de presupuesto para este sector.
"The problem lies in the lack of budget for this area."

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Quejarse: To Complain

¡Y además te quejas!
[Caption 7, Tu Rock es Votar > Publicidad > Part 1]


Quejarse is a verb meaning "to complain," so we translate the above phrase directed at Mexico's voters as:
"And still you're complaining!"

Así que no puedo quejarme
[Caption 29, Federico Kauffman Doig > Arqueologo > Part 4]

Similarly, the affable Federico Kauffman Doig uses quejarme when he states "So I can't complain."

On a related note, you won't be surprised to learn, if you didn't yet know it;
una queja is "a complaint."

The preposition following quejarse is often de

Se queja de un dolor en el abdomen.
"She complains of pain in the abdomen."

Se la pasa quejándose de que no tiene dinero.
"She is always complaining about having no money."

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A ti: Emphasizing

A ti no te gustaría que te dijeran con quién tienes que andar.
[Captions 1-2, Tu Rock es Votar > TV Spot > Part 1]


As per our previous discussion of the verb gustar, the phrase above states:

"You wouldn’t like it if they told you who you have to hang out with."

But what does the addition of A ti at the beginning do for the phrase? It simply adds emphasis to the "you," the translation would be same even if it wasn't there.

[Side note: remember we
talked about
andar's various meanings outside of the obvious "to walk"? The phrase above demonstrates yet another, "to hang out / pal around."]

Me gustas.
"I like you."

A mi me gustas.
"I like you." ("I" emphasized.)

Besides adding emphasis, this type of construction can also clarify about whom you are talking.

Le gusta bailar.
He likes to dance.

A Juan le gusta bailar.
Juan likes to dance.

No mires a tu compañero, a ti te estoy preguntando.
"Don´t look at your buddy, I´m asking you."

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Labor, Trabajo: The hardworker's world

Este... Vamos a tratar a explicarles... este... la labor de la artesanía... Este... trabajo que llevamos acabo...
[Captions 3-4, Javier Marin > Artesano > Part 1]


Nouns Labor (fem.) and trabajo (masc.) both mean "work" -- the opposite of retirement or rest. Venezuelan artisan Javier Marin uses the word interchangeably above to describe his subject: The work of local artisans, like himself, in the city of Coro, Venezuela.

Javier also uses the related verb trabajar ("to work") multiple times in his chat to describe how the work was done. Here, he talks about some of the materials they work with, such as glazed ceramic (el gres) and snail shells (los caracoles):

...trabajamos con el gres
[Caption 17, Javier Marin > Artesano > Part 1]

También trabajamos un poco con lo que son este... las piezas del mar, los caracoles
[Caption 33, Javier Marin > Artesano > Part 1]

When describing the employment history of his father, the verb trabajar pops up yet again. At this point in the video, Javier points to the building where his father worked in the '50s:

Mi papa antiguamente, en los años cinquenta, este... trabajó acá
[Caption 45, Javier Marin > Artesano > Part 1]

This translates to, "Formerly, in the fifties, my father... worked here."

One line later, Javier employs the synonymous (though less common) verb laborar to describe what his dad's job was:

Laboró como telegrafista...
[Caption 46, Javier Marin > Part 1]


To buy time while thinking of synonyms for oft-repeated words, you'll note that Javier says este... a lot. It's a verbal tic repeated all over Latin America -- on TV talk shows and radio interviews, for example. Non-native speakers who have the habit of saying "um" over and over might want to replace their um's with "este..." if they hope to be mistaken for a native Spanish speaker. You simply can't say "um" in the middle of a Spanish sentence without someone figuring out that you're not speaking your mother tongue.

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Retirar: To take away and other uses

...retirándole recursos locales y retirándole autonomía alimentaría y productiva los agricultores
[Caption 4, De consumidor a persona - Short Film - Part 4]


The verb retirar has an array of meanings. Often, it means "to take away" or "to remove." Here, in Part 4 of the stirring documentary De Consumidor a Persona, we learn how farmers are having both their local resources and autonomy in food production taken away by multinational corporations.

Note that retirar is derived from the verb tirar
("to pull"), mentioned in this space just
last week. As in English, the prefix re- can mean "back" in Spanish.

¿Puedo retirar el plato?," a waitress in a restaurant might ask you at the end of a meal, referring to your empty plate. If you say yes, she'll take your plate back to the kitchen.

At the same time, retirar can also mean "to retire" -- an English cognate that's easy enough to remember. But note that retirar's synonym jubilar is often used instead to describe the act of retiring from the workplace, as in Venezuelan Javier Marin's description of his dad's retirement:

"Se encuentra jubilado," ("He's retired,") Javier explains in caption 46 of Part 1 of his chat with us about jewelry-making.



"Retired people" are referred to as jubilados -- doesn't that sound like a happy state to be in? Yes, through shared Latin roots, jubilar is related to "jubilant" in English.

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Volcar: Overturn and other uses

Hemos volcado nuestra experiencia, nuestros estudios, nuestras investigaciones, nuestros recorridos por selvas...
[Caption 6-7, Federico Kauffman Doig >Arqueólogo > 3]


The verb volcar literally means "to overturn," "to dump," "to knock over," etc. It is, however, often used figuratively. In the example above, Señor Doig is talking about those things that he and his fellow archeologists have "used," or "drawn upon." "We have used our experience, our studies, our research, our journeys in the jungle..." The mental image that the use of volcar might create here is that they have figuratively "dumped out" all the things they've learned over the years onto a big table -- sorted through and arranged them -- using them to write their books.

Busca un trabajo en el que pueda volcar toda su creatividad.
"She is looking for a job where she can exploit all her creativity."

Volcar can also me "to be engrossed in," or "to be devoted to."

Está completamente volcado a su trabajo.
"He is completely devoted to."

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Jalar and more: Different ways to pull

Pero la calle lo siguió jalando
[Caption 21, La Secta > Consejo]


The verb jalar means "to pull" and its use is common in many parts of Latin America. Miami-based La Secta, in their music video Consejo (which means "advice"), uses the verb in the phrase above, "But the street kept pulling him back."

If jalar means "to pull," why have we seen the
command hale, with an h, printed on doors in countries like Venezuela and Mexico? Well, it turns out that halar also means "to pull," and when we boil down the evidence it seems that halar is basically the same verb, more or less, as jalar, but spelled with an h up front. Which spelling came first, which is more "correct," etc., seems to be up for debate, and also a matter of regional preference.

In Spain, we are like
ly to see tirar (which can mean "to pull") printed on one side of a door, and in Argentina we are likely to see the indicative form, tire. (By the way, most of these countries tend to agree that empuje or empujar, "to push," goes on the other side of these doors.)

Folks in Spain pretty much never use jalar for "to pull," however they do use it for "to eat," but only in very informal settings -- it can be considered a bit crude.

¿Quién se ha jalado todo el jamón?
"Who has wolfed down all the ham?"

Vamos a jalar. ¿Vienes con nosotros?
"Let's go eat. You coming with us?"

In parts of Central America, such as Nicaragua and Costa Rica, jalar can be used to mean "going out" or "dating."

Él y ella estan jalando.
"He and she are dating



You can read a long discussion on the regional uses of jalar, halar and tirar here.

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Quien Calla, Otorga: And more about silence

Cuando callas otorgas...
When you keep silent, you consent...

[Caption 10, Circo > Un Accidente] 


In the refrain to this catchy punk-pop hit, lead singer Fofé uses the common verb callar, which anyone who has ever annoyed their Spanish teacher knows means "to be quiet," "to keep silent" or, more bluntly, "to shut up." The next verb, otorgar, often means "to grant" [as in, permission] or "to award." There's an expression in Spanish: Quien calla otorga, which basically means "silence is consent" (or, "whoever is silent, consents"). So the refrain can be interpretted as "When you keep silent, you consent."

"Shut up!" (singular)

"Shut up!" (plural)

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Ánimo de Lucro: Intent to profit

Con ánimo de lucro
With intent to profit.

[Caption 24, Con ánimo de lucro > Short Film > 1]

Lucro means "gain" or "profit." Think "filthy lucre" as a mnemonic device.


Frankly, it's a little surprising to have a documentary ostensibly about the quest to end poverty and hunger with the title Con ánimo de lucro ("With intent to profit" / i.e. "For-profit"). After all, to describe non-profit (or, not-for-profit) ventures in the Spanish-speaking world, the phrase "sin ánimo de lucro" (or, "sin fines de lucro") is commonly used... Well, future installments of this documental promise to explain this cryptic title.

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Acabar: More meanings after the end

Imagina acabar con el hambre y la pobreza...
Imagine putting an end to hunger and poverty

[Caption 1, Con ánimo de lucro > Short Film > 1]


The short film titled Con ánimo de lucro starts with a series of commands reminiscent of the John Lennon song "Imagine." But what's that word after Imagina (the familiar command form of imaginar)? The short answer is that acabar means "to end" or "to finish."

Se nos acabaron las galletitas.
"We´ve run out of cookies."

We could end our discussion right there, but we won't because acabar can confuse non-native speakers in a variety of contexts. It's more widely used and has more shades of meaning than its synonym terminar (also "to end"). For example, you'll commonly hear
acabar de mean "just" as in:

Acabamos de terminar.
"We just finished."

Acabo de enterarme que van a casarse.
"I´ve just learned they are getting married.

Meanwhile, acabar por can mean "finally" as in:

Acabé por decirle la verdad.
"I finally told him the truth."




¡No irás y se acabó!
You won´t go and that´s that!

In some places, especially Argentina,
acabar can mean "to have an orgasm," when used in the right context. This usage is colloquial but not considered terribly rude.

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Porqué: The reasons

No se tenía porqué poner zapatos.
[Caption 18, Federico Kauffman Doig > Arqueólogo > 1]



In this space, just two weeks ago, we discussed que ("that") and ¿qué? ("what?"), porque ("because") and ¿por qué? ("why?"). In these instances, the accent over the é turned a conjunction into an interrogation.

This week, the affable archaeologist Federico Kauffman Doig reminds us of another porqué, which is a noun that means the reason, cause or motive for something. Because it's a noun, porqué has a gender -- masculine -- and is often preceded by a definite (el, los) or indefinite article (un, unos).


Los porqués son...
"The reasons are..."
Un porqué

" A reason for.... "


So, take this hint if you want to ace a Spanish spelling bee (un concurso de deletreo): If porqué is used as a noun, it's always one word and has an accent over its é.

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Pretender: Beware of false cognates

Lo que pretendemos es sembrar en la gente la actitud de reducir...
[Caption 1, De consumidor a persona > Short Film > 3


It's easy enough to guess the meaning of some Spanish verbs. Take the environmentally helpful trio reducir, reutilizar and reciclar, for example. If you guessed the three verbs mean "to reduce," "to reutilize" and "to recycle," respectively, you're right on. Because Spanish and English share so many Latin language roots, many words sound similar--in other words, they are cognates. But watch out for false cognates, AKA false friends. Two examples are the verbs atender and asistir. In Spanish, atender does not mean "to attend," but "to serve." Meanwhile, asistir does not mean "to assist" but "to attend."

Which brings us back to the quote above. False friend pretender commonly means "to try,"
"to seek" or "to be after." So, the sentence above can be translated as: "What we seek is to instill [literally, "to sow"] in the people the attitude of reducing...."

While pretender and "pretend" have common Latin roots, the use of the word in English to mean "to seek" or "to undertake" fell out of use many moons ago. (Note the archaic definition still stands in some English dictionaries, like
this one.)

El gobierno pretende proteger los derechos de los trabajadores.
"The government seeks (or tries) to protect the rights of the workers."

No pretendo ser tu dueño.
"I don't want (or aspire) to be your master."

¿Y qué pretendes que haga yo? Como si pudiera cambiar algo.
"And what do you want me to do? As if I could change a thing."



Note: the Spanish equivalent of "to pretend," as it is commonly used in modern English, is commonly fingir.

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Ganas: What we want to do

Pensamos que el agua, que el aire, que el suelo es nuestro y podemos hacer lo que nos dé la gana. No es cierto.
[Caption 7-8, De consumidor a persona > Short Film > 2]


Gana, meaning "wish" or "will," is a noun that plays a key role to express wishes or desires in Spanish. The expression darle (a alguien) la gana means "to feel like" or "to want to."

"We think that the water, the air, the land is ours and we can do with it what we feel like. That's not true."

lo que me dé la gana
"what I feel like"

lo que te dé la gana
"what you feel like"

lo que le dé la gana
"what you feel like / what he-she feels like"

lo que les dé la gana
"what you [pl.] feel like / what they feel like"

Even more common is the pairing of the verb tener ("to have") with the plural ganas, as in:

Tenía ganas de hacer algo con eso
[Caption 48, Biografía > Natalia Oreiro > 4]



Natalia is saying: "I wanted to do something with this." The word-for-word translation might have you thinking she had the will to do it, but common understanding is simply that she felt like it, or wanted to do it.

Tengo muchas ganas de aprender español.
"I really want to learn Spanish."

No tengo ganas de parar ahora.
"I don't want to stop now."


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Ni Papa: It ain't no thing

...yo no entiendo ni papa.
[Caption 53, Si-Sé > entrevista > Part 1]


When Carol C. of Si*Sé says with a shrug, yo no entiendo ni papa, it's easy enough for us to understand by the context that she doesn't understand a word. She could also have said no entiendo nada, which means "I don't understand anything." [Remember: you use the word nada ("nothing") instead of algo ("anything") after no in negative expressions in Spanish.]

But here singer C.C. chooses a common Spanish phrase for emphasis -ni papa. Ni means "not even" or "nor." That much is straightforward. But papa is one of those words with an almost comic array of meanings -from "Pope," as in
más papista que el papa ("more papist than the Pope"), to "potato," as in papas fritas ("french fries"). Well, one of the many meanings of papa comes from the Latin "pappa" and it means "baby food," "mush," or "pulp." And that's the meaning most commonly associated with the phrase ni papa (literally: "not even mush").

No puedo ver ni papa
"I can't see a thing."

Él no sabe ni papa
"He doesn't know a thing."




Es una papa.
It's a piece of cake. [It's easily done/easily accomplished.]

No te preocupes por el examen, es una papa.
Don´t worry about the exam, it´s a piece of cake.

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Dar: It's the land giving

y sembrar sus cositas por ahí... lo que da cebolla, tomate, al pimentón, el ají, y otras cosas pues, por ahí.
[Caption 22-23, José Rodríguez > La Finca]


Have you noticed that the verb dar, which we usually take to mean "to give" seems to be used a lot in reference to the growing of fruits and vegetables. Well it turns out that what is doing the "giving," and sometimes it is implied, sometimes more explicit, is la tierra, "the land." Here we find José Rodríguez talking about people in the area "planting their little things around here... producing onion, tomato, red pepper, chili peppers, and other things, around here."

It's not the first time we find dar used in this way. If we check back with our friend Rafael discussing Guatemala:

la tierra... la tierra de las verduras... porque ahí hay... da buenas... verdura, como repollo, zanahoria, cebolla... tomate...
[Captions 11-14, Rafael T > Guatemala Hermosa]

"the land... the land of vegetables... because here there are... [the land] produces good... vegetables, like cabbage, carrot, onion... tomato..."

Digamos en la costa... también da buenas frutas... como la naranja, la sandía, la papaya
[Captions 15, Rafael T > Guatemala Hermosa]

"let's say the coast... also produces good fruit... like orange, watermelon, papaya"

Another example:

Este año, mis tierras no han dado una buena cosecha.
This year, my lands didn't produce a good harvest.



In all of the examples above, dar takes a direct object ("cabbage", "oranges", etc.). However, the reflexive darse can be used as well, with no direct object, and the meaning is "to grow," or "to come up." (This "reflexive" usage, as per the examples below, is somewhat more common in Spain than Latin America.)

He plantado aquí tomates, pero no se dan.
I planted tomatoes here, but they aren't growing (or "aren't coming up").

Las palmeras no se dan en Noruega.
Palm trees don't grow in Norway.

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Que: It also means "because"

Pero no te quedes ahí dándole vueltas a la cabeza, que tanto pensar no es bueno.

[Caption 29, De consumidor a persona > Short Film > Part 1]



Que most often means "that." Slap an accent on the final e and we have qué, used to ask the question "what?" -- add por before qué and you have ¿por qué?, which asks the question "why?" ¿Por qué? is two words, but if we push the two together, without the accent on the e, we have porque, which is one word, and it means "because."

You may just know all that. What you might not have known is that que can also mean "because," or "as," and that's the meaning it takes in the line above:

"But don't stay there making your head spin, because [or "as"] thinking so much is not good."

Other examples:

No comas más, que no es bueno antes de ir a la cama.

"Don't eat more, as it's not good before going to bed."

Obedéceme, que si no lo haces, te vas a arrepentir.

"Obey me, because if you don't, you are going to regret it."

No corras, que el piso está mojado.

"Don't run, because the floor is wet."

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En Aquel Entonces: Back then


Mi papá fue maestro de escuela, director de las escuelas, de las compañías petroleras Shell, en aquel entonces.
[Captions 6-9, Emiro > La historia de Emiro]




On the beach in Eastern Venezuela, Pimienta Café proprietor Emiro tells us about his family history. To tell us about life "back then," Emiro uses the phrase en aquel entonces, which might seem to mean "In that then," if taken literally. But this common expression of time is better understood as "in those times" or "in those days," giving us:


"My father was a school teacher, director of the schools, schools belonging to the Shell Oil company, back in those days."


Note the use of demonstrative adjective aquel here. Remember that in Spanish there are three demonstrative adjectives to say "this" and "that": este, ese AND aquel. The last of this demonstrative trio is sometimes translated as "that...way over there," implying more distance than a simple ese (or, "that"). So you should get a sense that Emiro is talking about what happened "way back when."

Faithful readers might remember that we recently discussed a similar construction of time. You see, Hoy en día means "nowadays" even though it may appear to mean something like "today in day" if taken literally (and awkwardly). [Look for Emiro's use of hoy en día in caption 28 of this same video.]


Trivial aside: It was an interview with Oscar-winner Gustavo Santaolalla that prompted our discussion of hoy en día just a few weeks ago. Well, the seemingly ubiquitous Santaolalla happens to be the producer of La Vela Puerca's aforementioned album featuring the song (and our featured word) Zafar. We warned you this was trivia, right?

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