This week I finally finished up my Spanish classes after two years and four months. I feel like I've learned all I can for now, even though there is still clearly much more to learn. (In other words, I'm nowhere near fluent, but I'm pretty well-versed for a tourist.) Learning a language makes me think about English, too, and how strange, frustrating, complicated, useful, and beautiful it is. I still think it's the most fascinating language in the world. But here are nine ways in which Spanish is better:
- Amigo/amiga. Spanish has both male and female versions of many nouns, whereas the word "friend" has tortured many an English listener who has been secretly in love with somebody: "I was with a friend last night." "Can I bring a friend?" "I'm going to Europe with a friend." How much less confused we would be if we could immediately discern the sex of said friend.
- Novio/novia. "Boyfriend" and especially "girlfriend" also contain some level of ambiguity in English. If a woman says, "My girlfriend and I went shopping last night," does she mean her platonic female friend or her lesbian lover? A Spanish speaker would simply use "amiga" for the former, "novia" for the latter, and that would make everything clear.
- The plural you. Spanish speakers say "ustedes". Some also use the informal "vosotros". In any event, Spanish, like many other non-English languages, includes the extremely useful plural form of "you" – a different pronoun to use when talking to two or more people. (The best we can do in English is to say "y'all" in the South, "yous" in New Jersey, and the halfhearted "you guys" everywhere else.) Again, you know how this can get English speakers in trouble: a phrase like "I want you to come to my house for dinner" sure leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Me alone? Me and my wife? What's your intention? (That said, I'm no fan of languages, like Spanish, that still use both formal and informal forms of "you"; all it does is force us to learn more verb conjugations.)
- Different ways to say "I love you". You can see that English provides many pitfalls for the nervous single person looking for love – pitfalls which don't exist in Spanish. For example, "I love you" can mean many different things in our language, and it's sometimes disastrously misinterpreted. But in Spanish, "te amo" means "I love you romantically" and "te quiero" means "I love you as a friend or relative". So convenient. (Off-topic: points taken off from Spanish for the confusing verb "esperar", which can main to wait, to hope for, or to expect.)
- The double, triple, quadruple negative. One strict English rule is that a double negative is wrong, and makes you sound uneducated: "I don't have no money." But that's perfect Spanish! In fact, it's absolutely fine to say, in Spanish, "I don't have no money never," if you want to emphasize your penniless situation. I personally think that's great.
- Everything is phonetic. Okay, not everything: you do have "LL" sounding like "Y", and "C" and "G" each have two sounds in Spanish, hard and soft, depending on the vowel that follows it. But that's it. And even those follow strict rules. Otherwise, every letter makes exactly one sound, and accent symbols tell you where to, well, put the accent. Meanwhile, look at the mess that is English. How, for example, can anyone tell by sight that the "ough" in through, tough, trough, and though should be pronounced four different ways?
- No tricky sounds that others can't easily emulate. Spanish does ask you to roll your "R"s once in a while. And the "J" asks for a weird throat-clearing sound, but you can get away with making it sound like a normal "H" (think "San Jose"). Otherwise, unlike German, French, Mandarin, Arabic, etc., it has nothing that a speaker of almost any other language can't pronounce. Meanwhile, we as native English speakers should note how difficult our "th" sound – whether it's the soft "th" in this or the hard "th" in thing – is for most non-English speakers to say correctly. "This thing" will usually come out as "dis ting", "zis sing", or any combination thereof.
- Simple plurals. Here's where English really blows. How can you adequately explain why the plural of house is houses while the plural of mouse is mice and the plural of moose is moose? And why is children the plural of child? To pluralize a noun in Spanish, you simply add an "-s" if the noun ends in a vowel or "-es" if the noun ends in a consonant. The only wacky exception is that for nouns ending in "Z", you have to change the "Z" to a "C". Big wow. Other than that, the rules can't be simpler.
- -ísimo. I end with a personal favorite. Got an adjective? Want to emphasize it? Where we boring English speakers are stuck with overused adverbs like "really", "quite", and "very", Spanish speakers get to add the suffix -ísimo. Something really big? grandísimo. Something very easy? facilísimo. And that, mis amigos, is buenísimo.