- Learning Spanish & Portuguese>
About 2 or 3 days ago, I took a trip to Bicentenario Park.
As I wrote here, it’s one of my favorite parks right now in Mexico City.
it has so much I like but my favorite bit is the little lake that it has.
Such a great place to sit down in front of and enjoy the view in peace.
Unfortunately, I showed up a little bit late and only had 30 minutes to enjoy it.
As people began walking out, I could see dudes on motorcycles riding around notifying people that it’s time to leave.
Milking the time I have left, I keep sitting down until one of them gets up close to me.
Once I see him getting close, I figured to get up already and head on out.
Took a few last minute views of the lake with the sunset in the background.
Then walked on out.
Back to the metro station.
Sitting down on the train in Metro Refineria headed towards Metro Rosario, an older gentleman got onto the train to assumingly ask for money.
And I say “assumingly” because I legit did not understand what he said.
He said a few words that I did understand “yo hablo”
But everything else after that was not understandable to me.
And he kept saying “yo hablo lkjklhasrfdkjshfkasdfjhas” multiple times.
From what I could tell, maybe the dude had some disability or something?
I gave him some pesos anyway as he passed by.
And that was it.
Soon I found myself in El Rosario and headed over to Politecnico soon enough.
Either way, it wasn’t the first time in Latin America where someone said something and it was completely unintelligible.
Even though I’ve studied Spanish for 8 years and have lived in Latin America for almost 7 years now, I still have moments like that.
And, being honest, I do wonder to myself if some of the locals can understand this rare Latino also?
Because it is a extremely rare case to meet a local who is speaking in such a way that is seemingly unintelligible.
It happens maybe once a year at most?
And that feels pretty generous.
But, from what I could tell, why does it happen?
It’s a minor topic but something to casually drop a few words on before moving on.
Let’s get into what I’ve come to understand about this topic regarding the reasons for why it happens.
Reason 1: Your Spanish Needs Improvement
Though the local who wants to shit on my Spanish to switch the conversation to English is always annoying, I’ll be the first to admit that my Spanish isn’t perfect.
It never will be.
I’m not a native speaker and, unless I spend another 40 years here, I probably won’t ever sound native.
I even reviewed my own Spanish in this article here.
So we can all use a little bit of improvement on our Spanish if we aren’t native speakers.
Having said that, there comes a point where your Spanish is good enough that you can hold your own with 99% of people out here.
But, assuming it’s not up to that point, you’ll likely encounter this “type” of Latino that sounds unintelligible to you.
Back when my Spanish was much worse, the most two prominent examples of that were a Guatemalan Spanish teacher I had and a chick I hooked up with named Lizeth.
With Lizeth, despite not knowing a god damn thing she said to me, we still managed to hook up somehow.
Thankfully, she was the type to just talk forever and ever listening to herself speak.
I never needed to contribute much to the conversation other than the occasional one word answer to make it seem like I understood her.
Then, with the Guatemalan Spanish teacher, I was living in Xela at the time studying Spanish at some informal Spanish school.
I had Spanish teachers rotated around working with me each week and this one dude in a baseball cap was simply not very understandable.
In both situations, I’d like to think that they were unintelligible not because of them but because of me as my Spanish was much weaker in either scenario.
If I was to speak to either of them now, I’d wonder if the scenario would be the same or if I’d be able to understand them now.
In all likelihood, I imagine I could because my Spanish was just a lot weaker then.
Reason 2: Accent Issues
People will often say that certain accents are harder to understand than others.
As you deal with different nationalities of Latinos, you do have to be conscious of accent changes.
When I was at a rooftop party in Roma Norte in Mexico City almost a year ago, I met a Venezuelan chick.
Her Spanish was completely understandable to me but I did find myself consciously focusing a little more on her way of speaking because there were subtle differences in how she spoke versus all of the Mexicans speaking that I’ve gotten accustomed to hearing over the years now.
When I was in the Dominican Republic almost 5 years ago, I found Dominicans, on average, to be harder to understand.
It wasn’t impossible nor was it anything like trying to listen to Mr. Guatemalan teacher years before that but it was a “rougher” accent to adjust to.
Many people say Chileans are hard to understand. I never understood that personally. They sound easy enough to me but it is something a lot of people say.
Anyway, regardless of if you are new to Spanish or not, the accent factor that be something to consider.
Even Latinos who speak Spanish natively can have difficulties sometimes with other accents.
For example, in my first year in Mexico City, I met a Mexican gal named Maria who spent the night with me a few times.
She really liked my reggaeton playlist on Youtube but, for some reason, found this particular singer, Tego Calderon, to be very difficult to understand.
She’d have me play the song here several times concentrating on what he is saying but found it difficult to understand for some reason.
And she’s a native Spanish speaker.
Reason 3: Mental Health Issues
Keep in mind that some folks you hear down here just likely have mental health issues.
That’s why you don’t understand them.
Even locals wouldn’t understand them.
They’re simply having an episode and uttering gibberish.
No offensive to them personally.
We all hope they get help.
But some homeless folks be like that.
For example, when I lived by Centro Historico, there was some 30 or 40 year old some homeless chick who lived on Republica de Cuba street.
She was always alone (aside from when social workers visited her) and could be seen playing with toys.
No idea what issue she had but it seemed very apparent she had one.
Even some of the social workers nearby seemingly had some difficulty understanding her when trying to help her.
Or at least that’s how it seemed to me whenever passing by.
Some of what she said was intelligible and some of it wasn’t.
That’s how it was.
Outside of that, there was another example I remember in a Bolivian city called Cochabamba.
In which, during the morning or afternoon, I left the homestay I was living at and walked towards some nearby plaza.
Long story short, this homeless chick was having a VERY STRONG EPISODE in which she was yelling mostly unintelligible shit at random people passing by.
I tried to pass by her without being noticed by having some distance between us but she still made her march towards me, yelled something and marched on to find someone else to yell at.
It is what it is.
Reason 4: Local Addicts
This group could be mixed in with the group of those with mental health issues.
Some individual, most likely homeless but not always, is an addict of drugs or alcohol.
And their Spanish, in the moment of being on something, is a little bit more difficult to understand.
Now I’ve spoke drunk Spanish with drunk locals plenty of times and had no issue.
So, if I’m being honest, to make this more unintelligible likely has to have mental health issues involved if I had to guess.
When I was in a Colombian city called Barranquilla, there was some dude across the street from my hotel who said something loudly as I passed him.
What did he say?
I have no fucking idea.
It was literally something that sounded like “JHFKJDSHFKJDKHFKJHSDKLHKLJD”
No fucking idea what word that is in Spanish.
How is it conjugated?
Anyway, I kept on walking.
Reason 5: Indigenous Folks
About a month or so ago, I was living close to Metro Deportivo 18 de Marzo in Mexico City.
It was at around 9 or 10 PM and I had just picked up some food at a nearby place from what I remember.
Walking back to my apartment.
As I was walking back, I passed by some really small woman who could’ve been as short as 4.5 to 5 foot tall.
Really small woman!
Seemingly middle aged or so?
And she was talking to another person close to her standing in front of her.
What did she say?
I have no fucking idea.
It was completely unintelligible.
It literally didn’t sound like Spanish whatsoever.
Didn’t hear any “que” or “el” or “los” or “las” or “la” or anything typical in Spanish.
None of the words sounded like Spanish.
If I had to guess, she was some indigenous gal who was speaking an indigenous language.
Once in a very rare blue moon, you’ll encounter someone like that in Latin America who is speaking a language that sounds nothing like Spanish.
Funny enough, my very first trip to Latin America almost a decade ago involved going to some indigenous community in rural Chiapas of Mexico as you can read here.
And some of the folks in that community didn’t speak Spanish.
The language they spoke – whatever it was – sounded nothing like Spanish.
That’s how it is with some folks down here.
Anything to Add?
These are the main reasons that I’ve come to understand why some folks aren’t very understandable down here.
Got anything else to add?
Drop a comment below in the comment section.
And follow my Twitter here.
Thanks for reading.