7 English words adopted into Spanish that need to be re-taught

Navigating any new language is tricky. Just like navigating a city you’ve never been to before without a (Google) map.

The landmarks you stumble across won’t mean anything until you’ve seen them at least a couple of times, decoded them, worked out their location in relation to other key places.

But then, you realise there are some shortcuts.

 

Have you still got those words I loaned you?

 

Spanish—conversation Spanish at least—is littered with English words.

“Luego te pasaré el feedback

“I’ll send you the feedback later”

These loanwords are sweet relief for any native English speaker navigating the Spanish language, any English teacher, and any Spanish speaker learning English.

That is, until you hear them being used.

“James Bond always has a good smoking

Er…

That’s right—some of these loanwords need to be re-taught. In the process of adopting a word, the context and application has been altered somewhere down the line.

So much for shortcuts. Here are 7 of the most common examples.

 

Smoking

This word, pronounced with the obligatory ‘e’ in front of it, has nothing to do with cigarettes or your burnt rice.

In the example above (“James Bond always has a good smoking”), the speaker is referring to a tuxedo.

Sure, we have smoking jackets, which is probably how the word was adopted in the first place. But a Google image search of smoking jacket shows a very different type of jacket (mainly modelled by Hugh Hefner).

You wouldn’t want to get the two mixed up when heading to a formal reception.

Make sure native Spanish students of English know that they need to use tuxedo instead. Many are aware, in fact my girlfriend’s uncle tells a joke that always goes down a treat in which he’s in an airport, sees a “no smoking” sign, and immediately strips off his jacket.

A mighty fine smoking jacket 

A mighty fine smoking jacket 

 

Parking

“It took me 10 minutes to find a space for my car in the parking”

This word is almost there, but not quite. It sounds a little weird if you just leave it at that.

There are two variations to teach English students.

US English: Parking lot

UK English: Car park

US English has the smaller leap from Spanish to English. Just add lot on the end, and that’s your lot (sorry).

 

Jet lag

“It was a long flight. I have jet lag now.”

What’s the problem?

Yes, in this case it’s used correctly. But last weekend, as we moved into Spring, the clocks went forward an hour.

"I think I have a bit of jet lag from the hour change.”

Someone said this to me and I thought they were joking. However, in Spanish the same feeling of your body not quite being in sync with the time of day can be used even when the clocks change an hour. A pretty mild case of jet lag, but jet lag all the same if you’re speaking Spanish.

In English, though, it sounds like a bit of a stretch. When you re-teach this word, it’s worth teaching the meaning of jet so students can remember that it’s usually only applied to that context.

Jet lag: it'll get you, even if you've not jetted off anywhere

Jet lag: it'll get you, even if you've not jetted off anywhere


Friki

The meaning of friki in Spanish is more like geek in English. For example:

“Es un friki. Tiene todas las figuras de Star Wars en el baño”

“He’s a Star Wars geek. He’s got all the figures in his bathroom”

It’s worth noting that geek on its own in English can have strong connotations with someone who may be considered socially awkward and/or someone who has deep technical knowledge of an academic subject, typically computing.

In Spanish it’s not so much the case—you could be a friki for anything—it just means that you’re passionate about something (usually a popular culture reference) to the point that it’s seen as going a bit overboard. Sometimes in English we even have our own words depending on the cultural reference; trekkie, for example.

Another suggested way to teach this would be to switch out the noun completely for a verb:

“She’s mad about Game of Thrones. She knows the Lannister family history inside out.”

An old-school freak show: Nothing to do with the word friki. 

An old-school freak show: Nothing to do with the word friki. 


Heavy

In English there are two potential definitions for heavy:

  1. Something that weighs a lot. "Bloody hell this corpse is heavy."

  2. Something that is dense or substantial. "I didn’t mean to touch you there. It’s all this heavy fog."

Definition two can be extended to describe more abstract concepts. Heavy news, for example, is news that’s substantial and likely to have a big impact.

This second definition is more similar to how the word’s been adopted in Spanish.

“Qué heavy!” is like saying “that’s pretty heavy stuff” after hearing a bit of news or gossip. Other possible translations:

“No way”

“That’s nuts”

“You’re shitting me”

It’s also synonymous with “qué fuerte!” in Spanish.

 

After

Normally you’ll hear it in this context:

“Después del concierto, vamos a un after en el piso de Alex, vale?”

“After the gig, we’ll go to an after-party at Alex’s flat, OK?”

When you re-teach this word, students need to know that if you want to use after as a noun in English, it needs something, um, after it:

After-party

After-work drinks

After-school special

After Eights

The Spanish though, in this case, is much cooler.

After Eights: The nation's favourite after-dinner mint for spitting back up and hiding in the nearest plant pot. 

After Eights: The nation's favourite after-dinner mint for spitting back up and hiding in the nearest plant pot. 

 

Crack

“Messi es un crack!”

I spent a good while thinking about this one before I found the meaning online.

Crack detective?

Cracking fellow?

Cracking up?

Crack dealer?

In fact, my first wild stab in the dark was probably the closest to the truth. A crack detective is an expert detective. This has been lifted and, again, like some of the other examples, been used as a stand-alone adjective without the need for any additional linguistic decoration.

It’s normally heard in football to describe a star player, but if you get described as un crack, it’s the ultimate compliment.

Lionel Messi: A crack detective who picks defensive locks. 

Lionel Messi: A crack detective who picks defensive locks. 

 

I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re not getting these loanwords back any time soon, which is a little inconsiderate as I really liked some of them. Even if they were returned, they’ve been transformed into something quite unrecognisable from before.

Qué heavy. That’s the last time I lend Spain anything from my language.