I can’t live without them!

Posted by on November 08, 2010

Mexican English month brings you a guest post by Lulu Campbell. Lulu is British but has lived in Mexico for the past 10 years, where she currently works as Macmillan’s Research and Development Publisher for Latin America.

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I used to think I was quite articulate. Although I am English, I deemed my use of my native language to be quite “good”. But after 15 years in Latin America, the last 10 of those in Mexico, I find that I have assimilated and absorbed into my daily communications a whole lexicon of new words that apparently don’t belong, unless I am talking to other native speakers of English in Mexico.

What I have discovered is that there are a number of words that simply have no straightforward translation into English, but that I now just can’t live without, and so I don’t, no matter what language I am speaking in.

Take, for example, the versatile little noun ganas. Ganas is all about desires, or a lack of desires. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? The word pops up in infinite Mexican idioms and sayings, many of which provide, at best, an unsatisfying translation in English. But in fact, ganas is a very ordinary, everyday word which can be used in conversations of varying registers to a wide variety of effects. Tengo ganas (de) … can simply mean ‘I want (to)…’, or’ I feel like…’ but it can also mean that you are looking forward to something. The inverse, not surprisingly is No tengo ganas (de)…

Finding this little word so all-encompassing, so useful as a linguistic tool that summarized a range of meanings I wanted to communicate, I found myself slipping it into conversations in English, with pleasing results when I was talking to other English speakers living in Mexico. Nobody batted an eye-lid. The negative effect of this, of course, was that more and more words of this nature would pepper our conversations. It was just easier to use whatever word most suited our purposes, and also to take some liberties and anglicize the odd Spanish word to avoid having to roll an ‘r’, or use a throaty ‘j’.

I think the alarm bells first started ringing for me when Mexican friends and colleagues also started using our corrupted Spanglish, and when I found I couldn’t actually switch it off when I returned to the UK, and was received with more than a few raised eyebrows.

Useful as these words are, what I would really like is to be able to speak English properly again without needing them at all. Yes, definitely, tengo ganas.

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Comments (2)
  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ian, Macmillan Dictionary. Macmillan Dictionary said: New guest blog in Mexican English month: words you can't live without – http://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/i-cant-live-without-them […]

    Posted by Tweets that mention I can’t live without them! | Macmillan -- Topsy.com on 8th November, 2010
  • I can totally relate Lulu! I’ve been back from Colombia for 5 years, but there are still times when the best way to express myself would be ‘tengo ganas’! The number of wierd looks I’ve had when it’s accidentally slipped out… I also find it’s about context – there are books and films that I first experienced in Spanish (translated from the English original) and still, to me, certain elements of them just seem wrong in English (like escoba for broomstick, because I first read Harry Potter in Spanish).

    Posted by Sharon Creese on 8th November, 2010
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