Understanding Spanish culture
will help you learn Spanish
Understanding Spanish Culture will help you be speak better Spanish and it will be impossible to become bilingual or even reach a high level of Spanish without cultural knowledge.
Why is it important to learn the culture
meanwhile learning the language?
People learn languages for different reasons like exams, traveling, a job, friends, family, etc. But all these different reasons have one common and basic purpose: to communicate
If we search its meaning in Google we will find:
(Let´s stick to the first definition)
So knowing that communicating is to share or exchange information, news, or ideas, why will understanding Spanish culture help us to better learn the language?
Well, there is no communication if the other person don´t understand what you are trying to express. Here is where culture comes into the picture. It is very important to know the vocabulary, of course, to be able to talk to someone, but it is as important to know how to talk to that person, to understand what they really mean and to use references and expressions you will both understand. And this, among other, is culture.
Idioms or Idiomatic expressions are a very important cultural component of the language. We are so used to employ them that sometimes we forget that non-native people will have struggles to understand it if they haven´t heard them before. Because the translation word for word often has a very different meaning.
If you want to tell someone that they have spilled the beans (to reveal something prematurely, like a secret) in Spanish, your first instinct will be to translate it LITERALLY to Spanish like “derramar las judías o los frijoles” and, I am sorry to tell you but, no one will understand you.
We say “descubrir el pastel” and if you don´t know it beforehand you will never understand it as it means to “uncover the cake”.
Can I be Bilingual without learning the culture?
In my opinion: No.
It would be possible to learn vocabulary and grammar constructions but as both the language and the culture are extremely connected, you cannot fully understand one without the other.
An example (that I have personally struggled with ); Spanish people usually tend to give advice or offer things in a more direct way like “come” or “siéntate” that means “eat” or “sit down”. If you say this in other languages the other person can feel that you are giving an order to him or her and that you are being very rude. In Spanish, we say it intending to invite the other person, and even sometimes we repeat it to show that we mean it.
As you can see, the fact that you just know the vocabulary and don´t understand the cultural expressions will lead to misunderstandings and will break the communication.
How can I learn the Spanish culture?
First, you need to be open-minded, that is a MUST. It is not always as easy as it sounds as we always have presumptions and it is in human nature to subconsciously believe that the best way to do things is our own way. In the beginning, we will find it challenging but once we have a shock of “humbleness” it will become easier and easier. This first step will allow us to dive into the culture instead of being mere spectators.
Then we can consume movies, music, books, food, etc. from the countries we wish to learn the culture of, in this case, Spain or Spanish speaking countries. Making friends or talking with native people will be an amazing boost for your learning process.
So essentially you should LIVE IT! It is easier to remember our experiences rather than reading hundreds of pages. We will remember better the taste of the food, the feelings that music awake within, beautiful or special images from movies or funny situations with friends.
There is a saying in Spanish: “Los idiomas se aprenden en la cuna o en la cama” which means that to learn a language you should do it in the cradle or the bed. Of course, we believe that we can learn languages outside these two places but we can´t deny that to date someone from the place we are learning the language won´t do any damage
Should a Spanish teacher explain Spanish culture?
YES! If your teacher is not including cultural components during classes my recommendation is to run (Well maybe you could first try to ask if they could add some cultural information during classes)
I strongly believe that in every class there should be (explicitly or implicitly) cultural aspects to facilitate the student a better understanding of the language.
Your teacher must be careful with generalizations and clichés as it can generate a false and superficial feeling of understanding the culture and customs. He or she must keep his eyes wide open to both realities, the foreign and its own, to be able to make a permanent reflection and focus on similarities and differences of cultural aspects.
The final goal should be that the student will be able to not only know the Spanish culture, but also its own culture while having tools to understand specific situations that might cause frustration, anger or misunderstandings caused by cultural differences.
Curious facts about Spanish Culture (that will help you understand and be understood better)
1. The intention in Spanish culture is REALLY important
Yes, in every culture intention is important, I know. But in Spanish, it is so that it influences our way of speaking.
If you are talking to a Spanish person you need to take this into count. Sometimes the intention is even more important than the action itself.
2. We are very social and very expressive
This sometimes can lead to misunderstandings and overwhelming feelings.
For example, we sometimes compliment for the enjoyment of it, without any seducing meaning (we also like to flirt sometimes), meanwhile, in other cultures, this will be perceived as flirting. Or make the impression that we are forcing the situation and behaving fake.
And yes, we are intense. We like to enjoy life and to express it. Happiness shared is happiness doubled.
3. We give advice even if no one has asked for it
We don´t do it because we think you are not able to do something or you are not aware of the situation. Sometimes we express our opinions or advice to show we care and we simply try to be helpful.
(This is something I still work on )
4. Being quiet
In our culture (sadly), silence sometimes is perceived as a bad thing. We try to fill the quietness with words even if what we say is not important.
A Spanish person can feel that you don´t like them or you are mad if you are quiet when you are both alone.
5. We don´t know how to say no
Sometimes it is considered impolite to say “NO” directly.
That is why you can encounter people that instead of denying something they will make an excuse.
Lets put an example:
A foreigner asks a Spanish to hang out. Probably, the Spanish with make an excuse if he or she does not feel like hanging out instead of being direct because of the fear of offending the other person.
The other way round, the foreigner can be direct and say no if it does not feel like hanging out. In this case, the Spanish person can feel bad and think that maybe the other person does not like him or her, or that the person is mad at them.
You can apply this when buying things, services, meeting people, etc.
This can be a very big barrier in communication.
6. We are loud. No, we are not screaming at you
Spanish people are considered passionate, joyful and, as I wrote before, very expressive. All these factors influence the way we talk to each other.
Also, when we are in a group it is common to have different conversations at the same time that makes us louder and louder to make sure the people we are talking to can hear us.
It is more common to hear people talking loud when they are close to each other so it is funny, that sometimes the more you appreciate someone, the louder you both talk.
If you feel uncomfortable, I recommend you to say it and I do not doubt that they will apologize and try their best to not be that loud!