Loanwords in English and Spanish

The way people communicate always changes and words go in and out of style*. One of the most interesting parts of language acquisition is that of loanwords.

Author: Joshua Burns

NeLanguage never stays still. The way people communicate always changes and words go in and out of style*. One of the most interesting parts of language acquisition is that of loanwords. Loanwords are words that you take from another language to use in your own. However, one of the characteristics of loanwords is that when they are adopted into their new language, the meaning changes.
As the languages are quite closely related, both English and Spanish have a number of loanwords. Let’s look first at Spanish loanword in English.

In Spanish, ‘patio’ can be used in variety of occasions – whether it’s a place children play in at lunchtime or a specific feature of garden from the south. The English meaning of the word is probably most similar to the famous patio Cordobés, but in its most basic form. For us, a patio is an outside garden area, with no roof, made with large, square paving stones*.

This is another where the meaning has only slightly changed. I discovered the difference between the Spanish and the English form of this word when talking to some Spanish friends. They mentioned the ‘sombrillo’ and I asked what the difference was between ‘sombrillo’ and ‘parasol’. The reply I got was that a ‘parasol’ is about the size of an umbrella but used to keep the sun off you – the ‘sombrillo’ is much bigger. Well, in it’s translation into English, this size aspect got confused and when we say ‘parasol’ we actually mean ‘sombrillo’.

In Spain, if you go to a cafetería, you are likely to have a good time drinking a nice coffee and maybe hanging out with friends. In English, however, the connotations are rarely as joyful. A cafeteria is the name we use for dining halls in schools or maybe prisons.
Just as we English speakers incorporate a number of Spanish words into our daily usage, it will be of no surprise that the same happens the other way around. And just like their counterparts in English, the meaning doesn’t always stay exactly the same.
If you ever ask an English speaker if they go ‘footing’, they won’t understand what you mean. That’s not to say the word ‘footing’ doesn’t exist in English, it just has an entirely different meaning to ‘running’. Say, for example, you’re climbing a rock and your foot is secure and then slips, we would say ‘you lost your footing.’ So, remember, while ‘footing’ does exist, it’s got a lot more to do with balance than it does running.

This is one of those strange ones because, essentially, the meaning in Spanish is exactly the same, but the difference is in how the word is used. Generally speaking, ‘parking’ is a verb. E.G. ‘I am parking the car.’ If you’re in an English-speaking country, however, you may see a sign saying ‘parking’. So, parking can be used as a noun but, for us, it’s uncountable. ‘Parking’ refers to ‘space available where you can park’ – not the name of the actual facility. This is either a ‘car park’ or ‘parking lot’ (‘parking’ here is an adjective), depending on whether you are in UK/Ireland or the United States, etc. What you will never find is ‘a parking’ or the ‘un parking’, as it is in Spanish.

Un examen tipo test
This is more a loanword that has been incorporated into a phrase. For an English speaker, even with some Spanish, it’s quite a confusing sentence. It’s not to say that ‘exam’ and ‘test’ are exactly the same in English. An exam is usually official and the result carries weight*, whereas a test is used to see how much knowledge you’ve gained up to a certain point in a subject. The ‘unexamen tipo test’, as used in Spanish, would be called a ‘multiple-choice test’ in English.
Loanwords are a fun part of language, but they can cause a lot of confusion when you’re trying to learn a new one. Simply being aware of them can help make conversations clearer. So, the next time you’re talking to someone in English (or Spanish if you’re an English native), remember, just because you’re using as word from their language, it doesn’t mean they will necessarily understand you!


In and out of style : The fashion changes

Paving stones: Tiles for outside

Carry weight: Is important

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