Acquiring Vocabulary

If you are studying another language and want to learn vocabulary, I always recommend reading. Reading is the reason I have an extra-large box in my brain for English vocabulary — why wouldn’t it work for another language? Don’t stop too often to look up words but take them in the context they’re given; you could make a list and look them up later, if you want. Becoming a fluent reader is a great way to develop a feel for the structure of the language you’re studying. On the other hand, a more exciting way to learn a second language is to listen to the music (English music doesn’t do much for me in this way, but when my vocabulary is no doubt that of a fifth-grader, it works). For that reason, I’ve been listening to Mexican music for over twenty years now. Why Mexican? you ask. I’m sorry to be prejudiced, but Mexican music is better than all other types of Spanish music. My children have taken to calling me a Mexican Weeb due to my obsession with Mexico. I guess that depends on how one defines Weeb. Some aspects of Weeb culture are anything but wholesome, full of prurient voyeurs of…cartoons. I can guarantee I’m not that type of Weeb. I just love the accordion and brass instruments and dramatic vocals!

I have learned very useful vocabulary in Mexican songs, such as francotirador (sniper), naufrago (shipwrecked), tatuajes (tattoos), antojo (whim), limosnero (charitable)…. I was pondering the usefulness of this last night as I read in the Telemundo online news about some gente who had been naufraga due to a storm. I’m sure that I initially learned the word while reading 17th C Spanish literature like Cervantes (people in his day went to sea and were shipwrecked and attacked by pirates, at least in stories), but it didn’t quite stick in my head until I was singing a catchy chorus on repeat: Naufrago en mi cama de tanto llorar. That’s a song by Los Elegidos, in case you want to look it up. As far as I can tell, they are a one-album band; they had a few hits and then disappeared off Mexican radio. But these handful of hits are quite catchy and easy to listen to…by easy, I mean I can understand the Spanish.

Francotirador was a funny one to me as I did what I always do — I tried to figure it out in the context of the song, which is unsurprisingly about a very painful love affair. My mind went weird directions, such as, a French shooter? Franco is surely related to Frank, which is related to French; and I already knew what tirador meant. Thus… ja ja ja. Actually, the title of the song gives it away, mostly: Directo al corazon. This woman’s treacherous love went straight to the heart, just as a sniper might aim for a quiet hit right where it counts. It’s a useful word in everyday conversation, I can assure you. And there might be some relation to “French” in there somewhere; I suppose the adjective “frank” could be related to the Franks. That’s a head-scratcher. I might have to look it up.



  1. My daughter might get to that place with Japanese, in terms of reading books, but she’s not there yet. She knows some based on casual studying and all that, but there’s some bug hurdles when it’s a completely different glyph system and a culture that is far removed from the west.

    Those Mexican words you mention: are those ones peculiar to Mexican culture?

    1. Although Finnish has a fairly standard Latin-based alphabet, I’m finding it difficult to learn because I can’t just use my English vocabulary skills to help. At least, not much. It’s an entirely different language family, so it’s a real challenge. I can understand why it would be hard to learn Japanese, though I’ve never tried to learn an Asian language. One of my daughters is quite fluent in Korean, and I was shocked at how easily she picked it up. How did she do that? I don’t know. I don’t know how she’s able to do a lot of things that are waaayyy beyond my talents.

      Re the words from the songs, no they are just Spanish words that I remember because I hear them in Mexican songs. Listening is better for memory retention (for me) than reading, though I suppose it’s the repetition that really matters. I listen to Mexican music all the time. I don’t even daily read literature in Spanish. I should….

      1. Whenever I hear “Spanish literature,” I immediately think of Don Quixote. I have never read it, but it’s on my list to read (in English).

        Maybe try the DQ audiobook in Spanish, if you are better at listening?

  2. Pingback: El acordeón y yo
  3. I gave up on Spanish a nd switched to German due to ancestry. I have a bunch of German novels I inherited too

    1. Nice! I’d like to study German, too. I’m currently studying Finnish as a hobbyist and Spanish because I love it, and it’s also practical where I live. My ancestry is Anglo-Irish, and I already speak English, so….

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