Thursday, August 20, 2009

Spanish Lesson 1, or Leccion de Español Uno

Thanks to Tim Goodman, two of my favorite television shows are Breaking Bad, and Dexter. Both take place in cities with a relatively large percentage of native Spanish speakers: Albuquerque, New Mexico and Miami, Florida. As someone who has made a living with associates who grew up speaking a different language, knowing the native tongue of your coworkers can serve as a social lubricant and engender a degree of respect and consideration from your bilingual colleagues when it comes time for a promotion, or, who to invite to that party. I was fortunate to walk into my first Spanish class at a young age, in my preteen years, and with the teacher talking very fast in her foreign language (then immediately in English to translate). From that point forth it was almost a settled matter: two years of Spanish in high school, the community college summer course in conversational Spanish, and two summer trips in Mexico to help erect a church in a small village near the border, were foundational events that made me want to build on that knowledge and spend time figuring out and understanding what exactly people were saying (sometimes about me).

For your benefit and mine, I have transcribed and translated two pieces of content where the characters are talking rapidly in a foreign language:

In this scene, Hank has just been promoted to a Drug Enforcement Administration tri-state task force based in Texas near the Mexican border. The three speaking roles are, in order of speech, Dean Norris as Hank, Todd Terry as the SAC (Special Agent in Charge), and J.D. Garfield as Vanco:

voy atravesar sobre esos bastardos como caca pasando pato, fijate (or fija te).
I'm going to run through those bastards like feces through a duck, you watch.

The two leads in this scene are Jimmy Smits as Miguel Prado (seated) and Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan. The shopkeeper Francisco is played by Rudy Quintanilla.

Olvida te, que ese pide lo de siempre
Forget it, that one always orders the same thing.

One might substitute "that one" with "he" but doing that wouldn't tell you the whole story. In context, the shopkeeper understands that Miguel is talking about Dexter, but the shopkeeper also would have known that in Spanish, he is el, but you use ese, meaning that one, when you point to someone, or indicate a person, you don't particularly care for.

Thanks to the lovely and pregnant custodian Sandra Barron, and to mi bibliotecaria preferida Patricia Medina, for the respective transcription and translation. I should also mention David Montgomery for the heads up about Scott Aaronson and the following piece of wisdom:
Why do native speakers of the language you’re studying talk too fast for you to understand them? Because otherwise, they could talk faster and still understand each other.


  1. You sure they didn't mean "pato" as in "gay guy"?

  2. Gracias! I watched that clip 5 times and only got for sure "caca pasando como......fijate." I would not have gotten the rest. Was the Vanco guy a native speaker? It didnt sound quite right.