“English” Words Invented by My Students

One of the most fun and interesting parts about teaching English to my students is how creative they are when they may not know a word in English. Sure, some of them resort to “Profe, how do you say borrar in English?” but other ones try their hand at converting Spanish words into English. I also took to the Auxiliares de Conversación Facebook page to get a few more examples than the few I had, as well as to see how popular the ones I usually hear were.

On the linguistic side of things, it’s especially interesting because of how they convert Spanish words into what they think is English. This shows how they’re learning about English phonology (sounds) and morphology (the construction of words).  I think that even though the words they come up with aren’t recognizable English words, they still show evidence of the students learning other English words.

Just a note here that what I’m referencing here isn’t Spanglish, a linguist-recognized hybrid language found in many places in the United States that operates with its own set of rules and is mostly known for loan-words that have been altered to follow Spanish morphological and phonological rules (examples include googlear or lonche for Google (v.) and lunch.  I’m instead referring to small tweaks my students make to the Spanish words they know in the hopes they’ll have used the proper English word.

  1. Borro(w) for erase, from borrar – Here, my student just dropped the Spanish accent and pronounced this word as if were English. I knew what he was trying to say, but had to reinforce that borrow is a totally different verb.
  2. Repart for hand out, from repartir– Again, the students try to just drop the Spanish verb ending off the end and pass it off as English. Here, I explained this word has no recognized English meaning and instead the phrasal verbs hand out  or pass out were needed.
  3. Fichs for worksheets, from fichas- This was the most impressive one for me, mostly because the student managed to pronounce the -chs ending so smoothly. Unfortunately for the student, removing the vowel didn’t transform the word into English.
  4.  Olvidate for forget, from olvidar- Again, I’m impressed at the sensitivity students seem to have for English word endings, at least enough to add them to Spanish words. They add the -ate ending to a lot of words, though I think I hear this example most often.
  5. Comportament for behavior, from comportamiento– This one is the closest to being a real English word, though still isn’t quite right. They also use it in the verb form, trying out comportating for behaving, from comportarse
  6. Asignature for school subject, from asignatura. Like borro, another case of trying to change the pronunciation of the Spanish word to transform it into English. While this works with some words, unfortunately it doesn’t work here.
  7. Preguntate/Preguntation for question (v) and (n) from preguntar/pregunta. The -te ending shows up again, as well as the -tion! Students feel by swapping the Spanish ending for one of these English endings that it accomplishes their goal. Sometimes this works, but not for pregunts!

I’m sure many, many other examples of this exist, but I had to narrow it down to just a few! I want it to be clear that the intent of this post is absolutely not to ridicule my students for saying ‘silly’ words. Instead, I want to show what I think is an important step in learning a language by experimenting and trying out different combinations that help someone reach fluency. I know that while learning Spanish (and even still) I’ve made (and make) mistakes and said silly things, and I wanted to talk about this step of the learning process. Every time I hear one of these “words” I appreciate my students’ creativity and effort to learn by using what they know of English to construct a potential translation. All words were invented somewhere and sometime, so who knows? Maybe some of these words will make their way into the English lexicon!

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