Learning the language of the porteños

¡Hola todos! Although it still seems surreal, in less than 24 hours, I will be boarding a plane to embark on my study abroad adventure in Buenos Aires with the CIEE program. During the five months that I am in Argentina, I will continue to take classes towards my International Politics major and International Law concentration, but with an exciting—and intimidating—twist: all of my classes will be in Spanish.

Interestingly, the most common response to my aforementioned abroad experience is “Wow, that is exciting!” quickly followed by “Oh, so you must be fluent, right?!”. Erm…not quite. While I did in fact pass my Spanish proficiency exam for the SFS this spring semester (woo!) and have been learning the language for seven years, my classroom-cultivated abilities pale in comparison to those of a native speaker.

While the whole having-classes-only-in-Spanish aspect is a bit daunting, I think what I am most anxious about is being able to communicate with the porteños, or people of the port, as the locals are called. So, in order to further my procrastination while packing my two massive suitcases over the past few weeks, I spent numerous hours scouring the web for “how to speak like an Argentine”.

Although Spanish is the official language in 20 individual countries, various regions have distinct accents, pronunciations, words, and colloquialisms. And, as it turns out, I have had absolutely zero exposure to Rioplatense Spanish, the dialect most commonly spoken around the Río de la Plata basin of Argentina and Uruguay.

For example, I had no idea that porteños use a different second-person pronoun than traditional Spanish speakers—luckily it is easier to conjugate. And to the annoyance of everyone else in my household, I also have been (shamelessly) practicing my “ll” sounds since in Argentina it is pronounced like “sh” instead of the conventional “y”.

Then yesterday, in the midst of my frantic attempts to learn how to speak somewhat like an Argentine, I finally received my letter via email from my host mother, Gabriela—in Spanish, of course. As someone who is passionate about writing and music, I was extremely excited to read that she is a writer herself—and even more so that she loves to sing around the house!

Reading her heartfelt words about our similarities definitely reduced my nervousness about living with a host family, and in general, amongst non-English speaking Argentines. I think that ultimately, a language barrier can easily be broken if you are willing to fully embrace not just the locals’ way of speaking, but also their way of life.

During my time in Buenos Aires, I will strive to transcend my conventional Spanish classroom experience to not only speak (and maybe even sing?) like a true porteño, but also to assimilate and appreciate the unique culture and people that characterize the country.

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