Rompiendo Malo

Rompiendo Malo. Lost in translation. If translation is the correct word to use when describing what the writers for the hit show Breaking Bad do when they write dialogue in Spanish. I feel as though whoever wrote the Spanish dialogue in Breaking Bad only studied Spanish in high school, or perhaps even the minimum required college Spanish.

Breaking Bad has a lot of characters speaking Spanish, but as a Spanish instructor, I couldn’t help but analyze their use of Spanish. When Skylar of Walter White speak in Spanish poorly, it’s understandable because they’re not native Spanish speakers. However, how can you live in the state of New Mexico with so many Spanish speakers and not know at least a little Spanish?

In general, the script writer literally translated English dialogue into Spanish and did so very poorly. In one meeting with members of the Mexican cartel, Gustavo Fring tells his guests to take a seat by saying in Spanish, “Tomen un asiento.” That is a literal translation of, “Take a seat.” If you offer someone a seat in Spanish, you should say, “Siéntense.” This bad translation is totally unacceptable because the character of Gustavo Fring is from Chile so he is a native Spanish speaker. However, the actor Giancarlo Esposito, however, does not speak Spanish and his pronunciation in Spanish is lacking. It is even more noticeable because of his otherwise good acting. Perhaps Esposito needed to rehearse his lines in Spanish a little more.

In another scene, Tío Héctor says to to Gustavo and Max while at a meeting with Don Eladio, “Quédete.” This is poor grammar and no native Spanish speaker would ever say this. “Quede” is a formal command, but the actor Mark Margolis uses the familiar reflexive pronoun “te” instead of the required formal pronoun “se.” He could have used either a formal or familiar command, but Spanish does not allow for a little of both. He needed to say, “Quédese” or “Quédate”, but never “Quédete”.

However, not all the Spanish spoken in Breaking Bad is terrible. When the actors who are native Spanish speakers speak Spanish, they speak much better Spanish. They probably read the script and said, “Wait. No one would ever say this in Spanish!” because they then say their lines in a more natural Spanish and not a literal translation into English where one word after the other is translated into English. I could tell by the subtitles in English when Spanish is spoken. In other scenes not with native Spanish speakers, the Spanish words follow the same order as the words in the English subtitle.

When Jesse Pinkman is at his new girlfriend Andrea’s house, her mother mother immediately disapproves of Andrea’s choice of a new boyfriend. The mother immediately begins speaking in Spanish, good Spanish, what she thinks of her daughter and Pinkman, none of it very good. Interestingly enough, there are no English subtitles for this dialogue. My theory is that there was no dialogue written for this scene and the actress Virginia Montero merely ad libbed her dialogue in a Spanish language that was very natural to her. I could picture my mother or grandmother speaking like this. Of course, no one from the show was able to translate this into English subtitles.

What does Breaking Bad actually mean? Well, one meaning of “breaking” is changing directions, such as breaking to the right or to the left. Or, one can be breaking good or breaking bad, separating from path to another. In this show, everyone is breaking bad. Everyone was more or less good at the start, but then they started breaking bad, especially Walter White.

For the title of this post, I merely literally translated Breaking Bad into Rompiendo Malo. Breaking = Rompiendo and Bad = Malo. I looked up “breaking” and “bad” on and I found “rompiendo” and “malo” for the translations. However, Rompiendo Malo doesn’t mean anything in Spanish. I admit that this is a very poor way to translate one language into another, but I feel that the writers of Breaking Bad did this for many of the speeches in Spanish.

I suppose I wouldn’t have noticed the Spanish dialogue if I wasn’t a Spanish instructor. But I am and I did. I’m breaking good.


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Rihanna es …

Rihanna es de Barbados. ¿Qué es la nacionalidad de Rihanna? ¿Sabes?

We were studying countries and nationalities in Spanish class the other day. I don’t like to brag, but I like to tell my students that I know most of the countries’ names in Spanish and their nationalities. I challenge the students to challenge me with countries not listed in the Spanish textbook. Well, one student asked me what Rihanna’s nationality was. Did I know her nationality? Of course, not! I asked the student for Rihanna’s country and he said Barbados. I still couldn’t say what her nationality was.

What to do? What to do? Well, I went to my old friend Wikipedia and looked up Rihanna. An entry with Rihanna’s biography in English immediately popped up. I know Wikipedia is still not a reliable reference source, but Wikipedia is great for translating into other languages. If you look in the left column after you find your Wikipedia article, you will see many other languages into which the article is translated. Since español is one of the top languages of the world, most of the articles are translated into Spanish.

Once I found the Rihanna article in English, I switched to the Spanish translation. I soon found Rihanna’s nationality in Spanish! ¡Rihanna es barbadense! Since my classroom has a computer with an Internet connection, I was able to tell the class Rihanna’s nationality in less than two minutes! I wish I could tell you that the class was impressed with my Spanish research skills, but sadly, they were merely surprised that I even knew who Rihanna was!

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The Proposal

Cover of "The Proposal [Blu-ray]"

Cover of The Proposal [Blu-ray]

In the movie The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, and Betty White, there is a character of ambiguous Hispanic descent who appears as a waiter, a bartender, a stripper,and finally a minister. His name is Ramone, as played by Óscar Núñez. That’s right! Ramón with a silent “e” at the end despite the fact that the Spanish name does not end with an “e”! It’s just Ramón! He even spells out his name with an “e” when he’s stripping for Margaret (Sandra Bullock).

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The name Sotomayor is composed of two Spanish words: soto and mayor. Soto means thicket, grove, or copse. And mayor means the bigger one. Adjectives generally follow nouns in Spanish.

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hablar / charlar, idioma / lenguaje

“Hablar” is “to talk” or “to speak” in the general sense of emitting intelligible sounds from the aperture of the human brain housing group. “Charlar” is “to chat” or “to talk to someone.” “Platicar” is also a synonym of “charlar.”

“El idioma” refers to the langauge which we use to communicate. For example, “yo te expliqué la diferencia entre “charlar” y “hablar” en inglés. Pero, cuando dije ” in the general sense of emitting intelligible sounds from the aperture of the human brain housing group”, usé un lenguaje muy particular porque podría haber dicho lo mismo con otras palabras. O, sea, el lenguaje es la selección del vocabulario. No importa si fuera en inglés o español.

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Para ver las respuestas a estas adivinanzas, búscalas abajo sobre la pirámide.

I’m back in school now and my teaching skills are rusty. I must get back into practice. Sometimes the class doesn’t want to pay attention to me for some unknown reason. If they merely not paid attention and didn’t talk, I would be okay with that. However, sometimes they continue talking when I’m trying to talk. This occasionally happens to the best of teachers. Yes, even me! So, I must regain control of the class. Sometimes I say, “¡Atención!” and that’s enough to quiet the class. I have many tricks in my repertoire to silence the class. Sometimes, I have to raise my voice and say, “¡Silencio!” Surprisingly, sometimes the class continues talking. So, I threaten to write the names of the students talking on the blackboard. My sons told me that some grade school teachers use this threat effectively. I wasn’t sure whether or not it would work at the university level, but I did try it once and the entire class immediately stopped talking. I was like totally amazed. If that doesn’t work, I yell, “¡Cállate!” And my absolute favorite tactic? Raising my voice and saying, “Don’t make me snap my fingers in a z-formation.” I then snap my fingers in a z-formation. (Please note: You must say, “Don’t make me snap my fingers in a z-formation” in English.) Amazingly, the entire class stops talking instantly. Once in a blue moon, none of the above strategies work. So what do I do? I very quietly say, “Shh.” That has never failed me! Yet.

La cuarta hija se llama Renata. Plata no es. Es un plátano.

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Just wait until next semester!

My Spanish class met for the last time this morning. Some students will never study Spanish again, but hopefully, they’ll remember more than just, “Buenos días.” The students take the last exam and they slowly leave the classroom one by one. The classroom is now empty. It’s very quiet for the first time in the semester. I’m all by myself and I already miss my students. They sometimes annoy me during the semester, but then I miss them when they’re gone. Go figure! I’ll just have to wait untill next semester to see my new students.

¡Adiós! Espero que sigan con los estudios de español.


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