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Who’s on First (Mexican Style)?

Did you ever see that Abbott and Costello skit? It’s pretty
famous and very funny. I’ll give you a link to it in a moment.

My wife and I used to communicate in a mixture of Spanish
and English, which at times channeled those two comedians.

Like when she said, El martes tenemos una junta con la
contadora. (On Tuesday we have a meeting with the
accountant.)

I replied in English, “When?”

She said, el martes. (On Tuesday)

I said, “Yes, but when is it?”

She said, “ya te dije, es el martes.” (I already told you it’s
on Tuesday)

I reply, “yes, you said that but when is it?”

Cuantas veces quieres que te lo diga? Es el martes.
How many times do you want that I might tell you it? It’s on
Tuesday.

Por fin, (finally) it dawns on me why she isn’t understanding
me, she was hearing “when” in English but thinking, cuando,
in Spanish.

In English, when, and, what time, are often interchangeable
but that’s not the case in Spanish. I switched to Spanish and
asked,

¿A qué hora es la cita?
What time is the appointment?

She replied, a las tres y media. (At half past three.)

In Spanish cuándo in a question refers to a general time and
it’s typically answered with the day or date for example you
could ask these question with cuándo,

¿Cuándo es el Día de la Madre?
When is Mother’s Day?

“Cuándo va a nacer el bebé?”
When is the baby going to be born?

¿Cuándo es Semana Santa este año?
When is Easter this year?

En cambio, (on the other hand) if you want to know a specific
time you need to ask, ¿a qué hora es? (At what time/hour is it?)

¿A qué hora empieza la fiesta?
What time does the party start?

¿A qué hora llega el avión?
What time does the plane arrive?

¿A qué hora es la junta?
What time is the meeting?

I can’t promise you’ll never have your own Abbott and Costello
skit like we did, but if you use Bola de Nieve you’ll be well
armed to get you point across and be understood every time.

The subtle but important distinctions like, cuándo vs a qué
hora, are built into the program. Soon using the correct one
is second nature to you and you don’t need to think about it,
you just know what to say.

Saludos,

Marcus Santamaria
Spanish Communication Coach—try my course, Synergy Spanish!

1 comment to Who’s on First (Mexican Style)?

  • Rachel

    This is a great way to learn spanish, the key words can get me by, which want I want, when I visit mexico. a Very effective method!
    Rachel

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