English Words with Spanish Roots

The English Island, located in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, offers the highest quality English as a second language (ESOL) courses in Atlanta, Georgia. Many of our students come from Spanish speaking countries seeking English as a second language lessons (ESL), and they are often surprised by the abundance of words used in English that are derived from Spanish. Many of the excellent English teachers who work at The English Island speak Spanish as a second, third (or sometimes fourth) language, so the cross-cultural exchange between native Spanish speakers and their English teachers flows naturally. Let’s look at some entertaining, thought-provoking, and unexpected examples of where Spanish words have integrated with the English language as a whole!

To begin with, let’s look at some words that pertain to weather, animals and natural land formations. One of the most used words from this category is breeze. A breeze, meaning a gust of wind, comes from the Spanish word “brisa”, which means a cool northern wind. Spanish-speaking ESL students studying at The English Island may feel right at home as they encounter words that sound a brief syllable away from their mother tongue. For instance, the English word alligator, the well-known reptile that lives in warm southern climates, combines the two words in “el lagarto”, which is Spanish for “the lizard,” to form a singular word. However, not all words in English require any stretch of the imagination to correlate with their Spanish counterparts. The word “arroyo” in Spanish means a creek or a stream. The exact spelling, with a slightly different pronunciation, is used in English to mean a steep, two-sided valley or gully in an arid region.

Now that we are beginning to explore the many connections between Spanish and English, let’s look at a humorous example where a United States company failed to understand how Spanish speakers would read a product name, leading to an extremely expensive marketing flop. The car manufacturer General Motors brought their Chevrolet Nova to Spanish-speaking markets. The company became confused when sales were much lower than expected until it dawned on them that “nova,” or “no va,” translates to “doesn’t go” in Spanish! The company quickly renamed the Chevy Nova to the Chevy Caribe and sales began to steadily rise. This humorous account demonstrates the importance of taking the similarities of language into consideration as well as the differences in cross-cultural interactions.

Back to discussing English words that have Spanish roots, I would be remiss not to mention canyon. In English a canyon refers to a deep gorge, often with a river flowing in it. The difference between canyon and arroyo is that a canyon is typically larger and deeper than an arroyo and does not have to be located in an arid climate. The English word canyon traces its roots back to the Spanish word cañon, meaning a tube or a pipe. Now let’s list off a few entertaining examples of common English words that are anglicized versions of their Spanish sources: cockroach, from cucaracha, mosquito, literally meaning “little fly”, aficionado, which comes from “aficionar” or “to inspire affection”. There are hundreds of such words in the English language, and we encourage all students of English to do their own research and find their favorite English word that has crossed over from Spanish.

Spanish speaking students of English as a second language (ESOL) may be confused by English words with Spanish roots if they study without a teacher. At The English Island, teachers will provide the necessary instruction required to navigate the deep canyons and winding arroyos of the English language. Please make sure to check back in frequently for future articles that pertain to the English language, and English as a second language courses located at The English Island in Atlanta, Georgia, USA!