¡Buenos días! Welcome to another look at the letters of the Spanish alphabet. This time we will look at the first letter of this article, the Spanish letter B.
Many English people worry about the letter B when speaking Spanish, because of its similarity in sound to the Spanish letter V. Essentially the letters B and V in modern standard European Spanish are identical in sound, and that sound is a bit like a lazy “B”. Practise making the English B sound first and you should notice a slight pushing out of air from tightly closed lips. Now imagine you’re far too exhausted to make that effect, so just close your lips very, very lightly and make the same sound without the little explosion of air.
To illustrate the fact that V and B are the same, we can look at the word for “cow” which is vaca and “rack” (as in roof rack) which is baca. The spelling is different, but the sound is exactly the same, giving rise to all sorts of Spanish kiddies’ jokes about driving around with a cow on the top of your car! The Spanish tend to make far fewer spelling mistakes because of the regularity of the spelling system. The B/V confusion can give rise to spelling mistakes with words like ven (come) being spelt “ben”.
There are thousands of words starting with the letter B in both Spanish and English which mean practically the same thing. Here are just a few: base (base, basis), básico (basic), biología (biology), biografía (biography), brutal (brutal), boletín (bulletin), bebé (baby) beneficio (benefit, profit), bicicleta (bicycle).
Now for some more “estranged cousins” (these are words that have a similar parentage but their meaning has diverged in the different languages). Blando definitely look as though it means “bland”, that is colourless or tasteless, but in fact it simply means “soft”. Therefore in Spanish we can talk about una cama blanda “a soft bed” or even drogas blandas meaning “soft drugs”, which has nothing to do with their taste or colour!
Another word which has branched in two directions in Spanish is the word banco. As well as meaning the familiar “bank” the word banco also means “bench.
B – bastante. This has two meanings; one is “quite” and the other is “enough”. Bastante grande means “quite big”, bastante a menudo means “quite often”, whereas bastante dinero means “enough money”. We could say “big enough” and “often enough” though, which would be the other way of translating these phrases. Bastante comes from the verb bastar meaning “to be sufficient”. A common use of this is when a parent says to a child ¡Basta ya! “That’s enough now!”
Here is a Spanish saying that is very straightforward and simple; lo barato es caro – “Cheap is expensive”. It’s easy to imagine what this means – just think of those cheap shoes or chairs you bought, and how quickly they needed replacing – making you spend a lot more money in the long run!!
Jane Cronin, Spanish classes and talks.
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