Only a few letters in Spanish are really hard for English speakers to pronounce, but the letter P is definitely not one of them! It is just like the English P, the only difference being that it is slightly softer.
This happens with many of the Spanish consonant sounds; they are lighter and less emphatic than ours, so the P is a gentler sound that at times can be slightly more difficult for us to distinguish when we are listening to it. For example, there is a town in the north of Spain called Palencia which to English ears can sound remarkably like Valencia – so be careful!
There is absolutely no shortage of words beginning with P in English and Spanish that have similar meanings, so here is a small selection of them. “Paciente” (patient, in the same two senses as in English), “pacifista” (pacifist), “pacto” (pact), “pálido” (pallid, that is pale), “paralelo” (parallel), “paranoia” (paranoia), “patriota” (patriot), “pedal” (pedal), “pelvis” (pelvis), “penal” (penal), “perfecto” (perfect), “perfección” (perfection), “perfume” (perfume), “permanente” (permanent), “persona” (person), “politico” (political and politician).
There are plenty more where those came from, but as always, there are also a few words that look as though they match but don’t. One of these is “parientes” which means relatives or relations and not parents. The word for parents is “padres”, which also translates as “fathers”. These problem translations work both ways and you will sometimes hear Spanish people mistakenly using the word “fathers” for parents when speaking English.
Another example of this is the word “particular” which means “private” or sometimes “individual”. For example, you might hear “Es un camino particular”, “It’s a private road”, or “Voy a clases particulares”, “I go to private classes.” “Particular” has a few meanings in English, but the Spanish translation of the most obvious use, as in “a particular place”, would be “un lugar específico” or “un lugar determinado”.
One last example of “estranged cousins” is the word “popular” which in Spanish retains its purist meaning of “of the people”. Therefore the political party “Partido Popular” should be translated “People’s Party” and not “Popular Party” which gives it a difference meaning. Likewise “Banco Popular” means “People’s Bank”, a title presumably aimed at attracting the ordinary man on the street, (I would normally say “man or woman” here, but I suspect the bank was established at a time when women had very little say in these matters). I find it fascinating how these original meanings get diverted to other related concepts through their use over the centuries. In English the word “popular” has all but lost this original “of the people” idea and now makes us think of famous people or catchy tunes. Mind you, if you think about the origins of “pop” music and “pop” culture in general, these were conceived as art and music for ordinary people, rather than for the elite.
On the ever-fascinating topic of the way that words develop, there is a common way in which words extend in meaning which is to add “prefixes” to the beginnings of them and “suffixes” to the ends. A common prefix which can open all sorts of meanings for us is “pre” which means “before”. Here are some examples of what I mean. The verb “to say” is “decir”, therefore “predecir” means “to say beforehand” in other words “to predict”. Notice how the English word takes on the Latin form “predict”, whereas in our language “to say” is not “to dict” – although we do have words like “diction” and “dictation”.
Here is another example, the verb “to suppose” is “suponer”. Therefore “presuponer” means to “presuppose”, that is, to suppose something beforehand. From this we have the Spanish word “presupuesto” for what we would call an “estimate” for a piece of work, that is the “presupposed” price.
I particularly like this final example, which is to do with judgement on the one hand and “pre-judgement” on the other. In this case we have the word “juicio” meaning a judgement or court case, whilst “prejuicio” translates directly as “prejudice”. I like this one because we sometimes use the word “prejudice” which thinking of its real meaning, a judgement that is made prematurely (another pre-word) and is therefore not reliable.
Now for something entirely unrelated and trivial: you remember all those family photos when you instructed granny and the kids to say “cheese” before you pressed the button? Well, the Spanish photographers always tell their subjects to say “patata”. This is curious in as much as this produces a different mouth shape from “cheese”, although it does illustrate rather nicely the openness of the Spanish “a” vowel. I think this is one to practise in the mirror.
Finally let’s look at some more Spanish sayings containing a P word. Here’s a nice one: “Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando”, which literally means, “It’s better to have a bird in the hand than a hundred flying” but of course is our “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. Here’s another rather pleasing one: “Llamar al pan pan y al vino, vino”. “To call bread, bread and wine, wine”, in other words, “To call a spade, a spade.” which is what I try to do, although perhaps don’t always succeed!
Jane Cronin, Spanish Classes and Talks. www.janecronin.eu Tel: 968183258