Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How to Say Gracias in Spanish, Part 2

by Ann Abbott

As you know, I think that when we teach Spanish community service learning (CSL), we need to also teach our students professional skills. One very important skill is know when and how to say thank you to the people you work with in the community.

However, as always, separating professional skills from language and culture is almost always impossible. They go together. And when they go together well, you really stand out. And sometimes all it takes it just one little correction to make everything perfect.

Recently, I received a note from a student who did so many things right:
  • When she dropped off the forms I needed to submit her letter of recommendation, she added a personal note. Nice.
  • She addressed me as Profesora. I wouldn't have minded if this former student had called me Ann, but she didn't know that. I like that she used "Profesora" to be safe and professional.
  • She wrote in Spanish! A note in English wouldn't have seemed unprofessional to me, but going the extra step to write to me in Spanish gave me a very good impression. This is a person who likes Spanish and is willing to give just a little more than is required.
  • She used usted with me. Again, I wouldn't have minded if this former student had used ; however, the more formal address shows that she is mindful of cultural norms.
But there was one little thing that caught my attention, in a negative way. Mind you, this really isn't important, especially given all the things she did right. And really, I don't think we should strive for perfection. But it stood out because the rest of the note was so perfect.

"...gracias por escribiéndola."

In English, we use a gerund to say thanks for doing something. "Thanks for writing it for me."

In Spanish, though, you use an infinitive. "Gracias por escribirla. Gracias por escribírmela. Gracias por habérmela escrito."

Again, it's not that important, I know. I understood what she was saying, and I appreciated the gesture, the thought and the words. Still, I think many of our students strive to improve their language skills, so I want to point this out.

There are so many pat phrases that require a totally different structure in Spanish or a slight grammatical tweak:
  • Thanks for helping me. / Gracias por ayudarme.
  • Have fun. / Diviértete.
  • Have a good day. / Que te vaya bien.
  • See you later. / Nos vemos.
As I thought about it, I realized that greeting cards often use these pat phrases. Could they help our students? Try this:
  1. Ask students to write down the name of the person who most recently did something or said something nice to them. Share the story with a partner.
  2. Ask students to go to, click on "Postales" in the left navigation bar or do a site search for "Postales" and then select the category: "Gracias por todo."
  3. Ask students to look at the postales in this category and note the language they use. (Several simply say "gracias," but a few use the "gracias por infinitive" construction.)
  4. Now tell them to send one of the postales with a personal note in Spanish to the person they identified in the first step, if possible. (If that isn't possible, they should send one to a friend or family member.) In their personal note, they should be specific about what they are thanking the person for and use the "Gracias por infinitive" instruction. Gracias por haberme escuchado cuando me sentia triste la otra noche. Gracias por haberme prestado tus apuntes para la clase de química orgánica. Gracias por saludarme con una sonrisa cuando llego a tu oficina. Etc.
If you use this with your students, let me know how it goes! And if you have any other ideas about how to help students perfect their "gracias por..." language, cultural and professional skills, please share your ideas here.

Gracias por haber leído esta entrada. :)

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