Truth and Lies in Spanish


It is hard to believe I am already at the halfway point of my Spanish education at FSI. Next week I have my evaluation, which is basically like a mock test session. Oh yeah — I don’t think I have mentioned that I am able to take the exam and receive an ILR score. And my exam is already scheduled in late August!Which brings me to the title of this post: Sometimes, to be successful in learning Spanish, you have to lie a little bit.learning Spanish, ILR scale, Foreign Service Institute, foreign service spouseDramatic? Not as dramatic as El Talisman.As Kail wrote, learning Spanish is about saying what you can say — not what you want to say. This is especially true during one part of the exam’s speaking portion (there is a speaking test and a reading test), during which test-takers must give a brief presentation on a topic they select among a handful of choices. And you only have a few minutes to prepare.In class, we’ve practiced this exercise several times. The themes can run the gamut of policy issues. In our practice sessions, I have talked about immigration, disparities between developed and developing nations, the prevalence of cell phones and other mobile communication devices, domestic violence and aging.Let me be clear: I don’t even know whether I could give a cogent argument on these topics in English, let alone in Spanish. But the point isn’t to demonstrate the depth of your knowledge on the subject at hand; rather, it’s to demonstrate your ability to communicate effectively on topics that may or may not come up in conversation in your course of work as a Foreign Service Officer (or as a Foreign Service Officer’s spouse, like me).So citing statistics, referencing anecdotes and offering solutions are all tactics that are encouraged to deliver a strong presentation. Are the statistics true? Maybe, maybe not. They’re not not true. Or at least, your exam proctor has no way of knowing. I might just say, “I read that Americans spend something like 68% of their day using a mobile device.” Or, “My friend told me her grandmother is in her 80s, and while her short-term memory isn’t very strong, her long-term memory is.”I’m not presenting them as facts, so it’s harmless, right?When it comes to offering solutions, do I really think the government has a responsibility to help [insert whatever subgroup I happen to be discussing] and that the best way to administer this help is to implement a new law or regulation, give more money to an existing federal program and/or create a new federal program altogether? No, but I know how to say that in Spanish so I’m going to say it.Note: These white lies apply only when I’m speaking Spanish, so you don’t have to worry about things I tell you in English.What do you think: Is it OK to tell a little white lie every now and then?

Published by La Vie Overseas

I'm Natasha -- writer, runner and wife to a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Current location: Frankfurt, Germany.

8 thoughts on “Truth and Lies in Spanish

  1. Ha ha, this made me laugh because as a Spanish student, I’d make stuff up all the time! I remember once taking a speaking exam where I had to give directions to the bathroom from our classroom. The actual directions were quite complicated – and I only had 30 seconds. So I made it up 😉 On another exam, I remember making stuff up about my family (saying I had three brothers and lived on a farm, if I recall). Sometimes my lies came out of nervousness, but other times, I just said whatever was easier 😉


    1. Same as Sarah – I fondly remember making up stories about my (fictitious) uncle who lives in Venezuela and liked to fish. I would have never classified any of this as “lies” (white or otherwise) – it is truly just about demonstrating your language skills. I always felt like it made it more fun, too! 🙂


    2. Haha — glad I’m not the only one! In class we’re also always talking about what we did/are going to do over the weekend. My life is only so exciting: had dinner, walked around Costco …


  2. Just saw this mistake at work and had to comment, crops don’t bare fruit, they bear it. A bear is also an animal that could possibly have a bare spot if it got in a fight or was going bald. Could a bear bear a bear cub? Now I’m starting to doubt myself that I’m even spelling bear right?


    1. Haha. How does anyone learn English ever? Two other ones that get to me: there, their and they’re and its vs. it’s. But attempting to learn another language has made me more patient when it comes to grammatical mistakes in English!


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