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Learning Spanish with Shakira’s Tortura


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To expand on the range of articles here on Fluent in 3 months, I will be welcoming some interesting guest posts from other language bloggers. Today's guest post is by Andrew over at How to Learn Spanish – Teach Yourself Spanish with My Help and came appropriately while I was spending time in Shakira's home country of Colombia.

Using music and singing is an excellent means to improve your language skills so I'd recommend you analyse lyrics of other songs in your target language similarly! Now, over to Andrew…

One of the best possible ways to learn a foreign language is to use popular media (TV shows, music, movies, etc.) in that language that you actually enjoy (very important) and/or are genuinely interested in, because it does wonders for your focus, concentration, attention to detail, and, consequently, how much you learn and how fast. Plus, those medias will be using actual contemporary spoken language that you would hear and use yourself if you were in-country, as opposed to some dry textbook dialogue about where the biblioteca is or how to tell the waiter that you're allergic to shellfish, you know?

In this vein, I've decided to take a popular music video (in Spanish, that's what I speak, that's my specialty) for you to listen to along with the Spanish lyrics and my translation and analysis of them–we're really going to go in-depth and break everything down here, so stick around, good stuff to come. I decided to go with Shakira for several reasons:

  1. I like her, always have. Not only do I like her music but she has this odd combination of cute and sexy, sultry, latina going on that just makes me have a huge crush on her. That, and the belly dancing…I just…oh lord.
  2. She's extremely popular, and with regards to La Tortura, according to Wikipedia, “La Tortura” is currently the highest-selling only-Spanish language digital track in United States at 804,000 downloads and the biggest-selling Spanish language track of the decade with sales of over 5 million copies worldwide.
  3. She's Colombian and Sanz is Spanish. Colombian Spanish is known world-wide as being the most neutral and easiest to understand in the world, more so than even, yes, Iberian Spanish (Spanish from Spain) which tends to have some eccentricities you don't see anywhere else.

Colombian Spanish is the most traditional and neutral Spanish out there–if you don't have a specific country in mind that you're learning Spanish for, I would highly advise you to base your accent and pronunciation on Colombian Spanish, there's no one else better to copy.

I should note that I presume you've already got some basic understanding and I won't need to define every single word (such as “ser” or “yo” or “ir”) and explain every bit of grammar, though I will address words I think are a bit outside the basic/low-intermediate level. Let's get started.

The video

[If this video is blocked in your country, then try opening this, or this page instead!]

“La Tortura”, as you have likely guessed, means “The Torture”. This is a video about the relationship between two former lovers–the man, in this case Alejandro Sanz, has cheated on her (Shakira) and he wants to come back. She really, really, reeeaaalllly likes him and has a hard time saying “no”, but has learned her lesson and “no” it finally is.

The way I want you to do this is to play the whole video once all the way through, then let's look at it one stanza at a time, and translate it. Now, go back and play the stanza we just analyzed several times and see if you can hear and understand everything being said, then go on to the next one. Here's the first one:

[Sanz:]

Ay payita mía, guardate la poesía
Guardate la alegría pa'ti

Lots going on here. Ok, “payo / paya” is a Peninsular Spanish (i.e. Spanish from Spain, aka “Iberian Spanish”) slang term that means “a non-gypsy person” – lol wtf, right? Gypsies are still seen as a problem in Europe, and recently got a lot of news attention thanks to France's President Sarkozy, so payita is an affectionate term of endearment (like sweetheart) in this case – as you probably already know adding “ito / ita” to the end of any noun makes it “little”, so in this case “payita mia” translates to “my little non-gypsy”. Because some of you are probably wondering, the word for “gypsy” in Spanish is “gitano / gitana”. “Guardar” means to guard, keep, or save, “poesía” means poetry, “alegría” means happiness, and the end where he says “pa'ti” is just a sort of slang or informal contraction of “para ti”, sort of like how “don't” is to “do not”.

So, what we get is:

Hey sweatheart, save the poetry for yourself
Keep your (poems and) cheeriness for yourself

Next stanza:

[Shakira:]

No pido que todos los días sean de sol
No pido que todos los viernes sean de fiesta
Tampoco te pido que vuelvas rogando perdón
Si lloras con los ojos secos
Y hablando de ella

Ay amor me duele tanto

Which translates to:

I'm not asking that every day be sunny
I'm not asking that there be a party every Friday
Nor am I asking you to come back begging for forgiveness
If you're crying with dry eyes,
Talking about her

Oh my love, it hurts so much

The Subjunctive

You'll notice the use of the subjunctive a couple times there, “sean”, which is the subjunctive third person form of “ser”. The subjunctive is the alternative to the normal Spanish mood (and it is a mood, not a tense) that you're used to, which is the indicative–if Shakira had used the indicative of “ser” in the first sentence, she would've said: “Todos los días son de sol”-“Every day is sunny”, so you see the normal indicative mood of “ser” being used there, “son”, instead of this sense of wishing associated with “(no) pido que” that requires use of the subjunctive.

In Spanish, the subjunctive is used with impersonal expressions and expressions of emotion, opinion, doubt, disagreement, denial or volition–essentially, it's used for anything uncertain or emotional. The indicative is used for expressing things that are objective, truthful, unemotional, and not in doubt.

For more on the subjunctive, see this helpful video.

Tampoco

“Tampoco” can be kind of funny, but it's actually quite simple: it always negates. It can literally translate in English to “either” OR “neither” and which one it translates to simply depends on which one makes sense, whichever one is necessary to properly negate the sentence. It can be either one depending on the context, but regardless it always results in the sentence being negative. You could say “Yo tampoco” which would mean “Me neither“, or you could say “Yo no voy tampoco” which would mean “I'm not going either” – see?

“Volver” means to turn around or return and “rogar” means “to beg”, so “vuelves rogando perdón” means to return while begging for forgiveness. “Doler” means to hurt, so “me duele tanto” (which you'll hear repeatedly throughout the song) means “It hurts me so much”.

Alright, next one:

[Shakira:]

Que te fueras sin decir a dónde
Ay amor fue una tortura…
Perderte

Which translates to:

That you left without saying where to
Oh my love, it was torture…
To lose you

She's using the preterit form of irse to say “you left” (“te fueras”), the preterit of ser (“fue”) to say “it was” (remember, the preterit conjugation of “ser” and “ir” are identical: you have to determine which it is via the context), and “perder”, as you likely know, means “to lose” – tack “te” on the end and you've got “to lose you”. Done. Simple. Next.

[Sanz:]

Yo sé que no he sido un santo
Pero lo puedo arreglar, amor

Which means:

I know I haven't been a saint
But I can fix it, love

“Sé” is just the regular present “yo” form of “saber” (“to know”), then “no he sido” uses the participle of “ser” which is “sido” along with the yo form of “haber” to create “I haven't been”. “Santo” means saint, and that's pretty much it.

Next stanza:

[Shakira:]

No sólo de pan vive el hombre
Y no de excusas vivo yo

Ah…ha ha, now she's starting to call him on his bullshit, I love this line, it's very witty and to the point:

Mankind can't live on bread alone
And I can't live on excuses

In this case “man” is presented as “el hombre” which literally translates as “the man”, which makes it clear that she's using the universal “Man”, as in all humanity, all people, not just those of the male sex, just to be clear.

Next stanza:

[Sanz:]

Sólo de errores se aprende
Y hoy sé que es tuyo mi corazón

Which translates to:

Only from mistakes do we learn
And today I know my heart is yours

In this case you're seeing “se aprende” used in a general manner not referring to anyone in particular, which you'll see a lot, it just means “one [does this action]” or “[this action] is done”, as in “se habla español” means “Spanish spoken here” or “no se hace eso” means “one does not do that” or “that's not done”. Here “se apprende” means “it is learned” or “one learns”, does that make sense?

Also, for clarification, I was a bit confused by these lyrics initially and thought that when he said “hoy sé que es tuyo mi corazón”, he was saying “today I know it's yours, my love” but he was actually saying “today I know my heart is yours” – the confusion comes from a combination of the fact that the word order is a little screwy with the object of the sentence being at the very end along with the fact that “corazón” can mean either “love” or “heart” depending on the context (and if you see “mi corazón” you would immediately think it means “my love”), and either would appear to work there depending on how you do the word order.

Next one:

[Shakira:]
Mejor te guardas todo eso
A otro perro con ese hueso
Y nos decimos adios

This one she says very fast and you're going to have to really concentrate and probably replay it a few times to catch it; what it means is:

Better save all that for yourself
To another dog with that bone [Take that bone to some other dog]
And let's say goodbye

Because she uses “te guardas” instead of just “guardas” that makes it reflexive, which means that the verb in question (guardar) applies to the preceding reflexive pronoun (“te” in this case), so in saying “te guardas” she's saying he should keep it to himself (because “guardas” is being applied to “te”, which means “you”). You see the same thing at the end with “nos decimos adios”, in that case “decimos” is being applied to “nos”, themselves–that's who they're saying goodbye to.

Next stanza:

[Shakira:]
No puedo pedir que el invierno perdone a un rosal
No puedo pedir a los olmos que entreguen peras
No puedo pedirle lo eterno a un simple mortal
Y andar arrojando a los cerdos miles de perlas

Which translates into:

I can't ask winter to spare a rose bush
I can't ask an elm tree to produce pears
I can't ask that which is eternal from a mere mortal
And go casting thousands of pearls before swine

“Perdonar” simply means to pardon or excuse (“Perdone” is the most common way of saying “excuse me”) so it makes perfect sense that in this context it translates to “spare”. “Entreguen” is the present form of “entregar”, which literally means “to hand over, deliver, or turn in” and is how you would express a plant producing or bearing fruit in Spanish, you say that the plant “turns over” its fruit, make sense? Also, notice that the subjunctive gets used here again with the first two sentences (“perdone” is the subjunctive form of “perdonar” and “entreguen” is the subjunctive form of “entregar”).

Now, we get to “lo eterno a un simple mortal”…ok, what's happening here is that “lo” is a neuter article used in a way in Spanish that's kind of hard to explain, but it's sort of like how we use “that” in a very specific context: “that which is”. That's the best possible translation I can make out of the use of “lo _____”, it means “that which is ______”, so “lo eterno” (“eterno” is an adjective that means “eternal”) means “that which is eternal”. Also, “simple” literally translates to, as you might have already guessed, “simple” but can also mean “mere” (see here and look at the 4th definition) and that's precisely what it does in this context.

“Andar” has a primary definition that means “to walk”, but can also be used in all sorts of other different ways. In this case it simply means “to go about”, as in “to go about doing something”. Now, the next word you see after “andar” is “arrojando”, which is the “-ing” form (properly called the “gerund”) of “arrojar” which means “to throw or hurl”. “miles” is the plural of “mil” which means “thousand”, “cerdo” means “pig”, and “perlas” is “pearls”.

Right, next!

[Sanz:]
Ay amor me duele tanto, me duele tanto
Que no creas más en mis promesas

Translates to:

Oh my love it hurts so much, it hurts so much
That you no longer trust in my promises

Pretty straightforward: we've already covered “doler” and “me duele tanto”, “creas” is the present subjunctive “tu” form of “creer” which means “to believe”, and “promesas” is “promises”. Done.

Next:

[Shakira:]
Ay amor

[Sanz:]
Es una tortura

[Shakira:]
Perderte

Already covered this, shouldn't be any confusion here. Next:

[Sanz:]
Yo sé que no he sido un santo
Pero lo puedo arreglar, amor

[Shakira:]
No sólo de pan vive el hombre
Y no de excusas vivo yo

[Sanz:]
Sólo de errores se aprende
Y hoy sé que es tuyo mi corazón

[Shakira:]
Mejor te guardas todo eso
A otro perro con ese hueso
Y nos decimos adios

Again, this is just a repeat of previous verses. Next.

[Sanz:]
No te vayas, no te vayas
Oye negrita mira, no te rajes
De lunes a viernes tienes mi amor
Déjame el sábado a mi que es mejor
Oye mi negra no me castigues más
Porque allá afuera sin ti no tengo paz
Yo solo soy un hombre muy arrepentido
Soy como el ave que vuelve a su nido

Yo se que no he sido un santo
Es que no estoy echo de cartón

Holy crap. This one's going to take a while. Ok. First, here's the translation and then we'll go back and analyze it bit-by-bit:

Don't go, don't go
Listen, baby, don't run away
From Monday to Friday you have my love
Leave Saturday to me, it's better that way
Listen baby, don't punish me anymore
Because, out there, without you I have no peace
I'm just a very repentant man
I'm like a bird that returns to its nest

I know I haven't been a saint
It's just that I'm not made of stone [lit. “cardboard”]

The first thing that might confuse you is the word “negrita” and…oh boy, this word. This is one of the funniest and most difficult words in the Spanish language to explain to English speakers. Let me just first say that it's a very common term of endearment that's roughly equivalent to our “baby” or “sweetie”–that's what it means and that's all it means. It does not have any kind of racial connotation whatsoever. That said, the word for “black” in Spanish is “negro”, which is what this word is derived from, and means something sort of like “my little blackie” (but minus the racial connotation that would obviously have in English) and what it literally translates to is…brace yourself :D…”my little negro”. I swear I'm not jerking your chain. Here, straight from Wikipedia:

However, in Spanish-speaking countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay where there are few people of African origin and appearance, negro (negra for females) is commonly used to refer to partners, close friends or people in general independent of skin color…Negrito has come to be used to refer to a person of any ethnicity or color, and also can have a sentimental or romantic connotation similar to “sweetheart,” or “dear” in English…

Ok, moving on…

The next thing he says is “no te rajes”. “Rajar” is a verb that literally means “to crack or slice”, however it's also used as a slang word meaning many different things, one of which is “to fail, give up, or run away”, which is what it means here. After that he says,

De lunes a viernes tienes mi amor
Déjame el sábado a mi que es mejor

This is such a fun song, you get a bit of insight into the Latin American culture as well as learning the language. He says that she has his love from Monday to Friday, but that it would be best if she let him have Saturday as “his day”, or as a sort of day off–meaning that he's faithful to her 6 out of 7 days of the week, figuratively speaking, and that ought to be enough for her, she should let him go screw around occasionally because it'll be good for their relationship.

This is a very common aspect of Latin culture: in many places the men are expected to cheat, to sleep around, they're not considered “men” if they don't, and the women are expected to tolerate it. It's part of the “machismo” culture. The general feeling seems to be that as long as he's a good boyfriend/husband the rest of the time and takes care of his woman/family, and he's discreet about it, then there's nothing wrong with him having a mistress or two and occasionally taking some time off to go mess around with them. That's just how men are, and that's that. So it's not surprising at all, to me, to see these sort of lyrics in a Spanish-language song.

After that we encounter the words “no (me) castigues”, which is the negative imperative (command) form of “castigar” which means “to punish”, and “arrepentido”, which is an adjective that means “repentant”.

And in the next line we encounter more of the same as above:

Soy como el ave que vuelve a su nido

“Ave” means “bird”, “vuelve” is from the verb “voler” which means “to return”, and “nido” is “nest”. He's like the bird that returns to its nest: she's his nest, and although he may occasionally stray, he'll always come back to his home, lol 😀

Now, after that you'll see, in the last line, “no estoy hecho de cartón” which literally translates to “I'm not made of cardboard”, but this is not the contextual translation, this is how Spanish-speakers say “I'm not made of stone”, it's their equivalent expression that simply means “I'm not emotionless”, it means the same thing, even though the word they use is “cartón” which means “cardboard” instead of “stone”.

Alright, finally, we're almost done, here's the very last part:

[Shakira:]
No solo de pan vive el hombre
Y no de excusas vivo yo.

[Sanz:]
Solo de errores se aprende
Y hoy se que es tuyo mi corazón

[Shakira:]
AAaaay… AAaaay… AAaaay… Ay Ay
Ay todo lo que he hecho por tí
Fue una tortura perderte
Me duele tanto que sea así

Sigue llorando perdón
Yo ya no voy a llorar… por tí

Which translates to:

Man can't live on bread alone
And I can't live on excuses

Only from mistakes do we learn
And today I know my heart is yours

Oh, all that I've done for you
It was torture to lose you
It hurts me so much that it's like this
Keep on crying “sorry”
I…
I'm not going to cry for you anymore

Alright, so we've got some previous verses repeated and then we get to: “todo lo que he hecho por tí”, which means “all that I've done for you”. Here you're seeing, again, the use of the neuter term “lo” in the form of “lo que” which, as we've already learned, means “that which” or “that which is”. In this case in functions, with the “yo” form of haber (“he”), to mean “that which I have”. Then you've got “hecho” which is the past participle of “hacer” (“to do”), so you get “that which I've done”.

Also, you'll see some stuff you've already seen (“me duele tanto perderte”, which you know means “it hurt so much to lose you”), and then you see “sea así”. “Sea” is the subjunctive of “ser” and is used in this case because it's an expression of emotion. “Así” means “so” or “this way” or “in this manner”. “Sigue” is the imperative of “seguir” which means “to continue”, “llorando” is the gerund of “llorar”, so she's saying “continue crying ‘sorry'”. “ya” is a funny word and literally translates to “already” or “still” and you'll see it used a LOT in Spanish, many times where we wouldn't used the words “already” or “still”, and if you'll click that link that goes to the dictionary definition of it and scroll down to the 4th definition of the word, you'll see “any more” listed as one of contexts in which “ya” can be used.

Well that's that. We're done. I sincerely congratulate you if you've managed to stay with me this long, if you needed to break up this post into a few separate learning sessions I don't blame you, in fact I'd be shocked if you didn't.

I highly recommend you note all new words that you've learned for review, my personally preferred method of this is a program called Anki (for iPhone, for Android, and for everyone else), it's an SRS (Spaced Repetition Software) that Benny talked about here. I'd really like to hear your opinion about this sort of thing, most importantly: did you learn a lot from it?

I've found that doing this sort of thing, for me, is fantastic; I love doing this with music videos, TV shows, movies, etc. (for more information on that check out my post on “The Telenovela Method”), you learn an enormous amount of the language just from a few minutes of one of those. Any suggestions for how to go forth with this? Modifications? Improvements? I've just written a similar explanation to Shakira's “Suerte” (Spanish version of “Whenever, Wherever”) so if you liked this maybe consider coming on over and subscribing.

Cheers,

Andrew

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Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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