with Danielle De La Wonk
I can’t pronounce Circus
I can’t pronounce Circus

I can’t pronounce Circus

So, probably the most entertaining thing for me as an English clown trying to make her big break in South America is this… I can’t pronounce ‘Circus’. Every time someone asks me what I am doing here in Chile (it is often, and accompanied by a face that says ‘seriously, what the f**k are you doing here?’) and I reply ‘Circo’, I am met with an even more confused look which confirms their suspicions that anyone must be suffering some form of ailment in order to want to be here. English  vocabulary and all it’s wonderful rolls and ticks, has us barely pronounce the letter R when you sit it next to the rrrrrrrroling rrrrrrrrrs of the Spanish Language. When there are two Rs together and you really have to go hard, like at the beginning of word a that starts with an R (eg: Rey) or when it there are two together in the middle of a word (eg: Barril) you can transform your tongue into a lawnmower, putting just enough emphasis on the sound to get it heard. The roll of a single R however, is such a delicate process that my flat English tongue just can’t take the pressure to perform and has me say a word that sounds like fence or perimeter or something like that someone once said. So, if there is ever a point where it all feels like it is getting a bit to serious I try to remind myself that I have chosen a most ridiculous profession that I can’t even pronounce.

I’ve hit the point with my language learning where I am finally having major breakthroughs. Group chat is becoming easier, I feel less stressed when someone asks me a question (because questions and statements are essentially the same thing, it’s the accent or the way in which it it said you have to listen out for). I still use my ‘Danisms’ though, when people tell me I can’t use certain words to explain what I want to say but  I don’t feel the words I’m allowed to use put enough emphasis on what I want to say. I’ve finally found a friend who corrects me, and boy does she correct me, it’s a like a jab in the ribs sometimes. I could be telling her a really deep an heartfelt story and on the brink of tears and she’ll still pull me up on masculine and feminine.

Because I’ve obtained my second language the way child does their first; looking bemused and then doing the opposite of what has been said, learning a new word and then using it ’til it’s thread bare. I’ve got all the vocabulary, slang and swearwords a hapless clown could dream of, but when it comes to the grammar…  don’t even get grammar in English. But bit by bit it seems the language is revealed to me. My ears once they are ready seem to pick up on new tenses and I become more and more aware when I know that I am using the incorrect tense. My boyfriend says how he loves it when I speak ‘Chileno’, even though the merge has happened quite without me even noticing it. I’m pretty sure that now my dialect is so heavily peppered with ‘Coa’, I’m not quite sure where the Spanish ends and the Chileno begins, a fact I’m quite proud of if I am to be honest.

‘Coa’ is the constantly changing sub language that all Chilenos use, varying from group to group. It is this way of cutting and hashing words together, using words that sound like words or turning verbs or tenses on their heads. It moves fast, your ears have to be witness to the subtle changes, because in 6 months time the word will have been cut and spliced until you can’t recognise it. Here is an example:

To say ‘Really?’ in response to a statement you find astonishing or hard to believe, in Spanish you would say ‘¿De verdad?’ which kind of sounds a bit like the word for vegetable so the response turns into ‘¿De verdura?’. Now you can imagine poor little old me, grabbing onto every piece of vocabulary I can to follow what is being said, I actually think I might be getting it and then all of a sudden we are talking about vegetables and I’m wondering where I went wrong. Someone explained this idiom to me just in time to wrap my head around it before it got shorted to ‘¿La dura?’ which is the last 4 letters of the word. It’s utterly mind boggling but once you enter the sub world of communication it is much fun to play with and really creative. The closest thing I can relate it to is cockney rhyming slang.

Teetering on the edge of fluency I stumbled across this dude, Olly Richards who has conveniently done the banging your head against the intermediate wall with 8 different languages so he actually has real secrets in how to accelerate the learning. It’s amazing what I’ve managed to tune into just with a few of his free emails and an online web seminar. And then whilst perusing the goods I found this on his blog! 5 tips to roll your Rs. Although I may be sad to see the bemused looks on peoples faces as they try to decipher what I’m dong this far away from home, I’ll definitely take that over having the mickey taken out of me for my flat tongue.

Photography: Rossi Dee / Dress: Suze Schnieder


    1. I will let you say it however you like as long it is said with conviction and then you can class yourself as part of the ever evolving Chileno idioms! Normally you’d say it in response to something astonishing that is hard to believe, as a mark of surprise at what has been said.

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