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At Home Speech Therapy for Children and Adults in Northern NJ


Spanish-Influenced English: Spotlight on Semantics and Pragmatics

Posted on June 8, 2017 at 11:30 AM

Thanks for checking out my 3rd post of a three-part series on Spanish-Influenced English. Today’s post is Spotlight on Semantics and Pragmatics. If you haven’t had a chance to read posts 1 and 2, check them out now - Spanish-Influenced English: Spotlight on Pronunciation and Spanish-Influenced English: Spotlight on Morphosyntax.

To start, I’d like to give brief definitions of the terms “semantics” and “pragmatics.” Semantics refers to word meanings and vocabulary. Pragmatics refers to social language skills, such as making eye contact, using facial expressions, communicating with different gestures or body language. The purpose of today’s post is to discuss the semantic and pragmatic similarities and differences between Spanish and English and describe how the differences may impact a Spanish-speaker’s communication style or use of English. It should not be assumed that all second-language learners will present with the patterns described in this post.


Both Spanish and English have vocabulary derived from Latin and, as such, there is shared terminology between the two languages. In some instances, there are words that are identical in spelling and meaning between English and Spanish (e.g., actor/actor; color/color), but the pronunciation varies, while in other instances there are words that are extremely similar (activity/actividad; independent/independiente) in both spelling and meaning. Words that are spelled the same or similarly and maintain the same meaning are referred to as cognates.

Cognates may make it easier to acquire English vocabulary; however, there are false cognates (words that appear to be the same, but aren’t) that can make it challenging to learn a second language. There are numerous false cognates between English and Spanish, including, but not limited to, library/librería (bookstore), assist/assistir (attend), and embarrassed/embarazada (pregnant).


All cultures have unwritten rules of behaviors that are and are not considered socially acceptable. However, these rules are not the same between cultures, which makes it difficult for individuals emigrating from other countries to communicate with natives. The differences in our communication styles and pragmatic rules may lead to miscommunications and misunderstandings. Therefore, I will present some fundamental differences between our communication styles and those of Spanish-speakers so that we can better understand and communicate with one another.

In mainstream American culture, we place heavy importance on time, completing tasks, and getting down to business; we like to maintain a certain amount of personal space and do not like when someone approaches us too closely; we expect children to look at adults when speaking and consider it rude if they look down or away (Roseberry-McKibbin, 2002). Conversely, in Hispanic culture, it is customary to initiate business interactions with pleasantries and personal conversations, time constraints are less stringent; close proximity is frequently used when communicating with others; avoiding eye contact during communication with an adult is considered a sign of respect (Roseberry-McKibbin, 2002).

Although the aforementioned semantic and pragmatic characteristics are common between many English- and Spanish-speakers, it should not be assumed that all individuals have the same vocabulary knowledge, beliefs, or behaviors. This concludes my post on semantics and pragmatics in Spanish-Influenced English. I’d love to hear your cultural and linguistic experiences as an English language learner. Please leave me a comment below.

Roseberry-McKibbin, C. (2002). Multicultural students with special language needs: Practical strategies for assessment and intervention (2nd ed.). Oceanside, CA: Academic Communication Associates, Inc.

About the Author:

Courtney Caruso is the owner of Liberty Speech Associates LLC and is a bilingual speech-language pathologist in Northern NJ. She works with children and adults in their homes so they can work on their skills in a natural environment where they are most comfortable.

Interested in speech or language therapy? Contact us at 201-658-4400 or 

Categories: Bilingualism, Cultural & Linguistic Diversity, Accent Modification

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