Disclaimer: Not all Latinos’ writing sucks. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Spanish-language journalists have proven they can spell and use punctuation. And if you’re a Latino reading this, you probably write well.
However, rank-and-file Latinos’ writing skills, including the college-educated, are comparable to mine when I was seven years old.
Typical Facebook comment from a Latina:
Colin, I miss youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
21 extra u’s don’t add anything to the meaning, you chimps.
q t pasa, komo va tu vida todo trankilo masomenos? Ojala jajaja
Some Americans intentionally misspell words. They’re gangsta rap idiots and a tiny minority. You’re a college graduate. Stop it.
Or ThEy’Ll WrItE lIkE tHiS
I can’t even read that shit. Here’s a sample MySpace username:
One Latin use for punctuation: web design. Pullman Bus is one of the biggest bus companies in Chile. Unfortunately their website is an atrociously Flash-tastic piece of shit completely normal in Latin America. Here’s their chump-change web developer’s idea of a page titles that pops!
PULLMAN BUS :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
All caps and 51 colons. Not just 50. 51 (fifty-ONE), bitches!
These examples show more style than substance. Want substance? Here’s an email I got from my last girlfriend in Peru:
parece que ya no existo para ti bueno besitos cuidate
i guess i don’t exist to you anymore that’s fine kisses take care
God I miss her. Here’s one from a Colombian friend:
colin 600000 por nivel no por clace que es cop me pongo ha hacer propaganta para lo de los estudiantes hablamos el viernes en grupo de apoyo perdon la demora estaba muy ocupado
For this translation I’ve deliberately misspelled in English what Winston misspelled in Spanish, and put two spaces between words where he did.
colin 600000 per level not per klass what is cop i’ll see aabout doing adverdising for students we’ll talk friday in meeting sorry for the delay i’ve been busy
We’ve seen two emails without one single character of punctuation, not even for 600,000. But those two aren’t exactly elite professionals in Peru and Colombia. Here’s a typical piece from an educated Latino:
aprendeo de los colombainos , hace dos añso casi no tenain turismo , ahora son toda uan potencia del turismo no sabes y nuestro pais tienmuchas cosas por afrecer , peor al corrupcion la falat d eapoyo a la media empresa turistica no nos deja despegar, por que por elyes como la ese congresista , que solo benefia a la elite y no a also verdaderos empresario del turismo , que ahn hecho por demas ?? solo para su benefico , viaja a colombai y aprende!!!
This piece of shit isn’t worth translating. However, Spanish speakers can see there’s no arguing with me. Latin writing sucks. Here’s why in English:
so, you see, most latinos are horrible writers because they spelll thingz wrrong, but also they dont use punctuation properly, and its not just teenage females that write like that, let me tell you, its the educated professionals in the white collar world too, like most of the people i know in peru and colombia, some work at multinationals that everybody would recognize, everyone knows their products, those latinos write shitty emails just like this paragraph-long run-on sentence separated by commas.
As in reading English, I find subjects and predicates that form sentences. I look for ideas organized in sentence format. Reading Spanish emails I often realize out loud: “This is all one sentence.” One sentence, five lines long, separated by commas.
“You see” and “let me tell you” aren’t exaggerations either. They write exactly what they would say verbally in person. At every point where they’d pause, they add a comma. This is Latino Writing 101.
Root Cause: Latinos Don’t Read
Latinos don’t read. Being well-read is the most important criteria for writing well. Even short of being an interesting or professional writer, writing coherently requires reading regularly. See my friend Stu’s article, Peru’s Reading Culture.
I was once asked about bookstores in Bogota. I laughed out loud – bookstores. There are no Barnes & Nobles or Borders. Nor are there the small, hipster shops like Subterranean or Left Bank in my hometown. Panamericana has books in the display windows, but inside it’s a department store. There are dusty and dirty used-book shops, and not much else. There’s a small book district in downtown Bogota, serving a city of 8 million.
The Latin newspaper industry is a throwback to early 20th century America – mostly tabloids. You may associate tabloids with the celebrity gossip mags at grocery stores. But tabloids got their start by covering violence. The first American tabloid was founded in the early 1900s by a Harvard MBA who got the idea after seeing a huge crowd around a stabbing victim. He realized there was a market for blood and guts. So tabloids in their early days covered violent news in gory detail. They were sold at newsstands surrounded by men in trenchcoats and fedoras. In the last few decades the industry morphed into catering to suburban housewives examining celebrities’ cellulite.
Newsstands in Peru are exactly how I imagine the early 1900s tabloids. Sensational headlines in huge type scream: ‘BURNED to DEATH!’ or ‘Mother of Two RAPED and MURDERED!’ Next to those headlines some publications put a picture of a girl in a bikini. That’s how you sell reading in Latin America.
The Spanish web is as developed as the English web was ten years ago. Especially for technology, there isn’t a Spanish option to stay up-to-date. Latin web professionals have to read English.
I’ve considered stealing content from the most popular English language blogs and publishing it in Spanish. Unfortunately, I have integrity. Plus nobody’d read it.
In the linked article above, Stu attributes the lack of reading to poverty. I whole-heartedly disagree that poverty plays any role. I’ve bought books that cost the same as an empanada. Most cost less than the average lunch. Books are cheap. Reading online is even cheaper.
Latin aversion to reading comes down to culture. Latin boys are more likely to pick up a guitar or go play soccer, and girls are more likely to watch telenovelas or chat the night away on Facebook.
I love Latin America because it’s a more social culture, a warmer culture. But the downside is that most won’t sit down alone and get lost in a book. And they write like morons.
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