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Learning Spanish from Music Videos: Shakira’s ‘La Tortura’ Dissected

learning spanish from shakira la torturaOne of the best possible ways to learn Spanish, as I pointed out in my previous post on the “Telenovela Method”, is to use Spanish-language popular media (TV shows, music, movies, etc.) that you actually enjoy (really important here) and/or are 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 actually post some music videos (the first two will be Shakira, just because I like her and so do a LOT of other people, so there’s a good chance a decent number of people in my audience will enjoy, or at least be able to tolerate, her stuff) 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 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/intermediate level.  Let’s get started.

A quick side note: if you’re interested in teaching yourself Spanish…

I have a short post and video (that are free to read and view of course, won’t cost you more than a few minutes of your time) on how to do precisely that with the system that I put together which allowed me to become fluent in Spanish in just 6 months after years of trial-and-error by watching Spanish-language TV shows (like telenovelas, hence the name of the system) and movies, reading Spanish books and comics, and listening to Spanish music. If this sounds interesting to you, check it out by clicking the link below (the following link should open in a new tab or window for you when you click it so I’m not asking you to leave this article here):

“The Telenovela Method of Learning Spanish” (a “telenovela” is a Spanish-language soap opera, they’re what I initially used to teach myself Spanish!)

I also include some quick and valuable tips for learning Spanish as well as a couple of the most useful free Spanish-learning websites that I recommend.

Ground Rules

1. I will post the video below this. The way I want you to do this is to play it once all the way through, then let’s look at it and analyze it one verse at a time.  Below the video will be the Spanish lyrics so that you can listen to the music video while following along with the lyrics–this is the intermediate step after you learn what the lyrics mean but before you can just listen to the song and understand everything without the lyrics to read.  Having the actual Spanish being spoken in front of you in written form so you can follow along with the audio allows you to attune your listening comprehension, it’s that intermediate step that gets you to the point where you can understand everything being said without the lyrics to read, they’re sort of like training wheels (thanks to Eiteacher for this suggestion).

2. Under the lyrics will be my translation and analysis of what was said, here is where you’ll actually learn the Spanish that was spoken during the song.  I will post the Spanish lyrics and then the English translation of them.  Use the English lyrics and SpanishDict (I highly recommend you have this open in another tab while you’re doing this) to determine the definition of any words you don’t know (I will cover a lot of the words used, but not all of them)–if the regular definition of a particular word isn’t being used or the word is being used in such a way that simply knowing its definition won’t help you, I will explain it.

3. Next I will pick out various aspects of the Spanish that she’s using that I think require an explanation–I will not cover simple things like the definition of words like “el” (which means “the”), “ser” (which means “to be”), etc. unless there is something about the way they’re being used that I think warrants explanation.  If you don’t understand what a word means, like I said, just check the English translation and/or SpanishDict.  I will link to a lot of external sites with explanations for the grammar used, or the conjugation of a verb used, or the definition of a word–I’m doing this because I don’t have the space here to explain every single detail of what’s going on, there’s an enormous amount of Spanish being used in a single song like this which is precisely why I advocate this method (this is essentially The Telenovela Method, FYI), because you can learn so much from a single song or movie or book, etc.  If you don’t understand a grammatical term that I use and it’s a link, click it!

4. Now, go back and play the verse we just analyzed several times and see if you can hear and understand everything being said, then go on to the next one.

5. If you are confused about anything and feel there’s something I didn’t cover or explain but should have, please let me know in the comments.  As a matter of fact, please leave a comment and let me know what you think regardless, I need feedback and love getting it, each individual comment allows me to make an improvement or fix a problem thereby making this blog just a little bit better each and every time I get feedback of some sort.  Oh, and you can also contact me via my contact form (this will go to my e-mail inbox).

The Video

The Lyrics

[Sanz:]
Ay payita mia, guardate la poesia
Guardate la alegria pa’ti

[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

[Shakira:]
Que te fueras sin decir a dónde
Ay amor fue una tortura…
Perderte

[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

[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

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

[Shakira:]
Ay amor

[Sanz:]
Es una tortura

[Shakira:]
Perderte

[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

[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 la ave que vuelve a su nido

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

[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

Translation and Analysis

“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 is, finally.

Here’s the first verse:

[Sanz:]

Ay payita mia, guardate la poesia
Guardate la alegria pa’ti

Lot’s 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 a very persistent 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 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, “poesia” means poetry, “alegria” means happiness, and the end where he says “pa’ti” is just a sort of slang or informal contraction of “por ti”, sort of like “don’t” is to “do not”.

So, what we get is:

Ay, my little non-gypsy, save the poetry for yourself
Save the happiness 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 do I ask you to come back begging forgiveness
If you cry with dry eyes,
Speaking about her

Oh my love, it hurts so much

You’ll notice the use of the subjunctive a couple times there (“sean”), which I can’t possibly explain here without making this post even more ridiculously long than it already is, plus I’ve written up an entire article on the subjunctive that does an excellent job of explaining it and includes tons of examples, so if you’re not already familiar with it I would direct you there: The Spanish Subjunctive Explained.

“Tampoco” can be kind of funny, it can literally translate in English to “either” OR “neither”, 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 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 to where
Ay my love, it was a torture…
To lose you

She’s using the past subjunctive 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:

Not only on bread does man live
And I don’t live on excuses

In this case “man” is presented as “el hombre” which literally translates as “the man”, which makes it extremely 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 errors do we learn
And today I know my heart is yours

In this case you’re seeing “se apprende” 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?  Literally it would translate as “Only from errors does one learn”, but that…doesn’t sound as good and doesn’t make as much sense – remember, translations are contextual, they convey meaning, as opposed to the literal definition of each word.

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?

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”.  A better primary definition instead of “to walk” might be “to go”, as you can say “Ando a la casa” means “I’m going to the house” but you can also say “Las cosas andan mal” which means “Things are going badly”–see?  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:

Ay my love it hurts so much, it hurts so much
That you no longer trust 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 a previous verse. 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 la ave que vuelve a su nido

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

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 the bird that returns to its nest

I know I haven’t been a saint
It’s that I’m not made of 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.  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[9] 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…

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negro#In_other_languages

It’s just a term of endearment, and despite what it literally means, it doesn’t have any kind of racial connotation–you could very well see a couple in Colombia or Argentina with white skin and blond hair referring to each other as “mi negrito” and “mi negrita”, no big deal. 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 a week and that ought to be enough for her, she should let him go screw around on Saturday because it’ll be good for their relationship.  This is a very common aspect of their 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 song.

After that we encounter the words “castigues”, which is the 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 la ave que vuelve a su nido

“Ave” means “bird”, “vuelve” is from the verb “volver” 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 :D

Now, after that you’ll see, in the last line, “no estoy echo de carton” 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 “carton” 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 doesn’t live on bread alone
And I don’t live on excuses

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

Ay, all that I’ve done for you
It was a torture to lose you
It hurts me so that it’s like this
Keep on crying sorry
I…
I’m not going 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.

Edit (07/22/12): Please see JLA’s excellent comment here concerning the use of idioms and biblical language in this post.  I’d like to point out that some of my translations are intentionally a bit literal in order to help the learner understand how I’m getting the meaning that I am.

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 (it’s an SRS: Spaced Repetition Software).  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 plan on doing Shakira’s “Suerte” next (though there will likely be a post about something else in between).  Let me know what you think in the comments.

A Quick but Essential Note Before We End…

I’ve got two posts that I’ve put up that I’m recommending everyone interested in learning Spanish go read if they haven’t already (if you have, ignore this, sorry): How to avoid wasting months learning Spanish the wrong way (basically this is my “how to get started right in learning Spanish” post for complete beginners) and The Telenovela Method where I cover how to use popular media like movies, music, and books to learn Spanish. Additionally you can check out the front page for a more complete list of my best and most popular posts.

Cheers,

Andrew

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