Episode 49: Reading Vocabulary, Part 1 - Fantasy

Updated: May 17

Do you enjoy reading fantasy or learning more about mythical creatures from other countries? Then today's episode is for you!

Fiction Vocabulary

Awhile ago, I was trying to read a sci-fi / fantasy book written by Anne McCaffrey in Spanish. To my horror, I had no idea what was going on in the first few pages. What I realized is that a lot of the vocabulary I have in Spanish is conversational and academic, with very little in the sci-fi and fantasy realms. I am determined to correct that. As I'm sure I'm not the only one who has run into this problem (nor the only language learner who loves a good sci-fi or fantasy book!), I decided I would do two episodes dedicated to helping others expand their fiction vocabulary. In this first part, we'll focus on fantasy-specific terms. In the second, on sci-fi. And for the cultural tips, we'll focus on mythical creatures from Spanish-speaking countries!


Fantasy Terms

In the following sections, I will include vocabulary for specific things (actions, people, creatures and places), and then a mini-story to help cement the new vocab in your brain. ;) At any rate, it is a little less dry than just listing off a bunch of new vocabulary!


Action Verbs

Here is a list of various actions people take during a fantasy adventure.

(Click on the arrows to see all of the slides, including the Spanish translations!)

STORYTIME

Sir Robin corrió across the road before diving to the ground, arrastrándose slowly through the grass. It had been a busy morning. He had begun the day like any other, poniéndose la armadura before montar a caballo to scour the countryside for any thieves or murderous cutthroats. While he had not found any merodeando along the road, he did see a dragon quietly escabulléndose through the fields, on the hunt for some poor peasant farmer. Sir Robin had immediately sprung into action, and for hours he fought the fearsome beast. With a final thrust he apuñaló the dragon’s heart. The monster gave one last fiery blast before falling to the ground, dead. Exhausted, Sir Robin had planned to return home and quietly collapse. Alas, such is not the fate of those nombrados caballeros in these dark times. A witch had appeared before him, suddenly and soundlessly, and angrily pointed her finger at him. “How dare you?!” she croaked. “He volado across the world and back on that dragon, and now lo has matado!” Generally, it was rude to leave while a lady was talking, but Sir Robin thought this was the perfect time to make an exception. Without waiting for her monologue to end so she could hechizarlo (for assuredly echaría una maldición sobre él; he doubted very much that she hubiera pedido un deseo and then lo hubiera bendecido with some noble gift), he had made a mad dash through the woods. As he ran, the witch desapareció. Now, as he peered through the tall grass, he fervently hoped she was gone. A hope that was summarily dashed when she reapareció beside him.


People

Here is a list of important words regarding different types of people you might see in a fantasy book.

(Click on the arrows to see all of the slides, including the Spanish translations!)

*Hobbit and Noble applies to both males and females.


STORYTIME

In magical lands, often un rey rules over his people with absolute authority. His wife, la reina, is perhaps kindhearted or an evil stepmother. They usually have a daughter, una princesa, who is the most beautiful woman in all the land. Or mayhap they have un príncipe, a ruthless villain or a valiant warrior. At the royal court are many asesores and consejeros, sometimes imparting sage advice or sometimes planting the seeds of strife and war. Also playing political games are the nobility, los nobles called señores and señoras, perhaps even those with the title of duque or duquesa. Perhaps un caballero will mount his horse and go on an adventure, rescuing las damiselas, slaying dragons and improving the lives of the lowly campesinos (after all, the life of un siervo is usually full of endless toil and fear). He might meet una bruja who tries to cast a spell on him, or un mago with some friendly advice and a useful spell or two. If he dares to enter the magical woods, he might run into mischievous elfos or tiny, quiet hobbits. If instead he traverses the mountains, with their many caves, he might run into a stout enano. In the end, however, the true héroe (or heroína) is determined not just by the friends and enemies he meets, but by his fight to overcome the odds and achieve victory over evil.


Creatures

Here is a list of important creatures you might read about in a fantasy book.

(Click on the arrows to see all of the slides, including the Spanish translations!)

*Gigante and Duende are the same, whether you use la or el.


STORYTIME

When a knight travels across this ancient land, he must be wary of many strange and fearful creatures. While there are of course the mortal animals, such as a roaring león or a slithering serpiente, there are many mystical beasts that require magical weapons to defeat them. Take el dragón, with its fiery breath and leathery wings. Or the stupid but strong ogros who lurk along forest paths. Los duendes tend to hide in the mountains, and los gigantes are only a problem if someone has planted a few silly beans. So mount your caballo, your noble corcel, and tread carefully on whatever path you take! Just remember, un unicornio is to be protected at all costs. Do not worry about its flying cousin, el pegaso, as no one has seen this mischievous creature for centuries. And take care when you come across a little ratón or a city rata. They often have the misfortune of having been cursed by a witch or warlock with some nasty disease.


Places

Lastly, here are some places you might adventure through on your fantasy journey!

(Click on the arrows to see all of the slides, including the Spanish translations!)

*According to WordReference.com, cantina is the word used in Mexico, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.


STORYTIME

Welcome to the mystical land of Randover, a place where men, elves and dwarves peacefully coexist. Humanity often builds their homes in los campos or by hills, where in less peaceful times they built las fortalezas to guard against enemy invaders. These centuries of recent prosperity, however, have led many rulers to build grandiose castillos and palacios, with the nobility aiming to emulate them with fancy mansiones. Even the serfs no longer live in chozas or cuchitriles, but instead in quaint cabañas with thatched roofs and working hearths. Visitors seeking news might visit the local tabernas, then stay the night at the welcoming posadas. Across the nearby lakes and meandering ríos live the elves, content in their treetop homes among the ancient, mystical bosques. The dwarves live far off in their montañas, preferring the smell of cuevas and the depths of cavernas. Sometimes an adventurous dwarf will venture out into the world, if only to claim he reached his mountain’s cima.


Remember, learning a language is a lifelong journey.

¡Aprovéchalo, Disfrútalo y Compártelo!

Cultural Tip: Mythical Creatures

Argentina

Nahuelito - this creature is basically the South American equivalent of the Loch Ness monster. There are claims that some type of aquatic creature, 10-15 meters long, lives in the waters of the lake Nahuel Huapi. While there has been no concrete evidence to support the creature's existence, interestingly enough, the Mapuches had a legend of a similar creature called the cuero, and oral legends of el cuero date back 300 years or so ago. I've included links to a website that has the different hypotheses for what the creature might be and an informative article about the documentary, "Bajo superficie, el habitante oculto del Nahuel Huapi," directed by Miguel Ángel Rossi.


What do you think? Does Nahuelito exist, or is it all just a fun myth?


Peru

El Muki - While there are similar creatures in other South American countries, the Muki of Peru is a type of goblin or elf creature that wears mining gear, has a long beard and long blond hair with eyes that reflect the light. His voice is very deep and his skin very pale, and he is no more than 2 feet tall. Supposedly he walks like a duck due to his very large feet. According to my research, the word Muki comes from the Quechua word murik for "to smother" or "to strangle", which makes sense since the miners could inhale dangerous dust and silica. If you want the actual myth story (it's quite fun to read), check out the links below! In summary, the Muki likes to make deals with miners, but these deals do not always end well for the mortals.


Spain, Mexico and Latin America

El Coco - the history of el coco is a bit complex, as it seems to have begun as a dragon (I've included a link with the history below). But nowadays, the creature is a bit like our boogeyman. El coco can hide wherever it likes, has red eyes, and hunts for misbehaving children. The worst version - El Cucuy - hunts the naughtiest of children, who are never seen again. Francisco Goya in 1799 created a scary work called Que viene el coco, where a mother is trying to protect her two frightened children from a hooded, manlike creature. It's quite chilling; no me gusta.


Basically, nowadays, el Coco is a boogeyman who will come, kidnap naughty children, and eat them. I found a lullaby from Spain via Mama Lisa's World that summarizes this well. It goes:


"Duérmete niño Duérmete niño Duérmete ya Duérmete ya Que viene el coco Que viene el coco Y te llevará. Y te comerá."

Is that not creepy or what?!? I'm not sure how a child's supposed to sleep after a lullaby like that!


(On a side note, Coco is known as a female alligator called Cuca in Brazil.)

So what is your favorite mythical creature? Let me know! :)

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