Does learning Spanish help to read menus?

I suppose the short answer is obviously yes, but a more complex answer is “not very much”. It is also tied to how one “learns Spanish”. Most any form of Spanish instruction is oriented to a broad brush of the language, mostly focused on conversational forms and vocabulary. That could be handy in dining conversation but not so much for reading menus.

I used a variety of learning methods: 1) mostly Duolingo, which seems roughly equivalent to most online courses, 2) more recently actual teacher course that quickly became virtual due to COVID, but is interactive and responsive to individual student needs, 3) reading, although mostly the typical books for beginners and students, so little emphasis on food or dining, and, 4) listening, a variety of sources, Netflix Spanish language movies, Spanish language TV and Spanish language podcasts – this is a helpful adjunct to the other methods, but I have yet to find a Spanish language cooking show.

So in all these methods only a small fraction of the learning time is focused on food. Sometimes the lessons on shopping contain as many food nouns and the lessons on dining.

So as the only real quantitative data I can provide from 89 lessons (about 60%) of Duolingo in 502 days I have 202 terms (nouns, verbs, adjectives) directly or at least related to dining. Of those, and just masculine singular version of nouns, I have 124 (only 87 of which I’ve seen on menus) which I’ll list here:


aceite, agua, alcohol, almuerzo, arroz, azúcar, banana, bar, bebida, boca, bosque, botella, brazo, cabeza, café, cafetería, camarero, campo, carne, carta, casa, cebolla, cena, cerdo, cereal, cerveza, champán, champiñón, chef, chocolate, chorizo, cliente, cocina, comida, conejo, copa, corazón, cuchara, cuchillo, cuello, cuenta, cuerpo, dedo, desayuno, dulce, ensalada, espalda, estómago, frijol, fruta, fuego, galleta, granja, grupo, hamburguesa, hielo, huevo, jamón, jugo, leche, limón, limonada, mango, mano, mantequilla, manzana, mar, menú, mermelada, mesa, miel, naranja, nariz, océano, ojo, oreja, oveja, pan, papa, paquete, parrilla, pasta, pastel, pato, patata, pera, pescado, pez, pie, pierna, pimiento, pizza, planta, plátano, plato, pollo, postre, precio, primavera, primero, queso, refresco, reserva, restaurante, sal, salsa, sándwich, silla, sopa, taza, tazón, té, tenedor, tinto, tomate, tostada, vaca, vaso, vegetal, vegetariano, verdura, vino, yogur

If you compare this list to my glossary you’ll see this is only a small fraction of what I’ve compiled just from the menus I’ve looked at.

So, IOW, you’re not going to learn very much of the vocabulary you’ll find on menus in a generic Spanish class. And it will be worse if you just do some quickie conversation class before going on a trip.

Now, OTOH, I have two phrasebooks (one acquired over 30 years ago) and since dining is a big part of what is covered in those guides the vocabulary from those (which I can only report anecdotally as I don’t have detailed analysis) is actually quite a bit larger than I’ve learned in 500+ days of various Spanish learning methods. So a phrasebook can be handy BUT, frankly, those also cover only a fraction of what one finds on menus.

A menu is not prose so all the grammar and verb conjugations and such are almost entirely useless for reading menus. The vocabulary used is quite extensive compared to standard classes. And, especially in Spain, many of the words on a menu aren’t even in any dictionary, so rather unlikely to have been encountered in any Spanish courses. And beyond nouns, other words in the menu entries are closely tied to unique vocabulary of cooking. And some of those words not in dictionaries are just the names of dishes or ingredients.

So, you want to learn how to read menus, here’s what I would suggest (and I’ve never seen any class or book oriented to this curriculum).

  1. read cookbooks, in Spanish, doing whatever you have to do (Google Translate, dictionary lookups, web searches for terms not in dictionaries) to “read” the material and then make your own set of flashcards of every word you think you’ll need to know.
  2. read online recetas (recipes) websites which are easier to analyze and translate and create a set of flashcards from that.
  3. search for any websites oriented to cooking, in Spanish of course, and extract what you can from those.
  4. And, guess what, do what I’ve been doing, i.e. finding menus online and analyzing them.

Now when it comes to food you definitely have to be careful to concentrate your study on the country you expect to visit and be reading menus. There is a huge diversity of food/cuisine terminology in the Western Hemisphere Spanish-speaking countries where terms have different meanings in different countries (or often are unique to just a few countries, even regions within the larger countries) and are quite different (even contradictory) to Spain.

So you’re in for a major bit of work to spend weeks in Spain, dining with only Spanish source material (menus or verbal). So the difficulty of finding what one needs means there is a big hole to fill, which can be the revised purpose of my effort here. A couple more years of studying Spanish and then doing a ton of my four steps above, and then converting all that learning into a form that can be more easily accessed for someone who is merely going to visit.

 

 

A beautiful song

Every now and then I do a digression from my main blog topic of translating menus in Spain to something else, in this case some music from Spain. In my attempt to actually learn Spanish many sources suggest using a variety of techniques, not just a single method of learning. And one, of course, is listening to videos, in Spanish.

Fortunately here on our cable, plus with Netflix and Amazon Prime there are a many programs, some originally in English, that are in Spanish, sometimes with closed captions (more literal than subtitles). But perhaps the most challenging listening assignments is trying to hear the vocals of Spanish language songs. Now actually I often can’t hear the lyrics in English language songs so this is especially challenging for me. While words are not so clear in songs, however, one advantage is that the speed is much slower than listening to spoken Spanish, especially news programs.

The first time I tried to listen to a song was a consequence of stumbling on a Spanish audio version of the movie Desperado with Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek on cable. While almost all the actors have Spanish has their first language the movie was actually made in English. Despite its heavy dose of violence I’ve watched the English version several times. Watching the version on a Spanish channel  was amusing seeing it dubbed into Spanish and with closed captions, given it takes place in Mexico with Spanish speaking actors.

But the part that really got my attention was the opening scene with Banderas singing (if it was him). A bit of searching led to discovering the song he’s singing is Cancion del Mariachi and there is a video on YouTube of this opening scene. Doing a variety of searches I found the lyrics, in Spanish, and various English translations (some pretty bad, a few amusingly not very literal). I merged these lyrics, plus the Google Translate (embedded at end of this post) and then re-watched the video. The first time, with the visual guide, I heard almost every word and after a few more tries I could completely follow the song. Unfortunately, take away my visual cues and I don’t hear so much, which is an interesting lesson in itself.

So that was fun but just background for this post. Later I found another “advice on learning” source that suggested listening to music on radio or YouTube. And they gave several links and that’s how I discovered this song which I really like. At first I was confused thinking Ella Baila Sola was part of the song title but I later learned this was a very popular female duet from Spain. The song itself was titled: Cuando los sapos bailen flamenco. I could translate all but sapos and didn’t believe it when almost the only choice (in multiple dictionaries) was ‘toads’, so When the Toads Dance Flamenco. I then figured this was some kind of expression like “chickens have come home to roost” in English or Hablando del rey de Roma (speak of the devil). But, alas, I can’t find any meaning for the title, so it just must be words the writer chose.

So if you try to play the YouTube (it’s short and very nice song, IMHO) here are some lyrcis to go along with it and you can try to follow the words. And, for me, after nearly 500 days of trying to learn Spanish I do most of the words but can’t follow the song without my visual guide, so my audible skills are way inferior to my reading skills, but other than recordings I do zero conversation in Spanish which is pretty critical to ever developing verbal skills.

Good Spanish transcript Google Translate Good Human translation
Me alegra tanto oir tu voz aunque dormido I’m so glad to hear your voice even though asleep It’s so good to hear your voice although you’re asleep
por fin viajabas como en tus sueños you were finally traveling like in your dreams You were finally travelling like in your dreams,
buscando un sitio para volver looking for a place to come back looking for a place to go back to
y sin poder olvidar lo que dejas lo que has aprendido and without being able to forget what you leave what you have learned And without being able to forget what you’ve left, what you’ve learnt
van a cambiar las caras los sueños, los días y yo the faces will change the dreams, the days and I Faces, dreams, days are going to change and
lentamente te pierdo I slowly lose you I slowly lose you
Repeat: Como un regalo que al ensuciarse tiró quien limpiaba Repeat: Like a gift that when dirty was thrown by the one who cleaned Like a gift that when gets dirty and is thrown away by the one who is cleaning
como un vaso después de beber el trago más dulce like a glass after drinking the sweetest drink Like a glass after drinking the sweetest gulp
con un adiós, con un te quiero y con mis labios en tus dedos with a goodbye, with a love you and with my lips on your fingers With a goodbye, with an I love you and with my lips in your fingers
para no pronunciar las palabras que dan tanto miedo, so as not to pronounce the words that are so scary, To not say the words that are so frightening,
te vas y te pierdo you go and I lose you you go and I lose you
Me alegra tanto escuchar tus promesas mientras te alejas I’m so glad to hear your promises as you walk away It’s so good to hear your promises while you go away
saber que piensas volver algún día cuando los sapos bailen flamenco knowing that you plan to return someday when the toads dance flamenco Knowing that you plan to come back when toads dance flamenco
y yo te espero ya ves, aunque no entiendo bien que los sapos and I wait for you you see, although I do not understand well that the toads And I wait for you, you see, although I don’t quite understand that toads
puedan dejar de saltar y bailar lejos de su charco they can stop jumping and dancing away from their puddle can stop jumping and dancing far from their pool
Porque mis ojos brillan con tu cara y ahora que no te veo se apagan Because my eyes shine with your face and now that I don’t see you they go out Because my eyes shine with your face and now that I don’t see you they turn off
porque prefiero que estés a mi lado aunque no tengas nada because I prefer you to be by my side even if you have nothing Because I prefer you being beside me although you haven’t got anything,
te vas y te pierdo you go and I lose you you go and I lose you
(back to repeat) (does repeat)  

 

So here’s a similar kind of transcript for Cancion del Mariachi

Spanish (very close match to song) merge of several human xlates Google Translate
     
Soy un hombre muy honrado I am a man of honour I am a very honest man
Que me gusta lo mejor And I fancy what is best That I like the best
Por mujeres no me falta I don’t miss women For women I do not lack
Ni el dinero ni el amor Neither money nor love. Neither the money nor the love
Jineteando en mi caballo Riding on my horse Hustling on my horse
Por la sierra yo me voy I am off to the mountain. By the mountains I go
Las estrellas y la luna And the stars and the moon The stars and the moon
Ellas me dicen donde voy Tell me where to go. They tell me where I’m going
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon Of my heart From my heart
Me gusta tocar guitarra I like to play guitar I like playing guitar
Me gusta cantar el “song” I like to sing the ‘song’ I like to sing the “song”
Mariachi me acompaña Mariachi accompanies me Mariachi is with me
Cuando canto mi cancion when I sing my song When I sing my song
Me gusta tomar mis copas I like to drink my drinks I like to take my drinks
Agua ardiente selo mejor moonshine is the best Burning water is better
Tambien el tequila blanco Also white tequila, Also white tequila
Con su saleda sabor with its salty taste With its salty flavor
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay my love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon of my heart From my heart
(long guitar solo)    
Me gusta tocar guitarra I like to play guitar I like playing guitar
Me gusta cantar el “song” I like to sing the ‘song’ I like to sing the “song”
Mariachi me acompaña The mariachi accompanies me Mariachi is with me
Cuando canto mi cancion when I sing my song When I sing my song
Me gusta tomar mis copas I like to drink my drinks I like to take my drinks
Agua ardiente selo mejor moonshine is the best Burning water is better
Tambien el tequila blanco also white tequila, Also white tequila
Con su saleda sabor with its salty taste With its salty flavor
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay my love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon of my heart From my heart
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon Of my heart From my heart

Serious dining in San Sebastián

I’ve been moving to return to doing posts about translating restaurant menus after nearly 500 days of spending most of the my free time working on learning Spanish instead of studying menus. I’ll comment more about this in a future post I’m working on, but as luck would have it I bumped into a subject that requires this post now.

I’ve been fortunate in life to, very rarely, have some superb dining experiences but nothing like I’ll show you here. Interestingly my most fantastic (nearing the level of this San Sebastián restaurant) were in Tokyo or in Beijing, which was expense account business dining (ridiculous companies get the tax write-offs but that didn’t stop me from enjoying my luxury). And for a few very special occasions I’ve indulged in luxury, but again never at this level.

What do I mean? Well how about 240€ per person! And with no drinks! (and given the look of their wine cellar I’d guess that would double the tab). I can’t quite even imagine blowing $1000 for our next anniversary dinner (though it might be fun).

Anyway I’ll get on with this subject. I bumped in an article about one of my favorite people, Lidia Bastianich (I’ve managed to at least go to her restaurant in Kansas City, nothing like this place). In the article she’s talking about her five favorite dinners and she mentions:

Hotel Akelarre

in the hills west of San Sebastián. The hotel itself is really beautiful (and seriously expensive) but its restaurant is over the top. Now I’m sure Lidia can afford this, and as a famous chef she got the VIP treatment I can’t even imagine, but can only dream about. But it’s places like this that make me think about my life choice to pursue “interesting” work over a more lucrative option, but, no regrets, I’ll settle to just dream, especially also the beautiful site (search for this in Google Maps for some fantastic photos)

They have three set menus (9 courses, choice for “main” course, each 240€) that look fantastic. I’ve extracted the menu in Spanish and the English (from the website) and then appended the Google Translations. Of course there is a lot of “exotic” culinary vocabulary on top of the ordinary Spanish. So I’ll come back to some parts of this menu in a future post, but here it is now (a little easier than scanning the website).

First I’ll post the text and human (&Google) translations that explain the three menus I post after that.

La fórmula de menú degustación tiene tres propuestas variadas diseñadas a conciencia para que disfrutéis de la alta gastronomía desde todos los sentidos y puntos de vista.

 

Los clásicos de AKELARRE es una fórmula con la que conocerás nuestra cocina a través de platos que llevan muchos años en nuestra carta.

 

Los Menús Aranori y Bekarki son dos variantes que te ofrecemos para combinar diferentes opciones que incluyen nuestras últimas recetas.

We propose three choices of thoughtfully curated tasting menus, designed to offer you an unforgettable dining experience you will thoroughly enjoy.

 

 

 

The Akelarre Classics is a selection of the most representative dishes of our cuisine through the years,

 

 

whilst the Aranori and the Bekarki are two proposals that combine signature dishes and our latest creations.

The tasting menu formula has three varied proposals carefully designed so that you enjoy haute cuisine from all senses and points of view.

 

 

 

The AKELARRE classics is a formula with which you will get to know our cuisine through dishes that have been on our menu for many years.

 

The Aranori and Bekarki Menus are two variants that we offer you to combine different options that include our latest recipes.

and following the menus I’ll post a quick (edited, generic or non Spanish removed, but a few Basque left in) lexicon of the vocabulary from these menus – see how many of these words you know. OR, guess how many one might learn in 500 days of generic Spanish lessons (hint: not many)

Note: The first column is Spanish (from Website, minor editing), the restaurant’s English translation (definitely human) and the third column is the literal Google Translate with a few of the amusing and classic mistakes.

 

Aranori    
     
Huevo con Caviar sobre puré de Coliflor y Mantequilla de Cebollino. Egg with caviar over cauliflower purée and chive butter. Egg with Caviar on Cauliflower Puree and Chive Butter.
Ostra a la parrilla con salsa Ostra. Grilled oyster with oyster sauce. Grilled oyster with oyster sauce.
Xangurro en Ensalada de Hojas. Txangurro (crab) in leaf salad. Xangurro in Leaf Salad.
Finísimo y ligero Tartar de Buey, nueva Patata Soufflé y Pan de Hierbas Aromáticas. Very thin and light beef tartare, new potato soufflé and aromatic herbs bread. Fine and light Beef Tartar, new Potato Soufflé and Aromatic Herb Bread.
Merluza al Vapor de Algas. Plancton y Hoja de Ostra. Hake in seaweed steam with plankton and oyster leaves. Algae Steamed Hake. Plankton and Oyster Leaf.
Calamar como un Risotto, Flor de Mantequilla. Risotto-like squid, butter blossom. Squid like a Risotto, Butter Flower.
Pojarski de Cierva, Especiado. Spiced Deer, pojarski. Pojarski de Cierva, Spicy.
o or or
Lomo de Cordero y Rulo de Hierbas Frescas. Loin of lamb and fresh herbs roll. Lamb Loin and Fresh Herb Roll.
El Postre de la Leche de Oveja. Sheep’s milk dessert. Sheep’s Milk Dessert.
Refrescante de Cítricos Exóticos. Exotic citrus fruits refresher. Refreshing Exotic Citrus.
     
240€ (IVA incluido) – Bebidas aparte €240 (VAT inc.) – Drinks not included € 240 (VAT included) – Drinks apart

 

 

Bekarki    
     
Gambas con Vainas al Fuego de Orujo y huevas del mar. Prawns and green beans on orujo fire and sea roe. Prawns with Pods in Orujo Fire and roe from the sea.

 

Las hojas y el Foie bajo la lluvia. Kokotxa, Emulsion de Pipas de Calabaza Pan de Ajo y Perejil. Leaves and foie gras in the rain.

Kokotxa, pumpkin seeds emulsion, garlic and parsley bread.

Leaves and Foie in the rain. Kokotxa, Emulsion of Pumpkin Pipes Garlic Bread and Parsley.
Infusión de Caldo Verde, Cigala y Rape Ahumado. Green broth, langoustines and smoked monkfish infusion. Infusion of Green Broth, Norway Lobster and Smoked Monkfish.
Pulpo mimético. Mimetic octopus. Mimic octopus.
Lubina “UMAMI”. Sea bass “Umami”. Sea bass “UMAMI”.

or

Presa de Ibérico a la Brasa, Risotto de semillas de Pimiento y Ajo en tres variantes. Grilled Iberian “presa”, three versions of pepper seeds and garlic risotto. Grilled Iberian pork, Pepper and Garlic Risotto in three variants.
o or or
Pato Azulón Glaseado y Etiqueta Especiada. Glazed blue duck and spiced label. Blue Glazed Duck and Spicy Label.
“Un Poco de Queso antes del Postre”. “A bit of cheese before desserts”. “A Little Cheese Before Dessert”.
La Otra Tarta de Manzana. The other apple tart. The Other Apple Pie.
     
240€ (IVA incluido) – Bebidas aparte €240 (VAT inc.) – Drinks not included € 240 (VAT included) – Drinks apart

 

 

Los clásicos de AKELARRE The AKELARRE classics The AKELARRE classics
     
Ensalada de Verduras del Huerto y Bogavante. Garden vegetables and lobster salad. Vegetable Salad from the Garden and Lobster.
Tubérculos en Infusión de Hierbas. Tubers in Herbal Infusion. Herb-Infused Tubers.

 

Carpaccio de Pasta, Piquillo e Ibérico con Setas y Parmesano. Pasta, Piquillo peppers and Iberico carpaccio with mushrooms and Parmesan. Pasta, Piquillo and Iberian Carpaccio with Mushrooms and Parmesan.
Arroz con Caracoles y Karrakelas en film de Tomate y Albahaca. Snails and periwinkles rice in a tomato and basil film. Rice with Snails and Karrakelas in Tomato and Basil film.
Foie Fresco a la sartén con «Escamas de Sal y Pimienta en Grano». Pan-seared foie-gras with “salt flakes and pepper grains”. Pan-fried Fresh Foie with «Salt and Pepper Flakes in Grain».
Salmonete Integral con “Fusili” de Salsa. Integral red mullet with “fusilli” sauce. Wholemeal Mullet with “Fusili” Sauce.
Trinchado de Vacuno Mayor, Tendón y Piel lacada, “Patatas y Pimientos”. Carved beef, tendon and lacquered skin, “potatoes and peppers”. Carving of Greater Beef, Tendon and Lacquered Skin, “Potatoes and Peppers”.
o or or
Royal de Pichón con Morokil. Pigeon royale with “morokil” (polenta). Royal Pigeon with Morokil.
Gin-Tonic en Plato. Gin & Tonic on a plate. Gin-Tonic on Plate.
“Xaxu” con Helado Espumoso de Coco. “Xaxu” with foamy coconut ice cream. “Xaxu” with Sparkling Coconut Ice Cream.
     
240€ (IVA incluido) – Bebidas aparte €240 (VAT inc.) – Drinks not included € 240 (VAT included) – Drinks apart

Lexicon of these menus (non food words removed, non Spain words removed); words learned in first 88 lessons in Duolingo (equivalent to a one term generic Spanish class) marked in bold. Basque words in pink. So think about how much of these menus you could “read” with a year of high school Spanish!

ahumado ajo albahaca algas aromáticas arroz azulón bebidas bogavante brasa buey calabaza calamar caldo caracoles cebollino cierva cigala cítricos coco coliflor cordero ensalada escamas especiada especiado espumoso etiqueta exóticos finísimo flor frescas fresco fuego gambas glaseado grano helado hierbas hojas huerto huevas huevo Ibérico incluido infusión integral IVA karrakelas kokotxa lacada leche ligero lluvia lomo lubina mantequilla manzana mar mayor merluza mimético morokil orujo ostra oveja parmesano parrilla pasta patatas pato perejil pichón piel pimienta pimientos pipas piquillo plancton plato Pojarski postre presa pulpo puré queso rape refrescante risotto sal salmonete salsa sartén semillas setas tarta tartar tendón tomate trinchado tubérculos vacuno vainas vapor variantes verduras xangurro xaxu

 

Quiero hablar más español

It’s been quite a while since my last post. In addition to all the activities of the holidays I have continued, sporadically, to work on my project that is one of the subjects of this blog. So now I can report some progress.

As a reminder I am (slowly) working my way to develop a mobile application to translate restaurant menus in Spain. To accomplish this I am finding many menus from restaurants in Spain (only Spain to avoid Spanish terms from other Spanish-speaking lands). I translate these using machine translation (mostly Google Translate), then looking for discrepancies in that translation method and using either online dictionaries or Google searches to make better “guesses” about translation. Often terms on menus are not translated accurately (or at all) by machine translation

Once I have accumulated enough raw data (a never ending process) I can create a corpus with Spanish terms and the best English translation I can produce with a “confidence” factor (expressed as a probability). Once the corpus is large enough I’ll write code to extract the best food related (and a few other terms) vocabulary with the highest confidence levels of the accuracy of the translation. Once the vocabulary is “complete” (again a never ending process) I can build my application and then test it on all the menus I’ve accumulated. I’ll judge how well I’ve done this by expecting my translation tool to work much better than other machine translations.

Fine, a useful exercise as someday I hope to actually need to do this while touring Spain, an indefinite “wish” for me. Being able to accurately translate menus, as well as having knowledge of Spain’s cuisine I’d be able to wisely select my choices.

But, my sister, who was quite dedicated to mastering Spanish, albeit focused more on Mexican cuisine, was critical of my approach. Instead of just building an application her strong suggestion was merely that I should just become fluent in Spanish. A fine idea, but one I find very challenging.

Several times in my past I’ve attempted (not very vigorously) to learn Spanish. Since I lived much of my life in California some fluency in Spanish is almost a necessity. I first tried, decades ago, using the best technology then available, i.e. cassette tapes and accompanying text. Ugh. That was a bust. Later as computer tutorials became more common I also tried those, initially using DVDs (as the sound source, later just online voice recordings). These attempts all failed for me.

Why? For one thing I’m not very good at foreign languages. While I studied both French and German in several years of school classes I never got very far with those. My first trip to Germany was a joke at how badly I could either speak or hear. My only real exposure to having to use French was in Québec, during the time when speaking French was a strong “political” issue. I had a bit more success with that partly because everyone, e.g. waiters in restaurants, insisted on French. My stumbling attempts were at least considered a sufficiently sensitive effort that I had some success.

But with Spanish I have a different problem. The sounds of the language are much more alien to my ear – I really can’t hear the words, especially since, it seems to me, native speakers speak very fast and to my ear the words are run together. And, my attempts at speaking were even worse than my attempts to hear and understand. So this has been very discouraging and so I rejected my sister’s urging to just actually learn the language. Additionally I had the joke running through my head that her years of vigorous effort were analyzed by several other people that she had atrocious pronunciation, barely intelligible to a native Spanish speaker. If she couldn’t do it how could I possibly succeed.

BUT, in my effort to translate menus I’ve also found a serious stumbling block. Even with English menus often I need to have some conservation with the server to really understand the menu. And as I translated more and more menus I found this was even more true in Spain. Certainly discussing food with a knowledgeable server adds to the enjoyment of food (another lesson I learned from my sister who was more skilled at cooking than me and through example demonstrated how dining was more pleasant after discussing menu items in some detail).

So I happened to stumble on a new possible learning method. Just happening on an article on the Net about the best apps for “your new smartphone” (naturally timed with the assumption of Christmas gifts) I discovered Duolingo. Previously I’d done the demos with several of the subscription or purchased online tools with little success. But at least: a) Duolingo was free, and, b) it was available for my phone and so I could do the exercises at any time, not just during some study time while on my computer.

So I downloaded the app (both to phone and multiple computers) and committed myself to really giving an earnest effort to learn, at least some basic Spanish. Now, as best I know, traveling in Spain in the larger cities, especially those popular with tourists, probably doesn’t require speaking or hearing Spanish. When i visited Portugal I knew zero Portuguese but managed to get by OK (with some help from hotel staff making phone calls for me). And I managed to get by in both Japan and China, although with considerable help from the people I was visiting.

But my interest in visiting Spain is out in the countryside, initially focusing on the Camino de Santiago (the French route). Now I’m looking more at the Del Norte route since that part of Spain is more appealing to me that the dull plodding through country that looks a bit too much like the Great Plains or Central Valley of California. In such areas I would expect that at least some minimal conversational skill would be necessary. My hope would be: a) I could ask Spanish speakers to speak more slowly and thus hear each word, and, b) that my poor pronunciation wouldn’t prevent them from (mostly) understanding me.

So I’ve now worked as hard as I can on Duolingo. I strongly recommend this for anyone following my blog who might have the same need, especially as it is free (gracias to the community who create these lessons). I’ve made it through 12 days and 12 of the lessons. Duolingo requires a LOT of repetition and thus this forces me to work hard enough at estudio that I actually have made some progress.  Even the sentence I used as the title of this post would have been impossible for me prior to Duolingo.

In the first part of each exercise Duolingo introduces one to vocabulary (and without the more academic approach to grammar, i.e. simple conjugation of verbs). Then the exercises move more and more to responding to spoken phrases or sentences by: a) writing what was said in English, and, b) much harder, writing what was said in Spanish. Each exercise gets steadily harder making it difficult to “guess” and thus requiring actually learning something, especially when one has to actually type the Spanish (from an utterance), especially being picking about getting gender and verb conjugation right. The sheer repetition is working for me.

Despite my best progress ever attempting to learn Spanish I: a) still find it difícil to “hear” the utterance spoken at full speed.  I often either cannot hear the spaces between words or miss subtle bits (I really have trouble hearing una vs un). But since I must get every drill question right before I can proceed I muddle through. So thus far Duolingo reports I’ve now encountered 308 words (many useless for my purpose, also they count each version of a verb as a separate word). Thus far, as far as verbs go I’m still only in the present tense and with the singular persons (figuring out at usted is third person like él or ella was fun since Duolingo mostly uses the informal second person tú  as ‘you’, which often would be rude for me to use in conversation).

While Duolingo focuses on conversation instead of the typical more “academic” language study (all the grammar details, especially conjugations) I’ve done more exploration with other tools (especially spanishdict.com and Wikipedia) to go beyond the Duolingo simple lessons. I’m accumulating some of my own “lessons” to supplement the Duolingo lessons.

Now another challenge for me is that I’ve also learned, in past language learning efforts, that I’m fairly good at immediate duration memory. So while I’m intensely involved I learn to recognize many words. Unfortunately weeks later I’ve forgotten most of those. So, with Duolingo I actually repeat finished exercises to continue repetition which is key.

BUT, repeating everything is time-consuming and not that helpful. The real repetition I need to do is the vocabulary (or sometimes grammar) that I do badly. So now I’m thinking about another bit of programming for my own learning tool.

Once before I built a fairly complex bit of code to extend my English vocabulary. Using something built into Kindle I would mark English words that I either didn’t know at all (like reading more “academic” texts that use more esoteric vocabulary) or that I wasn’t really sure about. Kindle had a drill application that accumulated the words I’d mark as I encountered them in some book. But the Kindle drill, like Duolingo, wasn’t very “smart” about focusing my drill time on the words that gave me the most trouble. So in my own app I developed a scoring system that adjusted my drill to the words I most often missed and also then made sure all but the easiest (for me) words were at least repeated some. I spent a lot of time tuning how that algorithm worked but never was completely satisfied with it.

So with Duolingo as a model (incomplete for what I need) and all my past efforts at learning languages I soon will begin to build my study app (a fancy version of the classic flashcards, especially for verbs and gender). I can move all my Duolingo vocabulary to that app, plus much of what I’ve accumulated from menu study, plus just grabbing more words not found in either source from either: a) various lists I’ve found of the “most common” Spanish words, or, b) from going through a couple of dictionaries, tourist phrase books and grammar books I’ve purchased for my Kindle.

Eventually I would expect my drill app to be sufficient to potentially get by in parts of Spain where I might not find any English speakers. One thing I have learned from my foreign travel is that travel itself (public transportation, getting directions) often requires speaking to people who don’t know English (say, unlike typical tourist destinations, i.e. city hotels, museums and restaurants).

But all this is just a start. I know, largely from my experience in Québec that “immersion” is the real way to learn a language. To be someplace where there is no English mandates that I at least stumble through some sort of conversation to get what I need. Mi esposa loved her weeks in Oaxaca and wants to go back (which I’ve resisted) so perhaps I’ll give in and make the trip she wants as preparation for Spain (just as Québec can be a shorter preparation trip for going to France).

So, I won’t belabor this point much more in posts since I’ve focused this blog on food in Spain and the Camino. My efforts to learn a language are probably even more boring to my readers. But I will supplement some of my posts purely about food terms with a bit more of the conversational stuff I pick up through this other study.

 

 

Blog note

After consolidating terms from numerous menus, plus the recent post about restaurant terms, I substantially updated the page under the tab RESTAURANT PHRASES. The main change was the addition of a list of phrases which I’ll include here for convenience. Enjoy!

 

In this list the notation {x|y} means this word occurs with either x or y in this position, usually this is gender in adjectives, so {a|o}. [x] means optional, most often [s].

a elegir to choose [from]
a tu elección at your choice
acompañad{a|o}[s] accompanied
al centro in the center (of table, i.e. for sharing)
al estilo X in the style of X
al gusto to taste (doneness), i.e. cooked to order
al peso by weight
bebida[s] drinks
carta the a la carte menu
casa literally house, from this restaurant
caser{a|o} homemade
combinados combinations
degustación tasting/taste (often a separate menu)
del día of the day
diario daily (available item or open)
elaboración preparation
eliges tú los ingredientes you choose the ingredients
en temporada in season
entrantes starters (aka appetizers)
especialidad specialties
horario hours (as in when it is open)
incluid{a|o}[s] included
ingredientes ingredients
mesa table (different from tabla)
para acabar to finish (after main part of meal)
para comer to eat (main part of menu)
para compartir to share
para picar to nibble on (aka snacks or appetizers)
por encargo on request
postres desserts
precio[s] price
primeros [platos] (primer) first course
segundos [platos] second course
selección/seleccionado selection/selected
servido [con] served [with]
surtido assortment
tabla board/plank or platter (usually an assortment, often of ham)
unidad unit (abbreviation uds)
vari{e|a}d{a|o}[s] assorted, varied, variety

Entered León Province

I’m finally out of Palencia province and now in León province in autonomous community of Castile and León. “in”, of course, is to be taken figuratively, not literally, as I just finished enough miles on treadmill in the basement to reach Sahagún, the first town along the Camino on east side of León province. 259.98 miles from the start. That’s not many miles for ten months but I’ll also hit another milestone of 6000 miles on stationary bicycle which isn’t too shabby, in fact, more than I used to do for real when I lived in California and real biking outside was feasible.

Now my “progress” on the virtual trek is boring content so I’d hoped to bring you some new tidbits of information about menus, but, alas I couldn’t find any. Between Trip Advisor and Google I had nearly 20 candidate establishments who have food but none have any online menus. Thus I have no source material to examine. And while the pictures (from the few web sites) or geo-located on Google show plenty of food there are no words. This is disappointing since all the small towns all through Palencia haven’t had menus to translate. I didn’t even see a photo of the blackboards outside restaurants that frequently are menus. And the only photo I found of a menu was the English menu and thus not interesting.

So rather than leave you with nothing about translations I also found the 15 most interesting things to do in Sahagún (effectively all related to religion) and so extracted a few words. Silly me for not knowing Iglesia since it is rather common.

Arte Sacro Sacred Art
Castillo Castle
Iglesia Church
Carcel Jail
Monasterio Monastery
Museo Museum
Oficina Office
Palacio Palace
Puente Bridge
Ruta Route
Santuario Sanctuary
Semana Santa Holy Week
Turismo Tourism

So the trek across Castile is still rather boring so I’m actually glad I’m only doing the virtual version.

Virtual trek landscape observations

This isn’t a Spain food post but is my observations, via remote means, about my virtual trek along the Camino. I’ve mentioned that, as an incentive to exercise, I convert miles I do on the treadmill in the basement to position along the GPS track I have of the Camino de Santiago. I then use Google’s Streetview and satellite images to try to “see” what the trek actually looks at where I’m “at”.

What triggered this post was my searching for restaurants along the trek that have online menus. I’ve reached Ledigos in Palencia province of Castilla y León  autonomous community. I’ve been trekking across Palencia for over a month now (an actual trek would be a few weeks). Ledigos has a few places to eat but nothing online I can analyze.  That’s been true of all the various towns along this stretch of the Camino.

In my previous post I talked about extracting Spanish food terms from various online lists. This is useful for expanding the corpus I’m building to then have code extract an extensive vocabulary that would be useful in interpreting menus in Spain and deciding what to (or not to) order. Lists are helpful but not very interesting to process. The Spanish terms with English definitions/translations are just mindless mechanical work (automating processing these lists is very difficult). I don’t mind tedium of this kind of processing but I don’t learn much. The dictionaries or glossaries that are entirely in Spanish are a bit more interesting since I use machine translation of the Spanish to English and often these translations require additional investigation to find out what the terms really mean. That’s a bit more interesting and helps me learn a bit (not just mindlessly accumulate raw data).

But restaurant menus are far more interesting. They often use terms that defy machine translation and thus require a lot of investigation. Thus I learn a lot from these. So being a bit bored with processing lists and not finding any online menus along this stretch of the Camino I used Google maps to find larger towns that are more likely to have menus to see. In the province of Palencia there are not many of these towns; in fact, only the city of Palencia is large enough to provide some online material. And that’s what I’m working on in my food terms part of my adventure and will have some posts on those menus.

So searching the map of Palencia revealed even more of the landscape than I’ve “seen” along my virtual trek. And, frankly, what I see is hot, dry, dusty and boring countryside with sleepy little nondescript towns. A real trek on this stretch would not be very interesting.

Here in Nebraska I have access to three trekking trails that are rural and would require more than a day to walk. First is the nearby MoPac, a rails-to-trails conversion that starts about 20 miles west of Lincoln and goes into the city. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this concept the right-of-way that was granted to build railroads often reverts back to state when the railroad is abandoned. While the railroad was operating the route was transformed to level with gentle curves, either filling in depressions or cutting grades through hills. Here there are numerous small streams so the railroad required bridges and those can be refurbished to provide the walking path. So the MoPac (and others) make for easy and sometimes pleasant walking. Since many of these railroad routes were built when train engines still burned coal (or even wood) there is usually additional area along the side of the tracks so embers didn’t ignite crops or houses. So today the MoPac is overgrown with “wild” brush and trees, often 50m or so on both sides of the trail. As a result hiking is often in the shade, something definitely not the case in Palencia. But there are non-shady stretches along the MoPac that can be seriously hot in summer with intense sun.

A second trail is the Wabash, another rails-to-trails in Iowa. It starts on the south edge of Council Bluffs and continues all the way to Missouri, nearly 70 miles, so more than a day hike. This trails is even more overgrown and shaded than the MoPac. So despite being surrounded by farms, usually within 50m of the trail, it feels more like wilderness. The Wabash goes through a number of towns and a few of those now have refreshment (but not overnight lodging) for trekkers. Doing the entire length of Wabash would take multiple days (possibly doable in one day on a bike, although biking speed on the unpaved trail is much lower than paved road biking, so doing the entire Wabash is harder than doing a Century ride). Thus a trekker would need vehicle support at the end of each day to find lodging. This contrasts with the Camino which has lodging, water and food at convenient daily hiking intervals, undoubtedly one of the main appeals of the Camino, all the infrastructure to support peregrinos.

In segments (and recording with my GPSr) I’ve done the full length of both of these trails and very much appreciate that the states chose to use the abandoned right-of-way for recreation. But in some ways I view these trails as practice (or an appetizer) for a real long-distance trek.

So now I’ll tie this together with Palencia. A third long-distance trail is the Cowboy Trail. Nominally (except it’s unfinished) it could be the longest trekking trail in the US. It’s a bit longer drive for me to reach it (I can get to MoPac or Wabash in an hour) so I don’t normally consider hiking any of it. But the Cowboy Trail is right next to a highway I driven multiple times. So it turns out the Cowboy Trail is very similar to the Camino, at least the long stretch in Castilla y León and especially Palencia province. It has little shade and so also is hot and dry and flat and passes through either monotonous fields of corn or soybeans and further west (even drier) through pasture land. It looks a LOT like the Palencia stretch of the Camino.

In my other hobby I do an online recreation called Geodashing.  This involves trying to reach completely random “dashpoints”, just a latitude and longitude. Geodashing requires getting within 100m of the coordinates without trespassing on private land so I take each month’s new set of dashpoint (about 30,000 each month, worldwide) and analyze if I can reach them (i.e. drive close, often on very remote and sometimes poor roads). As a consequence, having done this for over 10 years, I’m pretty good at analyzing countryside by satellite photos and sometimes Google Streetviews. Looking down from space on features on the ground takes some practice to imagine what there is at ground level. So I’ve had lots of practice with this and thus far doing the same for the Camino route I think I have a good idea of what is around the Camino route. For the Camino there are actually far more Streetview paths (the Google cars seem to have gone on all the little roads in Spain, more so than here in the Great Plains). I’m sure it would be difference to experience it for real but I think I have a good idea about the landscape.

I first learned of the Camino de Santiago from the movie The Way. Later I learned there are actually many branches of the Camino and so more correctly the part of the Camino I’m following is The French Way, aka, Camino Francés. While this is a very ancient pilgrimage route it was closed during the Moorish occupation of Spain but now is the most popular route. The movie makes the Camino far more visually appealing since it mostly shows scenes in Navarra and Galacia; both of these are wetter (thus greener and often wooded, more like wilderness backpacking trails) and have significant topography (i.e. the Pyrenees). But the bulk of the French Way is actually in flat and boring farm country. While the crops in Spain are different than the Cowboy Trail in Nebraska farmland is farmland and not the appealing scenery of other parts of the Camino.

But wrapping this long post up I want to comment on another interesting feature. That is the relative lack of human habitation outside the small towns.

Several decades ago I did an organized bicycle trip through southern Germany and Austria. Many people on that ride were from the midwest US so we discussed differences between rural areas in Germany vs the US. A very pronounced and obvious difference was the lack of farmhouses out among the fields. It seemed, since on a bike we notice hills, that all the farmers lived in small towns on hills and only crops are present in the bottomlands. At first we speculated this was a historical defensive choice as farming is many centuries older than in the US and Europe had a whole flock of wars. But we later learned the more obvious answer was that hills are drained and dry and so not very good for crops so houses were built there leaving the better-watered areas just for crops.

So that is another very noticeable difference between the three tails I described here in Nebraska and the Camino. When you can see beyond tree cover there are farmhouses everywhere on the Nebraska trails. And from the satellite and Streetview images there are almost none in Spain, just like Germany. The other really noticeable difference (which is correlated with lack of farmhouses) is that fields here are much larger and usually quite regular. This is a consequence of the land policies in the US where the government acquired vast tracts of “empty” land (as the sarcasm goes, “stolen fair and square” from the original peoples) and made these easily available to homesteaders. Thus, at least west of Ohio, most of the farm country in midwest US has a grid of roads (many now abandoned but still visible in satviews) on one mile spacing, aka, “section lines”. A section in the US is 640 acres or one square mile. In fact, an completely different geographical reference system is used, known a township/range and section than longitude or latitude.

The homestead act allow people to acquire a quarter section (160 acres) often free or at least very cheaply. So often each square mile had four farm houses, now with many abandoned. Unlike the irregular patchwork quilt of fields I see in Palencia fields here are almost entirely regular (not true in the older parts of the US, i.e. the eastern states).

In the US those original homesteads have mostly been consolidated into larger blocks of land. With automation it’s entirely feasible (and economically necessary) to farm at least an entire section if not several sections. At the time when this land was originally opened (19th century) such large farms were not feasible.

I happen to know all this as I am in the process of obtaining title to a “small” farm in Oklahoma where my mother’s family lived. That farm is a mere 80 acres, 1/2 of the original tract of the typical quarter section of land grants. Before WWII it was feasible for a family to live on such a small farm, raising some crops for income and others for personal consumption. The titles to the land I will inherit are a mess, stretching back to the early 20th century. But one feature of land ownership, now reversed with “corporate” farming, was original tracts get divided through inheritance. So my little 80 acre farm will have three owners (once all the legal process is completed). My father’s family farm was divided among 14 owners. So in the US there are these two competing trends, dividing larger tracts into smaller ones and then (usually through sale by heirs who don’t want the farm or small farmers who can’t economically farm such a small tract) into much larger tracts.

Now looking at the aerial view of Palencia it’s clear the process of subdividing land has been going on a very long time and thus creates the patchwork quilt of small tracts. When I toured Portugal two decades ago, especially in the area south of Lisbon the “modern” trend typical here in the US was occurring. Small farms were not economically viable once Portugal joined the EU so small tracts were being consolidated into larger ones. Much of the farm country south of Lisbon looks a lot like the midwest US. In fact, I was surprised to see the center pivot irrigation systems sprouting up with equipment that was produced in Nebraska (the origin of the invention of center pivot irrigation, now home to most of the producers of that system). Palencia seems to have escaped this consolidation process but I suspect some of the competitive economic pressures of the EU will lead to more consolidation in Spain as well.

So the lack of farmhouses actually out on the land is, I speculate, primarily economic (not defense). Land is simply too valuable to waste by building even just farmhouses on it. So the farmers live in the small villages in a more urban land use pattern. Since the farms are still small in Palencia there are many villages, as there were in Germany as I found one my bike ride there.

Having so many villages, often just a few kilometers apart, was very handy for our ride in Germany. Most of the towns had at least a gasthaus and often a market and/or a bakery. This made obtaining food and water easy. If a town didn’t have what we needed the next town was 20 minutes away. But that’s on a bike. Walking the towns are a couple of hours apart and of course that’s what I’m seeing on the Camino. Most of the small towns on that route have one or more albergues. It wouldn’t surprise me that on peak days peregrinos out number the local citizens. When I was looking off the Camino in Palencia the amount of lodging and restaurants, in the villages, declined, for the obvious reason they wouldn’t have many customers.

Now this is where I can make another comparison observation. Through geodashing I’ve been through a large number of small villages, mostly here in the Great Plains. And these villages are wasting away. If they were big enough to have some shops the now nearby Walmart (outside the taxing authority of the town) has driven those out of business (now Amazon is helping finish the job as seeing delivery trucks in the middle of nowhere is now much more common than when I first started geodashing). So these towns are dying. As a result they have few resources, either food or lodging for travelers. So along the three trails I described here long-distance self-supported trekking is basically impossible.

So what does all this mean? For me it has reduced my interest in doing the Camino. Too much of the route is this boring and hot/dry countryside with boring little towns (from Streetview also with many abandoned buildings like towns here in the midwest). Simply not very interesting.

Now the Camino was really not for recreational tourism. Its origin was the religious notion of pilgrimage. Where the route was interesting or the towns were interesting is mostly irrelevant from the classical pilgrimage POV. But all those little towns with resources for trekkers has meant most modern pilgrims are largely doing recreational tourism. And that would have been my focus. In my younger days I did quite a bit of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. Well my days of sleeping on the ground and eating freeze-dried food are over, my old bones want a bed and hot food. So a long hike on wilderness trails in the US was not on my agenda. So seeing the movie, The Way, I thought the Camino looked like a great alternative. Also with lodging and food the backpack can be a lot lighter than my wilderness backpacking. So it looked attractive.

But now, after my virtual trek, it looks less interesting. Spain is still appealing but I suspect I’d do my conventional tourism (with a car and mostly cities) if I get the chance to go. So I might see bits of the Camino (as I have the Cowboy Trail here) but I doubt I’ll walk it. This is disappointing to me to see the reality of the Camino as rather different than the romanticized view of the movie. The Camino can still be great, certainly as religious or spiritual pilgrimage or as a way to meet a lot of people with the many hours of trekking as an opportunity for conversation. But I was looking at it more like doing the Appalachian Trail but with beds and restaurants. And I think that’s what I’ve learned – too much of the trail would be just hot and dusty and tiring. Many people find the Appalachian Trail fairly boring, often called the “green tunnel”. While there is some spectacular scenery much of the AT is just walking through dense trees with no sights visible. The Pacific Crest Trail, OTOH, is much higher and much of it (at least the California stretch where I’ve backpacked) is dry and so there are some grand vistas.

So it’s all a question of what goals one has for a walk. I liked the Pacific Crest Trail but am now too old to do that. And now it looks like the Camino is out too.

So where do I look now?

cata de vinos

I’ve been spending a lot (too much?) time trying to mine Spanish terms associated with wine. Discovering a large list of these is only somewhat useful for reading menus in Spain which is the primary purpose of my project. But sometimes you look where the light is, not where your keys are (this is a cliche in USA, perhaps not obvious to others).

Anyway cata de vinos is not quite what it says literally. The literal translation is simple – ‘wine tasting’, something rather obvious that any of us do when we drink wine, at a restaurant or at a party or wherever. BUT, there is a more formal meaning which is spelled out in this Spanish language Wikipedia article.  This is the kind of tasting “professionals” do to write all those articles (or a description of a particular wine on a menu) in all that wonderful (and frankly somewhat snobbish) wine jargon.

Any kind of tasting that involves comparative analysis requires training but also requires a vocabulary that can be fairly precisely defined and used by different tasters in the same way. We amateur wine “tasters” often don’t really know these terms.

I was surprised to find a number of fairly detailed sources, in Spanish (both the terms and definitions) covering “official” cata de vinos. While many of these terms would not have a precise (or sometimes any) meaning to us amateurs it’s still worthwhile to attempt to dig them out.

So this has been a long duration for me doing this since I found such rich and extensive, but difficult to process sources. By now I’d hoped to provide a more complete post on this subject but I’m still not done so this is just a fragment to demonstrate some of the issues of decoding vocabulary like this, especially for a non Spanish-speaker.

The source I’ll discuss here is Vocabulario del Vino that is reached by the Glosario tab at a site © 2011-2017 Enominer.  Try as I have I can’t actually figure out who/what Enomier is! (no translation I can find)    It is a web domain name as per https://www.enominer.com/ but it doesn’t have an About… to actually figure out what this is. I suspect it’s a publisher of magazines about wine but that’s just a guess. The page name containing the glossary is diccivino.html which, again I’m guessing, I think just a contraction of diccionario and vino. And in the many searches I’ve done trying to expand on the definitions here I seem to have encountered very similar lists at other URLs so despite the © at this site (no idea if it really is their copyrighted material or a copy from elsewhere) some/all of this glossary is published elsewhere on the web. Which, btw, doesn’t help me when I search to just find what I already have as text from this glossary. The sub-heading under the name at this site just says:

cultura del vino, desarrollo rural y ciencias de la tierra Wine culture, rural development and Earth sciences

As explanation of their glossary the webpage explains that it is presenting a formal terminology.

Toda ciencia o materia cuenta con un conjunto ordenado y sistemático de términos y de su correspondiente significado.

La viticultura y la enología no son una excepción.

Aún siendo comúnmente admitido que la cata de vinos es una acción de los sentidos que aprecian sensaciones de aromas y sabor con un contenido más subjetivo que objetivo,
no es menos cierto que hay un conjunto de normas y reglas no escritas que permiten traducir las apreciaciones sensoriales que influyen principalmente en la cata de un vino (vista, olfato y gusto) en valores que pueden comprobarse de una forma objetiva.

All science or matter has an ordered and systematic set of terms and their corresponding meaning.

Viticulture and winemaking are no exception.

Although it is commonly accepted that wine tasting is an action of the senses that appreciate sensations of aromas and flavor with a more subjective than objective content,
it is no less true that there is a set of rules and unwritten rules that allow the translation of sensory appreciations that influence mainly in the tasting of a wine (sight, smell and taste) in values ​​that can be checked in an objective way.

They divide their glossary in four sets:

Términos relativos al color Color-related terms
Términos relativos al aroma. Terms related to the aroma
Términos relativos al sabor. Terms related to taste
Otros términos. Other terms

So I’ve been churning through these using both Google and Microsoft to do the translations. So as a fragment of this work here are a few terms (from the sabor/taste set under R):

rancio

Vino oxidado, licoroso y seco. Es un defecto en los vinos de mesa, pero no en los vinos generosos.

stale Rancio

Rusty, dry and dried wine. It is a flaw in table wines, but not in generous wines.

Oxidized wine, liqueur and dry. It is a defect in table wines, but not in generous wines. 

Purple text is the Google Translation and black text is the Microsoft (inside MSWord translation). Note that Google doesn’t translate rancio to ANY English word. This has been common in analyzing the cata terms as many don’t seem to have a direct English equivalent and thus require a lot of research to make a guess. Microsoft picked ‘stale’. Looking at my usual two online dictionaries, spanishdict.com and Oxford I get a variety of English terms for rancio:  rancid (the obvious cognate), mellow (interesting this is the wine sense), ancient, long-established, stale (bread sense), antiquated, old-fashioned, sour and unpleasant. That’s a lot to choose from to decide what rancio means in the cata sense; IOW, how would a professional taster apply this term and if they were also fluent in English what English term would they use?

So we look at how it is defined. In the first phrase of the definition:

Vino oxidado, licoroso y seco.

Google and Microsoft have some significant difference. MSFT translates oxidado as ‘rusty’ (a valid dictionary literal translation) but Google uses the more appropriate ‘oxidized’. Even a somewhat amateur taster like me is familiar with ‘oxidized’ as a flaw in wine and ‘rusty’ is a chemical oxidation process but not likely to really apply in this case.  Likewise for licoroso  MSFT and Google disagree and in my research I think both are wrong (although Google’s liqueur  is closer.  licoroso is a concept that doesn’t really have a single English equivalent, only a definition which is ‘strong; of high alcoholic content’.

So we still haven’t quite got this figured out but the critical clue lies in the next sentence and the words vinos generosos. Both Google and Microsoft translate this literally (generous wines) BUT in this case this is a very specific word pair that really means a type of sherry as explained in this source which indicates generoso is a regulated term of Consejo Regulador.

Now actually this issue (sherry versus table wines) has occurred many times in studying the cata vocabulary.  I’ve learned that Spain is actually the leading wine producer (by volume) in the world, surpassing both France and Spain and also easily California (which as a former citizen, to me, is US, when it comes to wine). Simply put the fortified sherry wines are quite different from the lower alcohol table wines and thus tastes, aroma (bouquet) and color attributes can be quite different.

So in this case this source is telling us that an acceptable (possibly desirable) taste in sherry is not attractive in table wines BUT it is hardly the same as rancid (I doubt even in sherry this is good) or oxidized or any of the other translations of rancio. So if I were forced to pick an English equivalent I would go with ‘mellow’/’ancient’. And this shows the problem – these words don’t really describe this taste but none of the other translations do either.

In short, especially trying to understand the specialized vocabulary of cata de vinos you really have to have experience tasting, in Spain, in the context of all the wines available in Spain. It’s basically not possible to translate this over to English.

And since rancio looks a lot like rancid so a non-Spanish speaker who saw this as a term describing a wine it’s unlikely they’d try it, which, according to this, they shouldn’t if it is table wine but should if it’s sherry.

I had planned to discuss several other R taste terms but this post is already too long so I’ll merely mention one more:

retronasal

Es el aroma de menor intensidad que el olfato que se percibe por vía interna desde el paladar cuando respiramos por la boca con una pequeña cantidad de vino en la cavidad bucal.

Aftertaste Retronasal

It is the aroma of less intensity than the smell that is perceived by internal way from the palate when we breathe through the mouth with a small amount of wine in the oral cavity.

It is the aroma of less intensity than the smell that is perceived internally from the palate when we breathe through the mouth with a small amount of wine in the oral cavity.

Again the stuff in purple is Google’s Translation. Interestingly Microsoft actually picked a translated English word (aftertaste) for retronasal. But to my eye retronasal doesn’t even look Spanish at all and thus might be a loanword from English. In fact it is. But what does it mean? Actually finding a description of this in English wine tasting sources shows approximately the same thing as the translation (almost identical between Google and Microsoft) of the definition.

The funny thing is I didn’t know what retronasal meant BUT I’ve actually done exactly what it’s definition describes (if I was told this term I’ve forgotten but I don’t believe I ever knew it). Not long after moving to California and just as California was becoming a major player in wine (hard to believe it once was poorly regarded, decades ago) I took a course on California wines and how to do tasting at a community college in the Bay Area. We were actually taught how to do this – take a sip, hold the wine in your mouth, open your mouth slightly and breathe in. The sensation one gets is entirely different than just tasting (mouth closed) or the aftertaste (breathing in after swallowing). And if you’ve ever watched a professional tasting you see the tasters doing this (and of course, also spitting out the possibly very expensive wines they’re tasting).

Anyway this diversion in my project has taken a lot of time and hasn’t provided a great deal of material to put in my corpus for my menu translation app but it has certainly provided a lot of opportunity to see challenges in translation.

So I’ll leave you, Dear Reader, with a couple of quiz questions.

aguja

Vino con contenido carbónico perceptible al paladar y visiblemente observado al descorchar la botella. El gas carbónico procede de su propia fermentación y da sensación picante y agradable

needle

Wine with carbonic content perceptible to the palate and visibly observed when uncork the bottle. Carbon dioxide comes from its own fermentation and gives a pungent and pleasant feeling

quebrado

Vino alterado por las quiebras, que afectan al color.

broken

It was altered by bankruptcies which affect the color.

What English equivalent would you use for aguja and quebrado?

And there are about 50 more of these just in this source!

 

Left Burgos …

… the province, not the city which I left a long time ago.

Like most Americans I have limited sense of geopolitical subdivisions of Spain. Several years ago I learned about the autonomous community divisions and probably know most of them. But these are in turn (sometimes) divided into provinces which don’t really correspond (most of the time) to states in USA or provinces in Canada.

Thus I didn’t really expect to be crossing into a new province, Palencia in Castilla y León autonomous community (the largest in Spain). I discovered this from converting my basement treadmill “hiking” miles along a GPS track of the Camino de Santiago. The best I can do for now is then look at satellite or streetviews on Google Maps to get a clue of what it might be like to be at that spot along the Camino.

So I noticed the Puente Fitero which looks like a relatively new (and attractive) bridge over the rio Pisuerga. That’s approximately the boundary of Burgos and Palencia provinces and my accumulated treadmill “hiking” of 213.8 miles puts me just past Itero de la Vega.  After Palencia it looks like León province comes next before finally crossing into Galicia.

Since my previous look at the route of the Camino was from the movie The Way I was unaware of how much of the Camino passes through Castilla y León, which, frankly looks pretty boring.  The movie had far more scenes from Navarra or Galicia, both of which are a lot more interesting (and green and/or hilly). In fact a lot of views I get in Castilla y León look closer to the Central Valley of California or in some cases even the Cowboy Trail here in Nebraska. I’d certainly not be very interesting in hiking those, especially in summer trail, so this part of my “virtual” trek has dampened my enthusiasm for doing the Camino. Maybe only the short western segment (minimum to qualify) would be better.

But I’ll keep doing my basement miles and converting them to my virtual trek as it remains a good incentive for the boredom of exercise.

A few random bits

Rather than a focused post I’ll just catch up on a few disparate items.

First I’m recording another milestone along my virtual trek which is arriving in Burgos. Burgos was one of the main locations in the movie The Way (where Tom’s pack was stolen) and its main feature is the cathedral. A virtual trek, (i.e. actually exercising on a treadmill in the basement and transferred the accumulated miles onto a GPS trace of the Camino de Santiago) may seem silly but it serves two purposes for me: 1) walking on a treadmill is really boring so I need to have some goal and sense of accomplishment, since I need the treadmill exercise (esp. during the winter here) so I’m in shape to do some real outside walking, and, 2) the slow pace gives me a chance to fairly thoroughly investigate the route (using satellite views, Google StreetView (often available on the Camino and I see lots of peregrinos) and Points of Interest (so I look at photos of albergues and restaurants, plus sometimes find menus). It’s certainly not the same as the real thing but better than nothing.

Before reaching Burgos I’d not found any online menus in other small towns on my virtual trek since Logroño so I had begun to extract terms from a couple of glossaries I’d previously found. I’d already spent a long time (previously reported) on the GallinaBlanca online dictionary so I was also interested in seeing whether the two other lengthy lists I’d found would just be redundant. So that led me back to a bit of coding (haven’t done that for a while) in order to automate the comparison (each extract I’d done was in an incompatible format so first my code had to generate a canonical extract to compare). During that process one of my lists just disappeared (I was only about 1/4 done with it). That’s disappointing since it was a good list and had many terms I hadn’t previously found. Crunching through dictionaries or glossaries is very tedious and nowhere nearly as interesting as looking at menus (which is the purpose of my project here). But it’s a different way to get a sufficiently large corpus to feed into the menu translator I’m building.

So with Burgos on the horizon I began, once again, to focus on restaurant menus. In the small towns I find the restaurants directly as Google Maps POI’s which are clickable to get some info (esp. user contributed photos) and perhaps then linked to a website. Those with websites (fairly uncommon on the small places in small towns) might have a textual menu (many just have photos) and that allows me to generate side-by-side Spanish and English (usually translated by Google Translate, sometimes other ways) terms that I’ll feed into my corpus. Without all the fancy deep learning AI Google uses to train their translator I’ll be using a more algorithmic process to train mine, but mostly to spot Spanish terms that have multiple translations and try to determine the best (more on that below).

So for Burgos the area is quite large (you have to zoom in a lot on Google Maps for the POIs to appear) so I used a different approach. There are numerous rating services for restaurants (I only partly trust them here in USA, so no clue whether they work well in Spain) so just because it has a convenient format I used the Trip Advisor list, which has a total of 376 restaurants. I’ve only looked through the first 40 or so. Less than half of these have websites and probably only about half of those have text I can scrap off the website (often the menu is a photo or some other type of document where the browser can’t select any text that I can then paste in my working document). So with this vast amount of material I’ve been quite busy with menus, having now crunched through six already (with some stories to tell). And I’ve got enough more to finish to keep me busy as in fact my virtual trek has already left Burgos.

But as a random tidbit, tied to the notion of producing entries for my corpus, is the variable translation of the term ración. And I do mean translation (not definition) and usually by Google. The simplest (and most frequent) literal translation is ‘ration’ but even seeing exactly the same word (although sometimes modified with 1/2) on the same page Google translates it differently and also as ‘portion’ or ‘serving’. That’s a bit of a mystery to me why there is the inconsistency but of course Google claims (in its limited online explanations of how Google Translate works) that it is “context-sensitive” in doing translations (IOW, Google also had a large corpus, mostly of translated material in the United Nations, that their AI analyzed to decide both the translation and the “context”). But within a single website, all about food, one would think the context would always be the same. But it’s not the webpage that represents “context” (I realized) it’s the source corpus where “context” is being deduced. So the notion of using “context” to improve translation doesn’t mean quite what one would think.

Now instead of translation here’s what Oxford has as definitions:

1 Cantidad de alimento que se da en una comida a una persona o animal. Amount of food that is given in a meal to a person or animal.
2 Porción unitaria de algo que puede dividirse en varias partes iguales. Unitary portion of something that can be divided into several equal parts.
3 Cantidad determinada de alimento que se toma como aperitivo entre varias personas o comida informal; suele tomarse como acompañamiento de una bebida en un establecimiento público. Quantity of food that is taken as an aperitif among several people or informal food; It is usually taken as an accompaniment to a drink in a public establishment.
4 Cantidad suficiente de algo, generalmente la que se consume en un solo día o a intervalos regulares por una persona o animal. Sufficient quantity of something, usually that which is consumed in a single day or at regular intervals by a person or animal.

Since porción is literally portion it makes some sense to have that as a translation (along with ‘helping’ and ‘serving’) the part of the definition that seems to make the most sense in the context of a restaurant menu is #3 (also #2) more than the sense of the literal ‘ration’ (as in #1 or #4, more a military term). But it is also a quantity designation (more than pincho) even if it is only consumed by one person. Now deciding how much a 1/2 or 1/4 ración is yet another challenge but it appears most restaurants do price a 1/2 at more than 50% of the price of a whole, so if you want a whole order it as two 1/2’s will cost a lot more. IOW, you probably need to be able to discuss this with your server, once again evidence that a menu translator (vs fluency in Spanish) is not going to be sufficient.

Finally as yet another random tidbit one dessert item that didn’t translate (as I’ve described before, it just is what it is) was mantecado. It wasn’t heard to find this (I thought it might be a brand but it’s just the name of a cookie) with an interesting description (here) where it is described as being similar to polvorón which has its own Wikipedia page (here) that also that mentions mantecados and says they are not the same as polvorón (you could fool me looking at the pictures in that page).

From that same menu (here) for the item espárragos cojonudos Google Translate doesn’t have English for cojonudos (espárragos is asparagus in case you’re wondering). Tracking down cojonudos with search quickly led to the connection to cojones which is a term many Americans know as part of slang but it’s not clear how ‘ballsy’ would apply to asparagus . But this article assures us the slang meaning is not the relevant one and the more respectable is ‘awesome’ or ‘outstanding’. Furthermore a particular asparagus from Navarra chooses to label itself with cojonudos  so I guess the connection to cojones doesn’t bother them (or maybe they’re not aware of the etymology of cojonudos).