Saber vs Conocer

Learning a new language is really, really hard.  And I’m convinced that for every couple dozen new Spanish words I stuff in my brain, I permanently lose one English word.  It’s frustrating to be mid-sentence and come up entirely blank on the next word in either language.   At times I find myself speaking English as though I’m speaking Spanish.

The toy of Chamaco is outside.

May 2011 025

He gave up because he no it can find.

When I first started learning vocabulary, I would get annoyed with words in English that have two words in Spanish.  To be = estar or ser.  And these aren’t synonymous, like to laugh or to chuckle which could be used interchangeably.  There are times that I estar and there are times that I ser, and I’m still not positive that I use them correctly.

Another example of this is ‘to know’.  There is saber and there is conocer.

First reaction:

Seriously?  Know is know.  Come on.  There is no purpose for two more stinking words, when one fits just fine.

Current opinion:

I can’t believe how much the English language is lacking by squashing these two very different ideas into one word.

Saber:  To express knowledge of a fact or information about something

Conocer: To express that one is acquainted with a person, place or thing.

Saber is knowledge that is sterile, lacking in emotion, static.

Conocer is depth, felt, life-giving, familiar, the ebb and flow of relationship.

conocer these kids.

049 Yo y Juan Gabriel

And that makes all the difference in the world.

In the two years I’ve been doing this, I’ve learned with 100% certainty that I am a micro person.  This means that I’m not interested or energized by programs or organizations whose goal is to aid all people who fall into a specific subcategory of society.  I’m interested in the individual.  Because I don’t want to overwhelm strangers with all the details, I say that I work with street kids (or former street kids).  But what I mean is that I work with Juan Gabriel and Jairo and Edgar.  And that would be true if they were on the street, in a children’s home, in jail or back with their families.

And when I say that we’re raising money for education, I don’t want you to think of it as donating to some arbitrary initiative.  It’s to ensure that the minds of these kids I know (the conocer type) will continue to be cultivated.  And yes, education will decrease violence and benefit society.  But do you know what else it will do?  It will help Valentin get a good job one day so he can truly give back to his family instead of constantly worrying about feeding the hungry people he loves.  And this will make him confident that he is worth something.  It will enable Denis Gabriel to gain a trade that will one day support him since he doesn’t have a family that he can lean on as he’s starting out on his own.  It will empower him to beat the odds.  I once read a statistic that 90% of children who grow up in orphanages end up living lives on the black market.  That is bleak and discouraging.  When you saber (fact, sterile) this information, you want to throw in the towel.  At least I do.  But conocer-ing the children that make up this statistic, drives me to say ‘Not these ones.  I want to make sure that these ones have a chance.’

Back to the Spanish lessons.  There are other words in which there is only one in Spanish and three in English.  For example:  esperar.  This means to wait, to expect and to hope.  Three very different words as far as I’m concerned.

Espero y espero con mucha esperanza que vas a dar un chance a los niños que conozco.

Translation:  I wait for and expect with much hope that you will give the boys I know a chance.  (Sounds better in Spanish doesn’t it?)

To donate to Ornaments for Education, click here.



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