The importance of correct verb conjugation

We gathered around the back door, myself, Suegra and the boys, to watch the baby bird learning how to fly. His attempts weren’t successful and then he stopped trying – just sat there like a feathery lump, as if he had given up. The mother and father bird encouraged him, flapped their wings, flew from one point to another to demonstrate, but the baby bird seemed to look away with indifference.

Suegra clicked her tongue, “pobrecito,” she said.
My older son shook his head, “No puedo volar,” he commented.

I caught the wrong verb conjugation but didn’t want to correct him directly. Instead I just repeated what he said correctly so he would hear the difference and self-correct later.
“No,” I said sympathetically, “El pájarito no puede volar.”

Suegra snorted. She takes a more aggressive approach when the children make mistakes in Spanish.

“No ‘puedo volar’ decís. Como sos pajaro vos! Claro que no puedes volar, cipote.”

My older son sometimes gets defensive when corrected in this way. He doesn’t like being made fun of and can be kind of sensitive. This time he just smiled and flapped his arms.


Note for non-Spanish speakers:

The verb “poder” (to be able to) – is conjugated “puedo” to mean “I can” and “puede” for “he/she can” … By saying “No puedo volar” my son said “I can’t fly” instead of “No puede volar” to mean that the bird couldn’t fly.


Pobrecito – poor little thing
No puedo volar – I can’t fly
El pájarito no puede volar – The little bird can’t fly
No ‘puedo volar’ decís. Como sos pajaro vos! Claro que no puedes volar, cipote. – ‘I can’t fly’ you say. As if you’re a bird! Of course you can’t fly, kid.


Note for bird lovers:

The bird did eventually learn to fly. (Sí se puede!)


  1. jajjajajjaajaa, this always makes me crack up. My younger brother speaks this way all the time! But perhaps my brother is worse, atleast your son is using the correct verb. jajaaja. It’s cute though. Your way of self teaching is better than suegra’s. I don’t know if it’s all Salvadorans, or Latinos, or eveyone in general, but i know my Salvadoran familys’ way of teaching us something is exactly like suegra’s. no time in pointing out the mistake in a Blunt, Poking fun type of way. Almenos no se molesto tu hijo =)

  2. When I was in Pachcua for the first time, Sal and I went to eat at a Chinese restaurant. At some point, he needed the restroom and left me there alone. The tables were long tables that you shared with others, so once he left, the couple next to us tried to speak with me.

    My Spanish is terrible and I understood almost none of it, so I tried to tell them I do not speak Spanish. But I conjugated wrong and instead effectively said to them, “Don’t speak Spanish!” They looked a little taken aback for a second by the gringa telling them they can’t speak Spanish, but they quickly realized I had no clue what I was saying.

  3. Yo siempre le digo a mis estudiantes que no es lo mismo “a traste huele” que “atrás te huele” jaja pero creo que eso es lo especial del español, una letra, un espacio diferente, un acento y cambias todo el significado!

  4. Suegra’s a piece of work! By now I suspect your boys are used to her “style.” I like your method a lot more. : D

    Btw, Had I seen this sentence by itself somewhere, I would’ve thought it was in a language other than Spanish: “Como sos pajaro ”

    Cute post! <3

  5. Conjugating verbs is no fun.
    My cuñado married a girl from Paraguay and Spanish is her second language…her first being Guaraní. He said she and I talk alike. I asked, “How is that?” He said, “Uds. nunca conjugan los verbos. Siempre dicen ‘Voy a manejar’ o “Vas a ir?” I never realized how much I do it until he said it, and now I’m self-concious about it.

    Loved how you added that the bird eventually learned to fly. I was worried.

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