Communication by Mail
Although e-mail is quickly supplanting the physical letter as the most frequent means of written communication, the features and disciplines required by traditional letter writing are as important as ever and do apply to e-mail. Regardless of the means of transfer (whether it's on paper or in an electronic message), the amount of time you spend on crafting a letter or memorandum shows others how seriously you take the subject matter and at what level of consideration you hold the reader.
In general, written Spanish is considered highly stylized, more formal, and less forgiving. The reason for this is because of the permanence of the “record.” Any faltas (mistakes) will appear on the page or in the file for as long as the recipient holds on to it.
To a certain extent, conversations allow and may even encourage you to make mistakes. Since most people would rather not correct small errors and/or may speak in a nonstandard way, you may go on for weeks saying el mano, when you know perfectly well that it should be la mano (the hand).
The exercises in this book and others rely on the written word out of necessity, but also as a means of making concrete whatever topic is up for discussion. Every time you write in Spanish, you make it and the subject matter you write about more concrete within your mind.
This is why, regardless of whether you actually send them or not, writing letters is so important. Keeping a daily journal written in Spanish only can also help achieve the same objectives.
You already know all about the formality associated with the tú and usted and the Spanish verbs. Given the facilities the language does provide, not to use them correctly will reflect badly on you. While this may convince you to avoid writing in Spanish as much as possible, it is actually the reason why you must write more—to practice.
As with any correspondence, you must consider your audience and the level of familiarity you may use in writing. Remember never to send out any written communication without checking it first for grammar, spelling, and, particularly, colloquial expressions. The reasons for checking grammar and spelling are obvious. Sounding foolish or uneducated is never fun. But more importantly, writing to perfect your Spanish will help you to focus on grammatical concepts that may have seemed esoteric when you first learned them.
The Fundamentals of Good Letter Writing
There are six fundamental parts to every letter, discussed in the following sections.
1. La fecha (the Date)
As in English, the date is a standard part of the letter. In Spanish, however, it is not simply a question of the month, date, and year, but also of the place from which the letter originates. Unless this region is incorporated in the letterhead (el membrete), it generally accompanies and precedes the date near the upper right-hand corner (la parte superior derecha) of the paper. Take a look at the date variations you may find in Spanish letters (all referring to June 12, 2002):
12 de junio de 2002
Chicago, 12 de junio de 2002
Chicago, 12 junio 2002
When referring to dates, keep in mind that the actual date (number) is always written before the month. If the friendly letter is brief, the date can also be found at the end of the letter, near la parte inferior derecha (the lower right-hand corner).
2. El encabezamiento (the Heading)
As in English, the form that the heading takes depends on the purpose of the letter and the intended recipient. It is located below the date, but on the opposing side. In a business letter, the heading takes the form of a block of information describing the destination. The information in the heading begins with the following:
Nombre de la empresa (name of the firm)
Calle (street address)
Código postal, ciudad (postal/zip code, city)
Many addresses in Latin America and Spain are not of the form that employs a directional reference point in addition to numerals associated with buildings on a street. That is, you will rarely find anything similar to 1029 NE 23rd Place. You will simply find numbers and streets, like calle Ochoa 29.
In more formal business letters, the heading also includes the name and title of the recipient. If the title is not based on position or is unknown, simply use distinguido(a) señor(a) (distinguished Mr./Mrs.). Notice that in a Spanish greeting to the recipient, abbreviations are seldom used. For example:
Distinguido Señor Arellano
Distinguida Señora Méndez
For personal or informal letters, the recipient's address is often skipped, with the salutation being the next printed item. The most common salutations coincide with their English counterparts. Here are a few examples:
Querido Miguel (dear Miguel)
Queridísima Marta (dearest Martha)
Mis queridos Mario y Fernanda (my dear Mario y Fernanda)
3. La introducción (the Introduction)
As in English, it is always good form to provide an introduction to your correspondence. Whereas common courtesy requires it in friendly letters, this is not the case with business letters, where efficiency is at a premium. Here are a few common introductions, running from the most casual to the more formal:
|Hola, Fabián, ¿cómo estás?||Hi, Fabian, how are you?|
|Le escribo para …||I am writing to you to …|
|Deseo comunicarle que …||I wish to communicate to you …|
|Deseo hacerle saber …||I would like to inform you …|
4. El cuerpo (the Body)
The body of the letter is what will give you the chance to show off your Spanish knowledge! There are no hard-and-fast rules here, but remember to stick to your point and make sure that the tone of your letter is consistent with your message.
5. La despedida (the Farewell)
Although the body of the letter doesn't fit into a formula, the farewell does. Friendly letters often exhibit one of the following closing lines:
Besos y abrazos (kisses and hugs)
Con un abrazo para ti (with an embrace for you)
Con todo mi cariño (with all my affection)
Te saludo muy cordialmente (greeting you very cordially)
Un cordial saludo (a cordial greeting)
6. La firma (the Signature)
This one's easy: Signatures are the same in Spanish and English!
A Sample Letter
Take a look at the following sample letter. See how much of it you can understand. To see the translation, refer here.
No sabes la alegría que me ha causado recibir tu nueva dirección. Ha pasado demasiado tiempo desde la última vez que hablamos. ¿Cómo están todos?, ¿tu mamá y tu papá? Espero que bien. ¿Qué hay de nuevo? Ojalá que los vea a ustedes la próxima vez que viaje hacia allá.
Yo también recuerdo todas las veces que charlamos. Espero hacerlo otra vez, pronto.
Con todo mi cariño, Lisa