Spanish Vocabulary: Issues of Modern Life in Spanish-Speaking Countries

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

You want to be able to discuss the aspects of modern life that affect the lifestyle of people in Spanish-speaking countries. This lesson gives you the relevant vocabulary you need, along with some fixed sentences you can use.

Modern Life

Do you often hear people say things like: 'Traffic is terrible every day? Crime in this town is a problem?' These common issues of modern life are also issues in Spanish-speaking countries. In addition, there are some issues that are not part of the life you know. So you can learn how to discuss those issues in Spanish, this lesson gives you some vocabulary and fixed expressions people often use.

Translation: The saturation of the Mexico Metro is a daily problem.

Vocabulary for Common Issues

Let's begin with some key words that identify some issues of modern life:

  • el tráfico (ehl TRAH-fee-koh): the traffic
  • la contaminación del aire (lah kohn-tah-mee-nah-see-OHN dehl AH-ee-reh): the air pollution
  • el ruido (ehl roo-EE-doh): the noise
  • la sobrepoblación (lah soh-breh-poh-blah-see-OHN): the overpopulation
  • la suciedad de las calles (lah soo-see-eh-DAD deh las KAH-yehs): the dirty streets
  • los mendigos (lohs mehn-DEE-gohs): the homeless
  • los vendedores ambulantes (lohs vehn-deh-DOH-rehs ahm-boo-LAHN-tehs): street sellers
    • Some people refer to the street sellers in general as el comercio informal (ehl koh-MEHR-seeoh een-fohr-MAHL), which means 'informal commerce'.

Now, let's look at how Spanish speakers talk about issues of modern life in their cities:

Armando, quien vive en Santiago (Chile) nos dice: El tráfico es un problema grave en Santiago, sobre todo en el centro de la ciudad y en horas pico. (Armando, who lives in Santiago, Chile, tells us: Traffic is a serious problem in Santiago, especially in the downtown and at peak times.) Además, la contaminación del aire afecta la calidad de vida de los ciudadanos de Santiago porque la ciudad está rodeada de montañas y la contaminación se asienta sobre la ciudad. (Besides, the air pollution affects the quality of life of the citizens in Santiago because the city is surrounded by mountains and the pollution sits over the city.)

Mariela, quien vive en Ciudad de México nos dice: La presencia de los mendigos y de los vendedores ambulantes en Ciudad de México es un problema grande. (Mariela, who lives in Mexico City, tells us: The presence of the homeless and of street sellers in a big problem in Mexico City.) Los mendigos viven en condiciones infrahumanas y el comercio informal afecta la venta de los vendedores que tienen permiso para comerciar. (The homeless live in subhuman conditions and informal commerce affects the sale of those sellers who do have permission to sell.)

Key Expressions

Before we learn more vocabulary, we should pick up some useful expressions you can use in discussions. Below, you have a blank, which you can fill with any of the vocabulary you have learned so far. For the second blank, you would have the name of a city.

  • _____ es un problema grave en (is a serious problem in) _____.
  • _____ afecta la calidad de vida de los ciudadanos de (affects the quality of life of citizens of) _____.

Vocabulary for Issues in Some Cities

  • el deterioro de la infraestructura (ehl deh-teh-ree-OH-roh deh lah een-frah-ehs-trook-TOO-rah): the deterioration of the infrastructure
  • las calles sin pavimentar (lahs KAH-yehs seen pah-vee-mehn-TAHR): the streets without pavement
  • la violencia (lah vee-oh-LEHN-seeah): the violence
  • el acoso callejero (ehl ah-KOH-soh kah-yeh-HEH-roh): street harassment
  • la saturación del transporte público (lah sah-too-rah-see-OHN dehl trahns-POHR-teh POO-blee-koh): the saturation of the public transport
  • el estrés (ehl ehs-TREHS): the stress
  • el alto costo de la vida (ehl AHL-toh KOHS-toh deh lah VEE-dah): the high cost of life

This time, let's see what Lourdes Escobar tells us about different cities. She is a sociologist who does research in Spanish-speaking countries:

Debido a falta de presupuesto, a veces vemos casos en que el deterioro de la infraestructura amenaza la permanencia de las ciudades. (Due to lack of budget, sometimes we see cases in which the deterioration of the infrastructure threatens the permanence of the cities.) Por ejemplo, tenemos los casos de La Habana en Cuba, Portobelo en Panamá, o Potosí en Bolivia. (For example, we have the cases of La Habana in Cuba, Portobelo in Panama, or Potosí in Bolivia.)

Un problema típico de la vida moderna en las ciudades es la saturación del transporte público, como pasa con el Metro de Madrid o los buses en Quito (Ecuador). (A typical problem of modern life in cities is the saturation of the public transport, as it happens with the Madrid Metro or the buses in Quito, Ecuador.)

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