Visiting los animales at the Audubon Zoo

One of my favorite things to do with my 19-month-old, Elle, is a trip to the zoo. I’m raising her speaking Spanish, so besides the fact that she loves the animals, it’s a good opportunity for us to go over some of the animals’ Spanish names we’ve seen in so many books.

A recent trip to Audubon Zoo started easy enough. The elephants (elefantes) and monkeys (monos) were easy to point out and talk about. Then we hit the petting zoo – and I realized just how far I have to go to properly raise my daughters speaking Spanish.

I was raised in a Spanish-speaking household in Miami by Cuban parents and grandparents. But having never studied Spanish in school, I have glaring gaps in my vocabulary and grammar. As we walked around the animals at the petting zoo, I struggled to come up with all the names. Sheep I knew (oveja), but drew a blank on goat. The Google Translate app on my iPhone offered ‘cabra’ for goat but that didn’t sound right. Then I remembered ‘chiva.’ Google, I’ve noticed, rarely gives the Cuban Spanish translation to words, and its suggestions need to be cross-checked with a phone call to my mom.

The rabbits were easy to point out, as we have books filled with ‘conejos’ at home. But guinea pig – no idea. Didn’t see a lot of those growing up in Miami. Google Translate suggests ‘conejillo de Indias’ for guinea pig, which is a wonderful, lyrical phrase and one I’ll probably never remember.

For other parents with bilingual kids – or those who just want to add a fun twist to a zoo trip – here’s a list of common zoo animals in Spanish, with their English translations (in parenthesis):

jirafa (giraffe)
león (lion)
camello (camel)
gorila (gorilla)
burro (donkey)
tortuga (turtle)
flamenco (flamingo)
foca (seal)
búho (owl)
serpiente (snake)
avestruz (ostrich)
cebra (zebra)

It’s best to try to memorize them before you head out. You miss a lot of the magic of a trip to the zoo if you’re constantly turning to your iPhone’s translator app.

¡Buena suerte! (translate)

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Written by Rick Jervis

Rick Jervis is the New Orleans-based Gulf Coast Correspondent for USA TODAY, covering post-Katrina rebuilding, oil spills, culture, regional oddities and the recurrent hurricane. He was on a team that won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism and spent two years as USA TODAY’s Baghdad Bureau Chief. Born in Miami to Cuban parents, Rick developed a keen interest in the effects of media on a child’s brain development and is raising his two young daughters in a bilingual home with his wife, Elena.

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