Is there a word for English speaking people that know little Spanish? It's for a book I'm writing.

"An American who moved to Mexico recently for the people but mostly for the underworld society, tells her firmly with _____" [broken Spanish]

closed as off-topic by Drew, NVZ, David, Mitch, RaceYouAnytime Aug 2 '17 at 22:55

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  • 8
    Is there anything wrong with broken Spanish as it is? I don't think there is a word specifically for not knowing Spanish. – marcellothearcane Aug 2 '17 at 16:47
  • 4
    You're asking for a word for a person, but your fill-in-the-blank doesn't match that. You may want to clarify. – Mark Beadles Aug 2 '17 at 16:51
  • @MarkBeadles I'm trying to explain that his Spanish is bad when speaking to her – Vic Yanez Aug 2 '17 at 16:57
  • 4
    Yes, 'broken Spanish' is perfectly understandable – marcellothearcane Aug 2 '17 at 17:01
  • 3
    You could get creative with Newbie Spanish or Traveler's Spanish, or with Gringo Lingo, a real thing. – Yosef Baskin Aug 2 '17 at 17:12

Your suggestion "broken Spanish" (or "broken French", "broken English", etc) is exactly the phrase normally used in this situation.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives this definition of the adjective "broken", under meaning 12d:

broken adj. of language: Imperfectly spoken, with the syntax incomplete.

You would also be understood if you said "fragmented Spanish", "imperfect Spanish", or "basic Spanish". The last of these describes language that may not necessarily ungrammatical or unnatural, but uses simple vocabulary and grammar. "Schoolboy Spanish" has a similar meaning (thanks to @calum_b for this addition via comments).

A couple of times while travelling in foreign countries, I have encountered humorous signs similar to the following in hostels and bars:

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  • 1
    One could perhaps also use "schoolboy (or schoolgirl) Spanish", to indicate the level of proficiency that somebody learning the language at school might have. – calum_b Aug 2 '17 at 21:48

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