¿A qué te dedicas?

At the school where I’m studying Spanish in Mexico City, everyone arrives with a different amount of experience in the Spanish language. Some are staying for longer or shorter periods of study, so people are coming and going at different levels every week. In fact, there are only three students I’ve been with the entire three weeks I’ve been at the school so far, and none are returning next week for my final week.

In the conversation part of our daily lessons, there is one question that seems to have stumped nearly everyone at every level so far the first time they hear it:

¿A qué te dedicas?

It’s not a hard question to answer, but the verb dedicar is not one to which many of us at basic levels of Spanish — myself included — were ever exposed. The question literally asks, “To what do you dedicate yourself?”

For many of us, the answer might be our profession. For example, I’ve been answering, “Soy programador de computadoras.” For the younger ones among us, they might simply say they are students. We have some retirees in the class too, and they might simply reply as such.

But the first time I heard the question, it sounded more like:

¿Aquetededícas?

And I had no idea what the instructor was asking. So he repeated it a little more slowly:

¿Aqué tededicas?

Not much help, but getting somewhere. A little more slowly:

¿A qué te dedicas?

Good, now I know the part of speech of every word, but I’m still stumped on the meaning of the verb. To what do I what myself? Let’s try that one more time:

¿A qué te de-di-cas?

A-ha! Having heard the verb broken down into syllables, I was able to realize it sounded a lot like English verb dedicate. Enough so that I could guess maybe it was a cognate, which it apparently is.

Now if only I could get the rest of Mexico City to speak that slowly.