Every language has its own peculiar nuances. In Spanish, one such nuance is the formula, al + the infinitive of a verb. Let's start reviewing this formula with the following clip:
Nos confundimos al hablar sin escuchar
We get confused by speaking without listening
Caption 26, La Gusana Ciega - GiroscopioPlay Caption
In "Giroscopio" by La Gusana Ciega, frontman Daniel Gutierrez sings: nos confundimos al hablar sin escuchar, which we have translated as "we get confused by speaking without listening."
This brings our attention to the use of al + infinitive. The English equivalent is often created by using the prepositions, "by," "when," or "upon" + the "ing" (progressive) verb form.
Most native English speakers would find this phrase easier to follow were Daniel to avoid the al + infinitive construction and instead sing: Nos confundimos cuando hablamos sin escuchar or Nos confundimos hablando sin eschuchar, both of which are more parallel to the typical English construction.
Although each of these possibilities is grammatically correct, they convey a slightly different meaning than the choice to employ al hablar in this lyric. While both hablando (speaking) and cuando hablamos (when we speak) would convey the sense that the speaker is referring to some specific instance or instances of "talking without listening," the use of al hablar causes the assertion to sound more like a truism or principle of life, the type of thing you might read at the end of a fable or as the moral of a story.
Let's look at some examples:
Eh... Al venir acá y compartir con tantas culturas, pues.
Um... Upon coming here and sharing with so many cultures, well.
Caption 20, Silvina - Una entrevista con la artistaPlay Caption
Este fue el primer lugar visitado por nuestro Libertador Simón Bolívar,
This was the first place visited by our Liberator, Simon Bolivar,
al llegar a la hacienda San Pedro Alejandrino.
upon arriving at the San Pedro Alejandrino [Saint Peter of Alexandria] hacienda.
Captions 2-3, Viajando en Colombia - La Quinta de BolívarPlay Caption
Al + infinitive can alternately be translated to English using "when + simple present." For example, in this case, we could just as well have translated al hablar as "when we speak," which would give us: "we get confused when we speak without listening."
Let's look at some additional examples of al + infinitive:
Nos equivocamos al actuar sin pensar.
We make mistakes by acting without thinking.
Nos ensuciamos al jugar.
We get dirty when we play.
Te lastimas al correr sin estirarte.
You hurt yourself by running without stretching.
Se lastiman al pelear.
They hurt themselves when they fight.
Me mojo al bañarme.
I get wet when I bathe.
Se lastiman al jugar sin zapatos.
They hurt themselves by playing without shoes.
That's it for this lesson. We hope you enjoy it and don't forget to send us your comments and questions.