Going abroad is a wonderful experience. It’s a great opportunity to meet people, explore new settings, and try out exciting food! If you’re reading this blog, I imagine you’re extra adventurous, because driving in a foreign country is a whole new world of freedom. I remember the one and only time I drove a car in a foreign country – I was terrified! We were coming back from doing some gardening with volunteers, and my boss at the time asked if I wanted to drive back. I couldn’t say no to that, so I hopped in the driver’s seat and took that old red car for a spin.
Luckily I had my boss, a local, to guide me through the traffic signs and give me cues on rules that I might not be aware of. This made my drive a lot less scary and a great experience that I remember to this day. If you’re driving alone it’s very important that you research topics like speed limits, driving requirements, driving age, and so on. Here’s a link to a page with useful information on driving requirements for different countries.
Basic vocabulary for driving and GPS navigation
Road signs in Spanish
Just like with local traffic laws, I always recommend that you study the local road signs before you drive anywhere. Below are some examples of traffic signs that change slightly or are nonexistent in the US.
Hopefully, you can figure out what this sign is asking you to do by just looking at it. If you see a red octagon with the word ALTO written in, it means you should definitely stop and look both ways before you carry on.
This is personally one of my least favorite road signs, especially if I’m in a crowded town. If you see an ‘E’ with a red slash across it, that means you can’t park in that area. Some countries will have a ‘P’ instead, so be on the lookout for both, since parquear and estacionar are synonyms for the word parking.
These black arrows on a red circle are there to let you know you absolutely must make a turn in the direction they suggest, or you’ll end up driving against traffic!
Ceda el paso
While the yield sign is the same as in the US, it’s always a nice reminder that these signs mean the same thing, since you might find the Spanish text to be confusing.
Límite de velocidad
Speed limits, or Límites de velocidad, are something to always look out for. Especially since in most if not all of the Spanish speaking countries we use Kilometers instead of miles. It’s important to keep that in mind as you drive!
No hay paso
If you find yourself on the wrong side of the road, this sign will let you know you need to turn around ASAP! No hay paso means ‘wrong way.’
Obra en construcción
Typically, the best way to know there’s a construction site ahead is the annoying traffic it will surely cause. The second best way, and the most reliable, is to look out for obra en construcción signs. These are typically yellow or orange and will tell you how far away the site actually is.
Ready, set, drive!
There are many ways to learn Spanish: traveling, studying, and practicing. Before you set out on the road, maybe you’ll want to learn some Spanish words for traveling to have under your belt, and if you’re unsure of where to go, I suggest you read up on our top 8 destinations for travel. Regardless of where you choose to go, you can still learn Spanish at Homeschool Spanish Academy. Try out a free class today, available anywhere with an internet connection!
Halloween is a celebration of all that’s scary. It’s one of the oldest holidays we celebrate and a personal favorite of mine! Traditionally, Mexico and Central America only celebrated Día de los Muertos on November 1st. Halloween has been celebrated to a lesser extent, and it only became a big holiday in recent years.
As the month of October creeps in, you can start to hear people talking about what their costume plans are and where they plan to show them off. Venues start scheduling themed events, costume contests with cash prizes, and spooky rock bands to entertain ghouls and ghosts all night long.
Popular Costumes in Latinoamérica
You’ve probably seen these in movies before, and there’s no going wrong when you dress as a Catrín or Catrina. On any normal day, Catrín is a word to describe someone who’s high class and elegant, but on Halloween, Catrín is the name of the traditional decorated skull costume from México. These costumes usually have the person wear a suit or a dress coupled with the makeup. If you’re in México, you can get your Catrín makeup in almost any street! It’s common for locals to go out and offer to paint your face for cheap, and they do a great job too. Don‘t worry, they also take hygiene into account.
- El Sombrerón
One of the old folk tales in Latinoamérica, El Sombrerón, is a short man with a huge hat that hides his evil intentions. Young girls beware, for he’ll perch upon your window at night and sing a hypnotizing serenade that will deprive you of sleep and hunger, ultimately leading to an untimely death. To rid yourself of El Sombrerón’s evil song, you must cut your hair short, for this will make him lose interest in you and move on to his next victim.
To dress as El Sombrerón, all you need is a Mariachi outfit with a BIG hat and a tiny guitar. Alternatively, you can dress in all white with a straw hat as well!
As the young man walks through the night, ready to go home after a night of partying, he finds the silhouette of a beautiful woman by the river, brushing her hair with a golden comb. Entranced by her beauty, he slowly approaches her. When he is close enough, the young man shrieks in fear as La Siguanaba reveals her face is actually a horse skull, and then he dies of shock as La Siguanaba devours his soul.
- La Siguanaba
If you want to dress as this character, all you need is a dress, a straight black wig, and a horse mask (you can even make a comical version of the costume using the famous internet horse mask!). It’s an easy costume that reminds young men to be loyal to their partners, for La Siguanaba hunts unfaithful men!
Words and Phrases to Celebrate Halloween
And how do you say Halloween in Spanish, you ask? That’s easy, Halloween! Just like ‘taco’ was adopted from Spanish to Egnlish, Halloween was adopted from English to Spanish. You’ll find some more common Halloween words and phrases below so you too can be ready to be scary with your Spanish speaking friends!
November 1st Is Also an Important Day in Latinoamérica!
If you’ve ever been to a graveyard you’ll know it’s not the happiest place to be in. Día de los Muertos changes that. Starting early in the morning, families visit their loved ones in the graveyard. They decorate the tombs and eat festive foods of all kinds, one of which is the famous pan de muerto, or dead man’s bread. Decorations are usually colorful and vibrant, like giant kites and sugar skulls. If you’re in México or Central America, I highly recommend you ask around about November 1st celebrations. Even though it’s mostly a family holiday, most towns make events open to everybody, and they’re usually a lot of fun.
Learning Spanish can be scary – make it fun by trying a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy and start practicing today!Read More
In the last couple of years, I’ve had the pleasure to meet some wonderful and interesting people. Among them, there’s an American friend of mine who’s very special. She was born in Guatemala and adopted at a very young age by a Jewish family in the US. I met her because she came to her birth country to get to know the culture, customs, and language of the people that lived here, the place she was born. We became great friends and keep in touch to this day.
Years later, I met a French girl who was born in Guatemala and came to the country to meet her biological parents… that was a weird coincidence! Most surprisingly, today I was told about a 15-year-old boy who came to Guatemala with his parents so he could meet his biological mother. It was very strange for me to suddenly start meeting adopted Guatemalans left and right, until a teacher at my university talked to me about the time when Guatemala used to be third in the world on adoption rates, right below China and Russia. A bit of research led me to this page, which explains the issue in more detail, and I learned that there’s a network for adoptees that wish to connect to their Guatemalan roots! All of these adopted kids are now grown up, so them coming to Guatemala shouldn’t come as a surprise.
My American friend fell in love with her birthplace, and now she’s planning to move here to spend her days making Guatemala a better place. I have had the pleasure of accompanying her on her journey, and through it, we came to face an interesting challenge: she has to set up a Guatemalan bank account. In order to do this, I helped her by calling several banks and asking what she should do in order to open an account here, if possible. Some banks were laxer, and others were quite strict, so I’ll write down what I learned so you can better know what to expect if you’re ever in need of opening an account while abroad.
What do I need to have?
According to the banks I spoke to, the following are required if you’re to open a bank account in Guatemala:
- Proof of residence (usually in the form of electricity or water bill)
- Minimum amount of cash required to open the account (it varied from $15 – $150, roughly)
These things were required only by some of the banks I contacted:
- Proof of employment
Some banks required proof of employment that would guarantee that the resident had a job in Guatemala. I asked them about cases where the resident works remotely for a website or company, to which they replied it was no problem as long as the company they worked for could provide said proof of employment to confirm the person opening the account has a steady source of income.
- Guatemalan ID
Specifically, having a native Guatemalan with an ID register as a creditor, so they could manage or delete the account if the resident left the country, for example. I personally don’t recommend opening an account if they ask for this, even if there’s a Guatemalan willing to be your creditor. These things, I believe, are best kept personal. I guess a spouse could be an exception, but if you’re married to a Guatemalan you can get an ID yourself, so it kind of defeats the purpose of a creditor!
Each bank I asked this question had a different answer, so my advice is to give them a call! Some of the banks had an English option for customer service, and they’re usually happy to give any info necessary.
Banking Terms in Spanish
“But I’m not going to live in Guatemala!”
Just like each bank has different requirements to open an account, so will each country. Something very important to take into account is the location you’re planning to live in when opening your account. Make sure your bank has a location set up near your home! In countries with large rural areas, banks can be few and far between, so don’t forget to double-check for banks that are close to you so you can visit anytime you need.
Either way, the first thing you should do before setting up an account abroad is to contact the bank so they give you the info you need! If you want to improve your Spanish so the conversation with the bank’s customer service is easier, make sure to try out a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy!Read More
There is a special place in my heart for people who can speak both English and Spanish. My parents taught me how to speak English from a very young age, so it has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. This means that whenever I meet a bilingual person, my ‘Spanglish’ chip comes online and I start mixing both languages. Why is it that sometimes a word or phrase… feels right in one language, but not the other?
Most people, as they become bilingual, learn that there are concepts that are unique to each language. Some words convey certain thoughts and feelings that are harder, if not impossible, to describe in any other language! Recent studies have shown that knowing more than one language will help with the development of cognitive functions as well as preventing their decline as we age. There’s also been research suggesting that bilingual children develop better social-emotional and behavioral skills, so the benefits of learning a new language are many. You can learn more about this on our blog about the perks of being bilingual.
I’ve gathered a list of common words and phrases that aren’t found in English, so you can learn a bit more about our culture through language.
Latinos are known for their strong sense of family. This is expressed by the word sobremesa, which describes the time taken after dinner to talk with the people you ate with. It’s common amongst Latinoamericanos to stay after the meal is finished, maybe with a cup of coffee or some Rosa de Jamaica, to talk about current events, joke around, and learn about each other. Sometimes sobremesa lasts a few hours after the meal is done! This is such a common cultural practice that we came up with a word for it, which is one of the wonderful things of a family-centered culture.
Hoy, en sobremesa, me contaron de la graduación de mi vecina.
Today, after eating, I was told about my neighbor’s graduation.
2. Buen Provecho
All this talk about food sure is making my stomach growl! Before lunch starts, however, I have to make sure to say buen provecho to my office mates. In English, you would normally use the term ‘bon appétit’ or ‘enjoy your meal.’ The difference is that in Latin America and Spain, saying buen provecho is used a lot more than in the United States. This phrase is also used in comedores, or small family-owned restaurants, by wishing the other patrons a nice meal if they’re still eating once you leave the place. This nifty bit of info is sure to leave a positive impression on the locals if you ever come to visit!
(Spoken to other people in a restaurant as you leave) “¡Bueno provecho!” “Muchas gracias, igualmente.”
“Enjoy!” “Thanks so much! You too!”
So I just finished having lunch, but there’s always room for dessert! Unfortunately, my sweet tooth got the better of me and I ate too much pan dulce. Now there are leftovers that can’t go to waste, so I offer them to my friend Sammy and tell her I can’t possibly have another bite, ‘estoy empalagado.’ Empalagar is a word used when you’ve had something so sweet you can’t even smell sugar anymore. When something is ‘empalagoso’ it means that it is very sweet, and probably best accompanied by coffee or water.
Este pastel está muy empalagoso. ¿Me pasas un cafecito para acompañar, por favor?
This cake is too sweet. Can I get some coffee to go with it, please?
4. Te Quiero
Speaking of sweet things, te quiero is one of my favorite Spanish phrases. This one is truly unique since it’s an expression that falls between ‘I like you’ and ‘I love you’. Te quiero is a universal phrase of affection, and it can be used to address friends, family, and significant others alike. It’s a phrase that indicates closeness to one another, without going too far nor falling short of said feeling.
Gracias por traerme al aeropuerto. ¡Te quiero!
Thanks for bringing me to the airport. Love you!
Al que madruga, Dios lo ayuda. It’s a phrase my grandma tells me every time I sleep in on family trips. That’s the Spanish version of ‘the early bird gets the worm,’ whose literal translation is ‘the one who wakes up early, God will help.’ In this case, ‘waking up early’ is summarized by the word madrugar, which implies getting up before the sun does. La madrugada starts at 1:00 am and ends at 5:00 am, but lazy people will say they have to madrugar at 8:00 am!
Mañana tenemos que madrugar para escalar temprano el volcán.
Tomorrow we get up at the crack of dawn to start climbing the volcano early.
Estrenar is a very special word, one that is almost always filled with joy. Estrenar means ‘to try out for the first time.’ You can use it when driving your new car for the first time, or when you put on those brand new pair of shoes you got for your birthday.
Estoy estrenando carro, lo acabo de sacar de la agencia.
It’s my first time driving the car. I just got it from the dealership.
Most university students are familiar with this one. It’s finals week and there’s too much to do, papers line up the desk, covering its every last corner. The coffee machine is brewing the next pot as notes are reviewed in preparation for the toughest week of the semester. Estar desvelado means to be sleep-deprived, and the word itself comes from a very interesting place. Velar refers to a state of vigilance, and the prefix des implies a lack of, so desvelar literally translates to ‘being out of vigilance,’ which is a very accurate description of how people look and act when they’re sleep-deprived. Remember to always catch some z’s and avoid el desvelo! It’s been proven that proper sleep is integral to memory retention.
La fecha de entrega es mañana. Me va a tocar desvelarme para terminar el trabajo.
The deadline is tomorrow. I’ll have to stay up all night to finish all the work.
This word is very unique, and while it has several approximations in English, I feel there’s no way to express this feeling in another language. Desesperado could be described as being fed up. In some cases, it can mean the same as desperate, but desesperado can go beyond that definition. Other times, it can be better described as impatience. Desesperado is like a salad of emotions that include annoyance, impatience, hopelessness, and anger. All that sounds quite negative, but there are different levels of desesperación, from standing in a seemingly endless queue to looking around your house for five hours because you can’t fund the car keys.
Esa alarma lleva 10 minutos sonando, ya me tiene desesperado.
That alarm has been going off for 10 minutes. I’m fed up with it.
My psychology teacher said to me once: ‘El deseo es más fuerte que las ganas.’ Ganas is a word used to express a want, coupled with an impulse leading to that action. It’s stronger than being in the mood for something but not as powerful as desire. So, my teacher’s phrase refers to that moment when you really don’t want to start your Spanish lesson, but your desire to learn is bigger, so you get up and do it anyways. Ganas is similar to whim, without the sudden and unexplainable nature of the word.
Tengo ganas de ver tele y comer comida chatarra.
I feel like watching television and eating junk food.
Ajeno is a word that describes all that is outside of oneself, something that corresponds to someone else, or that feels unrecognizable. Ajeno applies to feelings, topics, and conversations. Ajeno can also be used to describe freedom from something. If someone is ajeno to sadness, that means this person does not know how sadness feels like, for example.
Nunca había ido a un bar de salsa, me sentía ajeno a ese ambiente.
I had never gone to a salsa bar before. I felt like a stranger in that place.
Which word was your favorite?
Personally, mine is te quiero. It’s amazing how learning another language can give us new ways to express ourselves! If you want to get a head start on Spanish, I suggest you try out a free class with one of our teachers at Homeschool Spanish Academy!Read More
Whether you’re learning Spanish or already know how to speak the language, rolling your r’s is one of the milestones that will help you go from good to great! Some words, like carro and caro (car and expensive) require the speaker to roll their r’s correctly in order to distinguish one from the other.
So, how do you do it? Some people seem to be able to roll them right off the bat without a hitch, but, if you’re like me, it will take some practice. Don’t worry! We have some pro tips that will cut your practice time by a considerable amount.
When Should You Even Roll Your R’s in the First Place?
In Spanish, there are two different ways to pronounce the letter known as Soft r and Rolled r. So, the answer to this question is simple: you see two r’s, you roll your tongue. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule. You also roll your r if you see it at the beginning or end of any word, like reloj (clock) or nadar (swim), for example.
When you find a single r in the middle of any word, you’ll be using the soft ‘r’ sound.
A Quick Tip to Pronounce the Soft R
Say the word “better”. The placement of your tongue at the beginning of the second syllable “tter” is the place where you should place your tongue when pronouncing a soft r. A great way to practice this is to grab a Spanish word like crea (to create) and alternate between the two: better, crea, better, crea, and so forth.
How to Roll Your R’s
A common misconception that I’ve seen when it comes to rolling your r’s is that you have to actively move your tongue in order to do it. In reality, you have mastered the soft r, now it’s time to roll out! This exercise is a fairly simple one. Grab a word with a double ‘r,’ like corren (they run), and separate it right between the r’s. Below are some examples.
- Cor | ren
- Bar | ren
- Ar | riba
Then, say each section individually, briefly pausing in between. Practice this over and over until your tongue naturally rolls!
But what if the ‘r’ is at the beginning of the word? You can’t separate the r’s if there’s only one! I remember during my time living in Wisconsin as an exchange student, my host sister would try to pronounce my name (Rafael) correctly by rolling the r at the beginning. She was having a really hard time until she came with this funny and useful way to practice: She would add a ‘d’ before the r in order to give her a head start with the roll. We still joke about the time she would call me ‘Drafael’ constantly until she got it right (she still calls me Drafael as a joke, though). Below is a list of words that will help you practice with this technique. Remember to add a ‘d’ at the beginning!
Another great way to practice that is widely used in language learning is tongue twisters. Check out our article about tongue twisters to learn more about this method, or check out our instruction video to learn more about the topic. The key component to rolling your r’s is patience. A great opportunity to practice your r’s is during downtimes like driving a car or taking a shower. Make use of these little moments and remember to be patient, you’ll have better pronunciation before you know it!
Get confident, get talking!
Now that you have the tools necessary to be able to speak like a native, all you need to do is get out there and practice! If you need more practice, or if you’re more of an auditory learner, check out our video on YouTube about rolling your R’s.
For more tips on how to roll your R’s, check out our video!Read More
As a native Spanish speaker, I’ve had the pleasure to work with people from all over the world. One of the common themes that I see my coworkers struggling with is Spanish pronunciation. Now, this is not because it’s a hard language to speak, but because they can be a little shy about their accent. From my experience, most Latinoamericanos greatly appreciate when a person makes an effort to work on their pronunciation, even if it’s not perfect. The best way to improve your Spanish pronunciation is to talk, sing, and interact with people in the language. By reading the following guidelines, you’ll have the edge you need to skyrocket your pronunciation skills to a whole new level!
5 vowels, 5 sounds
Vowels in Spanish are one of the simplest concepts to learn, but when your native tongue has several ways to say the same letter, like those tricky English vowels, it can become confusing. To make things a bit easier, you’ll find a chart below with English words that contain the appropriate vowel sounds for Spanish:
The letter ‘u’ can be tricky. In English, the ‘u’ sounds like ‘you’, but in Spanish, the sound is more similar to ‘oo’. Think of “A spooky ghost saying boo!” as a fun phrase that will help you with pronunciation. Many Spanish learners struggle with the pronunciation of vowels. What helps them get better is to focus on the 5 basic sounds when speaking. A great word to practice with is murciélago (bat) because it has every single vowel in it! So if you want to practice, remember the pronunciation ‘moor-see-ay-lah-goh’. Once you master that, you’ll be ahead of the Spanish game!
These words give you a rough understanding of the sounds attributed to each vowel in Spanish. Now, how do you even start to polish these sounds? A well-known method that is also fun to do, is singing! You can try singing along to the Spanish version of “A Whole New World” sung by our Spanish experts, as well as the timeless classic Cri Cri, used to teach Spanish to kids all over Latinoamérica.
Let’s see the letter C
The letter ‘c’ in Spanish has 3 different pronunciations. Much like in English, there’s the soft ‘c’, the hard ‘c,’ and the ‘ch’ sound. The pronunciation for the soft ‘c’ is much like the ‘s’ in English, and the hard ‘c’ sounds a lot like a ‘k;’ the ‘ch’ sound is the same one as in English too. Below you’ll find a handy chart with examples for the different kinds of pronunciation!
The last sound in this chart, ’cu’, has a sound that is exactly the same as the ’kw’ in English. Words like ’clockwise’ and ’kwanza’ are good examples. The ‘ch’ sound is much like the English sound for those letters. Words like chalice, champion, and clutch all have the same ‘ch’ sound as the Spanish words chile, chocolate, and chicle (pepper, chocolate, and gum).
Did you know?
One of the first differences between Spanish and Latino accents is the way we pronounce our Cs? In Spain, they differentiate the ’c’ from the ‘s’, while in Latin America we use the same soft pronunciation for both! This is just an interesting nuance of the language in between continents and has no impact on understandability at all.
Pronouncing the letter “G”
When I was in middle school, I remember feeling overwhelmed when trying to learn the different ways the letter ‘g‘ is used. While it is not hard by any means, it does require some memory and practice before it becomes second nature. The basic rules for the ‘g’ are similar to the ‘c,’ so try mastering the ‘c’ pronunciation before this one to minimize the difficulty at the time of practicing.
There are two main sounds with this letter: the strong and soft ‘g.’
The strong ‘g’ is probably the easiest one to start with because it’s exactly the same as the ‘g’ used in English. The word ‘gulp’ is the perfect example of how the soft G should be pronounced. The soft ‘g’, on the other hand, is a sound that is not found in the English language by default. So, how does the soft ‘g’ even work? The fastest way to learn this is by hearing it in our detailed video about Spanish pronunciation! To give you an idea of what a strong ‘g’ sounds like, think about the letter ‘h’ in English. The soft ‘g’ is like a raspier version of it.
When to pronounce a soft or strong G?
Special use of G
Now we know when a ‘g’ should be strong or soft! Sometimes, however, you’ll encounter words that will sound like ‘ge’ and ‘gi’ but with a hard sound. Oh no! How can we tell the difference?
There’s actually a very easy way to tell when you need to use a strong ‘g’ on these occasions, and it has to do with the letter ‘u.’ When you find a ‘u’ between ‘ge’ or ‘gi,’ that’s when you’ll need to use a strong G, while the U itself stays silent.
Did you know?
The concepts of strong and soft g are inverted in English and Spanish? What native Spanish speakers consider a ‘soft g’ is actually a ‘strong g’ if you’re speaking English! Keep this tidbit in mind and you may surprise your Spanish professor in your next class.
The great thing about learning a language is that you can learn it by interacting with others and connect with them. If you wish to learn more, and practice with some expert teachers, check out our Spanish learning programs, and don’t forget: practice makes perfect!
Keep practicing with our video!Read More
September in Central America is as colorful as any other holiday should be. Weeks before the 15th, the streets, markets, houses, and cars become adorned with hundreds of flags. Cities are dressed in patriotic colors by their citizens. Schools start practicing for the parades and concerts, marching bands can be heard all around town getting ready for the big day when festivities will take place from Guatemala all the way down to Costa Rica. Wearing traditional outfits, eating local dishes, and going out in the streets to have fun are all commonplace practices shared across Centroamérica.
How did this holiday start? To learn this we have to go back in time, almost 200 years ago, before our independence was proclaimed.
A Brief History of Central America’s Independence
September 15, 1821 was an important day for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Through a relatively peaceful process, these nations claimed their independence from the Spanish government impulsed by the political chaos caused by Napoleon Bonaparte’s attack on Spain in the year 1808. On November 5, 1811, the first revolts occurred in El Salvador, and the rest of the countries mentioned followed suit. A meeting between colonial authorities, renown locals, and religious leaders culminated on September 15 with the termination of Spain’s dominion over the Central American isthmus (Panama was not included and had their independence a few years later). Some historians argue that Central America’s independence is often glossed over, and that the subject is much more complex in nature, so if you’re interested in the historical aspect of Central America’s independence, I encourage you to research and ask Centroamericanos to tell you their stories – most of us will gladly share what we know!
Now, almost two hundred years later, people all over Central America celebrate our independence with joy and pride on the 15th, each country having similarities as well as carrying unique flair to their celebrations. I’ve researched and talked to natives of each country to learn the different ways we commemorate our nations and share them with you so you can know what to expect if you’re visiting!
A torch across five countries
Every year, there’s a tradition in Central America where the people carry a torch from Guatemala to Costa Rica in a relay marathon, passing through El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The torch is a symbol of the messengers who rode on horseback spreading the news of independence across all five nations. The ‘flame of independence’ is lit at a monument in Guatemala City called El Obelisco almost a week before independence day, reaching Costa Rica’s old capital, Cartago, on the 15th. This tradition has been done over 50 times to this day. The first time the torch traveled through the 5 countries was in 1959!
Differences between countries
In Guatemala, the torches are central to our celebration. Not only does the Central American torch leave El Obelisco 6 days before the 15th, but we also do torch runs all across the country. On the days prior to independence day, the plaza at El Obelisco is filled with marching bands, food stands, merchants, and people carrying a vibrant livelihood that is then taken all over the country in the form of torches lit by Guatemalan citizens. From small towns to groups of friends and even businesses, these torches are taken to many hometowns in celebration of our free nation. So if you have to go to work on the days before independence day, be sure to leave extra early, because the streets will be filled with groups of people running about with torches in their hands!
Some places like Petén, a lush jungle with ancient ruins in the north side of Guatemala, are far away from the city. What happens if I live in Petén? You might ask. There’s no way a group of people would be willing to run almost 500 kilometers for a torch, so many different hub spots in the country serve as lighting beacons for torches. My dad used to run with the torch back in the day with his coworkers. They would run together and finally get to their office to have lunch there. Since my dad worked in the city and making such a short a relay run between El Obelisco and his office didn’t make much sense, they traveled to Antigua, a neighboring town, and ran from there to the city.
In El Salvador, it’s not unusual for the first section of the celebratory parades to have flags from the other four countries that share the independence date, each flag with its own dedicated car. “They signify how we are all connected as one, as centroamericanos,” as my El Salvadoran friend, who lives in Guatemala, said. He tells me that “In El Salvador, we have a strong sense of identity; we get along well and have very little conflict between one another. My family makes fun of me when I visit, saying my accent has changed, but as you can hear my accent is not Guatemalan. Yet, we have a strong cultural identity and a necessity to preserve what we are.” His accent really wasn’t Guatemalan, if I’m being honest, and his insight was a good indicator of how much he appreciates his homeland.
Independence day in El Salvador starts with parades orchestrated by schools across the country as well as a military parade. They all converge at the national gymnasium, where the president greets the students and the military puts on a show with parachutes and planes flying overhead.
Honduras is very similar to El Salvador; school and military parades are planned and inaugurated with 21 cannonballs shot by the military at 6:00 a.m., signifying the start of the festivities. That’s one loud way to wake up if you ask me! Honduras also has a beauty pageant aspect to its parades, with the palillonas. These are girls dressed in fantasy military uniforms, sporting batons that they wave around, and the best ones often end up featured in the newspaper the next day.
Nicaraguans are very organized and meticulous when it comes to celebrating their independence. We all decorate our streets as soon as September starts and celebrate for three days until the 15th. Nicaraguans go a step further, and schedule events all throughout the month in order to celebrate their independence! Ceremonies begin on the first of September with an inauguration that features politicians, ambassadors, and students in tandem with the marching bands that are reminiscent of these celebrations. The following days are ceremonies dedicated to the torch that has been traveling all the way from Guatemala, which Nicaraguans pass on to Costa Rica on the 13th. The next day, there is an event held to commemorate and give medals to the best students and teachers in the country, followed by marching bands from schools, the military, and even the police! Aside from the common practices across Central America, Nicaraguans have the tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence on all schools on the 15th.
Just like the torch travels through all five countries and arrives at Cartago, we finally arrive at Costa Rica, where the celebration begins with the receiving of the torch. Costa Ricans pride themselves on their pacifist beliefs, having no military forces to speak of. After 1915, the military presence in their parades started to fade away, until the abolishment of the army removed them altogether. This altered the focus of the independence day celebrations, moving it more towards the youth. The evening before the 15th, there is an event called Desfile de Faroles, or Lantern Parade, where kids from all over Costa Rica build glowing lanterns with recycled materials. They decorate the lanterns with patriotic symbols and enjoy the warm light of their artistic expression while enjoying the local food.
All these different ways to express freedom sure make me want to go follow the torch across all five countries! It’d be great to experience what is not just a celebration of our past, but a unifying act that connects us and our history. It’s very interesting to see how the differences in celebration are influenced by who we are and where we come from. The torch leaves from Guatemala, so we center our festivities around the act of lighting and carrying the torch. In Costa Rica, the celebration centers around receiving the torch.
So, in a way, Independence Day in Centroamérica is a series of parades, shows, and traditions led by a single flame traveling both in the torch and in the hearts of the citizens of Centroamérica.
You can also connect with Centroamericanos by learning to speak Spanish. We always have something nice to share, and it’s a pleasure to show other nations what we’re all about. Get a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy today!Read More
One of the more exciting aspects of learning a new language is finding out the unusual characters it contains, and Spanish is no exception. Not only do we have special characters like ‘ñ’, but also combined characters like ‘ll.’ There are also some letters that sound the same and others whose sound depends on its placement in a word.
Phew! All that can make your head spin if you take it all at once. In today’s blog, we’ll organize, simplify, and explain several of the tricky consonants that are found in the language. If you’re the kind of student that’s been speaking Spanish for a while, you’ll find these guides will help you perfect your understanding of the language. If you’re just starting out, these tips will serve as tools to jumpstart your Spanish career by helping you get ahead of the reading game! Remember that while these tips are useful, practice is the key to becoming a bilingual master. Let’s get started!
LL or Y – What’s the difference?
I remember that when I first began working with my new office mate from Costa Rica, she would make fun of me for not pronouncing the ‘ll’ and ‘y’ correctly in Spanish, as I would often use the ‘y’ sound for both. The truth is, I never really paid much attention to the differences between the two, and each culture has a different approach on how to pronounce these two letters. So, what’s the consensus on pronunciation?
For la doble l, the double l, the sound you make is the same sound that the letter ‘j’ does in a lot of English words. Juice, jade, June, and July are some examples of words that use the same pronunciation. You can then alternate words like juice and lluvia (rain) to practice!
For the letter ‘y’, it’s a bit more complex. Sometimes, you’ll use the same pronunciation as in la doble l, and sometimes you’ll use the same sound as the ‘ee’ in ‘eerie’. When should you use each one? The basic rules are as follows:
When the ‘y’ is found at the end of the word, it acts as a vowel, and its use is purely grammatical. Also, in some regions of Latinoamérica, people won’t change the way they pronounce the ‘y,’ having it act as a vowel all the time! It’s fun to learn how speech changes from one region to the next, your Spanish will improve faster if you talk with people from different countries.
B and V
Unlike the b and v in English, these letters are pronounced exactly the same in Spanish – the pronunciation is officially called a bilabial sonoro, or a bilabial sound. In other words, you use both of your lips, more like the English ‘b.’ The difference between the letters has been purely grammatical for over 100 years! While you may hear people in some regions pronounce them differently, the correct pronunciation that the majority of Spanish-speakers use is to not differentiate between the sounds.
Below you’ll find a chart with different ways to name these two letters. Bear in mind the names on the last row of the chart are very informal, and it’s best to avoid using them (especially in a business setting) but are important to know anyway.
Different names for ‘v’ and ‘b’
The letter H is like a spooky ghost!
It is probably the easiest letter you’ll ever learn how to say in Spanish, because you don’t say it at all! The ‘h’ is a silent letter. Much like how the English language has changed and been left with quirks and marks in writing, this letter is a vestige of the way we spoke some centuries ago. As the language became more sophisticated and evolved with time, the consonants became smoother. The ‘h’ actually became so smooth that people stopped pronouncing it all together; that doesn’t mean it’s completely useless, though! In some cases, the ‘h’ will guide the pronunciation of certain words like buho (owl) by separating the two vowels and making the word composed of two syllables as opposed to one, changing the way it’s said.
One noisy exception
As my preschool teacher used to say: “The ‘h’ is shy and doesn’t like to make noise, but if her best friend ‘c’ sits next to her, everyone will be able to hear them!” This was a neat way to let us know that our beloved ghost letter still holds some use in Spanish. If you’ve ever been to a mexican food restaurant you’ve probably ordered a ‘chimichanga’ or a ‘chalupa.’ These words are great because they tell us just how the letter ‘h’ combined with the ‘c’ sound. The examples I gave you, I believe, are a great way to remember when and how the ‘h’ makes a noise in Spanish. However, perhaps the easiest examples I can give you on how to pronounce these letters are words like chair, chimes, and cherry. It’s indeed charming how cheerful these letters sound together!
The deceitful D
It is not uncommon for native Spanish speakers to accommodate their speech to better communicate with someone who’s still learning. In fact, I believe that’s one of the beautiful aspects of learning a new language: people will make an effort to connect with you better, even if you’re not great at their native tongue. However, in situations like social gatherings, for example, there can be a group of Spanish speakers that all of a sudden start making no sense at all. How can you better understand what they’re saying when they don’t pull their punches?
Idioms aside, one of the letters that Spanish speakers skip the most (besides the ‘s’) is the ‘d.’ When saying words like nada (nothing), native Spanish speakers like myself will say ‘nah-ah’ instead, and that can easily throw you off the flow of conversation if you have to listen in an active manner, like all language learners must do. Some Americans do this too! In some areas of the States, people cut out the ‘t’ of words. For example, instead of saying ‘mountain,’ you may hear ‘moun-ain’ without the ‘t!’ Even though a letter is skipped, the audience still understands. In Latinoamérica we do the same!
Another important thing to note is that the ‘d’ sound is a lot softer in Spanish. The main difference lies in the position of the tongue when saying this letter. You might be tempted to say the ‘d’ the same as ‘th,’ but that will make words like oportunidad (opportunity) way harder to say. To simplify things, to the Spanish ‘d’ sound you just have to move your tongue behind your teeth rather than in between, making a ‘doh’ sound instead.
J is a funny letter
If you’ve ever interacted online with someone who’s a native Spanish speaker, you might come across a text message that looks like this: jajajaja ¡qué risa!
It might look like they missed the keyboard when they tried to type “hahaha, that’s funny!” but that’s because the ‘j’ sound is the same as the basic ‘h’ sound in English. There is a subtle difference though, and that is that the ‘j’ sound can be both identical to the ‘h,’ or have a more ragged, raspy feel to it. The difference is regional (Guatemala has a raspy ‘j’ while El Salvador is known for doing more of an ‘h’ sound), and it mostly affects your accent rather than your understandability, so you can stick with the basic ‘h’ sound no problem.
My N has a little hat!
One of the two extra letters you’ll find in Spanish and not in English is the ‘ñ.’ I have a little trick that will help you say this letter right, and it’s a very easy trick at that! The way to pronounce the ‘ñ’ in Spanish – eñe – is as simple as saying the word ‘lanyard’ while keeping your teeth together. The sound that will come when you say ‘nya’ is the sound that belongs to our friend the eñe. Below are some Spanish words to practice with.
Last but not least, the Z
This letter is tricky because it’s one of the main differences between España and Latinoamérica when it comes to pronunciation. For Latinoamérica there’s really no difference between ‘z’ and ‘s,’ but if you’re in Spain, you might want to consider the following:
To pronounce the ‘z’ as they do in Spain, just talk as if you had a lisp, changing the ‘z’ for a ‘th’ as in the word ‘thick.’ Some word that’ll help you practice the ‘z’ are cereza (cherry), zapatos (shoes), and Suiza (Switzerland).
Take it one step at a time
Consonants are often a milestone when learning a new language. They can be scary and confusing, so remember to tackle them one by one! We cover most of the letters in this blog in our video about confusing consonants on our YouTube channel. Subscribe to receive great content to improve your Spanish! Make sure you visit our website to receive a free Spanish class live with one of our teachers.
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