Central America is one of the most vibrant and diverse areas in the world to visit. While you’re challenging yourself to learn more Spanish, we hope that you’re dreaming of where it can take you! Combine your love of the language with a passion for exploration and you may find yourself on one of the best vacations imaginable. To help you out, we have compiled a list of some of the top travel destinations for you to investigate and to enjoy! Buen viaje!
Ambergris Caye is the largest island off the coast of the mainland of Belize. It has a little bit of everything to suit everyone’s taste, whether you are traveling alone, in a big group, or with family. Enjoy water activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing, and parasailing. Then head to the jungle for hiking, zip lining, or simple nature walks. You will also find here the western hemisphere’s longest-running coral reef system that is full of underwater wildlife. Take advantage of all the natural beauty when visiting this gorgeous place!
How Safe Is It?
While traveling it is important to take safety into account and use common sense. This island is considered safe with some reported instances of theft (of passports or credit cards), burglary, and sexual harassment toward lone women. Always keep your personal items in a secure location and try not to flash expensive items while out in public.
The great majority of island dwellers speak English, but you will also hear Spanish and Creole, the local mestizo dialect. More than 80% of locals speak Spanish, so feel free to use it as you travel along!
The long, skinny island of Roatan sits atop the beautiful and ancient Mesoamerican barrier reef. Imagine soft sandy beaches, palm trees swaying with a light breeze, and crystal waters. This island has what you’re looking for, whether it be absolute luxury or simple budget travel and lodging. You will definitely want to get into the water however you can, so join a glass-bottom boat tour, rent a kayak, or charter a fishing trip! Once you’re ready to come back to land, plan a trip to the art or underwater museums, visit the iguana conservatory, go bicycling, or gather a group for mini-golf. The options for fun and entertainment are truly endless.
How Safe Is it?
While safer than mainland Honduras, we advise you to enjoy your travel experience more so on the west end of the island. Take greater precautions while visiting the east end of the island which is less developed and less populated.
Although most islanders speak English, a big group of mainland Hondurans finds their way there for work. This means that even though English is the most commonly-spoken language on this island, there are plenty of opportunities to use your Spanish. Keep in mind that the English you will hear is a unique dialect of the region and might not be what you’re expecting!
This little town in Costa Rica, often simply called “La Fortuna,” is 10 kilometers away from one of the most popular and powerful volcanoes in the country: Arenal Volcano. Until 2010, it was the most active volcano in all of Costa Rica. With more than a million visitors per year, this area provides plenty of entertainment for all types of tourists. You will find amazing spas that take advantage of the natural thermal waters from Arenal and various hot springs to enjoy. Go sightseeing at the miraculously tall waterfall, La Fortuna Catarata, that towers upward of 70 meters. For more adventure and physical activity, try horseback riding, canoeing, fishing, hiking or jump onto a canopy tour!
Is It Safe?
If you plan on traveling between towns (Monteverde to La Fortuna, for example) by bus then you will definitely need to keep an eye on your bags! If you can avoid it, try not to put them in the rack above your seat. Aside from this important detail, traveling around this area is safe if using common sense.
Most locals do not speak English and they will expect that you have brushed up on your Spanish skills before trying to communicate! Check out our Travel Spanish Guide for useful phrases you can practice on your plane ride.
Panama City shines bright as a bustling metropolitan area where international bankers and businessmen wine and dine. Luckily, it is also accessible for the budget traveler if you know where to look and you know how to negotiate taxi fare! After a day or so of cultured exploration, non-stop traffic and crazy city life, take a day trip to the beach on the Carribean or Pacific shore or watch the boats come and go through the famous Panama Canal.
Is It Safe?
In areas like this with a highly concentrated population, it is important to keep a vigilant eye. Beware of service guides who wish to give you a tour. Often they will begin the ‘tour’ without your consent and soon become aggressive when asking for payment. Keep your belongings tucked away in an inaccessible pocket or bag.
Spanish is the national language of Panama, while around 14% of inhabitants speak English. Make sure to practice asking for directions, ordering meals, and checking into hotels or other lodgings. Improve your skills even more by joining one of the various Spanish Schools offered in Panama!
Granada is a calm and relaxing place with plenty of architectural beauty. You will see attractive and colorful colonial buildings everywhere with horse-drawn carriages moving in between. Take a stroll on land or visit Lake Nicaragua and take a boat tour. For even more adventure, climb one of the nearby volcanoes or go hiking in one of the wildlife preserves.
Is It Safe?
In Granada, violent crime is extremely low, and as a traveler, you will only need to worry about pickpockets. Sometimes, due to civil unrest, Nicaragua will close its borders to travelers and so it is necessary to check on its status before planning your vacation.
Very few locals speak English,so Granada is an excellent place to challenge yourself to speak more Spanish. Bring a travel guide along with you in order to have the phrases you need at your fingertips!
In Southwestern Nicaragua, located along the shore of the Pacific Ocean, sits the colorful town of San Juan del Sur. The temperature stays at a fairly warm temperature for most of the year with a bit of cold from November to January. It has several different beaches to choose from that combine perfectly with hot weather. No wonder it is considered a hub for beach parties! Surf the waves, go swimming, sunbathe your heart out, and then go investigate the giant Jesus statue that overlooks the village.
Is It Safe?
San Juan del Sur has grown in popularity over the years, which means that there are more opportunistic types who are attempting to prey on visitors. Again, it’s a place where common sense will keep you out of trouble. Avoid being out at night on your own and keep all of your belongings in a safe spot.
San Juan del Sur is a fantastic place to build your Spanish skills through one of their tailored Spanish school options. From one-time lessons to immersion and community outreach, there is a way for everyone to learn.
Quirigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Guatemala, the heart of the Mayan civilization. This amazing archaeological site has ancient carved monuments that show Mayan mythology and important historical events. Visit one of the many museums that explain more about Mayan history and provide fun small-scale models of what the area looked like long ago.
Is It Safe?
While touring this ancient city, it is necessary to keep items of importance in a safe space. Other than possible theft, there are no other major precautions to take.
While you can get a tour guide to bring the city to life for you in English, you could just as easily ask for a tour in Spanish! Expand your vocabulary through a real-life history lesson! After you visit Quirigua, take a bus to any of these other incredible destinations in Guatemala and head over to Homeschool Spanish Academy for fun and practical Spanish lessons.
La Ruta de las Flores is called la ruta because it is just that: a route. It is a passage of blooming flowers that grow along 20 miles of five main colonial towns and coffee plantations. The best time to go in order to see the blooms is between November and February. There are plenty of other activities to explore along the way including a 7-Waterfall hike in Juyayua, ziplining in Apaneca, and going on a coffee tour in any of the other villages along the route.
Is It Safe?
Exploring this route is traditionally done by chicken bus, where you will need to exercise caution with your personal belongings. Make sure to keep them close to your body and, if possible, avoid leaving them in the rack above the seats.
You will have many chances to use your Spanish! In each of the towns along the route, you will need your skills to order food, talk to locals, find lodging, learn more about the history of the towns, and ask for directions.
Best Trip Ever
Now that you are equipped with all the best travel destinations in Central America, you can start packing. You can practice your Spanish while you explore some of the greatest spots between North and South America. Want the best Spanish learning experience before your trip? Take a class with professional, friendly teachers at Homeschool Spanish Academy for an awesome head start to your travel. Enjoy the best trip of your life and maybe you’ll be able to add even more great destinations to our list!Read More
Companies are looking to hire employees who have an understanding of other cultures and have the ability to communicate with people from different backgrounds.
First Off – What Is Culture?
Per the Oxford Dictionary, Culture is defined as “the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society.”
Moreover, culture includes a group that we are born into – such as race, gender, socioeconomic class, national origin, or religion. It is also comprised of the circles we are associated with through relocation, a change in economic status, or by experiencing a disability.
Why Does Your Employer Care If You Can Communicate Cross-Culturally?
People from diverse backgrounds and cultures have different life experiences and have exposure to unique ways of doing things. These differences enhance the workplace culture by uniting thinkers who can look at business problems from varied perspectives and other information processing styles, which, in turn, leads to solving problems with uncommon solutions.
We look up at the same stars, and see such different things.”George R.R. Martin, Author
If your entire team at work consists of people from the same ‘culture’ (as defined above) – then it is highly likely that their problem-solving techniques and project recommendations will be the same. This is not a sustainable approach for competing in the global marketplace. Businesses need unique perspectives to stay competitive. At work, we are told to think ‘outside the box’ – this can be done by comprising teams of diverse backgrounds who have different viewpoints.
The USA has an exceptionally diverse talent pool which is comprised of many cultures. According to the US Census Bureau, as of July 2018, 18.1% of Americans are of Hispanic or Latino descent. Also, there are 41 million Spanish speakers in the USA, and Spanish is the most studied foreign language.
In summary, “A diverse workforce also generates diverse ideas, and diverse ideas help your company out-think the competition. In fact, the next billion dollar idea may come from a background none of your employees have yet.” Refer to this article for further reading.
How Diverse Should Your Company Be?
This question is answered eloquently in this Human Resources article,
“Your organization should be as diverse as your customer base. The important inverse of this is that your customer-base can only be as diverse as your organization.”
A Canadian think tank developed an index to rank companies on Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) back in 2016. This D&I Index ranks the top 100 publicly traded companies across the globe and measures 24 areas across four categories; Diversity, Inclusion, People Development and News Controversies. These are the Top 10 most Diverse companies in 2018,
- Accenture PLC
- Novartis AG
- Medtronic PLC
- Diageo PLC
- Gap Inc
- Telecom Italia SpA
- Kering SA
- Natura Cosmeticos SA
- L’Oreal SA
- Acciona SA
What Is Your Employer Looking For?
Adaptability & Flexibility
A few years ago, I had the experience of negotiating aerospace subcontracts in India. On one particular trip, I was sitting across the table from a subcontractor’s Program Manager, Finance Manager, and Lead Engineer when suddenly the lights flickered. My first reaction was to worry that there was an impending earthquake and I need to run to the sturdiest doorway! Then I remembered my previous experiences traveling to developing countries and the fact that power can be unreliable. The lights continued to flicker on and off until it became dark outside-and then they went out for the rest of the evening. We still hadn’t reached a negotiation agreement but had to press on – our faces illuminated only by the light of our cell phones. It is imperative to have the ability to adapt to unique circumstances without skipping a beat.
- Agreement on Terms and Conditions – Check.
- Unique experience – Check.
- Didn’t miss a beat and closed the deal – Check!
Employers are perusing résumés to determine if the applicant has experience with other cultures, thereby making them capable of adapting to different business climates, interacting with people of different backgrounds, and building relationships with people from/located in other quadrants.
Willingness to Listen and Learn
Employers want to hire people who are open-minded and willing to learn – not those who protest against company culture or other employees. One way to learn to be more open-minded is to have exposure to people who think differently than you. Refer to our blogto learn more on cultural competency.
According to an article on being culturally literate,
“Developing [employees who are] culturally literate and aware can enhance communication, productivity, and unity in the workplace. And when these employees deal with foreign employees [who are culturally literate and aware] … there will be little to no misunderstandings…[because] they can understand others who are different from them.”
Unique Problem-Solving Skills
Other ways to become more open-minded is by taking classes in new subjects that challenge your perceptions and thoughts, attend a cultural celebration different from your culture, listen to what people have to say so you can learn new perspectives, or pay attention to nuances that make someone different than you.
Companies often want to take successful products and ideas from one market and move them to another; however, these well-intentioned plans often go awry. Nothing highlights this better than the Chevrolet Nova. This small automobile had success in the American market, and Chevy executives wanted to prosper in Latin America as well. It is safe to assume that the Chevy marketing team did not include a Spanish speaker because if they had, the Chevy Nova would have never landed in South America.
‘Nova’ in Spanish is two separate words, no va – and this literally means ‘it doesn’t go.’ Who wants to buy a car that doesn’t go? The company was able to recover from this misnomer, but the lesson remains – know your market.
There is no better way to understand your business environment than to have a team comprised of people who grasp the local economy first hand!
According to an international business school article,
“Understanding local laws, regulations, and customs, as well as the competitive landscape, can help a business to thrive. Moreover, local connections, native language skills, and cultural understanding can boost international business development exponentially.”
Furthermore, research from consulting firm McKinsey & Company analyzed 366 public companies across industries in Canada, United States, Latin America, and the United Kingdom and found that highly diverse companies “are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”
How Do You Highlight Your Uniqueness On Your Résumé?
- Add study/work abroad and extended travel experiences on your résumé – it inherently implies that you have been put in situations where you became self-reliant and made adjustments to adapt to circumstances in each unique place.
- List additional languages that you speak as well as your proficiency level – even if you are just starting out – because it shows interest in culture.
- Include any professional affiliations and cultural organizations that you are a part of
- Highlight interdisciplinary and multicultural teams that you’ve contributed to
Are You Lacking These Experiences?
It is OK if you cannot add any of the above to your résumé today because you can also become more culturally aware through other avenues.
One way is by interfacing with people from other countries! Spanish is the most prudent language to learn so that you can interface with people in 21 other countries AND 41 million people in your own backyard!
Another way to learn Spanish is to sign up for online classes with instructors located in Antigua, Guatemala who are ready to share about culture, colloquial words and their everyday life experiences!
You could also check the ‘travel’ box by visiting Guatemala as your next travel destination!Read More
I’ve often written that language is very closely tied to culture, and therefore to people! And what is the one thing we humans do every single day of our lives? We eat! Food is one of the things we all need and enjoy. It also brings us together – remember all those fun family lunches and dinners you’ve attended?
We all also have that one food that brings us back to our childhood; just the smell of it reminds us of when our mother, grandmother, aunt – or in my case, both my grandmother and great-grandmother – cooked the dish! All this talk about cooking got me thinking about the one dish that immediately brings me back to a younger version of myself. So, I grabbed the phone, called my grandmother, and asked her for her amazing chiles rellenos recipe – the one she learned from my great-grandmother!
It was nice to talk on the phone with her, and to catch up. She took a long time explaining really carefully and with much detail how to prepare the dish. Like a typical Guatemalan abuela, she only cooks in really big batches! Last time she cooked chiles rellenos, she made over 50 at once! However, she tried downsizing it for me to only 20 chiles rellenos instead.
Primero lo primero – First Things First
Like with any other recipe, before we start, we first need to make sure that we have all the necessary tools and ingredients. What I try to do whenever I cook is to take all the ingredients out and put them on the counter to make sure I have everything I need! Those last-second trips to the grocery store are not always ideal!
What we will need for this recipe:
- A lot of patience (there’s a lot of mincing by hand involved!)
- A blender
- A very big pot
- A big bag
- A towel
I had done this recipe once before many, many years ago, and throughout my life, I’ve watched my great-grandmother and grandmother do it more times than I can remember. The one thing I remember best is that my grandma always prepares the stuffing one day and she finishes the chiles rellenos the next. Why? Because it’s A LOT of work! This time, I naively believed I’d be able to manage to do everything on the same day – ha ha – be warned!
The reason why it takes so long to prepare the stuffing is because there is a lot of VERY TINY MINCING (picar – to mince). Let’s get started!
I know, I know, it seems like I’m exaggerating when I say it takes a long time to get this ready because the instructions seem pretty easy. Believe me when I tell you that once you’re done with all that, there’s nothing else you want to do because the mincing such tiny itsy bitsy pieces of food takes a long time and is exhausting! So don’t worry if you need to make a pause now, just put everything to the side, make yourself a toast for dinner, and continue with this recipe the next day. This stuffing that we made needs to be room temperature, so you need to wait for it to not to be hot anymore anyway.
Everything that comes now is a lot easier! Let’s continue.
And now what?
CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve prepared your first traditional Guatemalan meal! At my family’s house, there was always a special way to serve chiles rellenos – with lettuce, a couple of raw onion rings and chopped parsley! It tastes especially well if you put it in a bun. Once cooked, you can store the chiles rellenos in the fridge!
We hope you enjoyed this recipe and don’t forget to book your FREE CLASS to tell us about your experience with this awesome dish!
So, you’ve been taking Spanish class for a while now, and you’ve got the basics down. You feel confident enough to have your first real-life conversation with a native speaker. Everything starts off well – you introduce yourself with the correct phrases and ask the right questions. And then they ask you how long you have been studying Spanish and you can’t quite remember the word for ‘ago.’ You start stumbling over your words, not knowing how to continue, and all your newfound confidence slowly wanes.
Have you been there? Have you ever just needed a moment in a conversation to collect your thoughts, remember the correct translation of that tricky word, or recall how to conjugate irregular verbs in the past tense? I have. Oh, I have been in that situation too many times to count. Even now, as a fluent Spanish speaker, I still have moments where I get confused between Spanish and English, or a particular tense trips me up (yes, this happens to me in both languages now). Are we destined to always stumble over our words while we think of the correct way to express ourselves? The answer is no. There is a trick I’ve learned over the years that can give you those extra couple seconds you need to remember the past tense of decir in the ‘usted’ form.
Have you ever noticed how native speakers – of any language – pause naturally to think about what they want to say? It is usually accompanied by a transition word to let the other person know that they just need a moment to gather their thoughts. For example, how many times do you use ‘uhm’ or ‘like’ in a conversation as a transition word between sentences? If you’re anything like me, it would be a lot. Very few people can hold a conversation flawlessly without using these little words to help them along. The only issue is…they aren’t international.
There are some words that take a lot of work to switch into our second (or third or fourth) language because they are second nature. For me, the hardest phrase to translate was ‘I mean….’ I would be speaking fluent Spanish and out of nowhere, I would stick an ‘I mean’ into my sentence. I have heard other native English speakers trip up of words like ‘alright,’ ‘like,’ and even ‘uhm.’ If your goal is fluency in Spanish, then these words can be a small but impending obstacle. However, I have put together a list of phrases that I have learned to use as transitional words to give me some extra time to think and put together my thoughts in my second language.
Let’s start simple. ‘Uhm.’ I can’t even tell you how many times I use this word in a day. We use it when we’re thinking, as a pause, when we don’t understand, etc. It is such a common word that it may seem weird that it is not universal. Of course, if you say ‘uhm’ while speaking Spanish, you will be understood, no question. However, you may start to notice that native Spanish speakers say it a little different.
Instead of ‘uhm,’ it’s more of an em sound. Here are some examples to look at:
“Em…la verdad no sé.”
“Uhm…honestly, I don’t know.”
“Él habló sobre, em, el tema de desigualdad.”
“He talked about, uhm, the topic of inequality.”
So, we started simple. This one is just a change in pronunciation. Let’s look at another simple word
Since English has become the international language of business, many English words have infiltrated various languages, especially Spanish. This means that Spanish speakers understand and even use this word, ‘okay,’ but it is not as common as the Spanish equivalents – and let me tell you, there are many. If it is your goal to become fluent in Spanish, it is always good to know the correct way to say things in Spanish and not just use a common English word in its place.
Although there are many ways to say ‘okay,’ we are going to look at one that is incredibly popular in Latin America – va. It can actually be used in two main ways. The first would be short for the word for vale, which (also) means okay. The second way is actually short for the word true, verdad, and is used at the end of sentences. Let’s take a look:
“Necesito que llegues a las 8 en punto.” “Ah, va. Está bien. Allí estaré.”
“I need you to be there at 8 sharp.” “Ah, okay. That’s fine. I’ll be there.”
“Tengo que estar allí a las 8, ¿va?”
“I have to be there at 8, right?”
Now, for the purposes of this blog, we will be focusing on the first use. It is normally used as a response to someone to express your understanding and agreement, but you can also use it to give you some time to process what that person said before responding.
This transition word is va, pronounced more as a ‘ba’ than a ‘va.’ Although the correct pronunciation would be with a ‘v’ sound, the majority of people pronounce the ‘v’ and the ‘b’ as a combination of the two sounds, leaning more towards the ‘b’ sound. You probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between botar and votar based on pronunciation alone. You would have to use context clues to know which word is being spoken.
“Well, I’m not sure.” How would you translate this sentence to Spanish? What about, Bien, no estoy seguro. Unfortunately, that would be incorrect. Although ‘well’ does often translate to ‘bien,’ it has a completely different translation when used as an interjection. The correct word to use would then be pues. Let’s look at some more examples:
Pues, creo que estás equivocado.
Well, I think you’re mistaken.
Pues, necesito terminar aquí primero. Dame 5 minutos.
Well, I need to finish up here first. Give me 5 minutes.
If you are unsure of how to respond to someone, the word pues can give you that little extra time you need to form your response without making it seem like you are struggling.
Have you ever been in the middle of a great conversation and then been interrupted? In English, we usually return to the previous conversation by saying ‘anyways…’ If you are unsure of how to use this word in Spanish, you may be stuck frantically racking your brain for a way to return to that great conversation you were having – as I have many times. Don’t worry, though! This short, simple phrase will convey that you would like to return to the conversation topic that you were involved in before the interruption: pues sí.
This phrase literally means ‘well yes’ or ‘so yes,’ but it would be most accurately translated colloquially as pues sí. Let’s imagine you’re talking with a friend at a café, and another friend stops by to greet you.
“¡Qué gusto verte otra vez! Hablamos después. ¡Adiós! Perdón, Alex. Pues sí…”
“It was so great to see you again! We’ll talk later. Bye! Sorry about that, Alex. Anyways
Maybe you are talking to someone outside and see a car run a red light, almost causing an accident:
“¡Ay, Dios mío! Qué miedo. La gente debe ser más cuidadosa. Pues sí…”
“Oh my gosh! That was so scary. People need to be more careful. Anyways…”
No matter the situation, pues sí is your key phrase to get you back into the conversation you were having – and it’s the perfect excuse for a pause to collect your thoughts as you switch gears back into the previous topic.
For a long time, I thought the English word ‘alright’ had no appropriate translation. When I was teaching my classes in Spanish, I would always change topics by saying ‘alright’ in English. I knew it sounded strange, an English interjection in the middle of Spanish conversation, but I was stumped by how to correctly express myself in Spanish. After listening closely to Spanish conversations, however, I realized that there is such a word in Spanish – bueno.
Yes, yes, bueno does mean ‘good.’ As you have seen with these transition words, they often have multiple meanings. Part of the beauty of learning a language is discovering all the different ways you can use one small word.
“Hacer ejercicio es bueno para la salud.”
“Exercising is good for your health.”
“Tenemos buenos recuerdos de ese lugar.”
“We have good memories of that place.”
“Bueno. Empecemos en la página 28.”
“Alright. Let’s start on page 28.”
As you can see with the last example, when used at the beginning of a sentence as an interjection, bueno means ‘alright.’ You can use it to wrap up one topic and start another – or as a way to quickly organize your thoughts before starting a new subject of conversation.
It’s just that…
This next transition phrase is by no means official, but it is extremely common in informal conversation. Have you ever found yourself saying phrases like ‘it’s just that…’ or ‘it’s like…’ to introduce an explanation or reasoning to something? There is often a pause following these phrases as we figure out how to best express ourselves. Guess what? There’s a similar phrase in Spanish: es que.
This literally translates as ‘it’s that…’ which is very similar to the English counterparts. You will hear this very often as native Spanish speakers organize their thoughts or think of how to better explain something. It’s time for you to try it out as well if you need some extra time to form your sentence in Spanish.
“Es que…necesito averiguar que haya tiempo para esa actividad.”
“It’s just that…I need to check that there’s time for that activity.”
“Es que…la razón por la cual dije eso es porque no quise ofender a nadie.”
“It’s just that…the reason I said that is because I didn’t want to offend anyone.”
This phrase often has no connection to the following sentence but is just used as a filler while the speaker decides what they want to say. This makes it perfect for all you Spanish learners – you can use this trick to sound just like a native speaker while you search your memory for those tricky rules about the subjunctive tense.
We all have trademark phrases that we use way too often. One of those phrases for me is ‘I mean…’ This was made blindingly obvious to me as it came out in English all the time while speaking Spanish with my husband. While he eventually understood what I intended to say, it frustrated me that I was lacking a key phrase in Spanish.
The word ‘mean’ (used to clarify what you are saying) does not have a direct translation in Spanish, which makes it difficult for those of us who use it all the time in English! However, there are other ways to express the same thing. Let’s look at some examples:
“Reunámonos el viernes. Digo, el sábado.”
“Let’s meet up on Friday. I mean, Saturday.”
“Tu correo dice que el total es $110. ¿Es correcto?” “Oh, perdón. Quise decir $100.”
“Your email says the total is $110. Is that correct?” “Oh, sorry. I meant $100.”
As you can see from these examples, the translation for ‘I mean’ would be digo, or ‘I say.’ However, if you want to use it in the past as ‘I meant,’ it would be quise decir, or ‘I wanted to say.’
Both phrases are helpful to know, but in reference to transition words, digo is definitely one of the keywords to learn. When speaking our native language, we can mix up our words and accidentally say the wrong thing. This becomes all the more probable when speaking another language, which is why this small word will help clear up confusion quickly and effortlessly.
In other words…
Speaking of clarifying things, there is another great phrase that is used to reword something: ‘o sea.’ This can be used to reword what you have just said or to put what someone else said into your own words to ensure you have understood them. Although this looks like ‘Oh sea’ in English, the pronunciation is pretty different. The ‘o’ is the same, but the ‘sea’ is pronounced ‘say-ah.’
This phrase is a great way to give yourself another chance at explaining something or to be sure that you understand what is being said in the conversation without saying no entiendo. It literally translates to ‘or it is,’ but we would say ‘in other words’ in English. You can use the phrase ‘en otras palabras,’ but ‘o sea’ is much more common in informal conversations, and it is less of a mouthful.
“Nos falta mucho para terminar. O sea que tendremos que trabajar este fin de semana.”
“We still have a lot to do to finish. In other words, we’ll have to work this weekend.”
“Debes usar esos otros marcadores para escribir en el pizarrón.” “O sea que ¿este es un marcador permanente?”
“You must use those other markers to write on the board.” “In other words, this is a permanent marker?”
As you can see in the last example, another possible translation for o sea can be ‘mean.’ We could have translated that part as “You mean this is a permanent marker?” and it would have the same effect. Since ‘mean’ does not directly translate to Spanish, you can use a couple of these transition phrases to express yourself – just make sure you use digo only when you’re clarify something you personally said.
The thing is that…
This phrase can be literally translated to la cosa es que, but there is another phrase that is very unique. I spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to translate it to English, and the phrase ‘the thing is that’ is the closest I could think of, but it doesn’t quite do it justice. Fíjate que (or fíjese que in the ‘usted’ form) literally means ‘pay attention’ or ‘notice’ something. It is in the command form, which basically tells your audience ‘listen up!’ However, in context, it has a much softer voice. It has actually become notorious as the introduction to excuses!
“Fíjese que mi hermanita botó agua en mi tarea y por eso no la traje.”
“The thing is that my little sister spilled water on my homework, and that’s why I didn’t bring it.”
“¿Ya revisaste los documentos?” “Fíjate que no. No he tenido tiempo.”
“Did you check the documents yet?” “The thing is that no, I haven’t had time.”
As you can see, colloquially, fíjate is often used to introduce bad news or news in general. This is also one of those great examples of a word that has no good translation in English – you can understand the meaning but there is no word that truly captivates its essence in the English language.
This last transition word is just as versatile as the rest – ‘look.’ No, we are not talking about actually looking at something but the interjection. “Look, I think we should start over.” We are not asking someone to physically look at something, but instead, we are introducing an idea or a solution. Either way, the translation would be the same in Spanish – mirar can be both a verb and a transition word.
The most common form of mirar that I have heard as a transition word is mirá, which is the command form of ‘vos.’ Depending on what country you are in, this form may also be popular. If you are unsure, you can always use the ‘tú’ form, which would be mira (accent on the ‘i’ instead of the ‘a’). You can even use the ‘usted’ of mirar is the occasion calls for it: mire.
“Mirá, creo que debemos rehacer esta parte aquí.
“Look, I think we should redo this part here.”
“Mira, hagamos un plan.”
“Look, let’s make a plan.”
“Mire, necesito ayuda con estos documentos. ¿Me los puede autorizar?”
Look, I need help with these documents. Could you authorize them for me?
No matter the form you use, this word is a great way to introduce ideas and give you some extra time to organize your sentence in Spanish.
That was a lot of information! I hope these words helped your Spanish conversation skills – try using them one at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed! Also, listen for these words in Spanish conversations, movies, and songs. Now that you are familiar with them, you’ll notice them and hear more of their uses! Don’t be surprised if you hear combinations of these words, such as mirá pues, pues, fíjate que, or bueno pues. This is just a short guide to all the nuances of Spanish transition words! Don’t forget to practice them with your Spanish teacher in class, and feel free to ask them any questions you may have. ¡Hasta la próxima!Read More
By now, you probably know a couple of words in español: hola, adiós, ¿dónde está la biblioteca? However, have you ever thought of where Spanish comes from? Did it just pop up one day in Spain, or is there more to it? Today we’re going to explore the history of Spanish because it didn’t just magically appear! Language is more of a living creature that evolves with the passage of time. People are the vehicle of language, and language is what gives us humans the ability to communicate our inner worlds in such a detailed fashion! It’s a win-win situation! Join me today as we trace back the history of Spanish language! If you want the short version, download the timeline here:
Maybe you would prefer to download the whole blog as a PDF. You can review and study it with your Spanish learner, and even test their knowledge with a quick exercise at the end!
History of Spanish and History of Spain
The history of the Spanish language is closely tied to the history of Spain. As groups of people moved through what is now recognized as the country of Spain, multiple languages came and went! Some of them left a big mark, while others barely brushed through. These migrations have always taken place – humans have constantly moved through territories and “secure borders” (like we now have) were certainly not a thing 5,000 years ago!
Let’s start with some useful vocabulary! In Spanish, there are two ways to refer to the Spanish language:
*The literal English translation of castellano is Castillian. However, the English term refers to specific varieties of Spanish only, not to the Spanish language as a whole. The Spanish castellano can refer to either the Spanish language as a whole or to specific varieties. The term comes from Castilla, the region in Spain where Spanish came to life!
History of Spanish: A Jigsaw Puzzle
When we think of Spanish – or any language – we see a whole: a language! Or maybe we think about the elements we learned when studying it: words, grammar, pronunciation, spelling. For today, we’ll think of Spanish as a historical jigsaw puzzle with interchangeable, multicultural pieces that come in various sizes. Just think about it: there was a time when the Spanish we now know didn’t exist. However, all the pieces of the puzzle were already scattered all around the world. They eventually found their way to one another, and so created a beautiful and diverse mosaic of language. Let’s read more on the history of Spanish and how this jigsaw puzzle came to be!
Putting Together the Pieces of the Puzzle
A long long time ago
5000 years ago, the ancient indigenous peoples of (now) Spain, the Iberians, spoke their own Iberian language. This language even had its own script and many of the inscriptions they wrote still survive today! This piece of the puzzle is a really tiny one as their writing system disappeared with the conquest of the Roman Empire some 2000 years ago, and very few words can be understood now. As you may have guessed, the Iberian Peninsula (now Spain and Portugal) owes its name to its first inhabitants, the Iberians!
3000 years ago, the Celts started to make their way south to the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula. They came with their own Celtic language (also called Common Celt or Proto-Celt)! Nowadays, there are still 6 Celtic languages that evolved from that one Celtic language from a long time ago: Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton. Some of these languages are in danger of becoming extinct, just as it happens in Guatemala with Mayan Languages. Read more about what is happening to Mayan languages here! Many words we use in Spanish are of Celtic origin, so this piece of the puzzle is a little bit bigger! Some examples are:
bruja (witch), gancho (hook), carro (car), añicos (smithereens)
The Iberians and Celts coexisted in Spain until the Celtic people changed so much because of the Iberian influence that Celtiberians came to existence. Celtiberians spoke the Celtiberian language and used the Iberian script that they borrowed from the Iberians, but they were considered Celts.
A long time ago
Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Greeks
Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Greeks all came to the Iberian Peninsula between the 15th and 4th century BCE to found colonies. While their impact on agriculture, economy, and mining was substantial, their influence on language wasn’t.
In modern Spanish, however, there are a lot of words that come from Greek! Greek didn’t really have much impact on the puzzle of Spanish when the Greeks came to Spain, but Latin and Arabic had already been greatly influenced by Greek. So the great amount of words with Greek origin in Spanish has more to do with the influence of Greek on Latin and Arabic, and less to do with a direct adoption of Greek words by the indigenous Spanish people. Some examples of Greek origin adopted through Latin are:
academia (academy), carta (letter), diamante (diamond), fósforos (matchstick)
The Romans arrived in the Iberian Peninsula some 2200 years ago. They got there because they were at war with the Carthaginians, who had already occupied a significant part of Spain. After a lot of back and forth that included three wars, known as the Punic Wars (that lasted over 100 years), the Romans finally defeated the Carthaginians. 200 years later, they conquered the whole of Spain! As such, the Iberian Peninsula became a part of the Roman Empire.
The Romans brought along their culture and language, which was Vulgar Latin (vulgar means common – Common Latin, like the Common Greek). Romans were all about individuals having rights, so they never violently forced their language on the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula. They did, however, encourage them to learn the language through other more effective means: creating documents only in Latin and opening Latin schools for people to be able to learn.
The Romans occupied Spain for 700 years. In this extended period of time, Latin was greatly influenced by the languages that were spoken in the peninsula when the Romans arrived. By the first century AD, the modified version of Latin was spoken throughout the entire Iberian Peninsula!
Latin is by far the biggest – and central – piece of the puzzle! Every other piece connects around this one. Latin is the language that evolved and adapted elements from other languages to eventually become Spanish!
The Moors came to Spain in the year 711. They conquered Spain and stayed until 1492, the same year Christopher Columbus discovered America! They arrived in Spain because there were (again) some wars. They were called by some friends in Spain to help with the wars but ended up staying and occupying the territory for almost 800 years! As the Romans did before them, the Moors also brought along culture and language!
The language of the Moors was (and still is – yay to our first still living language!) Ḥassāniyyah Arabic, a dialect of Arabic. In the 781 years that the Moors occupied Spain, the modified Latin (that will soon turn into Spanish) started adopting A LOT of Arabic words. The Moors also introduced the Arabic numerals and the numbering system, and they contributed greatly to the fields of architecture, religion, agriculture, and education.
Almost 800 years of occupation are more than just brushing through. Arabic’s piece of the puzzle is rather significant when compared to the other languages we’ve talked about before Latin became THE LANGUAGE of Spain. Moors brought along with them many new things. All of them had no name in Latin because you don’t have a name for something that doesn’t exist in your world. Some examples of Arabic words that eventually made their way into Spanish are:
almohada (pillow), azúcar (sugar), ajedrez (chess) barrio (neighborhood)
Interesting fact: During the Moorish occupation, all the cultures – and religions – coexisted peacefully, and some temples were used both for Christian and Muslim services. The marriage between Christians and Muslims was also common and gave birth to a new culture: the Mozarabs. As we’ve seen multiple times, with culture comes language: the Mozarabic!
1492 and the History of Spanish
The year 1492 is a special year for Spain. Three major events occurred that greatly affected the course of history:
- The fall of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. Subsequent expulsion of the Moors.
- The expulsion of the Spanish Jews (Sephardic Jews) after they had lived in Spain for centuries.
- Christopher Columbus discovered America.
Fall of Granada
In 1469, Prince Ferdinand, heir to the crown of Aragón, and Queen Isabella of Castile married. Their united forces helped achieve the fall of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. This brought to an end the 700 years of Moorish invasion. Language: Due to the importance of their union – and the territories they had together – the dialect spoken in Castile became the official language of Spain. The name of the dialect spoken in Castile was Castillian. El dialecto de Castilla era el castellano. Thus, Classical Spanish came to life.
Expulsion of Sephardic Jews
Jews that had peacefully lived and coexisted for centuries with Muslims and Christians were forced to choose between staying in Spain and converting to Catholicism or leaving Spain, their homes, and wealth behind. Language: Many Jews chose to leave Spain and settled in the Ottoman Empire. They took with them the Spanish language, as it had been their language for centuries. Eventually, the Spanish they brought along combined with Hebrew, Turkish, Aramaic, Bulgarian, and Greek elements became Ladino or Judaeo-Spanish.
Christopher Columbus discovers America
In August 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed from Europe with three ships and accidentally discovered America while trying to find a better and faster route to Asia. The colonization of the New Continent by the Spanish Crown of Castille begins. Language: As colonization began, Spanish spread throughout North, Central, and South America. The fact that we speak Spanish in Guatemala is a direct result of that!
The Spanish in America
As we noticed before, the Spanish were not necessarily accepting of other cultures and religions. The Moors were completely expelled from Spain after the Fall of Granada. The Jews were given the option to convert into Catholicism or leave the country. What was bound to happen after the discovery of America in that same year? Take into account that the indigenous people of America didn’t share culture, language, or religion with their conquerors!
When the Spanish came to America, they put a tremendous effort into eradicating the culture, religion, and language of the indigenous people. Unlike the Romans who accepted individual freedom and didn’t impose language or religion on their conquered land, the Spanish enslaved the indigenous population and used force to impose their religion, language, and culture. This is sad news for history lovers, as many manuscripts of older civilizations were lost to the hands of the Spanish who were unaccepting of another religion and view of the world.
What happened to the Spanish language in America? Each region contributes a tiny little piece to the puzzle!!! This is the reason why Spanish all throughout America has so many diverse accents, words, structures, and sayings! How and why did this happen? Remember our Chanin blog post where we talked about Guatemala having 24 official languages? Now imagine that amplified throughout the ENTIRE CONTINENT! Each country has several cultures spread and all these different cultures have a language of their own. Each and every one of these languages influenced Spanish!
This puzzle of the Spanish language isn’t finished yet! Nor do I think that it will ever be. To me, it’s more of a never-ending puzzle that humanity will keep building piece by piece. Humans and society keep changing, and as we change, so does language!
Okay, enough of a history class for the day! Let’s come back to today and the fact that we have the best tools for you to learn Spanish! Come have FREE CLASS with us to learn more about how we can help you improve your MODERN Spanish! Be sure to download the free PDF as well to review and study at your own convenience.Read More
It’s 2019. The internet has given us so many more connections than we ever dreamed possible. News travels the globe in just minutes. We can interact with people from other countries and cultures…if we have a common language. Even though English has become the international language, knowing only English can greatly inhibit you in the global community. If you are thinking of learning a second language, check out these top 6 reasons to start with Spanish!
1. Second Most Spoken Language
You may be surprised by this – a lot of people think that Spanish isn’t that common worldwide. However, in terms of native speakers, Spanish ranks number two as the most spoken language in the world.
The first is Chinese, of course, with about 1.2 billion native speakers, or 15.6% of the world population. Spanish takes the silver with 400 million native speakers, or 5.2% of the population. In third place, we have English, at 360 million native speakers, or 4.7%.
If we count the number of non-native speakers, English, being the international language of business and commerce, comes in at a close second with almost a billion speakers. Spanish is then bumped down to number 4, with 527 million native and non-native speakers.
If you are trying to pick a language to learn to be able to communicate with a large portion of the population, it would make sense to learn either Chinese or Spanish. Spanish, however, has something that gives it a special draw.
2. Category 1 Language
This special draw comes in how easy it is to learn as a native English speaker. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has created a ranking system to show how long it would take a native English speaker to reach a proficiency level in each language.
Category 1 languages are closely related to English and take about 575-600 hours to reach proficiency. Before you say that’s a lot of time, Category 5 languages, such as Chinese and Arabic, take about 2200 hours to reach proficiency! Yeah – let’s go back to those first languages that take a quarter of the time to learn.
In this first category we see languages such as French, Italian, and – yup, you guessed it – Spanish. As someone who learned Spanish and has moved on to other languages, I can attest to this rating. The alphabet, sentence structure, and basic grammar are very similar to English. Even the vocabulary is sometimes so comparable that I get confused about whether I’m using the English or Spanish spelling. I often must stop and think about which language I’m using because a large portion of the vocabulary is either the same (like with neutral – neutral) or extremely close in spelling and pronunciation (like with direction – dirección).
When I first started learning Spanish, I was amazed by how much I actually understood – I could make out vocabulary I had never learned just because of its similarity to English.
Now, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. There are some difficult aspects to any language. However, if we compare some of the other world languages, Spanish starts to look a lot easier – even with that tricky subjunctive tense and all those verb conjugations.
3. Growing Number of Spanish Speakers in the US
So we’ve established that Spanish is one of the most common languages in the world and that it is fairly easy to learn. But … why should you decide to learn it over, let’s say, Dutch or Portuguese (which also fall into Category 1)?
Well, it’s close to home. The vast majority of the countries in North and South America speaks Spanish. It’s not like Spanish is spoken only in a remote country on the other side of the world. No. It is spoken in over a dozen countries that neighbor the US, and the number of speakers in the US is growing each year.
As of 2015, there were 53 million Spanish speakers in the United States alone. That’s 16.5% of the population. In 2017, Hispanics accounted for over 18% of the population, and that number is expected to increase by 1% every 5 years.
Spanish is all around us. It makes sense logically to learn Spanish as a second language so that we can communicate with 18% of our country’s population. Why spend hundreds of hours learning a foreign language you may never use when Spanish is becoming so prevalent right here in our own country?
4. Travel Options
Of course, I know that not everyone wants to stay in the States. I completely understand that – I started traveling at 16! For me, speaking at least a little bit of the native language is so important – not only to show respect but to survive in that country and be able to talk with the locals. It can be really frustrating to be in a foreign country and not be able to ask for what you need or have a conversation with the person sitting next to you. Trust me. I’ve been there.
So, you may be in a similar situation, looking to learn a second language for travel purposes. I’m actually doing the same right now – I love Korean culture, so I am learning the language in hopes that I make it to South Korea someday! The downside of my language choice, however, is that only two countries speak the language – my travel options are quite limited.
However, there are over 20 countries and territories that speak Spanish worldwide – there’s even a country in Africa that speaks Spanish! Therefore, if you are itching to see the world, start learning some Spanish! It will take you to North America, South America, Europe, and even Africa! Whether you are traveling for work, pleasure, or education, speaking Spanish gives you so many more choices on where to go.
5. A Whole New World
Or should I say ‘worlds.’ Since there are so many places that speak Spanish around the world, there is no one specific culture that comes with the language. If you took Spanish in school, you may have learned a bit about Mexican culture, with Day of the Dead and Cinco de Mayo. However, there are well over a dozen other countries and territories that speak Spanish. If you decide to take the plunge and learn this language, you will gain access to numerous cultures. Remember learning Spanish isn’t just about learning vocabulary and grammar – it’s so much more.
“A different language is a different vision of life.”– Federico Fellini
One of the most interesting things about being bilingual is how I change when I speak each language. The way I express myself, how I think about things, how I communicate – it all changes depending on the language I’m speaking. Why? Because language is so intertwined with the culture that you cannot learn one without the other. It is a beautiful experience!
Now, I live and work in Guatemala, so I learned (and am still learning) about the Guatemalan culture specifically. However, I often speak Spanish with people from other countries, which gives me the opportunity to learn about even more cultures that speak Spanish. I could learn about these countries and their cultures in a classroom at school, but it just wouldn’t be the same. Speaking the language of the country gives us so much more insight into the inner-workings of the culture. Take slang for example. There are about 20 different ways to say ‘how are you’ or ‘what’s up’ in Spanish – it all depends on the region. By learning some phrases from each country, you get a glimpse of how the people think and interact with each other, which is something a textbook could never teach you.
6. More Opportunities
Learning any language can open the door to a myriad of opportunities. The moment you say you know a language, people start to depend on you for their communication needs. This makes you that much more valuable in the workplace, especially in this era of technology where everyone – no matter what language they speak – wants to stay connected.
We are a global community, which means we need to find ways to bridge the communication gap. By speaking Spanish, you can connect with the 400 million native speakers or over 100 million people who speak Spanish as a second language. Let me tell you – it is immensely rewarding to meet someone and communicate with them in our mutual second language – Spanish. It is actually more common than you think!
The opportunities given to you by knowing a second language are endless. You can work abroad, go to school in a Spanish-speaking country, volunteer and truly connect with the community…and the list goes on and on. Learning Spanish is the perfect stepping block to building the future you want.
Alright. I’ve given you several great reasons to learn Spanish. Now go start learning! But…how, you ask? Well, there’s no search for a private tutor near you because we offer live, tailored classes online right in the comfort of your own home! Nothing beats having an experienced native Spanish speaker teach you the ins and outs of the language. Try a free trial class and start changing your future today!
Our family members: we love them, we get annoyed by them and we have fun times with them! Most importantly: we know we can count on them whenever we need them! So many of our memories are tied to the time we’ve spent around our family. I think we all know how important they all are! So it’s good that when we speak Spanish, we know how to refer to them!
Today, let’s learn how to say write and say the family in Spanish! If you haven’t yet, watch our latest video! At the end of this blog post, you’ll also find a table with all the vocabulary words you need to describe your family in Spanish! Don’t forget to download the PDF as well to keep practicing!
Christmas Eve Dinners
I’ve lived abroad or in a different city than my familia for almost 10 years. Because of that, there’s one thing I try to do whenever possible: spend navidad (Christmas) with them. Even if it is usually only in spirit! For as long as I can remember, we’ve celebrated two Christmas Eve dinners. One is at my abuela’s (my mother’s mother), and the other one is at my abuelos’ (my father’s parents). Both dinners have always been filled with love, tons of laughter, good food, and as many family members as we can get together!
My Mom’s Family
Christmas Eve always starts at my abuela’s house. Back when I was a little girl, my bisabuela (great-grandmother) used to make tamales, pierna, ponche, and all the good Guatemalan food we eat for Christmas. When I was old enough to help, she would even let me be the sous chef! I think there was more talking than cooking from my part, though. My bisabuela meant the world to me! She would babysit me and my hermano (brother) all the time when we were kids, up until she passed away. She was like a second madre (mother) to my hermano and me. Now my mamá (mom) is in charge of most of the Christmas dinner! Her tamales are the best ever! No wonder, she uses my great-great-grandmother’s recipe (that’s a hard one in Spanish: tatarabuela!). My abuela (grandmother) also participates in the cooking, but she lets my mamá take the lead on the tamales!
The Awaited Tamal
Making tamales is a group effort and it takes a loooong time. In the late afternoon on Christmas Eve’s Day my mamá or abuela brings out the “tamal de prueba” (“trial tamal”). This is the first tamal of the whole batch and they bring it out so we can try it. They make tamales only a couple of times a year, so this is a BIG moment that my hermano, my tía (aunt), and I are always anxiously awaiting. We sit down on the big dining room table, everyone with a fork in hand, and we share the first tamal. Every time, I tear up on my first bite because it tastes just like family, like all the beautiful moments we’ve spent together. It feels like being with my bisabuela again because my mamá’s tamales taste just like hers!
My Dad’s Family
After the “tamal de prueba,” we get into the car and head to my abuelos’ house. A huge dinner of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, salad, apple sauce, and my tía’s special gravy awaits us there! If we get to gather the whole crew, it’s my abuela, my abuelo, my four tías (aunts), my prima (female cousin), my primo (male cousin) my papá, my hermano, my hermana (sister), my sobrino (nephew) and I! We normally arrive by the time dinner is ready because we were at my abuela’s giving the emotional support for the whole tamal-making process.
A Family Tree
Now, it’s time to understand a little bit more about my family tree. My hermana is really my medio hermana (half-sister). Her father is my father, and her mother is my dad’s first wife. So my mother is not my sister’s mother. My mom is her step-mother – or her madrastra! And my sister is my mother’s hijastra (step-daughter). My primos are my first cousins (primos en primer grado) because they are the children of my dad’s sister, but the children of my dad’s cousins are my second cousins (primos en segundo grado). I do get to see my primos en segundo grado around this time because my abuelo’s sister – my tía abuela – has a piano school and she hosts a Christmas recital every year! The recital is tons of fun! One of my favorite parts about going to the recital is that we get to sing German Christmas songs that my abuelo and his hermanos used to sing as children!
All The Laughter
Back to lovely Christmas Eve! During dinner, I try to cat up with everyone because it’s one of the only times of the year I get to see them all! Last year’s dinner I heard some great news: my prima is getting married this year! I’m looking forward to meeting her prometido (fiancé) and having tons of fun at her wedding! Another amazing thing is that multiple languages are spoken. We mainly speak Spanish, but there is also the occasional English and German. Sometimes my abuelo will even throw in some French into the mix! Each and every time, at some point, one of my tías will start laughing, and we’ll all follow suite and laugh until our bellies hurt! It’s very enjoyable to laugh uncontrollably, but I do not recommend trying this at home – especially after all the food of a Christmas Eve dinner!
More Tamales and More Love
After having dinner at my abuelos’, we head back to my abuela’s house where more tamales will be awaiting us! I’m telling you, I’m sure I eat more on Christmas Eve’s Day than on any other day of the year! All the food is made with so much love and I just can’t refuse it!
For the more visual and auditory learners out there and anyone else who would like to do a recap of this blogpost on a video: here you go!
Now, let’s do a recap of all the vocabulary we just learned! To hear the vocabulary spoken, don’t forget to check out the video and PDF below!
Okay. Before we start today, have a look at this awesome video! After I watched the video, I tried to snap my fingers to chanin-chanin! It didn’t quite work and it made me remember how many years ago, my best friend spent a crazy amount of time trying to get me to do it “right.” Despite her efforts and 25 years of being Guatemalan, I still can’t make the snapping sound. Now the important question: were you able to do it? It’s okay if you can’t! That makes two of us! Either way, this expression and hand gesture has an important influence on Guatemalan culture.
Chanin, chanin-chanin, or the hand movement that accompanies those words, is ingrained in Guatemalan culture in an inexplicable way. Whether or not they actually say the words, everyone does this hand movement. Some people do it everywhere, others do it only in the familiarity of their homes. Some make it snap, while others just shake their hands like pom poms (and I raise my hand to this!!!). The video got me thinking that I do it a lot (and I mean a LOT) more often than I initially thought I do. It’s just one of those things that you learn at a very young age because everyone around you does it!
What is ‘chanin chanin’?
Let’s divide this in two and explore its meaning:
- Words: Saying ‘chanin’ or ‘chanin-chanin’
- Gesture: The famous finger snapping hand movement
The origin of the word chanin
Guatemala’s official language is Spanish. However, different cultural groups across the country speak another 24 officially recognized languages! Yes, that’s a lot of languages for one country! 22 out of those 24 languages are Mayan languages spoken by indigenous people.
Now, going back to chanin and Guatemalan Spanish. Because of the cultural exchange that exists between the various groups in Guatemala, Mayan languages have influenced – and still are influencing – Spanish greatly! Many words we use in Guatemalan Spanish, like chanin, originate from a Mayan language. Chanin, in particular, means apúrate, or hurry up.
To practice some Spanish reading, visit Guatemala’s official page on our linguistic heritage: Guatemala, un País con Diversidad Étnica, Cultural y Lingüística. There are also some maps for you to see where these different cultures and languages exist! You can also check out these Top 5 Spring Break Destinations in Guatemala and compare the places listed here to where each Mayan language is spoken.
Origin of the chanin gesture
As for the hand movement, I’ve been asking some abuelitas, and no one really knows where it comes from. I can only assume that someone, one day, really needed to get something done. So, they started shaking their hands to communicate a sense of urgency to another person who spoke a different one of the 24 languages. Since they couldn’t understand each other with words, hand gestures had to do the job!
Imagine if you’re in the middle of something and someone starts frantically shaking their hands to signal that you should hurry up – believe me – you’ll hurry up!
The Languages of Guatemala
Languages are directly related to ethnic groups and culture. There are four different ethnic groups in Guatemala and one uses different languages:
Learn more about Guatemala’s culture and ethnic groups here!
*Information on the number of native speakers from 2002 Census.
Spanish in the context of indigenous languages in Guatemala
Although Spanish is the “main” official language of Guatemala, a big percentage of the population does not speak Spanish! But how does this happen? The Spanish arrived in Guatemala almost 500 years ago in 1524 AD and as part of their colonization, they taught the indigenous people Spanish.
While 500 years may seem like enough time for everyone to learn Spanish, Guatemala is a country divided (and united!) by different cultures and landscapes. The various groups did not always accept a new language being imposed on them (who would?). Plus, the fact that some villages are so far removed from political, economic, or cultural centers allowed for many to just keep living their life without needing to learn a new language.
This is all now changing, but we’ll talk more about Spanish in Guatemala in another blog post! In the meantime, you can read a little something on Guatemalan history here.
Something to keep in mind: The Spanish of each Spanish-speaking country is greatly influenced by the languages the indigenous populations spoke or still speak! That’s the reason why there are sometimes big differences in the words the people of different Spanish-speaking countries use.
Y ahora, and now, exploremos the other languages of Guatemala!
According to the 2002 census, 41% of the Guatemalan population identify themselves as indigenous (descendants of the Mayans). All these people speak various Mayan languages, and each one is a descendant of the language Protomaya, which came to life some 6,000 years ago! Yes, it’s been a long time! There are now 22 indigenous Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala, each spoken by a different cultural group! And yes, each one of them is a language of their own (not a *dialect!) with unique grammar, sounds, and vocabulary!
Let’s have a look at these 22 Mayan languages:
*dialect: “A particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.” Thanks, Oxford English Dictionary!
As you can see, only a very small percentage of the population speaks each of the Mayan languages! These numbers have greatly decreased in the last few years and are still rapidly declining due to multiple reasons. For one, technology is only available in certain languages. Similarly, most services and information are only accessible in Spanish. People are also moving to bigger cities for work or studies, and because of that many families consider it more important for their children to learn Spanish than an indigenous Mayan language. Parents and grandparents have struggled to live in a country where they cannot speak the official language, and they don’t want their children to have that same experience.
However, it’s important to mention that Guatemala’s government and different NGOs have started campaigns to promote Mayan language learning in schools and through any possible platform. The thing is, a language is not only a set of words we use to communicate with others. Languages carry the entire historical background of a whole culture! As such, it is important to value and cherish each Mayan language as much as we value and cherish all those beautiful colors we see when we visit a Guatemalan market!
Check out these quotes by Guatemalans to understand a little bit more about the importance of language as part of a culture: Discovering Treasures Through Spanish Quotes
Xinca is a language that doesn’t belong to the same group as the other 22 indigenous Mayan languages. Its origin is unknown, but it used to be widely spoken throughout Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. While some sources say the language is extinct, others say there are currently only about 100 people who speak this language.
Garifuna is the only language from the Arawakan language family spoken in Central America. All other languages from this language family that are not extinct, are spoken in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname. Up until 1797 when the Garifuna people were deported to Honduras, the language was only spoken in some Antillean Islands. Now, a total of about 200,000 people speak this language throughout Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, and the US. If you’d like to learn more about the Garifuna culture, check out this documentary film in Garifuna language (and English): Garifuna in Peril.
Language is a huge part of culture! When you learn a language, you’re not only learning to say things with other words, but you’re venturing into a new world of ideas and customs. Continue learning more about Guatemalan culture and language by scheduling a FREE CLASS with us today!Read More
One of the most amazing sensory experiences you can have when visiting a country like Guatemala is visiting mercados (markets) to go shopping in Spanish! The market is an explosion of colors, sounds, and smells like no other! Not all of the smells are pleasant, but all of them are a part of the whole experience! And shopping in Spanish – or in any foreign language – is a very culturally enriching experience by itself! Also, if you’re already in Guatemala, you may want to visit at least of one the Top 5 Spring Break Destinations here!
And check out our latest video! If you’re an auditory learner, it will be a great way to learn some new phrases and vocabulary that will be useful in the market. If you want a printable version of this blog, click here:
What is the mercado?
At the mercado, you will find colorful produce of all kinds – the known and the unknown. I don’t even know the name of tons of produce they sell there, but the colors are all so pretty!!! You will hear animals in the distance, women yelling the names of the products they sell, birds chirping, men walking around holding so many things you wonder how they can even walk, trucks pulling over, kids laughing, the chatter of people. You will get to smell all the fruits, vegetables, flowers, freshly prepared meals, and – also a part of it but least pleasant of them all – the freshly cut meat! Yes, this is all part of the shopping in Spanish adventure we’ll embark on today!
The market is also the place where you can get pretty much anything you can think of: from baby clothes through crafting supplies, fabrics, coal, grains – all the way to cooking utensils, stationery, and baskets – I have a thing for baskets! Now, in order to buy all the things that you may like or want to fill up that awesome shopping basket you will probably buy (I’m telling you, they are so cute!), you will need to know some vocabulary. So let’s explore the mercado together and learn how to shop in Spanish!
Knowing the Basics to Go Shopping in Spanish
Before we venture into the market, we need to learn some phrases that will be useful in order to know the prices of things. We will also need to know how to ask for a certain something.
Let’s start with prices:
Other useful sentences:
There will be a lot of not knowing what things are because there are tons of produce that we’re just not used to! It’s nice to know the names of things – and to have a little notebook to write the names down. The ladies at the mercado are usually super nice, so they can help you write it down if you nicely ask for help! Find even more tips on how to learn Spanish here!
*A little cultural sidenote:
Por favor and Gracias. Please and Thank You!
Politeness is very important in Guatemala. Wherever you go – but especially for the older women selling vegetables. Here, people will treat you very differently if you’re impolite to them – and not in a nice way! You’re visiting a different culture, so it’s important to take this into account! You’d appreciate the same if someone visited your house!
If you noticed, the conjugation of dar (deme) is in usted instead of in tú. (Deme is an imperative form – a command. Lee más about Spanish commands here and here!) Why? In Guatemala, we use the usted form to show respect to older people or to create a respectful distance between the person we’re speaking with and us. You can find a lot on personal pronouns here.
Let’s visit the mercado and go shopping in Spanish
Okay. First of all, whenever you go to the market for the first time, you should always make sure you have at least a couple of hours to spare. Why? Well, for starters, it really is a one-of-a-kind experience that is amazing to wander through. Secondly, if you’re like me, you’ll get lost at least a couple of times. I’ve been going to the same market for about a year and I still get lost often – Guatemalan markets are like labyrinths and everything is so colorful. It’s extremely easy to get distracted – and lost!
I live in Antigua Guatemala, where the headquarters of Homeschool Spanish Academy is! Whenever I go to the market, I visit the biggest one in Antigua! My first stop is always the veggies stand! To get there, I go past the stands with clothing and shoes, burned DVDs, electronics, and beauty supplies. I always make sure I’m on the right path a couple of times because everything looks the same and I get easily lost. Then…yes! Here we are on my favorite veggie stand on the corner close to the meat section (the only way I remember where it is).
So, we’re at the veggie stand now. I like the bigger ones because then I can buy everything at one place and also, the more things you buy, the better the price they will give you! This is not like a supermarket. Things are not tagged, so you need to ask how much everything is! Let’s start. What I normally get at the veggies, I take out my veggies groceries list.
My Mercado Shopping List
Shopping in Spanish at el supermercado
Although you can buy almost everything in the market, there are things I prefer to buy at the supermarket. Chicken is one of those things because I like to buy frozen chicken. Salmonella is a thing and sanitary conditions in Guatemala are usually not the best at the meat section of the mercado, so I’d rather not get sick. There are other products I also get at the grocery store because it’s just easier to buy them there.
Also, the supermarket is a completely different thing to the mercado. You can find signs on the aisles and prices on things! I know this sounds obvious, but believe me. Once you’ve been to a mercado, nothing is ever the same again. We do take a lot for granted! The signs and price tags do make shopping a lot easier – but the experience less memorable! Also, you’re less likely to get lost. So if you’re the less adventurous type and traveling alone, the supermercado might be a better option!
My Supermercado Shopping List
The other things
I like to buy my miel (honey) from a local honey farm because I’ve been to that place and I know those are happy bees, they produce high-quality honey and their honey has no added sugars (like many honeys do)! I also enjoy buying local and knowing exactly what I’m putting in my body! If you’re ever in Antigua Guatemala and are interested in bees, go pay them a visit! They offer honey farm tours: Bee Miel.
And then there are also huevos (eggs). I’m famous for always squishing avocados on my way back home. Every time, at least one avocado suffers the consequences of having been in my bag. So two conclusions from my avocado squishing times: 1) I’m not trusted with avocados anymore haha and 2) I prefer to buy eggs near my house because I don’t want eggs to suffer the same faith as avocados have multiples times. There’s this place that sells eggs and honey (yes, Guatemala is weird like that) just a couple of blocks away from my house. The chances I kill a whole carton of eggs in two blocks are very low, so I hope for the best!
This has all been about me and all the things I eat! I’d love to learn more about you, so go get your FREE CLASS so that we can talk about YOUR shopping list!
Are you ready to get practicing? Download some exercises here:
Don’t forget to check your answer!Read More
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Dried flowers as carpets, fruit as carved trumpets, and colorful sawdust for everyone. It’s the half happiest season of all.”
Nope, not Christmas.
We are talking about Semana Santa, or ‘Holy Week’ in English. This is normally the time when Americans and Anglo-Saxons celebrate Easter around the world. However, as always, Latin America gives it more spice, and there’s not an Easter Egg in sight!
Setting the Scene
It is a week for the senses. This is second level to street food. Take a deep breath and smell the burning sawdust and incense you find in novelty stores that makes you feel like you are in Asia. But we aren’t, remember…only Spanish-speaking countries celebrate Semana Santa!
Feast your eyes on all the flowers, fruit, and dyed sawdust used to create elaborate street carpets feathered with green needles from pine trees.
Why the carpets you ask?
These beautiful creations are for people carrying carved wooden floats depicting scenes from the crucifixion story of Jesus. Don’t worry, we will touch more on that later (just keep in mind that it’s called a procession, or procesión).
Just to give you a taste, here is an interview from Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala. Yes, we know it is in Spanish, but take it all in. ¡No te preocupes! We will review the main points of their interviews.
Before you watch the inside scoop, here is some basic Semana Santa vocabulary that should help you out:
- Los cucuruchos– people who apply to the church to carry the floats processions through the streets to express their adoration for Christ and the church.
- Cargar– to carry a float in a procession
- Las alfombras– hand made carpets made in the streets for people who are carrying floats
- La procesión – a special parade for Semana Santa
First scene: You see all of the sawdust, flowers, and pine alfombras that we were talking about! The narration presents us with Antigua Guatemala getting ready for one of the biggest procesiones of the 7-day event: La procesión de la Merced Church.
Afterward, there is a pep talk from one of the organizers talking to the first round of 80 men who will carry this GIANT, ONE THOUSAND POUND, hand-carved float from the church of La Merced along the path made of alfombras. He encourages them,
Today is your time to enjoy and take pride in carrying [the float]. Maybe with a tear in your eye, thinking about the love of God and how he has given you the strength to move forward.”
This speaks to the reason why people want to participate in Semana Santa in this way. Holy Week is about Catholic devotion and acknowledgment of Jesus’ suffering in the days leading up to his crucifixion. By carrying and participating in las procesiones, you get to show devotion on a deeper level. If you watch los cucuruchos try to pick up the float, I think we can all say that they are devoted. Go team Semana Santa!
This concept of joy and devotion found in the Catholic Semana Santa traditions spills over into the following interviews.
The first is with a living and breathing cucurucho! He talks about what an honor it is for him to have the privilege to help lead the procession out of the church. Out of all his years of participating in Semana Santa, this is the first time when he does not have to wait on another street block or at a different location to swap with the first turn of cucuruchos.
It is really exciting, especially today because of all of the devotion and love and mysticism that each cucurucho experiences when they cargan (carry).”
The father in the next interview expounds:
Being a cucurucho is considered a big privilege in Semana Santa, as the tradition is passed down through generations,”
He has been practicing the tradition of Semana Santa for 28 years in his household. He is so excited to be celebrating this year with his oldest son.
People also participate as a way to celebrate their gratitude for miracles that they have seen happen in their lives. In the interview with the woman Rosi, she explains that she especially wants to cargar this year because her father recently recovered from a long-term illness. She does it out of thankfulness, and boy are we happy for her too!
Another fun fact that one of the interviewees points out is that Semana Santa is celebrated in most Spanish-speaking countries. The young girl, Monse, says that her family is actually from Chile, but they live in Antigua. At first, she did not like the traditions of making alfombras and having to cargar, but once her grandfather explained it to her she appreciated it from a new and fresh perspective. Most countries in Central and South America celebrate Semana Santa, but they are on a smaller scale with maybe one or two big procesiones, which is nothing compared to the whole week of procesiones in Antigua.
Now we find ourselves at a spectacular scene of music! As the cucuruchos prepare to wait at their stations to carry, the sixty-man band prepares to accompany them with some tunes. This orchestra has been preparing for 6 months just for Semana Santa! It is a full band with trumpets, flutes and, of course, crashing cymbals that can be heard from blocks away as the procesión follows the alfombras from the church.
The Final Product
It is incredible to believe that the planning and execution for only one procesión include seven thousand people and the procesión lasts only for fifteen hours!! Throughout the entire week, there are twenty tree procesiones all around Antigua, but the biggest ones are the ones that start on midnight of the Thursday that leads into Good Friday. People come from all over the world just to participate; turning the forty-five thousand population of Antigua to ONE MILLION PEOPLE.
The only Semana Santa comparable to that of Antigua, Guatemala is in Spain from which Semana Santa was born and was brought over to Latin America. No no no ladies and gentlemen, not an Easter egg in sight when it comes to these Latin American traditions!
So how can you celebrate? The easiest way to participate in Semana Santa is to make an alfombra. We encourage you to go outside and get creative! Use flower petals and pine tree needles to set your base. Now, use those pumpkin carving skills you save for Holloween to the task to carve out figures from fruits and veggies to adorn your carpet in the street. If you need inspiration, check out this how-to guide from Labor of Love with LOTS of pictures! We promise lots of fun and suspicious looks from your neighbors. The point is to enjoy yourself in participating with a tradition that has been blooming since 1521!
This has been HomeSchool Spanish Academy reporting live from Antigua, Guatemala for the Semana Santa Holy Week. Please stay tuned for more fun facts and, YES, pictures galore!
Don’t forget to talk to you Spanish teacher for more information about Semana Santa. Sign up for a Free Class here!
Main picture creditRead More