Latin American music includes a wide variety of sounds that differ in many ways, from the instruments used to create unique sounds to the rhythm and associated dance moves. The music has evolved over the centuries and continues to change today.
History of Latin Music
Latin American music is influenced by indigenous, Spanish-European, African and, most recently, the United States of America cultures.
Original music in Latin America began with indigenous populations. These communities used very diverse materials to make instruments from natural sources. Instruments were created by making sounds from striking one material with another, such as rattles made of beetle wings, striking sticks, marimbas, split-cane clappers, hollow tree trunks, and bamboo sticks, gourds, and turtle shells struck with a stick or animal antler. Wind instruments such as flutes, trumpets, and panpipes were also common.
Little music documentation exists prior to the 1490s. However, when the Spanish arrived in the New World, they encountered three major civilizations: the Incas in present-day Peru, the Aztecs in Mexico and the Mayans in Mexico and present-day Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. There were many isolated tribes as well that all had unique music.
The era prior to 1492 and before the European-Spanish occupation of the Americas (voyage led by Christopher Columbus) is known as the ‘pre-Columbian era.’ Indigenous populations migrated from the Americas to the Caribbean around 1200 AD and existed for centuries. They had a rich musical heritage of performance chants in call and response style and music-dance ceremonies which were accompanied by maracas-style rattles, guiros, and slit drums.
Much of the Caribbean musical heritage was lost after the Europeans arrived due to conflict, forced labor, enslavement, and cultural abandonment as well as the spread of disease. For example, the Taíno tribes of the Caribbean consisted of 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 people before Christopher Columbus arrived, and by 1548 the native population had declined to fewer than 500 people.
Christopher Columbus is credited with bringing the Spanish language from the Old World (Europe) to the New World (The Americas and surrounding islands) beginning in 1492. There are controversy and heated debate surrounding this period in time, but history classes will claim this was the beginning of the exploration and settlement of the modern western world.
The Europeans introduced new instruments such as the guitar and other string instruments.
Africans were abducted from their homeland and brought by ships to the Americas- known as the slave trade. The Africans brought with them a rich musical background and influenced American music. Latin America is known for having the “largest concentration of people with African ancestry outside Africa.”
African music was very different from European music in many ways. One major way is that European music was written down and documented – therefore the musician could replay the same music again and again (such as written piano music). African music was passed down orally and this allowed for improvising and modification each time the dance or music was shared.
African music also incorporates interactive call-and-response styles. This means a soloist will sing a phrase and the chorus responds. As researcher Tim Marcus explains, the introduction of this technique sounded “different and unstructured to a European ear, but will sound completely structured and patterned to an African ear.”
Probably the largest musical instrument introduced from Africa is the drums.
Music continues to evolve, and a good example is the creation of Tejano (“Tex-Mex”) music which began in Texas and Mexico in the 1920s. The music began with the introduction of the accordion by German, Polish, and Czech immigrants.
Latin America music continues to thrive in the United States with Latino (someone from a Latin American country) and Chicano (someone from Mexico who grew up in the USA) influence.
¡Viva la música!
Latin American music is representative of generations of cultural and musical influences that originated and descended upon Mexico, Central America, South American and parts of the Caribbean.
It is hard to discuss Latin American music without considering Latin American dance – the two are interdependent. You can’t help but tap your feet or get up and dance when hearing Latin music due to its colorful, rhythmic, and inviting sounds.
Each country takes pride in its contribution to the Latin American music scene. For example, the marimba was created in Guatemala – and they celebrate Marimba Day!
Types of Latin Music
This list shows a wide variety of music in the Latino community. Of course, it is not all-encompassing since music, like language, is fluid and cannot be placed into a neat box.
What is your favorite rhythm or dance??
Comment below on what your favorite type of Latin music or who your favorite artist is. Or, sign up today for a free class and discuss music with one of our teachers!
One of the best feelings you can get while abroad is that moment when you are lost, confused, or just making a fool out of yourself and a kind stranger approaches you to help out. Whether you’re looking for a street name or trying to decipher the bus chart like it’s an ancient pharaoh’s tomb, the kindness of those who help stands out more when you’re travelling. Acts of kindness from foreigners have even been the subject of old tales such as ‘The Good Samaritan’, and it gets me thinking on why is it that we notice kindness more when it’s in a strange place? Maybe it’s because we feel lost, or maybe it’s because we don’t expect it. Either way, I see it as an opportunity to appreciate how most people are willing to help out regardless of where you come from.
Latinoamérica has a culture that holds religion and family in high regard. I’m sure most Latinos will say familia is on their top 5 things they’re grateful for. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s relevant to point out that this holiday is not yet celebrated in most Spanish speaking countries. There are a few exceptions, though. In my case specifically, I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with my coworkers from the US, since they usually organize a dinner with friends to keep their traditions alive even when living elsewhere. Here are some of the ways we express gratitude in Spanish!
Non-verbal ways to express gratitude
Just as we are a family-centered culture, we’re also a food-centered culture. Most, if not all of our celebrations involve food, and this includes displays of gratitude! One of my best friends saved my bacon a couple of weeks ago. She went out of her way to print my essay and hand it in on time while I was running late in a panic because the teacher was about to leave. To say thanks, I bought her a candy bar on the campus vending machine to express my gratitude. Inviting someone to dinner, coffee, or a snack is a very Latino way of saying thanks! Just make sure it’s someone you’re friends with since most of the time we only do this at a more personal level. Some people in our culture will refuse when you ask them to pay back, so this is often an alternative that’s easier to accept – and more fun too!
Another way to express gratitude is through the written word. In our modern era where technology has facilitated communication in ways we’ve never experienced before, a written letter is something that still holds power and conveys meaning through the ink itself. Culturally, letters are given as birthday gifts, love letters, and as gifts to loved ones who are about to leave for a while. These can also work as nice mementos of people you meet along your travels, so writing a letter to a host family, or the lady that sold you breakfast on the streets during your stay in Guatemala is a nice way to thank them for their hospitality! Here’s an example letter so you can write a letter in Spanish to someone you care about.
Querida familia anfitriona,
Quiero agradecerles por su hospitalidad mientras estuve viviendo en su casa. ¡No sé qué hubiera hecho si no me hubieran ayudado cuando me dejó el bus en mi primer día como voluntario! Nunca voy a olvidar nuestro viaje a Cobán, estoy seguro que a mis hermanos les va a encantar el ceviche que me enseñaron a cocinar.
Les deseo lo mejor y espero poder venir a visitarlos pronto.
Dear host family,
I want to thank you for your hospitality while I was living here with you. I don’t know what I’d done if you hadn’t helped when the bus left me behind on my first day as a volunteer! I’ll never forget our trip to Cobán, I’m sure my siblings will love the ceviche you taught me how to cook.
I wish you all the best and hope I can come visit soon.
As you can see, we have different words to say ‘dear’, one is formal, and the other one isn’t. Also, take into account that te quiero and ‘I love you’ carry two different meanings. In short, te quiero is less serious than ‘I love you’. You can read about this concept and more in our blog about Spanish concepts not found in English! So now you’re ready to go out there and express your gratitude! If you want to learn Spanish, take a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy today.Read More
A staple of the Central American diet, and the star of every Taco Tuesday, is the modest (yet truly remarkable) tortilla de maíz, or corn tortilla. While we are all pretty familiar with its taste and utility, we may not know much of anything else about this marvelous food. Do you know where the tortilla originated? Or how it’s been made since its creation? And why did copying the corn and tortilla-centered culture of the New World make Europeans deathly ill in the 1500s? The answers will surprise you as there is more to this common comestible than meets the eye.
Corn appears in history as a cultivated source of nutrients at least 8,700 years ago in Mesoamerica where the creation story of the tortilla begins. After the indigenous culture of these regions learned to modify teosinte, a type of wild grass, into corn, they began to process the corn into masa, or dough. They did this through an ingenious method called nixtamalization. They soaked the corn kernels in a limewater solution (from limestone, not the fruit lime), which removed the hulls, made it more easily digestible, and helped the ground corn form a dough (instead of turning into mush) for tortilla-making. The resulting mixture of masa is called nixtamal, an Aztec word for hominy. Interestingly, the chemical process of mixing corn with lime releases a crucial vitamin that is otherwise unavailable to the human body. When the Europeans learned to farm corn from the natives of the New World in the early 1500s, they failed to copy the process of nixtamalization. Eventually, high corn yields in European fields led to high corn consumption, and vast populations whose diets relied primarily on corn became extremely sick, often dying, from a severe type of malnutrition called pellagra.
The corn tortilla is an extraordinary human invention. Coined tortilla by the Spaniards who compared it to a smaller version of the torta (cake) they knew back home, this small round corn cake packs a hefty punch of nutrition. Thanks to the process of nixtamalization, tortillas are rich in minerals like calcium, iron, and magnesium and provide essential vitamins like A, B, and E. They are also a good source of protein and fiber. Indigenous cultures named corn, beans, and squash the Three Sisters, since they grew better together and created a perfectly balanced diet for health and well-being.
The traditional recipe for any tortilla includes corn, water, and lime (called cal in Spanish) to make the nixtamal. The women are typically responsible for making tortillas for family members or consumers who may buy from their tortillería (tortilla shop). They prepare a comal (a hot griddle made out of light sheet-metal), then dampen the nixtamal on a table, mix it well, and break off pieces to be formed into thin, circular patties. The process of creating perfectly round tortillas that are uniform in thickness is an art form that many women start learning at a young age. They lay the tortillas on the hot griddle for a minute or two and then flip them over by pressing lightly into each one with damp fingers. When the tortillas are finished, they gather them up while piping hot and store them insides baskets with thick pieces of cloth to keep them warm. Check out this video to see one of our own, Ashley, learn to process and make traditional tortillas in Guatemala!
Tortilla Variations by Region
While tortilla culture extends from Mexico to Argentina, it is much more frequently consumed in Central America. Specifically, in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, tortillas are eaten daily by the majority of the population. Costa Rica and Panama do partake in tortilla-making, but it is becoming less common and most people simply eat pre-packaged tortillas. Nicaraguans consume a thick, sweet type of tortilla called güiriles that they serve with crumbled cheese. Tortillas in Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile are smaller than those in Central America. They have salty tortillas called sopaipilla and sweet ones that are boiled in sugar water. Many countries in Central and South America continue to make use of masa in different ways, crafting the corn dough into unique and culturally-defining foods.
Different Tortilla Dishes
Tortillas vary in size from 6 cm to over 30 cm, depending on the type of dish they will be used for. While the tortilla is often consumed on its own as a side dish to any meal, it is also modified to create specific dishes. Here is a list of dishes made with the tortilla, showing what they are and where they originated:
Tortillas in Guatemala
In Guatemala, where Homeschool Spanish Academy is based, the tortilla is a main staple of most people’s diets (along with beans and some type of meat). There is a tortillería on every corner, where some families go to buy freshly made tortillas los tres tiempos (three times a day). Other families buy corn to grind or grow their own in order to make masa nixtamalizada for their homemade tortillas. For each meal, the family gathers together with big piles of steamy tortillas packed away in canastas de mimbre, or wicker baskets. The amount of tortillas eaten by each person varies by preference, averaging from two to eight per person per meal. In many cases, the tortilla replaces use of a fork or spoon, as it’s used to scoop up black beans and rice (for example). It’s also frequently rolled up and dipped into savory dishes like a hearty guisado (stew) or jocón (tomatillo-cilantro spiced gravy).
Try Your Own Tortillas
Would you like to try to make your own tortillas at home? Check out this helpful recipe and with a bit of practice, you can make your own delicious corn tortillas for any dish. We hope you enjoyed learning about tortilla culture in Latin America. Sign up for a free class with a native Spanish speaker in Guatemala and let us know how your tortilla-making experience is going!Read More
If you grew up (or are still growing up!) in the church, you know that youth group is a big part of the church community. It is a place where teens and pre-teens can come together, find community, have fun, and learn about God in a more relatable way. I personally remember attending several different youth groups because it was a great way to find friends outside of school. One youth group even had their facility open every day after school, and I would go and do homework or just hang out with other kids and the staff. It was a great, friendly environment, and I would always invite my friends, whether or not church was their ‘thing.’ At that age, I didn’t speak Spanish very well, so I couldn’t invite any Spanish-speaking friends to youth group with me! Hopefully, with these helpful vocab lists, you will be prepared to invite your Spanish-speaking friends to youth group in their native language.
We’ll start with some activities and people that you’ll find when you go to youth group:
Pretty straightforward, right? You can use these words to give your friends an idea of what will happen at the event. Now, you can’t predict everything will be said at youth group, but here are some phrases that you can use to invite your friend to youth group and then introduce them to the whole gang!
I hope those phrases help you get up the nerve to ask your Spanish-speaking friends to the next youth group event! Even if they can’t understand everything that happens that night, the most important thing is to make sure they feel welcome! If you have more specific phrases that you want to learn how to say in Spanish, be sure to ask your teacher in your next Spanish class! ¡Diviértete!Read More
Teaching your little ones to read and write can be hard. My son is not quite that age yet, but I did teach an English as a Second Language class to kids aged 5-8. Some of them could read and write in Spanish, some of them couldn’t. Teaching them the letters and how to sound out words in their second language, English, was quite a struggle! When you’re teaching your own children to learn to read and write, you do have the advantage of spending more time with them and knowing how your child learns best. Now, there are many theories and methods to teach kids how to read and write in English, but where would you start teaching them the same concepts in Spanish? Well, hopefully by the end of this blog you will have an idea of how to teach your child to read and write in Spanish!
Differences in English and Spanish
There is a lot of discussion on how to teach kids to read and write in English; many people favor phonetics-based learning, while others prefer sight words. When choosing your teaching method, it is important to take into consideration the type of language you want your child to read and write.
For example, English is generally not a phonetic language. There are words that can be sounded out, but the vast number of exceptions can be very frustrating for little learners when they are trying to sound out words. Take a look at the following words and how they are pronounced:
In the first group of words, the ‘ough’ has a different pronunciation in each word. Likewise, the vowel ‘a’ has a unique pronunciation in each of the three words above. Can you see how it could be hard to teach a lot of words phonetically in English? There are some rules that explain the different sounds, but they are too complex to teach to a budding reader.
On the other hand, Spanish is a very phonetic language. There are very few times when letters have more than one possible sound (the C and G, the Y, and diphthongs/triphthongs). For the most part, we can say that each letter has one sound, all the time. Once a new reader knows the sound each letter makes, it is extremely easy to sound out new words.
Know Your Learner
Like I previously mentioned, when you are choosing a method to teach your child how to read, it is important to take into consideration your child’s age and how they learn. If you are starting with a preschooler, keep in mind that they cannot handle rote memorization as well as an older student. You can look at the activities below and choose which one is best for your child’s age level. Additionally, the way your child learns is extremely important to keep in mind. Consider this quote from Cindy Gaddis:
“A right-brained reader learns to read by translating words into pictures. This is because of their highly visual nature. This high level of visualization ability is what helps a right-brained child learn to read and comprehend what they read. These readers will more likely learn to read “giraffe” before any of the Dolch words because it can be visualized…For young left-brained readers, who are part-to-whole leaners, it makes a lot of sense to discover that a c-a-t makes cat. They get excited. But quickly they convert that knowledge into sight word reading.”
There are a couple of key points here. The first is the difference between right and left-brained learners. As an adult, you probably have heard of this a lot and are able to identify what type of learner you are. For younger kids, though, it may take a bit of investigation to figure out which type of learner your child is. If you aren’t sure how your child learns best, try the two methods of teaching the words mentioned above. Give them a word that is easy to visualize and teach it using engaging pictures. Then, give them a word they can sound of and show them how the letters form the word. Whichever method your child responds to best is the way to go!
The next important thing to note is the idea of part-to-whole and whole-to-part learners. This is another way of talking about right/left-brained learners that might be easier to make sense of rather than trying to remember which side of the brain is more creative. Right-brained children are whole-to-part learners – in other words, they look at the big picture first to help decipher the small parts, or in this case the letters that make up a word. Left-brained children are part-to-whole learners who need to understand the parts to reach the whole picture. Oftentimes your child learns differently than you do, so it is helpful to understand them as much as possible to make the teaching process as smooth as possible.
Lastly, the author mentions Dolch words. You may have already heard of these, but they are the most frequent words that appear in written English. If you choose to use sight words as the way to teach your kids how to read, it would be a good idea to start with the Dolch words in English. For Spanish, we’ll look at some of the most common words a bit later on.
The Case for Sight Words
So far, we have looked at a couple of different ways of teaching kids how to read and write, each of which has its pros and cons. Always remember that each kid is unique, and what works for one may not work for another.
For kids learning to read and write in their second language, Spanish, I would highly recommend the use of phonetical sight words. Now, we already looked at how Spanish is a highly phonetical language, and it would make logical sense to teach kids to read it by sounding out the letters. However, when kids are learning to read in two separate languages, it is, in my opinion, a lot to ask of a young child to memorize the phonetics for two alphabets. While English and Spanish have comparable alphabets, some letters are pronounced very differently, which may cause students to get confused between the two languages as they’re learning to read and write.
What do I mean by phonetical sight words? Well, let’s first define what sight words are. They are words that are recognized by sight without the need to sound them out, letter-by-letter. Once you are an affluent reader, the majority of words you read are sight words, with just newer vocabulary needing to be sound out. Now, since Spanish is a phonetical language, I believe that it is important to recognize that and teach students to look for phonetical patterns in words.
How to Teach Phonetical Sight Words
Instead of teaching the alphabet all at once and expecting young children to memorize another set of sounds all at once, it is best to go letter by letter, starting with the easiest and most common letters in Spanish. I recommend using the following order to start out:
A L O S E N I T U M D P B
These first letters are easy to pronounce, have only one possible pronunciation, and are the most common letters in Spanish. Notice that the vowels are not lumped together or in alphabetical order. This is because the Spanish A, O, and E are called open vowels because your mouth is open when you say them. Vowels I and U are closed since your mouth is tighter when you pronounce them. Since open vowels are easier to pronounce, they should be taught first. Furthermore, there are consonants and vowels alternating so that the child can immediately form sight words with the letters they learn.
For example, with the first four letters, you can teach the following sight words:
A la lo sol los las ala alas ola olas sal sala sola solo oso osos
Look at how many words you can make with just four letters! You can even begin to make phrases like:
A la sala
The majority of the remaining letters to teach have more difficult pronunciations (like the R and J) or have two sounds (like the Y, C, and G). Be sure to teach the correct pronunciation using our blogs here.
Considering all of this, let’s go back to the idea of phonetical sight words. The first step is to teach individual letters and what sound they make, then use them to teach sight words. You can use the learned phonetics to help the student sound out the word, then continue with more common sight word activities.
Sight Word Activities
Alright. We’ve made a case for sight words, making sure to start with the phonetics of the individual letters. However, what’s the best way to teach sight words? Let’s look at some fun ways to help your young learner commit common Spanish words to memory. Again, remember to choose activities (or modify them) that fit your child’s learning style.
- Sand drawing
If you have a small, shallow sandbox, have your child copy the letters in the word by tracing them in the sand. They can sound out each letter as they write them, then say the word as a whole. This is a fun tactile activity for kids that learn better with hands-on activities.
- Craft recreation
There are several ways you can interpret this activity. The main idea is to do some sort of craft to form the letter of the word. You can have them form the letters with glue, tissue paper, raw noodles, popsicle sticks, etc. Whatever you have on-hand can work!
- Letter blocks
For this activity, you can use blocks, magnets, or even just paper cut-outs with letters written on them. Show your child the word and have them form it themselves while pronouncing each letter and then the whole word.
There are a lot of worksheets you can find online for this type of activity. If you are feeling ambitious, you can even make your own! Your little learner can trace the word and color a visual representation of the word. Some worksheets even have the object made out of the letters (a perro made out of the letters p-e-r-r-o). For ‘whole-to-part’ learners, this activity is great.
Check out our blog about using songs to teach preschoolers Spanish and find a song that has the Spanish sight word you are teaching your child. Play the song several times and sing along with your child. Every time the sight word is sung, hold up a card with the word written on it. This method will help them connect the word with the pronunciation.
- Practice Reading
This activity isn’t quite as hands-on, but it is a great tool to get your child reading. Take a card and write the Spanish sight word on it, and have the child sound out the word letter by letter, pointing to each one as they say them. As they get better, they will go faster and faster until the word is pronounced fluidly and stored in long-term memory!
- Scavenger Hunt
Once your learner has practiced with some sight words, write them on pieces of paper and hide them around the room. Say a word and have them search for that specific sight word. To take it a step further, you can have another piece of paper with all the sight words written down. When they find a sight word, they can match it to the same word on the paper and glue it there.
There are so many more activities you can do with sight words! I encourage you to get creative with these activities and explore some of the links. Before you get started, though, be sure to use Spanish words that are common, simple, and relatively short. Click here to find the most frequent Spanish words and here for some sample sheets of sight words for different grade levels. Remember, the idea of sight words doesn’t have to be just for preschoolers or new readers. Learning a new language and letter sounds is hard! Sight words can help kids of any age learn to read in Spanish much faster. If you need recommendations of sight words, feel free to ask your Spanish teacher in your next class! Happy reading!
When I was just starting to learn Spanish, I remember that my Spanish teacher told me that each letter has only one sound, and you always pronounce every letter in a word. That was incredibly reassuring when I was just starting to learn the language. However, when I immersed myself in the language, I discovered that when pronouncing some words, you do not enunciate each individual letter. This, of course, was confusing to me since it contradicted what my first Spanish teacher had said. Once I learned about diphthongs, triphthongs, and hiatus, though, it made much more sense!
Don’t panic – these words may seem very complicated (they’re sure difficult to spell with all those ‘h’s!), but they are much simpler than you think. Each of these terms refers to a combination of vowels. Do you remember how to say the vowels in Spanish? Let’s review:
I hope that refreshed your memory! Let’s delve into the first group of vowel combinations: diphthongs
Do you remember how to say ‘grandfather’ in Spanish? If you need help, refer to our family blog!
Yes! It’s abuelo. Now, how do you pronounce it? Would you say ah-boo-ay-loh? Or maybe ah-bway-loh?
If you said the second pronunciation, you are correct! We don’t pronounce every single vowel separately in this word but make a new sound with two of the vowels. Instead of oo-ay we say way for the vowel combination ‘ue.’ This is called a diphthong.
The Real Academia de Español defines a diphthong, or diptongo, as:
Secuencia de dos vocales diferentes que se pronuncian en una sola sílaba.
A sequence of two different vowels that are pronounced in just on syllable.
Keep in mind that just because there are two vowels together does NOT mean that they are pronounced in one syllabus, and therefore means that they are NOT always diphthongs (we’ll explore more on this topic in a bit). So, how do you know when to pronounce vowel combinations as one syllabus? Well…
In Spanish, we have hard and soft vowels.
Hard vowels: A E O
Soft vowels: I U
You can think of the hard vowels as dominant in the pronunciation. Let’s go back to our previous example: abuelo. What vowel sound to you hear most in the ‘ue’ combination? Exactly! The ‘e.’ We hear the ‘e’ more because it is a hard vowel, or more dominant.
Hard Vowel + Soft Vowel
Whenever you see a hard and soft vowel together, it is called a diphthong. Basically, the hard vowel dominates the combination and makes the two vowels have only one sound. Let’s look at some examples:
Abuelo – (ah-bway-loh)
Bailar – (bai–lahr)
Huevo – (way-boh)
Hielo – (yay-loh)
Oigo – (oi-goh)
If you look at the pronunciations, you can see bits of both vowels in the new singular sound, but the hard vowel has the emphasis. It is also very interesting to note that when the ‘u’ is the first vowel in the combination, it has a ‘w’ sound; likewise, when the ‘i’ is the first letter in the combination, it has a ‘y’ sound. Finally, it does not matter if the hard vowel comes first (like in bailar) or second (like in hielo), it is always the dominant sound.
Before we move on, check out this chart with all the diphthongs made up with a hard and soft vowel and an example of each one:
Soft Vowel + Soft Vowel
Now, the combination of a hard and soft vowel is not the only combination classified as a diphthong. Whenever there are there soft vowels together, it is also called a diphthong! But which one has the dominant sound if they are both soft vowels? Great question! Unlike in our previous group of diphthongs where the order didn’t matter, here it does. When two soft vowels form a diphthong, there is an emphasis on the second one. Of course, since there are only two soft vowels, we only have two options for combinations. Do you remember which vowels are soft?
Exactly! I and U. So, we can have the combination ‘iu’ or ‘ui.’ Let’s check out some examples!
These words have very similar spellings, but because of their unique diphthongs, the pronunciations are distinct. Remember that when an ‘i’ is the first letter, it sounds like ‘y,’ and when ‘u’ is the first letter it sounds like ‘w.’ However, the second letter in each combination still carries the emphasis.
Alright – those are a lot of diphthongs! However, what if two hard vowels are paired together? What happens then? It is called a hiatus.
So, we established that diphthongs, or diptongos, are when two vowels come together to make one sound. If you remember, though, not all vowel combinations are diphthongs. Sometimes when there are two vowels together, they have two distinct syllabi – which is called a hiatus, or hiato. The Real Academia de Español puts it this way:
Secuencia de dos vocales que se pronuncian en sílabas distintas.
Sequence of two vowels that are pronounced in separate syllables.
To ensure that each vowel is pronounced in separate syllabi, both must be hard vowels – a, e, or o.
Let’s take the word real, for example. In English, this word is one syllable, and the vowels actually form a diphthong. However, the pronunciation in Spanish is ray-ahl with two syllables because ‘a’ and ‘e’ are both hard vowels. Interestingly, if we had double vowels in a word, whether they are hard or soft, they are a hiatus!
Here are all the possible forms of hiatos with some examples:
Before we move onto our last group, we need to talk about some exceptions to these rules. Yes, yes, I know – the last thing you want to hear about are exceptions. These, however, and pretty simple and you are probably already putting them into practice without even knowing it!
As you’ve probably noticed by now, Spanish utilizes a lot of accent marks! They are what mark the difference between llamo (I call) and llamó (he/she/it called) as they show where the syllabic emphasis is. Accent marks are needed when the accent of the word goes against general spelling and pronunciation rules. So, it makes sense then that when an accent mark is over a vowel combination, our rules about diphthongs and hiatuses go out the window; the accent mark takes precedence. Let’s look at an example:
If we follow our rules for diphthongs, we would pronounce the ‘ia’ as the single sound ‘ya.’ However, the accent mark over the ‘a’ breaks up that diphthong. We, therefore, pronounce this word as: ah-see-ah-tee-coh, where the ‘i’ and ‘a’ are in separate syllables.
The bottom line is, if there is an accent mark over one of the letters in a diphthong, it is no longer a diphthong! The vowel sounds are in separate syllabi.
The Tricky ‘u’
If you remember from our vowel blog, we talked about hard and soft Gs and Cs. These two letters’ pronunciation changes based on the vowel that follows them. There are several instances in Spanish were the spelling is adapted to match the pronunciation. For example, to conjugate the verb llegar in the simple past tense of yo, it would be llegé according to the rules of conjugating regular verbs. However, that would make the pronunciation yay-hay, not yay-gay as it should be. So, to correct the spelling, we add a ‘u’ to form llegué. In these instances where a ‘u’ is added to match the spelling to the pronunciation, the diphthong rules do not apply. The letter ‘u’ is just a filler and does not need to be pronounced at all – it’s silent!
Alright, are you ready for our last vowel combination? Don’t worry, it’s not too hard because it’s not quite as common as diphthongs! So far, we have only looked at instances where two vowels come together. There are words, though, that have more vowels together!
Just like a diphthong is when two vowels make one sound, a triphthong is when three vowels make one sound. The Real Academy de Español says:
Secuencia de tres vocales que se pronuncian en una sola sílaba.
Sequence of three vowels that are pronounced in just one syllable.
In order for three vowels to make one sound, they must be in the following order: soft vowel + hard vowel + soft vowel. It’s like a soft vowel sandwich! Let’s look at some examples:
Paraguay – (pahr-ah-gwai)
(here, the ‘y’ acts a vowel just like in hoy and estoy)
Guau – (gwow)
Confiéis – (cohn-fyays)
This last example is a conjugation of confiar in the vosotros form. A lot (NOT all) of the vosotros conjugations end in triphthongs! If you plan on visiting Spain, it would be good to practice the triphthongs more because vosotros is used very commonly there.
Practice Makes Perfect
That was a lot to take in! If you are a beginner Spanish learner, I would recommend you do not try to memorize all these rules at once. Instead, practice the 5 main vowels and look at the examples throughout this blog. If you get the pronunciation of these examples down, you will recognize the patterns in other words you see throughout your Spanish learning journey. These rules are important but don’t get caught up in them as you work towards fluency. Spanish vowels are much easier and straightforward in their pronunciation than the vowels in English.
For more practice on how to pronounce diptongos, watch our video below! With this tool, you’ll be on your way to a pronunciación perfecta in no time! ¡Tú puedes!Read More
A couple of years ago, a friend and I were on a stakeout. We sat in her car for hours on end, eating hotdogs and looking for clues. We found what we were looking for halfway through the second hotdog. A big brown dog was walking in the streets of the neighborhood where we were parked. My friend, Gaby, rescues stray dogs as a hobby. Her house always has at least 5 dogs running around! We were watching the dog because she had signs of having had puppies recently, and we wanted to know where she kept them so we could take the whole family to the shelter instead of just the brown dog. That way, the puppies could be with their mom.
In most Latin American countries stray dogs are a fairly common sight, but not all of them are having a bad time! In some places, there are ‘town dogs’ who have no owner in particular, but people from the town will feed them and give them shelter. In my previous neighborhood, the town dog was named Tocino, which translates to bacon! Pets have always been friends, companions, helpers… some even consider pets part of their family. Today, we’re going to learn about different pets and how to say their names in Spanish, see if you can guess which animal I’m talking about!
Pronounced pair-row, this is one of the first animals humans domesticated, and they’ve been with us for approximately 15,000 years! They come in many shapes and sizes, but the thing they have in common is that they will love you unconditionally. Still haven’t guessed? Let me give you another clue. They are also known as el mejor amigo del hombre, or ‘man’s best friend’. I’m of course talking about dogs! Some people keep dogs on a leash, una correa. To identify them, we give them collares, or collars.
Next, we have hurones, pronounced oo-rohn-ais. These slithery mammals were used for hunting back when we used horses to get around. They are playful, have small, sharp teeth and a long furry body. These are ferrets! They’re known for having qualities of both cats and dogs, but any ferret owner will tell you there’s much more to them than that. Ferrets are furry, or peludos, and have dientes filosos, sharp teeth! If you ever encounter an hurón juguetón, that means that your pet likes to play around a lot.
This one’s a freebie; iguana is pronounced the same in English and Spanish! The only difference is that instead of the ‘i’ sound, you have to say ‘ee’ instead. Iguanas are pets for people who like to sit down and chill out. The hardest part of owning an iguana, I’d say, is having to give them bichos, bugs for lunch; however iguanas eat vegetales too, like carrots and lettuce. Did you know the word ‘reptiles’ is the same in English and Spanish? The pronunciation changes, though. In Spanish, we say rep-tee-lays. With reptiles, it’s always a good idea to research before you buy, because our scaly friends have different diets and care instructions based on the species.
Mischievous, mysterious, and cuddly – these three words can be used to describe this next pet. Unlike perros, these animals domesticated themselves by helping humans get rid of rats and pests in exchange for food. This role was very important thousands of years ago because these pests carry disease that we couldn’t deal with back then. As a result, some cultures came to worship them, and I would argue that we still worship them today on the walls of the internet. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m talking about cats! Cats eat ratas, or rats. They catch them with their sharp garras, unless they get them trimmed at the groomer. One of the cool things about gatos is that they don’t need to be potty trained! They go by themselves on their caja de arena, or litter box.
Pájaros (pah-ha-rows) have been a source of inspiration for many artists and musicians. They can be kind, energetic, uplifting, funny, and sometimes scary. Such a wide range of personalities comes from an even wider range of species to choose from. Their most distinctive characteristic is their ability to sing. Have you guessed? I’m talking about birds! These little friends are very delicate, and another species that requires research before getting one. Birds sleep in their cages, or jaulas. They have colorful plumas on their body and they can cantar beautiful songs.
El loro, pronounced loh-roh, is a specific kind of bird. You can find loros in jokes, movies, and on buccaneer shoulders. These birds are known for being able to imitate us, imitar, and are quite popular in Latinoamérica. Naturally, I’m talking about parrots! Parrots are coloridos, meaning they can sport many colors of the rainbow in their plumas.
Let’s finish with another freebie! Hamsters are also pronounced the same in English and Spanish. The only difference being the ‘ha’ at the beginning is pronounced ‘hah’. Normally, the ‘h’ is silent in Spanish, but since the word hamster was adopted from German, we say it the same in both languages. These little guys are famous for running around, squeaking and eating sunflower seeds, or semillas de girasol. They run around in their ruedas. Don’t forget to put some viruta de madera, bedding, for your hámster to sleep on!
More pet vocabulary to practice
How many pet names did you guess? Pets are as important to us as we are to them. We have created relationships with them that enable us to grow as people through cuddles. How cool is that?! Remember to always love and care for pets and other animals, and don’t forget to practice your Spanish at Homeschool Spanish Academy!Read More
We have all heard that if you don’t learn a second or third language when you’re young, then it’s too late. I’m here to tell you that’s not true!
The latest research from Brown University has debunked the theory that older people cannot learn new things as easily as younger people. These studies have found that adults can retain information too, they just do it in a different part of the brain.
Everyone has brain plasticity – this is the capacity of the brain to develop and change throughout life. Increased plasticity occurs through learning, new memories, and experiences. Younger people experience plasticity (growth) of white matter in the cortex part of the brain, and older people experience plasticity of white matter in the visual field.
Bottom line: plasticity doesn’t decline with age, it just changes.
Another study by Stanford and York University professors tried to determine the best time for people to learn a foreign language. They studied Spanish and Chinese native-speakers who were learning English as a foreign language and wanted to determine what the cutoff age is for introducing a foreign language. Researchers have debated the cutoff age for decades…is the best time to begin learning a foreign language at age five, six, 12 or 15? The study here used age 15 and 20 as the age by which a language should be introduced, and they evaluated what happened if language was introduced beyond age 20.
The results showed that achieving native-like proficiency does decline with age, but the amount of decrease and the age that the decline begins to occur is up for debate. Further, to predict how well someone will learn a foreign language depends heavily on the number of years of formal education received, socioeconomic status and resources.
Research just doesn’t have a definitive answer yet.
However, there is enough evidence that age is not an excuse to shy away from learning a new language.
Scientists are discovering new things about the brain every day, so these findings are not conclusive by any means. It is simply more information to encourage us to keep learning, regardless of the number of birthday candles on our cake.
Let’s take a look at what to do next:
Unlock Cognitive Benefits
To keep up brain flexibility (plasticity) you will want to keep your mind challenged; this will maintain current brain cells, create new pathways, and stimulate communication in the brain. An active mind helps with memory retention, multitasking, and can even help fight off early cognitive decline.
Some ideas of new things you can do are: take music lessons – vocal or instrumental, design a new garden bed – cut flowers or edibles, teach or take an art class, join a book club, volunteer for a local community project, or learn a new language.
The Key to Learning a New Language is Motivation, Not Age
Youngsters can learn another language only to fall short and never use their skills, thus forgetting what they initially grasped. Sometimes children are forced to speak another language –to communicate with family members, translate for parents, or early pressure from parents to have a competitive advantage — and these kids don’t have the interest to continue using it when they grow up.
If an adult wants to learn another language, then interest will motivate them to put forth the effort and time to speed up the process and absorb as much as they can.
If you are motivated to communicate cross-culturally and speak another language then you can do it!
Adults Learn Vocabulary Faster than Children
Some aspects of language become easier as you mature.
While children can pick up accents and mimic sounds quicker than adults, adults have a better understanding of proper language structure and richer vocabulary, and therefore can retain advanced words faster and easier than kids.
For example, a child might say in Spanish, “fui a la granja/ I went to the farm.” They are communicating that they went to the farm and getting the point across to the listener in direct and child-like simplicity. However, an adult may want to explain more, as adults tend to do, and say “Fui a la granja de lavanda en la península y vi vistas hermosas de las montañas/ I went to a lavender farm on the peninsula, and saw beautiful views of the mountains.”
New words can be traced back to your pre-existing knowledge and understanding of phrases or descriptions, and this helps you retain words quickly!
By Now You Have Learned How To Learn
You no longer rely on others to help you carve out homework time. As you get older, your motivation comes from within and you choose what skills you want to spend your time on. You also know what kind of learner you are and simply what works, and what doesn’t.
This increased self-awareness will help you cut to the chase and learn Spanish! Spanish Academy guarantees that you will be speaking Spanish in your first lesson, ¡vamanos!
Spanish Academy Helps Adult Learners
As discussed above, adults learn best in the visual field part of their brain. Spanish Academy will help you grasp Spanish by targeting this visual learning style. We have a different approach to teaching language than standard textbooks and classrooms – we offer immersion-style classes that use a lot of visuals.
Our blog on immersion discusses how teachers and programs that teach “immersion-style” use a variety of visuals: “this includes gestures, modeling, real-life objects to help illustrate a theme or situation, and lots of pictures or videos. Another is open-ended questions that encourage conversation as opposed to inquiries that only garner a basic “yes” or “no.”
Our one-on-one or two-on-one online classes will give you facetime with your teacher and they can use visual prompts and handouts to help you better grasp the new language material.
Learn a New Skill Today
Try our free class and begin expanding your horizons – and brain plasticity- today!Read More
Whenever you’re learning another language, you may often hit a common stumbling block – being able to truly express what you are feeling. I often struggle with this in both languages now. Since each language has its own unique, wonderful phrases to express an idea, my brain often goes to mush as I sort out how to express what I think and need in one language, instead of the Spanglish that I normally think in. Unfortunately, not everyone I talk to can understand my Spanglish ramblings…including my husband.
I have had the amazing opportunity to be completely immersed in the Spanish language by dating and marrying someone who speaks only Spanish. He can handle a basic conversation in English, but our home language is Spanish. If you ever have the opportunity to talk with other people who speak the same languages as you do, it’s a very interesting phenomenon as you decide which language you want to speak in with that particular person – it depends on numerous factors, and it is not always the same! Either way, whether my husband one day becomes fluent in English or not, the language for our relationship is Spanish. This means that I had to learn to express how I felt in my second language. This isn’t something normally taught in a high school Spanish class, so I learned as I went.
If you are in the same position as me, or if you are just wanting to take your Spanish to a whole other level and be able to truly express yourself in Spanish, this blog is for you! We are going to look at several common phrases that you can use with your significant other – whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not!
To be completely honest, I am not a huge fan of lovey-dovey names for your significant other in English. I don’t know what it is about them, but I just don’t feel comfortable using them with my partner. However, I am a big fan of (most) Spanish pet names. Check them out!
The first ones seem great right? My love, queen, heaven – those sound great. But my daughter? Fatty? Aren’t we talking about or beloved significant other? These may sound funny, or even offensive, in English, but trust me – they do not all have the same connotation in Spanish. Mija is actually my favorite pet name that my husband uses. It expresses so much love, warmth, and affection in just one word. Now, you’ve probably heard mamita or papito used a lot, mostly in flirtatious conversations. While these two names are very often used to pursue someone and comment on their physical appearance, they can be used in a much more caring and loving way between a couple. Or, if you want to comment on your partner’s lovely physical appearance, you can use these words. Speaking of physical appearance, let’s talk about flaco/gordo. Yes, it sounds absolutely awful in English. However, these are very endearing terms in Spanish. My husband is my no means fat, nor is he skinny. Despite that, I have called him both mi gordo and mi flaco. Why? It’s endearing! He is also (sometimes) allowed to call me his gorda/flaca because these are not degrading terms about my weight but a way to tell me he loves me and my body.
It is very important to note that these words are not just for couples. If you walk through the market in Antigua, Guatemala, you will hear the vendors calling you any of these names to make you feel like the most important person in the world… and get you to buy their product. I have to tell you – it often works on me. Hearing people call me ‘queen, beautiful, and heart’ really puts me in a good mood! It is also very common to call kids ‘gordo/gorda’ out of affection. My husband and I are blessed with a little one-year-old boy, and he is just the cutest. He was not a fat baby when he was born, and now that he is a toddler, he is still not a fat kid. However, what have I and everyone else called him since he was born? Gordito. It may have to do with the general squishiness of babies, but he will forever (yes, even as an adult) be my gordito.
Spanish is a very expressive language, especially when it comes to communicating your love to those you care about. These pet names can be used in many different circumstances and potentially be misconstrued, so I encourage you to be cautious using them with people who are not your significant other. I once called my friend papito thinking it was just a fun nickname, and his face went bright red. Turns out it is not just another nickname but has a more sensual meaning. Oops! Learn from my mistakes, and make sure the nicknames you are using are appropriate for the situation.
One of my favorite things about Spanish is the many ways to describe your feelings. In English, we say we love everything; we have one word, ‘love,’ for everything. I love pizza, movies, sleeping, my dog, my sister, my husband. The reality is that our feelings are different for each of these things, and Spanish offers us more ways to express those particular feelings. For a more in-depth look at these phrases, click here.
Alright, we have our pet names and different verbs to express our level of love for someone. However, there is so much more to look at when we think about expressing our deep feelings for our significant other.
I hope all these phrases will help you better express yourself to your significant other in Spanish! It is important to note that all of these phrases use the pronoun tú to refer to your other half. Not all couples refer to each other with tú. Some couples keep it formal with usted to express respect for each other, while others use vos to express a deep closeness. Use whichever pronoun you feel most comfortable with, but make sure to change the verb conjugations accordingly!
Spanish Poems about love
If you are looking for some beautiful sayings and quotes in Spanish to put on a card or send to your significant other, try one of these!
Prefiero un minuto contigo a una eternidad sin ti.
“I prefer one minute with you than an eternity without you.”
Te amé, te amo y te amaré. Aunque pasaran cien años y mi corazón ya esté cansado y quiera dejar de latir, quiero que sepas que mi último latido será para ti.
“I loved you, I love you, and I will love you. Even when a hundred years have passed and my heart is tired and wants to stop beating, I want you to know that my last heartbeat will be for you.”
En la tierra, en la luna, en las estrellas, en marte, en cualquier parte del universo. En la lluvia, en el frío, en el dolor y el temor, en el laberinto sombrío y los caminos más difíciles de cruzar, pero contigo, sin contratos ni condiciones.– Irene T. Gómez
“On Earth, on the moon, in the stars, on Mars, in any part of the universe. In the rain, in the cold, in pain and fear, in the gloomy labyrinth and the most difficult paths to cross, but with you, without contracts or conditions.”
Eres mi promesa de nunca romper, eres cada uno de los latidos de mi corazón. Eres mi sonrisa, después de un mal día, eres vida, eres mi vida.– Robinson Aybar
“You are my promise of never breaking; you are every one of my heartbeats. You are my smile after a bad day. You are life; you are my life.”
Te quiero no por quien eres, sino por quien soy cuando estoy contigo.– Gabriel García Márquez
“I love you not for who you are, but because of who I am when I’m with you.”
Tardé una hora en conocerte y solo un día en enamorarme. Pero me llevará toda una vida lograr olvidarte.
“It took an hour for me to meet you and just a day for me to fall in love. But it will take a whole lifetime to be able to forget you.”
Share the love!
Take everything that you’ve learned here and go express your love to your significant other! You can use whole quotes, bits and pieces, or just the pet names to express what you are feeling in Spanish. Don’t forget to practice what you’ve learned with our native Spanish-speaking teachers! You can sign up for a FREE class here! You can come up with some sentences of your own in Spanish and run it by them – they would love to help!
For more practice, check out our video on the different ways to say ‘I love you’ in Spanish. You can get a first-hand glimpse of how many Spanish speakers use different phrases to express themselves. Test your Spanish skills with the video as well by seeing how much you understand. Then, follow along with the subtitles to check your comprehension.Read More
One of the most enjoyable aspects of learning Spanish with preschoolers is learning colors! Kids love the hands-on experience of mixing, painting, or playing coloring games. While they are happily engaged in play, you will have the added bonus of knowing they are improving their Spanish skills. The color theme is a perfect one to use to add on other themes, such as shapes and me gusta (I like) grammar phrases. You can find out more about these additional themes below. Use this handy guide for teaching colors to preschoolers to enhance your child’s Spanish-learning journey and make playtime that much more colorful!
While we are keeping this guide super simple for young learners, it’s useful for you to know some basics about colors. Firstly, you may remember that Spanish uses a grammatical gender for all nouns. Secondly, we know that when colors are acting as adjectives, they describe a noun. This means that the gender of the color will change depending on the gender of the noun. For example, el carro (the car) is masculine and so el carro morado (the purple car) uses a masculine form of the color purple. La hoja (pronounced OH-ha) is a feminine noun and so la hoja morada (the purple leaf) uses a feminine form of the color purple. Basically, every color word that ends in -o can also end in -a, depending on what it is describing. Keep this rule in mind as you teach your child, but don’t feel like you have to give an explicit lesson on it. By consistently using the colors correctly as you expand your lessons with more and more nouns, your child will likely pick up on this pattern automatically.
Now, on to our list of colors!
Colors are everywhere and there is no limit to the possible activities you can use to teach them. We have some favorite activities listed below and hope that you feel inspired to add to them with your own great ideas. What are some ways you can play with colors in Spanish?
- Flashcards – check out our exclusive Homeschool Spanish Academy Color Flashcards (download below) and read about flashcard games here.
- Color sorting – using different mediums, such as fruit loops, nature, or toy food, have your little one sort the objects by color. Repeat the Spanish color word each time a new object is placed correctly.
- Color science and mixing – Do a double lesson on mixing primary colors and naming them in Spanish. This is especially fun using finger paints. It’s okay to use a little ‘Spanglish’ here when your child begins to shout “rojo and azul make morado!”
- Coloring book – instruct your child how to color a picture with the Spanish colors you say. As they begin to color, they repeat the word. Expand your child’s vocabulary with our exclusive Homeschool Spanish Academy Greetings Coloring Pages.
- Color scavenger hunt – whether inside or outside, designate an area where you and your little one will explore all the colors, naming them as you go. You could also make color cards (or use our flashcards) to encourage your child to focus on one specific color at a time.
- Playdough – while learning new vocabulary to go with colors, playdough comes in handy. For example, use our shape guide below to teach colorful shapes and have your child make them out of playdough! Or, make playdough together and practice the new color words while cooking it.
- Color hop with chalk – take to the sidewalk or a patio of your house and draw big squares (or any shape, if working with shapes) of different colors. Instruct your child to jump on a specific color and say the name out loud. They get to tell you where to jump, too!
- Libro de colores (Book of Colors) – Use a packet of craft paper and look together for the colors you will be learning. Cut out the papers the same size and make a booklet. With a marker, write the appropriate Spanish color name on each page. If your child is learning to write, have them write the word underneath your example. Then, find together little one-colored objects to glue onto each color page! You can also make this booklet out of regular white paper and use colored cut-outs from craft paper to glue into the book. You can incorporate pages for many themes, including shapes and even some grammar. Label each page accordingly.
As you teach colors to your eager little learner, dive deeper to include shapes! This way you can begin to explore the gender changes that colors make when describing a noun. Remember that Spanish adjectives (in this case, colors) always come after the noun. Some examples are:
El círculo azul – the blue circle
La estrella amarilla – the yellow star
El rectángulo marrón – the brown rectangle
Here is a list of shapes you can start with:
Me Gusta (I like)
In addition to learning colors, you may want to teach your child how to express their preferences. Here is a quick list of variations of me gusta that you can use in your lessons.
¡Me gusta! – I like it!
Me gusta el color verde. – I like the color green.
Me gusta amarillo. – I like yellow.
¿Cuál es tu color favorito? – What is your favorite color?
¿Qué color te gusta más? – What color do you like the most?
Colorful Spanish Lessons
We hope you enjoy this guide to teaching colors in exciting and educative ways. Add to the fun with our colorful video lesson here! If you would like your child to practice their new color skills with a native Spanish teacher from Guatemala, sign up for an online class! The first class is free and your child is guaranteed to speak Spanish after the first lesson.Read More