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
“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!
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Did you know that there are numerous words in Spanish that have multiple meanings? If so, great! We’ll learn more about it today! If not, let me introduce you to the first of many tiny Spanish words that have a LOT of meanings: ya.
Ya in Spanish can function as:
Now, what do these three weird words mean?
- You may already be familiar with adverbs, or words that describe and modify verbs. They are to verbs what adjectives are to nouns.
- The car goes fast.
- Locutions are expressions that are different than the usual meaning of the stand-alone word and are used in specific circumstances. Locutions can either consist of one single word or a phrase. We use the term locution to refer to a word or set of words that mean an entire concept.
- Pues ya veremos.
- Oh well, we’ll see.
- We also use ya in Spanish colloquially. In other words, we use the word in an informal fashion or in a more comfortable environment. For example, you can use the colloquial ya expressions we’ll discuss today with friends and family, but never for a formal occasion like a job interview!
- ¡Ay, nada que ver!
- Literal translation: Oh, nothing to see.
- Interpreted translation: Oh, it has nothing to do with it.
The various uses of ‘ya’
‘Ya’ in Spanish: Adverbs
When we use ya in Spanish as an adverb, its meaning depends on the context. We use it:
*What is a distributive conjunction:
Conjunctions are words that join other words, clauses, phrases, or sentences. Some examples are: and, or, but, since, because, when, while. Distributive conjunctions are not a thing in English. However, in Spanish, we use them to present two ideas that are equally important, which can be either complementary or contradictory.
‘Ya’ in Spanish: Locutions
As mentioned above, locutions are expressions that can either consist of one single word or a whole phrase and have a meaning other than the usual meaning of the stand-alone word. There are several different types of locutions! The type depends on the function the locution has in the sentence. Let’s look at some ejemplos:
Check this link out to see more uses of ‘mero’.
‘Ya’ in Spanish: Colloquialisms
Colloquialisms are words or expressions we use in a more informal fashion, or in a more comfortable and familiar environment. Explore these Spanish Quotes to find more hidden language gems. Ya in Spanish as a colloquialism can be a:
As a parent, you want the best for your child – especially where education is concerned. When it comes to foreign language, sometimes our local options fall short as we don’t always have access to native teachers. Therefore, many people turn to online alternatives for second-language courses, such as Spanish classes. However, good Spanish programs can be lengthy and difficult, especially if you choose a program that doesn’t fit your child’s needs. Is it worth it to invest in a private instructor? Do Spanish textbooks alone work? What about the multiple online software programs?
Weighing your options is always a good idea. Below, you will find 5 popular alternative Spanish classes for children and teenagers. If you are looking at courses for adults, please visit our blog here. ¡Vamos!
Although you may not consider these options to be exclusively ‘online’ programs, they are quite popular with families looking for Spanish fluency. These applications are very similar in structure (for a more detailed description, click here) and offer interactive activities to enforce learned vocabulary and grammar. Memrise has a more game-like vibe, while Duolingo is a little more focused on grammar. However, with Memrise you can choose from hundreds of Spanish courses made by users. This ensures your child learns what they need for their level or what peaks their interest. Duolingo also offers a placement test so your students start right at the level they need.
You can find both programs online or on your phone as an application. The free versions offer a variety of language learning options, such as games, vocabulary exercises, pronunciation, and writing. Although there are not live teachers helping your child along, he or she can watch short videos of natives speaking and listen to authentic pronunciations.
Rosetta Stone is a favorite among families looking for authentic Spanish classes. Developed in 1992, this program is a Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) software. In other words, the student learns with an automated program.
The platform uses images, text, sound, and repetition to help your child learn Spanish. It also analyzes aspects of your student’s progress to help them learn at their own pace and enjoy the process. For example, it tracks how many questions the student answered correctly, how accurate their pronunciation is, and how long each lesson is taking. However, like the apps, there is no live instructor to help the student along.
So, those first two options don’t offer any live teachers to guide your child through their learning journey. A private instructor is always a plus, especially if your child is quite young. Are there any affordable options available with personal instructors? Let’s look at the Kids’ Club Spanish School.
This platform is a bit newer, created in 2017. The classes allow the child to sit down with a live teacher and interactive software to learn Spanish. The backbone of the program is the
Panda Tree is another program that offers live Spanish instruction at your own convenience. This one offers classes in both Chinese and Spanish, and it has been in operation for 5 years. Just like the Kids’ Club Spanish School, the classes utilize interactive software ideal for younger children. This way, kids can sit down with their teacher as if they were in a real classroom. The learners also have access to additional songs and activities to practice with outside of class.
However, this platform doesn’t offer a free trial class to see if it is a good fit for your child. Another drawback both Panda Tree and Kids’ Club Spanish School have is that there is a maximum age limit. Many high school students need Spanish credits to graduate or to apply to college, but these programs are geared mainly towards younger students.
Spanish Academy, though, offers live classes to all ages – preschool, elementary, middle school, and high school. There is even a program for you, mom and dad! This platform combines personal classes at your convenience with a written curriculum so your child has a complete learning experience. If you have two kids that want to learn together, you can even sign them up to study at the same time. That way, they can have more fun learning Spanish together!
Best of all, the price for classes are significantly lower than both Panda Tree and Kids’ Club Spanish School, even though all three programs offer live, personalized classes online. The only drawback is that availability with Spanish Academy may be limited during the school year because of its great popularity.
Is your little learner ready to start learning Spanish? Click here to sign up for a free class today and give your child a brighter future!Read More
A big part of communication happens through spoken language. As opposed to written language, or the words we read and write, spoken language is everything we speak and hear. Another type of language we utilize is body language, or nonverbal communication. You may be wondering, what does this all have to do with TV and learning Spanish? Well, keep reading & you’ll find out how to learn Spanish by watching TV!
To learn more about the different types of communication and how they impact our interactions with others check out this blog post.
If we think of spoken language, we can divide it into two parts:
- What goes out – the words we say
- What goes in – the words we hear
We know that language learning is a skill like any other, and to get better at it, practice is key! If we are learning to speak Spanish, we need to actually speak Spanish. Before we can have a conversation, though, we need to understand spoken Spanish. One way to better our comprehension is consistently listening to Spanish! The thing is, Spanish has numerous sounds that the English language doesn’t, so we need to train our ears to get accustomed to this new world of sounds. And why not learn Spanish by watching TV?
Fun fact: did you know that some languages only exist in spoken form? In some languages, there are no written words to the spoken ones! According to Ethnologue, almost half of the over 7,000 spoken languages around the globe have no written form. Isn’t that fascinating?
Mashed Potatoes vs. French Fries
Let’s be honest. When you’re just starting to learn Spanish (or any language), and you hear people speak, it’s hard to point out where one word ends and another begins. At first, hearing the language feels more like mashed potatoes when in reality every word is a French fry! The more we listen to Spanish, the easier it will become to recognize the different sounds, and where words begin and end. It will be easier to pull the French fries out of the potato mash!
Now, how can we use all this knowledge to our advantage when learning Spanish? We’re very lucky to live in an age when technology offers so many different options that we can use differently depending on the level of our language skills. Let’s learn Spanish by watching TV! Series, movies, documentaries, cartoons…anything with spoken words will be of great help on our path to becoming fluent Spanish speakers!
Talking about technology, why don’t you check out our blog post on the Top 4 Spanish Apps of 2019!
Learn Spanish by watching TV
Let’s go back to words being French fries! Some fries are only seasoned with salt and pepper, while other fries are so heavily seasoned you can barely taste the potatoes! That’s exactly what happens with Spanish and all its different accents! While some are very easy to understand because the speakers pronounce words very clearly, other accents are an entirely different story!
Spanish is my native language, and there are series and movies in Spanish that I’ve watched with English or Spanish subtitles. Why? Because sometimes I want to focus on the plot instead of on trying to understand what people are saying. This is entirely normal: my ear is not accustomed to such an accent! If you need subtitles as a Spanish learner, don’t feel bad because even I as a native speaker need them sometimes too. You and I are definitely not alone on this!
Speaking of different accents, this blog post will help you improve your own accent.
Where to Start
¡Empecemos! Go to Netflix or your preferred streaming service. Pick out your favorite cartoon, series, or movie. Yes, that one you’ve watched at least once (but probably more times than you’d like to admit) in English. Choose to watch the Spanish dubbed version with English subtitles! Wait a second. What?! The original is in English and I’m saying you should choose to hear it in Spanish with subtitles in English? Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Why? Well, there are two reasons for this:
- You’ve watched this before, and you know what to expect. You know the plot and the characters so your brain already has an idea of what it will be about. This means you’ll have a fun time watching something you like even if you don’t understand everything you hear. It also allows your brain to focus on learning these new sounds with everything you hear!
- The language used on dubbed versions is a lot more neutral than the one from series or movies originally filmed in Spanish because it’s meant to cater to different audiences in various regions. Therefore, this is a great place to begin!
Where to Continue
Once you are past level 1, any of the following combinations will be great to continue learning Spanish by watching TV:
- Spanish audio with English subtitles: This will help train your ear to the sound of Spanish.
- Spanish audio with Spanish subtitles: You’ll hear and read very similar information. Therefore, you’ll start connecting spoken words to written words!
- English audio with Spanish subtitles: This will help you get used to Spanish spelling and written language.
And what should you watch? I don’t want to recommend anything in particular because whatever you watch should be fun for YOU! Learning Spanish by watching TV is educational without you even realizing it because it is so enjoyable! My only recommendation on this aspect is to start with series or cartoons, as movies are way longer and you don’t want your brain to be overwhelmed! We want this to be a fun ear-training activity!
My Personal Experience
Very often, people ask me where I learned English. This is not an easy question for me to answer because English is the only language other than my native tongue I didn’t primarily learn in a classroom – as was the case with German, Italian, French, and Latin. Instead, I learned English in a very organic way. I watched TV and played video games in English! What did I watch? I chose cartoons, series, documentaries, and movies! And even though it never felt like learning, I was learning English and training my ears to the sounds of the language.
It’s simple this time: pick a show you like and have fun while learning! And why not try a FREE CLASS with us to tell us about your experience learning Spanish by watching TV!
Nothing beats the smell of a fresh textbook, newly sharpened pencils, and a bright, clean eraser. At least, for those of us who liked school. But you have to admit – even if you didn’t like school, brand new school supplies always seemed to bring a sense of fresh beginnings. You had the chance to start over – a new you, new classes, new friends.
Now, maybe you’re still in school, or perhaps those years are well behind you. Either way, the fact remains the same that online learning is surging in popularity – despite missing out on those exciting new school supplies. How can you get the same level of quality that in-person classes offer while studying online? Let’s be real. There may be classes available near us, but our hectic schedules and thin wallets don’t always allow us that privilege. So, logically, we turn to online tools but get overwhelmed by the options.
Lucky for you, we’re here to help you discover how to learn Spanish online!
Pick a program that is right for you
Before you get bombarded by the thousands of results that come up when you google ‘how to learn Spanish online,’ you should decide what type of online classes will work best for you.
Why do you want to learn Spanish online?
Of course, we all want to learn Spanish for different reasons. Maybe you want your children to learn Spanish from a young age, or perhaps you want to travel to Latin America on your next vacation. You may even need Spanish to finish school or for your work. Whatever your reasons, clearly defining your learning goals will definitely help you pick the perfect program for you.
- If you are looking to learn Spanish online as a supplemental tool to your regular classes, then I would definitely recommend an app or programs like Memrise or Duolingo. These programs will not get you to fluency, but they are a great supplemental tool to practice Spanish (or any other language, for that matter) while on the go or in short periods of time.
- One of the most important aspects of language learning is actually speaking. If you are looking for a platform that has an extra special focus on pronunciation, I would have to recommend Pimsleur. This program sells packages of audio lessons that you can listen to at home or on your way to work. Every time a word or phrase is introduced, the teacher breaks down the pronunciation for you in a very simple, straightforward way.
- There are a couple of courses that are specifically designed to help with conversation to make sure you are equipped to travel abroad. Pimsleur does this through their audio courses by utilizing relevant conversation phrases and prompting the listener to respond appropriately. Another tool is Babbel. Similar to Duolingo and Memrise in its setup, its software directly focuses on dialogue and conversational skills.
- Rosetta Stone is a very well-known language program for both students and adults. It teaches the student Spanish through a more natural method, just like how kids learn their native tongue from their parents. Instead of translation, it focuses on teaching implicitly. Another option for school Spanish would be Homeschool Spanish Academy, or HSA. This course has programs specifically designed for students if all ages – especially those looking for high school courses. Instead of sitting in a large class, listening to a non-native speaker teach Spanish, HSA offers live one-on-one classes. The classes help each student reach fluency while learning the same material offered in most schools.
- For those of you looking for courses specifically for kids, I found two great programs expressly geared towards your little ones. The first is Panda Tree. While other platforms offer various languages, Panda Tree offers only Spanish and Chinese, giving it expertise in those two languages. The programs are designed for children to have live teachers and interactive dynamics. Similarly, HSA also has classes just for kids, and only teaches Spanish. This is great for those of you wanting to learn Spanish online because you know you’re working with experts in the language. HSA has its own curriculums for each age group, and the teachers work with the children to create fluency using the curriculum and engaging activities.
- Honestly, you could use any of these options mentioned to prepare for your trip abroad. It all depends on how serious you are about learning Spanish online. If you just want to know a couple of phrases to survive on your trip, I would recommend sticking with the free apps. However, if you plan on staying for an extended period of time, or if you want to be able to converse with the locals, a program like Babbel or HSA is the way to go. Although HSA’s classes are structured around its own curriculum, just mention that you want to focus on travel, and the teacher will accommodate accordingly.
Cost to learn Spanish online
But…how are you going to choose between one of these courses? Well, the price is normally the deciding factor. Each program sells its classes and software differently, but let’s compare the costs.
Both Duolingo and Memrise have free or Premium options. While you can learn a decent amount just with the free account, there are benefits to paying a little extra. For example, with Memrise you can get extra practice with all those difficult words that you just can’t quite remember.
- Duolingo – $9.99/month
- Memrise – $5.00-$8.99/month
Although it may seem that Babbel is also mainly free, you actually need a subscription to get access to the lessons.
- Babbel – $6.95-12.95/month
Those are the cheapest programs to learn Spanish, and if you want a more intense program, you will have to pay more.
- Rosetta Stone – $179 for 1 level, $479 for 5 levels
- Pimsleur – $550 for 5 levels, or $15-$20/month for a subscription
Of course, none of these courses have a live tutor. So, how much more do you have to pay to learn Spanish online as if you were in a real class? If you opt for private tutors, such as those offered through Italki, you could be looking at $30 per class. Likewise, the classes from Panda Tree can range all the way up to $45 per session.
- Panda Tree – $19-25 per class of 25 minutes, $34-45 per class of 50 minutes
Is there any way to get quality classes with a live tutor without breaking your wallet? Well, the classes with HSA come as low as $6.65 per live class! That’s over half the price of Panda Tree for live, one-on-one classes that can be tailored to your student’s needs.
- Homeschool Spanish Academy – $6.65-9.93 per class of 25 minutes, $9.98-14.60 per class of 50 minutes.
Start learning Spanish online
Alright! We’ve given you the basics for just a couple of the online Spanish programs. There are many more options, of course, but these are just a few of the more popular choices.
If you are looking for high-quality, live classes that actually get you to fluency, we would invite you to try our Free Trial Class. These classes are tailored to your needs and won’t send you into bankruptcy. ¡Pruébalo!Read More
Learning a new language is a long process. For example, when I was learning a second language, it took a lot of time with memorizing vocabulary and doing different practice exercises. It takes a lot of practice and studying to truly master another language. If you are new to learning Spanish or you have just been practicing it for a little bit, or even if you’re an advanced learner of Spanish! I bet you’ve had moments where someone has told you something in Spanish and you have no idea what they just said. It happens! There are some Spanish Phrases you won’t understand. It’s okay to have these blank moments.
Now, I put something together for you beginners to avoid situations like these. Here is a list of the 25 most used Spanish phrases. Practice them. Memorize them. Use them. You can check also out our previous blog Spanish for Dummies. Hopefully, with these, you will successfully avoid those awkward moments.
Greetings are important because they are our conversation openers. You probably already know ‘hola,’ but asking how someone is doing is also an important skill to have. You can greet someone in Spanish in many ways (check out our previous blog on Spanish Greetings for more information), but here are the basic Spanish phrases for greetings:
However, these last three Spanish phrases can be used as greetings and also as a way of saying goodbye. Surprisingly, they mean the same in both situations.
Responses to greetings
Saying hello is important. On the other hand, being able to respond to a greeting is fundamental if you want to avoid those awkward pauses. These responses help to keep the conversation flowing. Here’s the list of short, basic responses that are super easy to learn:
Likewise, farewells in Spanish are good to know so you don’t leave a conversation hanging open. Just like not being able to respond, leaving without saying goodbye would be very awkward. To avoid that, here is the list of Spanish phrases to say goodbye:
Polite Spanish Phrases
People in Spanish-speaking countries are very kind and polite toward tourists and people that can’t speak the language fluently. If you are traveling aboard, for example, the locals will gladly help you with anything you need. Therefore, you need to know some Spanish phrases to respond to their politeness:
In addition, ‘Perdón’ and ‘Disculpa’ can also be used for ‘excuse me.’
Questions are half of a conversation. For instance, they help when you want to get to know someone, but also if you don’t know something, or if you want to ask for help. This is why earning to say those questions in Spanish is very important.
Questions in Spanish start with one of these phrases: Cómo, Cuándo, Por qué, Quién, Qué, and Dónde. In English, these are: How, When, Why, Who, What, and Where. To clarify, here is a short list of Spanish questions:
Other Useful Spanish Phrases
All of the Spanish phrases above are very useful and important to know if you want to have a fluid conversation in Spanish. There are many other phrases you can learn, but here are the last three I consider useful so you can learn:
I really hope these 25 Spanish phrases that I have listed are useful to you. I can guarantee that if you learn these you will not have that many moments where you don’t know how to respond. These phrases will help you understand what others are saying and how to respond to them. Also, learning these phrases will help you further your studies of the Spanish language. If you are looking for more phrases and important things to know in Spanish, check out our blog on how to Learn Spanish in 5 months!Read More
The food: chuchitos, caldos, pupusas, every kind of taco, and a rainbow of colorful tortillas. ¡Qué rico!
The scenery: mountains, beaches, and famous ruins with mangrove rivers leading jungle. Beautiful.
The wildlife: viscous jaguars and scorpions, sweet llamas, and flying squirrels. Alive.
We. Love. Latin America.
So, obviously we want you to come and visit us, but not only that. Let’s plan a summer-long trip. Can you imagine? Sounds great, right? Well, summer is only 5 months away so you have PLENTY of time to pack, update your passport, and book all your hotels. But what about your Spanish?
5 months. Just give us 5 months, and we swear we can get you on the right track right for your trip to Latin America! In fact, you should probably jump over to our latest blog Spanish for Dummies which is a quick guide to get all of your basics and FUNdementals down.
How do you learn ‘Travel Spanish’ in 5 months?
That was the initial pitch. Now comes the ‘How.’ To help you out, we did some investigation. The first was with students from a local English class and we asked them, ‘What advice would you give to travelers who want to learn Spanish in 5 months?’
Oh, the enthusiasm in the ADULT classroom! We had never seen so much enthusiasm even when we brought doughnuts that one time… In the midst of all of the shouts, consejos, and ideas, the most agreed upon methods were:
- Learn key phrases and statements
- Tandem conversation partner
- Practice every day on an application
- Book classes at academies in each country that you visit
Learn key Questions: 6 Q’s
The best thing about travel is that you will most likely be making requests or basic commentary to the native Spanish speakers around you. All of the memory-making is thankfully going to be done with you and your traveling compadres. We trust that you have done the easiest things and booked all of your travel, hotel, and activities before your arrival. However, some of these phrases could possibly help in those areas too.
Learn key Statements: Compliments, Abilities, and Wants
So now that we have all of the questions out of the way, let’s add a little bit of personality to our Spanish for Travelers! Show them what you can do and what you like so you can try to participate in the culture!
Tandem conversation partners:
Woah! All of that Travel Spanish is going to be so useful for you to participate in the culture, advocate for yourself, and travel with such ease. But, what are you going to do when people respond?! Woah! There are so many different kinds of answers for these questions and any other comments that you make. Because of that, we recommend tandem conversation. Bring this list of questions and statements to a native speaker in your own community and pretend you are in the jungle or some other exotic place. You will FOR SURE learn multiple kinds of responses. Check out your local libraries or after school/university programs as well.
If you cannot find a native speaker to help you.
If you cannot find a native speaker to help you through your imaginary jungle – either concrete or full of cobras – we suggest you find recommended online sites like Homeschool Spanish Academy.
Yes, even us at HSA! After all, we are a Spanish academy based in Central America, and all of our teachers are native speakers. Because of this, our classes offer the most most life-like learning experience possible that would help you in your travels! When you get to Guatemala, you could actually say that you have friends here who you have talked to already. Check out our sign-up page to start the tandem conversing NOW!
Practice every day on an application
Tandem conversation, memorizing phrases, and asking questions will really get you far in your Travelers Spanish, but what about vocab and the BASICS? Well, in the midst of our ‘sample advice group,’ there was a HUGE agreement that using applications every day for at least 20 min will help build vocabulary and all of the basics that tandem conversation will not blatantly give you. There was even one native Spanish-speaking student who was learning English AND French on his applications. Because of his experience, he was able to provide great insight. Our top 3 suggestions are:
- Named the best app to learn Spanish by HSA, Duolingo is an interactive way to learn Spanish. Yes, there are tests and quizzes, but there are fun listening, speaking, and visual activities for every learner.
- This is a great application. Not only is it an instant phrasebook full of useful and instantly translated phrases for the country where you are going, but it is also a reliable electronic translator for those SAVE ME IN THE JUNGLE moments.
- Top 4 free Spanish apps of 2019
- Check out our own list of application suggestions! “Maybe you’re looking to start from scratch, or perhaps you are already in Spanish and just need extra support. Well, you’re in luck! We’ve compiled a list of the best Spanish apps of 2019 to learn Spanish for free! Check out which one will work best for you.”
As we talked with our ‘sample group’ of very enthusiastic English students, the final advice that they wanted to give everyone learning Travel Spanish was to keep studying even when you get to your destination. Don’t let all of the awe and wonder of your travels sidetrack you! Also, if you have a question, just ask your teacher. There are so many Spanish academies for travelers all around Latin America. Take Maximo Nivel, for example. You can take classes, have your native teacher show you the culture, and even stay at a local’s home so you can get a true Spanish immersion. How do babies learn a language? By participating to the fullest and eating as many black beans as possible! Why don’t you try it their way?
Alright, travelers! It’s time to get going!
Summer is just around the corner and these next 5 months should give you plenty of time to learn Travel Spanish! As your faithful ‘tips and trip’ advisers in the world of Spanish learning, we are always here to support you. So much so that we are even offering a free trial class with us! We want to help evaluate what your travel Spanish learning needs are and even help to give you a starting point as you work towards your 5-month travel fluency. Click here to sign up for a free class!
We talk to people every day – on the street, in the store, at home – and rarely think about how amazing it is that we can actually communicate with them. We constantly take for granted our ability to converse with those around us.
Now, 58.9 million of our neighbors here in the States are Spanish-speakers. Imagine that for a moment. There is an impressive language barrier between us and almost 20% of the population. How can we bridge that gap and begin to communicate more fully with our neighbors? Well, we can start by perfecting our Spanish-learning process.
Why the Traditional Methods of Learning Spanish are Flawed
Let’s think about how most of us have tried to learn Spanish…
- Workbooks with reading and writing exercises
- Large classroom settings
- Non-native Spanish speaking instructors
- Software (free or paid) with audio recordings
- Classes only 1 or 2 times per week
Did one of these methods work for you? More than likely, they did not because these techniques utilize the wrong parts of the brain.
Flaws in the Traditional Methods
Remember the list we made of the different ways we normally try to learn Spanish? Those are what we are going to call ‘traditional learning methods.’ Let’s explore further to see where exactly they went wrong.
If you’re like me and went to public school, the norm was that you took about a year of foreign language in middle school before it became a requirement in high school. Since I studied in Texas, Spanish was the most logical choice of a second language. However, it wasn’t like I had much of a choice since German and French were my only other options. So, I began to study Spanish only because of its practicality. Now, on a personal level, Spanish was my least favorite class. I was a pretty good student overall, but matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do better than a B- (yes, I know – I was an overachiever).
At some point, I owned the fact that I wasn’t good at learning languages and just gave up. I stopped trying, which was quite contrary to my personality.
Looking back, I can point to several things that probably held me back.
Common Learning Errors
- Large Classes: I was in a 5A district, studying at a high school of 5000+ students. My graduating class was about 1000 students. In other words, the classrooms were consistently filled to capacity.
- Limited Attention: Due to the high student count, how much attention could one teacher realistically give to any one student? How does anyone stay focused when they’re just another face in the crowd?
- Limited Practice: Our classes, if I remember correctly, were approximately 50 minutes. They later shifted to an hour and twenty minutes in high school. Within those 80 minutes, I experienced about 10 minutes of actual application time. However, we weren’t speaking with actual native speakers. Instead, we stammered broken phrases to other non-Spanish speakers for a couple of minutes until we got distracted by a more interesting topic.
- Workbooks: Given the limited class practice time, most of the actual Spanish work was assigned as homework. This meant that we mainly learned about the reading and writing rules of the Spanish language in class, and perfected them (or at least attempted to) outside of class. I would actually argue that my reading and writing got pretty decent, but I couldn’t speak the language if my life depended on it.
In hindsight, it’s clear that my Spanish journey was flawed since day one. I was learning how to read and write in Spanish, but I barely flexed my auditory & speaking muscles. The lessons, activities, and practice works were constantly reinforcing reading and writing in Spanish, nothing else.
Now let me be clear. I’m definitely not saying that software and textbooks that focus on those learning areas are insignificant. I truly believe they can be helpful. However, I’m simply saying that they are only one part of a much bigger picture. We need various tools to activate the key areas of the brain that will help us effectively learn Spanish fast.
Before we can begin to learn Spanish fast, we must have a better understanding of how the brain functions when learning a language.
How the Brain Works
The brain is a very complex organ in the human body. It controls everything we do. Whether that’s reading, writing, or speaking, the brain has to be trained, over time, to know how to complete those tasks.
Although the brain is much more complex than what we can delve into here today, it is clear from looking at this diagram that different language functions are primarily controlled by distinct areas of the brain.
What this shows us is that when we try to learn a language with just reading or writing exercises, it isn’t very effective because we aren’t exercising the part of the brain that controls speech. We are learning only half of what we need to become fluent in Spanish.
In other words, as a learning audience, we have been studying and learning Spanish incorrectly.
In a nutshell, our brain accomplishes any task by firing or sending electrical signals to different regions of the brain. These signals then travel through the body to the muscles that you want to use. Let’s say, for example, you want to say something. Your brain would first send out signals to different parts of the brain to recall the words and sentence structure you need. Then, it would signal your muscles to move correctly and get your vocal cords to produce the correct sound. All at the same time. Whoa! That’s a lot of tasks! No wonder it’s a hard thing to learn, huh?
Becoming More Efficient
These electrical signals we just talked about travel along something called ‘axons.’ However, the further the signals have to travel, the more energy they lose. Luckily, our axons are wrapped in a fatty substance called myelin, which helps maintain energy. You can think of axons like the coaxial cables of the brain.
When we’re younger, this myelin fatty substance is quite thin. The more we ‘practice’ specific tasks, though, the more resources your body dedicates to that axon and thickening the myelin. This, in turn, produces a very well insulated pathway for that particular electrical signal. In this TED video that explores the idea further, they refer to it as something “similar to an information superhighway.”
Logically speaking, as a signal becomes fast and more efficient, the result should appear quicker and better, right?
Targeting the Correct Objective
The answer is yes. But to make that signal faster, we need to practice the right tasks. If we want to create efficient pathways in our brain for speaking Spanish but never say a word, those pathways will never develop. We must target the correct objective when we learn Spanish.
At this point, I can probably conclude that I did not excel in high school Spanish because the curriculum and activities were creating and reinforcing axon pathways in my brain specifically for reading and writing. Had I been able to converse and develop pathways for speaking, I would have been more proficient in communicating in Spanish. There’s a common saying, “practice how you’ll execute,” and it rings true for language learning.
More Than Practice: Quality and Effectiveness
The video I previously mentioned goes on to point out that although practice is necessary to build up the myelin along your axons, it’s not the only thing needed to develop mastery over any skill, including speaking Spanish.
This explains why repeating a bunch of words randomly or without context, often does NOT lead to Spanish fluency. So, we have talked about how traditional learning methods are ineffective. What’s the correct way to learn Spanish quickly, then?
How We Do It:
At Spanish Academy, we’ve developed a unique method of teaching Spanish that centers around five key concepts represented by the acronym RAMMA. These letters stand for:
Our classes are either 1-on-1 or 2-on-1, giving you the ability to talk about things that are relevant to your life. This does a couple of things. First, it gives your brain a point of reference and allows you to contextualize and process what’s going on. It also aids in pushing the information into your long term memory.
Because the information is relevant to your experience, you’re naturally more engaged in the class. Studies show time and time again*** that when you are attentive, your brain is more likely to retain the information.
Now that your classes are relevant to your experiences, you can learn Spanish through a lens you are familiar with. This gives meaning and perspective to your Spanish learning journey. Instead of just learning a bunch of generic words and phrases that you might never use, you will actually learn useful and meaningful vocabulary, grammar, and conversation skills.
Just like being attentive allows you to store information in your long-term memory, giving meaning to the context allows you to do the same. All that context, perspective, and meaning lets you process and store this information a lot faster than if you were to just try and memorize things a list of words.
Of course, repetition plays an important part in language learning. That’s where the last letter comes in: A for accountability. To continue with something that’s difficult, you need guidance and direction – or accountability. This is one of the most important things that people forget about or don’t include in their learning regiment because they don’t think it’s important. However, it can actually shorten your learning curve by avoiding mistakes that you would otherwise make. Think of your Spanish teacher (or some accountability partner) like Google Maps. You’re still able to get to where you need to go without Google Maps, but it’s a lot faster if you have it guiding you along the way.
Learn Spanish Fast
In my travels, there’s a joke that I’ve encountered many times over – as I’m sure many of you probably have. It goes something like this…
“What do you call someone that knows three languages?”
“What do you call someone who knows two languages?”
“What do you call someone who knows one language?”
Crazy right? But, there’s some truth to the joke. In many parts of America, there are people who feel that other languages should not be spoken or used in public.
Without getting political, I think one of the reasons for this, is that people find it really hard to learn Spanish or any other language. And it is challenging, don’t get me wrong. But it can be easier than people make it out to be if they practice and learn Spanish correctly.
So, it’s time to throw out those traditional methods and start learning Spanish effectively today. Click here to learn even more about how our program can help you learn Spanish fast, or go ahead and sign up for a free class. We can’t wait to see you in class!
About the author
Ron went from zero to Spanish fluency in 3 months after he left his high-paying consultant gig to become a director of a school for impoverished kids in Guatemala in 2009 – dove into the deep end. In 2010, he saw an opportunity for a real business and began his company in his tiny apartment. As the CEO/Founder of Homeschool Spanish Academy & Spanish Academy TV, he loves making an impact in students’ lives and also really loves chocolate.
If you’d like to learn more about how the brain works, check out this TED video. Or watch this one to discover how to learn Spanish in only 6 months! These videos go more in-depth with the ideas discussed in this blog.
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