Central America is one of the most vibrant and diverse areas in the world to visit. While you’re challenging yourself to learn more Spanish, we hope that you’re dreaming of where it can take you! Combine your love of the language with a passion for exploration and you may find yourself on one of the best vacations imaginable. To help you out, we have compiled a list of some of the top travel destinations for you to investigate and to enjoy! Buen viaje!
Ambergris Caye is the largest island off the coast of the mainland of Belize. It has a little bit of everything to suit everyone’s taste, whether you are traveling alone, in a big group, or with family. Enjoy water activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing, and parasailing. Then head to the jungle for hiking, zip lining, or simple nature walks. You will also find here the western hemisphere’s longest-running coral reef system that is full of underwater wildlife. Take advantage of all the natural beauty when visiting this gorgeous place!
How Safe Is It?
While traveling it is important to take safety into account and use common sense. This island is considered safe with some reported instances of theft (of passports or credit cards), burglary, and sexual harassment toward lone women. Always keep your personal items in a secure location and try not to flash expensive items while out in public.
The great majority of island dwellers speak English, but you will also hear Spanish and Creole, the local mestizo dialect. More than 80% of locals speak Spanish, so feel free to use it as you travel along!
The long, skinny island of Roatan sits atop the beautiful and ancient Mesoamerican barrier reef. Imagine soft sandy beaches, palm trees swaying with a light breeze, and crystal waters. This island has what you’re looking for, whether it be absolute luxury or simple budget travel and lodging. You will definitely want to get into the water however you can, so join a glass-bottom boat tour, rent a kayak, or charter a fishing trip! Once you’re ready to come back to land, plan a trip to the art or underwater museums, visit the iguana conservatory, go bicycling, or gather a group for mini-golf. The options for fun and entertainment are truly endless.
How Safe Is it?
While safer than mainland Honduras, we advise you to enjoy your travel experience more so on the west end of the island. Take greater precautions while visiting the east end of the island which is less developed and less populated.
Although most islanders speak English, a big group of mainland Hondurans finds their way there for work. This means that even though English is the most commonly-spoken language on this island, there are plenty of opportunities to use your Spanish. Keep in mind that the English you will hear is a unique dialect of the region and might not be what you’re expecting!
This little town in Costa Rica, often simply called “La Fortuna,” is 10 kilometers away from one of the most popular and powerful volcanoes in the country: Arenal Volcano. Until 2010, it was the most active volcano in all of Costa Rica. With more than a million visitors per year, this area provides plenty of entertainment for all types of tourists. You will find amazing spas that take advantage of the natural thermal waters from Arenal and various hot springs to enjoy. Go sightseeing at the miraculously tall waterfall, La Fortuna Catarata, that towers upward of 70 meters. For more adventure and physical activity, try horseback riding, canoeing, fishing, hiking or jump onto a canopy tour!
Is It Safe?
If you plan on traveling between towns (Monteverde to La Fortuna, for example) by bus then you will definitely need to keep an eye on your bags! If you can avoid it, try not to put them in the rack above your seat. Aside from this important detail, traveling around this area is safe if using common sense.
Most locals do not speak English and they will expect that you have brushed up on your Spanish skills before trying to communicate! Check out our Travel Spanish Guide for useful phrases you can practice on your plane ride.
Panama City shines bright as a bustling metropolitan area where international bankers and businessmen wine and dine. Luckily, it is also accessible for the budget traveler if you know where to look and you know how to negotiate taxi fare! After a day or so of cultured exploration, non-stop traffic and crazy city life, take a day trip to the beach on the Carribean or Pacific shore or watch the boats come and go through the famous Panama Canal.
Is It Safe?
In areas like this with a highly concentrated population, it is important to keep a vigilant eye. Beware of service guides who wish to give you a tour. Often they will begin the ‘tour’ without your consent and soon become aggressive when asking for payment. Keep your belongings tucked away in an inaccessible pocket or bag.
Spanish is the national language of Panama, while around 14% of inhabitants speak English. Make sure to practice asking for directions, ordering meals, and checking into hotels or other lodgings. Improve your skills even more by joining one of the various Spanish Schools offered in Panama!
Granada is a calm and relaxing place with plenty of architectural beauty. You will see attractive and colorful colonial buildings everywhere with horse-drawn carriages moving in between. Take a stroll on land or visit Lake Nicaragua and take a boat tour. For even more adventure, climb one of the nearby volcanoes or go hiking in one of the wildlife preserves.
Is It Safe?
In Granada, violent crime is extremely low, and as a traveler, you will only need to worry about pickpockets. Sometimes, due to civil unrest, Nicaragua will close its borders to travelers and so it is necessary to check on its status before planning your vacation.
Very few locals speak English,so Granada is an excellent place to challenge yourself to speak more Spanish. Bring a travel guide along with you in order to have the phrases you need at your fingertips!
In Southwestern Nicaragua, located along the shore of the Pacific Ocean, sits the colorful town of San Juan del Sur. The temperature stays at a fairly warm temperature for most of the year with a bit of cold from November to January. It has several different beaches to choose from that combine perfectly with hot weather. No wonder it is considered a hub for beach parties! Surf the waves, go swimming, sunbathe your heart out, and then go investigate the giant Jesus statue that overlooks the village.
Is It Safe?
San Juan del Sur has grown in popularity over the years, which means that there are more opportunistic types who are attempting to prey on visitors. Again, it’s a place where common sense will keep you out of trouble. Avoid being out at night on your own and keep all of your belongings in a safe spot.
San Juan del Sur is a fantastic place to build your Spanish skills through one of their tailored Spanish school options. From one-time lessons to immersion and community outreach, there is a way for everyone to learn.
Quirigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Guatemala, the heart of the Mayan civilization. This amazing archaeological site has ancient carved monuments that show Mayan mythology and important historical events. Visit one of the many museums that explain more about Mayan history and provide fun small-scale models of what the area looked like long ago.
Is It Safe?
While touring this ancient city, it is necessary to keep items of importance in a safe space. Other than possible theft, there are no other major precautions to take.
While you can get a tour guide to bring the city to life for you in English, you could just as easily ask for a tour in Spanish! Expand your vocabulary through a real-life history lesson! After you visit Quirigua, take a bus to any of these other incredible destinations in Guatemala and head over to Homeschool Spanish Academy for fun and practical Spanish lessons.
La Ruta de las Flores is called la ruta because it is just that: a route. It is a passage of blooming flowers that grow along 20 miles of five main colonial towns and coffee plantations. The best time to go in order to see the blooms is between November and February. There are plenty of other activities to explore along the way including a 7-Waterfall hike in Juyayua, ziplining in Apaneca, and going on a coffee tour in any of the other villages along the route.
Is It Safe?
Exploring this route is traditionally done by chicken bus, where you will need to exercise caution with your personal belongings. Make sure to keep them close to your body and, if possible, avoid leaving them in the rack above the seats.
You will have many chances to use your Spanish! In each of the towns along the route, you will need your skills to order food, talk to locals, find lodging, learn more about the history of the towns, and ask for directions.
Best Trip Ever
Now that you are equipped with all the best travel destinations in Central America, you can start packing. You can practice your Spanish while you explore some of the greatest spots between North and South America. Want the best Spanish learning experience before your trip? Take a class with professional, friendly teachers at Homeschool Spanish Academy for an awesome head start to your travel. Enjoy the best trip of your life and maybe you’ll be able to add even more great destinations to our list!Read More
I’ve often written that language is very closely tied to culture, and therefore to people! And what is the one thing we humans do every single day of our lives? We eat! Food is one of the things we all need and enjoy. It also brings us together – remember all those fun family lunches and dinners you’ve attended?
We all also have that one food that brings us back to our childhood; just the smell of it reminds us of when our mother, grandmother, aunt – or in my case, both my grandmother and great-grandmother – cooked the dish! All this talk about cooking got me thinking about the one dish that immediately brings me back to a younger version of myself. So, I grabbed the phone, called my grandmother, and asked her for her amazing chiles rellenos recipe – the one she learned from my great-grandmother!
It was nice to talk on the phone with her, and to catch up. She took a long time explaining really carefully and with much detail how to prepare the dish. Like a typical Guatemalan abuela, she only cooks in really big batches! Last time she cooked chiles rellenos, she made over 50 at once! However, she tried downsizing it for me to only 20 chiles rellenos instead.
Primero lo primero – First Things First
Like with any other recipe, before we start, we first need to make sure that we have all the necessary tools and ingredients. What I try to do whenever I cook is to take all the ingredients out and put them on the counter to make sure I have everything I need! Those last-second trips to the grocery store are not always ideal!
What we will need for this recipe:
- A lot of patience (there’s a lot of mincing by hand involved!)
- A blender
- A very big pot
- A big bag
- A towel
I had done this recipe once before many, many years ago, and throughout my life, I’ve watched my great-grandmother and grandmother do it more times than I can remember. The one thing I remember best is that my grandma always prepares the stuffing one day and she finishes the chiles rellenos the next. Why? Because it’s A LOT of work! This time, I naively believed I’d be able to manage to do everything on the same day – ha ha – be warned!
The reason why it takes so long to prepare the stuffing is because there is a lot of VERY TINY MINCING (picar – to mince). Let’s get started!
I know, I know, it seems like I’m exaggerating when I say it takes a long time to get this ready because the instructions seem pretty easy. Believe me when I tell you that once you’re done with all that, there’s nothing else you want to do because the mincing such tiny itsy bitsy pieces of food takes a long time and is exhausting! So don’t worry if you need to make a pause now, just put everything to the side, make yourself a toast for dinner, and continue with this recipe the next day. This stuffing that we made needs to be room temperature, so you need to wait for it to not to be hot anymore anyway.
Everything that comes now is a lot easier! Let’s continue.
And now what?
CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve prepared your first traditional Guatemalan meal! At my family’s house, there was always a special way to serve chiles rellenos – with lettuce, a couple of raw onion rings and chopped parsley! It tastes especially well if you put it in a bun. Once cooked, you can store the chiles rellenos in the fridge!
We hope you enjoyed this recipe and don’t forget to book your FREE CLASS to tell us about your experience with this awesome dish!
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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¡Hola, vos! Vos. Who or what is vos in Spanish? In English, we use the personal pronoun ‘you’ when referring to the second person singular (or plural – don’t worry, we’ll save that one for another time!). In Spanish, however, there are different ways to refer to the same concept! Before we start, take a moment to review the basics of Spanish Pronouns.
Now, you’ve probably heard of tú, the most standard form. There is also usted, which we use to show respect or create distance between us and the person we’re speaking with. And then there is vos! Have you heard about vos before? Why is there even a need for three words that refer to the same concept? Let’s just say, one of the beauties of language is that it doesn’t always make sense!
The following vocabulary will be useful throughout this post:
Vos in context
Vos is mostly a part of informal speech. If you imagine a horizontal line, usted is on the very left wearing formal attire, tú is right in the middle being all dressy casual, and vos is on the far right end wearing jeans and a T-shirt. In some places or circumstances, vos might even be more informal, wearing shorts and flip-flops. It all depends on the social context and region!
Interestingly enough, vos originates from an archaic form of Spanish in which vos was the way to address kings and other important people. Back then, it was the way to show respect in Spain! As the Spanish language continued evolving both in the old continent and in the Americas, the formal use of vos disappeared from common speech.
Vos in its formal form is now only used during special ceremonial events or in literary works that reflect the language of other times. A great example of a literary work that uses vos in the formal form is the oldest preserved Spanish epic poem: El Cantar de mio Cid.
The use of vos doesn’t only have an impact in the conjugation of the present tense. It also influences the conjugation of the verb when used in an imperative mood – when using commands: (vos) hacé instead of (tú) haz, (vos) tené instead of (tú) ten. If you need a refresher on basic Spanish commands, visit our Spanish commands blog.
The conjugation of verbs in the subjunctive also changes: (vos) hagás instead of (tú) hagas, (vos) tengás instead of (tú) tengas.
In the tables below you can see examples of the conjugation of regular and irregular verbs in the present tense, imperative, and subjunctive!
As you can see, the irregular verbs conjugated in vos have more of a regular verb conjugation since the stem doesn’t always change as it does with the verb conjugated in tú:
Different forms of vos
As you know, Spanish is the official language of many countries: 21 to be exact! Go have a look at some of the flags of these countries here. The Spanish language has evolved differently in various regions. Therefore, there are three forms of ‘
- vos pronoun paired with the vos conjugation
- tú pronoun paired with the vos conjugation
- vos pronoun paired with the tú conjugation
Let’s have a look at some examples:
Vos in a map
As mentioned above, how people use vos in Spanish depends on the region or country. This distinction encompasses both the combination of pronoun and conjugation and the context in which speakers use vos. Below you can find some examples from different regions:
Mexicans mainly use both the tú pronoun and conjugation. Only in southern states like Tabasco and Chiapas speakers use vos in very specific social contexts: it’s either used by the unschooled population or in the family circle of educated people.
Most Central American countries generally accept the use of vos in all social classes. Slightly more formal situations require the use of tú pronoun + tú conjugation. The use of vos has two levels in this region:
- Most common: tú pronoun + vos conjugation
- More informal: vos pronoun + vos conjugation
Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay
The region of Río de Plata accepts the use of the vos pronoun + vos conjugation without any reservations. However, using the pronoun tú + vos conjugation can be seen as more prestigious than using the vos pronoun + vos conjugation. To learn more about Spanish in this particular region, visit Spanish from Argentina, That Voseo Thing.
So, recuerda (tú) or recordá (vos) – just keep in mind – that if you ever want to use vos, you should first learn how it is used in the country or region you’re in! In some regions, you only use the vos pronoun, vos conjugation, or both together. And while in some places it’s okay to use it the first time you meet someone, in others you only use it when you’re really close to the other person.
It may seem like a lot to take into account just for one pronoun, but practice makes it a lot easier. ¡Vos podés! Are you ready to practice? We have exercises for you with a helpful answer key. Start today!Read More
My guess is that no matter who you are or where your interests lie, you could probably win the final round of any game show that included famous quotes.
You would not be shaken by “To be, or not to be.” “Houston, we have a problem” would not be a problem.
“Let them eat cake” would be more of a cakewalk than a piece of cake. And, of course, for those who love Toy Story, we all know who has a “snake in their boot.”
But, besides winning game shows, what is the point of quotes? All the phrases listed in your final game show round are famous for a reason; but why? Is it just because we say them all the time, or do we use them to make references that help us sound more intelligent? The easy answer is, of course, always dependent on the user. However, the reality is that quotes are markers of historic events and of the people that have impacted history.
Not convinced? Let’s take a panoramic look at how using Spanish quotes can show us the history and treasures of any Spanish-speaking country. For example, let’s try Guatemala and see what we can find.
Guatemala: In the beginning
“Los secretos mágicos de sus abuelos les fueron revelados por voces que vivieron por el camino del silencio de la noche.”– Polpol Vuh- “Me llamo Rigoberta Menchu y así me nació la Conciencia” 1997 pg 84
“The magical secrets of their grandparents were revealed to them by voices that lived on the path of the night’s silence.”
Every country, culture, and family has its own folklore. The beginning story of the indigenous peoples in Guatemala consists of pre-ancestors who were full of wisdom and lived in the darkness before creation (in other words, the silent paths of the night). The first of our Spanish quotes comes directly from the original text called Polpol Vuh, which is written in the Mayan dialect of ‘Quiche.’ To make a long folklore story short, the grandfathers, after many interesting attempts, created man from corn. This, therefore, pushed the story from creation to consumption.
Guatemala: Surviving and Thriving
“Sembrado para comer es sagrado sustento del hombre que fue hecho de maíz. Sembrado por negocio es hambre del hombre que fue hecho de maíz.” – Miguel Ángel Asturias- “Hombre de Maíz” 1949 pg 73
“(Corn) sown to eat is a sacred sustenance for man who was made from corn. (Corn) sown for business is hunger of man (also) made by corn.”
Today, Guatemala is considered one of the most historically preserved countries in Latin America due to the fact that the indigenous community makes up almost half of the population! As a result, the idea that they are “Hombres de Maiz,” or “Men of Corn,” is a huge part of national pride and survival. This Spanish quote by the brilliant Guatemalan historian, Miguel Ángel Asturias, describes the balance of cultural progression perfectly: honor your culture to remember where you came from, but also use that culture to provide for the future. Speaking of the future…
Guatemala: Leading the future
“Mi padre decía: hay quienes les toca dar sangre y hay a quien le toca dar fuerzas; entonces mientras podamos, demos la fuerza.” – Rigoberta Menchú – “Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la Conciencia” 1997 pg 208
“My father would say: there are those who must give blood and there are some who must give strength; so while we can, let’s give strength.”
It is no secret that Guatemala has had its unimaginable trials. For instance, racism, genocide, and corruption are a few of the obstacles that these “Men of Corn” have had to overcome. However, this game-changing Spanish quote comes from an inspirational indigenous woman named Rigoberta Menchú. She is a leader in political justice, an advocate for women’s rights, and the beautiful result of combined influences from the writings of Polpol Vuh and Miguel Ángel Asturias. In other words, she has been a true leader by inspiring Guatemalans to follow their dreams, which now brings us to present day Guatemala.
Guatemala: Pursuing Passion
“Ya no somos los mismos. Disminuyen los latidos y avanzamos con un respiro agitado; acumulamos cansancio y regresamos cada noche con la voz y los pasos cansados. Dejamos de ser los mismos: ya no vemos lo mismo en el espejo. Somos el álbum lleno de estampas agotamos sus hojas.”
– Jose Carlos Payeras- “Entonces la Vida” 2019 pg 45
“We’re not the same anymore. Our heartbeats decrease, and we continue with restless breath; we accumulate weariness and return every night with our tired voices and steps. We stop being the same: we don’t see the same thing in the mirror anymore. We are an album full of stamps. We wear out all of its pages.”
If you feel like this final Spanish quote is heavy, think again. Looking back on the distance Guatemala has traveled through these four historic voices reflects a people that are always moving forward. From creation to consumption, from revolution to new opportunities: this final quote is from a fresh, self-made author in Antigua, Guatemala. By day, Jose Carlos Payeras is a talented chef at an adored restaurant in Antigua Guatemala, but by night he pursues his most focused passion for writing. As he mentions in the last of our Spanish quotes, we are never the same. That is to say, words form us, direct history, and inspire those around us.
Treasures in Spanish quotes: Now it’s your turn!
So, do you see how much historical ground we covered? We did not do it by just sitting in a lecture or googling ‘Discovering Guatemala.’ By simply following Spanish quotes, we can learn so much about the timelines, voices, and landmark moments. Spanish quotes are gems. Each Spanish-speaking country has treasure chests full of them. Not convinced? Try it with Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and beyond!
To learn more Spanish with these quotes and others, download our Spanish Quotes Study Guide. You will find an analysis of each quote with explanations of certain grammar topics found in each quote. Review it with your student today!
For more tips on how to study Spanish, click here.Read More
You may ask yourself: how are flags fun? Normally, when we learn about different countries, we have to memorize their flags. That’s no fun! But, entering the world of Spanish flags shows us the rich (and fairly bloody) history of each country that they represent. By learning about each Spanish flag’s symbols, we are able to see another world that existed in the past. Indeed, it is a window into the history, politics, and cultural values of each country. With this in mind, let’s take a look at all of the Spanish flags and the meanings behind them.
Where are Spanish Flags Found?
There are at least four countries in the world where Spanish is a significant minority language and should not be entirely ignored. Those countries are Andorra, Belize, Gibraltar, and the United States of America. Clearly, Spanish has had a big impact on these four countries. Even so, we will focus only on the countries that recognize Spanish as an official language.
There are twenty-one countries or territories worldwide that set Spanish as the official language. Listed in order from highest to lowest populations, they are: Mexico, Colombia, Spain, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Cuba, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Paraguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Panama, Uruguay, Equatorial Guinea. So, how does each country tell its own story through the symbols on its flag?
The Symbols of Spanish Flags
Military leader Manuel Belgrano led Argentina to independence against Spain in 1812. He designed the flag to build the image of a new nation. The blue horizontal bands around the central white one stand for the sky that opened between the clouds during the Liberation movement. The protests began in Buenos Aires in May 1810 and, with time, led to the country’s independence. The sol de mayo or “Sun of May” was added as a national emblem in 1818. It is a tribute to the native Incas who worshiped the sun god Inti. They believed he was a direct descendant of the sun.
Uniquely, Bolivia offers us two Spanish flags. The original flag has represented the nation since it was adopted in 1851. It shows three bands of red, yellow, and green. The red represents the brave soldiers of Bolivia, especially during the battles for independence. The yellow stands for the wealth of mineral deposits found in Bolivia’s soil. Finally, the green represents the nation’s rich vegetation. In 2009, the whipala became a national flag to be used in concert with the original flag at all times. The 49 squares of the rainbow are symbols of seven central concepts. Specifically, red represents the Earth and the Andean man, orange society and culture, and yellow energy. Also, the white stands for time, green for natural resources, blue the heavens, and finally violet for the Andean government.
Chile’s tricolor, single-starred banner reveals the values that the country presently holds. The single star represents the powers of the government, which is a representative democracy. It is proudly known for upholding the values of political freedom. The blue behind the star represents the Pacific Ocean, whose waters flank the western shoreline from north to south. The white represents the Andes Mountains, which can be seen from essentially any point from within the country. The red stands out as a reminder of the blood spilled during the war of independence against Spain in 1818.
The Colombian flag shows blue and red with the three yellow horizontal bands symbolizing freedom and justice. Some say that they represent the historically “gold Colombia” that existed before Spain conquered it. The blue stands for loyalty as well as the contact that Colombia makes with two oceans. The red horizontal band stands for the blood of the battles for independence, which stirs a sense of victory and pride among the people. The flag was established in 1861 and has been in use ever since.
The colors of the Costa Rican flag are horizontal bands of red, blue and white. The flag divides into five stripes: red in the center, white on each side of the red, and blue at each lower and upper end. The left side of the red stripe displays the national crest. It is a shield with three mountains that separate the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. On each side of the ridge are sailboats that represent trade with the rest of the world. The seven stars at the top represent the different provinces within the country. Above the shield is a ribbon of blue, on which read the words “Central America”.
The former Spanish empire often had triangles on flags of colonized nations to represent the interests of the Freemasons. They were once considered the most powerful of all secret societies. As a result, Cuba’s flag keeps the triangle as a memory of the power held by this group over its government. The blue stripes symbolize the Spanish military rule over Cuba. The country had tried to claim independence, but until 1898 had gained little freedom. It represents this with the white stripes on the flag that stand for patriotism. By 1898, the Spanish-American war brought Cuba support from the USA and their battle was finally won. The single white star, the Estrella Solitaria, stands for their independence as a nation.
There are only two Spanish flags that are divided into four parts. The flag of the Dominican Republic bears a large white cross as a symbol of its strong religious influence. A Christian-based secret society named La Trinitaria urged on the revolution for independence from the newly-independent Republic of Haiti. The leader of this society was Juan Pablo Duarte, the man who eventually designed the flag that would fly for the first time in 1844. The blue represents liberty, the red is the blood of the national heroes, and white is for salvation. The coat of arms says, “Dios, Patria, Libertad” which means “God, Fatherland, Liberty.” In the very middle of the shield, there is a Bible and a yellow cross. Many people believe that the pages of the Bible open to the Gospel of John 8:32, which states, “Y la verdad nos hará libre” (And the truth will make us free).
Francisco de Maranda, the first national hero of Venezuela, holds a very special place in the history of Ecuador’s independence and flag creation as well. As a strong military general, Maranda viewed South America as a continent that deserved its freedom from Spain. He fought for it in Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador, which formed the confederation of Gran Colombia immediately after achieving independence. The color code has multiple meanings that have evolved over time. Ecuador views the significance of its flag’s colors somewhat differently than the other Gran Colombia countries. Yellow represents both the sun and gold of their ancestors. Blue is the sky and sea of Ecuador as it also celebrates their liberation from Spain. Red holds steady in its symbol for the blood lost by the patriots in their efforts during the revolution.
El Salvador’s flag is divided horizontally into three identical bands. The middle is white while the top and bottom are blue. In the center of the flag is the national emblem. It has a semi-circular pattern of the words “La República de El Salvador en La América Central,” meaning “The Republic of El Salvador in Central America.” In the middle of the circle is a triangle with five volcanoes inside it that overlook the blue waves of the sea. It is a symbolic representation of the five countries that joined together in the United States of Central America. Above them on the staff is a Phrygian cap, a symbol of the struggle for independence. The date inscribed on the emblem, September 15, 1821, shows when El Salvador obtained its independence. The blue stripes represent the waters of the Pacific and the white symbolizes the people’s desire for peace.
Of all the Spanish flags, the only one that originates from Africa belongs to Equatorial Guinea. The flag has a very interesting coat of arms. The silk tree in the middle of the shield praises their independence. In 1968, Spain and a local ruler signed their first peace treaty. Presently, the six stars above the tree represent sovereign parts of the country: five islands off the coast and the mainland. All of these territories occupy space in the Gulf of Guinea. The national motto reads, “Unidad, Paz, Justicia,” meaning “Unity, Peace, Justice”. The colors of the flag tell their own story. The green is the country’s farmland, while the white represents peace and purity. The red color reminds us of the fighters’ sacrifice for freedom. The blue triangle on the hoist represents the sea.
Guatemala’s flag, adopted in 1871, features a bicolor of blue and white vertical bands of identical width with the national emblem placed in the middle. Both the government officials and civilians use the flag with the coat of arms displayed proudly. The creation of the United States of Central America in 1823 established their freedom from the imperial powers of Spain. The blue and white color represents the political bond that these nations once shared. The scroll in the coat of arms shows the date of the country’s independence, September 15, 1821. On top of the scroll sits the Quetzal bird, a symbol of freedom. The two rifles and swords represent war in order to maintain freedom, but the laurel branches around them express a preference for peace. The blue bands represent the two oceans that surround the mainland. Lastly, white signifies purity.
Honduras was once a part of the United States of Central America, along with four other nations (Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua). The people of these nations use a tricolor flag of blue and white horizontal bands of equal width. The country gained independence in 1838; however, the five stars were added to the center of the flag’s blue and white stripes when José María Medina was president in 1866. In the hope that Honduras reunites with the former nations in the future, the five stars of the flag remain united. The blue represents the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, while the white symbolizes integrity and faith.
The design of Mexico’s flag dates back to when the Aztecs first made their way to Mexico and established Mexico City as their capital. The leader of the Aztecs, named Tenoch, had been visited in his dreams by the God of War, who told him to settle only where they saw an eagle perched on a prickly cactus, consuming a serpent. They discovered this sight in a very inhospitable swamp that is today the main plaza of Mexico City. The significance of the colors was changed in 1968, despite having been adopted in 1821. As a result, there are conflicting reports of meaning. Originally, the green vertical band represented independence, the white boasted of Catholic pride, and the red symbolized the union of Americans and Europeans. Now the green represents hope and the white unity of the nation. The red stands for the blood of the national heroes.
Similar to other Spanish flags from nations that were once a part of the United States of Central America, the Nicaraguan flag shows a blue color in its upper and lower bands, and the middle part is white. The official coat of arms sits in the middle of the white stripe. This triangular emblem was established in 1823 and is a symbol of common ground. The five peaks of the volcanoes symbolize the union of the five original member states of Central America. The rainbow on the mountains is a symbol of peace. Lastly, the red Phrygian cap is for the desire of all people for freedom. Due to the rainbow on the flag, Nicaragua is one of two nations in the world to use the color purple.
The Panamanian flag is different from other Spanish flags in Central America due to its shape and color. It displays three colors: white, blue and red. Divided into four small equal rectangles, the first is formed by a white background, in the middle of which there is a blue five-pointed star. The second rectangle on the left is red. The third quarter, bottom right, is blue. The last quarter is white, while a second red star is in its center. In all, this flag has a simple but harmonious style. The two predominant colors are those of the existing political parties in Panama. Blue is the color of the Conservative Party, while red is the Liberal Party. The two parties agreed to make peace, shown by the white color. Panama’s flag shares an image of hope and a promise of peace.
Paraguay is the only country in the world to have two national emblems. One is the coat of arms, displayed on the front. The other is the Treasury Seal, displayed on the back. The three bands of red, white, and blue found on the French flag inspired the design of Paraguay’s flag. Together, the colors represent freedom. Separately, red stands for courage, white for unity, and blue for liberty. Paraguay gained independence from Spain in 1811 and adopted the flag in 1842. Notably, it is one of the oldest Spanish flags in the world. The Treasury Seal reads “Paz y Justicia”, which means “Peace and Justice.”
By 1825, the people of Peru established the flag that they proudly raise in present day. The red color represents the blood shed by the patriots during the revolutionary wars. Similarly, the white represents purity like many other Spanish flags. Peru’s coat of arms is used on the flag when raised by the government for official purposes, while the civil flag does not show it. The shield has three emblems: the top left interior shows an ancestor of the llama, called the vicuña, and stands for freedom, national pride, and heroism. The tree to the right is the cinchona tree whose bark produces quinine, the active ingredient in anti-malaria drugs. The cornucopia seen at the bottom of the shield shows golden and silver coins spilling out of it, referring to the wealth of minerals found in the fertile soils of the country.
The Puerto Rican flag is formed by a blue triangle on the left side. The base of the triangle extends over the entire height of the flag. In the center of the triangle is a five-pointed white star. To the right of the triangle are five horizontal bands of the same height. Since Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, the flag was inspired by the colors and design of the American flag. The blue color symbolizes the coastal waters that surround the country. It also represents the blue sky. As for the red color, it represents the color of the blood shed by the brave warriors of the country. White shows the universal color of peace. Also, it expresses victory and freedom. Lastly, the triangle illustrates the governing branches that are the executive, legislative and judiciary.
The Spanish flag shows a monarch who sought to own as much land as possible. There are two red horizontal bands around a thick central yellow band where the coat of arms sits on the hoist side. In the very center of the coat of arms, there is a shield that houses six distinct coats of arms. Each stands for a conquered territory. The pillars on each side of the shield represent the Straits of Gibraltar where the limit of the known world was thought to exist. For this reason, the red ribbon around the pillars once read “Ne plus ultra,” which means “Nothing more beyond”. Once Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, the flag changed the wording to “Plus Ultra,” or More Beyond. On top of the pillars are two crowns, one is for the Imperial Crown and the other the Royal Crown.
Uruguay has a violent history as the subject of war between Spain and Brazil. In 1828, Uruguay achieved independence from the two great powers that fought over it. The flag’s design is a blend of Manuel Belgrano’s blue and white colors for Argentina’s flag and the flag of the USA. It is clear that these two nations had an effect on the patterns of Uruguay’s flag. The blue and white stripes represent the former nine departments of Uruguay that fought for independence. The sol de mayo, the “Sun of May,” stands for the joy the people felt when they gained freedom from Spain and Brazil.
The people of Venezuela adopted the flag in 1836 after a long battle against Spain. The first national hero to lead Venezuela to independence was Francisco de Maranda. He is the revolutionary credited for the design of the Venezuelan flag. Maranda fought both within Venezuela and overseas in Spain. He began his military journey as a soldier in favor of Spain, while he secretly held plans to overthrow their government in South America. Eventually, Maranda joined another national hero of Venezuela, Simón Bolívar, in order to fight the powers of Spain inside Venezuela. The flag speaks of revolution through its colors. Namely, the blue represents independence from Spain, the red signifies courage of war, and the 8 stars refer to the provinces that supported the revolutionary efforts.
A Spanish Flag: Worth a Thousand Words
As can be seen, a quick look at the symbolic nature of each flag will reveal interesting facts about each country’s history and values. In fact, learning about the Spanish flags is an excellent first step to understanding their origins and sources of national pride. Ultimately, flags are the most important symbol that a country can use to express its uniqueness.Read More