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10 Easy & Affordable Ways to Experience Other Cultures

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

“Culture, the acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world, and thus with the history of the human spirit.” Mathew Arnold (1822-1888)

Learning about another’s culture allows us to learn about the people of the world and in the process, we gain valuable knowledge about ourselves. Culture affects every aspect of our lives: from the way we raise our children, how we treat one another, the foods we eat, the language we speak, the way we think, to the celebrations we enjoy.

We are fortunate to have so many easy and inexpensive opportunities available to us every day. Here are 10 easy ways you can get started today:

  1. Visit local museums and cultural centers. Many times they have exhibits that correspond with a specific geographical area or an artist from a certain country. You can learn a lot about a people’s culture, by the type of artwork that is created in that region.
  1. Visit the library. Libraries have a plethora of travel books and journals to read through. Many have elaborate pictures of the country and its people. You can almost imagine yourself there by flipping through these books.

  1. Explore the Internet. If you want an endless supply of information about other countries, just tap into the internet. You can read newspapers, local websites, blogs and forums from other countries. This is also great practice if you’re learning the language of that country.

  1. Go to a Local Cultural Event. We are so privileged to have hundreds of different cultures right here in the U.S. In any given month, you can find a local cultural event in many cities across the country. Get out and enjoy the food, music, people and customs of that culture.

  1. Get an Email Pal. There are many sites on line that will help you find an email pal to converse with about the community in which they live. You can compare and contrast with your own experiences. This is another fun way to practice a new language, as well.

  1. Volunteer to Help English Language Learners. Learning English is essential to improving an immigrant’s life, here in America. You can help someone practice their English, while learning more about their native language and culture.

  1. Take a Class. Local schools and community colleges offer inexpensive adult classes at convenient times. You could take a foreign language class, a French cooking class or a Spanish dance class. What could be more fun than learning a new skill and meeting new people, while experiencing a new culture?

  1. Make a Friend from Another Culture. Many of us have neighbors or co-workers who are from other countries. Invite someone to share a typical American holiday or celebration with you and your family. Then, attend one of theirs. Maybe you’ll have the opportunity to go to a Quinceañera (an elaborate birthday party for a 15 year old Latina) or a Diwali (a Hindu festival of lights).

  1. Go to an Ethnic Restaurant or Grocery Store. Eat good food and enjoy a new culture! Many ethnic restaurants and grocery stores hire people who are natives from the country where the type of food they offer originates. Start up a conversation with them about the food and their native country. Don’t be shy; everyone likes to talk about themselves.

  1. Travel to Another Country. You can find inexpensive all-inclusive trips to many popular destinations. You could also volunteer or attend classes in a foreign country. While you’re there, make sure to find out where the locals go, not just the tourists. Talk to natives and ask them about their culture and their country. Who knows, you might just make a friend you can correspond with, when you return.

Now, you can start learning about another culture today! There are so many easy and affordable opportunities awaiting you. Remember, the more we learn about the world and its people, the more we learn about ourselves. Enjoy the journey!

Four Months to Speaking Another Language

Friday, March 9th, 2012

A few years back, I decided I wanted to set a “big” goal for myself. I know goals help me to accomplish more things in my life. So, I decided I was going to attempt running a marathon. Back then, I was only running a couple miles at a time and the marathon was over twenty-six miles. I knew there was no way that I’d be ready overnight. It was going to be a long process and I was going to need a lot of training, but I really wanted to accomplish this goal.

The first thing I did was to buy a book called, “Four Hours to a Four Hour Marathon”. It took me step by step through the process of training for a marathon in four months. Each week, I had to run a certain amount of miles per day and then increase incrementally. I also had to run different types of terrain and various drills; i.e. up hills, stairs, speed drills, etc. Needless to say, I’m proud to report that I succeeded in accomplishing my goal of running the marathon after four months of training.

So what does this have to do with language learning? It’s a very similar process to running a marathon, only without the sweat, sore muscles and exhaustion (hopefully).

Just like it’s impossible to run over twenty-six miles without training for it; there is no way someone can learn a language overnight (unless you’re a super genius). It’s a long process and you need a lot of training. And you have to really want to accomplish your goal. So, if you’re ready to embark on language learning with the same determination and resolve you would need for any “big” goal in your life, I can help you with my rendition of the, “Four Months to Speaking Another Language”:

Set Yourself a Goal.

Start with figuring out exactly why you want to learn the language. Are you learning for work, for travel, for school or just for fun? The reason you are learning will guide your decision making about the materials you will use and the type of learning process you will begin.

Then, set yourself a clear and definable goal. Don’t just say I’m going to speak Spanish. It’s too general. You won’t know if you clearly accomplished your goal or not. State a goal such as: I will be able to communicate with natives on my trip to Cancun. Or, I will be able to speak to my customers in Spanish about our products.

Choose the Right Method.

So, you’ve got your goal and you’re ready to begin. Now, you need to choose the method that will best help you to reach your goal. Just like any other aspiration, you need to make certain the method you choose is something that is effective and will keep you motivated.

Do you typically like to learn in a class setting, with a private tutor, with an on-line or computer program, with audios, iTune applications, etc? Or maybe you like to change it up a bit and learn with a combination of a few of these. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you enjoy and will keep you motivated for the long haul.

Choose the Right Materials.

Here’s the decision that will get you where you want to be within four months. The materials you choose have to draw a straight line to your goal. In other words, you have to choose materials that are specifically relevant to the reason you are learning a language. If you’re learning in order to ask questions of your patients at the doctor’s office, there’s no sense in using materials that teach you travel or general conversation vocabulary.

That would be like walking miles to prepare for the marathon. If you walked long enough and fast enough, I imagine it’s possible that you may be able to run a marathon eventually (a very slow one). But, you would spend much more time on the training process. By the same token, if you choose the wrong language learning materials, you could spend years and years learning the entire language, but may never learn the vocabulary you need for your goal.

Plan the “Training”

You’ll want to plan your “training”. As I mentioned, for the marathon, I had to follow a strict training schedule to be able to run over twenty-six miles. Every day, for four months, I did some type of training in order to reach my goal. You have to do the same for learning a language in four months.

Make a plan that you will do a certain amount of practice, i.e. a lesson a day or a certain amount of time, i.e. thirty minutes a day. Plan when you will do it as well, i.e. in the morning before work, during your lunch break, etc. Be sure to pick a time that won’t be interrupted or replaced by another activity you need to do. Even make a plan for how you’ll make up the time if something does come up, as it inevitably will.

Finally, reward yourself for sticking to your plan and your goal regularly. Give yourself a pat on the back with that special latte or lunch out with friends. This will help keep you motivated week after week.


Learning a language is an admirable and highly valuable goal to set for yourself. Just go about the process like you would any “big” goal for your life. Set a goal, get the right information, plan how you’re going to stick with it and go for it! I wish you great success on your language learning journey!

Advice for Vacationing in Spanish-Speaking Countries

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Since the cold weather is upon us in most areas of the country, many of you may be considering (or dreaming about) vacationing in places with warmer weather.  Many of the most convenient and inexpensive resort destinations are in Spanish-speaking countries, like Mexico, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica. There are important things to know about traveling to these countries before you go.

Where to Stay

There are many considerations when deciding on the resort where you will stay. Besides the cost, the first thing you want to know if it’s located in a safe area. Then, how far is it from the airport you will be flying into and how will you get to the resort, once you land? Next, how close is it to the things you want to do on your vacation?

The water at the resort is another important concern in many of these countries. Does the hotel have water for drinking or just showering? Is the body of water in front of the resort, designated for swimming or will you only be able to use the pool.

The Language

It can be very frustrating if you don’t know the language and can’t communicate your needs, when in another country. Your best option is to learn some basic Spanish words and phrases before you go. Pick up a conversational or travel Spanish program, book or audio a few weeks before your trip. Practice as much as you can, or even better, take a class or get a few hours of private tutoring.

If you don’t have that much time, you can use the numerous translation apps available on smart phones. Some of them allow you to speak the words into your phone and they will immediately be spoken in Spanish, to the other person.

You can also use body language or gestures for many circumstances. You can point at things or gesture as to what you want. Additionally, a paper and pen can be invaluable for writing a number, a price, your name or drawing a picture of what you want. So keep them with you at all times.

The Money

Most resort areas in other countries will take credit and debit cards and even American dollars. But, you may need to have some of that county’s form of money to get by.

Before you go, make sure to find out the country’s exchange rate. Also, ask your bank what the fees are for using your ATM, debit and credit card outside of the U.S. Use the bank or credit card that offers the lowest rates.

Then, when you get to your destination, use an ATM or a bank in a main city. Try to avoid the kiosks in the airport or train station as they charge a higher rate than banks. Don’t take out more cash than you need, because then you may have to pay another fee to exchange it to American dollars, on your return.

Your Valuables

You always want to be careful with your valuables when travelling, but especially when you’re in another country. Don’t bring your expensive jewelry or tons of cash. You won’t need it. Use your credit or debit cards instead of cash, whenever possible.

You also have to keep your passport safely stored away while travelling; either on your person or in a hotel safe.  In many countries, it is suggested that you keep your passport with you at all times, in case you are stopped and questioned by authorities. Unfortunately, passports are also a valuable commodity for criminals, because they can be altered and used to gain illegal entrance into America.

Remember to keep these things in mind before and during your vacation and you should have a fabulous and enjoyable experience in these sunny destinations.

Spanish in America

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

No doubt you have noticed the increase of Spanish being spoken in cities from coast to coast. It’s a fact that you cannot ignore. Another fact, many do ignore or may not know, is that Spanish predated English in arriving on the shores of America; for the last four centuries, the two languages have co-existed.

How many Spanish-speakers live in the U.S.?

There are over twenty primarily Spanish-speaking countries in the world, yet America is the largest Spanish-speaking community besides Mexico. According to the US Census Bureau, there are over 35 million people (age 5 and over) who use Spanish at home and over 45 million people who speak Spanish as their first or second language. It is currently the most common non-English language spoken in elementary schools, colleges, and universities in the U.S.

Why so many Spanish-speakers?

There are many reasons for the relatively recent and immense influx of Spanish-speakers; roughly 400,000 legally immigrate to America ever year.  To begin with, much of the latest immigration started because of political instability in various countries, such as Cuba and Nicaragua. The U.S has developed programs to help these people immigrate to America in order to escape political oppression.

Since Puerto Rico officially became a common wealth and its people became citizens of the U.S. in 1952, there are millions of Puerto Ricans (fluent in Spanish) who have migrated to the U.S. mainland, especially New York City. Interestingly, there is also a large population of Puerto Rican farm laborers and Mexican ranchers who have settled in Hawaii. They make up seven percent of the islands’ population.

Obviously, our proximity to Mexico is a contributing factor as to why so many Mexicans immigrate to America. Additionally, the North American Free Trade Agreement has contributed to the increased business dealings between the U.S. and Mexico, further accentuating the need for American businesses and their employees to know and use the Spanish language to attract customers.

What is the future of Spanish in America?

There are continuous debates regarding the future of Spanish in the U.S. (and its threat to English as the country’s primary language), but there are some facts and historical examples we can use to hypothesis the language’s fate.

In 1751, Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay called Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries. He wrote the essay to address the growing concern that German-Americans were not assimilating to the colony’s culture and learning English. At the time, German-speaking immigrants outnumbered English-speakers three to one. Obviously, the Germans did assimilate and German did not become our primary language.

Moreover, studies show that the large numbers of Spanish-speaking people in the U.S. is due to recent immigration (mid-late 1900s). The children and/or grandchildren of these immigrants will speak English. Most immigrant languages are lost by the third generation. We may see a large decrease in the use of the Spanish language in years to come.

In the meantime…

Spanish-speakers of all ages must continue their efforts to learn English at school, work and in their community. They knowledge of English will help them and their children to assimilate and ultimately achieve their American dream.

English-speakers must continue to learn Spanish at school, work and in their community, as well. It will help them to communicate better with their fellow citizens and in many cases, allow them to achieve their American dream by expanding their knowledge and acquiring the asset of being bilingual.

Remember, English and Spanish have co-existed in our country for more than for four hundred years. It’s part of what makes this diverse country so great!

Life Lessons for Language Learners

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

I was recently training a group of world language teachers on language acquisition and methodologies when an interesting topic arose: How can teachers integrate life lessons into daily language instruction?
After an interesting conversation with the group of teachers that day, I returned home and reflected on the language theories I had just taught. I realized that the ways we teach language are actually intertwined with the way we conduct our lives as social beings, regardless of what language we speak. The process in itself is a life lesson.
Let me explain. There are three ways (called strands) in which we teach a language. They are interpretation, interpersonal and presentational.
Interpreting language and situations is what we do as humans from the time we’re born. Before we can speak, we communicate with facial expressions, body language and sounds. We then interpret people’s responses as good, bad or indifferent. As we learn to speak the language, even though we hear the words the same as everyone else, we may interpret what is being said differently. So, in essence communication is dependent on the interpretation of the message. It is the same when we are listening to someone speak another language; we must interpret the meaning, not just the words.
Interpersonal activities consist of the interactions that occur between individuals or groups. Again, we begin this activity (verbal and nonverbal) at an early age: with our families, at school and with friends. We continue these interactions for the rest of our lives. As second language learners, it’s imperative to use the new language with others as much as possible, to really understand how to communicate well and be interpersonal in the target language. Interpersonal skills are important for all aspects of our lives, regardless of what language you speak.
Presentational activities assume there is an audience to whom you are presenting. This happens all the time in our daily lives; whether you are asking your boss for a raise, writing a blog post, sending an email or text, giving a toast, or actually presenting to a group. These are all life skills that are considered presentational. When learning another language, we need to be proficient in this ability as well. Taking into consideration that there is or may be an “audience” for your message is an important aspect of how we use our language. It’s also an important facet of life.

Learning a new language is good practice for learning life lessons. The skills that you learn can be carried over to all aspects of your life. Not only do you gain a new ability (speaking another language), but you also hone your life skills.
It was an interesting revelation to see how entwined life skills and lessons are with language learning. I never really considered it before. But now I’ll be certain to let the teachers know that they are integrating life lessons everyday that they teach.

How to Avoid Common Mistakes when Learning Spanish

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

“Anyone who doesn’t make mistakes isn’t trying hard enough.” Wess Roberts

It’s only natural to make mistakes when learning a new language. It’s not only natural, it’s essential for improving your Spanish. You should consider that mistakes are opportunities to learn. They allow you to gain knowledge and accelerate your learning (in any circumstances). The important thing is to view mistakes as a useful stepping stone to speaking and understanding Spanish better. Be proud of yourself for embarking on something new, challenging and rewarding!

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” Unknown

Fortunately, after more than a decade of teaching Spanish to children and adults, I’ve recognized many of the same mistakes occurring again and again. This list of the most common pitfalls for English-speakers learning Spanish should be very helpful for your learning process. Read through the many errors below and keep a mental or written note to help give you a boost to communicating like a native speaker.

Gender Confusion of Nouns

All Spanish nouns are either feminine (la casa – the house) or masculine (el sombrero – the hat). English nouns don’t have a gender, so it’s confusing for English-speakers to assign an object with a masculine or feminine quality. The standard rule in Spanish is that nouns that end in “a” are feminine and the rest are masculine. If only it were that simple. Just like in English, there are exceptions to the rules of grammar. For example, many words that end in “ma” are usually masculine despite ending in the letter a.

Unnecessary Pronouns

In Spanish, the verb form tells listeners about whom they’re speaking; so actually saying the pronoun (yo, tú, él, nosotros, etc) isn’t necessary. In fact, using pronouns often gives away that you’re not a native speaker and you’ll also sound too formal. It’s understandable, because in English a sentence wouldn’t make sense without the pronoun, i.e. wants to learn to play piano. Who wants to learn to play piano? But in Spanish, the verb tells you the who.

Backwards Adjectives

Basically Spanish is “backwards” from English with regards to where adjectives are placed. In English, we put most adjectives before the noun. For example, we would say “the black bird”, but in Spanish, many adjectives come after the noun. The correct way to say the black bird in Spanish would be: el pájaro negro (the bird black).

Adjective/Noun Non-Agreement

In English, adjectives do not agree (masculine or feminine) with the nouns. This makes it difficult for English-speakers to automatically think of matching the adjective to the noun, as in Spanish (you also need to agree with the noun with singular or plural). For example, las casas blancas (the white houses) matches the noun gender (a) and number (s) with the adjective.

Using “False Friends” (False Cognates)

Cognates are words that sound and look similar in Spanish and English, i.e. clase and class. There are many cognates, but some are “false friends”; they seem to mean the same thing, but they actually don’t. For example, you may think that asistir means to assist, but it actually means to attend (as in to attend a college). Be careful of false cognates because you could say something you really don’t want to, i.e.: estoy embarazada sounds like – I’m embarrassed, but it really means – I’m pregnant.

Pronunciation Errors

Spanish vowels are easy for English-speakers because they’re the same sound in English and they never change. Consonants are another story. Most are similar, but some are completely different in Spanish. For example, with words that begin with the letter “h”, the “h” is not pronounced (it’s silent). When you see “ll” it’s pronounced like a “y” (in most countries). Also the “j” is said like the “h”. There are many more like this, so make sure you practice the correct pronunciation!

Forgetting to be Respectful

The cultural influence of Spanish-speakers is built into their language usage. Hispanics show respect for elders and people in authority with the language they use to communicate with them. For example, in Latin America they use the tú form of a verb (informal) to speak with an “equal” or the usted form (formal) to show respect to another person. English-speakers may become confused on when to use which form and might unknowingly insult elders or be too formal with friends.

Confusing Ser and Estar

This is probably the most confusing aspect for English-speakers because ser and estar mean exactly the same: to be, but they are used in different circumstances. In general, ser is used for permanent states of being, like how someone looks, their career, their personality traits, etc. while estar refers to temporary states of being, like a location or a feeling. There’s much more to learn about ser and estar, so you’ll just have to learn the rules and do your best.

Remember to keep note of these common errors in hopes of avoiding them. And never feel embarrassed that you’ve made a mistake. Learning Spanish is a process that takes time, patience and persistence. If you learn from your mistakes, they can be your best teachers. Mistakes will propel you forward on your language learning journey. Be patient and gentle with yourself and you’ll surely get to your Spanish-speaking destination!

Language Learning Myths

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

There are so many wonderful assets to knowing a second language — from being able to communicate well with friends, co-workers and clients, to obtaining a better job, to lessening the affects of Alzheimer’s, or to be reinvigorated about life because you’ve learned a new skill.

I believe it’s important that people aren’t fooled by myths to keep themselves or others from obtaining a skill that can so greatly improve their lives. Here are some of the myths I’ve heard about language learning over the years:

In the Past, Immigrants Learned English with the “Sink or Swim” Method

Many people argue that we shouldn’t give any special treatment for immigrants to learn English in America. They believe that, in the past, immigrants learned the language quickly and without any help, so current immigrants should do the same. This theory has some flaws.

It’s highly possible that many adult immigrants of the past did not learn English well, for quite some time, if at all. People moved into ethnic neighborhoods, socialized with each other and worked in entry level jobs where little English was needed.  Think about how multilingual the country must have been during the European immigration years. For example, there were newspapers in many different languages in all the major cities.

In addition, immigrants of the past had fewer reasons to learn English than they do today. Today many jobs require at least a high school degree. You’ll need more than that, if you want to actually support a family. Not to mention, the myriad of forms you’ll have to fill out (in English) to get a job, deal with insurance issues, government papers, enroll your children in school, etc.

It may have been possible to “get by” without English a hundred years ago, but this is not true today. We need to help immigrants learn English, so that they can have a better life for themselves and their families and contribute to the society as a whole.

Children Learn Languages Quicker & Easier than Adults

A child is exposed to a language for at least a full year before he ever utters a word. Then when he does, it’s very elementary. He may start with one word at a time and then add others, but without using the correct grammar. We don’t even start teaching grammar formally until the second grade; after a child’s been exposed to the language for about seven years with parents helping his progress along the way. I wouldn’t say this is considered “learning a language quickly and easily”.

Then, when we start teaching a child a second language, we do it more naturally than we do for adults. We teach children simple vocabulary and phrases, with pictures, short stories and fun activities. Conversely, we typically start teaching older students with grammar first. This is the complete opposite of how we learned our first language. It’s much harder than gradually being exposed to the language naturally. This is another reason why we think it’s easier for children to learn, but it’s definitely not true.

The Best Way to Learn a Foreign Language is to Live in another Country

Living in a foreign country for a substantial period of time, will help you to understand the everyday language of the country and learn basic speaking skills. But, you’ll have to support your learning with formal instruction or independent study. Otherwise, you will just learn what you need, in order to survive.

By living in a country where you don’t know the language, you’ll be forced into a position where it’s inevitable that you’ll make many mistakes, because you’ll have to speak. Natives won’t correct you, because they’ll try to be nice and understand you, even if your grammar or pronunciation is horrendous. Then, your mistakes can turn into bad habits, which are hard to break.

Learning in your own country may be a better option, if you can find a good language school, can motivate yourself and can find opportunities to practice the language you’re learning. After you’re confidently fluent in the target language, then going to another country can help to improve your language proficiency. Not to mention, it will be great fun, to be able to speak well to the natives.

Unfortunately, these and many more myths surrounding language learning keep people from embarking on an exciting adventure of learning a new language and culture. Now that you know some of the truths, I hope you won’t let any myths stop you from benefiting from all the great assets you could obtain from being bilingual!

‘Magic’ Translation Glasses

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Recently, I saw a short video about a man who was given ‘magic’ glasses. When he put on the glasses he was able to see phrases over people’s heads that showed their current life concerns, like: “just had a fight with my girlfriend”, “just found out I have cancer”, “struggling at work”, “can’t pay my bills this month”, etc. The purpose of the video was to show that we can’t see what struggles someone may be going through, just by looking at them.  It suggested that we should consider there may be more underneath a person’s daily façade than you could possibly know. Basically, that we shouldn’t judge without really knowing someone and we should be kind to everyone no matter what the circumstances.

The video reminded me of how people judge others who speak another language without even thinking about the struggles that person may be going through.  What if there were ‘magic’ glasses that translated the thoughts of others? When you put on these glasses with non-English speakers, you might see: “feeling insecure because I can’t speak English well”, “wish I could talk to them”, “trying to get a job so I can support my family”, “miss my family in my native country”, etc.

Millions of people in the U.S. speak more than one language and approximately 337 different languages are spoken in the United States. It’s inevitable that everyone in this country has come across someone who may not speak English well. What do you think when you see or meet someone who has difficulty speaking English? Do you speak a little slower, so they can understand you? Are you patient with them, as they try to think of and pronounce the words they want to say to you? Do you realize how insecure they feel speaking in their second language? Do you think about how hard it is for them to find a good job or get promoted?

From a human perspective, we all want to be understood; whether we speak another language or not. We all have similar worries, dreams and hopes swimming around in our minds. No one lives their lives without joys and struggles. Moreover, our lives and the difficulties we experience are not any more or less important than the people we meet. Neither is there a time when we should consider ourselves better or less than any other human being. It’s a shame to see examples of times when people don’t realize this and put themselves on an exalted level at the suffering of someone else.

Unfortunately, I experienced an example of this when I was standing at the end of a line at an airport fast food establishment. A gentleman was placing his order and the counter person (being from India) had difficulty understanding what he was saying, because her English skills were poor. He loudly and angrily repeated the order. The poor woman behind the counter was so shaken by his yelling and obvious aggressive nature she ended up giving him the wrong order. He kept yelling at her and he finally said: “You dumb $%#@! You can’t even speak English! Go back to your country!” Believe it or not, things turned worse from there.

The people behind him in the line started to get aggravated that they had to wait, (it was only a few minutes that had passed). They started saying things, like: “Come on!” “Hurry Up!” “What’s taking so long?” Now, with everyone making the matter worse, it was as if the woman behind the counter was faced with an angry mob, all because of a lousy cheeseburger and fries.

Everything happened so fast, I felt I was almost in a state of shock. Looking back, I wish I had reacted faster to help this woman. Just as I started to go up to the counter and defend the woman, another worker came to her rescue. The Indian woman retreated through a back door. I imagined she went somewhere and cried or went straight home. Who knows how that experience affected her life?

I was so distraught after seeing this happen. I couldn’t believe that people could be so cruel, just because someone had a little difficulty understanding the language. If the counter person was having trouble understanding because of her language difficulties, the customer could have spoken slower or wrote down what he wanted. Instead, he automatically felt he was better than the worker and used his false sense of superiority to abuse the woman.

In reality, she may be fluent in more languages than the man at the counter and may even have an advanced degree from her country; but has to take an entry level job because she is still learning English. Maybe she fled her country due to violence or poverty. Maybe she works two jobs and studies English every day, so she can provide a better life for her child. Without the ‘magic’ translation glasses we never know what struggles someone may be going through (without asking).

What if everyone had these ‘magic’ translation glasses? Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had empathy or sympathy for others? Whether it’s how we look, how we speak or what we say. There would no language or other barriers between us. We would never judge others or be judged. It seems it would be a kinder world in which to live.

Do Spanish-Speakers Really Talk Too Fast?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

As a language instructor, many people interested in learning Spanish say to me: “I try to understand Spanish, but they speak too fast.” My response is that it may seem that way, when you first start learning, but once you feel more comfortable with the language, it won’t feel as though the Spanish-speakers are speaking so quickly. As you progress with your knowledge of the language, you won’t even notice the speed of the words being spoken.

When people are beginning to learn a new language, they usually try to listen to every single sound in every single word that a speaker says. Then they translate each word they hear. When they’ve finally translated the word in their head, they’re already many words behind. It can certainly be frustrating for beginning learners, but if they keep practicing, it won’t be so difficult.

Eventually, listening to Spanish becomes just like listening to English; you hear the whole sentence and you understand everything that was said, naturally, without translating. When you have a strong grasp of the language, you no longer have to focus on each word individually. You understand the language in chunks instead of separate words.

I also suggest to those with the concern about Spanish-speakers talking too quickly, to pay attention to their own rate of speech and realize how fast English must sound to a non-native English-speaker. If you say a few sentences out loud, you’ll notice how the words sometimes blend together as you say them. It’s the same as when you’re listening to a Spanish-speaker. It seems fast, but it’s just a natural rate of speech.

Besides the above mentioned reasons why Spanish may seem faster to English-speakers, there are some other factors to consider. I’ve noticed that there are definite variations in the pronunciation of words and the rate of speech among native Spanish-speakers. The differences I’ve observed depend on gender, the country of origin and the topic being discussed.

As far as gender affecting a person’s language, in my experience, sometimes women seem to pronounce words more completely from the first syllable to the last. Their pronunciation of words appears to be clearer and at a slower pace. On the contrary, men seem to cut off the endings of words and blend them together more often. I can’t say that I’ve read research on this topic; it’s just something I’ve observed personally.

Another factor to consider is that Spanish-speakers may come from an array of countries and that may also affect how fast they talk. Culture influences the language of people, so it seems only natural that those from different countries may speak differently. Next time you’re listening to a Spanish-speaker, pay attention to how they pronounce their words and how quickly they are speaking. Take note of the country where they were born and see if you can find a correlation with others from the same country.

A final aspect that I’ve noticed affects a person’s rate of speech is the particular topic the speaker is discussing. If it is a casual conversation, the speaker has a relaxed, slower pace to their communication. If it is a sensitive or volatile subject being discussed, the speaker increases the speed at which they speak. This probably happens no matter what language is being spoken.

Overall, I believe that a Spanish-speaker may sound like he or she is speaking faster, but there are many reasons why this may seem true to a beginning language learner.  After much practice with the new language, it won’t matter how fast they are speaking. When you internalize the language, understanding it becomes natural to you, no matter how fast they talk. It just takes lots of practice with the language, but you’ll get there!

Is ‘Spanglish’ a New Language?

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

The word ‘Spanglish’ refers to a variation of the Spanish language in which words from English are used as substitutes for Spanish words.  In a broader sense it is a form of code-switching, going from English to Spanish and vice-versa within a word or a sentence.

An example of ‘Spanglish” is when a Spanish-speaker says troca for truck instead of the true Spanish word camion, or carpeta for carpet which is actually alfombra in Spanish. Another instance is when a sentence contains both Spanish and English words, i.e. Voy a pagar con cash. (I’m going to pay with cash.)

‘Spanglish’ originated in the late 1960s, within the Latino community in the U.S. and it is generally positively regarded as a bi-cultural means of communicating that reflects the bi-cultural identity of Latino-Americans. Many academics believe that ‘Spanglish’ is just a bastardization of both languages.

However, one could argue that it is a new language that is evolving in order for Spanish and English-speakers to be able to communicate with each other. Isn’t that what language is all about? The goal of language is to communicate thoughts and ideas. As long the speaker and the listener know the words being spoken then there is communication.

Of course there are other considerations besides the mere act of communicating. Some fear that it isolates Hispanics in America from the rest of the Hispanic world because they no longer speak the “pure” Spanish. ‘Spanglish’ also elicits disapproval from many, because it implies that a person is uneducated in their native language or that they are not honoring their ancestors or origin of birth.

Regardless of how we may feel about it, ‘Spanglish’ is a reality in America. It is used by millions of Hispanics, studied by scholars and taught in universities. There is even an official ‘Spanglish’ dictionary with over 300 words and phrases that aren’t exactly Spanish or English.

The majority of Hispanics are completely bilingual; talking to both Spanish and English-speakers on a regular basis. It seems only natural that the two languages they know are going to blend together occasionally. Moreover, throwing in a little ‘Spanglish’ is a great way to bring people who speak English into the conversation. Everyone can communicate a little with each other.

Not knowing another’s language creates a great divide among people. How can you connect with someone if you can’t communicate? We have so many other things that divide us for different reasons; why not bend the language a bit so we can connect?

Simply connecting through communication is what has driven my company for the last ten years. It is the basis of how we design our language learning programs. Not that we teach ‘Spanglish”, but our programs are created in a way that let people immediately communicate with each other. No worries about perfect grammar, perfect pronunciation or syntax; just learn what you need to facilitate communication. That’s it!

KAMMS’ programs teach essential Spanish and teach essential English. Our vision is that each person will learn a little, communication will occur and ultimately a connection will be made. We hope to help build the bridge of communication that brings people together.

‘Spanglish’ seems to do the same thing in another way. Some Hispanics have developed their own manner of communication where everyone can be included in the conversation. In the big picture, the essence of humanity is connecting with other humans on some level. ‘Spanglish’ is just another way to do it.

Please feel free to comment below! Thanks!