spanish

A Genius Way to Learn Spanish (It Involves Cats!)

Over the years, I’ve used many methods to boost my Spanish proficiency. I took group lessons and attended Meet-ups, here in NYC. I spent two weeks getting one-on-one tutoring at a language school in Guatemala. I went through an entire Spanish podcast series while riding the subway.В (A sporadic task that took years to complete.)

Now that it’s summer, I’m feeling the need to brush up on my Spanish again. I’m considering another Latin America trip for the fall, and I’ve barely used Spanish since my trip to Argentina.

This time, in addition to using podcasts, I’ll also try to watch Spanish TV shows—I’m a sucker for reality competitions, so I’m thinking Telemundo’s Top Chef Estrellas or La Voz Kids.

I’ve also downloaded an app that I’m admittedly addicted to. (Dog-lovers may want to stop reading now.)

It’s called “Cat Spanish.” And it’s exactly how it sounds. Photos of cats—often, really funny ones—illustrate Spanish phrases.

hablo espanol

The pictures are so ridiculous that it makes me want to keep going to the app to see what it’ll serve up next.

no me gusta

photo 3

What has helped you learn another language? Please let me know—I can use all the ayuda I can get when it comes to espanol!

(PS – I had a fantastic week at the beach. I pretty much completely unplugged—which explains my lack of posts—but I’m looking forward to sharing some pics from my trip soon!)

Coffee Break Spanish

Over the past few years, I’ve used a number of different methods to improve my Spanish proficiency. I attended group lessons, studied at a Spanish school in Guatemala, and worked with a tutor from that school, here in NYC. I’ll occasionally read news (or celeb!) stories in Spanish and chat in broken Spanish with other amigos who speak it to some degree.

All that has slowly improved my comprehension of the language. My accent still sounds like El Bloombito and I can’t have a full conversation with a native speaker. But I can see how far I’ve come since I started.

Of all the resources I’ve used over the years, “Coffee Break Spanish” is among my favorites. It’s a podcast series in which each episode only runs about 20 minutes—the length of a short coffee break. (It originally ran from October 2006 to September 2008, but is available for free online.)В In the months leading up to a Latin America trip, I listen to one episode a day, on my way to work, and take notes.

For me, language learning is tiring, and I have to do it consistently to get anything out of it. “Coffee Break” had allowed me to get a dose of Spanish every day in a way that’s not so overwhelming or exhausting that it leaves me tired or frustrated. It’s enabled me to make studying Spanish a habit.

Plus, the “Coffee Break” hosts, Mark and Kara, do a fantastic job breaking down tricky grammatical points (like direct and indirect objects) and all the tenses (including the subjunctive!). I’m amazed at how much I learned from the series. I’ve used phrases and concepts from the lessons in all my Latin America travels.

Yesterday, I reached the end of the series—I listened to the 80th and final episode. I was actually a little sad, but also proud that I made it all the way through.

Luckily, there’s a second series for those of us who finished “Coffee Break.” “Show Time Spanish” promises to pick up where “Coffee Break” left off, with more conversations with Spanish speakers. (Something I definitely need!)

Of course, if time and money is no object, immersing yourself in a language in another country is the best way to learn. As is studying regularly with a tutor. But if you’re where I am right now, with limited disposable income, vacation time (or just time, in general!) “Coffee Break Spanish” is a great way to boost your proficiency little by little, every day.

spanish notebook

My notebook, where I’ve jotted down all the Spanish I’ve learned over the years.

Fall Trip, Booked: Buenos Aires

buenos aires

I am so excited to have a fall trip to look forward to: At the end of October, I’ll be going to Buenos Aires!

Like last year’s Guatemala adventure, this is another solo jaunt. But unlike last year, I only have one week off from work. I’ll be squeezing in as much as I can, without exhausting myself!

I can already tell that’s going to be tough. Thanks to fellow bloggers, my wish list of Buenos Aires activities keeps growing. So far, I’m hoping to:

  • wander around various neighborhoods and parks:В This itinerary has some appealing suggestions!
  • take a cooking class: Maybe thisВ empanada-making one?
  • eat at a puerta cerrada, a “closed-door” supper club
  • go tango dancing! (Of course!)
  • take a ballet class:В This is something I’d like to do in every city I visit, though it’s not always feasible—ballet studios with daily, open classes for adults don’t exist everywhere in the world. (I couldn’t find one in either city I visited in Guatemala, nor in La Paz, Bolivia.) But it looks like I won’t have too much trouble finding a studio in BA.
  • take a day-trip to Colonia, Uruguay. Just so I can say I’ve been to Uruguay, as well. It’s only an hour away by hydrofoil. (Montevideo isn’t all that far, either, but I know I won’t have time to go there.)
  • see the Iguazu Falls.В I need some nature while I’m on vacation! I can’t just go from one major city to another without a little green respite.

In the meantime, I’ll be brushing up on my Spanish and taking a few beginner tango classes, here in NYC.

If you have any recommendations about what I should see or do in Buenos Aires, please let me know—I’d love your suggestions! Especially if you know a good place for tango. 😉

(Photo by Taylor Moore via 500px.com’s Pinterest)

Final Thoughts on PLQE and Guatemala

Xela, from the roof of PLQE

Xela, from the roof of PLQE

I’m sure it’s obvious, from all my recent posts, that I had an amazing two weeks in Guatemala. I had such a wonderful time that I didn’t want to leave. I just wanted to settle in and stay in Xela for another month or two.

If you’re interested in taking a Spanish-learning trip, I couldn’t recommend PLQE more. I learned more Spanish in two weeks there than in my whole life, combined. Sure, I still have a long way to go to achieve proficiency. But before I went, I only knew the present tense and the basic future (ir + a + infinitive). Now, I’ve learned the pretirite and the imperfect, and can actually talk like a real person (well, like a total Spanish newbie)—but at least I don’t have to talk about the past using the present tense! I’ve also found that I can understand much more now than three weeks ago.

And this is going to sound so cheesy, too—cue the sappy music—but the whole time I was at PLQE, I was really inspired by everyone around me: My teachers, who taught me a ton and shared stories about their own hardships. MyВ host family in Xela, who were so warm and welcoming that I felt at home there, even though it was just for one week. My host family at the Mountain School, who always gave me lots to eat, even though they didn’t have much, themselves.

And my fellow students. Like me, most were in their late 20s to late 30s and at transitional points in their lives, between degree programs or careers or relationships (or some combination of those). Each person had an interesting story of why he or she was there. But unlike me, most were staying longer—which I was very envious of!

When I first came to PLQE, I was dreading the graduation ceremony where I’d have to present—in Spanish—something to demonstrate my newfound language prowess. And though I was super-nervous, my presentation went well. I made a list, entitledВ “10 Maneras Para Saber Si Tu Eres Un Estudiante de PLQE”В (“10 Ways to Know If You’re a PLQE Student”) and comprised of inside jokes about the school. Thankfully, people laughed.

PLQE set up for the weekly graduation ceremony

PLQE set up for the weekly graduation ceremony

Everyone else’s presentations impressed me—their talents were so diverse! One woman salsa danced (really well, I might add), one guy freestyled in Spanish and English, another performed a dramatic monologue. Others told jokes, read poems or played the guitar. Admittedly, I spend so much time in my ballet/writing world, that I’m always awed and very appreciative when I see other peoples’ passions on display—especially when they’re in a language they just learned!

Carlos, PLQE's director, giving out diplomas

Carlos, PLQE’s director, giving out diplomas

I’m not a spontaneous person, but I booked this trip on a whim. I didn’t research any other schools and only did a quick Google search on Xela to make sure the city hadn’t been hit by some natural disaster before buying my ticket. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. It was really one of the most rewarding trips I’ve ever taken.

Music Love: Gaby Moreno

gaby moreno

In less than a week, I’ll be in Guatemala. But despite my efforts, I still don’t have a strong grasp on Spanish. During the past few days, I’ve been trying to cram in as much as I can, and was thinking that it might help to listen to some Spanish music. (Especially since I’m plugged into Spotify all. day. long. at work.)

As luck would have it, while browsing through NPR’s First Listen albums, I stumbled upon an artist I’m really loving. And she just happens to be Guatemalan.

While I can’t understand most of Gaby Moreno‘s lyrics (though I’ve been translating some!), I can’t stop listening to her new album “Postales.”В She has a gorgeous, soulful voice that’s so authentic and full of emotion. Plus, many of her songs have a quirky, bluesy, folky sound that’s similar to other female artists I love, like Regina SpektorВ and Jenny Lewis.

NPR is streaming Moreno’s album for a limited time, and I’ve embedded the second track, “Tranvia” here. Give it a listen and let me know what you think!

(Photo via NPR)

Learning a Second Language

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The other day, I referenced my upcoming Guatemala tripВ in an email and wrote: “If only I could increase my Spanish knowledge at least twenty-fold before then!”

Sure, the purpose of my trip is to learn the language. (Like I’ve mentioned, I’m tired ofВ bumbling through Latin America with broken Spanish–not to mention NYC, where every other person speaks Spanish.) But I feel I’ll get more from the experience if I arrive with a decent grasp of grammar and vocabulary. And so, over the past few months, I’ve tried to absorb as much Spanish as I can. Here’s how I’ve squeezed it in:

I’m taking a Spanish class. I purchased a LivingSocial deal for Rennert International, a foreign language school near my office. I’ll have attended eight sessions by the time I depart. I’ve never taken a small group class before, so I don’t have a point of reference for how good or bad it is. I’ll admit that I don’t love making up dialogues, which we frequently do; I’d rather be conversing about my real life. And there are times when I wish the class would move a little faster. But my instructor, Rolando, has taught me some nitty-gritty grammatical nuances that I may not have picked up on my own. (Like when to use “traer” and when to use “llevar.”)

I joined two Spanish Meetups and attended two events. The first was a happy hour–which I highly recommend to anyone learning a language. I spent several hours at a bar speaking nothing but Spanish with native speakers and other newbies. Even though my Spanish was worse than anyone else’s, every person I spoke to was very patient in explaining words I didn’t understand (in Spanish, which I appreciated) and correcting my mistakes. I understood a lot more than I could respond to, but I left with a better grasp of some basic phrases and concepts. Mal and I also caught part of an Argentinean film, “Anita,” at another Meetup. Everyone I know, who speaks a second language, said they learned a lot from watching TV and movies. In general, I don’t often do either, but Mal and I are thinking of having Spanish movie nights when I get back. (So she can improve and I won’t lose everything I learn!)

I listen to a podcast during my morning commute. Mal recommended “Coffee Break Spanish” before our trip to Bolivia. It’s a free podcast, available through iTunes, and it’s fantastic–probably the most useful resource I’ve come across. Like the name implies, the episodes are short and entertaining. Mark and Kara, the hosts, cover various topics–from asking directions to going camping–so well, that you come away from each episode feeling like you can converse about them. (They also break down grammatical points so they’re easy to understand.) I’ve actually learned most of my vocabulary from it.

While I know I’m making progress, I’m also aware of how much more I have to learn. When I hear people speaking Spanish on the subway or in stores, I understand a few words, but usually can’t follow exactly what they’re saying.

I’m not expecting to come back from Guatemala proficient or even conversant. But I’m sure I’ll know way more than I do now…which is more than I knew a few months ago. It’s slow going! But I suppose that’s the only way to learn a language when you can’t be fully immersed in it for several months: a little at a time.

Do you speak another language (or two or three)? How did you learn it?

(Photo via Pinterest)

End-of-Summer Trip, Booked: Guatemala

I’m so excited. This weekend, I booked my end-of-summer trip: I’m going to study Spanish in Guatemala! I’ll spend one week in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second-largest city, living with a family and taking classes at Proyecto LingГјГ­stico Quetzalteco de EspaГ±ol. Then, I’ll be up in the mountains for another week, at their second campus, the aptly named La Escuela de la Montana, on what used to be a coffee plantation. (I would love to spend a month or longer there, but I do have a full-time job–I was lucky enough to get two consecutive weeks off!)

I’ve wanted to take a Spanish immersion trip for years. In fact, one of Mal’s friends recommended to me the school I’ll be attending…two years ago. I’ve studied Spanish a little on my own and with a tutor (i.e., my friend Glenn), and taken a few lessons on trips to Central and South America. But my proficiency–or lack of–is still abysmal. I can only semi-understand people if they speak extremely slowly. And then I can barely respond–and when I do, it’s in the present or future tenses. I actually think it’s pretty sad that I’m almost 30 years old and can only hold a conversation in one language.

Two summers ago, Mal went on a month-long trip to Bolivia to work in children’s hospitals and learn medical Spanish. Her proficiency was way better when she returned. I’m not expecting to become proficient or even conversant after my two weeks in Guatemala. But I would like to come back with a better grasp on the language–and then continue to build upon that at home and on future vacations.

This will also be my first solo trip in years–my last one was Hong Kong, six years ago. Due to Mal changing jobs and moving back to NYC, she’s unable to take vacation time off. (We’re postponing Slovenia and Croatia, our original end-of-summer trip, for next year.) And most of my other friends had booked their vacations ages ago. (Confession: I did consider crashing a friend’s three-week trip to Ecuador.) I was initially a tad nervous about traveling on my own again, but mostly I’m just very excited. Over the past few months, I’ve been shaking things up. I’ve started working on several personal projects and supplementing my already-enjoyable daily routine of ballet and hobbying with activities that I’m rediscovering–like running that 10K and just running, in general, andВ taking myself out to dinner afterwardsВ (thereby eating up all the calories I worked off). Embarking a solo trip seems like the next logical step.

I am sad that Mal won’t be coming with me, though–and I’m trying not to feel too bad about that. A few years ago, we decided to visit all of Central America together. So far, we’ve taken week-long trips to Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. It’s going to be strange going to Guatemala alone, but I likely won’t have enough time to do much traveling. So I’m hoping we can return together and really explore the country.

…and by that time, hopefully I won’t have to rely on her to do all the talking for us!

Have you taken an immersion trip? Or traveled in Guatemala? I’d love to hear your experiences!

(Image via Wikipedia)