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.

Foreign Words

With my trip to Buenos Aires just a few weeks away, I’ve rekindled my Spanish studies. I’ve dug out my notebook filled with conjugations, grammar rules and definitions, and resumed listening to the “Coffee Break Spanish” podcast, every day on the subway. I can feel my slight grasp on the language returning.

Studying Spanish every day has reminded me of this wonderful Maptia blog post I came across a few weeks ago. It contains 11 illustrations of words in other languages that have no English equivalents.

Some of my favorites:





The comments on the post are just as interesting! Readers have noted other fantastic words that we could use in English—like mahmihlapinatapai, which is “a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other will offer something that they both desire but are unwilling to suggest or offer themselves,” in theВ Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego.

I’ll try to drop that one into conversation!

(Illustrations via Maptia)

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)