Monthly Archives: June 2008


Well this is just to update you all a bit.  I will write more tomorrow on other matters, but I wanted to let you know that we´ve started a Community site where people who are blog readers or video watchers or podcast listeners or class attenders or just happening by, can stop in and connect with others that have the same passion for the Latino Culture and Spanish Language. 

We have so much to share with one another and the Community site seems a good place to meet and greet.  There is nothing more fun for Luis and I than to connect with people around the the cities, the states and the world who have stories to tell about their favorite country to visit, or what happened to them when.., or what most impacted them…, or to hear their new favorite band or song, or the best place to get ceviche or the greatest museum or well, the topics are thankfully endless. 

We suspect that if we like this kind of thing, many of you do to.  You like to hear of the adventures and you love telling your own as well.  It´s perfect!  Let´s meet up in the Rojas Spanish Community and trade experiences!    ¡Nos vemos allá!   -Joan

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Filed under General, Uncategorized

“Cuando los Sapos Bailen Flamenco”

I  just stepped out of my Advanced Spanish Class with Luis.  It was fabulous!  Like they all are!  We talk about history, politics, tradition, culture, we read great books in Spanish, we will soon be watching great movies in Spanish and today we listened to great music in Spanish.  The technique he uses, that dear husband and teacher of mine, is a combination of inspiration and challenge.  The inspiration attracts us and holds us the entire time he is artfully eeking out of us every resource available to move ourselves forward and deeper into the language and culture.  We leave the class exhausted, spent but like a hopeless addict wanting so much more of the same.

So today, I will satiate my need to keep indulging myself by sharing a piece of the class with all of you.  Our focus today was on fluency and culture.  He played the following song for us and asked us to listen carefully to identify first the mood of the song evidenced by the music, then for the lyrics, then for the meaning of the poetry.  After a couple of turns without the lyrics in hand, he passed out the lyrics so we could test our ear and dive even deeper into the intention of this song.  It was so interesting how the words standing alone and without the music felt and seemed to mean something different than they did with the music.  It was interesting how the room divided into males and females with their respective interpretations.  It was interesting how the room divided into Latinos and those of us from the US, so influenced and defined we are by our personal and broader cultural histories.

I invite you to listen to the song, then read the lyrics and share your perspective on what was happening inside the head of the singer.  I wonder if what happened to us in class, happens to you all  on a wider scale……

Cuando Los Sapos Bailen Flamenco – por Ella Baila Sola

Me alegra tanto oír tu
voz aunque dormido
Por fin viajabas como en tus sueños,
buscando un sitio para volver
Y sin poder olvidar lo que dejas,
lo que has aprendido
Van a cambiar las caras, los sueños,
los días,
Y yo lentamente te pierdo.

Como un regalo que al ensuciarse,
tiró quién limpiaba
Como un vaso después de beber
el trago más dulce
Con un adiós, con un te quiero,
y con mis labios en tus dedos
Para no pronunciar las palabras
que dan tanto miedo
Te vas y te pierdo.

Me alegra tanto escuchar tus
promesas mientras te alejas
Saber que piensas volver algún día,
cuando los sapos bailen flamenco
Y yo te espero ya ves aunque no
entiendo bien que los sapos
Puedan dejar de saltar y bailar
lejos de su charco
Porque mis ojos brillan con tu cara,
y ahora que no te veo se apagan
Porque prefiero que estés a mi
lado que no tengas nada
Te vas y te pierdo.

Como un regalo…
Te vas y te pierdo.
Te pierdo, te pierdo, te pierdo

Disfrutense,   – Joan

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Filed under Musica

Beware of Inspiration

I am told that I am married.  Though the first thoughts that come to mind is “Really.  To whom?”  And then I remember the muted noises late at the night coming from the upper room.  “Oh, that’s who’s in that room,”  I squint my brain to remember.  I was getting accustomed to the idea that the mice were back.

He works early, really early.  Starting at 3 AM often.  And he works late, really late.  Until 2 or 3 AM is not unusual.  And during the day he you could find him in his first class as early as 6 30 AM and on it goes through out the day until he finishes at times as late as 9 30 PM.  I remember vaguely once or twice putting my foot down about the weekends;  “No more weekends!”, I implored,  “We need our time together, you need time to rest.”   But I don’t see him more as a result.  He just spends the time he would have spent with students, with his computer instead.

I may be setting up the perception that he does all the work and I do none of it.  But caution would be wise here. Though I do have to admit I am not one to survive without sleep and must make regular visits to my bed to recharge, aside from those 6 or 7 hours, I am working as well. In fact I vaguely recall looking up from my work and to my left to see him working just a few feet away, though  he may as well be a few hundred miles away because he is lost to communication by the depth of his concentration.  To be fair, he says the same about me…and it’s true.  I have heard the faint echo of a familiar voice asking me something but typically it’s from so far away that I find it difficult to make out the words and so I just don’t respond.  I opt to say deeply immersed.

The culprit?  Ah, before you go jumping to “a marriage crumbling”, “a clash of cultures”, “diagnosable”, remember your own inspired times.

There is something really space consuming about inspiration.  Something colorful, something HD, something that gathers you up and whisks you away to that reality.  Something definitely time bending.  And you know that you’re it’s giddy partner in crime when you look up and you cannot believe that 2 hours of class have just flown by or when you finally stretch your aching neck and realize that you have been watching on-line videos for an hour and a half or when your 5 mile run felt like 5 minutes because you were listening to Spanish podcasts along the way. 

This is our goal, this is our mission.  To grab you by the hand when you least expect it and whisk you away on some wild, inspiring, intoxicating adventure in Spanish so that when you fianlly look up and take note of your surroundings, you will be amazed at where you are and what time it is.  May you find yourself keeping us company in the wee hours of the morning, lost and happy and deeply inspired.     -Joan

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Filed under Teaching Methodologies

Sorry, can’t translate word for word……

Well, sometimes it works perfectly, sometimes it’s awkward at best but lots of times….. it just doesn’t work. 

Rene, our video editor (see the guy on the far right) told us a great story last weekend that illustrates this perfectly.  He was together with two friends that didn’t know one another.   Guy A is from the US and his native language is English and Guy B is from Columbia and his native language is Spanish.  Guy A asks Guy B in English, “What is your name?”  Guy B (the Spanish speaker) answers in English, “I am Christian.”  Guy A, is visually taken aback and hesitated.  When he finally recovers he said, “Well that’s nice, I’m Muslim, but that’s not what I asked you, I asked you what your name was.”  Guy B answered, “That’s what I am telling you.  I am Christian.”  

Nope, this is not a joke.  But I’ll tell you what, Rene and Luis and I got a good laugh none-the-less and made a note to spend some time on this topic in our videos.     Hasta pronto,   Joan

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Filed under Learning Attitude

La Hija de la Fortuna (Parte Final)


 Hace algunas semanas terminamos de leer este libro de Isabel Allende y ahora puedo finalmente hacer un tiempo para escribir acerca de la parte restante del libro. El comentario será un tanto general pero no quiero dejar de compartir algunas ideas que estimula a la reflexión con los que han estado buscando una conclusión en los comentarios de este libro.


Posiblemente el hecho de que sea un profesor y tutor de idioma español como segunda lengua haga que me aproxime a ver las cosas desde una dimensión donde la cultura , la historia, el contexto y la interacción de idolologías tenga relevancia para encontrar un punto de entendimiento en la comunicación de hechos e intenciones.


En este tiempo de aventura en que la gente buscaba encontrar la fortuna en un país lejano es posible observar que el espíritu pionero tenía que mezclarse con los dilemas de sobrevivencia, trabajo, hambre, y honor. Quien sobrevivía o alcanzaba éxito no era el que descubría oro sino el que podía resistir más la vida en la que era protagonista. Desde esta perspectiva el paralelismo es claro en todos los períodos de la historia: la sabiduría obtenida por la simple observación de lo que la vida presenta para pasar de una situación a otra , el ánimo de espíritu para vencer las olas de problemas y dificultades del momento y la esperanza en lo que se está seguro es la misión de vida. Estos tres elementos se pueden percibir en nuestros personajes desde Jeremy Sommers hasta  Tao Chi’en pasando por cierto por Rose, John Sommers, Eliza, Joaquín, etc. Las historias particulares son diferentes pero la riqueza de elementos de pensamiento en cómo cada uno actúa es fenomenal.  Rose enfrenta una historia que está marcada por la experiencia de amor con el tenor alemán, y en su particular forma de mantener ese amor, prefiere mantenerse intacta dentro un caparazón aferrada a sus recuerdos…pero se mantiene viva aferrada a eso. Eliza experimenta lo mismo, hace uso de todos sus recursos para sobrevivir en su circunstancia pero trasciende en su espíritu y determinación las barreras de los prejuicios sociales de su tiempo así como sus prohibiciones para aferrarse a su esperanza y amor…su razón de vida…y se mantiene aferrada a eso.


En estas experiencias, estas mujeres no mueren nunca, no pasa el tiempo. Es cierto que los eventos que el tiempo de “chronos” dejan sus marcas en su experiencia de vida y cuerpos, pero su esencia como individuos permanece. En otro ángulo, Tao Chi’en, aunque viniendo de una cultura diferente, logra tener esta capacidad de darse cuenta de sus circunstancias para sobrevivir mientras que adquiere éxito al mantenerse con vida con una actitud optimista en usa sociedad con prejuicios…aquí es donde él se aferra a su esperanza de encontrar una vida con significado en la convicción de oír la guía de su esposa ya muerta en su imaginación…y se mantiene aferrado a eso.     


Podría decir lo mismo de Joaquín quien aparentemente tuvo un final trágico, pero sin embargo, si lo conocemos en sus intenciones y motivaciones que lo llevaron a viajar tan lejos, vemos que sus convicciones estuvieron aferradas a su esperanza, de crecer, de salvar a su madre, de tal vez volver con Eliza.


Finalmente, la descripción de estas experiencias humanas y su actuación en un marco histórico tan duro y denigrante como en aquellos años de la fiebre del oro en California nos hace reflexionar en nuestra experiencia dentro de nuestro contexto histórico, así como disfrutar del trabajo imaginativo mientras somos parte de la gente en Valparaiso, Chile, o de la tripulación en barco donde sabemos se esconde Eliza, o a caballo en California. Leer este libro fue una grata experiencia.    Saludos,  Luis

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Filed under El Club de Libros

I am exhausted in a ‘mother-in-law’ kind of way…

Well, I think I mentioned some time back that my mother-in-law was here visiting from Peru.  She was with us 6 weeks and tonight she leaves.  I am exhausted and there are several reasons for this.  Probably the reason that relates most to the theme of this blog is what her visit required of me in terms of my Spanish.  Not only was I learning how she structures the language technically, but also about the all important communication “between the lines”.   There was a lot to decipher and understand in each and every interchange.

One of the things we had to work out early was what “bueno” meant following my asking her if she would like something in particular to eat, if she would like to go a particular place, if she wanted to do something in particular…etc. 

I asked her once for example if she wanted to eat lunch now and if Arroz Chaufa would be okay.  She said to me “bueno”.  Which I took to mean “yes”.  And so I went about preparing the lunch.  I put it before her and she said to me, “No tengo hambre en este momento.  Yo lo voy a guardar y lo como después.”  (I´m not hungry now, I will save it for later.)  Then she added, “Comes mucho arroz acá.  No como tanto arroz.”  (You eat a lot of rice here.  I don´t eat rice that much.) 

I was completely stunned. Didn´t she just tell me that she was hungry and that Arroz Chaufa was okay?  Isn’t rice a big deal in Peruvian culture and Arroz Chaufa one of the most well known and popular dishes?  I called for reinforcements and asked Luis (in his mom´s presence of course) to explain to me what had just happened?  What did “bueno” mean?  Did she want to eat now and does she like Arroz Chaufa?  What did I miss here?

After much back and forth between them, much more than I would feel is necessary to ask a simple question and get a simple answer the conclusion went something like this;  “bueno” is neither “yes” nor “no”.  “Well then”, I told him, “I don’t know what to do or where to go with that kind of answer.”  Luis went on to explain that since his mom is a guest in our home, she is deferring to our decisions.  If we want to eat now and if we want Arroz Chaufa, then that is what will happen and she will as much as possible, fall in line.  It is impolite in the Peruvian culture to say a direct “yes” or “no”.  I said, “Well in the German culture (my heritage) it’s imposible to know how to proceed unless I have a definitive answer.” 

An impasse.   We both just looked at Luis.  And pobre Lucito, I suppose knowing that his mother would be gone in 6 weeks and that he has me for the rest of his life, deferred to making things easier for me!  He said;  “Madre querida.  Para servirte bien durante tu visita, Joan necesita saber “si” o “no” a cada pregunta que te haga.  No es discortez en esta cultura hablar tan directo.  Está bien, es más, es necesario que le des una respuesta exacta.”

She struggled with it though.  With each question I asked she would pause, she would look at me very directly, seemingly through me, and then she would say with an exagerated enunciation and at half the typical speed, “Mi… respuesta… es… no… en… esto… momento…, pero… gracias.” or she would say “sí……. buen…..o.”

Awkward.  Oh,oh!  I hear her calling me.  Gotta run!  Hasta luego,  – Joan

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Filed under Culture

We lost a student today and we are in mourning.

…..Or to be more accurate, we lost a student a week ago or so but it became clear today that there was no mending the fences.  We are sad, we are very sad.  We don’t know quite what went wrong. 

We’ve had students come to a session or two and then disappear and then come back and then disappear and the reasons most often given, had to do with finances or schedules.  But I can’t say I remember a time when a student just stopped coming mid session.  How did we miss the problem?  It is one of our most serious responsibilities to recognize when there is something amiss.  This has us preoccupied in speculation.

We wrote to this student after the first missed class and then after the second and we were about to call this student in a final attempt to make contact when we received the letter.  It was an angry letter and summed up how expectations were not being met and how proper teaching is done.  We were hurt and concerned, but not defensive.  If something isn’t working for someone, we need to know so that we can correct it or explain it.  We were horrified that we were given no notice, that we only heard about the unhappiness when from the student’s perspective, it was too late. 

Teaching Spanish is the way we make our living, but let me be clear, we chose this way to make our living because we believe in the cause.  Our cause, our guiding altruism will soon be front and center and at the top of each of our web pages and it will read corny enough;  “The first step on the path to world peace is as simple as talking to your friends and neighbors…in their language.”  I love the ambiguity of this platitude because it applies to us literal language learners as well as those of us who will simply open our hearts to hear and respond in the way our friend and neighbor can understand.  Yes, this is what we do to live, but Luis and I live to do this.

So when this student just left, well, we were left devastated.  I am telling this story for two reasons.  One as a kind of therapy for myself, but as well just so that you know how this kind of thing can impact your teacher. 

I don’t know why this student decided to drop out.  I do know what this student told us and I do know that we offered a sincere apology and a plan to correct what had felt bad and offered additional services above and beyond what the student had missed in the midst of their anger and disappointment, and I do know that all of this was rejected out of hand.  Well, to be fair, I can’t read minds.  I only know that after pouring out my heart and hearing nothing back, the next class was missed as well.  I followed up this missed class with one final heart felt hand out but I fear we have lost this student for good.

The other interesting thing that I would like you all to know is this.  Perception rules.  After this destabilizing communication, I panicked.  I quickly did what I should have been doing all along.  I wrote to each and every student and asked them very specific questions about how they experienced the classes, if their expectations were being met, if there was anything we could do more of, less of, different.  We received wonderful and constructive and helpful feedback.  We have instituted many of the things that were suggested and we are so grateful that not only was the overriding tenor of the responses absolutely glowing and positive but that our students were taking risks with us and telling us how we could help more.  That partnership between student and teacher is absolutely essential to a happily ever after.  ESSENTIAL.

But I digress.  My point here is that the classmates of the student we lost felt entirely differently about class than did this soul.  But I am not saying that the student that was unhappy was wrong as a result of experiencing the class differntly than the others.  On the contrary, what this student experienced was their legitimate reality and because of this, we had a responsibility to address the issues.  Our profound regret is that our student had decided to write us off before they had, or given us a chance, to take “The first step on the path …”  We are in mourning.    -Joan

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Filed under Learning Attitude