Tag Archives: learn spanish

Viája a Nicaragua con Jessica – Travel to Nicaragua with Jessica

Today I am going to do something a little different and really fun for me.  I am going to introduce you to a student of ours that became a friend and now is more a friend than a student but that doesn´t mean that she has stopped studying with us, only that we could lose her as a student and still be okay, because you know, sometimes students move on and well,  that´s understandable and something we have to live with, but to have a friend move on? – well that would fall into a catagory all together different called ‘really sad’  so I hope it won´t happen, at least for a very long time if it happens at all.  We love it when our students become dear friends! 

JessJessica in Kayakica  runs a business called Un Buen Viaje and the second I can get away I’m taking one of her trips without a doubt.  In fact she’s got some coming up in the fall, and I may find myself on one of them……so anyway everybody…….. Heeeeeeeeerrrrrrre’s Jessica!

Joan:  Jessica, tell us about Un Buen Viaje.

Jessica:  ¡Un Buen Viaje! is my way of giving back to the country that has given me so much. After four years of research and a continuously vivid dream, I launched www.ToursToNicaragua.com. Together with two dependable local guides we are a small group travel company leading tours in Nicaragua. We take individuaP5170637ls, couples, families, photographers, birders, kayakers, hikers, history buffs, coffee lovers, foodies, really anyone who is adventurous enough to step out of their comfort zone and into this colorful, big-hearted country.

Our focus is on being responsible travelers. We emphasize this by engaging our guests in the communities in which we travel and encouraging active involvement. Our travelers learn about Nicaragua from the inside out, through the voices of its people, its complex history, and rich culture. It’s more than just a ‘place’ to visit or a ‘thing’ to do. It’s about treading lightly in our host’s backyard and showing thanks for their invitation to visit. Como la gente dice siempre, “a la orden.”

Joan:  HikingWhy Nicaragua?  What attracts you to this country in particular?

Jessica:  Nicaragua chose me, in a way. In 2002 Peace Corps sent me to the largest country in Central America as a sustainable agriculture volunteer, introducing me to a land of lakes, volcanoes, cloud forests, beaches, curious creatures, and vibrant and socially active gente with a complicated past. While I did not remain in Peace Corps, Nicaragua remained in my heart. It’s the incredible beauty, diversity, and perseverance of the people that keeps me going back for more. I can’t imagine ever running out of things to explore.

Joan:  Tell us about your experience in creating a Business in a country that has a language different than yours? P5070292

Jessica:  Most of the ‘business’ takes place here in my Minneapolis office. Starting a small international travel company is a lot like starting any other small business. Same hoops. Same hurdles. Getting to travel in Nicaragua is the reward for the hard work.

When I use P5150577my Spanish here in Minneapolis it’s mainly to connect with Nicaraguan businesses, organizations and individuals to ask for information or advice in their area of expertise. A lot of this communication is done via e-mail so I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in my written skills.

Of course, once we touch down in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city, it’s all Spanish. Bilingual Nicaraguans are in the minority and English is practically non-existent outside of the capital city and Granada, Nicaragua’s hotbed for expats. In-country is where I’m most challenged and when the practice (Spanish class with Luis, e-mails, Twitter, surfing Spanish language websites) pays off. There are taxis to be called, reservations to be made, friends to visit, drinks to be ordered! I love nothing more than being in the moment, making it all happen with my second language.

Joan:  What if I don’t know Spanish and have no interest in learning it, can I still enjoy a trip with Un Buen Viaje?

The awesome thing about communication is that it is so much bigger than words. Imagine a handshake, a wink, a wrinkle of the nose or the forehead, a smile, a laugh, an “Ah ha!” I sometimes think those with a lesser understanding of the Spanish language than me often have an easier time communicating as it comes more from the heart than the head. Anyone with an open mind is sure to enjoy traveling with us.P5190693

Joan:  What if I am passionate about the Spanish language and culture, what in particular, does your trip have to offer someone like me?

Jessica:  Because only a minority of Nicaraguans speak English you are likely to find yourself immersed in the language and culture the moment you step foot in the land of lakes and volcanoes (and poets!). Our tours our designed to highlight Nicaragua’s diverse landscape, annual festivities, and musical and theatrical expression throughout the country. We create itineraries around these special occasions ensuring the opportunity for our guests to get a glimpse of life as it is lived by the people. One of our most favorite events in all of Nicaragua is Diriamba’s patron saint festival, which celebrates San Sebastian and takes place at the end of January. During the festivities, El Güegüense (Macho Raton), a satirical drama well known throughout Nicaragua, is performed in the city streets. It’s a synthesis of Indigenous and Spanish cultures combining theater, dance and music, and is considered one of Latin America’s most distinctive colonial-era expressions.

While NicP5210754aragua is not Peru nor Guatemala with their prevalent indigenous populations, massive ruins, and woven handbags, Nicaragua IS full of action. Nicaraguans always seem to be moving and shaking to their own rhythm, and they are more than happy to have you join in. Ya, estoy lista para ir!

Joan:  When is your next trip and when do I need to be in touch with you in order to travel with you?

Jessica:  We have several upcoming affordable tours and it’s not too late to make your travel plans with us. If you are looking for a custom itinerary or would like to choose your own travel dates, feel free to contact us to discuss the options. Vamanos!

October 24-November 4, 2009 (12 days)
November 21-29, 2009 (9 days)
December 2-13, 2009 (12 days)
December 16-27, 2009 (12 days) CHRISTMAS IN NICARAGUA!

Joan:  Thanks Jessica.  I’m thinking December 2 – 13….. hey, by-the-way, you and Michael wanna come over for dinner sometime next week?  Jessica?  Jessica?  Hey Jessica…..I guess she had to run…..

So anyway, there you have it!  My friend Jessica and her tour company Un Buen Viaje.  Here are some additional links that will connect you to all the action!   www.ToursToNicaragua.com www.ToursToNicaragua.wordpress.com (blog)  http://www.twitter.com/NicaGuide  ¡Un Buen Viaje! on Facebook                        Aquí estamos,  Joan

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Y entonces él empezó a llorar – And Then He Began to Cry

My comment was innocent enough, meant really just to break the tension; “No has tenido mucha suerte con las mujeres, ¿Eh?”  “You haven’t had much luck with the ladies?” 

He looked away from me then, his eyes searching something invisible to me in his perifery.  An ironic chuckle escaped which betrayed just enough emotion to cause a breach in his battle weary armor.  The tears burst through.  He was more surprised than I at how he crumbled … even though tears were not what I was going for specifically.  “La quiero, mucho.”  “I love her, alot.”  “Yo quiero que tengamos una vida feliz juntos.”  “I want us to have a happy life together.”

“¿Ella sabe que quieres esto?  ¿Ella quiere lo mismo?” “Does she know this is what you want?  Does she want that too?”

“No sé.”  “I don´t know.” 

“¿Con quien hablas acerca de las cosas personales?”  “Who do you talk to about your personal issues?” 

“Nadie.”  “No one.”  The tears continued.  He stopped searching his perifery then, found my eyes instead and smiled ever so slightly.

The human condition.  It takes surprisingly little to get beyond the veneer – if we cared to – if we needed to.  I know your ‘stuff’ cause it´s the same as mine.  The reverse goes without saying.  Remember “LIFE Magazine”?  It was famous for it’s photos not it’s words.  Why?  Because photos shoot beneath the veneer and beyond language.  Suddenly we are with the subject in their fear,  their lonliness, confusion, illness, hunger, mourning, celebration, relief, determination, victory. 

He has a life full of native Spanish speakers.  I am not one of those.  I am new to his language and yet with a bridge constructed of a few words familiar to him, I was was able to traverse the space between us to get  just close enough to let him know that I understood his human condition.  For the space of a few tears and a smile, he wasn´t all alone. 

Why learn another language? 

Well, could get you a new job, could get you your coffee the way you ordered it, could get you the best room in the hotel … or it could give you just one precious opportunity to ease the burden of another if only for a second.   There was more than one time that my life changed forever in that single second someone communicated to me that they understood me, that they were with me.  A picture may be worth a thousand words but one word can save a life.     ¡Salud!    Joan  –   Licensed Psychologist and Editor in Chief of  La Casa Rojas

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Practíca tu fluidez como un latino – Practice Your Fluency Like a Latino

I am kinda excited about my entry for today.  I was in a therapy session yesterday with one of my clients, from a Spanish speaking country.  She speaks only Spanish and she was was trying to say a word….in Spanish.  I watched her for a while and thought pretty early on in her struggle that I knew the word she was trying to say, but thought, geeze, I am the English speaker here, she can´t possibly be having trouble with the word I think she is trying to say.  So I watched and waited and little longer…and when she had not been able to spit it out for a few long seconds more…I ventured;  “¿Atmósfera?  “Sí.”,  ella me dijo.  “Nunca he podido decir esta palabara.”

Oh my gosh!  Are you kidding me?  A native speaker can have difficulties speaking their own tongue twisting words?  Holy Cow, this was just the best news I´d heard in week!  So many times, it´s me trying to eloquently explain my theory for this or that, or encourage, or motivate or whatever the delicate issue the session calls for, all while tripping around and over the trills and multi-sylabic overly endowed vowel filled words.  Remember, I am shooting for therapeutic credibility here and I´ve worked hard to get everything is in it´s place so that what I am about to say has maximum impact.  So when I go for the big internvention and my tongue goes all flaccid that ‘ah-ha’ moment loses just a little of it´s punch!  Ya know?

Well, I could hardly contain my glee as she repeated after me, sylable by sylable, “At-mós-fe-ra.”  I think when it was all said and done, this session could have been, all things equal, more therapuetic for me than for her!  (notice how this word is divided differently in Spanish, than we would divide it in English…cool, huh?)

Upon reflection later in the day and in talking about this incident with Luis, he reminded me of the day he and Rene, our video editor, were singing songs from their childhood.  As you know Rene is from Venezuela and Luis from Peru, but the songs they learned were identical and both concurred that they had to do with teaching them, as tiny tots, how to find the rhythm and fine-tune the pronunciation of their speech. 

I am going to have them record a couple of these songs and I´ll include them in another entry over the weekend….it´s really pretty hysterical.

This got me thinking about my own childhood and the songs that we were taught from preschool through 3 or 4 grade.  Well, I couldn´t remember any but I know we sang plenty and I suspect the songs were composed and employed for much the same reason.  Of course we had A, B, C song to help us remember our alphabet, there were some counting songs … and though we preferred to sing 99 bottles of beer on the wall, we were directed to sing 99 bottles of pop on the wall….please!  I remember the day I could sing the song from Mary Poppins, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.  that was a red letter day, no doubt!  I remember Dr. Seuss and his “Fox in Sox”.  In fact, I used that book with my kids.  We would read it again and again, faster and faster.  It was great fun and we would laugh a lot, but it also had its linguistic benefits.  I remember feeling my mouth all warmed up and able to speak with greater precision following a session with Dr. Seuss.

Now applying this back to Spanish as a second language.  There is no reason not to believe that as we begin to learn this or any other language, that it is important to find a way to get our tongue and lips the same, well, ethnic work out.  Obviously as a 50 year old, reading a “Fox in Sox” equivalent would fast become mind numbing … but this should not detour us from looking for other, more age appropriate ways to practise this essential skill.  It is a ‘learned’ skill.  Luis did not explode into the world with the ability to say “aeropuerto” o “deslegitimizar” o “polirubro”.  (actually I heard Luis having trouble with the second and third of these just today!  another great moment for me!)  

If we can say it, we can hear it.  And if we practise it we will get better at saying it so that we can be understood, understand better what is being said to us, and just get closer to that all coveted fluency. 

Luis told me this morning, “Honey, (I like how he starts with the endearment), you really need to take advantage of the voice recordings of the articles in La Casa Rojas .  Follow along with the article while you listen to the recording and then try to read it yourself sounding just like the author.”  “But Honey”, I said, “Remember, I am the one who helped MY Spanish speaking client with pronunciation.” 

Of course, this was just my quick defense.  I know he is right and it sent me off thinking about another session I had yesterday with a couple.  The husband found it necessary to repeat everything I said to his wife.  I would say it in Spanish and he would repeat me verbatim in Spanish to his wife.  To HIM she would respond with light in her eyes and a nod of the head….”Ohhhhhhh.”  Oh man!  Poco a poco.    Hasta mañana,  Joan


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Honduras, Spain, Costa Rica, Argentina, Mexico are Featured in this our 2nd Edition of La Casa Rojas – the magazine

Alvaro DSC02968We´ve asked our authors to bring you a slice of their life.  The topics covered are as varied in this edition as they will be in every.  For instance…Honduras is going through a very tumultuous time politically with the military ousting of their president Manuel Zelaya who was taken from his bed early Sunday morning the 28th of June and transported to Costa Rica, still in his night clothes. La Casa Rojas is not your source of news, however these kinds of dramatic events will be covered when they are relevant to the personal story an author would like to tell.  Álvaro Morales Melina is from Honduras and he had planned to write his first article for us this edition.  What he had planned to write fell by the wayside when the political upheaval took center stage.  So, Alavaro will be sharing with us through a series of articles, how this crisis is affecting him and his family in a very personal way.  The photos you see in his article were taken by him with his cell phone.  

We also have two great articles from Costa Rica about this country´s natural beauty and the resulting spectacular adventure travel it offers to its visitors.  Argentina brings us 4 poignant reflections, first on how a country came to be Luis - arenal cr (4)open for business nearly 24/7, second on how a country perceives and cares for its aging, third the power of nationalism over dictionaries and fourth how geographic characteristics of our environment influence the traditions and festivals that one celebrates. Mexico brings us chocolate and a beautiful woman, enough said.  Mexico also brings us Part II of a reflection on what has the power bring us together as a nation – it’s not always tragedy.  Spain brings us Gazpacho and a recipe, insists that we see her for her true self, explains theMarisa Ingredientes de gazpacho significance of another beautiful festival, we also offer a tribute to squirrels.  (I know, but what is it that they say?  “You know what ‘cha got ‘til it’s gone.”)

So get ready to download some audios, get yourself a nice tall lemonade, sit back and enjoy the journey we have prepared for you.    Saludos,   Joan y Luis

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Yo recibí este mensaje esta mañana desde Honduras – el golpe en primera persona

Hola Joan les quiero que tengas algnas fotos que tome hoy Domingo 28 jun de la crisis a raiz del Golpe de Estado y apresamiento del presidente en mi pais  aver que les parecen…

Todas tomadas en Tegucigalpa, la Capital, en el frente de la CasaPresidencial, tengo la historia si la queres,me avisas…


Alvaro Morales Molina


Alvaro sent 4 fotos that he had taken during the government overthrow yesterday and the imprisonment of the president with his offer to write about it from his perspective.  Of course I responded a resounding “Sí, por favor¨.  La Casa Rojas – the magazine, is not about up to the minute news….there are news outlets for that.  We are about showing the human interest side of a story.  “What is it like living in your country.”  And at times, this will involve an overshadowing crisis in progress….this is one of those for Honduras. 

And so, contrary to my entry of yesterday, I guess we will be introduced to Honduras through “del Gole de Estado y apresamiento del presidente”.     Cuidense bien.     -Joan  Editor en Chief de La Casa Rojas – the magazine

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“How did you learn Spanish?”

I get this question all the time…..even from my native Spanish speaking clients at the MH clinic where I put in a few hours a week.  “How or where did you learn Spanish?” 

Now when I tell people (if they didn’t already know) that my husband is Peruvian and a Spanish Language Instructor, they immediately go ……….¡Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, por eso!   and to be honest, I use this answer a lot because the real one takes too much time to explain.  Not because it´s complicated, more because it´s not a reason that is easily absorbed on the first or even the 15th telling. 

I don´t blame people who dismiss my abilites to speak Spanish as something that came easily and somehow seamlessly comingled in the words “I do.”  I let them, even my native speaking clients and friends and associates go on believing that this is a conjugal perk.  

The people that don´t fall so easily into this fantasy are those that are dating or married to a native Spanish speaker and can´t somehow get that osmosis thing to kick in.  I´m being sarcastic here…. because of course any fantasy they had evaporated within a week of dating.  There is that moment when suddenly it becomes apparent that speaking Spanish is not going to come any easier through sharing a bathroom.  Those university students that live in the “Spanish House” or those that travel to exotic ports-of-call to “study abroad”, also get that eating together, sleeping in proximity and squeezing the same tube of paste does not equate to “speak Spanish”.

I’m rather known for my long introductions, so let me get to the meat of things here.  What is the real answer to “How did you learn Spanish?” 

Well, I can´t deny that I used Luis as a resource.  I did.  But I can count the number of classes I took from him on a hand and a half over the 7 years we have known one another.  The truth is simple and complicated at the same time; I exposed myself to the language through print and through audio.  I am not talking about the Learn Spanish textbooks or those silly ‘listen while going to work tapes’ that have made a company or two wildly wealthy …. you know, fantasy sells….those were a bust.  I even tried studying in a Spanish speaking country, hoping that proximity or the water would do the trick … that also was a bust.

No, I read Spanish language newspapers, magazines and I listened to Spanish language talk shows on the radio and on TV.  When I had a question, when I just couldn’t even with the help of my on-line dictionary make sense of something, I would bring it to Luis and say….”what the h?”  When I had no other way to hear how it would sound if it were spoken, I asked Luis to read to me while I followed along.  That’s what I mean, Luis has been more my walking talking reference tool that I access on demand rather than the person from which all knowledge flowed into my empty eager vessel. 

I give an answer when pushed but the truth is fluency is a rather vaporous term.  Never-the-less when someone presses….”Well, how long did it take?”  “Huh? How long did what take?”, I mock back in my stall technique intended to dodge the question.  “How long did it take for you to ‘become fluent’?”  (“Become fluent”….that’s the subject of another post….)  “Well under two years,”  I venture and then wait for the reaction.  Those that have been studying typically say…”Oh my gosh, you’re one of those people to whom language comes easily, that’s amazing.”  Those that haven’t begun to learn yet tend to say something along the line of, “Wow, it takes that long?”     

Now I am not saying ‘under two years’  is lightening speed….there are those that truly do have the ‘gift of language’ and seem to pick up the math a lot quicker than I did.  And there is that pesky little detail about the exact definition of “fluent”.  I have heard some say that they are fluent and it is true that there are really, lots of levels of fluency.  Can you order dinner and understand what you are being prompted to respond by the waiter?  If you can, I suppose you could consider yourself fluent in ordering dinner….and on up the hierarchy of situational fluency, you get the idea.  Maybe you can understand a Peruvian from Lima 60% of the time but not a Chilean from Santiago de Chile.  Maybe you can ‘understand more that you can speak’,  yeah, we can slice this flan in a million ways.

But back to how did I learn and let me now add, how much do I know?  I learned by exposing myself to the language every single day (yes every single day) with INTENTION TO LEARN, a critical qualification.  That is, armed with my online dictionary, I would read and look up, read and look up, read and see if I could deduce and then I would look up word, after word, after word.  I started withNews because I knew when I listened that same day to a Spanish language news channel, I would be hearing the same news items.  Being already familiar with the story, I’d be in a better position to recognize it when I heard it….well accompanied by the visual cues and it pushed me forward because I was hearing what I had read earlier, sounds in the mouth of a native speaker.  I could hear how a particular phrase is used and enunciated and inflected.  All of these nuances helped me enormously in assimilating the ‘language perspective’.  As you know, when we read another language, we tend to read it as it would sound in our own language and so leaping from reading or writing to understanding and speaking can be quite the long jump.  We just simply don’t recognize it in sound they way we can in print.

I won’t lie to you.  Learn at first was tedious, it was beyond hard, it took dedication and Luis remembers (poor thing) even better than I how crabby it made me sometimes.   I wanted so much to just speak and to just understand…but one doesn’t find ones self summitting without the climb.

So that’s how it would go, day after day after day…which by the way, continues today.  I have graduated though, I have gone from News, which tends to be rather formulaic, to more creative epressions of the language.  But short of reading a novel or a gossip magazine, I was hard pressed to find articles that interested me, much less articles that came from a variety of people and places, much less an article that I could read and listen to.  It was taking more and more work to find material that captured me and kept me developing and growing in the language and in my knowledge of the various cultures where Spanish is spoken.  I also wanted to listen to a variety of accents and ‘ways of speaking’.  I didn’t want to find myself able to understand a Mexican from Mexico City, but not a Spañard from Barcelona.  Like I said, I INTENDED TO learn Spanish and so I knew that my exposure to the language would have to inlcude as many of it´s variations that I could get my hands on.

Oh, and the answer to the other question….”….how much do I know?” 

Never as much as I want to know is the best answer to that question.  There always seems to be a new turn of phrase or word or cultural nuance or custom or historical influence or policatical reality or cuisine or…gosh, you name it.  It’s endless.  It’s wonderful.

So how am I going about keep pushing myself forward in a way that interests me and challenges me?  Well, I came up with this idea of developing an online magazine.  I thought well, it would be easily accessible, I am always on or near my computer.  And if Icould get people from a variety of walks of life representing every single corner of every single Spanish speaking country writing for me and recording their article in downloadable audio files so that I could take the time to look up what I didn’t get while reading the article, and then take it with me in audio so that I could listen to it again and again to familiarize myself with the accent and cadence and way of speaking…..if I could ask these writers to talk about real stuff, stuff that I wouldn’t find in even a travel magazine …. I thought, yeah, that’ll do it.  Yeah, I think I will start a magazine…………           – Joan, Editor in Chief,  La Casa Rojas – the magazine

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We are so excited – and exhausted!  But we are up and out and open for business…..please come on over and meet your new best friends and personal guides from all over Hispano America and Spain.  They are truly very excited to have this forum and opportunity to share what life is truly like for them as natives in their country.  I think it’s pretty safe to say that what is offered in La Casa Rojas – the magazine….. is not available anywhere else.   See you there!  Joan and Luis

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