Tag Archives: spanish blog

Me gusta acostarme con mis estudiantes – I Like to Couch My Students

You didn´t think I was going to leave that last post at that did you?  Really?  How long have you been reading my Blogs?  Oh, nooooo, now it´s ‘balance the books’ time.

So I am with Luis in front of a rather large gathering of prospective students that we have just served a couple of glasses of wine.  We used to have “Free Sample Classes con Piqueo” to attract potential students … but when one class brought in a guy with a gun in his boot who was considering classes so that he could “get” the Surenos (Latino Gang) that had killed his son in a gang related dispute and we had a hard time getting him out of our house cause he was crying so hard, and another guy straight from Moldova (honest to goodness, this is a country, check your map of the Soviet Union) looking like the folks wardrobed for Shindlers List who when he moved through our house changed everything from color to black and white and who stopped half way down our spiral staircase and broke out in Italian Opera, and about 15 other groups who came with their friends for an afternoon of free food and wine sort of like the way people go to those posh weekends for the cost of listening to the Time Share pitch but have absolutely NO intention of taking classes…..we quite having them…..the Free Sample Classes with Piqueo I mean.

So anyway, we have the formal Sample class behind us, we are into the Piqueo (Peruvian term for appetisers or small bites) and are on our second bottle of wine.  Things are getting more relaxed and we can tell these people feel comfortable, maybe even like us.  We are just chatting informally and then one of them asks Luis to sum up in a nut shell, his teaching philosophy.  He looks up, thinks.  Looks to the side, thinks some more.  Looks down and I am getting irritated…..okay, ‘we get that you are reflecting…..what already?  Give us the d… philosophy in a whatever kinda shell!’

The moment finally seems right and he says;  “I Like to couch my students just like my parents couched me.”

If  it’s possible to feel such a thing …. I felt my face go white.  There is this distinct sensation of a color drain beginning with the follicles of my crown and continuing in even levels down to my freshly painted toe nails. 

Well, you can imagine, the half drunk potential students looked to ME for clarification and reassurance and the truth is, I was not in a position to give it to them.  I was as stunned as they were. 

When Luis gets talking, it takes a while for him to take a breath and so he was paddling on while we were all battling the images that were invading our alcohol tenderized brains …. until one of our guests, who had caught enough of his exhaustive explanation to be able to deduce what he had meant to say…..  if I remember right, she was a Minneapolis Police Officer.

“Oh, you mean COACH your students,  you COACH them.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said, couch.”

Well, needless to say, we didn’t get any new students that time either.                        Aquí estamos,  Joan

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¡Vayase! – Get Outta here! parte II

43 days later –  Buenos Aires –  departamento que da a la calle, el 3 piso, con balcón (mi eleccion de modo que fue posible ver todo el mundo desde mi dormitorio)

Luis is already in the throws of “fining tune”, (that´s “fine tuning” en inglés) MY well thought out choices for my VERY OWN SOLO experience here in Buenos Aires.  “Honey, are you sure you want to be so close to that busy street… you will never sleep at night.”


Luis:  “What time are you meeting this guy you will do that work with?”


Luis:  “Maybe I’ll go to the bookstore where you’re meeting him too, because I have a couple of books I want to buy for my classes. ”


1 hour later – Bookstore Coffee Shop – Joan and Dr. Cabeza sipping espressos y platicando  (going well)

Luis:  “Hola, mi nombre es Luis, soy esposo de Joan.  Mucho gusto.  Yo estaba buscando libros para mi trabajo, soy profesor de español en el estado de Minnesota, cerca de Canadá.”


Luis:  “Honey, sorry to interrupt,  I just wanted to ask you if you want me to look for a good cookbook for us to take home with us.”

Dr. Cabeza:  “Mucho gusto Luis.  Por favor toma un asiento.  ¿Quieres un cafecito?”


Following day – address in hand – making a dry run on the Subte toward place of  ‘pacentia’

Luis:  “Okay, what you want to do is get here early, cause you can see that it’s total chaos at this time in the morning.  Now, you don’t have your purse do you?  Remember how I told you to keep all your stuff in your front pocket and be alert to the people on your sides and behind you?” 


Next day – first day of pacentia – Joan heads out alone – but this, only after very long discussion the night before about how Joan has already lived 50 years very successfully on this earth, at times even averting danger due to her measured caution, agility and general lack of stupidity.  The deal was sealed however only after an agreement to carry mace concealed in closed fist and to check in by cell every two hours. 

Joan has effortlessly negotiated 3 subway lines and 8 blocks on foot,  is almost at the clinic door where she will begin her first day of work.  An experience, born of an idea, that she took from it’s vaporous inception all the way through to it’s no ‘detail left unplanned for’, reality.  (well, except for the buying of the plane ticket)  She will be working with a well known and respected Psychologist, Director of a Clinic for chronic drug and alcohol dependents, the same man who was appointed to this position by the Argentinean Undersecretary of Mental and Chemical Health who in turn reports directly to President Kirchner.  She will be meeting with this Undersecretary later in her pacentia and could even score an introduction to the Prez himself.

Just a few steps more and Joan will be ringing the bell of the Clinic’s unassuming and secured front door.  Suddenly, out of no where she feels the presence of someone walking up way too fast behind her.  It feels as though this person does not intend to pass on either the left or the right, but is heading for a direct hit to her back side.  Joan thinks quickly and remembering that one of our best allies is the element of surprise,  she decides to interrupt the forward momentum of this person but stopping abruptly and whirling around to face them.  To add more confusion and by so doing maximize her advantage as well hedge her bets by alerting those people on the other side of the street that there is something happening on this side, she decides to yell, “¡Vayase!”  simultaneously.

1.5 seconds later, plan in place – Joan executes it

Joan:   Stops, whirls, yells – “¡VAYASE!”

Person:  Unintelligible scream, then;  “Honey, ¿Qué haces?   ¡Me matas de susto!”


Luis:  “I just wanted to make sure you got there safely.”

The people across the street stopped for a moment, looked our way, said something to one another shaking their heads as they spoke, then continued on.  It was pretty clear Luis and I knew one another – I suppose we looked like just another couple that could use the help of a counselor.         Stay safe and keep the love alive!   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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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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