Tag Archives: spanish podcast

“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

                                                                  add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook


Filed under Culture, La Casa Rojas - On-line Magazine, Learning Attitude

¿Perdón? ¿Como, Como?

I have been so distracted by la Gripe Porcina – that I have not written on much around what this Blog was about originally.  That is, my ups and downs in learning the Spanish language.  So I thought since I am working a couple days a week under my License as a Psychologist with monolingual Spanish speaking clients…thatI would add another Category for those of you that are practising Psychologists or Social Workers or Nurses or Doctors …. (fill in your first response moniker here)… who have discovered along the way, often times the embarrassing way… that what we heard from our patients or clients or what we said to our patients or clients, wasn´t exactly what we thought we heard or what we thought we said.

I’ll kick it off just to get things going…  

……for the longest time I was hearing  from my clients a statement;  “Me da coraje.”   Simple enough,  “He, she, it, gives me courage.”  (whatever the h that means!)   Putting my best “uh huh” forward, expecting this oblique usage to come into focus at any moment I continue down the stony path. 

Now remember, the context is this, I am working with parents around their fear or sadness or frustration or anger about what’s going on with their children.  And some times  I see the parents cry when they say this, sometimes they appear really peeved, sometimes they laugh in a kind of exasperated way.   And they say more or less some variation of the following;  “Me da coraje. Les da coraje.  Me dan coraje.”  So I’m thinking, if  I just listen close enough and  enough times, I am going to figure out what is giving everyone so much “courage” in all of these families around all of their varied issues.  Given that the word employed was “courage”, I was even hopeful this was a sign of some ‘good thing’  I was missing, distracted as I was by the rest of the story.

But finally I could take the polar war between what I was seeing and hearing described and the definition of the word  “coraje”  NO LONGER….”¿Perdón, como, como, qué dices?;  says me.  “¿Qué parte?” ; dicen ellos. (Because remember now, they have said this statement at least 150 times.)  When finally we have correctly identified the part that  confused me ….. they laugh….”No, no.  Significa, me enoja, me enfada.”   Ahhhhhhhhhh, now it makes sense.  The behavior of their kids are really making them “angry”!  Suddenly the sun came up, the choirs began to sing and the flowers exploded with blinding color.  Geeze, how had I missed “anger” given how clear the context was?  (That’s probably another Category of issues altogether….)

Here´s the take away at my expense – I foolishly struggled to understand everything that was being said to me, keeping to myself my confusion, hoping that over time it would become, well, obvious!  But I learned over time that this just wastes time and results in the danger of us setting off in the wrong direction….or they in one direction, me in another…which is even more awkward when it comes to evaluating our progress towards our goals!  

So, now my attitude is;  how many errors can I make in each session.  Yep!  You heard me.  How many times can I just risk it, go for it, and ask for instance…”How does José hitting Carolina give you courage?   Sure, I risk a good chuckle all round…on me…but a little comic relief can go a long way in tense therapeutic situations. 

“Son mis errores y los hago si yo quiero…”  (Sung to “It´s my party and I´ll cry if I want to….”)    All together now,  -Joan

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Leave a comment

Filed under For Helping Professionals

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

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching Methodologies

Ceviche in a Pineapple Boat

I am out numbered in my house today; three Peruvians to one Minnesotan.  We have visitors from Peru who are on their way back home to Lima and Pura from a season working at Lutsen, a local ski resort.  Since we have a small place, they will be camping out on the sofa, a reality I tried to soften by telling them;  “Mi sofa es tu sofa.”  They totally cracked up.  Like really cracked up and so now I don’t know if I made a great joke in Spanish or if they were laughing ‘at’ me.  I thought it best to leave it alone.


I cooked Arroz Chaufa for them.  A favorite of Peruvians.  I passed the test, I think.  They each ate 3 or 4 very large plates full.  Again, I don’t know if it was really that good or if it was that they were starved for a meal that had a familiar name.  You know, given that they had been living in the land of Swedish Meatballs and Lutefisk for the last 4 months.  I found it a little disconcerting however, that while they were eating they were telling me about all the attempts at Peruvian dishes their co-workers at Lutsen had prepared for them and about which they equally raved.  But, they told me with lowered voice, the dishes were really awful.  Like for instance the Ceviche that was served in a pineapple boat.  Who would in their right mind would serve Ceviche in a pineapple boat they marveled?!  I joined them in astonishment at such tontería, but I have to tell you (with lowered voice), it sounded kinda pretty to me.  


Alright, I´m out numbered, I´m being out eaten, my jokes are REALLY funny, and I am la maestra del Arroz Chaufa; “Esta es la segunda mejor plato que yo he comido en los ultimos 4 meses.”  I am thoroughly off balance now.  Thoroughly.  Oh, one more thing, and this was the topper.  The guest I had not met before asked Luis if I was American.  “Por qué me preguntas esto,”  Luis asked.  And then he said, “Porque ella habla si fuera una nativa.”  Okay, that just sent me over the edge.  Give me a compliment on my Spanish and it is a sure thing that I will begin to babble incoherently from then on.


Suddenly I could hardly understand a thing!  The whole room went into slow mo.  The words had no intelligible beginning or end or middle for that matter.  They became painfully drawn out undulations of sound, nothing more.  I was like Ceviche in a Pinneaple boat, the world made no sense!  But to not disappoint the insolent brat that gave me the highest praise for my Spanish, I faked on.  I laughed when they laughed, shook my head in utter disbelief when they did and said “De veras.”  a lot, perhaps too much. I may have said it at a time when it didn’t really apply as I thought I detected an extra beat of silence immediately after.  One must remember that even a seemingly neutral expression like “De veras.” can be like Ceviche in a Pinneapple boat if it is employed carelessly.  


I had to get a hold of myself.  I had to shake myself out of this cerebrovascular event and calm down.  So I opened my mouth and I began slowly.  “De veras.  Entonces, lo que me dices es que…..” and with this little trick of recovering my confidence by tracking back the conversation at the point I lost it, I was able to shore up the hemorrhaging and regain consciousness.  It bought me just enough time to ease myself toward a coherent contribution.  It’s a little trick I use from time to time that gets the feeling back in my extremities and reorients me to person, place and time.  


I asked Luis later if I had made a complete fool of myself… and he said genuinely confused “¿Como?”.  That was all I needed.  It had been a very private nervous breakdown caused by one tiny and silly self doubt piled upon another.  I was feeling all Ceviche in a pineapple boat when really I was 4 huge plates of Arroz Chaufa.   Adelante amigos,  – Joan


P.S.  We are so happy that our videos are getting such rave reviews.  Along with the enthusiasts from literally every corner of the US there are also those from Canada, Mexico, Italy, Spain, UK, Germany, Norway, Indonesia, Belgium, Argentina, Hong Kong, Grenada, Greece, Taiwan, Columbia and more I can´t remember right now.   We really think we are on to something with this product.  We can say there is nothing like it out there and we will continue to tweak it as we go so that it is always the very best resource it can be for you all.  We hope to see you too on the ‘inside’!  Oh, one more thing.  Don´t forget that on Monday 4-7 we are beginning the Rojas Phrase of the Day which will be located on our Video product page and a daily Podcast program that we call Acceso which will give you news highlights and commentary from Latin America and Spain.  Tune in and get informed.    

                                           add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook


Filed under Learning Attitude

“Hija de la Fortuna” – comentario de la pagina 53 hasta 97

Nuevamente tuvimos nuestra conversación acerca de esta sección del libro de Isabel Allende: “La Hija de la Fortuna” que corresponde hasta la página 97 del libro y pienso que la conversación  nos ha ayudado a indagar un poco más en los personajes de la obra. Yo diría que la autora nos lleva a “convivir” con los personajes para aprender de ellos desde dos perspectivas: la primera, y que es obvia, es que desarrolla más las acciones de los personajes de tal manera que los conocemos en la forma en que interactúan uno con el otro mientras que a la vez nos informan de los acontecimientos en el momento en que ocurren, en esta parte de la historia. Aquí tenemos entonces a Rose y Jeremy Sommers, a Eliza, Mama Fresia, Jacob Todd, Feliciano Rodriguez, Paulina, etc que nos informan cómo reaccionan entre ellos ante diversas circunstancias que tienen que enfrentar. Es más informativo y descriptivo.  

Por ejemplo, creo que es interesante descubrir cómo tiene que enfrentar Eliza los años de pubertad desde el momento en que experimenta su primera menstruación. Las diferentes explicaciones y reacciones de parte de Rose y de mama Fresia son expresiones de dos concepciones diferentes y cargadas de prejuicios y tabúes: Rose:”no hables de esto con nadie, es muy privado…” ;  Mama Fresia: “Ahora te fregaste, niña, te cambiará el cuerpo, se te nublarán las ideas…” . Este asunto no es más que una muestra de todo el ambiente en que se desarrolla esta parte. Lo mismo pasa con la relación entre los hermanos Rose y Jeremy…muy extraño…fíjense también en la relación de amistad que desarrolla Jacob Todd y Joaquín Andieta. En fin, creo que resulta fascinante reflexionar en estas relaciones e interacciones llenas de prejuicios desde esta perspectiva, transversal en el tiempo: en los años mil ochocientos y pico…y tal vez compararlo con nuestro tiempo.  

La segunda perspectiva es ver este relato desde una perspectiva más longitudinal en donde la autora nos hace experimentar o “vivir” con estos personajes como si conviviéramos con ellos para poder, luego, explicar, entender o sorprendernos  de sus motivaciones y acciones en el futuro del libro.  Por cierto, yo no sé en qué va a terminar el libro ni cómo se desarrollan los acontecimientos en las siguientes paginas porque aun no las he leído. Pero, es como si conviviéramos y experimentáramos todas las etapas de desarrollo a través de las experiencias por las que atraviesa Eliza y que después nos van a ayudar a entender mejor sus reacciones y acciones, su personalidad, sus sufrimientos y alegrías. Más o menos como entender que ciertas actitudes corresponden a un momento de aprendizaje que fue impregnado en la persona de Eliza cuando tenía tal edad o que tiene su origen en determinada experiencia que identificamos en el libro. Creo que esto es sumamente interesante.  Es más, si ustedes están leyendo el libro con nosotros ¿podrían imaginar cómo sería Eliza en el futuro solamente con la información que tenemos hasta la página 97 del libro? 

Espero sus comentarios…para el próximo lunes comentaremos la lectura hasta la página 153.   Hasta lunes pero mientras tanto nos vemos en los  videos y podcasts!     -Luis

1 Comment

Filed under El Club de Libros

I hate my voice…

This is what I heard Luis say dozens of times when he first began his Podcasts a year ago and this is what I find myself telling him now that I hear MY voice in the videos.  This time next week, we expect our on-line video program to be live and available and so as we spend the last feverish days prior to this important launch, fine tuning countless details, I find myself very self-critical. 

This morning I was telling Luis that I don´t think anyone wants to hear me speaking Spanish, they want to hear HIM speaking Spanish.  Well, that was enough to catapult my little Latino into a tirad “Luis style”….which is strong but incredibly tender, supportive and inspirational.  He told me that in his 25 plus years teaching Spanish as an independent contractor, first in his native Peru and for the last 4 years here in the States, he has had the opportunity to teach students from Canada, Australia and  from all over Europe as well as the United States.  He said that he will make his observation cautiously, knowing that generaliziations always miss the ‘outlyers’ but that he found some rather predictable differences between his students from the US and those from other areas of the world.

He said that students from the US “tend” in “his experience” (no doubt in his mind, being well illustrated by my concerns) to be incredibly self-critical when it comes to language learning.  They tend to want to know the ‘rules’ and ‘formulas’, be frustrated by the ‘exceptions’ to these and are hesitant to speak until they believe they have figured out the absolute correct way to say something.  “Self-conscious” learners, he calls them, which he says really gets in the way of the great fun and the progress they could have and make in the language. 

He said that non-US students tended to have a more adventurous and openly curious approach to language learning that allows them the room to just “jump” (one of Luis’ favorite words) and “go for it”.  The point after all is to give and receive information, to communicate.  If you’ve been able to do that, then the rest will correct itself over time and attention and while that is happening, you are having a great time building relationships with people whom which you couldn’t before and learning about things to which you could have no access other than through the language.  An adventure!  Fun!  Expanding!  Enlightening!  Why would one deny themselves these treasures, my hero wants to know.

He finished his lecture with,  “Of course you have a bit of an accent and of course you don’t say everything perfectly, but that is part of the journey.  Our students share this journey with you and it’s about time you looked at the beautiful scenery and really tasted the complexity of that wine and allowed your body to move to that new music in a way that it’s called to.  It’s magical, it’s fantastic, it’s NOT perfect,  (thank goodness, how boreing), so let’s have a great time!”

Well, once again he left me speechless.  I regularly deny myself the treasures that are now available to me as a result of learning Spanish in my attempt to be and sound perfect.  I can see the folly in this after each of these tantrums (aunque suave, tranquilo)  and vow to see and be different.  As you watch our videos you will see that we are a simple multi-cultural couple, crazy about each other and passionate about helping people relax and have fun learning Spanish.  We are not intimidating or self-celebrated experts, we are just like you, looking for ways to understand more so that we can enjoy and appreciate more the treasures that lie locked behind another’s language.  We are on an adventure that may not be “perfect” but does not lack in value or benefit or great, crazy fun!

Hasta la proxima…….  -Joan

!!!!!!Hey, and don’t forget to check out our videos and podcasts!!!!!!!


Filed under General

Where to begin….

Luis and I will try to keep these entries short, frequent and specific enough so that they generate reflexion and comments from you all.  On this topic, let me just iterate that the purpose of this blog is to create dialog between you all with each other and you all with us about your journey in learning Spanish.  There will grammar to fine tune and expressions to learn, seemingly endlessly, but those are the mechanics of learning a language.  We are more interested in talking about the eurika moments.  That fluid conversation you had with that native speaker when you were feeling it.  When you were making a point and making it impressively and easily and you could see the impact your command of the language was having on the native speaker.  Yes, yes, we know these moments come and go, but that is the nature of assimilation.  Bit by bit, piece by piece the language finds it’s home in you and has it’s way with you at the same time.  Chipping, chipping away at who you used to be and how you used to see.  Ooooo, this is the good stuff.  You remain you, but transformed into a more fluid you.  Notice, I did not use the word ‘fluent’, rather, ‘fluid’.  You are able to almost metaphysically step through some cultural thing that previously had been the distinction between you and the other.  And the key that unlocked it all was that eurika moment in the language.  Language can indeed be a key. 

For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about yet, stick with it and you will.  I remember yearning for that eurika moment, and for another and another after that, once I had my first.  It felt like a really good yawn or stretch after being in the same position for an eternity.  It was so exhilerating and freeing and satisfying.   There are many of you who have experienced this and know what I am talking about.  And you know as well, that as mysteriously as it appeared, this dematerializing wall that a moment ago you so fluidly walked right on through,  as suddenly became a solid hunk of matter once again with no sign of it’s former yielding. 

So tell us about a time when you walked through that wall and tell us about another time when you thought you knew where that wall would give and it just stood there 4 feet thick with no entry in sight.  Let’s talk about this mysterious, magical thing called acculturation through language.

Hasta luego…….    -Joan

!!!!!!Hey, and don’t forget to check out our videos and podcasts!!!!!!!

Leave a comment

Filed under General