Tuesday, August 18, 2015


It’s no surprise that Spanish, being the official or de facto language of 20 Countries and also having had a large diaspora of its speakers, has many regional differences.  Learning about these differences can be beneficial to the Spanish learner, but at the same time too much attention can distract from more beneficial Spanish study.  

Regionalisms are words or phrases that are used in a certain region, the region can be as big as a hemisphere or as small as a city or town.  There are many famous regional phrases in Spanish.  Some very common examples include “Choclo (corn)” in Argentina,  “bacano” (cool) in Colombia, and guajalote (turkey) in Mexico.  There are many, many regionalisms.  With my wife and in-laws being Panamanian, I am most familiar with the words and phrases of Panama, of course.  I’ve also been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to speak with people from many different countries and learn some of the speech unique to their regions.  It is fascinating to learn about the lexical diversity within the Spanish language.  

That being said, I don’t necessarily think that learning regionalisms is the best use of time for the Spanish learner (with the obvious exception of learning about the way of speaking in a region that you’ll be traveling to, or of a local community of speakers).  When I was in an earlier phase of learning, I would try to memorize the different ways of saying things for different countries, and then I’d be talking to someone from Mexico looking for a work that I know how to say in Peru and the Dominican Republic, and would grind to a halt or have to explain to ask my Mexican friend how they say the said word.  My strategy after realizing how futile this was was to focus on what I learn or feel to be standard or that I know from experience.  Sometimes this doesn’t work out, like if I ask at a Mexican restaurant for a “carrizo” (drinking straw in Panama), the waiter may not understand and have to ask me to clarify, but I find not to be too great of an issue.  The time spent learning regionalism could be spent practicing the subjunctive, reading about “buen uso”, or doing some other beneficial learning activity.  I’m not saying that it can’t be beneficial at all, I’m just sayin that if you don’t have a trip to Paraguay planned, you may not need to know who to say “sandals” in Paraguay.  

If you are interested in learning more regional expressions in Spanish there are a couple great resources.
  • Spanishpod.com has a great podcast series called “Del Taco al Tango” where they speak to guests from all around the Spanish speaking world. The hosts and guests are lively and they deal with topics other than just language, such as food and culture.  This is a paid subscription, but I found this product probably helped my progress more than anything outside of actually speaking.     
  • Pinterest has plenty of infographics floating around on different ways to say things in Spanish, if you just type “Spanish” into the search window, you’ll come up with plenty.  

  • Academias are great for learning “proper” regional Spanish.  The most famous academia is the Academia Real Española, which dictates proper Spanish and “buen uso” throughout the Spanish speaking world, and in recent decades has been much more inclusive of “Americanismos”.  Every Spanish speaking country has it’s own academia, including the United States, whose academy has the important role of being the federal government’s consultant on Spanish usage and style, which is a difficult task with the incredible amount of diversity in the origins of the Spanish speakers in the United States.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Interesante - article from BBC Frases Mexicanas

Interesting article on Mexicanismos here.  I find it useful for comprehension to learn about different regional expressions.  Great topic for a future post....

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Our kids and Spanish, not always a love story.

We have 2 amazingly awesome girls, age 3 and 5.  My wife being from Panama and me being bilingual, it’s always been our hope to raise bilingual kids.  We always heard the common refrains “kids learn easy”,  “if mom only speaks to them in Spanish, they’ll learn easy”, and “of course they’ll learn with no effort on either their part or yours”.  In recent years we’ve come to find out that many of those assumptions are not true, or only partially true.  

Things were going swimmingly with our older daughter until when she was about to turn 4 years old.  Prior to that, she actually had been speaking Spanish.  When she first learned to talk, she would speak some words in Spanish and some words in English.  When she was around 3, I remember she had the ability to say something to my mother in English, and then to turn and say something to my mother-in-law in Spanish.  Then it all changed.  When she was approaching 4, she noticed that her peers only spoke English.  All of the sudden she didn’t want to consume Spanish media (Plaza Sésamo), she didn’t respond to us in Spanish anymore, and even with coaxing she just plain didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with the Spanish language.  

Thus began our quest to maintain her ability to speak Spanish, and to raise her younger sister speaking as well.  We’ve always read stories in Spanish, spoke with the kids in Spanish, listened to Latin music around the house, and have done many other things to encourage their speaking and comprehension.  We’ve also been fortunate enough to travel to Panama to visit our in-laws on several occasions over the last few years, and are actually just getting back from a trip now.  This is a huge brightspot.  When the girls get around their cousins and other kids, they naturally start speaking a little more, and learn very rapidly.  In 2014, when we came back from our trip, to help the girls maintain their skill level we joined El Cículo Juvenil de Cultura, a program for Spanish speaking children in Pittsburgh PA to provide a place for kids to learn in Spanish with other Spanish speaking children and Spanish volunteers.  It is an excellent program that incorporates many aspects of Latin American culture. That program happens to conflict with another family obligation, so we only did it for one semester.  After that, the girls interest in Spanish plummeted again, although we continued reading to them, speaking to them, listening to music, and trying to use Spanish in the house in any way we possibly could.  
A year and a half passed before our most recent trip to Panama.  This time, we all went together for 3 weeks, but then we left the girls with their abuela for an extra 2 weeks.  Even during the time we were there together, the girls started speaking more Spanish, mostly mixing sentences in Spanish and English (“Mira what I can hago” or “Do you want to jugar conmigo?”).  Now that the girls have returned they are speaking considerably more, translating their thoughts to abuela, who is staying with us for a month.  So, how do we plan on maintaining it this time?  
For one, we’re going to try to always speak Spanish at home.  We’re going to put our dvds on in Spanish at least half of the time (they do always ask for them in English).  We’re going to buy kids music cds in Spanish, as well as the Speak Spanish with Dora and Diego cds  and play them in the car.  We’ll continue to go to all of the Latino community events in Pittsburgh that we possibly can (although those events usually mean adults speaking Spanish with all of the kids playing in English).   Another great thing for us is some of the kids’ cousins are coming up from Panama in January, this will give the kids an opportunity to be around Spanish more, although we will try to make it an immersive English experience for them!

I’ll be posting our progress here on this blog.  Do any of you have any experience with having kids speak non-dominant languages?  What strategies do you use?  I’d love to hear your feedback!   

Also, look forward to reviews on some raising your kids bilingual books that I'll be reading in the near future.