Formality/Informality in Spanish or why screwing up is a good learning experience?

Since there is no interview ready for today, I dediced to go with a topic I have seen a lot on different groups and boards. How does formality/informality work in Spanish language? Will the knowledge I learned from this guide help me for my ultimate Latin American trip? Will High School Spanish help me to communicate better with locals? Will telenovelas teach me about culture and how to address my peers?

The answer to most of them is: NO.  Rules depend on many factors and what may seem acceptable and expected regarding interpersonal communication in one country, in another country may have a complete different meaning and you won’t find that in most books, guides or online. You will simply learn them by making a fool of yourself. You will get giggles from your friends, peers or the shopkeeper, but at the same time, someone will come up to you and give you a piece of advice you will probably never forget and say “it’s okay, it’s not a great thing… but, keep in mind this and that :)”. I should say I’ve even had that experience even when traveling to other Spanish-speaking regions (i.e. I once greeted an Argentinean male friend with a handshake while he was trying to hug me and kiss me on the cheek -something I do with my close male relatives in Chile-… no, he wasn’t being invading or so since I knew that his intentions were clear. He was just happy to see me).

Anyways, what I can do from here is give you certain tips, carefulness and of course, learn some vocabulary and ways to not screw up things a lot. I cannot mention things for every single Spanish-speaking region, but I can talk about my random experiences with different countries and of course, Chile.

Chile has a special formal/informal language. If you ever talk to my parents or so, you will easily notice they would address my grandparents as “Usted” and use formal language when talking to them, while I would address my parents as “tú”. Thing is, before the 80’s, relationships in Chile would be strictly asymmetrical. “Usted” was the expected form to address anyone older than you or that you owe some respect to. That is to say, parents, older siblings, grandparents, bosses, et al. Even some couples would call each other “Usted”. Now, probably due to a generational change (oh hi sociopolitics!), children started to address their parents as tú, some equal peers or shopkeepers (who can easily be peers)… while still addressing grandparents, friends’ parents or such as “usted”.

Now, to make things even more complicated, in informal interactions, tú is barely used unless you want to keep a bit of distance. Almost everyone in Chile uses voseo 🙂 (vos being an alternate form of tú, used mostly in Rioplatense Spanish and Central American Countries, such as Costa Rica) despite no one will recognize it or such since saying “vos” in Chile isn’t well appreciated (even more at a highly class-concious society), but will try to hide it by using verbs conjugated in vos plus tú. So, several times you will get asked “¿Cómo estái?” or “¿Estái bien?” and no, it’s not wrong Spanish, despite what prescriptionists say. You don’t get to hear it unless you are in Chile because most Chilean media does not get exported to other countries. And then, greetings? Most men do handshake with each other, while women may expect a kiss on the cheek from other women or men. Most people would expect you, also, to adress them by their first name (or nickname), but hardly ever by a similar structure to English (Mr/Ms./Mrs. + Surname) as it sounds too “formal”.

As I have mentioned before, Argentina uses vos instead of tú and you will interact with your peers with it. Usted is used quite rarely, except in very formal language, if you are in a small town outside Buenos Aires, or over a certain age. And greetings? expect to be kissed and hugged by lots of people 😉 Most of them will be sincere, though.

In some parts of Colombia, you would be expected to use Usted in most interactions, even with your significant other! And of course, Spain with its extended use of tú and vosotros 😀 (which in Latin America is only used at religious settings, in order to convey a closer relationship there).

So, what is the most important rule here? Screw up! Even native speakers screw it up some times and it is completely okay and expected to do so. Books, classes, self teaching methods do help to learn a language, but you won’t get much of them unless you use them in real settings. You are not only learning a language, but a culture that goes along with it, too. Do not take giggles personally, as well.

Have you had an awkward moment with formal/informal language or with interpersonal behaviour in your target languages? Share them in the comments!

Hello Talk revisited

First of all, I was meant to upload a video post for today, but that will be put off for next week. So sorry about that.

Quickly after my mobile language learning apps I was contacted by the good people at Hello Talk and offered me some perks to try them out and give my opinion about it.

So,  they revamped their app (and made it fit to the new models of iOS) and I managed to try different aspects of the perks I have got from Hello Talk.

One of the first things I noticed about is the sleeker aspect of the app. It looks clean and not at all wrong or faulty. They have taken care of certain bugs affecting users and also they also have a modern, new logo. It might be a quite banal thing, but when it comes to mobile applications, looks play a big role.

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The following aspect that called my attention was that the premium options are well worth spending money on it. I have attached the options that may you get when going Pro 🙂 (still, I would prefer an ad-supported option for those who want some of the Pro features, but do not have the money or means to pay for them -e.g. notes or certain transliteration, which can be helpful for those who learn languages with different alphabets- … I feel that specially among with young learners or people from countries in which paying with a credit card is hard).

One aspect I also forgot to mention was how you can search for you language partner. This app gives you great options in order to filtrate language partners by different aspects and get a better result when it comes to languages and native speakers or other advanced learners to practice the language better. You can even look for the ones nearby you 🙂

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And here is a surprise… I managed to fix my profile in order to make it more accurate to my language interests.


As I mentioned on the video, I am starting to be interested on learning some Hebrew. I am not going to be fluent or anything like that. The thing is thanks to this app, many native Hebrew speakers have contacted me to help them with either Spanish or English. I have been having fun learning about Israel and the culture over there (they seem to be quite interested in South America, too!) and sometimes, when it comes to searching for explanations, I do like to use some kind of connections in order to give better explanations. Thus, learning some aspects about Hebrew grammar or the logic behind that language would really help me with them. Plus, I remembered when I was a child and I was curious about Hebrew language. In part, that is fulfilling yet another childhood dream come true, so… תודה רבה (toda raba = thank you very much) 🙂

This post was done with the good help and input from Hello Talk. Despite they did sponsor me with the perk mentioned above, my opinions are 100% sincere and honest.



Interview with Natalia, or why it is possible to combine different interests with language

This week, I interviewed Natalia W. from Kraków, Poland whom I contacted through Facebook (on a Polyglot group). She is a young woman who has managed to combine languages with her interests and gives us great tips for tech savvy language learners, especially if you are interested in Indian languages.  I do like to feature people who are just like any of you to share about their experiences with languages, so please if you would like to be featured, don’t fear to contact me.

BUW sanskryt

Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your main occupation?

My name is Natalia, I live in Kraków, Poland. The bigger part of my daily life is made up by studies in two different faculties – Indian Philological Studies and Musical Composition. Within the remaining part, I try to squeeze a part-time job, classical Indian dancing and, of course, as much language learning as possible. The languages that I know or learn (at very different levels!) are: English, German, Spanish, French, Latin, Hindi, Sanskrit and Persian.

How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?

As most of my generation did, I started learning English already in kindergarten (so, I’ve been learning for nearly 20 years now!). My parents always claimed that learning languages was a very important (if not the most important) part of education, so they would pay for extra lessons in English, and later on also German. Apart from their support, the main motivating factor was my talent for languages – I have always learned them rather easily, and, like most humans, I mostly enjoy doing things that I’m good at.

Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?

As I already said – my parents always supported my language learning. It may come as a surprise then, that although they both studied German philology and my father works as a translator, they never wanted to teach me German themselves. As a child, I was very disappointed, but later I appreciated their decision – their expectations would be too high and they wouldn’t allow me for a slightest mistake. It was indeed better for me to have teachers who didn’t know that I should be a “linguistic child prodigy” and taught me like every other pupil… However, although my father always wanted me to join his “family business” and become a translator, he wasn’t too enthusiastic when I started studying Indian philology (“language – ok, if you really have to, but don’t you even think of going there!”).

My loved one is a linguistic nerd as well, so we do motivate one another to learn more and faster (“he knows a lot of Czech and I don’t? I have to pick up a list a bit!”). While talking with each other, we throw in, just for fun, words and phrases from different tongues (fortunately, we learn more less the same). It is great to have that one person on Earth who understands why do you begin a sentence in Polish and switch to German only to finish it in Hindi!

Did you ever face a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?

Probably the hardest moment occurred when I realized the devastating effect of taking a break from learning a language – in this case, German. It was my second foreign language, I started learning it when I was 13 and after seven years achieved something around B2. But then other languages came (Latin, Spanish, later also Hindi and Persian) and I no longer had time for German lessons. The results became visible when I went for a short trip to Germany and, although I could still mostly understand written texts, I could barely carry on a basic conversation! I fell into despair, but then I decided that the only way to overcome it was to try harder. After coming home, I started using every possible tool for learning German – Duolingo, Memrise, reading magazines etc. – and using them systematically. That was an important lesson: never ever allow yourself for a break! Maintain a contact with the language you have learned, no matter how small it may be!

What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your lifehacks for that language?

Currently, my biggest linguistic passion is Hindi. I even chose my Master Studies carrier according to that passion (I had done a Bachelor in Comparative Cultural Studies). That means that I have three 90-minutes Hindi language classes per week (including two classes with a native speaker), plus a translation practice class. This is already quite a lot of speaking and reading, but I don’t stop here. As an Internet addict, I tried to create a language immersion environment – my e-mail, Facebook and Web browser are set to Hindi, I repeat vocabulary every day using Memrise, I joined several Facebook groups devoted to language learning or Hindi learning exclusively and found friends there with whom I can talk in Hindi. Let’s finish the list with Bollywood songs and small news from BBC India that I watch in my free time.

Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you will not be able to learn it properly?

This seems to be the case with Sanskrit. There are several reasons why I became interested in it. Firstly, this is in the way the oldest Indo-European language and as such worth studying in itself. Secondly, as a Hindi learner I already knew the script. Eventually, my scientific interests led me to Sanskrit (every single teacher at the Indian Studies department kept asking me: “if you are interested in Indian classical music, how come you don’t know Sanskrit?”). So, this year I finally joined a Sanskrit class. Started learning declensions, conjugations, verb roots and all that fascinating staff. Am I excited with the new possibilities it opens for me? To be honest, no. I am rather discouraged, because it looks like no matter how hard I try, there will always be more roots, more declension patterns and more exceptions to learn and I will never be able to read a single text other than a pre-prepared story from the textbook (which still requires twenty or more footnotes to be understood).

Can you tell me a short, positive anecdote about your language learning history?

Let me tell you how I started learning French. To be honest, I never really liked that language. In my country, most students choose either French or German as a second foreign language (after English) and it is a strong division indeed. We have the “German sounds awful, like shooting” party and the “French has an entirely illogical orthography” party. I have supported the second one. But, last year, I made friends with a student from France who came to my city to study within Erasmus exchange program. We talked in English most of the time, but, unlike most Erasmus students, she was very interested in Polish culture and very eager to learn a language. After a year, she reached A2 level.  When she left, I thought: well, so she could learn my language, although it’s do difficult, and I can’t learn hers? What is so bad about French after all? Let’s give it a try! So I started learning French and definitely do not regret it. Not only am I able to talk with my French friend in at least three languages now, but I have also found a couple of French songs that I always liked and now can try to listen to them in original version! 🙂

VIDEO POST: Language tag questions

I decided to do yet another language video… I am well aware I commited some mistakes, but I got really excited when doing this video because I can talk for hours about these topics.

The questions are the following ones:

  1. What do you consider to be your native language?

  2. What was your first language learning experience?

  3. What languages have you studied and why did you start them?

  4. How does your personality affect how you learn languages?

  5. Do you prefer learning languages in a class or individually?

  6. What are your favorite language learning materials?

  7. How much time do you spend actively learning per day/week?

  8. What are your short term and long term language learning goals?

  9. What is your favorite language?

  10. What is the next language you want to learn?

  11. What advice can you give to new language learners?

If you want me to answer new questions or suggestions for future topics on videos, please let me know.


Interview with Jason from

This week I am interviewing Jason from . On his site, he encourages and gives great tips to Spanish learners so that they can become more confident and fluent. Despite his tips can also be applied to other languages, Jason makes a great work in awareness for learners to be motivated with their learning.

Here are his answers 🙂


Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your main occupation?
My name’s Jason, and I’m from Minnesota (one of those cold and snowy states in the United States). I’m a clinical psychologist, so I get to do therapy and different psychological testing with both kids and adults, working for the county right now.

How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?
I first started learning languages back when I was in middle school. Like a lot of people, it was a requirement in school to learn a foreign language, so I decided to learn Spanish. Then I got a job working at a restaurant, and I was able to talk with a lot of the Spanish-speakers working there and get to know them better by speaking Spanish with them.
I stopped learning Spanish in high school, and about 10 years later I started to learn Spanish again on my own. After that, I found that a lot of the polyglots on Youtube motivated me to learn on my own. Watching videos of people like Luca Lampariello, Benny Lewis, Richard Simcott, and Moses McCormick really inspired me and helped me to believe that it was possible to learn a language well without sitting in a classroom to get there.

Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?
I think that even though none of my family or friends is interested in learning languages at all, they’ve been supportive of my interests in it.
When I want to watch a movie in Spanish, my wife is just fine with it if I have English subtitles on. My parents ask how my language learning is going, and my friends have been really encouraging since they know that it’s a priority for me.

Did you ever face a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?
One really hard moment for me was when I was on my honeymoon in Italy. I had only been learning Italian for a couple months and it was my first language that I was learning from scratch.
I got really frustrated not being able to understand what other people were saying and not being able to say what I wanted to say, and in that situation, I really didn’t overcome it. I just got so frustrated that I gave up.
That decision really changed the way I approached speaking when I went to the Dominican Republic this year. Even though I had a really hard time understanding the Dominican accent and struggled more than I’d like to when I was speaking, my attitude was totally different.
After every screw-up and every time that I didn’t understand someone, I just told myself, “Don’t get frustrated. You have to make thousands of mistakes on your way to being good at something.” Then I’d go and try to find the next situation where I could practice.

What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your lifehacks for that language?
Right now I’m focusing on Spanish. I’m interested in a lot of other languages, but I’m trying to restrain myself and focus on just one.
I try to practice in a lot of different ways. For example, I’ll talk to people on Skype, listen to podcasts or the radio in Spanish on my phone, read the news or blogs on topics I’m interested in in Spanish, etc.
I think that one of the most important things is consistency, so I try to challenge myself to learn as many days in a row as I can. I usually do one of two things to help me.
First is the Lift app (that you can download for free). You can keep track of your goals and it will tell you how many consecutive days you’ve gone, like saying that you’re on a 5-day streak of learning Spanish.
The second is just using plain paperclips. Every day that you practice or learn your target language, you would add another paperclip to the chain and see how long you can make it. When you miss a day, you have to start all over again, but I think it can really help to see that chain growing visually and make it a goal to grow it as long as you can.

Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you will not be able to learn it properly?
I’ve been interested in learning Swedish for a while even though I know it wouldn’t be useful at all in my daily life. My grandpa is 100% Swedish, so growing up, I always remember having Swedish foods on the holidays (and smelling the foods, like the stinky lutefisk that would smell up the whole house).
There really aren’t many opportunities to speak Swedish here in the United States, and I would have to actively search for ways to practice. That hasn’t made me any less interested though since I’m really interested in the culture, the literature, and just generally love the sound of the language.

Can you tell me a short, positive anecdote about your language learning history?
When I worked for the restaurant when I was younger, I was going through some relationship troubles at the time. For some reason, all the Spanish-speakers there used to like asking about my relationship (probably because it was like listening to a soap opera back then).
One day, I got into a conversation with Pepe, the dishwasher, where he decided he was going to solve all of my relationship problems. He told me about how I needed to surprise my girlfriend at her front door with roses and told me all the romantic words I needed to say. (“Mi amor… Te quiero mucho…”)
As we were standing there, one of my co-workers walked by and gave me this weird look. Then I stepped back and thought, “If I didn’t start learning Spanish, there’s no way I’d be standing back here, having a heart-to-heart conversation with Pepe while he gave me free love advice.”

Polish culture: Czesław Niemen

After a week filled with Polish-themed activities (I was invited to celebrate May 3rd at the Polish ambassador’s home) and life taking its toll on me, I am ready for another post. This time about one of my favourite solo musicians from Poland whose life is Poland in a nutshell, Czesław Niemen (1939 – 2004).


His surname was not Niemen, though. He was born as Czesław Wydrzycki in Stare Wasiliszki, in what is now Belarus. After the war, he went to a music primary school in Grodno, but in the 50’s, he had to move with his family to Gdańsk, where his career took off. After being in several local music festivals, he starts using his new stage surname (that would later become his official one, Niemen -after the Neman river near his hometown-).  He joined several bands in the 60’s, but his real succes would start when in 1967 he recorded Dziwny jest ten świat (Strange is This World) and managed to have strong recognition. A man dressed in traditional clothing mixing rock and roll and singing in Polish about social criticism but in a more uplifting mood than we would expect:

I mean would you resist to this?

Lecz ludzi dobrej woli jest więcej  – But there are more people of good will
i mocno wierzę w to,  – and I do strongly believe in the fact
że ten świat – that this world
nie zginie nigdy dzięki nim. – won’t never die due to them.
Nie! Nie! Nie! – No! No! No!
Przyszedł już czas, – The time has come,
najwyższy czas, – it’s high time
nienawiść zniszczyć w sobie. – to destroy the hatred within.

One of the most powerful lyrics I have heard, indeed. In the 70’s and 80’s, his albums became more experimental with jazz, electronica and other influeneces and he managed to travel around the world with his backing band or by himself. In the 90s, he even started learning to use a PC for graphic designing. Sadly, in 2004, he died after battling with Cancer in Warsaw. Nonetheless, he has become a milestone and the inspiration for many Polish musicians because of his versatility, style in clothing and music, lyrics and attitude.  I can see why.

There is a song that I really love from him in particular. Despite that my heart and mind are closer to Kraków than any other Polish city, this song about Warsaw makes me feel like I am walking through the old city or the parks near the Wisła and just watching the landscape. It has become an unofficial anthem of the city and the local football team, Legia Warszawa. That song is perfect for any day, even a cold and cloudy and one, like the one I am having today.

Kiedyś zatrzymam czas – I will stop time at once
I na skrzydłach jak ptak – and like a bird on its wings
Będę leciał co sił – I will fly with strength.
Tam, gdzie moje sny, – There, where my dreams are
I warszawskie kolorowe dni. – and the colourful days of Warsaw

Gdybyś ujrzeć chciał nadwiślański świt – If you would like to see the dawn at the Wisła
Już dziś wyruszaj ze mną tam – Start already today with me, there
Zobaczysz jak, przywita pięknie nas – You will see a nice welcome awaiting us
Warszawski dzień. – by a Warsaw day.

Do you know other artists with similar lifes or that have left a great mark in Musical History of your target language? Share with me and other people 😉 .

Interview with Elson from Learn Albanian Online

Welcome to a new week. As promised, this week’s interview will be with Elson Farka from Learn Albanian Online. Besides his studies in Nursing, he has made great efforts to show his native culture and language to the world, by creating an interesting website and by giving Free Albanian classes on Google Hangouts every now and then (by clicking on the link, you will see his latest class on Cinema). I once took part in his classes and the learning experience was excellent.

Here are his answers 🙂

1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your main occupation?
My name is Elson Farka. I live in Albania. I was born on March 18 and I study nursing in the Medical-Technical Sciences University in Tirana, Albania. I also work online as a teacher of the Albanian language and I quite enjoy it. My hobby is teaching, traveling, learning new languages and science.

2. How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?
On September 2012, I found out a website in which I could learn English language for free, 24/7. That time, I knew only Albanian language (native) and some English. I just wanted to practice it with native English speakers; and that website was the perfect one. I practiced English for around 7 months and my skills improved very much. I met many people and polyglots and I was inspired by them.

3. Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?
Yeah, they just keep asking:”How many languages are you learning?”. They are very supportive and they enjoy seeing me learning about new cultures and languages.

4. Did you ever face a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?
The hardest moment is when you meet someone who does not speak English or Albanian but he speaks the language that you just started studying or that you know the basics words. That is quite a funny moment. Or, there are moments that I really need to know a sentence in the language I am studying and what I do is ask my friends who are native to that language. They always help me.
5. What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your lifehacks for that language?
I am a native Albanian speaker. I have studied English language for over 5 years now; I know Spanish language and I often practice it with my Spanish speaking friends (Spanish is my favorite language ever); I have studied Italian language at school and I am an intermediate student on that language; I have studied Latin language at school also (because I study nursing) and some weeks ago I started studying Turkish language. It is quite interesting. In summer I am looking forward to study German also. I think that the best way to learn a language is by native speakers and everyday practice.
6. Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you will not be able to learn it properly?
I am highly interested in improving my Spanish skills and Turkish ones also. As long as I have my Spanish/Turkish native speaking friends all I need is some time to create a Google Hangout video conference and practice it.
7. Can you tell me a short, positive anecdote about your language learning history?
Hmmm, I can tell that I learned Spanish ONLY by watching TV (Spanish TV channels) and/or by speaking with native speakers. I never studied Spanish language before and I can easily have a normal conversation with a Spanish speaker.
Thanks Elson for the great answers 🙂