Maximize your Month: July

Lindsay from Lindsay Does Languages gave me the great idea to join Maximize your Month, as a way to motivate myself easier for this blogging month that is going to be 100% hectic and fun!


  • Learn basic Hungarian phrases: I am going to Hungary for 2 weeks in mid July since I got a scholarship from the Hungarian Government for a modern history course in Debrecen. I found out about 2 weeks ago so I have been focusing on the planning for that trip. Hungarian isn’t among my target languages, but I do believe that I have to learn some basic and simple phrases to move around with no bigger issues. I already have someone who will correct my pronounciation and I have been using YouTube to learn phrases and of course, music! I will be in Berlin for 2 nights and then in Hungary for the rest of it.
  • Practicing my Polish during my trip! I hope to meet Polish speakers during my trip so I can hold casual conversations in Polish. If not, look for Language Exchange Groups in the cities I will be staying and practicing Polish 🙂 . I am already mastering miejscownik!
  • Participate on this month’s #IGLC. The #iglc is an Instagram-based language challenge hosted by Lindsay and this month, I am curating it 😀 So, of course, I need to take part of it 🙂 You can look at the rules on the link given and my IG handle is

Maximize Your Month Linkup Rules:

1. Share your goal post whether it includes your aspirations for the month or year. Submissions unrelated to the theme or links to your homepage will be deleted.

2. Link back to this post. You can use our button if you wish.

3. Follow the hosts: Esther from Local Adventurer, Hsiao-Ting from Shouting Chow, Mariah from Food, Booze & Baggage, Lindsay from Lindsay Does Languages, and Shannon from Eurolinguiste.

4. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE: Please visit the site of the person who linked up immediately before you and leave them an encouraging comment! By hosting this linkup, we’re hoping to create a positive community where we can all share our goals. If you do not do this, you will be removed from the linkup.

Maximize Your Month

Cultural approaches to languages

I guess that every language learn must have faced the awkward comment from an acquaintance about learning “useful” languages and that you are probably wasting time learning about cultures and languages that are not popular at all in your part of the world. It is one of the things that irritate me the most regarding languages. I have already learned to give strong arguments to fight back such comments, but I would like to share an interview from Catalunya Ràdio to Ioannis Ikonomou, the European Commision translator (and a great Facebook friend!). It is in Catalan and Spanish and you may listen to it from ca. minute 31 🙂 .

In this interview, Ioannis gives important pieces of advice to any learner and that I happen to agree 100% with his views. He invites people to really immerse themselves in the languages they are learning, consume media in the target language and that your best language teachers don’t have to be people with fancy degrees or so, but everyday people and be exposed to as many different settings and contexts as possible (from people who are heavily discriminated by their society to more mainstream contexts). Also, he sees languages as opportunities to break down prejudices and misconceptions from your own society, thus deconstructing a narrative strong in many countries which is “my country is the best and other countries may be okay but not as good as mine”.

Coming from a country in which there are many misconceptions regarding Central and Eastern Europe (due to a strong Cold War rhetoric that still lives on the Chilean political discourse), I remember the crap I got when I started traveling to Poland and even when I started taking Polish lessons. From describing Poland as a dangerous and lawless place, a gloomy one to saying that Poles are “all dumb” (source: old films or “Polish jokes”). Curiously all of those bad comments made me even more curious and be even more willing to get in touch with the culture. Mind you, my intention is not to sugarcoat Polish culture and society. I am well aware of the many problems of the society, yet being aware of them can work great as an exercise of selfdiscovery. Suddenly, we have similar problems in our socities and that random person on the street you approached can be just as a great teacher of the language (and experiences) than your regular teacher. Curiously enough, I have never wanted to stay in hotel or hostel in Poland. I have stayed at friends (and their parents)’ homes or I have rented an apartment at a residential neighbourhood and that has improved my interest to learn about the culture or language. Interacting with people on a daily basis in a language I am learning and sometimes having to talk about topics I have never thought I could talk in Polish and being understood made me feel more confident on my choice. It became a great boostup that I saw, for example, the rude-looking lady at the underground kiosk in Warsaw wishing me a good day or that a Pole thanked me because an Italian tourist was trying to talk to him and she didn’t know Polish or English.

You never know when a language can be useful. I am big believer that no language is useless, however it is up to you on how you can use them on your daily life. This might be weird, but I have managed to used Polish twice at work.

Speech therapy, acting exercises and languages

When I was younger, I had a huge speech problem. I barely talked and didn’t know certain cues that affected my fluency in my native language. Non verbal language, fillers or other cues to indicate attention were huge problems during my childhood. Nonetheless, I have managed to overcome most of them with learning about other cultures and languages (the advantages is that you can actually learn them from books or teachers, unlike your native one!) and in my native context, with a speech therapist.

Most people have reluctancy to go on such therapy since it usually involves a multidisciplinary focus in which other specialists work together and also the word “therapy” for some people implies medication. In some instances, that can be needed, but speech therapists cannot medicate. Instead they work with the person on one-on-one sessions and practice, practice and practice. They work a lot with relaxation, breathing, mouth or even hand excercises in order for their patients to overcome their speech problems, which can be quite different regarding the person. In fact, many actors, actresses and singers do take coaching with speech therapists in order to get better roles, to talk louder without having sore throats every time or even when they need to work on a role that requires a different dialect or a language. Also voice actors do work with them a lot.

I must say that before certain recorded interviews, Skype sessions or oral assesments, I often do those excercises to relax my mouth, to breathe properly and project my voice without wasting it in order to gain more fluency, feel relaxed and natural while speaking. Youtube has plenty of videos in order to work on those goals: voice warm up excercises, accent excercises, logopedic, speech therapy or even a certain exercise regarding a tough phoneme can help you out in the path to fluency. Also, body language is just as important as learning verbal language. There are also videos or graphics explaining you expected fillers, tips or how to greet or approach people, friends or partners in different cultures and contexts.

Sure, most of us can get really nervous on oral assesments or questions that we may get asked in a language we are learning, but there are tips that may help you in almost all languages, and I will repeat them here (they are no rocket science):

  • Don’t be afraid to ask to hear the question again!
  • Use your time wisely in case you have to answer quickly. Try to move on if you get stuck on a phrase and do not repeat it (try to do that on your head).
  • In order to avoid repeating a particular word or phrase so that you can go back to the idea you have on your head, use fillers to rephrase or go back to the idea you were talking about. Keep a list of them at hand and try to memorize them because they are great lifesavers.
  • Pauses need to be limited with those fillers, otherwise your speaker might bore him/herself or might not remember the things you were talking about in the beginning.
  • And before answering, it is okay to take a deep breath 😀

Have you got any good tips to become more fluent? Have you tried speech therapy when learning a language or dialect? Do you know any YouTube channels by speech therapists that might be helpful for language learners? Share them on the comments!

Working with languages online: value your knowledge!

This post will be more of an invitation to reflect on a certain issue that I have been thinking over and over, and it is quite important for any person who works, is willing to work or wants to hire someone in the language and writing business, whether as a translator, copywriter, proofreader or teaching a language: money.

One of my future goals is taking a certification on teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language, thus I am already taking baby steps towards it: I moderate a Spanish practice group, I have been reading about my own language’s grammar and other aspects. I do think I have a good background from both school and university, since I always ranked best in such skills in different assesments. I feel the same thing with English. I feel at ease writing in this language and I hope to write more elaborated texts in Polish soon. However, I still get some messages from random people hoping to learn Spanish or getting long texts proofread… for free and at their own schedules.

My biggest concern is actually having a fulltime job and other responsibilities to attend, thus working for free and at a schedule that might interrumpt my job or other responsibilities is a personal problem. Those kind of jobs do take time. In order to be a teacher, you need to devote time to planning your classes (an ignored reality by many people), creating and evaluating assesments for your students, looking for the best methods to engage them and create rapport, among other valued skills (in fact, teachers in Chile are now fighting to get those hours they spend at home marking and planning paid or do them, at least, on work hours). In order to translate or proofread, you need to have a great command of at least 2 languages and in technical fields. You need to compenetrate the author’s mind and see what he or she really wanted to write, compare and contrast different words in technical dictionaries, know the target of your audience well, among other factors. All of those preparations need time and knowledge. Thus, whenever I get such offers, I must put a price to my spare time from work. Some people, especially in my country, do not acknowledge the hard work people put on learning languages: the money my parents or I have spent on professional teachers, traveling, books, dictionaries and of course, staying up to date with the latest language trends and spelling reforms which are time consuming. In fact, they think languages aren’t real professions in comparison to others that have more relevance.

The Internet has in fact revolutionized the access to knowledge, indeed. You can start learning languages on the Internet for free, up to a level in which you can begin to understand how it works and so. There is plenty of educated native and fluent speakers willing to be your language partners for free (keeping in mind you both have lives and that you have to schedule your meetings yourselves). People all over the world share their tips and motivate other people to learn languages. However, that does not mean they can do anything else for free. Most of the time, they do it because those are things you already know or they are of general knowledge, but they spice it up and add a personal value or experience to it, enough to make you connect and motivate yourself. It is not rocket science, but contribuiting to create or spark interest out of a blogpost or so. Plus, be aware of tempting free methods that may be either faulty or that they have limited functionalities that can be unlocked by paying extra. As much as we would love to, some things aren’t paid with Facebook likes or nice words. Of course, as Kerstin and Brian have written, you do not have to spend millions on learning, but look around and compare and contrast. You don’t have to be a penny pincher in your learning.

As for people working with languages who are reading this, graphic designers have already created awareness about how valuable their knowledge is, thus it should be paid ethically in case you are working for a business who will profit from your work (heads up to the No!Spec campaign). This post was made to create awareness about your preparation and thinking it is okay to charge for your work, since you have invested not only money, but valuable time on your knowledge and preparation. It is not something you got out of a hat or Google Translate. Of course, internships and voluntary positions at NGOs are another thing.

Have you had a bad experience with people asking you to do a professional job for free? How we can create more awareness about how valuable language-related jobs are?

Nie pytaj mnie… Don’t ask me!

Last night I got my results back from my latest Polish exam (the first time actually I have a speaking part on my exams!) and my lovely teacher Monika (who, by the way, she has a really good blog about Chile and Latin America in Polish, gave my classmate Tomek and I a task… translating a Polish song into Spanish to analyze its meaning. This song had a different name on the handout she gave us to create false expectations, but we did know the actual musician who performed it. One of the Kings of Polish Rock music, Grzegorz Ciechowski. He started in Republika and had a side project under the nickname “Obywatel G. C.”  (Citizen G. C.). His lyrics in both projects were highly contestatarian and thought-provoking regarding the society in Poland during both the PRL and its latter times (things that really interest me). However, this song was product of a lot of speculation at my class and I even invented an intense story out of it:

To nie karnawał – It is not a carnival
ale tańczyć chcę – but I want to dance
i będę tańczył z nią po dzień – and I am going to dance with her until sunrise

To nie zabawa – She is not fun
ale bawię się – but I enjoy myself
bezsenne noce, senne dnie – Sleepless nights, sleepy days

To nie kochanka – She is not my lover
ale sypiam z nią – but I sleep with her
choć śmieją ze mnie się i drwią – Despite they laugh at me and mock

Taka zmęczona – So tired
i pijana wciąż – and constantly drunk
dlatego nie – that is why

Nie pytaj więcej mnie – Don’t ask me once again

Nie pytaj mnie – Don’t ask me
dlaczego jestem z nią – why I am with her
nie pytaj mnie – Don’t ask me
dlaczego z inną nie – Why I am not with someone else
nie pytaj mnie – Don’t ask me
dlaczego myślę, że… – why I think
że nie ma dla mnie innych miejsc – that there are not other places for me

Nie pytaj mnie – Don’t ask me
co ciągle widzę w niej – what I constantly see on her
nie pytaj mnie  – Don’t ask me
dlaczego w innej nie – Why I don’t see that on some else
nie pytaj mnie – Don’t ask me
dlaczego ciągle chcę – Why I constantly want to
zasypiać w niej i budzić się – Fall asleep on her and wake up

Te brudne dworce – Those dark stations
gdzie spotykam ją – where I see her
te tłumy, które cicho klną – Those crowds that quietly curse

Ten pijak, który mruczy coś przez sen – That drunkard, who murmurs something while sleeping
że póki my żyjemy – ona żyje też – that as long as we live, she lives too…
Thing is, this song isn’t about a woman, a random hookup, or a prostitute…


I was shocked, to say the least. That song really interpreted my struggle and feelings towards learning and being acquainted with Poland. If I had at least one cent for every person who have told me not to study Polish and not to travel to Poland because of “bad things happening there”, “a sad and gloomy place” or “being a poor country”… I would have already bought a good plane ticket or financed my education in Poland!

This decision wasn’t easy at all. Breaking down prejudices and misleaded conceptions aren’t a child’s game and you need to deeply analyze and deconstruct other people’s opinions or stereotypes (curiously, from people who have never been in Poland or met a Pole) with strong arguments or even not letting them get too involved with your decisions. Yet, I was at a stage of my life that I really wanted to do things that make me happy somehow and I am not regretting this decision. Meeting wonderful people, learning to accept people and myself by who we really are, with flaws, weaknesses and assuming that life is far from being picture perfect, but life is what you make of it. You can be a great person by acknowledging your flaws.


Take it easy! (or why it is important to be organized in language learning)

No one said learning would be an easy thing. More than one time, you will try to give up your learning because you forgot the word for “glass”, “learn” or even the simplest correction or feedback from a language partner will hurt you like if you were insulted by him or her.

Bad days do happen when you learn a language. It isn’t a sugarcoated process. Even more when you have responsibilities beyond language learning: work, studies, home, family, loved ones, friends, et al. However, since those days happen, there are several tips to help fight them and gain your motivation quickly.

  1. Focus on quality rather than quantity of knowledge. I know many friends who love learning using flashcards and counting the words they learn per day.  They are quite helpful to memorize if you have a visual memory, but the problem is having to look it up again and again until you internalize them somehow on your mind, thus forgetting them easily. So, why not take the long way? Reinforce your knowledge of vocabulary and grammar with music and videos… even with the help of YouTube or other media content sites :). Don’t try to count your knowledge every day by its quantity as in “oh, I have to learn 100 words every day!”, but allow yourself for “I will do 30-45 minutes of informal language learning every day”. It doesn’t matter if you learn one word or 50, but you would probably learn the many uses of one word or a verb.
  2. Play with your schedule. You have a life which is just as important as your language learning. Several days you will come home tired, exhausted or even feel sick. So, take a cheat day and focus on completely different things or get yourself back together. Cheat days are important to let yourself rest properly and do not feel bad about it. Maybe every 7-14 days would be a good rate for a cheat day, but that depends mainly on your daily obligations.
  3. Combine methods! Language learning must never be a rut. Look for information that might interest you or related to your deep interests that might be more motivating. You don’t have to read and listen to very basic information or boring dialogues from your textbook or the ones you found online. Probably a good music article or news radio piece might help. Do not worry about understanding 100% at first, but have fun and repeat, reread or look the word on your friendly dictionary. You will probably remember that word better by being exposed it in a more regular setting. Change your learning routines constantly and spice them up.
  4.  Do not cram tons of languages in your learning! Sure, I love learning and being acquainted with people who learn multiple languages, but they probably don’t have your exact same schedule and obligations. Know your schedule wisely and do not burn yourself out looking for recognition or just brag about your knowledge. The attention is great, but your health must come first and knowing your limits is important. You can also disappoint yourself easier if you cram a lot of learning in one sitting and of course, with not much instance of practicing and without priorizing your knowledge. Make a mental priority order and organize yourself.

Remember that there is a nice saying in the Spanish speaking world:

Quien mucho abarca poco aprieta

Do not bite off more that you can chew

Do not ever feel pressured by your language learning and habits, and always take it easy! The best thing is knowing yourself how responsible are you and that language learning should be a nice experience overall.

Do you have other pieces of advice when you have a tough moment in language learning? Share them in the comments!

Pop culture and language: a never ending relationship

I had to work last Sunday and then continue working this week (as I took the day off after my birthday), so I have been constantly tired and wanting to go home. As I would say in Chile:

Tengo el síndrome Yuma (I have the Yuma syndrome)

Anyone who is outside Chile might not understand this and would ask me What is Yuma syndrome? Is it a bad thing? Can you transmit it? No, it is not an actual syndrome. It is just another expression to say “I want to go home” and it was coined after a popular early 90’s Brazilian telenovela aired in Chile. When Democracy came back, the strict censorship in Chile became more lenient and we managed to see more freedom on our tv screens, included more adult-themed telenovelas, like Pantanal. This was a telenovela about a woman (Yuma Marrua) raised as a feral child and who is thought to become a pantera at night. She lived in the Pantanal region of Southwest Brazil and quickly gets in conflict (and falls in love) with the local farm owner’s family son. Thing is, in the Spanish dubbing, Yuma would often say “Me quiero ir pa’ mi caaaasa” (I wanna go hooome). The phrase became popular in Chile and you would often hear her expression or hear that your colleague or friend “is feeling like Yuma”.

Pop culture does shape language and give us a plethora of expressions that people will never forget and foreigners would feel it is a good instance to learn about the culture and cultural references of the new environment and have a laugh or two. Again, in Chile, there is another expression coined after a telenovela, and this time Chilean. In 1995, there was a telenovela called Sucupira, set in a lost beach resort in Central Chile. One of the inhabitants was the local chemist who loved his wife, Olguita Marina. However, she felt trapped in that village and quite disappointed with her marriage. So, she would often pass out and about to faint, so she had to go “away” to catch some air… thing is, she left her home for days, weeks or months to party and have all the fun she could never had with her husband. So, if you are really disappointed at your current life and wanting to party wild, let your hair loose and have fun, you might be having the “Olguita Marina syndrome“. In fact, on many Facebook pages women demand for that syndrome to be covered by the national healthcare act 😉 .

There are also good examples in other cultures and languages (Thanks Polyglots group from Facebook!)

In the US (and many countries around the world), MacGyver was a popular pop culture reference due to being an adventurous man who always came up with solutions with what he had in hand… no wonder you can say in English, “oh, he MacGyver’ed a solution”. (thanks Richard). In Russia and former USSR countries, one of the most popular birthday greetings comes from the local version of Winnie the Pooh (Винни-Пух) which goes like this (thanks Tatyana):

Also, the Spanish speaking world have really interesting references. Many people say you weren’t raised speaking Spanish at home if you don’t know Chespirito and his character “El Chavo del Ocho”. He was a Mexican humorist that had a popular TV show about a working class neighbourhood in Mexico City and the leading character was “El Chavo” (The Kid in Mexican Spanish), an orphan who would often get in trouble by being naïf and silly, but he was always loved by his neighbourhood. Thanks to him, many expressions were coined and that are popular in the Spanish speaking world (thanks Hugo):

“Fue sin querer queriendo” (It wasn’t my fault)

“Tengo más hambre que el Chavo” (I’m more hungry than Chavo -since he loved to eat-)

In Spain, if you are often daydreaming or you are unrealistically optimist, you are said to live in the worlds of Yupi (estar en los mundos de Yupi), thanks to a local late-80’s show about an orange muppet who lived in a small town and was always positive about everything. In Chile, we use a similar expression, but with the brands of two sodas (Bilz y Pap) who often feature two aliens living in today’s world (Thanks Abel).

All of those expressions can spark a chuckle and deep respect from the locals, since you know well their pop culture and you are acquainted with it. Of course, I cannot finish this post with my favourite pop culture expression that was coined after a fight between an Argentinean and a Chilean reality show contestants, who after one of them found out her boyfriend cheated on her with the other, slaps her and the Argentinean contest replies by saying this “insult” (O’Higgins and San Martín would have been proud of this moment of Argentinean-Chilean unity)

¡Gorda lechona, andá a comerte los postres, gorda! (Fat pig, go eat the desserts, fatty!)

What first started as an insult, now it’s an expression to use when you are eating too much or when you eat something delicious yet that makes you fat. Don’t feel bad when your friends call you “Gordo lechón”, then, because most often, they do call themselves like that, too!

Have you got more similar expressiones coined after pop culture? Share them in the comments 😀