Lira Popular or learning languages and cultures through poetry and art


As someone who believes that history, culture, society go quite along with language and language learning, it is interesting to always be in the lookout for things people might not know and that might be interesting, not only to other learners, but natives as well.

Up until the 19th century, Chile was probably one of the most underdeveloped regions of the Spanish Empire. This meant that certain things were more relaxed, there were other influences that in other regions weren’t as strong or that news took their time to spread over there. Also, there was a high number of people who couldn’t read or write and access to education or high culture was limited. In fact, the first printing machine arrived to Santiago around the early 19th century. Before, most books were shipped from Spain, Peru (since it was the wealthiest and most important region of the Spanish Empire in South America), the US, the UK or France (carried by the elite who got their education or there or sold by pirates).

After its independence, Chile quickly caught up and print machines became more known. Still, there was a high number of illiterate people who couldn’t read or write. Their source of education was mostly informal: they would watch religious images in Church, they would watch religious plays during certain holidays or inform themselves of what happened in their country and the world by hearing people reading newspapers or so. One of the most popular sources of information for them was the Lira Popular: a simple newspaper that carried certain illustrations done in woodcarving and sensationalist news written in poem format. They were somehow like the tabloids of our time: supernatural news, crime news, religious celebrations or national holidays were their main topics. This style of making and printing news were inspired by Italy, Spain, Portugal or Brazil where they are known as “Cordel literature”.

This genre of poetry/art/journalism became popular in Chile by the last decades of the 19th century. The news followed a certain metric and rhyme that reminded people of Chilean folk music, they were easy to read and were often followed by illustrations. These newspapers were done by people who lived around the most rural/working class neighborhoods of Santiago and Valparaiso. This style of journalism waned by 1920, as people were starting to have more access to elementary education. From 2010, there has been great interest by scholars and the local academic community of preserving what’s left of Lira popular and many people have tried to retake the habit of woodcarving and use it for art or souvenirs, or for scholars, to analyze how the society saw things or what the perception was about women (since many of the verses talk about gender violence), religion, the Army, among other topics. Since 2013, the UNESCO recognized this genre as cultural heritage of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Personally, I think it is a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to these things as they can teach us more about language, culture or even art techniques that people thought they were lost, but they are aesthetically so pleasant. It is a great opportunity for people interested in history, sociology, gender studies, literature or visual arts to come together and compare their analyses regarding one thing. Curiously, I have a particular piece of news that I like, which is about protest regarding the price hike of tram tickets in Santiago, and inviting people to boycott the company. Considering the time it was written, it reminded me of Anarchism and how their thoughts lead, somehow, to creating tango music out of it. You can see how their rhymes work and the use of Bello’s spelling reform, which was widely used in Chile during that time.

You can read more about Lira Popular and check full files about it in these sites (in Spanish): Memoria Chilena, Archivo Bello from the University of Chile.
Do you know similar experiences to Lira Popular in the cultures you are interested? What did you think about it? Do you like reading about history of your target language through alternative sources? Please, let me know in the comments!

Interview with Artem Nazarov from

Today I am proud to feature an interview with one of my first followers of this blog. Artem is from Novosibirsk, Russia and runs the blog I have followed his learning process closely and I have been amazed by how far he has gone. I am quite confident he is doing a great work with a learning process he has adapted to his lifestyle and situation.

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

My name is Artem and I am a language enthusiast from Russia.

I am a student of International Relations and European Studies. I really love it. But this wasn’t my first choice. I had to make some efforts to find out what to do in my life. In a way, language learning helped me find my purpose.

Apart from my university studies, I love learning languages, practicing sports and getting to know people from all over the world. That’s why I worked in a local hostel.

My main job, for now, is my language learning blog (

The languages I speak now are Russian (native language), English, Italian, French, and Spanish. I am also learning German and Portuguese.

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

I was born and raised in an absolutely monolingual environment. Here in Russia, it’s not easy to encounter anyone who speaks English well, let alone multiple languages. So I never actually thought that someday I would be able to speak multiple languages. But I clearly remember the moment when my language learning journey began.

I was 19, the only foreign language I was able to speak was English. Back then, I went abroad for the first time. I have visited some European countries such as Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. It was an amazing experience. I was impressed by everything I saw.

I realized how cool discovering new cultures is. And what had the most impact on me was the Italian culture. I totally fell in love with it and when I returned home, without any hesitation I started to learn Italian.

This trip motivated me a lot, but it wasn’t the only motivator, so to speak. The other one was a very famous youtube polyglot who showed though his own example that speaking multiple languages is not only possible but could lead to an amazing lifestyle.

I am talking about Luca Lampariello. His native language is Italian, so I used his videos and articles to learn that beautiful language. It was very useful because I was not only learning Italian, but also fundamental language learning principles that I apply now.

That’s how I was deeply involved in an amazing lifestyle full of cultural discoveries and constant engagement with people from all over the world.

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

To be honest, nobody in my circle has ever shared my language interests. I mean, of course, all of them were supportive and very happy that I have such a great passion for languages. But I really was the only language enthusiast around.

However, thanks to the Internet and numerous language learning communities, I’ve always been in contact with people who are also into languages. So I’ve never felt alone in that sense.

Have you ever faced a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?

When I was learning Romance languages, I never had any difficulties, lack of motivation or anything like that. I’ve never given up on my language learning before. I thought it would always will be like that. How naive I was…haha.

One day, I decided to learn German. And here my biggest language learning challenge began. I knew that it was going to be harder than all the other languages I’ve been learning before, but I wasn’t ready for German. I was so relaxed after learning 3 Romance languages in a row, that I forgot that to learn a language one should actually make some efforts.

The first difficulty with learning German was that I had no basic vocabulary in common with other languages at the start, which is not the case when learning multiple Romance languages.

The second difficulty was German grammar, which also has nothing to do with both my native Russian or any of the languages I had learned before.

Third, I had a lack of motivation caused by the fact that I couldn’t understand and speak the language for a long time.

And lastly, I just didn’t know how to approach such a complex language.

That’s why after a couple of months of learning German I quit, for the first time. I switched to Portuguese which turned out to be the easiest language I’ve ever learned so far. Fortunately, after a couple of weeks of my break, I began to learn German again.

Although I can’t say that I’ve overcome it, the fact that I try to do something to learn German on a daily basis convinces me that one day I’ll finally reach the level I’m aiming for.

What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your methods or “secrets” for that language?

As I mentioned earlier, the languages I am interested in right now are German and Portuguese. And, of course, the way I approach them is not the same.

Portuguese is the 4th Romance language I’ve been learning. So it is very easy and I don’t really learn it, in the sense we used to call it, I’d rather say I use it.

Mainly, what I do to learn Portuguese is, first of all, listening to podcasts every day. I’ve found an amazing show called «Café Brasil». Second, is speaking with native speakers at least once a week.

Less frequently, I write in Portuguese on and I read some article on the web. I call this approach to language learning natural and I am happy that it gets more popular with language learners. It’s a lot of fun and stress-free. But it works when you already have the basic knowledge.

As for German, I use a completely different method. Listening to podcasts and waiting till I start to understand everything doesn’t work here. Speaking with natives neither. Focusing on Grammar will only make matters worse. So what I do is translating. It worked out with French and it’s going to work with German as well.

So I’ve got a book with authentic texts for beginners and intermediate students. It has both translations and audio files recorded by native speakers.

I try to first figure out what the word means from the context, then I look it up on Google translate. Then, I read it sentence by sentence listening to the recording and trying to imitate the pronunciation and intonation.

That’s going to build the vocabulary I’ll need to understand native speech. It will help to work on my pronunciation and also to learn grammar in a passive way.

What counts most when it comes to language learning is not so much the method you use, as the attitude. If you like the learning process and you practice it every day, you’ll certainly end up speaking that language.

From my experience, to reach basic fluency, meaning that you are comfortable with communicating on non-specialized topics, it takes about 6-10 months, depending on how far the target language is from your native one.

My «secret» to learning languages is first being in contact with the language in any possible way you can. Second, attack the language from different sides (listening, reading, speaking, writing). Third, don’t skip your language learning two days in a row.

Be consistent, patient, and creative. Then, you’ll become a successful language learner.

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

I was recently thinking about the languages I would like to learn in the future. I counted about 13 languages, among them are the most difficult ones like Chinese and Arabic.

Of course, I don’t pretend to learn all of these languages up to a native-like level, it would be impossible. I am ok with making mistakes. It’s normal and I am not aiming for perfection, I am aiming for the amazing experience I get from the communication with native speakers in their own language.

The difficulty of the language, lack of materials or any other obstacle shouldn’t deprive us of the cool experience we get from learning a new language.

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

When I was learning Spanish, I used to hang out with Colombians a lot. We spoke entirely in Spanish, no Russian, though they spoke some of it.

One day, they took me to a salsa class full of guys from Latin America. I talked to one of them. I wanted to ask him if he was from Colombia as my friends were. But instead of saying «¿Eres de Colombia?» (Are you from Colombia?) I said «Soy de Colombia» (I am from Colombia). We had a chat for a couple of minutes and then my Russian friend came to me. Of course, I responded to him in Russian.

The guy I was talking to before said to me «¡Vaya! ¡Hablas ruso sin acento!» (Wow! You speak Russian without any accent!). And I realized that I have just come across as a «Colombiano». I explained to him that I made a mistake and we laughed. It was such an unusual and fun experience. I’ll never forget that moment!

[RECAP] Learning Polish while living in Chile

Originally, I had another post in mind for this week, but after things that happened by the end of the week, I decided to write something more personal.

Polish learning

It has been about 2 years since I started learning Polish [CLICK HERE FOR MY REASONS WHY I CHOSE POLISH]. To be honest, I was quite anxious when starting it. Especially because of those things you see online about this language: people claim it is one of the hardest languages of the world, that rules do not make sense, that few natives master it properly, among other claims.

Honestly, most of those claims were 100% lies (and even more confirmed after reading the background of such people). Yet, Polish isn’t an easy language. Especially when living far away from Poland, thus access to Polish media, Poles or even going to Poland every now and then is hard. Many people have told me that it’d be a better and safer choice to study German, French or Mandarin Chinese since the chances of finding native or advanced speakers of these languages in Chile are bigger than the ones of finding people speaking Polish. Curiously, I did learn some French and German back then, and one of the things that discouraged me of keep learning it was not having the chance to use these languages outside the classroom. Back then tandem sites were not as popular as now and several people preferred to use English or Spanish rather than other languages.

However, Polish keeps surprising me somehow. I *have* used Polish at work, I use it online on a daily basis, I take some time to read articles or listen to Polish radio and two days ago, I was invited to the local celebrations of the Polish national day at the Polish Embassy in Santiago for the second time in a row. Probably, I haven’t used and heard that much Polish since my last holiday to Hungary, where I would hang out and stay with Poles and often switched to Polish for a long while. Yes, it feels weird to speak a foreign language in your country and out in the street, but… I liked that sensation. I took it as a good test on my language skills. Sure, I need to still work on my numbers (but then, numbers in any language are a problem for me -no wonder I studied Humanities-), prepositions, certain verbs, remembering important words… yet, I am feeling more confident in Polish just by looking behind and seeing what I have achieved.

In comparison to other languages I have learned in the past, Polish has made me feel more complete (maybe it was because of my first experience with the language and I felt like if I were part of a community) and probably it is the reason why I put plenty of effort with it. Some people would already have given up when studying the first declension case or when trying to make the distinction between sz and ś [which I am working with it as always]… yet, the Polish community online and offline is quite welcoming in general. Yes, they are at first surprised, shocked and they won’t understand why I am so determined to learn the language. My answer will always be switching to Polish immediately and use other languages only in extreme situations. After that, believe me, it’ll be hard to stop using Polish and switching to another language with them. You’ll be corrected many times, yet they will feel that they are part of your learning process.

If I were to say anything to future language learners, polyglots or so, it would be to indeed follow your intuition with your language learning process while picking what to learn. Motivation and your genuine interest for the language and culture can make you do wild things out of your comfort zone you’d never expect and it’d be more useful for several aspects of your life than following what other people claim to say it is best for you to learn.

Have you learned an unusual language for the part of the world you are currently living in? How did you feel before and after the decision? Please, share your impressions in the comments!