[Video] Entrevista a Carlos Reyes – Periodista chileno y profesor de hebreo

[Post in Spanish since the interview is in that language]

Nuevamente, les tengo una entrevista que grabé hace un tiempo con un compatriota mío que reside actualmente en Perú, Carlos Reyes. Él es periodista y profesor de idiomas (de inglés y hebreo), cuya historia de vida es muy interesante debido a que ha aprendido un idioma poco común, el hebreo, sin siquiera tener una conexión fuerte con la cultura de Israel. Él también maneja una página de Facebook en la que se traducen canciones al hebreo llamada Tazinu (y que les invito a seguir).

He aquí la entrevista:


Taking notes in Chile: a good way to speed up knowledge

It’s been about a month since I went back to University as a student. I haven’t been a regular student since I got my Bachelor’s degree in December 2011, so going back to a study rhythm in which I have to do projects, turn in papers or tasks and take notes (along with working fulltime)… hasn’t been easy (though I won’t deny that… I love being back at University! I like my classes and the environment over there).

Considering that most of my lectures last for more than 120 minutes, it can be tiresome to keep yourself focused and take notes of what my professors are saying. They often talk about so many topics in a short span of time that I don’t know what to write first or by the time I finished a sentence, my professor talks about something unrelated to the first point. In those moments, you have to be an efficient notetaker and luckily, I learned how to use abbreviations and symbols while taking notes.

Around 5th-6th grade my Spanish teacher taught me (and my class) how to be more efficient with note-taking for personal use (that is to say you cannot use them in any kind of formal document, essay, test or exam) through abbreviations. Most of those abbreviations are formed because of Logics, Maths, Science or even… how words sound. They are highly helpful while taking notes in a rush and from there, you can also create your own abbreviations or shortcuts, depending on your interests (for example, since I study humanities, Churches as institution have a small church drawing to save time).

In order to help you to be acquainted with symbols and abbreviations used for note-taking, I’ve made a short list that you can download and use it, in order to practice and take faster notes in Spanish (at least in Chile) or whenever your Chilean friend lends you his/her notes 😉

Download full size version HERE.

Do you use such abbreviations in your native or target language? Do they help you to take notes faster? Share your experience in the comments section!

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!

El voseo en Chile y porqué no es “mal castellano”

Post originalmente publicado acá. Traducido por el autor.

Debido a varias peticiones, he decidido traducir mi artículo sobre el voseo en Chile, que llama mucho la atención a quiénes aprenden el castellano como también hablantes nativos interesados en Chile.

Muchos de ustedes ya conocen que para la segunda persona singular, el castellano hace la distinción entre la variante formal e informal: usted y tú (nótese que sólo usted lleva mayúscula al inicio cuando es abreviado, es decir Ud. y el resto con minúscula). Sin embargo, muchos variantes y dialectos utilizan el voseo parcialmente o completamente reemplazando a tú. Las dos grandes regiones que han reemplazado al tú por el voseo en casi todas las ocasiones (sino completamente) son la del Río de la Plata (Argentina, Uruguay y Paraguay) y América Central (Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador y Honduras). Sin embargo, hay también zonas en donde el voseo convive con el tú debido a diferentes razones. Una de ellas es mi país de origen, Chile.

Pese a que gran parte de la comunicación escrita en Chile utiliza tú (con la excepción de la publicidad apuntada a jóvenes, y solamente hace unos años), mucha gente utiliza oralmente el voseo en casa, con amigos o en muchas interacciones informales. Ya que tú y vos viven juntos, muchas de las conjugaciones también son diferentes a las otras regiones voseantes. No obstante, la conjugación el voseo chileno llega a ser intuitiva y con una lógica fácil de seguir.

La típica conjugación regular es de la siguiente manera:

Voseo 4

Ya que el castellano es una lengua que evita utilizar pronombres personales salvo para énfasis, mucha gente no utiliza la palabra vos. Además, ya que el castellano chileno hace gran uso de las aspiraciones de la s, los verbos en voseo están escritos de diferentes maneras. Y aquí viene la parte triste:

Por muchos años, la sociedad chilena ha tenido una autopercepción negativa de cómo hablan. Muchos lingüistas le han echado la culpa a las políticas educacionales del siglo XIX ya que sostenían que la lengua debía estar estandarizada para crear una identidad nacional única y homogénea (ya que se debía construir un estado-nación). Esto creó una mirada negativa sobre lo que ya existía lingüísticamente: palabras provenientes de las lenguas indígenas, el desarrollo del voseo, aspiraciones y otras características. Pese a que ellas se han mantenido en el tiempo y la gente las utiliza en casa o con amigos, en situaciones públicas o con figuras de autoridad cerca, se cambiaba de inmediato a un registro más estándar. Todo esto fue la percepción hegemónica y fue reforzada en los 70 y 80 (cuando miro programas de televisión chilenos de aquel entonces, siento que la manera de hablar suena “poco natural”). Desde los 90, ha comenzado un lenta, pero constante toma de conciencia sobre el castellano chileno, con una mirada positiva y usándolo en medios de comunicación y en la mayoría de contextos, pero usándolo bien. Gran parte de la publicidad para jóvenes utiliza el voseo y su uso oral (en televisión y radio) es muy común. Lamentablemente, todavía no ha sido estandarizado en escrito debido a esa percepción negativa, pero estoy seguro y espero presenciar que el voseo sea completamente aceptado y estandarizado en su variante escrita.

Las reglas del voseo chileno se pueden resumir en 3 puntos:

Voseo 5

Como ya he dicho, debido a una percepción negativa y el poco uso de los pronombres personales, la gente en Chile evita usar vos, salvo en ciertos contextos, como al estar enojado con alguien o mientras uno bromea con amigos. Tanto el tono como el contexto pueden informarte sobre esto. Para evitar decir vos, mucha gente reemplaza el pronombre vos por tú. Así, mucha gente diría (tú) tenís, (tú) sentís y no (vos) tenís ni (vos) sentís al utilizar voseo, para evitar ofender a alguien.

Para ya terminar esto, les adjunto un dato curioso sobre el voseo. Debido a todo lo anterior, ¿qué opinarían si les digo que el verbo ser puede tener hasta 5 formas de decirlo en la segunda persona singular informal? ¡Probablemente es uno de los pocos verbos que tiene 3 conjugaciones y que al combinarlas te dan 5 formas! En la imagen a continuación, verán cómo se conjuga y usa, desde la manera más estándar al inicio y la manera que quizás quieras evitar en la mayoría de contextos al final.


Como diría el lingüista chileno Darío Rojas: “Hablar bien consiste en ser ubicado”.

¿Cuáles son sus percepciones del voseo? ¿Han experimentado percepciones negativas de algunas palabras o variantes en su proceso de aprendizaje de idiomas? ¡Compartan sus impresiones en los comentarios!

Y si les interesa aprender más sobre el castellano, pueden contactarme en italki.

Voseo in Chile and why it isn’t “Wrong Spanish”

As you may have seen, once a month there will be a post about Spanish language and certain pecularities that might call the attention of learners and potential ones. This time I’ll get quite personal and devote this post to my own local variety and one of its more evident features: voseo.

Sure, you might have learned that for the second person singular, Spanish makes the distinction between formal and informal register: Usted and tú (note: only Usted has capital letters). However, several dialects also have voseo partially or completely replacing tú. The two biggest regions that have replaced it in most circumstances and even use it in mainstream advertising are the River Plate one (Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay) and Central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras). However, there are other regions in which voseo lives along with tú due to different reasons. One of them is my country, Chile.

Despite the fact that most written things are done in tú (with the exception of advertisement targeted to younger audiences, and only recently), most people will use voseo at home, with friends or in several informal settings. Also, due that tú and vos live along, even the conjugations are different to the other voseo regions. However, the conjugation becomes quite intuitive and follows a certain logic that is easy to grasp.

The typical, regular conjugations will be, then:

Voseo (2)

Since Spanish is a pro-drop language, most people would avoid saying pronouns as much as they can. Also, Chilean Spanish is well known for aspiration of most s’s, thus you may see voseo written in many ways. And now, here comes the sad part:

For a long time, Chilean society had had a negative perception of its own variety. Many linguists and academics have blamed 19th century educational policies for this, which held that language had to be standarized at any cost, in order to create a single, national and homogenous identity (since a nation-state had to be constructed). This created a negative perception of what used to be there linguistically: loan words from indigenous languages, the development of voseo, aspiration, among other features. Despite many people would use all of these at home or with friends, in public situations with someone of a higher hierarchy nearby, people would tend to use a more standarized feature of the language. That was the mainstream perception, even when mass media arrived to Chile and it was well fostered during the 70s and 80s (whenever I watch old Chilean shows from that time, I feel the language sounds “not natural”). Since the 90s, there has been a slow, but steady process of accepting these features in media and in mainstream society, but using it well. Many adverts targeted to young people use it and it is quite frequent to use it in oral media (locally produced television or radio). To my and many fellow learners’ disgrace, it has yet to be standarized in written language due to the previous perception I have mentioned, but I am quite determined and hopeful that one day, the negative perception of voseo will be dumped and it’d be accepted and standarized in written form.

The rules of when to use voseo in Chile are summarized in these 3 points:

Voseo (1)

As I’ve said before, both due to pro-drop and a previous negative perception, people in Chile avoid to say vos as much as they can, unless in special situations, such as when they are very angry at someone or when teasing among friends. Again, the tone and context can tell you plenty of this. To avoid that and still use voseo, many people would replace the pronoun vos for tú. Thus, most people will say (tú) tenís, (tú) sentís and not (vos) tenís, (vos) sentís while using voseo, to avoid offending someone or so.

To wrap up things, I will attach a curious thing about voseo. Due to all of the previous things I’ve said, what would be your reaction if I tell you that the verb ser (to be) can have up to 5 forms in the second person singular informal variant? It is probably one of the few verbs I know that has three conjugations in voseo which can be combined up to 5 times! On the following image you’ll see how they can be conjugated and used from the most standard on the top, from the one you might want to avoid using under most circumstances on the bottom.

Voseo (3)

As a renowed Chilean linguist (Darío Rojas) would say, “to speak well means to be aware of the context you are in”.


What are your perceptions of voseo? Have you experienced negative perceptions of certain words and varieties in your language learning process? Share it in the comments!
And if you are interested to learn more Spanish, feel free to contact me on Italki.


The Spanish Fluency Pyramid

No, this is not a pyramid scheme or anything like that. I would say it is a product of my own observation and casual conversations with fellow Spanish native speakers and Spanish learners. In a time in which we are bombarded with what we should focus first in order to be identified as fluent speakers and so. Is grammar that important? Is rolling your r a matter of life or death? What dialect or variety should I learn and which of them is the best/easiest one?

Most of those answers are completely up to you, according to your current situation, your language learning history, your motivation, environment and many other factors any native speaker or even I don’t have to know. However, as a product of observation and conversation with different people (shout out to my Spanish chat group!), I think I have managed to gather some things that can really tell you are fluent at different levels, considering the 4 different language abilities and sorted out in 3 levels of the Spanish Fluency Pyramid! Is it scary? A bit, but I am confident you will enjoy your journey through it.

Spanish Fluency Pyramid

Now here comes the explanation of the three parts of the pyramid.

The base of this pyramid consists on two things: being able to be INDEPENDENT. That does not mean you know all words, verbs and how to construct a sentence by heart, but you do know how to construct a sentence, where the verb or noun goes, you drop pronouns as much as you can, you can give your opinions and ask back. Mistakes can still happen and you wouldn’t be able to speak about anything at more formal occasions, yet there is something that is evident: CONFIDENCE. You would probably make a mistake and either carry on or correct yourself immediately or if being corrected, you thank the person and carry on with your conversation. Confidence is essential for any of the steps above it is a sign you feel at ease with the language.

Now, the middle of this would be pronounciation and being aware of context. One thing many Spanish speakers do is aspiration of certain phonemes. Have you noticed that sometimes your Spanish speaking friends would say something like “e’htoy cansa’o” when they are tired or skip certain sounds at an informal setting? That is not wrong at all! In fact, it’s what makes a language feel alive 🙂 In several varieties, [s] gets aspirated or even ommited, specially in casual settings and it is probably a trademark for many Spanish speaking regions. If you were taught to pronounce all words and phonemes, it is quite good during formal settings, but at a party or while talking with friends, you may sound as distant or quite formal. The only way to be aware of when to do this is being a good listener and probably imitate their aspirations until they can become “yours”. As I already mentioned, the notion between formal and informal settings works different from, for example, an English Speaking context or even among different countries. For example, Peninsular Spanish tends to have a reputation of being less formal in many contexts that in other places would be formal and so. Being aware of the context you are in is important for many people. Your boss may use tú with you, but it wouldn’t be a smart choice to use tú with him or her. You probably don’t know anything about the shopkeeper, but if she or he looks your age, both of you might be quite okay with using tú. Also, formal Spanish tends to be more eloquent and less direct than other languages in formal contexts (if you’d ever see the documents I tend to proofread at work or whenever I have to sign a contract!). These kinds of distinctions are important in order to prove yourself you can transmit your confidence and play with it in different settings.

As for the top of the pyramid, here comes the scary part… most non native Speakers of Spanish often give themselves away with a single sound. For some people, their r’s or j’s; for others, a certain vowel and a long list of etc. Many people are quick to detect that and if you are one of those people who don’t want to give out that, well you can always look for help and work on mastering that pronounciation. There are plenty of YouTube videos who teach you step by step how to drill those sounds and listening always help. It doesn’t matter if you look weird while singing in Spanish while commuting (I’ve done it for my languages, people may stare at me, but I feel happy practicing my language skills with it) or if you tend to look yourself at the mirror while making that sound. You can always look for the method that suits you best because your motivation will do the rest. I also put mastering slang at the top of the pyramid since it is a thing that is even complicated for native speakers. What can be an innocent word in one Spanish speaking country, it may be a complete, different and even rude word in another. Many native speakers will probably have a funny anecdote of using an awkward slang word in another country and getting giggles or weird stares for it. Also, slang words are probably the most alive part of the language since they tend to evolve faster than regular words. What was cool in the 90s may not be cool right now. Again, listening and its use will be your ally at mastering slang words and using the right word in the right context.

I hope you have enjoyed this small guide towards Spanish fluency. If you would like to get this graphic as a printout, you can suscribe to my newsletter on the right sidebar and you will get it on your e-mail inbox during the weekend.

Are there any aspects you would like to add to this pyramid? What were the hardest things you have gone through with learning Spanish? Share it in the comments!

Interview with Kuba from LLL.

This time I interviewed my good friend Kuba from Poland. He studies Hungarian Philology in Poznań and recently he got a scholarship to study the language in Budapest for a month. He also has a blog related to languages: LLL: Languages, Linguistics, Life.

I am really proud to have met him not once, but twice this year as he is a great guy. We talked to each other in Spanish, English and Polish and of course, I had to ask him later to give me some time and answer me some questions I am happy to share with you.


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

My name’s Kuba and I come from Poland. I study there Hungarian Language (Hungarian Philology) at the university in Poznań, so I am mainly occupied with my passion, which is the best thing you can work with, to be honest! The general rule for my life is to do what you love and this is what I do. If it happens that I don’t and I don’t notice it at once, I work on this to let it go and learn to the full from those things.

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

This story is a little bit knotty, because I may say I actually owe my passion to one girl I once talked to only through internet and now I don’t even remember her name, but my interest started when another hobby was put out (but didn’t disappear!). Firstly, in high school, I wanted to study Psychology and I’m not gonna go into details about how I gave up on this idea, but meanwhile I attended the Spanish class. I was good at this, I liked it, I wanted to learn more than the others. At that time, I talked to this girl, she woke up the spark of interest in me towards this direction. She asked: if you don’t know what to do, look around, why don’t you study Spanish at the university, for example? And the story begins… I thought, okay, Spanish, but I want to study something less popular. That day, I was sitting at my computer, I remember, I discovered Finnish, Mandarin Chinese, Burmese and many other languages. I drew up a list of languages I want to learn. If I remember well, the first version of this list is 24 languages to learn. So then I just started to learn, I grabbed a little bit of Mandarin Chinese, Czech, Esperanto, Portuguese, Swedish, German, Hawaiian and so on. Hence, I wouldn’t say someone motivated me. I think she just opened my mind to languages and I realized this is something what I want to do.

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

To be honest – not really. If you have such a strong passion that takes you from the people that don’t have any kind of passion, they will only complain and they will not understand you. I know only a few people that I know about that they get the point. On the other hand, I don’t really need support, I just follow my path I found it’s mine, that’s all what I do.

I know you were studying in Hungary under a scholarship. How was your experience there? Can you tell me how were your classes and what did you do to apply?

I applied for Summer School in Budapest; that was a one-month scholarship and my teacher at the university helped me to complete all the documents.
I really liked the atmosphere there, because I was there to learn – surely, not like everyone. But I also met people there who, just like me, really wanted to learn this language. I got awesome teachers, really helpful people who answered every question and tried to deal with any problem we had. Additionally, we did a cultural program about literature, music, cinema and had a lot of excursions.

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

Hard moments appear when you do something wrong and when you push on yourself too much. That is, if you are too stricted, too planned, too organized. You may love learning languages, but don’t make the process of learning something you will hate. I was like this many times and this is also a very enriching moment when you realize you shouldn’t. There’s no universal rule, you cannot apply the same learning style every day, to all the languages you learn, in every moment in your life. You need breaks, breaks are okay. You need to know your goal, you need to know what you need now from this language. So if you struggle, just sit and think why.

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

Now two main languages I practice are Hungarian and German. This is obviously because of my studies, but I still want to keep on with Spanish and English.
Now, after this scholarship in Hungary, I know I need a lot of speaking. I am seriously thinking about talking to myself.
German is another story, but the best thing I can do now with it is to go back to the basics.
Of course, I am not perfect in reading in Hungarian, but this is not the priority now – so once again, you should firstly notice what is your lack, your need and then focus on this.

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

Should I really list every language in this world? 😛
I would love to learn a lot of them, some of them just to compare to the others, some of them to speak, some of them just to have fun. But that’s how passion works. However, if I was to choose only one language, I think I would choose Finnish.
Can you tell me a short, positive anecdote about your language learning history?

Sure, there’s one when I was with my family in Barcelona for the first time, just after one year of learning Spanish on my own. We were supposed to rent a car and so we took the bus to the office and I started to talk to this Catalan guy in Spanish, meanwhile my father asked me some questions, so at one point I felt like a real interpreter. But the funny thing was that I spent there approximately an hour, not because I couldn’t understand the Catalan guy, but only because of my father that couldn’t understand me. Wasn’t I speaking Polish to him? I don’t know, but the point is that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with this guy if I didn’t ask at the information desk about a simply thing – direction to the bus stop. A small step, but the crucial one to my further progress in Spanish.

Thank you Kuba for this interview! He also left this really cool quote:

Good days give you happiness, bad days give you experience, and the worst days give you the best lessons.

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!

False friends in… Polish and Spanish

This is the most classic example of false friends between Spanish and Polish. I still remember Poles giggling by looking at those signs in Spanish and having false expectations. You can find this comic and more at Rolf's Silly Linguistics comics.
This is the most classic example of false friends between Spanish and Polish. I still remember Poles giggling by looking at those signs in Spanish and having false expectations.
You can find this comic and more at Rolf’s Silly Linguistics comics.

These past days, I have thinking about how useful has been being a native Spanish while learning Polish. Despite Spanish being a Romance one and Polish being a Slavic one, the cultural influences of Latin and Greek in those two languages are helpful to figure out certain words such as gwarancja (similar to garantíawarranty-), galeria (galería in Spanish –gallery-), but others, if misused, mispelled, mispronounced or misheard, can bring more than a chuckle, headdesk or angry faces to either native Spanish or Polish speakers. Those are the famous false friends. Sure, they are quite helpful to remember words of common use in those languages, but they can also be a nuisance because many people do not know how to use them properly or keeping it to a certain context.

Here is a list of the most common ones, with certain examples on how to use them (and when to not). First word mentioned will be in Polish and the second one in Spanish:

  • Rolf’s comic already showed us the most classic one: kurwa/curva. Despite they are spelled different, they are pronounced identically. Kurwa in Polish means “whore” and it is also used as a rude exclamation. It is one of the most common swear words and probably, the first word every Spanish speaking Polish learner is acquainted with because curva means… “curve”. You can usually see that word in road signs warning you that there’ll be strong curves on the road ahead.
  • Pan/pan: They are pronounced and written exactly the same, but they mean quite different things. In Polish, it is a honourific for males (equivalent to Mister) and is also the singular formal version of “you” for a man. In Spanish, “pan” means “bread”. So imagine if Pan Kowalski is a Polish baker who moves to a Spanish-speaking country and decides to start a bakery business. Probably “Pan Kowalski” will be a smart brand name 🙂 .
  • Ola/ola/hola: Those three words sound exactly the same, but it can get complicated for Spanish speakers or learners. Ola in Polish is a nickname for Aleksandra. But in Spanish, ola is a “wave” and it is pronounced just like the friendly greeting, ¡hola! So imagine, this situation: “but look at that big wave…  Hi Ola!” and how it’d sound in Spanish, “pero mira a esa ola gigante… ¡Hola Ola!”. Awkward and weird, isn’t it?
  • Ser/ser: In Polish, ser means “cheese”, but in Spanish, it is the equivalent of the verb “to be” or it can also mean a “being”.
  • No/no: This aspect can be quite confusing and if you are able to master it in Polish, you’ll probably feel confident. “No” in Polish is a common expression to say “well” or “yeah” and you tend to use it as an answer when something is quite evident. In Spanish, just like in English, no means “no”.  The temptation to use it for Spanish speakers is strong, but you must use it in moderation in Polish 😉 .
  • Pycha/pija: Both of those words have similar pronounciation for learners, but they mean two completely different things. While pycha in Polish is an expression used when something is delicious (just like Yummy!), its meaning in Spanish will depend on the variety of Spanish you know… but most of the times, the connotation will be negative. While in Spain, pija means that something/someone is posh (and in a negative way)… in South America, pija means… cock.
  • Pensja/pensión: Remember that Latin/Greek tip I gave you, now here is a strong exception to it. In Polish, pensja means “salary” while pensión in Spanish may mean either your “pension” or a small bed&breakfast that offers rooms for rent or a home with rooms rented for out-of-town Uni students or workers.
  • Cena/cena: They are spelled the same, but pronounced differently. In Polish, c is /ts/ and cena will mean “price”. In Spanish, it will mean “dinner”.
  • Mizeria/miseria: A Polish mizeria would be fresh and delicious… it is a cucumber salad, while a Spanish miseria would be tough, awful and sad… it means “misery”.
  • Droga/droga: Both are highly addictive in a different way. A Polish droga is a road or journey while a Spanish droga is a drug.
  • Pies/pies: Another easy, but complicated word. While a Polish pies would bark, you can walk on your Spanish pies. In Polish, it means “dog” and in Spanish, it will be your “feet”.

Do you know more Polish-Spanish false friends? Do you have more fun false friends in the languages you know? Feel free to share the best ones you’ve got 😀