Archive for the ‘Spanish’ Category

3 Books to Read Before Going to Mexico

Posted on February 5th, 2015by Heather Keagan
In Spanish | Leave a Comment »

Photo via Kevin Dooley/Flickr

Photo via Kevin Dooley/Flickr

Understanding the culture and history of a place like Mexico may seem easy initially, but don’t judge a book by its cover. There is so much more to Mexico that what you see in travel brochures or cheesy depictions in the media. Make the most out of your trip, and check out these novels before you leave – they’ll help you better understand a country that has so much to offer, yet has been so often overlooked.

A Visit to Don Otavio: A Traveller’s Tale from Mexico by Sybille Bedford

The first on our list of books to read is a travel novel, which explores the author’s  experiences in a post World War II Mexico. An English woman who comes from money, she is eager to see what the world has on offer, and Mexico is her destination of choice. What follows is a story of a young woman’s exploration of food, tumultuous history, the Spanish language and a new land, all unlike anything she was familiar with in Europe.

Sybille Bedford, herself, describes the novel as semi-fiction, purely because when she was there, she took very, very few notes and wrote the entire novel after her time in Mexico had finished. Perhaps some elements of the book can be seen with a rose-tint to them, and perhaps some of the descriptions are tainted with the influence of memory, but that’s what makes the book a delight to read.

The book itself is made up of short stories or essays, that read a bit like a patchwork quilt of Bedford’s time in Mexico. Some of the stories, like the one of bags stolen by gunmen on donkeys or the invitation to a wealthy home and fabulous dinner party, seem too good and too funny to be true. Bedford captures the feeling and spirit of Mexico in her careful and reflective writings on her time there, and the novel will both entertain you and impress upon you how Mexico has developed into what it is today.

Did we like it?

4 out of 5 stars

Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos

One of our stranger (and shorter, at only 70-ish pages long) choices on this list really takes liberty with the narrative voice. Villalobos’s novella is told through the eyes of a 7-year-old boy; the son of an infamous drug kingpin, who is kept imprisoned in his home as we learn of his life and of the things that make up his world view.

The narrator tells us about Mexico, through its food, its culture and its drug scene; of course you have to allow for questioning as a 7-year-old cannot always be completely believed, but the tale is told well, and really sucks you in. The author seems to ask the reader to see the faults in missing the bigger picture throughout this novella, and to look at the information we are not given as much as the information we are.

This story teaches us a bit about how drugs and gangs have influenced present day Mexico and because of this, it isn’t a particular light or uplifting read. It does have merit, in the ways it brings to light the problems and issues that exist, as well as nod to the past, with character names written in Nahuatl, Mexico’s indigenous language. An interesting read, this book won’t take you too long to finish, but will stick with you long after you’ve put it down.

Did we like it?

4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz

This book is considered a classic, and one of our longest books on the list. Essentially, it’s a book of essays that focuses on Mexican identity and humanity’s solitude. Paz takes the idea of solitude, a human condition, and uses its role in Mexican identity to explain the way the country acts, celebrates, loves, governs, and lives.

The book also dives into Mexican history, focusing on the country’s historic connection to Spain as well as the role its indigenous people played while forming the country as a whole. Paz discusses the political history of Mexico and how battles fought in the past still affect the identity of the people today.

Easily read in pieces, it can be a bit heavy at times, but it will definitely paint a well defined picture of Mexican culture and society; focusing on what has come before and what will continue to come long after the novel is finished. Paz enlightens the viewer, making it a novel that will truly help you understand what Mexico is all about.

Did we like it?

4 out of 5 stars.


So now you’ve read more about the history, the food, the culture and all of the beautiful insanity Mexico has to offer, why not try learning the language? Spanish is a beautiful language that will come in handy in many places, not just Mexico! Why not contact us now and see what courses are available?


The 3 Most Popular Events in Spain

Posted on January 27th, 2014by Melanie
In Culture, Events, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

The Spanish are known for their love of partying with fiestas, festivals and celebrations for pretty much every occasion. You can’t miss out on these spectacles when you’re travelling through Spain if you really want to get a feel of how the Spanish live. Whether you go to local events or the big national ones, you can fully immerse yourself into the atmosphere. While you’re there, learn the names for the events and phrases associated with them.

1. Semana Santa

Photo by Mataparda

Photo by Mataparda

Semana Santa is Holy Week celebrated at Easter and transforms each area with huge processions. Whilst somewhat intimidating when seen for the first time, this is a spectacle you won’t want to miss! The processions are led by the religious brotherhoods, also known as penitentes (penitent ones) dressed in robes, capes and cone shaped head gear. They may look sinister but their outfits have religious meaning as does every aspect of the ritual including massive floats carried by the participants. Join the crowds of onlookers for this spectacular scene!

2. La Tomatina

Photo by A.

Photo by A.

Be prepared to get messy in this bizarre festival! A massive food fight takes place in the town of Bunol, Valencia, every year. Thousands of people flock to the town in order to take part in the event. A week of festivities includes a paella cooking contest, fireworks, music, dancing and parades. A greased wooden pole of two storeys high is topped with a ham and contestants try to reach the prize before the tomato fight begins. Invariably, the prized ham is never reached so the water cannons herald the start of the ensuing chaos! Large over ripe tomatoes are hurled everywhere and at everyone for an hour until the whole town is drenched in tomato pulp!


3. Carnival

2670107The Carnival in Spain is a raucous event of partying which includes drinking, dancing, beauty pageants, contests and masquerading from dusk until dawn. The wild event is held all over Spain but the most extravagant one takes place each year in Tenerife which runs a close second to the one in Rio de Janeiro. It is the biggest of the Carnival festivals in Europe and the main event is the crowning of the Queen of the Carnival chosen from girls parading in their flamboyant costumes. Make you make time during your travels to take part in the masquerades and dancing!

Have fun with the locals during your Spanish trip and practise your language skills while you’re partying! Take a refresher course before you leave to get the most out of your holiday. What festivals, fiestas and celebrations have you seen in Spain and which ones can you recommend to other travellers?

Funny Felines to Teach Foreign Languages

Posted on December 29th, 2013by Melanie
In Spanish | Leave a Comment »

Cat-memeOur feline friends can help us to learn a foreign language according to some new linguistic research. Language trainers noticed the popularity of the humorous cat-meme across the Internet. Providing hours of entertainment, cute and amusing photos and videos of cats have become an online trend. There are even ‘superstar’ cats, such as Grumpy Cat, who now has 2.5 million Facebook fans.

The language researchers noticed a link between people being able to recall phrases seen in funny photos. After conducting memory tests, they noticed that the photos containing cats seemed to rank higher than all of the others when it came to people’s abilities to recall information. Combined with research from Japan which confirms that ‘cuteness’ enhances memory recall, along with further research that shows learning rates are higher when students are having fun, an idea popped into the linguists’ heads.

An app has now been created that pairs cute photos of cats with Spanish phrases and their English translations. Sticking to the Internet theme, the masterminds of this app crowdsourced the photos, listing the 1,000 words they wanted to use and asking for uploads of people’s funniest cat photos. With entire websites dedicated to the cat-meme, they weren’t short of replies.

The more impact a photo has and the less words it displays, the greater the influence it will have for learning potential. Simple, cute and funny – if only we’d known! What’s your favourite cat-meme and why does it stick out from the others? Do you think this idea has good potential for learning languages?

10 Things You Must See When You Travel to Spain

Posted on December 2nd, 2013by Melanie
In Culture, Historic, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

You think of Spain and immediately the phrase ‘Sun, sand and sangria’ pops into your head; but that’s not all that Spain has to offer. Here are the top ten places for you to visit in this fascinating country:

1. Alhambra

You can’t visit Spain without going to the stunning Alhambra. You can tick both ‘culture’ and ‘history’ off of your checklist once you’ve seen the exquisite ‘Red Castle’ in all its splendour, and you’ll soon realize why it’s Spain’s top tourist destination.

2. Mezquita de Cordoba

You’ll get a crick in your neck from staring up at the shining columns of jasper, marble, onyx and granite as you wander through them; the Mezquita de Cordoba won’t fail to dazzle you.

El Escorial3. El Escorial

You’ve done the historical bit, the cultural bit, the scenic bit…how about something a bit morbid and gross? In the mausoleum of El Escorial, near the capital of Madrid, you visit the crypt and see all of the marble coffins that hold the bones of the kings and queens of Spain. If that’s not creepy enough for you, knowing that you’re only a few steps away from the ‘rotting room’ might be!

4. Sagrada Família

It’s hard to miss this sight! You’ll love the cosmopolitan city of Barcelona but you’ll be awestruck at the Sagrada Família. The bizarre and dramatic neo-Gothic style Roman Catholic church is like no other building you will have ever seen…no, really! It’s not actually finished, so take some pics now and then come back to Spain again later to see how they’re getting along.

5. Ibiza

If you like to party, Ibiza is the place to be! As the clubbing capital of the world, it has an unmatched party scene and you’ll want to be a part of it. Loud music, thronging crowds and the top clubs; kick back and party!

6. Cuenca

Visit the medieval city of Cuenca to see the bizarre ‘hanging houses’. Situated between Madrid and Valencia, the houses have been precariously built right on the edges of the steep cliffs, appearing to hang on to them. If you’re brave enough, you can even stand on the balcony of one!

7. Aqueduct of Segovia

It’s hard to imagine how this was built in the first place, let alone how it’s still standing, but the ancient Aqueduct of Segovia was made from 24,000 massive granite blocks without using any mortar! You can take some great photos of this awesome ‘balancing’ monument to show your friends when you get back home…but maybe don’t stand underneath it, just in case.

8. La Concha

For beach-lovers, La Concha in San Sebastian is the place to go! If you’re planning on sunbathing in Spain then the best city beach in Europe has to be top of your list. So get your sun cream, shades and sunbed ready for a day of chilled out tanning.

9. Palacio Real de Madrid

For some family snaps of the royals, try the Palacio Real of Madrid. You´ll be gobsmacked at the luxury in the palace. Although it’s their official residence, the Spanish Royal Family only really use it for state ceremonies, so you might have to make do with a postcard of them instead.

10. Guggenheim Museum

For a spectacular sight in Bilbao, make sure you see the Guggenheim Museum. This bizarre looking building has an extraordinary style that you won’t want to miss.


Spain has customs steeped in tradition yet it caters for a tourist market, allowing you to explore the culture and history of Spain while having fun in the sun. Spaniards are very hospitable people and you’ll be made to feel very welcome in this country of contrasts; but if you want to experience the country like a true local, give the language a go – brush up on your Spanish skills, pack your suitcase, hop on a plane and head straight for Spain!

Have you ever visited any of these Spanish must-sees? Would you add anything to our list?

Fluency or Functionality?

Posted on November 22nd, 2013by Melanie
In French, German, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

DictionariesA new report was recently issued regarding the languages spoken in the UK…or rather, the lack of them. The British Council’s report states that not enough people in the UK have sufficient abilities and skills in foreign languages, and that this “alarming shortage” will result in the UK missing out on cultural and economic benefits, gradually diminishing our global standing.

This type of report is not really news to most people though. In schools, the rate of foreign languages being studied had drastically declined, although this trend is already starting to turn with the introduction of the EBacc. As well as that, it will be compulsory from children aged 7 to14 to be taught a foreign language from next year.

A YouGov poll showed that 75% of the UK adults questioned were unable to hold a conversation in any of the ‘top ten’ languages deemed necessary for the UK’s future prosperity. Of these ten languages, 15% could speak French, 6% German, 4% Spanish and 2% Italian, while the remaining languages (Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Arabic, Turkish and Japanese) were spoken by 1% of people, if that. Many say that Brits are too lazy to learn languages but it’s more the case that English is considered to be the ‘universal language’ with little need to learn any other languages. Even so, a challenge was recently released to encourage everyone to learn 1,000 words of a foreign language.

Often, too much stress is put on the need to become fluent in another language, and this can sometimes deter people from learning a new language. John Worne, from the British Council, has argued against this, commenting that it’s better to be functional in a language rather than being fluent in it. He stated that, “‘Fluent’ is an inhibitor, ‘functional’ is a liberator”, believing that people can get further, faster by making a start with new opportunities using just a few words and phrases.

The authors of the report believe that businesses should invest in language training where it will directly benefit them, and that the number of minority languages in the UK should be utilized in education.

Which of the ‘top ten’ languages can you speak, and would you consider yourself to be fluent or functional in that language?

Switching Languages and Personalities

Posted on November 16th, 2013by Melanie
In French, Spanish, Speech | Leave a Comment »

Split personality 1Do you put on a special ‘telephone voice’, suddenly becoming more polite, more confident and well-spoken? Most of us have, at some time or another, suddenly taken on a new persona when speaking on the telephone. So it’s possibly no surprise that, in the same way, people take on a new persona when speaking in a different language.

Bilingual and Bicultural

There can be a number of explanations for this, including a natural confidence in the more familiar language or because the thinking process changes when speaking different languages. People who are bilingual as well as bicultural might associate different memories with each language, therefore affecting how they converse within each language.

Language Composition

One explanation is that the way the language is spoken is due to how the sentences are constructed. For example, Greeks are thought to speak loudly and constantly interrupt each other. The syntax and grammar of the Greek language means that each sentence is started with a verb containing a lot of information, so the other speaker will be able to ascertain what the sentence is about at any early stage, therefore being able to interrupt more easily. This is contradicted, however, when you look at other languages, such as Welsh. Sentences in Welsh are constructed in a similar manner but Welsh people are not known for making constant interruptions and being pushy when others are speaking.

Perceived Personalities

Another explanation is that people often tend to behave in the perceived behavioural personality of people from that country. For instance, Spanish people tend to speak very quickly and energetically, using a lot of hand gestures; the French have a soft lilt and are thought of as being demure. By speaking a foreign language, you can often unconsciously take on the perceived personality of someone from that country.

Do you take on a different personality when you speak in a foreign language?

Can Essays Help Save Endangered Languages?

Posted on November 2nd, 2013by Melanie
In English, French, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

Many languages, one worldAs globalization has changed the way we conduct business and interact socially, the need to understand other languages and cultures has increased. Why then, of the 6,000 existing languages in the world, are nearly half of them endangered?

To be precise, 43% of our world’s languages are currently at risk and about 200 of these are spoken by fewer than ten people. Languages are ‘safe’ when they are spoken by all generations but become vulnerable when, despite most children being able to speak a language, they are restricted with their use of it, such as in their homes. A language becomes classified as endangered when it is not taught to children as their mother tongue, when older generations speak it and parents understand it but do not talk to their children in it, and when grandparents are the youngest speakers of the language and they themselves barely use it. When no-one alive speaks a language, it becomes extinct, and approximately 230 languages have become extinct since 1950. It’s not just a loss of the language, but a loss of the culture that the language related to.

Launching a Linguistic Initiative

The UN is hoping to turn this declining trend around by launching an initiative called ‘Many Languages, One World’. University and college students have been set the challenge of writing an essay in a language other than their own – in one of the six official languages of the United Nations: Spanish, English, Russian, French, Chinese and Arabic. Based on the benefits and uses that multilingualism has in our globalized world, the aim of these essays is to highlight how important linguistics and communication are and to encourage the study of languages in the future, particularly the six official languages of the UN.

Would you learn an endangered language to ensure its survival and revival?

Celebrities Converse in Foreign Languages (Part One)

Posted on October 26th, 2013by Melanie
In French, German, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

Johhny Depp 3If you aspire to be like your favourite celebrity then you should consider learning a new language; you’d be surprised at how many celebrities are fluent in more than just their native tongue.

With a French wife, a house and even his own vineyard in France, it goes without saying that the actor Johnny Depp is fluent in the French language. Likewise, fellow actor Orlando Bloom, whose parents owned a language school in Kent when he was a child, also boasts French as his second language.  The actor and stand-up comedian, Eddie Izzard is currently on tour promoting foreign languages in ‘Force Majeure’ where he actually conducts each show in the language of the country he’s currently touring.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow completed a Spanish exchange trip when she was a teenager and still continues to speak Spanish whenever she can, even co-starring with Antonio Banderas in a Spanish film. Sandra Bullock, whose mother was German, became fluent in the language when she travelled with her mother, an opera singer, on European opera tours as a child and spent time with her aunt and grandmother in Nuremberg and Salzburg. Natalie Portman, on the other hand, can speak a whopping five languages (and is fluent in two of these) including French, German, Spanish, Japanese and Hebrew! Being born in Jerusalem, Israel, with an Israeli father and an American mother, she was lucky enough to become fluent in Hebrew and English at an extremely early age.

Far from just the glamour and hype of their careers, many celebrities are fluent in one, if not more, foreign language and have been able to use them to their advantage both in their careers and their personal lives. Who is your favourite celebrity linguist and how has their story inspired you to learn a new language?

Getting to Grips with Global Languages

Posted on September 20th, 2013by Melanie
In German, Spanish, Speech | Leave a Comment »

Global languagesHow many different nationalities of people are you friends with? Not even friends, but acquainted with. Just browse through your Facebook account alone for a quick count, I think you´ll be surprised.

The world is getting smaller thanks to mediums such as the Internet, and it’s commonplace to have a diverse group of acquaintances who’ve originated from all over the world. Sixteen. That´s the number of nationalities amongst my Facebook friends, including Spanish, Danish, German, South African, Dutch, Chilean and Venezuelan, among others. Living in Spain, I used to work for a travel company which is how most of us became friends. Years later, we’re all still in touch and dotted around the world, as are many of my old school friends.

No longer held back by restrictions between countries and with the ease of travelling, we are able to explore new horizons and fulfil our dreams. We can travel abroad to discover new countries and experience their cultures, we are able to relocate in order to work abroad, retiring abroad is now a popular choice, and there are opportunities to study abroad. With so many options open to us, it’s hardly surprising that our friends and colleagues are a diverse bunch! And this diversity has led to an increase in language studies, as the need to communicate across the globe has become so commonplace and so necessary. Language courses have sprung up everywhere and are catered towards ease of accessibility and modern approaches to learning.

Have you studied another language in order to further your career or to live abroad? Has the need arisen for you to learn a new language for the sake of a partner or friend? Take a look around you and take note of all the nationalities that have become a part of your life.

Viva La Vuelta!

Posted on September 5th, 2013by Melanie
In Events, Historic, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

The VueltaSteve was a huge fan of the Vuelta. When he used to live in Spain, he would join hundreds of Spaniards and fellow Brits in lining the streets along the cyclists’ route each year. Every year, the race took a different route, so sometimes he´d find himself down on the coast while other times he´d be inland and occasionally in the mountainous regions.

He was a keen cyclist himself and loved the adrenalin of competitive cycling although he was far from the riding standards of the Vuelta cyclists. The strength and discipline that those cyclists possessed was incredible, and he admired their stamina and level of fitness which carried them through the three week long race.

Steve and his friends would usually make a day of it, grabbing a bite to eat in a chiringuito before finding a good vantage point from which to see the riders approaching. The crowds would gradually increase in size as the local police strung security tape between the gated sections. The cars and trucks advertising their wares with loud music would let everyone know that there wasn´t much longer to wait. The Guardias on their motorbikes would lead the sponsors’ and teams’ cars, while the helicopters circled above. Then, the distant cheering would signal the cyclists’ approach and the crowds would push forward to get a good look and take some action shots with their cameras. The rush of speed and force of power as the cyclists passed them was immense…and then, just as quickly as they´d appeared, they were gone, vying for their positions within the Vuelta a España.

Despite no longer living in Spain, this annual event wasn´t something that Steve was prepared to miss; it just wasn´t the same on TV! He´d kept up with his Spanish lessons and every year he looked forward to his summer holiday when he could go back to Spain and catch up with his friends, chat with the locals and get caught up in the excitement of the awe-inspiring Vuelta!