Friday, December 07, 2007

Priceless ....

Like the Chávez cartoon below, this wouldn't be funny if it weren't so true. And the fact that it is true isn't funny at all. Still, enjoy the laugh!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

¿Por qué no te callas?

It's the #1 ringtone in Spain, the top phrase on T-shirts in Venezuela, and now a great cartoon.

The cartoon is funny. Too bad the situation in Venezuela isn't.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Why I Love Teaching

I love teaching because I love the kids, I love the language, I love sharing my passion for it all .... and because I just can't make this stuff up.

On the midterm this week, the students had to define the word "antepasado," which means "ancestor."

One student wrote:

El antepasado - "El antepasado es una comida muy deliciosa."

I guess he was confusing it with antipasto?

I don't know, but it made my week. (Maybe I'm just tired and a little punchy after grading all those midterms?)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

BBC Mundo Interview

I was so thrilled by BBC Mundo's "¿Hablas español?" project that I blogged about it several times, and wrote them a number of messages and comments along their route.

It turns out that one of my main comments (and the main focus of many of my blog posts, my videos, my teaching, my writing, and my mission in general) - that Spanish is no longer a foreign language in the United States - became the main slogan or theme of their trip.

So I was delighted when José Baig, the coordinator of the project, wrote to me and asked if he could interview me about teaching Spanish in the United States.

Here's the result ....

And you can now continue to follow José's observations on the impact of Spanish in the English-speaking world, on the BBC Mundo "¿Hablas español?" blog.

José says they will be returning to the United States next year for a "¿Tú también hablas español?" tour. I'm looking forward to meeting them this time!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

¡¡¡ Maná at Madison Square Garden !!!!

AMAZING concert ....

.... and what an opening!

When the wall exploded, the Garden went wild.

(This video is from the Chicago concert.)

These guys have been around for over 20 years (really, almost 30), and I'm so glad they've stuck together. They just keep getting better and better.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The One Semester of Spanish Love Song

I can't stop laughing at this .... and you know what? It really shows how much you can communicate with some very simple words!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Just say Hola!

September is always such a busy month, with many new beginnings ... especially this year, when this month began with taking my oldest child to college on the opposite coast and then starting a new university-level teaching position ....

And speaking of new beginnings, I have always said that just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, the road to fluency in Spanish begins with a single word: Hola.

So I was delighted to read about an initiative to start a new holiday: "Hola Day", started by Myelita Melton, a Spanish teacher in North Carolina.

Celebrated on October 1st, right in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15th through October 15th), Hola Day is designed to foster a greater appreciation for the use of the Spanish language in the US. It honors both native speakers and non-native speakers who commit themselves to learning Spanish as a second language and using it in their daily lives.

Many communities and states across the United States are signing on, with a proclamation.

“Participating in Hola Day is simple,” says Melton. “We are asking everyone in America to say something in Spanish to someone else on Oct. 1. What you say can be as simple as ‘hola’ and ‘adiós’ or as complicated as you wish. Also, the person you speak to doesn’t have to speak Spanish; the whole point is that you do.”

I love the idea, even if I didn't think of it myself! Myelita definitely gets my Viva la Chispa award!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New op-ed published

Is advertising coffee in a foreign language really going to undermine our culture and our values? (If so, someone had better tell Starbucks to take the words “grande” and “macchiato” off its menu.)

Do really we need a law to tell us that English is the primary language of this country?

And are we really threatened by bilingual families, when most bilingual children spend the majority of their day speaking English?

Apparently, some people would answer "yes" to all of the above.

My latest op-ed, All Languages Spoken Here, was just published today, and is about precisely this issue ... and how the escalating discrimination and negativity against immigrants and their languages is hastening the loss of the precious linguistic and cultural resources of our immigrant communities -- precisely at the time when we need those resources most.

By the way, the "Bogota" mentioned in the article is Bogota, New Jersey (not Bogotá, Colombia).

Because of space limitations, I couldn't include more about the personal losses that go along with this loss of language, or about how strongly I feel that everyone should be studying foreign languages, learning about other cultures, and increasing both their local and their global multicultural awareness. Fortunately, there was another op-ed in the same paper yesterday about promoting multicultural education, so at least that point of view is out there at the same time. I'll write more about the personal losses - what I see as the loss of culture, identity and soul - at a later point.

An interesting coincidence is that I wrote this article, mentioning Bogota's mayor who took offense at the "café helado" sign, a few weeks ago. And then yesterday, I found this article in the New York Times, about how Steve Lonegan - Bogota mayor and immigration opponent - is the brother of Bryan Lonegan, immigration rights activist ... and they are the grandsons of an Italian immigrant. VERY interesting article.

I start a new Spanish teaching position on Friday, and I hope I will still have time to write about the intersection of language, culture, identity and soul ... issues which are all so important to me.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Spanish lessons in San Diego

I just got back from San Diego, and as always when I'm in the Southwest - and especially California - I feel like the entire experience is a Spanish lesson.

And I'm not even talking about how much Spanish you may hear on the streets or on the television or radio. Just the street and town names alone would be a great vocabulary practice.

In fact, I have often done a matching game in my classes, to help them see that many names that they may think of as just town names or place names (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Amarillo, etc. -and my personal favorite - Cape Canaveral, from cañaveral - sugar cane field) and even state names (Colorado, Nevada, Florida, etc.) actually have a real meaning in Spanish.

And not only is it a great vocabulary lesson; it also gives them an opportunity to see how the Southwest and Florida were originally colonized ... and by whom.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Latinos Describe “How I Learned English” in New Essay Collection

I just found this on Hispanic Trending .... great article, and I'm buying the book today ....

It's interesting that this book touches on two things that I'm writing about -- the fact that immigrants DO learn English (despite anti-immigrant rhetoric to the contrary -- and often at the cost of their original language), and also the fact that many bilinguals feel completely different in one language than in another. Which leads me to ask, if bilinguals are different in the two languages, and then one of those languages gets lost ... what happens to that part of the person's identity that was tied to the original language?

By the way, I know all about those embarrassing mistakes you can make when learning a language ... or even when you know a language, thanks to all the wonderful regional differences in Spanish! I found out the hard way that in Venezuela, you can't say "cuchara" when you want a spoon .... let's just say that I definitely don't recommend that you go out to a nice dinner in Venezuela with a big group of people, and ask for two desserts and eight cucharas ..... it was pretty funny when my friend told me later what I had said.

We do need to keep a sense of humor when we're learning ... and remember that the important thing is, we're learning!


Latinos Describe “How I Learned English” in New Essay Collection

August 27, 2007
By Jenny Shank

When I was six years old, I began taking a bus to my assigned public elementary school west of Mile High Stadium, about a thirty-minute ride away from my southeast Denver home. At school I encountered an entirely different world from that of my neighborhood: many of my classmates were the children of immigrants, and while classes were taught in English, the school encouraged expressions of different cultures and the use of Spanish language.

On one wall was a mural of an image taken from the Mexican flag, an eagle with a snake in its beak, perched on a cactus. If you behaved especially well, the teacher might choose you to wear the “Ayudante” jean jacket for the week, and give you some tickets that could be exchanged for marvelous junk at the Cinco de Mayo carnival. I don’t remember a time before I knew the story of La Llorona, which I must have heard the Mexican-American kids telling on the playground. So it was with great interest that I read How I Learned English, a new anthology edited by Tom Miller featuring 55 short essays by Latinos who made the same journey my classmates did, from the Spanish-speaking world into the English-speaking world.

PBS NewsHour regular Ray Suarez writes in his introduction that “learning a language begins a passage to another way of seeing the world and speaking it into existence.” Some of the writers struggled to learn English, while others arrived in the United States as children and soaked the language up, perhaps losing their previous fluency in Spanish in the process, as novelist Francisco Goldman did. (He once listened to a tape recording of himself as a child, and writes, “It was strange to be a college student, listening to your four-year-old self do something that you couldn’t do anymore: speak fluent Spanish.")

Changing a language can change one’s worldview or even one’s personality, as University of Michigan anthropology professor Ruth Behar writes: “They tell me I was a nonstop talker, una cotorrita. But after we arrived in the United States I became shy, silent, sullen. I have no memory of myself as a little girl speaking Spanish in Cuba.” I have observed the personality changes that using different languages can bring first hand--my husband was born in New York to French parents, and learned English as a second language, in part from Sesame Street. When he speaks in French, he is typically more of a social papillon than he is when he speaks in English.

Most of the writers in this collection entered the American educational system before the Chicano rights movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s brought about changes that welcomed multiculturalism (like that mural on my elementary school’s wall), and so several writers report that a teacher asked their parents to speak in English at home to promote the children’s fluency.

This is what happened to the incisive essayist Richard Rodriguez in the excerpt included from his book Hunger of Memory. “As a socially disadvantaged child,” he writes, “I considered Spanish to be a private language. What I needed to learn in school was that I had the right--and the obligation--to speak the public language of los gringos.” Rodriguez was shy and mumbled in class until the day when three nuns from the school visited his family’s house and suggested they practice English at home. His parents declared the nuns’ suggestion a rule, and Rodriguez’s English flourished, though not without regret for the loss of his family’s private Spanish world. “The spell was broken,” he writes.

Even when immersed in the English language, it’s not easy to learn all of the idioms and rules of English, as Richard Lederer and Josh White Jr. note in their piece, “English Is Cuh-ray-zee.” “If the teacher taught,” they write, “why isn’t it true that a preacher praught?”

“How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same/ When a wise man and a wise guy are very different?”

In several of the essays, the writers remember language mistakes they made that caused great confusion. Alvaro Vargas Llosa writes that he learned English “the hard way--that is, wrenching my guts out with books, tapes, video courses, and that irreplaceable method, the humiliation of real-life trial and error.” He learned Spanish from his Peruvian parents, then picked up French before he began to study English at a boarding school in Britain. While there, he had an English girlfriend, and he recounts this sad and funny incident:

“After not seeing her for a few weeks, I wanted to tell her that I missed her. When I said to her, ‘I regret you,’ anglicizing the French word for missing someone, she looked at me in horror and spat out something like: ‘You are not a gentleman.’ We never saw each other again.”

Although many of the writers had fun learning English through television, movies, and music (as did Gigi Anders, who watched Captain Kangaroo and The Lucy Show, and congressman José Serrano, who listened to Frank Sinatra records), a common theme is how hard one must work to master and maintain a language. Miami Herald journalist Enrique Fernández taught college Spanish at one point, and writes, “From that experience I found out that a foreign language can be learned and that some people can learn it, while others can’t no matter how hard they try.”

Many writers note that English is a language that opens the world to them, and the image of the stubborn immigrant who doesn’t want to learn English is belied by the stories in this book. Ray Suarez writes about Samuel Huffington’s Foreign Policy essay, “Jose, Can You See?” in which “he peers into the future and sees native-born English speakers as an embattled minority.” Suarez observes that Huffington “looks at Latino American and totally misses the night school classes” and “the endless hours of ads for English-language home study kits.”

It would be interesting if How I Learned English were to be updated twenty years from now with stories from younger bilinguals, because while many writers in this collection were encouraged to cast off their old language, today there is more interest in keeping multiple languages alive. What will the English language become as more Spanish speakers learn it and more Latinos join the U.S. population?

Judging from the determination of the essayists in How I Learned English, English will continue to be the potent global language that it is today, though Spanglish might become an important secondary tongue as American English continues to fold in the words of the native languages of its population. I, for one, don’t see anything ominous in this potential development. That’s what living languages do: they change.

How I Learned English: 55 Accomplished Latinos Recall Lessons in Language and Life
Ed. Tom Miller
National Geographic Books
266 pages, $16.95

Source: New West Books and Writers

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Does he spit in the bath? (and more from a medical Spanish phrase book ...)

Phrase books are a funny thing. They have to anticipate situations and then provide just the right sentence to address that situation.

Sometimes I'm just surprised at the situations that the authors of the book have anticipated.

I posted a while back about the book, "Hindi Made Easy," that my family had somehow acquired when we lived in New Delhi when I was a child. The book was one that had been given to British soldiers during the original occupation of India ... and included phrases that soon became famous in our household: "Let us set fire to the village", and "That man is a horse thief."

Shocking as it was, that book offered a glimpse into another era, and the attitudes of that time.

I wasn't prepared to be quite so surprised when I bought a Spanish medical phrase book for my friend, who is entering a new phase of her life and starting medical school next week. She wanted to be able to connect with her future patients, since she will be living, studying and working in a community where Spanish is prevalent.

But a few sentences in the book did jump out at me, and made me wonder what kinds of situations the authors were anticipating ...

Ellos rezan mucho. - They pray a lot.

Me gusta ver el cielo. - I like to see the sky.

No puede oler la medicina. - He can't smell the medicine.

El no patea la puerta. - He doesn't kick the door.

El escupe en el baño. - He spits in the bath.

Surprisingly (to me), my friend didn't think some of these were so unusual. "I could see that coming up in a psych evaluation," she noted.

And she's right - these aren't phrases that I would normally use, but perhaps they will come in handy for her. And if they do, she will be prepared ....

Monday, August 27, 2007

Are you involved in a Heritage Language Program?

Just got this from the Heritage Language Listserve .... if you are involved in a K-12 and/or community-based heritage language program, the Alliance for the Advancement of Heritage Languages would like to make sure you are in their database ... (by the way, "LCTL" stands for "Less Commonly Taught Languages").

The Alliance for the Advancement of Heritage Languages (the Alliance)
consists of individuals and organizations dedicated to the preservation
of heritage languages for cultural, social, educational, economic and
national security purposes. The Alliance is committed to working
together to enable heritage language speakers to attain high proficiency in
their heritage languages while also developing English literacy.

The Alliance is hosted by the Center for Applied Linguistics in
Washington DC, and is collecting profiles of heritage language programs in
K-12 and community-based settings. They are particularly hoping to enhance
the number of LCTLs represented in that database, so as to have a more
complete network in which ideas regarding heritage language programs
are exchanged and strengthened. Please learn more about the work of the
Heritage Alliance ( and enter a program profile at
the following link:
You can contact us regarding questions or suggestions related to
heritage education or the work of the Alliance through email: Thank you very much for your cooperation.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Reaction to "Who is a Latino"

Well, that's why they call them opinion pieces ....

In addition to a number of positive responses, I also received one very negative reaction to my "Who is a Latino" piece, by someone who felt I oversimplified the issue, disrespected the reality of the Latino experience, and basically "Disney-fied" being Latino.

I can see the author's point, and obviously, generalizations about any culture can never be fully true. But I do enjoy, and observe, and write about my personal experiences in those cultures and what they mean to me.

Like many people who speak more than one language, I find I have a different personality and a different experience depending on the language or culture in which I’m operating – and part of this essay comes from these observations. My experience in Spanish is different from my experience in English – and yes, I enjoy what I call the Latinidad of that – and my experience in Italian is also quite different. In fact, I’m researching and writing on this subject to try to delve more into these issues.

One of my goals, through my writing and my work, is to counteract the negativity against other languages and cultures in this country (which has always existed, and is escalating alarmingly now). I try to do that by putting out positive messages that celebrate the contributions of all languages and cultures here.

I am the grandchild of immigrants who had all of their language and culture boiled away by the melting pot … the language disappeared, and only a few cultural traditions remained (in my family, that consisted of a few recipes and not much more).

It saddens me to see the same trend continued today, whether it’s due to xenophobic attitudes or just the overwhelming weight of societal pressure and pop culture. There's a great loss for our country in terms of our linguistic and cross-cultural expertise (very important for our future in the global market), and a huge loss for our society, which is so enriched by our combination of heritages... but there’s also a long-term personal loss as well. Many heritage language learners, including myself, have gone back to try to find the piece of their identity or soul that was lost in that process.

So I will continue to write it as I see it, and as I experience it. It’s my way of honoring the cultures that I came from, the languages that my family lost, and the multicultural and multilingual reality that I would like to see this country achieve.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ich bin ein Latino!

I have a new catchphrase that I am going to start spreading around: "ICH BIN EIN LATINO." If we all said that, then they REALLY couldn't deport us all! (Kind of like JFK showing his solidarity for Berlin, or that story about the King of Denmark making everyone wear a yellow star of David to thwart the Nazis ... which, apparently, is not a true story, but it should be ....)

By the way, my essay on "Who is a Latino" has just been posted up on Hispanic Tips and American Taíno. As I note in that essay – and as my new catchphrase reaffirms – we could all use a little Latinidad.

Who is a Latino?

L.A. Law actress Michele Greene.

Supermodel Christy Turlington.

Wonder Woman Lynda Carter.

Baseball legend Ted Williams.

New Mexico Governor – and presidential candidate – Bill Richardson.

What do these individuals have in common?

Their American-sounding last names – and their Latino cultural heritage.

I call them "Latinos incognitos," because at first glance, they might not easily be recognized as Hispanic. With Anglo fathers and Latina mothers, the institution of marriage automatically hid the Latino heritage of all these individuals – at least on paper.

As a result, they certainly don’t “sound” Latino. They may not even “look” Latino, either. So are they really Latinos?

Because of his name and his part-Anglo heritage, Bill Richardson has been accused of being “not Latino enough.” But at the same time, he is also accused of being “too Latino,” trying to leverage his Hispanic heritage for political gain.

The reality, of course, is that Bill Richardson is Latino, and he is Anglo. The two cultures are not mutually exclusive – although they are often treated as such. When was the last time you saw a box for “multicultural” on any official form? Our society does not easily accept the middle ground between two heritages.

On official forms, as in life, bicultural Latinos are pressured to choose. And inevitably, they will receive criticism for their choices. Kevin Johnson (another Latino incognito), in his memoir, How Did You Get to Be Mexican, recalls being accused in college of “checking the box” as a Latino to get preferential treatment, but not being “Latino enough” to back it up with political activism.

Even Latinos with two Latino parents can have their Latinidad challenged. A dear friend of mine, who proudly describes herself as Puerto Rican, was often made to feel less so by her native Puerto Rican peers in New Jersey, because she wasn’t “born on the island.” Another friend who doesn't "look" Latina recalls that the only way she could convince her Hispanic classmates that she was indeed Latina was to tell them she watched Walter Mercado's horoscopes with her grandmother.

But who is a Latino, anyway?

Is it someone who is born in this country, a descendant of the original Spanish settlers?

Is a Latino someone whose family immigrated from a Spanish-speaking country and created a home here?

Can you be a Latino without a Hispanic name? Without speaking Spanish? Without a direct connection to your heritage?

What makes someone a Latino?

It’s certainly not just the name, despite the U.S. Census’ original method of counting Latinos by using the category “Hispanic surname.” Where does that leave Governor Bill Richardson or Michele Greene (who, as a bilingual singer/songwriter, recently released her second CD, Luna Roja, in both English and Spanish)?

Language helps – but you don’t even have to speak Spanish to be a Latino (and a growing number of Latinos don’t). The reverse, however, can be true – you can start to feel Latino just by speaking Spanish. There is something in the sound of the language, the words themselves, that bring Latinidad to those who choose to celebrate its beauty, its richness, and its innate poetry.

Those who learn Spanish in order to bark orders at employees or simply to fulfill a foreign language requirement are not likely to feel it, though. Here, intention is everything.

To me, being a Latino is more than just a language or a last name, or even what country you came from or can trace your roots to. Being a Latino is about a feeling, an attitude, a connection to life and culture and family and music, and a desire to experience it all to its fullest.

And to me, being a Latino means living life with sabor, and taking the time to appreciate and enjoy everything – and everyone – that makes life worth living.

And we can all use a little bit of that Latinidad.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Chispa in LATINA Magazine – Teaching Spanish to Your Children

A few months ago, I was contacted by LATINA Magazine's Lifestyle Editor for an article on encouraging your children to speak Spanish.

Well, the magazine is out, and I'm quoted in it ...

We spoke at length, and it was a shame that the feature she was writing could only be 300 words! The article is concise and well written, but I would like to add a few tips that we had discussed. (And these points are equally valid for Spanish teachers or for anyone who wants to learn or improve their Spanish.)

1. Start as early as you can ... but it's never too late!

Yes, I said in the article (only half-jokingly!) that kids should start learning languages "in utero." But that doesn't mean that if you start when your child is 10 or older, you've lost your opportunity. I am proof of that - I didn't start learning Spanish until high school, and I now speak with near-native fluency. (And I am still learning and improving every day.) Anyone can learn at any age. Of course, it's easier for young children, but don't let that stop you if they - and you! - are older. Being an older learner has its own advantages. So yes, start as early as you can ... but it is never, ever too late!

2. Immerse, immerse, immerse! Create a language-rich environment in your home - and don't forget your community....

Family, friends, games, music, books, culturally authentic television shows and videos ... keep the language alive by using it and making it an enjoyable and "siempre presente" part of your daily lives. Try a game with post-it notes - write the names of household objects and label things around the house (watch out for el gato, though!). And don't forget your community! Of course, it's great to take the kids back to a Spanish-speaking country, if you can ... but if you can't, you can probably still find that same type of language immersion experience right in your own town or close by.

3. Make Spanish fun for yourself and your child.

Tie learning to an interest that your child has, or that you and your kids have in common. Do you like cooking? Bicycling? Reading? Legos? Do it in Spanish! Nancy Marmolejo created a fun game with her young daughter, where they each have a Spanish "persona", and when they're in character, they can only speak Spanish.

Remember, the key to any learning is motivation. If it's fun, they're motivated. If it's done in a way that produces stress, then the brain goes into defensive mode, and cannot absorb new information (it's called the affective filter, and I won't bore you with the details, but it is one thing I remember from all those educational theory classes I took, and the one I most agree with). I think it can be counterproductive to force the issue and make children respond in Spanish when they're not ready to do so. Trust that if you are providing as much exposure as you can, the kids are absorbing the language – and eventually they will produce it on their own (sometimes when you least expect it!).

4. Be proud of sharing your language and heritage with your child, and don't beat yourself up if they're not perfectly bilingual yet!

It's common for bilingual children to respond to their parents in English. Some parents may feel discouraged by this. Rest assured that if they are responding to you, they understand you - and that means the language is programmed into their minds. When they need it and are motivated, they will find a way to use it.

The Chispa Spanish thematic units I'm creating are designed to provide maximum exposure, make learning fun, and highlight Latino culture and heritage at the same time. And just as I tell teachers, "These are not babysitting videos" – i.e., these are not materials to put in the DVD player and let the kids passively watch – the same is true for families. These are active learning tools, with accompanying enrichment activities for parents and children to enjoy together.

So check out Chispa and LATINA magazine this month!

Saturday, August 18, 2007


*Xenoglossophobia - fear of foreign languages

I'm writing a new op-ed about immigration and the real linguistic danger ... i.e., not the fact that immigrant languages are "taking over," but rather that they are being lost .... and I cited the story of my friend, who was chided at her own son's birthday party for speaking to him in Spanish.

I wondered how many other Spanish-speakers (or speakers of any language, really) had received similar treatment, so I put out a call on the Las Comadres New York network.

Here is a sampling of some of the responses I received:


This is a very interesting subject. I have to say that in my case, I've got all kinds of looks when I speak Spanish - some good, but most bad, especially from very ignorant Americans. I am a blond, blue eyed woman who gets very good reception until I open my mouth, and then I get the " you don't look Spanish" or "What language is that?" When I say it is Spanish, people say it sounds different. I think that they cannot believe a very American looking woman can be Spanish and be proud of it.


This is a really touchy point in my psyche. Adversion to Spanish speaker is not a new issue, especially on the West Coast. I am in my early 40's, second generation on my father's side, third generation mother's side, we were discouraged in a socially condoned approach (as were many before me). I am Mexican, Spanish, Native American - both my parents were bilingual. I have written stories (unpublished) about my experiences growing up being told not to speak Spanish.

As a Chicana, I consider it important to contextualize the reality that it is not just recent immigrants and/or immigrants which have suffered from this racism.


Hi, yes a few years ago my and my sorority sisters were doing a community service at a church near Columbia University, and we were speaking spanish in between ourselves. The other people at the community service complained and the organizers there told us that we should not speak spanish anymore. What happened to freedom of speech? eh? it never mentioned it was to be only English speech!


It has happened to a lot of us. In the midst of "friends", when I have spoken in Spanish, non-Spanish speakers have said "that's rude". I just keep on speaking in Spanish. It is my language and if the more languages we know..the better. I'm so glad you are writing this piece.


When I was in high school about 6 years ago, I was speaking in Spanish to one of my friends (the classroom was half Hispanic, a third black, the rest South-East Asian, one person was white), and as soon as the ASSISTANT teacher heard me start up a conversation in Spanish, this one time she told me to stop speaking in Spanish, and didn't stop there. Instead she added: "Welcome to America." I feel that her perception of America does not recognize the diversity that we have, and instead, ignorantly rejects it. Secondly, look at the classroom statistics and think about how many other people were offended besides me. I was extremely offended to the point that look how many years have passed and it still bugs me. I wish I would have said something then!


Thanks for asking about this. I have been chided and have also chided close relatives for speaking Spanish. The situation is the same, usually. My mother used to reprimand me for speaking Spanish when we were in English-speaking company that didn't understand. She found it rude. At first I was offended (but why? Spanish is our language!!), but then I understand that her intention was not to stifle me, but to be inclusive and speak in the language that all of us could participate in. I found myself doing the same to my husband recently when he started a side conversation (already rude) in Spanish with me while we were in company that spoke only English (ruder).

So that's that. I think you have to look at people's intentions when incidents like this happen. We're all doing the best we can and sometimes the question is one of education or misinformation. Perhaps I worry too much about seeming rude to others, but I would rather speak plainly to a family member or close friend than come across as anything less than being clear, comprehensible, and present in the company I might be keeping.


Soy profesora de español para adultros en Manhattan. Con mi esposo tenemos nuestro propio centro de aprendizaje, y hemos tenido la oportunidad de ver casos muy interesantes relñacionados con el idioma.

El que mas nos llama la atención es el target de estudiantes que llamamos "Spanish Heritage students" cuyas edades oscilan entre los 25 y 40 años. Hijos de hispanos de segunda generación, con características físicas claramente hispanas, que entienden el idioma pero que no lo hablan. Ellos han sido criados por padres (la mayoría con escasos recursos academicos y económicos) que han promovido que sus hijos solo hable inglés por el miedo y complejo de ser estigmatizados o discriminados en sus comunidades por hablar español. Ahora esos mismos niños son los que, en busca de su propia identidad, pagan para aprender lo que sus padres debieron haberles enseñado desde chicos. El tema de hablar español en los hogares es tan importante porque el idioma va relacionado intimamente con la personalidad y la identidad del niño.

Entonces sería interesante que en tu nota detallaras el tema de que muchas veces el que no se hable español en las familias no solamente es por parte de los "blancos" sino por ignorancia y desconocimiento de los propios padres.


I have a couple of stories for you...they may be too old...meaning they happened in the 60's but I feel must tell you.

May 1965 Brownsville, Texas (a border town) Matamoros being on the other side of elementary school, Ebony
Heights, on Stanford Street. We were alway told NOT to ever speak Spanish at school. We were told this by the teachers and administrators. One afternoon while I was playing in the school yard during recess...there were a couple of girls playing with a ball beside me. They were speaking spanish and having fun. In a moment that I will never forget, a teacher strides over to them and grabs on girl by the arm and slaps her in the face. Everyone on the school yard was stunned. The teacher dragged both of the girls off yelling at them that they are NOT to speak spanish on the school grounds. I felt so bad because I spoke spanish to my grandparents....and this is where another story begins.

Just after that incident. I was, in my mother's place, going to Delaware to my Aunt's wedding. On that trip, travelling through the south, I noticed people looking at my Aunt Yolanda a bit different. She is morena.

But what happened next is very telling. We went to Washington DC and saw all of the monuments...going over our constitution and re-reading how all men are created equal. After that...we went to the New York Worlds Fair. I was in heaven, so I thought. But at one point I said I had to go to the ladies room. My maternal grandomother...who always dressed so elegantly in Christian Dior took me to the bathroom. I went into the stall, I then heard my grandmother ask in Spanish if I was hungry. I answered her in English that I was. She then asked me again in Spanish what I wanted to eat..I answered her in English that I'd like a hamburger. When I walked out of the very elegant grandmother grabbed me and asked me Why I was speaking to her in english...I said to her that I was speaking in English because we're in the United States. She tightened her grip on me and said to me "Don't you ever feel ashamed of who you are, where your family comes from. You speak two languages. Most people can't even speak one! Never be ashamed of who you are and where you come from! Be proud of your

Whoa....I heard her loud and clear. My ability to speak spanish has helped me in my career. In fact...I feel I should have been paid more for being bi-lingual. I think that is still an issue.

Anyway....I don't know if this is anywhere near what you were really needing...but it's my story.


Cuando vine a Upstate New York, me encontré con un grupo grande de
amigas españolas. Así es que siempre hablabamos en español.
Cuando estabamos afuera de los "dorms", algunos chicos gritaban:
"English- English."

Por supuesto que seguía hablando español (a mucha honra!)


It's interesting how this post meshes with the one below, about the BBC reporters travelling across the US for two weeks, speaking only Spanish.

I can very definitely say that this type of attitude is the reason I grew up speaking only English, even though all four of my grandparents were immigrants. The sad thing is, my grandparents immigrated here 100 years ago. How is it possible that these attitudes are still the same, one century later?

And yes, as one writer notes, many heritage language learners are on a search to recapture a part of their soul that was lost, when these languages disappeared.

In my op-ed, I'm writing about how these language capabilities are so necessary to our future economic and political strength as a nation. What I didn't add, but will in a future article, is how this country's soul is in danger as well.

There's so much more to write on this subject ...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The British are coming ... and they're speaking only Spanish!

"I didn't know there were Hispanic British people."

That's what my son said when I told him him about this fascinating new project by BBC Mundo.

José Baig, a Hispanic affairs correspondent for BBC Mundo, and Carlos Ceresole, a video producer for the Spanish American section of BBC, have just set off on a two-week long trip across the United States with one simple goal in mind: to speak only Spanish during the entire trip.

Their route will begin in San Agustin, Florida and end in Los Angeles California. Along the way, they will be asking everyone they meet, "¿Hablas español?"

You can follow their journey by reading their highly entertaining and informative blog, and communicate with them via email (, Skype and Facebook.

I wish they were doing this two months from now, because I would definitely assign their blog – written entirely en español – as required reading for my college students this fall. In fact, I may still do that – especially since my emphasis is always on teaching Spanish through Latino culture and heritage in the US, and celebrating the people and resources we have here, instead of always treating Spanish as a "foreign" language.

In the meantime, I will be following their progress, and wishing them buen viaje y buena suerte ... and I hope you will, too!

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Daily Show's take on English as the Official Language of the United States

My favorite line .... "OK, give me - 'I'm allergic to penicillin .....'"

Monday, July 16, 2007

Best Educational Blog!

La Tertulia was nominated for Best Educational Blog!

My site was nominated for Best Education Blog!

OK, I did originally nominate myself a month or so ago, but then last week I actually got an email from Blogger's Choice Awards saying that I had been nominated independently. So that seems more official, which is nice ...

At any rate .... Vote for me here!

Let's show Blogger's Choice awards that people care about the Spanish language and Latino cultures .... especially since they don't have awards for Latino-themed, multicultural or multilingual blogs ... yet. (If we show enough interest, hopefully by next year they will!)

Friday, July 13, 2007

When politics mix with fútbol (that wasn't "GOOOOOOOOOOOOL" they were shouting in Venezuela .....)

The stadium shook as the passionate crowd seemed to unite in one resounding voice at the Copa America soccer match in Maracaibo, Venezuela two weeks ago. A chant was taking hold, and it grew louder and louder as people joined in, clapping and stomping their feet at the same time.

At first, I couldn’t understand what they were saying. The chant had started on the other side of the stadium, in one of the “popular” sections. But as it gained force and moved around to where we were sitting, it became clear.

They were chanting, “RCTV! RCTV! RCTV!”

In late May, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez shut down Venezuela's oldest and most-watched television network, RCTV, saying it sought to undermine his government. Recent polls show that between 70% and 80% of Venezuelans oppose the closing of the station. These figures seemed to be reflected loudly and clearly in the chants coming from the stands.


For a few minutes, even though the game was in full swing, no one was paying attention to the field.

Venezuela is a self-proclaimed “país de béisbol” rather then fútbol. A popular TV commercial acknowledges this fact and then turns it around, showing Minnesota Twins star pitcher Johan Santana playing a pick-up soccer game on the street with a group of children – the tagline says, “In a country of baseball, we also play soccer.”

But the Venezuelans love soccer, too. The newly refurbished stadiums practically glisten with pride, and the country is awash in “Vinotinto” mania, celebrating the national team with wine-colored jerseys and reggaeton songs.

And Venezuelans know it is a privilege to be hosting the oldest international soccer tournament in their home country, and to be watching the best of the best on their fields – especially the Argentine team, with its dazzling footwork and superstar players.

This was an eagerly awaited game, the first time Argentina would appear on the field. Many Venezuelans feel a close connection with Argentina, as evidenced by the sky-blue and white jerseys that filled the stadium. And when Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona appeared in the stands, the crowd went wild.

Yet none of that mattered for those few moments at the Pachencho Romero stadium in Maracaibo two weeks ago.


The voices calmed down – but only briefly. Soon a new, louder chant came up:

“Libertad! Libertad! Libertad!”

On the field, the Argentine team continued to dazzle the US with its lightning-fast footwork, but again, no one was looking at the field. People were looking around at each other, the majority chanting and clapping together, united in passion and purpose.

In a few minutes, the crowd calmed down again, and seemed to return to the business of watching the game.

But the chants weren’t finished. There was one more left – this one, a song that swept through the stadium and reverberated into the night:

“Y va a caer, y va caer, este gobierno va a caer!”

(“It’s going to fall, it’s going to fall, this government is going to fall.”)

The crowd had made its point, and finally the public’s attention returned to the field to watch the end of the game. (Final score: Argentina 4, US 1.)

I went to the Copa America game fully expecting the US team to be booed. The Venezuelan government makes no secret of its disdain for the US and its policies, and quite honestly, much of that disdain is based on a history of some highly indefensible actions on the part of the US in the region. In fact, as a result of that history - and some current
policies as well - anti-Americanism can be considered another popular sport in much of Latin America.

So I was ready for the boos. I braced for them when a parachutist with an American flag landed on the field to open the game, and again when the US team took the field. But the boos never came. Instead, the US was greeted with polite applause. (Of course, the roaring cheers were reserved for the Argentines.)

The only hoots, whistles and boos came when a parachutist with a flag saying “PDVSA” – the Venezuelan national oil company, associated with the Chávez government – landed.

And then there were the chants.

There were many goals scored during the Argentina-US match, and many chances for the crowd to leap to its feet, screaming 'GOOOOOOOOOL!' – which they did, deliriously.

But they had something else to say, too.

And in this match, perhaps the most important points were made not on the field, but in the stands. At the Copa America game between Argentina and the US on June 28, the people may have scored the loudest goal.

Friday, July 06, 2007

My op-ed was published ....

I got back from a trip to Venezuela last night to find that my op-ed was published on Tuesday!

I wrote about how Bill Richardson and Barack Obama are constantly being accused of being either too Latino or too black, or not Latino or black "enough." This is what biracial and bicultural kids are being faced with every day -- which table to sit at in the cafeteria? The pressure is to choose between one or the other ... but the reality is, they are both ... and the cafeteria needs a new table that reflects that.

My original title was, "Race, Politics and the Middle School Cafeteria." They changed it to, "The futility of classifying ourselves by race."

I do like my title better, but I'm not complaining. Al contrario!

In the meantime, I just wrote another piece entitled "They weren't shouting 'GOOOOOOOOOOL'" about the chants of "RCTV" and "Libertad" at the Copa America games in Maracaibo, Venezuela last Thursday. As it happens, I was there, and it was an amazing moment. Hopefully you will be reading about it in my next published piece .....

Saturday, June 02, 2007

When history repeats itself

Imagine that you grew up in Cuba. Your family fled as the revolution took hold, civil liberties were taken away, and the government put a stranglehold on the nation. You never lost your love or your longing for your patria, but your new country soon became home, and you rebuilt your life and created new dreams and hopes for your own future and that of your children.

Now imagine that the country to which your family fled is Venezuela. And you start to see history repeating itself.

This is what my friend and his family are living through right now. I'll call him "Empalado" because his previous experience has taught him to be cautious about speaking out publicly - and even though he now lives in the US, you never know what the repercussions might be at home.

I asked him what he thought about the US and Spain coming out publicly against Chávez's closing of RCTV, because I am very sensitive to the US sticking its nose in other people's business, partly because of our history (especially in Latin America) and partly because of our present (in Iraq) ... and I wouldn't want to give the Venezuelan government more ammunition and an easy enemy to use as justification for further repression. I wondered if perhaps the protests coming from el pueblo would be more valuable in effecting change than those coming from el extranjero.

Empalado writes ....

Como Cubano-Venezolano que soy y ahora a mucha honra US Gringo, pienso que países como Inglaterra , USA, y otros aliados, tuvieron el valor de ir en contra de un Chávez más grande como era Hitler y dar el todo por el todo y no dejar que el mundo se convirtiera en una película inhumana.

Deseo con todas mis fuerzas las PAZ, y entregaría mi vida por ella. Pero como una narración Bíblica dice: " De qué le sirve al hombre tener mucha riqueza cuando se pierde la vida".

El himno Nacional de Cuba dice en una de sus estrofas:" ...el morir por la patria es vivir".

Y yo añadaria:-

deja que tu mano te entregue su Paz
quitad del camino al tirano sagaz
y nunca descanses si hijos teneis
si luchas por ellos jamas temereis.-

La ley de la vida es siempre la misma...eres la semilla de ayer...y seguirás siendo mañana tambien. El que emigra, emigra por los hijos, por el futuro de sus frutos, por la cosecha sembrada que abarca hasta que perecemos. No en vano, un golpe sencillo en el corazón tambien te rompe el destino.

Venezuela se ahoga, y no puede pedir auxilio. Se ahoga arrogante aun y pierde su hilo. Ya casi ni se ve ya el país, tan solo protestas sin brío. Tal cual una flor , marchitando un chillido. Y triste desvanecedor ya cae el destino, en el bravo Pueblo de Bolívar. Desvirtualizado. Hecho trillas.

Y pienso ahora en Martí, escribiendo sus versos sencillos. Seguramente yo sienta lo mismo, qué historia, qué triste. Sin libertad, no vivo.

Dar por igual sin respetar que somos los mismos. Eso es libertad, tener la oportunidad de expresar civismo.

Crecí viendo los valles de Aragua, los mismos que cabalgó "ese niño Don Simon". En mi caso bicicleta y luego con un motor. Pero embriaga de magia y los sueños ya no "solo sueños son". Así sentía yo, creo igual que El Libertador.

Avisto una Venezuela sin orden, igual que en antaño colonial. Persibo ingratas injusticias, traciones de paz. Será, existe hoy dia algún otro joven soñador? O se ha perdido mi patria? Eso solo lo sabe Dios.

I have a trip to Venezuela planned next month ... my first, after many years of having a Venezuelan connection and amigos muy queridos from this country that has always seemed to know how to love and enjoy life like no other culture I have ever known.

It will be an interesting trip.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Friends vs. Latin Friends

I didn't write this, but I certainly have experienced it. And my life is so much richer for it!


FRIENDS: Never ask for food.
LATIN FRIENDS: Are the reason you have food.

FRIENDS: Will say "hello."
LATIN FRIENDS: Will give you a big hug and a kiss.

FRIENDS: Call your parents Mr. and Mrs.
LATIN FRIENDS: Call your parents mom and dad.

FRIENDS: Have never seen you cry.
LATIN FRIENDS: Cry with you.

FRIENDS: Will eat at your dinner table and leave.
LATIN FRIENDS: Will spend hours there, talking,laughing and just being together.

FRIENDS: Borrow your stuff for a few days then give it back.
LATIN FRIENDS: Keep your stuff so long they forget it's yours.

FRIENDS: Know a few things about you.
LATIN FRIENDS: Could write a book with direct quotes from you.

FRIENDS: Will leave you behind if that's what the crowd is doing.
LATIN FRIENDS: Will kick the whole crowds' ass that left you.

FRIENDS: Would knock on your door.
LATIN FRIENDS: Walk right in and say, "I'm home!"

FRIENDS: Are for a while.
LATIN FRIENDS: Are for life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


So let's just say – not that this necessarily actually happened – but let's just say, just for the sake of argument, that perhaps your family dropped the ball a little bit on Mother's Day, or your birthday wasn't exactly celebrated with quite the fanfare which you might perhaps deserve .... and perhaps you need a little bit of a sonrisa today .... or let's just say that perhaps you need a smile for no reason at all!

Well, here is something that will definitely bring a smile to your face ...

Thanks to the incredibly brilliant Marisa Treviño, the brains behind Latina Lista (originally "just" a blog, soon to be a movement ... more on that in a separate post), I have discovered ....

The E-Serenata!!

How incredible is this??

Click on this link to be transported to a second story window, from which you are looking out onto a garden ... and there is a mariachi band below, just waiting to serenade you!

And then they do!

And – here is the best part – you can send an E-Serenata to anyone, for any occasion. OK, it does cost two bucks. But the proceeds go to the Mariachi USA festival, and certainly I don't mind supporting musicians.

So I got my serenata, and my sonrisa, today!

Now go to your window and enjoy your very own serenata!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Inspiración, sin límites

Fun and inspirational -- a reminder that the only limits we have are the ones in our own mind.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mi Espacio es Tu Espacio

OK, don't use the MySpace en español version until they decide to have a real Spanish speaker do the translations ... (see my previous post) ...

But DO consider using MySpace as a fabulous networking and platform building tool for any small business, artist or writer.

I thank Nancy Marmolejo of Comadre Coaching for opening my eyes to all the networking and business-building potential at MySpace. It really isn't just for teens anymore. (In fact, as any teen will tell you, they've all moved on to Facebook!)

I had actually signed up for a MySpace page a while ago, just so I could get some information on a band I liked. But it never occurred to me to use it as a business networking and platform building tool until Nancy suggested it. In fact, even after Nancy suggested it, and told me what success Crafty Chica Kathy Murillo was having on MySpace, it took me a long time to come around! I just didn't see the connection at first. After all, my company, Chispa Productions, creates multimedia Spanish educational materials that celebrate Latino culture and heritage in the U.S. Where's the MySpace in that?

Trust Nancy, though, to see the possibilities and run with them ... and to motivate the rest of us to do the same! She even published an easy-to follow guide called Make MySpace Your Space to help us get started.

Following her suggestions and her example, I created a MySpace profile that showcases me and my business in a way that no website ever could. I've got pictures, music, animated graphics, quizzes, and even interactive, moveable alphabet magnets on a refrigerator! (I put a new Spanish dicho on every week.)

I cross-link with my website, Chispa Productions, and my blog, La Tertulia, and have seen an increase in traffic to them both. I am connecting with people from all over the country who love the Spanish language and want to celebrate Latino culture and heritage. I know that as I build my network, I have ready-made contacts for all my current and future projects. And I have a network of "amigos" whose colorful pictures and artwork reflect the excitement and sabor latino that I want to share with the world.

Nancy's teleseminars on MySpace and the easy, step-by-step instructions in the book make it easy to get started, and to build on what you've already started. I would never have thought of some of the tips Nancy provides (e.g. put your website at the bottom of every message you send!!). They are truly invaluable.

I really thank Nancy for opening the door to this new opportunity, and for making it so easy to enjoy the benefits of networking and platform building on MySpace!

Try it yourself ... remember, Mi Espacio es Tu Espacio!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

¡Lo siento! Ocurrió un error inesperado. (Bienvenidos a MySpace en español)

¡Lo siento! Ocurrió un error inesperado.

Este error se le ha reenviado al grupo técnico de MySpace.

If you've seen this message before, then you probably signed up for MySpace en español.

Really, though, it should be called "MySpace en Spanglish." Or maybe just "MySpace really poorly translated by some online translator in a way that would make any Spanish speaker cringe ... and would make any Spanish teacher flunk the person trying to use it."

Ever use a translator like BabelFish to try to translate something? A word of warning ... don't try using it with your language teacher .... we always know.

How do we know?

Well, first of all, it's kind of obvious when a Spanish I student turns in an essay with pluperfect subjunctive (when said student can't even conjugate a regular verb in the present tense.)

And then, there are the mistranslations.

My daughter's friend showed me an essay she had "written" in Spanish, which included a phrase about someone having to stay behind. The online translator translated that "behind" as trasero ... i.e., the kind of "behind" you sit on.

Want to have some fun? Try it yourself. Go to BabelFish and put in any sentence in English, and translate it to any other language.

For example, I typed in "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak," to be translated from English to Spanish.

BabelFish gave me:

"El alcohol está dispuesto, pero la carne es débil.

Now for the really fun part ... have BabelFish translate that sentence back into English!

Here's what I got:

"The alcohol is arranged, but the meat is weak."

(Try it with any saying, with movie titles, etc. ...)

Translating languages is not just about words, and you can't just do it with a computer. Ignore the culture and nuances, and you lose not only the meaning -- you lose the communication, and you lose the motivation to communicate.

And this is what reading MySpace en español is like. The translations are bad (I get things like "Ver todos * Ruth * Chispa Productions Grupos de" for "See Ruth's groups"), and aside from having a few Latinos as suggested "amigos", and some obscure Latino groups as featured artists, there is nothing particularly "español" or "Latino" about it.

I certainly don't see any added bonus. In fact, right now, it's a negative.

Also, you know that error message that opens this post? I get that with practically every "clic."

At this point, MySpace en español seems like a poorly executed attempt to grab the Latino market. I'm not impressed, and I know they can and should do better.

(And here's the REALLY annoying part ... I can't figure out how to get it back into English mode!)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

El cielo

I am in love ....

.... with YouTube.

Yes, YouTube.

I cannot believe what I just found .... poems by Mario Benedetti .... read by Benedetti himself and other actors (from the movie, "El lado oscuro del corazón") ....

Táctica y estrategia

No te salves

Corazón coraza

What a treasure ....

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Foreign languages ... they're not foreign any more!

Check out this link for the published version of my article about a local high school Spanish Club's trip to a Spanish-speaking city .... 20 minutes from home.

Imagine if every language teacher in the country sought to help their students make this kind of personal connection with the language they teach, the people who speak it, and the culture that surrounds it.

What a difference that would make, not only in our language classes, but in our society.

Young people would start to see languages as something real, something they can use every day, something that connects them to people and to new (and positive) experiences.

And maybe some of them would think twice before categorizing immigrants and other speakers of different languages as a negative influence that detracts from our country and our culture.

And perhaps, as well, the young people who grow up in these linguistic communities will see their language and culture validated, and will understand the value of maintaining their language and culture, while still being fully "American."

In Italian, there is a phrase, "sogni d'oro." These are my golden dreams.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Just for fun!

This always brings a smile to my face (and gets me moving, too) .....

Click here.

(If you get a message about a user name and password, type in "guest" for the username and "porfavor" for the password.)


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Spanish Trip with a Twist

It's one thing to talk about how important it is to use local resources in teaching languages. It's quite a bit harder to actually do it. But here's an article I just wrote about one teacher who did just that!


Monica Lavosky’s Spanish Club students from Montclair High School just got back from a Spanish trip. In the town they visited, they met and conversed with native speakers in Spanish, shopped in local stores, and tasted local foods. Lavosky had assigned a scavenger hunt that had the teenagers scouring a Latin American market for ingredients to make a dinner recipe, asking for directions in Spanish from a local store owner, and capturing key information from Spanish-language newspapers, postcards, billboards and store signs. To complete the scavenger hunt, they had to find a music store and learn the name of the number one song (“La Llave de Mi Corazón”) and the artist who sings it (Juan Luis Guerra). They topped off the day with a meal featuring yucca and other novelties that many of the students had never even seen, much less tasted.

All in all, it was a complete cultural and linguistic immersion for the Montclair students.

The catch?

They never left New Jersey.

Lavosky’s students took a 20-minute bus ride from Montclair to Union City, taking advantage of the rich linguistic and cultural resources of this predominantly Latino community in Northern New Jersey. This Montclair Spanish professor knows that effective language learning cannot just take place with books and classrooms.

“I wanted to give my students an opportunity to interact with native speakers, and to use the language they’ve learned in class in a real life setting,” she said. By taking her students outside of the classroom and into the community, Lavosky made the language real for her students. And they loved it.

“The best part for the students is that the native speakers understood them, and were friendly and very receptive to them. They were really able to communicate,” Lavosky said. “And they were amazed to find a place so close to their home where everyone spoke Spanish.”

The first stop for the students was Mi Bandera supermarket, where each student had to find the ingredients to prepare a dinner recipe they had been assigned. While in the market, Lavosky and her colleague, Maribel Marte – also a teacher at Montclair High School – interviewed several of the employees about their various positions. They learned, for example, that one worker’s responsibilities included washing the linens for the butchers.

Out on Bergenline Avenue, the students eagerly undertook what turned out to be their favorite part of the trip: the scavenger hunt, where they searched for birthday cards and magazines while interacting with storeowners and people on the street. They then returned to Mi Bandera for a meal featuring a variety of Latin American foods.

And what was the reaction of Union City residents to the visitors? “Well, one person asked why the kids weren’t in school!” said Lavosky. “But everyone responded well to the students and welcomed their efforts to communicate in Spanish.”

Union City’s Latino legacy dates back to the early 60s, when thousands of Cuban immigrants fleeing Castro’s regime settled there. The Cuban presence in the city nicknamed “Havana on the Hudson” is still strong, but the Latino population has since expanded to include newcomers from all over Latin America, including the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Union City also happens to be Lavosky’s home town, and she enjoyed sharing her heritage with her students.

By helping her students make immediate and personal connections to Spanish in a town just minutes away from where they live, Lavosky proves that in this day and age, many foreign languages don’t need to be taught as “foreign” any more. It’s an approach with benefits that will extend far beyond the classroom, in the students’ lives, in the communities they will visit, and in the interactions they will have with native speakers in this country and overseas.

(And chances are, as a result, Lavosky’s students will never be quoted saying the line that makes language teachers worldwide cringe: “I took four years of (x) in high school, and I can’t speak a word!”)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Languages - A Star Trek-like Journey?

No matter how wonderful we may be as teachers – and no matter what fabulous techniques we have learned and tweaked and refined – chances are, our students won’t really be learning Spanish (or any other language) unless they want to learn it.

We might be teaching them, yes, and they might also be performing well – and of course, our skills are crucial here – but are they really learning? And even more important, are they craving more?

Are they becoming lifelong learners who want to embark on a Star Trek-like journey to seek out new contacts in the language and culture?

Do they tune the radio to the Spanish station when they’re in the car? Do they switch to a Spanish program on their televisions at some point during the day? Do they have French, Italian, German, Chinese, Russian or Japanese popular music on their iPods? Do they make an effort to greet and converse with native speakers in their town? Do they see themselves visiting the countries where the language they're studying is spoken?

Do they see that languages all around them and can enrich their lives and their experiences every day?

Our goal as teachers is to spark that motivation in our students.

But how do we get there?

We need to take language study out of the classroom and into real life, and we need to bring real life into the language classroom. That's the motivation behind Chispa.

It's a journey well worth taking, for all of us. And it's not just worthwhile – it's fun!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pasos de gigante -- but forwards or backwards?

I just got this email from a friend, under the heading "increíble."

"Ruth, acabo de escuchar esta noticia. Una emisora de radio tiene un concurso de agarrar a un inmmigrante.

Estoy arrechiiisima!! Echo humos por todas partes. Dios Mio, creo que es como un virus que se está regando. Parece mentira pero como que estamos echando para atrás. Todo lo que habíamos ganado, parece estarse devolviendo a pasos agigantados. Podemos hacer algo al respecto? Lee sobre los imbeciles estos..

"Craig announces that ‘Operation La Cuca Gotcha’ kicks off tomorrow February 6th. Our listeners can help ‘out’ illegal immigrants by any of the following methods:

Calling into the show or our toll free number

Call any immigration office toll free hotlines which are posted on the Jersey Guys webpage

The ultimate Jersey Guys goal is set: 300 illegals in 3 months. Beginning tomorrow February 6th and ending May 5th (yes, Cinco De Mayo). The guys plan on possibly renting a bus and going around and trying to round up illegals by themselves. But how do you keep them from escaping?"

So this is like that ridiculously inflammatory and offensive "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" contest at NYU earlier this year. Only this time, it's for real.

Increíble, yes. I would also call it asqueroso.

But mostly, instead of naming what I feel about it, I have to start thinking about actions I can take to counteract this in a POSITIVE manner. Two negatives may make a positive in math, but they don't in real life.

I definitely feel that that my videos will help, by celebrating the Spanish language and Latino cultures in the United States as valuable and valued resources.

And I know that my writings are on target, too.

But there is so much more to be done, and it is going to require the combined POSITIVE efforts of a whole lot of people to stem this kind of thinking.

We have our challenge, and it's not catching illegal aliens ....

Friday, March 09, 2007

Phrases we used to learn in language class

My previous post includes a link to Eddie Izzard's hilarious routine about French phrases he had to memorize in French class that ended up being extremely difficult to work into everyday conversation:

"The mouse is under the table."

"The cat is on the chair."

"The monkey is on the branch."

I still remember the junior high dialogues that the kids in French classes had to memorize .... and I didn't even take French! It's funny, but I just wrote about this in the paper that my friend Liz and I are preparing for the NYU "Beyond Borders" conference on multiculturalism and international education (yes, our abstract was accepted!). And then I opened up my daily digest email from the FL TEACH Foreign Language Teaching Listserve, and found many, many language teachers reminiscing about exactly this same thing: the silly phrases they had to memorize, which got stuck in their heads. Some of them were useful:

"Ojalá que se mejore pronto." (I hope he gets better soon.)

Some were less so ....

... the German equivalent of "I have a plaid bathing suit with a zipper."

... the Hebrew version of "Mother, the cheese is bad."

But I have to say that my favorite phrases from any language book are the ones from the book "Hindi Made Easy", that was given to my father when our family spent a year and a half in India in 1961-62. (He was sent by Columbia Teachers College and USAID to work on a nonformal education project there.) I believe this book was the one given to British soldiers stationed in India.

The two phrases that we will all always remember are:

"Let us set fire to the village."


"That man is a horse thief."

(I wish I were kidding about this, but I'm not!)

By the way, if you want to see pictures of a 3-year-old me in India .... click here. The white outfits and colored paints and powders are from the holiday Holi, when everyone dresses up in white and throws paint, colored water, and colored powder on everyone else. As a kid, this was just about the most fun I could ever imagine having! Seeing the Taj Mahal was amazing, too. I was so young at the time (3 and 4), but I definitely remember my friends, the people who worked in our house, my British nursery school, Claridge's swimming pool (where my brother fell in before he knew how to swim, and one of his teachers jumped in, in full sari, to get him out), and the elephant I refused to ride on (much to my father's dismay, since he wanted to get a picture, but I had just seen the elephant eat an entire banana WITHOUT PEELING IT, and that just freaked me out .... ). And I remember - and will never forget - the incredible poverty that was around us every day.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I've been tagged! Why I Blog ....

Normally I hate any type of "chain" letter, but this is different .... Nancy Marmolejo of Comadre Coaching and The Loca Diaries has tagged a bunch of us with the question,
Why Do I Blog?


I think I blog so that I can share information with people. I am a compulsive resource sharer. Especially if it's (a) related to language and culture and (b) either inspirational or funny.

I mean, where else would I have an opportunity to share this with the world?


Friday, February 16, 2007

Bilingual babies

This is what my friend's bilingual six-year-old asked, when she heard about a new baby cousin in the family:

"Salió en inglés o en español?"

("Did the baby come out in English or in Spanish?")

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

¡¡PBS en español!!

Great news for the entire Spanish-speaking and bilingual community of the United States, as well as Latinophiles!

PBS has just announced the creation of a new network, V-me, that will start broadcasting on March 5 in cities with major Latino communities (isn't that most of the United States at this point?).

V-me will include both children's and adult educational programming, including shows about nature, science, politics and culture, as well as an updated telenovela called "Nuestro Barrio," that will touch on current social themes. Local affiliates will be able to incorporate their own programs about their local communities.

This is a long time coming, but it's never too late! In fact, V-me was created by Mario Baeza, head of the Baeza Group, for precisely the same reasons I created Chispa Productions: to create quality programming in Spanish that is fun, educational and culturally relevant to today's Spanish speakers and learners in the United States.

As today's New York Times article notes, "Mr. Baeza became interested in a public broadcasting network for Latinos years ago, when his children were young, and he searched, fruitlessly, for television programs they could watch in Spanish that had the same educational values as English-language public television."

Amen to that! We all have the same mission. And if a rising tide lifts all boats ... well, this is an ocean that reaches far and wide, and we will all benefit.

For more information, read the full article in the New York Times here.

And keep that dial tuned to V-me, starting March 5!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Gerundios from my Invisible Friends

Another song from a favorite group, Los Amigos Invisibles of Venezuela.

The artist in me loves the look of this video ...... the romantic in me loves the storyline .... and the language teacher in me loves that the song is almost 100% gerunds ..... the combination gives this video such a dreamy quality. It really is beautiful.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Chispa on TV!

Hey, I got my one minute of air time! Well, less than a minute, actually, but there I am, at minute 17:55 of the January 18, 2007 PBS television show, Images/Imágenes on Hispanics, Economics and Politics, discussing how Chispa Productions creates resources that teach Spanish with Sabor Latino, celebrating Latino culture and heritage in the United States.

For the next week (until January 25), you can watch a streaming webcast of the show here.

So here are three important things I have learned from this experience:

1. ALWAYS have your 30-second elevator speech ready (thank you, Laurelle Johnson of InnerWealth Communications!)

2. ALWAYS take advantage of networking opportunities that really relate to your business and your mission, even if you think you're too tired to go out that evening (I was, but I went anyway) ...

3. NEVER leave your house without having your hair and make-up completely TV-ready!!

Well, maybe #3 is an exaggeration, but I certainly wasn't expecting to be filmed when I went to the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey networking event last month. And yet there I was, being interviewed by Willie Sanchez, Executive Producer of Images/Imágenes, the longest running Hispanic affairs program in the PBS system, and one of the longest running television programs of its kind in the country. (I guarantee you, you would be seeing a different hairstyle and more effective make-up if I had known!)

But you know what – I like how my message came across, and I was glad to be able to get it out there.

And here is what I love most:

At minute 5:30, guess who also shows up: my Latinapreneur Coach Extraordinaire, Nancy Marmolejo of Comadre Coaching, receiving the Anna Maria Arias award for Latina entrepreneurship at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention in Philadelphia last September.

Such synchronicity! Without Nancy, there would be no Chispa Productions right now. So it was a wonderful surprise, and completely fitting.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Juanes, Carlos Vives y Aterciopelados cantarán poemas infantiles

From my Yahoo Noticias en español ... it sounds like fun, and it could be a great resource for Spanish teachers ....

Juanes, Carlos Vives y Aterciopelados cantarán poemas infantiles

BOGOTÁ (AFP) - Un grupo de artistas colombianos del que forman parte Juanes, Carlos Vives y el grupo Aterciopelados se unieron para musicalizar los versos infantiles del poeta del siglo XIX Rafael Pombo, que aparecerán en un disco este año con motivo de la celebración del Congreso de la Lengua Española.

Juanes aceptó interpretar 'El gato Bandido', mientras que el dueto Aterciopelados -de Andrea Echeverry y Héctor Buitrago- darán vida a la gata Candonga en 'Mirringa Mirronga', algunos de los poemas más famosos de Pombo.

"Es un proyecto en el que venía trabajando desde hace tiempo y al cual se unieron varios amigos", dijo a periodistas el cantante del folclórico vallenato Carlos Vives, promotor de la iniciativa. Vives dijo que le encantaría que la cantante Shakira pueda vincularse al proyecto, aunque reconoció que ha sido difícil contactarla.

Pombo, que nació en Bogotá en 1833 y murió en 1912, fue un prolífico poeta cuyos versos de amor han sido opacados por la popularidad de sus fábulas infantiles, con personajes como 'Rin Rin Renacuajo' y 'La Pobre Viejecita'. De esta última se rodó una película animada en 1984.

El disco con los poemas musicalizados será lanzado durante el IV Congreso de la Lengua Española que tendrá lugar en la colombiana Cartagena en marzo. Los recursos que se obtengan con la venta serán destinados a la financiación de una fundación que lleva el nombre del poeta.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Salud, Amor y $$$$$

My bríndis to all is for health, love and mucho dinero in 2007 .... I can't necessarily help you with the first two, but this may be of assistance for the dinero part. This is a teleseminar from the Latinapreneur Launch Pad series of my always inspiring and creative coach, Nancy Marmolejo. Definitely worth tuning in .... it's nice to put a little sabor latino into the financial process!

Got an Hour to Become a Millionaire?
Start the New Year off with the Tools to Achieve Financial Freedom.

Join award winning Latinapreneur Nancy Marmolejo as she interviews speaker, millionaire, and financial guru Ruben Ruiz, author of 'The One Hour Hispanic Millionaire'.

Date: Tuesday January 9, 2007
Time: 2pm Eastern Time, 1pm Central Time, 12pm Mountain Time, 11am Pacific Time

Ruben's acclaimed book, 'The One Hour Hispanic Millionaire', teaches people of all backgrounds how to overcome lifelong mindsets and barriers to wealth creation.

In this teleseminar you will learn:

* How to develop a Millionaire Mindset to reach all your financial goals

* A cash flow management system to serve as a blueprint for your wealth creation

* Valuable tips and tools to create net worth in 4 major opportunity areas

* The Five Destroyers of Wealth and how you can completely defeat them

* How to avoid the fallacy of getting rich overnight

* Why 'cheap thinking' may be blocking your financial success

* The 4 Wealth Building Quadrants and how to get started on them right away

Space is limited, so don't wait to sign up. You can learn more by visiting here.