Posts Tagged ‘Spanish’

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¿No hablas español? Study Spanish in Puebla

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Photograph courtesy of Livit Immersion CenterWhen people ask me how I ended up in Puebla, I tell them that I arrived in 2007 to study Spanish, fell in love with the place and a Poblano, and decided to stay. That’s the short answer, anyway. The longer version is that, as a professional writer and editor — a bona fide word nerd — and a veteran traveler, I’d started to feel downright embarrassed that I wasn’t bilingual. How could I be an expert in English, my native tongue, yet functionally illiterate any other language? Wasn’t this the era of globalism?

“Spanish is spoken by more than 500 million people worldwide, which is reason enough to learn the language,” according to the University of Illinois at Springfield’s continuing education department. “But it’s even more compelling when you realize that about half of the population in the Western Hemisphere speaks Spanish, making it the primary language for as many people as English in this region of the world.” That includes at least one out of every 10 people who live in the United States.

If my previous and failed attempts at French and German were any indication, I knew that I wouldn’t master Spanish in a typical California classroom. So, my plan was to complete the summer intensive program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and then study abroad in a full immersion program. “You can’t really learn a language unless you live it,” argued my MIIS instructor, a Cuban emigrant who’d taught Spanish in Colombia. I agreed and weighed immersion programs in Spain, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. I ultimately chose the Spanish Institute of Puebla, because it was relatively close to home, surprisingly affordable, and highly recommended by the eight former students I’d contacted (including a dean at Stanford University). I’m glad I did. The experience proved life-changing, and after six months of hard work I’d built a solid foundation for my ongoing Spanish journey.

Do you ever wish you could speak Spanish or simply want to brush up on what you already know?

Puebla is an ideal place to study Spanish. I’ve had ample opportunity to use the language, and you will, too. Although many locals understand English, relatively few speak it with confidence: Unlike the typical salesmen who work Mexico’s beaches and stereotype tourists by their appearance (quoting prices accordingly), Poblanos rarely switch to English when they see a visitor approaching or hear a foreign accent. If your vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation aren’t perfect, that’s just fine. Any attempts to habla español will be appreciated.

Here are three reputable private schools in the Colonial capital for students who are serious about acquiring the language. All offer short- and long-term courses taught by native speakers. For more information, click on the links in each description.

Spanish Institute of Puebla

Calle 11 Oriente, Centro Histórico

Founded in 1984, the Spanish Institute of Puebla is the longest-running program of its kind in the city. Its standard three-week sessions incorporate listening, speaking, reading, and writing components, with heavy emphasis on conversational skills. A short placement exam can help to determine the appropriate course level, and students can earn university credits for their coursework. New classes start every three weeks.

In the standard program, students attend group classes — two to six people, max — at the school’s modern, three-story facility from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and then engage in one-on-one activities with a native speaker from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. The latter can include visiting the many museums, churches, and historic sites downtown; playing bingo or pool; drinking coffee on the main square; or even having your tarot cards read (in Spanish, of course.) The program also includes meals, lodging with local host families, and excursions to Cholula and Teotihuacan. Private classes are also available.

“The idea of living in Mexico … was a little intimidating before I arrived. The structure of the Institute made everything a breeze,” says Keith Larson, an attorney from Houston, Texas. “I concentrated on Spanish and learned a ton. I know I am not a fast learner of languages, and now I can easily communicate in Spanish.”

Livit Immersion Center

Calle Nuevo León, Colonia El Carmen

The Livit Immersion Center’s program is based on the premise that students learn best when they live in Spanish 24/7. The school, located inside a Colonial-era home (where its directors reside), devotes half of each day to instruction and the other half to practice and cultural discovery through activities and excursions. Students may substitute profession-specific tasks, such as shadowing a resident in a hospital or visiting an orphanage, for the latter.

The standard program runs 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, with no more than four students per class. It includes all course materials, trips to nearby towns and attractions, daily meals, and accommodations with local families. (A student or couple who prefers privacy may also arrange to rent the on-site efficiency apartment.) Courses begin every Monday, and special group packages are available for up to 20 students.

“I have made two separate trips to Puebla to study with Livit Immersion Center, during which my ability to speak, converse, read, and write has improved dramatically,” says Richard Johnson, a law student at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “I attribute my progress to three things. First, I credit the school’s fun, practical, and efficient curriculum, intimate classes, and attentive professors. Second, I credit the accommodations. Throughout both of my stays in Puebla, I felt at home, enjoyed every amenity I desired, and ate delicious meals. Finally, Puebla is a beautiful, entertaining, and manageable city with a rich array of cultures, cuisine, and history.”

Spanish Awakenings

Calle Tepeyahualco, Colonia La Paz

Spanish Awakenings places equal emphasis on building language skills and cultural understanding. The language-training and home-stay program, run by a bilingual (Spanish-English) couple in their home, caters to families, small groups, and young adults. It offers two hours of daily classroom study, outings five days per week, and informal gatherings in the evenings to watch movies, play games, or talk about the day’s events.

The minimum stay is one week, but program directors Lucia and Richard Stone recommend four weeks for maximum benefit, particularly for beginners. The program includes on-site lodging, meals, snacks, an orientation tour of the city, a trip to the Cholula pyramid, and pickup and drop-off at the Puebla airport.

“I came to Mexico with some understanding of Spanish but I really was not able to speak, read and write in the language,” notes Ben Auton, managing partner of a video-game repair service in St. Louis, Missouri. “After a month at Spanish Awakenings, my ability to understand, read, and write the language has grown faster than I ever could have expected. I can understand a native speaker on the street, I can read a newspaper or book, and I can write a journal about what I did during the day.”

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Photograph courtesy of Livit Immersion Center

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Local Lingo: How to Talk Like a Poblano

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Definition of “pachanga,” from the book ¡Ah, Qué Chida es la CH!You’ve just arrived in Puebla, and you feel good. You’ve read your guidebook, so you know at least a little bit about Mexican culture, and you spent weeks brushing up on your Spanish. Confidently, you head out onto the streets of the historic center, ready to converse with the locals. As two women pass by you, you overhear one say: “Compré la bolsa por sólo cien varos.” The other replies, “Guau, que ganga! Se ve bien fresa.”

Hmm. Someone bought a purse that looks like strawberries? Weird. But you weren’t going to talk to them anyway, so you shrug it off. Next, a young man walking behind you answers a call on his cell phone. “¿Bueno? Hola, mi Jorge! ¿Que onda? Güey, estoy chambeando porque necesito lana. … Sí, nos vemos al rato en la pachanga. Y después vamos al antro! … Orale … Vas a comprar unas chelas? … Va que va. Nos vemos.”

Say what? You didn’t understand a word he said. You didn’t think your Spanish was that bad.

Finally, you arrive at a restaurant that looks charming and offers a lovely view of the zócalo. You decide to grab a bite and sit down at a small table in the corner. At least here you can practice Spanish, right? A waitress appears, hands you a menu in English, and says, “Good afternoon. What would you like?” Humbled, you order a meal in your native tongue.

Sound familiar? Many travelers to Puebla have had an experience like this. Although it’s nearly impossible to prevent people from trying to speak English with you, learning some Mexican slang can really go a long way toward helping you converse with locals. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common, family-friendly slang words.

A Brief Guide to Mexican Slang

antro No, we aren’t talking about anthropology here. An antro is a nightclub. You’ll find an abundance of them in the Los Sapos and Avenida Juarez areas of downtown Puebla and near the UDLA campus in Cholula.

chamba and chambear Chamba is another word for job and chambear is its verb. The verb is mostly used as in the example above, estar chambeando.

chelas No fiesta is complete without beer, or chelas.

chido Used to describe something that’s “cool” or desirable, as in ¡Que chido!

dos que tres Slang for más o menos or “more or less.”

fresa vs. naco Entire books could be written about these two gems, but essentially a naco is an uncultured, uneducated, or low-class person (similar to a “hick” in English), and a fresa is a snob or someone who fancies themself as a person of high class or status. Neither is typically a compliment, so use with caution.

ganga This isn’t a word you’ll hear a million times a day, but it’s good to know, especially if you plan to go shopping. If something is a ganga it is a bargain.

guácala Guácala is synonymous with gross or disgusting.

güey Use this word when you want to say “dude” or “dudette.” You’ll hear it frequently whenever young people are talking.

lana and varos Literally “wool” and “bars of gold,” these words simply mean “money.” You may also hear plata, or “silver,” which is popular elsewhere in Latin America. Of course, all three can be used for their other meanings, too. The context should make it pretty clear whether the speaker is talking about textiles, precious metals, or moolah.

me cayó el veinte People use this phrase when they want to say, “I suddenly realized.”

¿Mande? This loosely translates to “Could you ‘send’ that to me again?” or “What did you say?”

mero This term, often repeated for emphasis, is often used to mean “the best” or “the exact” one. If a product says mero mero on its label, then it is calling itself the best. Note that if someone is giving you directions and says, “Está en meritito en la esquina,” then they are saying the place is precisely on the corner.

neta This word generally means “the real deal,” but it can be used as a question for confirmation. In conversation, a person might ask, “¿Neta?” which is kind of like asking, “Really?” Then if the person responds with “¡Neta!” they are basically saying, “Yes, what I just said is true.” If someone tells you that you’re la neta del planeta is means “you’re the best.”

órale If people are surprised about what they hear, in a good way, they say órale. It can also be used as an affirmation, particularly when you are about to say goodbye on the phone. The reaction for when something is bad is hijole.

pachanga This word describes a huge, often drunken, party — a rager.

padre Like chido, padre (literally “father”) is used to describe something that’s “cool,” as in desirable. Avoid expressions that contain the word madre (literally “mother”), most of which are negative and offensive.

¿Qué onda? What’s up?

se me fue el avión A Spanish equivalent of the expression “I lost my train of thought.”

For more Mexican slang, check out the fun paperback dictionaries of “mexicanismos” by Maria del Pilar Montes de Oca Sicilia, El Chingonario and ¡Ah, Qué Chida es la CH!

—Laura McKelvie

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