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Showing posts from October, 2012

4 Names for “Teacher” in Spanish

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This week I’ll be going into my third week in Spanish classrooms, but even in that short amount of time I’ve picked up on the words the kiddos use to get the attention of me or the teacher I’m helping.


1) profe Pronounced “PROE-fay” [ˈpɾo.fe], this is a shortening of the Spanish word profesor or profesora, which looks like our word “professor” but means both university professor and teacher in any grade.

2) seño Pronounced “SAY-nyoe” [ˈse.ɲo], this is a shortening of the Spanish words señorita (“Miss”) or señora (“Mrs.”). Two syllables are always easier to say than three or four!

3) maestro Pronounced “mah-AYS-troe” [maˈes.tɾo] (locally “mah-EH-troe” [maˈe.tɾo]), this word (and the accompanying female form maestra) means “teacher,” plain and simple.

4) teacher In Spain, they learn British English in schools, so they pronounce the word “teacher” as “TEE-chuh” [ˈti.tʃə]. Sometimes they do attempt the American pronunciation, but it comes out more like “TEE-chahrr” [ˈti.tʃar].

Bonus: my n…

How Do We Define Where We’ve Lived or Traveled?

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About a year or so ago when I was setting up my Google+ profile (still pretty quiet over there!), I had to fill out the box for “Places lived,” and I wondered: what does it mean to “live” somewhere? After some thought, I ended up selecting Indianapolis, Ind., (where I was born), Plano, Texas, (my hometown), Arkadelphia, Ark., (my college town), and San Pedro, Costa Rica (where I studied abroad for a month), but I still wondered why these four towns made the cut while other places I had traveled didn’t.

I ran into a similar dilemma with the social travel website Where I’ve Been (see this blog’s travels page for my map). On that site’s map, you can color-code U.S. states and countries depending on whether you’ve lived there, traveled there, or want to go there one day. This opens up a different can of beans, since I’ve flown into airports in Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, and Philadelphia, but never actually visited Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, or Pennsylvania. To make matters worse…

How Do We Define Language Fluency?

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People often asked me, “so are you fluent in Spanish?” when I would tell them I was moving to Spain. I would usually answer with a “more or less, yeah” because, after all, I studied the language in college and would have no problem surviving on my own in any Spanish-speaking country.

But these questions made me ask myself what do we really mean by “fluent”? Lots of times we have this idea of someone fluent in, say, Arabic or French, being able to completely understand the Algerians they’re talking to or the Belgians they’re meeting. We assume their accents could fool native speakers, and that their grasp on texting lingo and cultural references allows them to make jokes and allude to obscure pieces of history.

There’s a word for this: perfection. And, like Benny Lewis of Fluent in Three Monthssays, 100% perfection is not the same thing as fluency. Our definition of this word really needs to be much more fluid (*ahem*) and adaptable to personal contexts and situations. Since languages …

Weekly Update 3: First Day of School Edition

After a week of planning, the people at my school finally got my teaching schedule finalized on Tuesday, which was my first day of actual work at the school (the previous week involved me sitting around or going to the provincial capital for other business). I’m assisting teachers in twelve periods of classes, ranging from 5-year-olds to 4th-graders and concentrating mostly on science (there is one English class, however!). Ideally, all the teaching would be done in English, but because the students’ level of English is pretty low (the teachers do know English fairly well, though), much of the classes are simply vocab lessons. Also, if I hadn’t studied Spanish in college, I don’t think I’d be able to get through this year without going crazy—I feel like much of my English teaching will have to be done in Spanish.

There are quite a few Moroccan students at school, making up maybe a tenth to a quarter of the classes. They all speak Spanish just as well as the other kids, which is great!…

What’s WhatsApp? The Spanish Alternative to Texting

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Let’s face it—cell phone service providers aren’t exactly the most beloved companies, and with good reason: two-year contracts, intentionally feature-crippled phones, and limits to how often you can call or text your friends. Many people, however, are finding a way around a maximum of, say, 300 texts a month, by dipping in to their data plan and using alternative messaging services like Facebook, Twitter, or even chat.

One service that has a huge following here in Spain is WhatsApp (pronounced variously as ['wat.sap] ['ɣwas.ap] or even just [ɣwas]). It’s available on Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Nokia, Symbian, and Windows phones; i.e., most smartphones on the market.

Essentially, it gives you unlimited texting through your data plan. The program automatically reads your address book/contacts information and will tell you who is also using WhatsApp. When you send them a message via WhatsApp, instead of going through your cell phone company’s SMS service, it will bypass that for t…

How to Vote Abroad From Spain in U.S. Elections

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Voting: it’s one of the fundamental rights of being an adult citizen of the United States. But just because you happen to be living abroad doesn’t mean you should be deprived of that right. In fact, it’s actually pretty easy to cast a vote for the candidate of your choice while overseas by requesting an absentee ballot. This is how to do it!


1) You request the ballot Assuming you’re already registered to vote at your last place of residence back in the U.S., fill out the form called the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and send it to the official responsible for elections in your county. For example, the Texas Secretary of State’s website has a list of such personnel here. If you’re pressed for time, you can put your email address on the form and the election administrator/county clerk will email you your ballot for you to print off. You can even register and apply for the ballot before you leave the country; I drove to my county’s election office and handed the form in in person.…

Weekly Update 2: Dragging My Luggage Across Town Edition

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Well, guys, week two has come and gone and I feel like I’ve finally “arrived.” By that I mean I’ve gotten a cellphone, a national ID number, a shared apartment, a bank account, and a schedule for my job. It’s been rather annoying living out of a suitcase in a foreign country in three different hotels (long story) so I am relieved to have a small place to crash in at night and to do laundry in (I’ve worn the same pair of jeans since the airplane flight…oops). Next week—I think—I finally start work as a language assistant in some elementary music and science classes.

Among other things, this is what I’ve been up to since the last time I posted:

* met basically the only redhead in Spain

* hiked 10 miles from the town where I work to Iznatoraf, a town of ~1,000 people on a tall hill overlooking the countryside

* ran into a random convention of mopeds at said hilltop village

* did “whatever I liked” on the first day of school (headmaster’s words)

* started reading Harry Potter and the Sorc…

How to Apply for Your NIE in Jaén (and Get Your TIE)

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If you’re a language assistant in Spain (auxiliar de conversación), by now you’ve applied for the program, gotten your visa, and at last arrived in the country.

But, because your student visa is good for only three months—and because you’re supposed to be working for eight—you need to apply for an NIE (número de identificación de extranjero), a foreigner’s identification number, and get the corresponding TIE (tarjeta de identificación de extranjero), a foreigner’s identification card. This will make your stay in Spain valid for around a year after arrival. Sweet! So, how can you get one?

Well, I’ll get to the nitty-gritty details, but first, let me say that my experience was totally abnormal from what you should expect.

As I’m teaching in a town in the province of Jaén (northeast corner of Andalucía), I had to go to Jaén capital to get the NIE. I made an appointment online for the earliest date possible, and my bilingual coordinator, Pedro, went with me to the foreigner’s office. We w…

On Power Plugs and Voltage in Spain

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Whether you’re moving to Spain or just simply traveling there from, say, the U.S., something you should prepare for is the change in electricity and how to use it.

However, it’s not as easy as simply plugging in an adapter to the wall outlet and then charging your toothbrush or laptop. There are two things you need to take into account when bringing gadgets and gizmos abroad with you.

1) The type of plug Here I’m talking about the physical prongs that stick out of the power cord and plug in to the socket in the wall. For instance, in North America, we use a plug style with two parallel vertical blades with holes along the side, sometimes with a third round grounding prong:

…which plugs into this kind of outlet:


In Spain and most of Europe, they use a similar dual design but with two round prongs instead of blades:

It’s pretty easy to stick an adapter onto the end of your power cord or the prongs that stick out from your device and charge it directly from the outlet. But before you do …