Free thoughts on language learning

Discussions on learning Spanish, English and other language issues. Occasionally, we may stray from language learning topics if there is something that catches my interest.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What free language courses? You tell us!

Just a quick note - we will be deciding what courses to offer free during September and, as usual, we'd like your input. We have some interest in Basic Business English but in deference to most parlo-mentarians (yep, I just coined that term and I'm not ashamed) we expect to choose a non-English course as well. Please leave a comment here or email me at support(at) to let us know your preferred language course.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cultural Comparisons or What Makes Us "Us"

OK, summer is winding down and it's time to get back to supplying the world with interesting language and cultural tidbits gleaned from the web and the the virtual-web. (what we used to call real life) I bumped into a terrific blog, that covers a range of topics including languages and linguistics. Mark Rosenfelder is the creator and maintainer of said blog - and no, I don't know what a "zompist" is or does but he's done a terrific job of compiling descriptions of what makes a person culturally American, French, Mexican etc. (The list is both long and interesting) I'll excerpt a few and add links to the full versions.

If you're American...

* You believe deep down in the First Amendment, guaranteed by the government and perhaps by God.
* You're familiar with David Letterman, Mary Tyler Moore, Saturday Night Live, Bewitched, the Flintstones, Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Donald Duck, the Fonz, Archie Bunker, Star Trek, the Honeymooners, the Addams Family, the Three Stooges, and Beetle Bailey.
* You know how baseball, basketball, and American football are played. If you're male, you can argue intricate points about their rules. On the other hand (and unless you're under about 20), you don't care that much for soccer.
* You count yourself fortunate if you get three weeks of vacation a year. Read on or see the full list of countries...

If you're French...

* You are familiar with Jean-Pierre Foucauld, Perdu de vue, Lagaf' (for you, the best successor to Coluche), Christophe Dechavanne, Jean-Luc Delarue, Nagui, Patrick Sebastien, Patrick Sabatier, Michel Drucker, Jacques Martin, Mystères, La Chance aux Chansons....
* You don't think that the news on TV is reliable, much less so than the radio or the newspapers. And of all TV channels, TF1 is the least reliable. On the other hand, you almost never listen to the radio, don't read newspapers, and get most of your news from... TF1.
* You like football (strangely called soccer in some curious countries that call some ugly version of rugby, where players are allowed to attack players who don't have the ball with them, football), tennis (whose players are called tennismen), basketball (no question of the NBA, of course), and Formula One (Indy is only a local championship, no matter what NASCAR thinks). F1 obviously proves that the only type of engines worth talking about are French. You think that the rules of cricket and baseball are incomprehensible.
* You do take your 5 annual legal vacation weeks, and you consider yourself fortunate if you don't spend them at home.
* You may believe in God; if you do you are, in decreasing order of probability, a Catholic, a Muslim, a Protestant or a Jew. In any case, you believe in the separation of state and church... and you think that a country with a motto of "In God we trust" does not follow this principle.
* You think of canned food, McDo and so on as cheap food, and think there is nothing like an open-air market. You find it amusing that American tourists consider a visit to an open-air market as much of a must-see as one to the chateau of Versailles.) You also say that you prefer small shops-- but you mainly go shopping in supermarkets. Read on...

If you're Colombian... (starting at the end of the piece, just to show more of the general form)

Space and time

* If you have an appointment, you'll mutter an excuse if you're ten minutes late, and apologize profusely if it's forty minutes. An hour late is usually tolerable, and there is no delay that is inexcusable. If you're talking to someone, you get uncomfortable if they approach closer than about a foot (30 cm).
* Everything is subject to bargaining, unless its price is printed.
* Showing up at someone's place is not uncommon nor considered rude.
* When you negotiate, you are polite, of course, and you make negotiation a social event. To 'play hardball' is a little rude.
* If you have a business appointment or interview with someone, you expect to have that person to yourself, and the business shouldn't take more than half a day or so. Read this from the beginning...

Maybe I'm just wacky but I love reading this stuff! A lot of thought and a healthy dose of self deprecating humor has gone into writing these pieces. Many thanks to Mark Rosenfelder for getting the ball rolling on these.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Tango Terms of Endearment +

(email with your choice for the 2nd free course of the month at

My wife and I have been bitten by the Tango bug and try to never miss our weekly class. Last week I had the good fortune to be the stage manager for a tango show (I Tango - see earlier blog entry) that toured to Stowe, Vermont, New York City, and Washington, DC. The tango orchestra was a terrific group called, Color Tango (Click here for a 30 sec. sample) and featured some of the best tango dancers in the world.

Tango is a very rich art form both musically and as a dance form. It is not an art form that has separate professionals and spectators as is mostly the case with Classical music or ballet. People from all walks of life and of all ages are passionate practicioners. It also has its own set of social rules for how one behaves on the dance floor and in a dance setting. Let's look at some of the terms for the dance itself and the codes of behavior. At the end of this post I'll include some links for further exploration.

But first a note on pronunciation since it comes from Argentine and Uruguay

Pronunciation Guide:
• In Buenos Aires 'll' or 'y' is pronounced 'zh', almost an English 'j';
• a 'qu' sounds like the 'c' in cat;
• a 'z' is pronounced like 's';
• and a Spanish 'j' is a hard, throaty 'h' sound.

Abrazo — The embrace; a hug; or dance position.
Arrabal — The slums.
Arrabalero — A person of low social status. A person of simple and direct ways who speaks plainly and uses coarse language. A slum dweller. (this seems related to the English word "rabble" but that's just a guess - anyone with a more informed etymology on this please chime in!)
Bandoneón — An accordion like musical instrument originally created to provide missionaries with portable pipe organ music for religious services in remote locales which has been adopted by tango musicians to create the mournful and soulful sound of modern tango music.
Codigos — Codes: Refers to the codes of behavior and the techniques for finding a dance partner in the milongas in Buenos Aires. Civility, respectfulness, and consideration are the hallmark of the true and serious milonguero. (a person who attends tango dance salons)
Compadre — A responsible, brave, well behaved, and honorable man of the working class who dresses well and is very macho.
Compadrito — Dandy; hooligan; street punk; ruffian. They invented the Tango.
Garcha — A rather rude lunfardo term to be used only among friends; noun, 1. penis, pija masculino; 2. worthless or of bad quality, trucho comprar; 3. bad luck: ¡Qué garcha! This sucks! cagada malo garchar; verb, 'to screw' coger sexo. In tango, it may refer to a blind step against line of dance causing a collision for your partner, a garcha! May also be used as a pejorative, as in "Politicians are all garchas!" Akin to "screw-off" or "screw-up" in English slang (yes, this has been cleaned up a little:-).
Lunfardo — The Spanish/Italian slang of the Buenos Aires underworld which is common in tango lyrics and terminology. (I wouldn't leave you without a definition of Lunfardo after that racey introduction)
Porteño (feminine; Porteña) — An inhabitant of the port city of Buenos Aires.

Click for the full glossary of tango terms.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

More free language courses - Help us choose!

We've had some requests to extend the free use of our Travel Spanish course through the month of August so we will gladly do this. Here's how you log in from the home page:

Travel Spanish -
Password: parlo (Please do not change this password because it will prevent others from using the course until we change it back to "parlo")

The big question is what will the other free course be. Please look at the courses we offer and email us at Use the subject line "August Free Parlo Course" We will decide by the end of the week and give out login info at that time. I'll be curious to hear what course is most desired.