Formality in Spain vs France

Growing up, the biggest and only problem I had in communicating with people is that I was shy. When it came to talking to people, I would simply address adults as Mr., Mrs., or Ms. and anyone who was a teenager or younger was addressed by their first name or nickname. Now that I am considered an adult, life has gotten to be more complicated. There is some confusion as to how to address others. Do I address other adults my age as Mr. or Mrs. or do I just say their name? Usually a tap on the shoulder or addressing the person by looking at them when speaking to them works. This is where I view other languages as more logical than English. In languages like Korean, Japanese, Spanish, and French, there are different levels of formality. However, those levels of formality do not always transfer culturally.

In class in the United States, I always referred to my language teachers formally, using the “usted” form in Spanish and the “vous” form in French. I view my professors or teachers are people who are older and wiser; people that I respect. Therefore, I used a higher form when speaking to them. My classmates, on the other hand, frequently used the informal way of speaking to someone to talk to my professors. Surprisingly, the professor would not correct them. It could be because we are studying a new language and they are more focused on if we get the grammar right. On the flip side, I have also had professors that have asked me to address them by their first name.

My experience abroad has been different, at least in the French classroom. I have seen the formal way, or “vous” always used between teachers and students even though the students may be way younger than the teacher. It surprised me that a teacher would refer to one student directly in a formal manner.

Although Spanish is a romance language like French, I was surprised to see that Spain did things quite differently from France. One cultural aspect that I had a hard time getting used to during my time in Madrid was addressing those above me informally. My host mother, who was in her 70s, asked me to address her like a friend. The staff at the agency and my professors all asked me to address them informally when speaking to them. Being raised in a culture where I had to be formal to everyone who was older than myself or in an authoritative position, I found it hard to address anyone as something other than formal.

My observations are solely based on my experiences when I went abroad. I hear that in Latin America, the situation is different from that of Spain. Has anyone else ever had this experience? If you have experienced anything similar to what I did, or even very different, please leave a comment below! I would love to hear about your experiences!

Don’t Miss the Moment

So many people are living yesterday or dreaming about tomorrow that they miss the now. They’re thinking about going abroad or when they went abroad. They’re both wonderful things but don’t miss the here and now because what was got you to this moment and what is now will get you to that future moment that you’re dreaming about, so embrace the here and now and live it to its fullest.

Whenever people ask me if I miss being abroad, I tell them that I do, but only a little bit. The joy I receive from spending time with my loved ones and being in a familiar place outweighs that negative feeling of missing the life I lived a year ago. I looked forward to being abroad in anticipation of what was going to be. Now that I’ve done it, I have fantastic memories. However I also have my life at this moment (friends, classes). The life that you live is going on. Remember that the life you’re living now is preparation for what will be. Enjoy the moment, including the painful ones because they are lessons. 

While I was away, I missed home very much. I missed my family, my friends, my school, and especially my significant other. Homesickness is real and I don’t like when people try to make those who feel homesick bad for feeling that way. Despite feeling homesick, I did not let that paralyze me to the point of not having fun and making Skype calls home every day for hours on end. I counted myself as fortunate to be able to travel around Europe and live the dream I had been wanting to live for years. I took advantage of my opportunity. It was worth it and I would never take that experience back. What I normally tell people when they ask me how I feel is, “I was happy in Europe and I am happy at home. I am happy wherever I am.” The last thing I want people to think is that I was unhappy going abroad.

Be happy wherever you are. Live the life you want to live with what you have around you. Count the blessings in your life. If times are tough, remember that they are just lessons for you to learn and without them, you would not be the person you are today. Without the good and bad moments in life, you would not have gotten to this point. Most importantly, do not spend your life wishing away the present moment for something you are excited for in the future. Embrace now. Live now.

Accent Marks in Spanish

Throughout my first semester of tutoring for Spanish, I have noticed that many people have trouble with the same topics. Recently I started a series on my YouTube channel for those who are learning Spanish. Each episode will answer a frequently asked question that I get based on those that I tutor. The first episode addressed where to put accent marks in a word. So why am I writing this post? For those that prefer to have something written, I wanted to give my readers and subscribers the option to learn from my explanation. Here, I can also elaborate on things that I missed in the video.

Where do accent marks go? 

There are four rules. First, you listen to the word being spoken and determine which part gets stressed.

If it’s the last syllable, and the word ends in a vowel, -n, or -s, then there is an accent. Ex. francés, catalán, canté

If it’s the second to last syllable, and the word ends in a vowel, -n, or -s, then there is NO accent. Ex. cante, hablas, perro, dicen

If it’s the third to last syllable, then there is an accent. Ex. esdrújula (the official name of these kinds of words where the third to last syllable gets an accent), dígame, cuéntame

If it’s the fourth to last syllable, then there is an accent. Ex. ábremelo, infórmaselo, rápidamente

All of the rules have a specific name for those types of words. I avoided mentioning them because many people get confused by those names when still trying to get down the rules. Instead, get the accent rules down first and then learn what each word is called. I hope this post helped!

Here is the video for those of you that prefer a visual:

3 Steps to Language-Learning Success

I love watching TED talks and reading blog posts on language-learning. There are many people that give great advice based on their learning experience. After years of studying languages, watching videos, listening to talks, and reading, I can give you what I think is the key to success in language-learning.

Motivation

Motivation is like the gas in your car. If you do not have any, you will not go anywhere. Maybe at first you were passionate about a language because it sounds cool. You constantly need to be filling your day with activities that motivate you, because after a while, you will start to run out of gas. Watch shows in the language that you like, listen to music, read literature you enjoy, find people to talk to.

Consistency

This is arguably the most important step. If you do not take the car out for a while, it will have a much harder time starting up. You should be learning something new every day. Even studying for fifteen minutes a day is better than doing nothing. You may learn at a slower pace but at least you will not lose what you know.

Method

Pick a car and drive it. Don’t test drive so many cars that none of them end up making it past the test drive. Pick a language and run with it. Don’t dabble in so many at once or else you will never get past the beginner level. Take your time and focus on one. My problem for years was that I kept looking up videos and studying multiple languages at the same time. Eventually, you’ll get tired of running back and forth like I did. Once you pick a language, pick the best method that works for you. Do not feel discouraged if you see a video on a method somebody swears by and it doesn’t end up working out for you. Everyone learns differently and that applies to language-learning.

Apply these three steps to your life and you are sure to boost your language learning. If you want to set a goal, try these things for thirty days and see where that gets you. What works for you in language-learning? Share in the comments below!

Count Your Blessings

About a week ago, many Americans sat around the dinner table with their families and a giant meal, and shared what they were thankful for. Thanksgiving is a holiday that gets observed one day a year but who says that we need to follow the calendar? Whether you are American, Panamanian, French, Polish, or just human, you can and should take a little bit of time out of your day to be thankful for something.

Many have suggested that a good remedy for discouragement and unhappiness is meditating on what we are thankful for. How many times do we hear that advice and actually put it into practice? I have started doing this, making a mental list of the things I am grateful for. I start with what is the most important to me, things I should not take for granted such as:

  • the environment I grew up in
  • the fact I still have all my grandparents and that my parents are still together after 30 years
  • that I can see, hear, walk, run, and do many daily things without a problem

Then, I gradually ease into material things that are still nice, but should not dominate my life such as:

  • going to my dream school
  • being able to travel throughout Europe
  • having a significant other

When you really think about it, you would be surprised how quickly you can form your list and how long it can go. Everyone’s list will be a little bit different, but I encourage you, the readers, to start thinking of a list of things you are thankful for and see how you start to feel after forming a habit out of this.

 

Give Yourself a Break

Ideas are like an unexpected but pleasant guest that can come at any point in time. Some people get visited more frequently by inspiration than others. Sometimes it is like an old friend who you have not seen in a while but you are ecstatic to see. Inspiration may hit some when they first wake up. Some people have revelations while they are in the shower. The idea for this post came to me while I was sitting in class, stressed out by the amount of work I was going to have to do. College is not easy nor should it be. However, there are ways to make college, and life in general, more bearable when things get busy.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give somebody who is stressed out or frustrated by something is to walk away. Sometimes you can benefit more from taking a break from the very thing that is frustrating you. Taking a break and giving up are not synonymous. People go through dry periods where they are lacking in inspiration and motivation. When I used to play piano as a kid and I would get frustrated, I would take an hour break and then come back. Many times, I felt more refreshed, less stressed, and ready to go. I would end up doing better after taking a break than if I had just persisted.

Are you stressed out about a test? It is possible to over-study. Just as you need rest every night in order for your body to function, your brain needs a break after doing an activity for an extended period of time. Have you hit a language-learning plateau? Walk away from heavy studying for a couple of hours, even a day or two, and see how you feel and perform. Sometimes people benefit from walking away from a project for just half an hour. Other times, it can take up to a week or two to start feeling refreshed. This does not mean to walk away for so long to the point that you are forgetting what you have learned. Just give yourself a break and see how it can work in your favor.

Whether you are a language-learner or not, I invite you to check out the video below on the importance of sleep. How much you sleep can greatly affect how you perform in daily life.

A Message to Language Teachers

Popular to contrary belief, the life of an educator is not easy. I have watched my mom work for hours on end after coming home from an 9-hour school day. On top of grading tests and assignments until early in the morning, she would alter lesson plans to fit a curriculum that she did not design and come up with activities to keep students engaged so that they would be less likely to misbehave. As someone who really cares about her students, I have seen her work weekends, long breaks, and even summers, even though she technically will not get paid for all those extra hours. This is not a job where you leave your work at work and come home. So why do people complain about teachers being “lazy” or “bad”? What makes a “good teacher”?

It surprises me how many people pursue education that should not. There are those who do not seem to do well with people. As an educator, you are constantly interacting with all kinds of people. You need to have the capacity to do that every single day for hours. Teaching is more than just passing knowledge to others, not to mention being able to pass knowledge to others. Some educators are very smart but do not know how to transfer their knowledge to students.

You must encourage your students. Your subject is not mandatory after a certain point, so student enrollment can go way down after the first two levels of the language you teach. The goal is to get more students to take your class. If you are upset about enrollment, look at what you have been doing. Stop grading strictly; this will make students feel discouraged.  Make them feel like learning a language isn’t so hard and like they can reach that goal.  Dumb things down for them if they don’t understand a complicated concept. Make students excited to go to your class every day.

As someone who has successfully spoken three other languages with native speakers of those languages, I can confidently say that the majority of people will not correct every mistake that is made. Students will want to better their language skills, but how would you feel if you were excited about a certain subject or hobby and someone corrected every little thing you did wrong? Correction is necessary but should not be overdone.

My favorite class this semester is my Sounds of Spanish class. It is not just because I am interested in phonetics and the Spanish language, but a large part of it deals with the professor. Not only is he personable and engaging but he takes his time. As a teacher, professor, or tutor, you should be open to learning from those around you so that you can better your skill set. The best professors I have had all have that in common. They learn from other professors, students, and take their time presenting material so that others can understand it. Instead of assigning 100 pages of reading in a foreign language every day, they will assign a chapter of reading. The next day, they will reinforce what we read by going over the chapter and giving us an easy assignment that does not take up hours of our day, but still does a good job of reiterating what was learned in class. That is how information really sticks. That is how you set yourself and everyone else up for success so that one day, someone walks out of that classroom saying that they remembered something they learned.

I may not have much experience, but as a student who has been on both sides of the classroom, I have gotten a lot of insight from my experiences. I have tutored students in two languages and did an English-teaching internship in France, which is nothing compared to someone who has a doctorate or has gone through a certification process, but I came back from those experiences having learned some things.  What I can pass on is this blog post, a plea to teachers to treat their job as more than just a job. Maybe I would be able to walk around school one day without hearing, “I loved Spanish/French/*insert language here* and was good at it until I had Mr./Mrs. So and So.” It is not completely your fault for what someone else chooses to do, but you definitely make an impact on their choices. Make it a positive one.