I confess that I’ve been avoiding some “estadounidismos” in my own work

While I am quick to affirm that I live in a Spanish-speaking country and to embrace the diversity and characteristics of U.S. Spanish, I have been slow to adopt certain estadounidismos in my bilingual communications work. I recently had the privilege of appearing as a guest on the podcast Entre Dos to discuss what it means when we say the U.S. is a Spanish-speaking country, and it has inspired me to accept some of the estadounidismos that I have been resisting. That resistance comes in part from being a native English speaker, because there is an underlying fear that any term or phrase that demonstrates the influence of English will be interpreted as a lack of in-depth knowledge of the Spanish language.

by flickr user Paul Sableman

However, as I learned from Leticia Molinero, a translator and member of the Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española whom I interviewed for my podcast, my main focus should not be on my own knowledge, but rather on the clarity of the message for my target audience.

To be clear, I’ve always used a core group of estadounidismos that never caused me to hesitate. Here are some examples:

estadounidismo alternate Spanish word English translation
departamento ministerio department (government agency)
bus autobús bus
posición puesto position (job/employment)

There are a few (or perhaps several) others that I have heard and read often, but I have been wary of using them myself to avoid giving the impression that I was ignorant of the alternate term(s). For example:

estadounidismo alternate Spanish word English translation
registrarse inscribirse register (to sign up/enroll)
aplicar solicitar apply (to fill out an application)
rentar alquilar rent (to temporarily lease)

There are still more words that are perceived, positively or neutrally, as being unique to the U.S. or, negatively, as Spanglish. These terms, however, are used in countries throughout the Spanish-speaking world, not just the U.S. Some examples are:

Spanish word English translation
parquear/parqueo park (to park a car)/parking
tráiler trailer (movie clip)
casual casual (informal)

Molinero’s nonprofit organization, Research Institute of United States Spanish, is working on an empirical study to determine which estadounidismos are most commonly understood by Spanish-speaking audiences here in the U.S. In the meantime, I am going to make a concerted effort to be more open to using a wider range of estadounidismos in my work, for the sake of my clients and of the people who could benefit from clearer communication in Spanish.

Campoy-Ada Prize for children’s literature published in Spanish in the U.S.

There is a growing body of children’s literature published in Spanish here in the U.S., whether original books or translations of books written in English (or other languages). Earlier this year, the Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española (ANLE) announced the second-ever round of winners of the annual Premio Campoy-Ada. The goal of this prize is to recognize works that demonstrate originality in their ideas, literary and artistic merit, and excellent use of language.

“El objetivo de este premio es reconocer obras de literatura infantil y juvenil publicadas en español en los Estados Unidos que destaquen por la originalidad de su idea, su realización literaria y artística y por el uso excelente del lenguaje.”

The prize was named after F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada, two giants of children’s literature in Spanish and champions of multilingual education. Campoy and Ada are also frequent collaborators, and Campoy has translated many favorite children’s books, including the Little Blue Truck series by Alice Schertle and the Elephant & Piggie series by Mo Willems.

While many of the 2018 winners of the Campoy-Ada Prize were translations, a few were original works, such as Kutu, la ñusta diminuta, a bilingual book by Mariana Llanos.

Llanos is originally from Peru and now lives in Oklahoma. She’s the author of several other books, in addition to Kutu. ¡Felicidades a Mariano Llanos y a los demás ganadores!

Tertulia Podcast presents “Inmersos/Immersed”

In the first part of this series about the Spanish immersion education boom in West Michigan, we talk about how 6 of the 31 programs in the region are serving a small proportion of local Latino students who are English learners. In particular, we look at two public schools with dual language programs in Holland and Grand Rapids, where kids who fall into this category are able to access their legal right to an equal opportunity education via a model proven to improve their academic outcomes in English, all while helping them maintain their home language.

The second part looks at the other 25 programs in the area, wich are designed to help students who already speak English to acquire Spanish. In a region where the vast majority of Latino English learner students are being educated in monolingual settings where the chances of them achieving advanced levels of bilingualism and biliteracy are quite low, 4 out of 5 seats in Spanish immersion classrooms are reserved for a group of kids that are solidly on their way to the elite class, as it is.

The first episode of this series is in Spanish and the second one is in English. Both are complementary parts of one single story, not translations of the same content. Start here with part one, and click here to explore the data that I collected for this series.

Kitchen Spanish update – podcast collaboration with Racist Sandwich

Several months ago, I wrote about the linguistic phenomenon known as Kitchen Spanish. I wanted to dig a little deeper, so I pitched a segment to the podcast, Racist Sandwich, and they were up for it! My own podcast, Tertulia, is in Spanish, so this is my first reported audio story in (mostly) English. In the piece you’ll hear interviews with staff from restaurants here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, including Donkey Taquería and MeXo (which is slated to open on April 17, 2018).

Listen to the Racist Sandwich episode “Kitchen Spanish” here.

Tertulia partners with Grand Rapids Latin American Film Festival

I’m pleased to announce that Tertulia is partnering with the Grand Rapids Latin American Film Festival (GRLAFF), taking place April 6-8, 2018. Since 2010, the festival has been showing award-winning films from Latin American and Latino filmmakers at the Wealthy Theatre and enriching the experience for audiences by organizing Q&A sessions with visiting directors and panel discussions with local speakers. In 2018, for the first time the festival will present “GRLAFF for Kids,” a parallel event in the Wealthy Theatre’s micro-cinema featuring live puppet shows and a screening of an animated film from Uruguay. The entire festival, as usual, is free to the public and all the films will be presented with English subtitles. Interested? Find out more on the GRLAFF website!

Kitchen Spanish


In his book Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain admonishes any readers who hope to have a career as a chef to learn Spanish. He finds it so imperative that he lists it as the second recommendation after “Be fully committed.”

“Much of the workforce in the industry you are about the enter is Spanish-speaking. The very backbone of the [restaurant] industry, whether you like it or not, is inexpensive Mexican, Dominican, Salvadorian [sic] and Ecuadorian labor – most of whom could cook you under the table without breaking a sweat. If you can’t communicate, develop relationships, understand instructions and pass them along, then you are at a tremendous disadvantage.” – Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Bourdain is referencing what is commonly known as “Kitchen Spanish.” To be clear, Kitchen Spanish is not simply a body of culinary terms and phrases. It’s a sort of practical patois used among English-dominant gringos and Spanish-dominant Latinos who both know a little bit of the other’s native language, but it’s also a form of insider slang. From what I can gather, it’s largely composed of dirty words, slurs, and insults, in keeping with the crude and brutal sense of humor characteristic of restaurant kitchens, which Bourdain describes in such colorful and naturalistic detail. (See also the Urban Dictionary definition of Kitchen Spanish, complete with an example.)

In my efforts to do a little anthropological desk research, I perused some threads on Reddit and cheftalk.com where both gringo and Latino cooks debate whether Kitchen Spanish is a necessary evil or a delightful cultural experience, as well as share their capsule lists of the most essential vocabulary for the uninitiated (e.g. this and this). One Reddit user who claims to be originally from Buenos Aires describes Kitchen Spanish as “a combination of English, Spanish, and Mexican cuss words” that can’t be learned in any classroom or with the help of any book.

This is a belief that may not be held by the more mainstream corners of the internet. I found several conversational Spanish primers for managers in the hospitality industry on Amazon. Most of the authors of those books did not seem to have websites or blogs, which was disappointing as I wanted to read what they had to say about Kitchen Spanish. I was, however, able to find more information about Matt Casado, a professor emeritus of Northern Arizona University’s School of Hotel & Restaurant Management. A native of Spain, Casado not only authored a number of books but also apparently took great strides to ensure that graduates had a basic knowledge of Spanish in order to communicate with back-of-the-house staff.

It does seem that there is a clear distinction between “conversational Spanish for hospitality managers” and Kitchen Spanish. For one, in any industry there’s a line separating how management communicates with employees and how employees communicate with one another. Furthermore, let’s just say that the former is a basic ingredient, and the latter is dressed with many creative accoutrements, depending on the kitchen.

Do you have any stories about Kitchen Spanish? Tweet me at @TertuliaTweets.

An article about the world of podcasting in Spanish

I recently had the privilege to write an article for the podcasting newsletter Bello Collective about the world of podcasting in Spanish. For the article, I interviewed (via email) Carolina Guerrero, CEO of Radio Ambulante, and Patricio Lopardo, of Unión Podcastera. I hope you enjoy it.

Click here to read “Are We on the Cusp of a Boom in Spanish-language Podcasting?”


Alianza Americas brings a speaking tour to Grand Rapids to discuss jobs on both sides of the border

I came to admire the work of Alianza Americas when they were the recipients of a grant from a foundation where I worked, and I have kept in touch with the organization ever since moving to the Midwest. Headquartered in Chicago, Alianza Americas is a network of immigrant organizations across the U.S. that operates with a transnational approach.

So, naturally I am very excited that their Midwest speaking tour will make a few stops in Michigan later this month. The featured speakers are two workers’ rights activists from Latin America: Rita Marcela Robles Benítez from Fray Matías Center in Chiapas, Mexico and María Luisa Regalada from the Honduran Women’s Collective in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

The “Good Jobs, Good Neighbors” tour includes two events in Grand Rapids on September 19 and 21, 2017, hosted by local partner organizations. The events are designed to encourage dialogue around questions such as:

What do we mean by good jobs?

What can we – workers, advocates, policy-makers, businesses, and other stakeholders – do to be better neighbors to each other as we share a common struggle?

How can we work together across borders to create opportunities for everyone?



Hear the work of giants of Latin American literature in their own voice

Remezcla recently posted a curated sample of recordings from the Library of Congress Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape. The archive allows you to hear some of the giants of Latin American literature reading selections of their own work. How cool is that?

The Remezcla post has 12 selections out of 210 recordings that include the writers of most of the standard Latin American reading list canon (Mistral, Borges, García Márquez…). I recently read Las reputaciones by Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vásquez, the first work of his that I read, so I’m including a link to his recording here.

Pablo Neruda reading for the AHLOT in 1966 (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

New episode of Tertulia podcast – ¿Dónde estamos parados?

The latest episode of Tertulia is a conversation with Leticia Molinero, professional translator and member of the Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española. Among other things, we talked about how taking a rigorous approach to analyzing U.S. Spanish and coming up with standardized language can play a role in resolving the communication crisis that our country faces in upholding the rights of Spanish-dominant residents.

Check out the episode here.