New resources page

I just added a new “Resources” page to my site, where I’ve shared a handful of unique links, including a video catalogue of accents in the Spanish-speaking world, an online collection of short films in Spanish, and a worldwide Spanish slang dictionary.

I have visited many Spanish language resource pages in my time, so rather than repeat the most common links that are often shared in educational contexts, I included a link to the ILR Spanish Roadmap, which pretty much covers all of that familiar territory.

I hope you find the topic of your next tertulia among these links!

Erratas, errores y faltas – oh my!

I normally write my posts in English but I am so bothered by the topic of this one that I am writing in Spanish as a form of protest!

El otro día, fui a Barnes & Noble y saqué “El camioncito azul abre el camino” del estante, pero adentro encontré dos erratas (por ejemplo, “segpuidos” en vez de “seguidos”). Me imagino que vienen de la mano de un diseñador gráfico que no habla español que transcribió mal la traducción de F. Isabel Campoy.


Me molesta cuando veo este tipo de erratas en los libros infantiles traducidos al español — y sucede con frecuencia, muchas veces con las tildes — pero no sé cómo comunicarme con las editoriales o si va a hacer alguna diferencia. Tal vez me molesta porque lo veo como una falta de respeto por el idioma español en este país, aunque la industria de libros bilingües para niños está creciendo y muy felizmente haciendo sus ganancias. Por supuesto existe la posibilidad de que me afecte de forma exagerada, pero de todos modos no me parece absurdo esperar que las editoriales hagan las debidas revisiones de sus libros antes de publicarlos y venderlos — no importa el idioma. (Ojo, los blogs y otros medios no se rigen con los mismos criterios. Aunque se haga un intento. jeje)

Me encantó la traducción de Campoy de “El camioncito azul” y quisiera agregar otros libros de la serie a nuestra colección en casa, pero sin erratas. Como diría el camioncito azul, “¡Socorro! ¡Ayúdenme!”

Por otro lado, hubo un fruto inesperado de mi búsqueda de datos de contacto para la editorial y la traductora. Descubrí que Isabel Campoy es poeta y autora de sus propios libros para niños y muchas veces colabora con Alma Flor Ada. Se puede comprar sus libros en (No tengo nada que ver con el sitio, sólo me interesa promover la literatura bilingüe para niños, ¡pero de calidad!)

UPDATE: I called Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and I was given an email address to contact the editorial staff. I sent a message about the errors. Hopefully it reaches someone who cares and has the power to correct them!

Alfabetización en español

The word for “literacy” in Spanish is an example of linguistic ingenuity: alfabetización. An invented English translation would be “alphabetization,” or acquisition of the alphabet, the set of building blocks for written communication.


An image of a classic silabario, or a phonetics book that uses basic syllables to teach Spanish literacy. This silabario is designed for children, but I have seen it used to teach literacy to Spanish-speaking adults in the U.S., which demonstrates the need for pedagogically appropriate curricula for this population.


Over the last 10 years I have developed a strong curiosity and academic interest in adult literacy. For children with access to education, learning to read and write is an age-appropriate activity that is nurtured and celebrated. But children without access to education, or who have access but experience barriers to developing literacy, become adults who often hide their inability to read and write and have to come up with survival strategies for living in a world of assumed literacy.

The latest figures from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy showed that 14% of adults in the U.S. lack basic literacy skills in English. Within that group of the population, 39% identified as Hispanic.

Those who identify as Hispanic may not necessarily speak Spanish, and they may not necessarily be first-generation immigrants, but the term “Hispanic” is used to group people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds who all share some relationship to the Spanish language.

Let’s assume that some of those Hispanics who lack basic literacy skills in English are Spanish speakers. I have collected anecdotal evidence from every place I have lived in the U.S. that there is a subset of Spanish speakers who arrive here with little or no literacy skills in Spanish. (I haven’t found a good source to give a number here, and this information would be very difficult to collect through traditional census or survey methods which require that respondents be literate!)

One source estimates that it would take 500-1000 hours of instruction for an adult who is literate in his or her native language to acquire basic literacy skills in English. The key phrase in that sentence is “literate in his or her native language.” If such an adult received instruction for 3 hours each week, 52 weeks a year with no vacations, it would take him or her over 3 years to accumulate 500 hours of instruction. How much longer would it take an adult who is not literate in his or her native language?

Let’s go back to those children who don’t have access to education or who face barriers to developing literacy. Then imagine those children growing up to become adults who leave their countries of origin and arrive in the U.S. where they have to learn to communicate in a new language, English. There are ESL programs available to them through schools, churches, and community organizations, but when they walk in to the first session, the instructor starts writing on the board and handing out texts or workbooks.

These are courageous people.

As someone who has never experienced anything like this, I assume it would be a little bit like arriving in a remote part of Japan, where I not only do not understand the language being spoken, I also can’t decipher any of the written characters on signs or printed materials to attempt to associate the sounds I hear with what I see.

As I mentioned before, I have collected anecdotal evidence that nearly every Latino community in the U.S. probably has a small group of first generation Spanish-speaking adult immigrants who are not literate in Spanish. Those communities with large populations of immigrants from countries with lower literacy rates, such as Guatemala or Bolivia, may have greater numbers of Spanish speakers who cannot read or write in their native language. Furthermore, Latin Americans from indigenous backgrounds may speak Spanish as a second or third language, which could represent even greater barriers to Spanish literacy.

I am currently doing research to find Spanish literacy curricula developed specifically for non-literate Latino immigrants, who were not only marginalized in their countries of origin, but are also living on the fringes of a marginalized group in the U.S.

The Centro Latino for Literacy in Los Angeles has developed one such curriculum, called Leamos. You can view a video about their initiative here that includes a testimonial from a woman named Mercedes.

I will post more updates as I dig deeper into this important issue. Be grateful for your literacy skills today!



Voseo Vs. Vosotros

Although I now consider myself a near-native Spanish speaker and I refer to Spanish as my second language, I am definitely a product of the language classroom. I was first introduced to Spanish in the classroom as an elementary schooler, through a video-based (we’re talking VHS video, people) curriculum called “Saludos.”

(Wow, this “vintage” video makes me feel really vieja!!!)

At the same time, this was in South Florida in the early 90s, so for me Spanish was not confined to the classroom nor did I imagine it as a language spoken in a country somewhere far away. I learned how to say vestido in school, but I also learned how to order maduros at the Cuban restaurant near my house. I also learned that my friends who came from Latino families didn’t necessarily learn Spanish at home or even speak it with their parents. Some did, but not all.

Those of us who learn Spanish in school can form a lot of ideas and stereotypes, often without intending to, that can only be modified or corrected by our experience outside the classroom. This is not a criticism, just an honest observation. Obviously it is impossible for an educator to introduce every variation in language and culture that exists in an entire linguistic community.

However, I do feel compelled to present a criticism of one very specific component of the way Spanish is generally taught in the United States. As any one who has taken a Spanish class in school or in college in the US will be able to testify, all verbs are introduced with conjugations for the following persons: yo, tú, él/ella/usted, nosotros, vosotros, ellos/ellas/ustedes. In my experience, I was never tested on the vosotros conjugation of verbs, but it was always there just to make sure we were familiar with it. Every little colored box in every textbook that broke down the conjugation of a verb had it there, between nosotros and ellos/ellas/ustedes. We were taught, correctly, that vosotros was used in Spain, but that ustedes was used in Latin America. Great, thanks for making me aware, got it!

But as soon as I set foot in a bilingual office setting working with colleagues who were born in several different Latin American countries, I learned that there was another widely used second-person pronoun and verb conjugation that no teacher had even introduced to me: vos.

An example of a PSA from Costa Rica employing the voseo.

So, let’s see, there are about 47 million Spanish speakers in Spain, plus some more around the world, who use vosotros. According to Wikipedia, the voseo (use of vos) is used exclusively in place of the tuteo (use of ) in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, but it is also used in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile, and in parts of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Belize. Just the populations of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay alone represent over 56 million Spanish speakers who use vos.

Numerically speaking, shouldn’t we be including vos in the little colored verb conjugation boxes?

Map showing where vos is used, from Wikipedia. See page for author [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons.

All I am suggesting is that we at least expose students of Spanish to the voseo, in the same way that we expose them to vosotros. (There’s a whole other level of linguistic variation in how the voseo is used from country to country, which I am not going to get into here and probably is more detail than we need to introduce in the classroom.) Let’s help students become familiar with it, without necessarily testing them on it. As they are more than likely to come into contact with it at some point, we would be doing them a great service. In fact, unless a student is planning to go to Spain, he/she is statistically far more likely to encounter vos than vosotros.

I rest my case.

Two recent encounters

I had two recent encounters with Spanish mixed right smack dab in with English as part of the American experience. Just like that!

The episode of This American Life from November 8th featured a story about Chris García (who also happens to be a comedian), his father, and a conversation they had while driving along a familiar route through Los Angeles. Chris and his father speak Spanish/Spanglish with one another, and although Chris narrates the story and retells their conversation in English, you can catch snippets of their original conversation which Chris recorded on his phone. The story is quite touching so I won’t give much more away about the content or context of their conversation, but there were a couple of things I found interesting from a linguistic point of view:

  • Chris refers to his father as “Dad”
  • Chris responds affirmatively with “uh-huh” and “yeah”
  • Chris states the number 218 as “dos eighteen” (then “dos uno ocho,” but never “dos dieciocho” or “two eighteen”)

The choices we make when code-switching are always fascinating to me. Using English words or phrases that make more sense than their Spanish translations in the context of driving around L.A. (e.g. “ride” and “high school”) was no surprise to me, but I was especially intrigued by the code-switching in the middle of expressing one single number. (I could just be behind on my scholarly reading.)

My other encounter was in All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. To me this was a very American novel, full of cowboys and ranches, bootstrap ambitions, and descriptions of sunsets across the untamed West, but perhaps unlike other samples of traditional Americana there are stretches of dialogue in Spanish without translations. (Either McCarthy himself is bilingual or he collaborates with someone to write the passages, and so far the internet hasn’t helped me to figure out which it is.) The main character is a Texan who grows up speaking English and Spanish and who crosses the border into Mexico and back. Another interesting aspect of the book is that several of the Mexican characters located in Mexico are portrayed as completely competent communicating in English. The speech of others is portrayed as broken or with an accent. Overall I found McCarthy’s treatment of dialect and idiolect as varied and realistic, rather than monolithic and stereotypical.

As a bilingual reader, I felt like a special member of a particular audience that McCarthy knew would have a certain sensibility and that would comprehend his novel without the aid of outside sources (such as the many websites featuring translations of the Spanish passages). That’s probably just a stretch of both my imagination and my ego, but you never know…

McCarthy has written a number of novels and screenplays that take place along the US-Mexico border, of which several have been adapted for film including All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men.