Category Archives: Culture

Is there a need in oral Spanish for using the Castilian Spanish sounds of letter z and the clusters ce/ci?

Letter z combined with any vowel and letter c in the clusters ce/ci are pronounced as [Ө] (the sound of th in the word thin) in Castilian Spanish. This sound is an intrinsic phonological feature of this language variety. American Spanish users do not normally use [Ө] in ordinary speech; these speakers replace the [Ө] with [s].

There are many reasons explaining why American Spanish users lack the phoneme [Ө] in their daily spoken language. It has been quoted that the main reason is related with the geographical origin of the people that first moved from Spain to the New World. Most settlers and bureaucratic aides in the colonial period came from southern Spain, an area where the sound [Ө] was not a native language feature.

In linguistic terms the sound [Ө], as used in Castilian Spanish for the combinations listed above, is a great asset if we take into account that the sound of a letter plays an important role in conveying meaning as well as for contributing to the enrichment of the phonological resources at the disposal of a given language.

In my teaching experience I have found quite challenging, for example, teaching about the difference between pairs like casa/caza or coser/cocer, without the help of [Ө]. A student learning Spanish as a second language may be confused when hearing a sentence such as ‘hoy voy de casa de caza’ or ‘mis pasatiempos favoritos son coser y cocer’, if the words here containing z and c are not pronounced with [Ө]. I usually explain to students that American Spanish speakers tend to use these kind of words in context  –or that they would normally explain further about what they mean –  therefore language misunderstandings are very unusual.

But when asked by my students about what would I recommend in relation with the problem presented by the necessity of distinguishing between [Ө] and [s] in situations such as casa/caza or coser/cocer, I tell them that they can always use the standard Castilian Spanish sound patterns. Most native Spanish language users should be able to understand and follow up the communicative process whenever [Ө] is used.

I’d like to write a few more paragraph about this subject matter, however, I’ leave that for another post.

On the usage of the preposition in and its Spanish counterpart en

All languages have some grammatical features for which learners find extremely difficult to achieve a complete command. The English preposition in is one of them. I must admit that after spending over half of my life in Australia I still find myself in many situations in which I can’t decide exactly whether to use either the prepositions in or on when they are required especially in the written language.

I could say that I’m now able to use English in an equal footing to Spanish my mother tongue – except of course in relation to the ubiquitous in! The other day I decided to look up in an English grammar textbook of my university days to refresh my knowledge on this preposition, thinking that I would be able to find a complete set of usage rules in a brief manner. To my surprise and bewilderment I was presented with so many entries about it that for a moment I thought that whole book was only about this preposition.

After that I decided that I didn’t have the time or the will to pursue a way to get to know all I need to know in order to possess a complete grasp of this grammar feature. I was really put off by it. I have found that there are other more useful ways for my particular case, to become a better user of in. One of those ways is paying particular attention to the language used by journalists or broadcasters. In spite of this, it can be at real trial for me when it comes to making sure that I’m using in correctly in most instances.

May be a reform of the convoluted rules on the usage of the preposition in can be a very welcoming relief for second language speakers of English like me.

For the English speaking student learning Spanish as a second language, usually there is not any major problem in connection with the usage of en. Some of them think that is quite strange that Spanish doesn’t have a preposition with the exact meaning of on as they know it. I repeat to them over and over how lucky they are when I tell them about the uphill battle that speakers of English as a second language like me have to face in relation to the preposition in.

But then there is always por and para, two Spanish prepositions that most English speaking background students find very difficult to use, even when they have achieved a high level of proficiency. This seems to be a reverse situation in relation to the difficulties the Spanish speaking background users of English find for in. But this is material for another post.

P.S: I always welcome any advice on ways of enhancing the ability to use in:-)

Does the term ‘Latino’ mean anything?

It is really sad and shameful to hear, or read that people who should know better – especially in the media – still insist on using the term “Latino” when referring to Latin Americans. This term is not only culturally inappropriate, but it also has the ugly undertones of a racist profiling of people.

The term “Latino” does not mean anything. I have written a post here some time ago, in which I list some reasons explaining why people, in particular journalists and broadcasters should stop using this term.

Whether we like or not the real name for the people from any country of Latin America is simply: LATIN AMERICANS.

New technologies and the fostering of minority languages

Last week I read an article in The Age that describes how a software program being developed by the State Library of Victoria is helping minority language groups to preserve and maintain their language and culture. Developing this type of technology can contribute to arrest the decline of many languages spoken by small ethnic groups.

By being able to use technological progress to aid the preservation of minority languages, humanity may be able to care for the treasure found in the rich linguistic and cultural contents of every language spoken in the world especially when a language is in danger of extinction. Preserving written forms of traditional oral stories are worth any amount of effort. These oral traditions are unique; they are able to explain views on life and reality unknown to most people.

The software being developed by the State Library of Victoria – according to the article mentioned above – is also providing the tools to write a language that has not yet had a written form. This aspect of technology, namely to serve the linguistic and cultural needs of minority languages, is even more important when we consider that every language through their particular grammatical structures convey a special form of codifying meaning.

Another welcoming feature derived from having useful technologies helping the preservation of languages with small number of users, is that such languages can be disseminated using the internet and by doing so have the potential to reach many of their users  or be readily available for people interested in language studies or that are learning about  particular features of not very well known languages.

Living in a global village and having with us the help of new technologies, I think is a great way of helping minority languages not only to be preserved, but also of helping them to flourish, spread, and be studied. Every human being will in the long term benefit by this process.

Let’s talk about the Spanish subject pronouns

Students learning Spanish need to have a clear understanding about the general aspects of the way in which subjects pronouns are used. This includes being fully knowledgeable about their written forms and meanings, the pronoun’s particular individual features as well as the relationship existing with the subject pronouns of the students’ mother tongues.

I want to focus on this post on the relationship between the Spanish subject pronouns and English subject pronouns – referred to from here as SSP’s/SSP and ESP’s/ESP, respectively.  In general terms, the SSP’s and the ESP’s have their equivalents in both languages. The exceptions are here the feminine plural forms – nosotras, vosotras and  ellas. There are also the situation related with the lack of English specific equivalents for usted, ustedes and the pair vosotros/vosotras.

The first person plural of the SSP’s has two forms in Spanish: nosotros (masculine) and nosotras (feminine). On the other hand, English does not have feminine ESP’s. Because of this feature of the English language, the same situation for vosotras, the second person plural and ellas, the third person plural, is observed. For the SSP’s pair vosotros/vosotras, beginner Spanish students need to be able to identify what their real meanings are in Spanish. This however, is easier said than done, as by general rule it takes a little while for learners to understand this particular concept.

The third person formal singular SSP’s usted is normally translated into English as you. This ESP is also used for the plural form. According to my own experience in the classroom some beginner learners of Spanish usually find it quite daunting relating to the differences between and usted or ustedes and vosotros.

In addition, some beginner students of Spanish sometimes can get confused by the written structures yo/you by supposing that yo means you ; they can also find ella ,the feminine singular third person SSP, difficult to fathom; or even thinking of the pair ella/ellas as structures that supposedly have feminine verb conjugation forms.

Once the students manage to sort out the obstacles presented by the aspects described above, they are able to move forward with ease.  Most students of Spanish at the intermediate level – in possession of a detailed knowledge of the special particularities of the SSP’s – should be able to use this grammatical feature without getting confused.

Through proper teaching and their own learning efforts, students can manage to establish a clear understanding of the basic usage and nature of the Spanish subject pronouns. I will come back to this subject on a future post.

Dalí Concocts a ‘Liquid Desire’ of Language and Culture at the National Gallery of Victoria

Last Sunday I went with my advanced Spanish class to see “Liquid Desire” an exhibition of an extensive collection of works of art by Salvador Dalí the celebrated Spanish surrealist artist at the National Gallery of Victoria. A full range of programs of this exhibition can be found at

This exhibition has brought to Melbourne many of Dalí’s work belonging to all the periods of his long and illustrious career. There are many things that I’d like to write about this prolific and complex artist and his work but I rather leave that for another occasion. What I want to concentrate on this post is about the language learning opportunities that exhibitions such as this can present for the Spanish student.

There are many ways to use works of art for language learning and teaching. In fact the National Gallery of Victoria runs special programs for schools. Tres Culturas Spanish was invited to participate in the educational programs organised for this particular exhibition.

Apart from those special programs, there are an immense amount of language activities that can be carried out based on art exhibitions. It is up to the teacher’s own creativity and imagination and the student’s enthusiasm to make the most of this particular learning field.

Students can write little essays in Spanish about the life of Salvador Dalí. Do an internet research in Spanish about any particular area of his personal or artistic life. They can go to the local library and try to find if they have any literature about the artist; or they may like to translate a small article or essay into Spanish. These are only some examples the list may go on and on.

For students with a high level of language proficiency it is possible to organise lessons that focus on oral work. Each student can talk about what he knows about the artistic work of Salvador Dalí or make a list of things about him that they would like to know more about, like the years he spent in exile in the United States; his collaboration with other artists or the very special relationship he maintained with Gala, his wife.

At the actual exhibition the teacher can use the names and titles of the art works as a further learning practice. For example finding out why a name or tittle is said in different ways in English and Spanish. Students can also write a list of terms that they encounter during their viewing at the exhibition and bring them to class for further analyses and discussion.

Finally, illustration of works by Dalí obtained during the visit to the exhibition can be used to create real or fictional stories about the artist, his life and times. The teacher can direct the students to write more complex stories or essays about the topic.

Salvador Dalí Liquid Desire is at the National Gallery of Victoria until October 4.

“Latino America Viva” Daily online News in Australia: Read Interesting Cultural Articles about Spanish Speaking People & Countries, in Spanish

I have been meaning to write a post about this Australian based website for quite a while. I don’t know exactly since when this daily news service has been on the net; but I have been getting a weekly email from its publishers which contain links to news websites that include some Australian newspapers and BBC News as well as a community events listing that may be of interest for the Spanish speaking people from Latin America living in Australia.

“Latino America Viva” is a good website to find links for news from Latin America, however, what I find more useful for the discerning reader and from the Spanish language learner perspective is its pages ‘Nuestros Colaboradores’, ‘Nuestros artistas por el mundo’, ‘Opinión¨, and ‘Comunidades latinas en el mundo’.

There are some quality articles about Spanish speaking background people connected with the literary, cultural, social and political areas. One of such articles is ‘Fallece Tránsito Amaguaña: símbolo de la lucha indígena’, by my colleague and friend Silvia Cuevas-Morales, writing from Madrid.

Most articles are written in Spanish, but there are some only available in English.

The website offers Spanish and English versions. This is a good thing for the student of the Spanish language as they can navigate between the two versions with great ease.

From the social perspective it seems to me that it’s very good to have an online site that offers information for the Spanish speaking people in Australia, particularly for those living in Sydney and Melbourne.

Can language usage be poor or vulgar?

I haven’t been able to write a post for quite a while. But there is plenty to write about, especially in relation to many of the news found in website. One of the news items is about some Spanish language academies criticizing what they see as “a vulgarization of the Spanish language” by radio and television media in the Spanish speaking countries.

On the other hand I’m reading at the moment a really interesting and magnificent book about the nature of language. The book is “The Unfolding of Language” by Guy Deutscher. By reading this text I have been able to understand more closely some more aspects in relation with the scientific, social and cultural nature of language.

Deutscher presents in his work some very comprehensive analyses about the way in which all languages have historically evolved. How every living tongue used by any speaker is the result of complex and subtle never ending changing processes. I recommend this book to any person interested in getting a good grasp of the fascinating way in which all languages evolve and keep forever changing their intrinsic nature.

The news article I’m talking about here attracted my attention because it fits with the line of thought presented by “The Unfolding of Language”. Deutscher Lists a historical account of how since ancient  times until the present there has been a constant criticizing of the way language is used in the social setting; of how “language usage has always been superior” at a certain point in the past. He presents us with detailed analyses of why arguing about any perceived superior language usage in past epochs exists only in the mind of the person making such judgement.

What I’ve learned from this excellent book is that no matter from what point of view a language is analysed, the only judgement that any sensible person can pass about the nature of language – especially of the particular  ways in which it is used by a large human group – is one of open-mindedness and of critic outlook at the amazing wonder of what we call language.

Language usage cannot be legislated, controlled or imposed in any given manner. If the media presents a “vulgar” or poor language usage can only be the result of the social context where that particular usage is taking place.

What I’m saying here doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be an encouragement for everyone to have a “better” usage of  language as registered in the grammatical rules or prevalent social conventions. The real issue here, however, it’s to do with with the fact that the quality of the language used by any group of people has nothing to do with the assumption that their particular language usage is better, poorer or of vulgar character.

Some more facts about Spanish in the Philippines

Late last year I wrote a post here about the proposal of reintroducing the teaching of Spanish in the school system of the Philippines.

My post has generated many responses. It has been in fact the most popular of my post since I started this blog. Since the time I wrote it I’ve found out some other facts relating to the history and nature of the Spanish language presence in the Philippines.

  1. During the colonial period (over three centuries) Spanish was the language used for administrative purposes, however, there was never a massive immigration of Spanish colonists as the Philippines didn’t have the economic potential of Mexico or Peru.
  2. The preaching of the gospels and the overall propagation of Christianity was mostly carried out via the native languages.
  3. Spain as colonial master only made the teaching of Spanish compulsory quite late in the 18th century.

Based on Ostler (2005:377 – 379)

Point 1 translates into a situation where a language doesn’t need to be used or maintained and consequently naturally reproduced by new generations of native speakers. The lack of enough native Spanish colonists didn’t provide the necessary environment for Spanish to have an initial firm hold at a greater scale during the period of the Spanish domination of this country. Ostler (2005) also lists the case of Dutch, as a colonial language with similarities to the fate of Spanish in the Philippines’ context. (p 395-403)

Apart from the primary role of the family for the maintenance of a language and the role played by a same language group setting to achieve this same goal, a language is propagated by organised school systems. Spain’s late response to the need to teach the general population Spanish together with the effects caused by the other two factors listed above may be assigned as the main reasons for Spanish not to have taken firm roots in the Philippines.


Ostler, Nicholas. Empires of the Word (Harper Perennial, 2005)

Letter ñ presence in Spanish language domain names

Last year I wrote a post about letter ñ presence in Spanish language domain names on the internet. I was at website today and I read an article about this same topic, which I think adds to what I’ve already written.

The article in Spanish at – by Luis Viviant - reports that Argentina is trying to follow the example set by Chile, Spain and Mexico as major Spanish speaking countries that have already incorporated the letter ñ into their domain names.

I found out in the article, that Chile was the first Spanish speaking country that introduced this letter in 2005 in their domain names. I clarify this here as when I wrote the post that I’m referring to above, I thought it was Spain the first country that did so.

In his article Luis Viviant writes that the initiative for the incorporation of letter ñ into the Argentinean domain names was taken by a private news company (Grupo Clarin). This is a great initiative as it motivates the public to participate on issues that affect their daily language usage.

I said in my first post on this topic, that letter ñ is an integral part of the Spanish language. I consider extremely important that all domain names written in Spanish must use the proper script and graphic symbols of this language. It’s very encouraging to see media organizations of the Spanish speaking countries trying to correct inappropriate language usage.

There is no valid reason for not incorporating the letter ñ and all the other Spanish graphic symbols into all the domain names written in the Castilian language in all the other Spanish speaking countries that still use inappropriate spelling system.


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