Keeping in Touch with the Spanish Speaking World (or, my ode to my second language)

I popped Pereza’s 2005 breakout disc, “Animales” into Pequeño Monty’s antiquated CR player as soon as I’d rolled down the windows. As a study abroad student, I’d listed to “Princesas” more times than I could count, on each play slowly deciphering the song.

After eight years in Spain, I’ve finally memorized and can understand all 10 songs. For the girl who whined about having to learn Spanish instead of French, I can say for the umpeenth time that Mother Knows Best – My name is Cat, y soy una hispanófila.

staying in touch

400 million Facebook friends

It’s more than just the 400 million hispanoparlantes – when you start speaking the language fluently it’s like a whole new galaxy opens up. I cannot only talk to what feels like a billion new people but I have access to many great Spanish movies, understand Spanish music in a completely new way and have had the opportunity to immerse myself into a very rich Spanish culture (hola, daily naps and delicious food!). More than anything, I’ve made countless new friends all over the world, which is why I rely apps like NobelApp to be able to make cheap international calls.

Staying in touch ten years ago when I studied abroad meant standing in line at a locurtorio – now I just need to have my mobile phone on me!

Immersing in the Spanish Linguistic Culture

In my experience, Spanish speakers are quite proud of their linguistic heritage, and because a fairly large number doesn’t know English at a highly functional level, I’ve been able to learn to hold my own in a second language (in addition to having the need for English keep me employed!).

texting in Spain

I’m constantly amazed by new words, their use and mostly their origin. Did you know that the Spanish word for lizard (lagarto) gave way to the word alligator in English culture? Thankfully, the Novio is a linguistic wiz who never tires of explaining!

Keeping in touch through NobelApp

In these eight years in Seville (and counting!), I have made Spanish-speaking friends from all over the world – from my Erasmus friends to the amigos from Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico. Luckily through cheap international calls by NobelCom I manage to keep in touch with most of them, calling them on their celulares anytime I like without stressing over the cost  – and they can do that through the same app to call me in Europe.

I love talking to my friends in Central and South America and asking them about their life and current events – especially because the Spanish-speaking world encompasses so much more than Spain.

friends from South America

I also get the chance to talk regularly with my friends in the US through mobile apps and social media, making me feel like El Charco isn’t so big.

El Mundo es un Pañuelo

Do you think it’s hard to adapt to the warm Spanish sun, the easy-going lifestyle or the amazing food and good wine? Sí – I haven’t had any problems, but I often miss the comforts of home (mainly in the form of an all-beef hot dog and a shih tzu named Moxie.

I feel so fortunate that technology has advanced so much and that we have things like WiFi, 3G and VoIP and that we can call overseas for just a few cents. Nowadays, you don’t even have to rely on a solid Internet connection. All you need is a Nobelcom calling card and you can basically call anyone in the world from any landline or mobile phone by using a special access number and your dedicated PIN.

“Princesas” is still my favorite song on the album – in fact, it was the first song played at my wedding! As I spend more time in Spain, it’s nearly impossible to separate my vida española from the American one, but it’s fun to share in all of my expat circles around the world!

How do you stay in touch with your loved ones when abroad?

Why do Spaniards call us ‘Guiris’?

Hay alguién aquí de fuera? called the drag queen from the stage. A hoarse shout came from right behind me: “Mi guiri, mi guiri!”

My friend S had sold me out to a total stranger and a bar full of side-eyeing pijas, and she’d done so be calling me a guiri. This was before any of us turned 30 but after an entire afternoon of beers, so I skipped to the stage and joined the drag queen, dancing all of my shame out. She later apologized for screaming HERE’S A FOREIGNER a few days later, though I’d already consented to another drink after my show as a way to shrug it off.

the word guiri

Guiri is a catch-all phrase for both foreign tourists and Northern Europeans, used more often than not in a joking, affable way. I’d never really taken any interest in knowing where the word come from until an early morning wake up call on a Sunday morning had me watching Canal Sur’s program about the origins of common practices and traditions in Andalucía. If you are into etymology like me, your ears would have perked up when you heard “Where does the word guiri come from?’ I nearly spilled my coffee on our new coach.

The most common explanation is literally a page out of a Spanish history book: The word guiri has existed for some 130 years since the time of the Guerras Carlistas during the first half of the 19th Century, a series of skirmishes that followed the death of King Fernando and that pitted the royal’s only a heir, Isabel, against his brother, Carlos María Isidoro de Borbón (it is, therefore, not a phrase derived from a way to call out the socks with sandals thing).

According to the Royal Decree of 1713, all ascendents to the throne were required to be male, so Carlos V made a play for Isabel’s blue-blood given right. This sparked the first of the Carlist Wars, with Isabel’s mother, María Cristina de Borbón Dos-Sicilias fighting for her daughter.


photo credit

Those who supported Isabel and her mother became known as cristinos, and fighting was especially fierce in the northern regions of Navarra and País Vasco. Cristinos from this region saw their leader as radical liberals who hoped to  make sweeping reforms in the whole country, beginning with the right to the throne. What’s more, the this band received support from other countries like France and Great Britain, causing alarm with the northerns who were, characteristically, more traditional and supporters of Carlos V.

The name for the northern became known as guiristinos to the carlistas, an ambiguation of cristinos in the Basque language. Because the majority of María Cristina’s supporters were Basque and Navarrese, the name stuck and was even used as a way to call Guardia Civil officers during Franco’s regime. At its most basic, it also served as a moniker for outsiders and people with radical new ideas, shortened to simply guiri.

Guiris dressed up as flamencas

However, the word guiri didn’t become popular in Spain until the 1960s when tourism began to bring thousands of travelers – namely the British and the Dutch – to coastal resorts. Post-war Spain and Francoist mentality were not ready for the influx of foreigners in the wake of two decades of self-sustainability, so guiri became the popular way to call light-skinned tourists, usually from Northern Europe, the US and Canada. (Another beloved Spanish tradition to surge during this decade? The menú del día. Bendito manjar, clearly).

Some decry the word as a direct attack on those who fall into the category, but most Spaniards will insist that it’s a term of endearment. As most groups of friends have the token ‘El Cabesa’ and ‘El Tonto,’ being ‘La Guiri’ is kind of like my calling card, a simple way to distinguish myself and make me feel like I’ve squeezed my way into tight sevillano social circles.

Have you ever been called a guiri? How do you feel about it?

FluentU – Learning Spanish Through Video

The best day in high school Spanish class was “La Catrina” day. Profe would stockpile those episodes freshman year until she had absolutely no willpower against nearly 30 teenagers with made-up Spanish names (and the popular girls fighting over who got to be Margarita this year). Videos and songs brought Hispanic culture and language to life for me (and MI BISABUELA was our comeback for all of high school).

As a language teacher myself, I’ve found that my students tend to engage whenever technology is involved – no overhead projectors in Spanish classrooms! Anything related to videos and listening has their ears perked up, and I’m always impressed when my FCE students tell me they’ve watched a program in English or translated songs and picked up a few new words.

Before coming to Spain, I checked out loads of books in Spanish, as well as films, to up my español game. Now that online learning has become so big, there are loads of cool ways to brush up while sitting at your computer. I recently tried a new Beta version of FluentU, a wildly successful company whose video training in Mandarin Chinese is now tackling the world’s second most spoken language.

Using authentic videos, audio scripts and flashcards, FluentU tracks your progress and suits all levels of language learning.

Lo que me gustó (What I liked)

From novato to native: Right off the bat, FluentU asks you what level you are, giving a sound description of what your language abilities are at each level. I chose Native since I’ve already got a C1 DELE degree, and the software recommended word lists and videos suited for advanced learners.

Videos for every taste: FluentU has videos about everything and anything – from politics to culture to human interest stories and songs. When I checked out some of the videos at lower levels, it was clear which grammar and tense concepts they were drilling – I loved that there was even a Jarabe de Palo song to teach the usage of the adjective ‘bonito’!

Manageable chunks according to level: The videos were an appropriate length for level, and you can hover over the subtitles under the video to see the definition and pronunciation for each word. The video stops, so you won’t miss anything.

Tracking progress: Language learning builds upon prior knowledge, so the FluentU software tells you how much of a video you should be able to understand, based on videos and word lists you’ve already done. There are also quizzes and you can create your own study lists, making it easy to see how far you’ve come.

Lo que se puede mejorar (What can be improved)

Native level: Not to fanfarronear or anything, but apparently my Spanish is considered native level already. I didn’t run across any unknown words, but chalk that up to the focus being for newbies. There was also a lack of the Castellano accent in upper levels: Most of the videos in the upper levels are reserved for a South American accent, and I didn’t hear any from Spain. There were a few at lower levels, however.

Speaking is absent: Speaking is one of the most important language skills (and often the hardest to master), and this sort of learning doesn’t lend well to strengthening them. Your vocabulary and listening skills will probably grow, but you’ll need to practice oral expression another way.

Want to try it for yourself? FluentU is offering 30 SandS readers the chance to test drive their new Spanish version for free! If you’ll be coming to Spain for the language assistants program, this is an awesome way to brush up on your listening skills and learn a few phrases before jetting to Spain. You just need to provide your email address! You’ll have until April 25th to sign up, using the rafflecopter widget below, and leaving a blog post comment. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

How did you learn Spanish? Would you like online learning? If you’re looking to learn Spanish in Seville, Madrid or Barcelona, get in touch!

FluentU allowed me to use their software for free for two weeks, but todas las opiniones son mine.

Learning Spanish in Seville: My Story

 When I used to tell people that I worked in the little town of Olivares in rural Andalucía, all those big fancy sevillanos used to flip their hands as if to say, ain’t no big thing and gasp, “chiquilla, ya tienes el cielo ganao” – you’ve earned your spot in heaven, girl.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to move back to Spain to learn Spanish. Then I decided to call up my new Spanish roommate to practice.

“EEEE?” Sí.· Yes.
“Erm, Está Melissa?” Is Melissa there?
“EEE. Yen ereh?” Quién eres?” Who’s calling?

Shit. I hung up.

My Spanish accent, the product of American teachers and a few weeks’ time studying in the cradle of modern Spanish, was no match for the fast-talking Andalusians and their tendency to comerse las palabras, or just not bother to say the last syllable. 

I began to get nervous about my incorporation into the Spanish life I wanted to have. After all, most of my decision to move to Spain after college was to become fluent.

Luckily for me, Melissa was raised in London and, despite her indecipherable Spanish, speaks the clearest English I have ever heard. We spent most of our three years as roommates speaking in our first languages – English. Thank God, or I may have been cleaning the bathroom with glass cleaner instead of bleach. Nevertheless, I adopted her gaditano accent from Cadiz: perahh for espera (wait) and amovehr for vamos a ver (we’ll see).

In Olivares, words and tenses I knew became, literally, lost in translation. I was supposed to play dumb and say I only knew enough Spanish to get around, but my high schoolers aren’t that dense. I would try to hide my giggles at their jokes, punish for swear words (clearly the first and most important topic in language learning) and let a bueno or hombre slip every once in a while. I couldn’t understand them half the time, as evident when a kid came to the teacher’s lounge and motioned me over.

“tee-shaiir, ehn.” Teacher, ven. Come here.
Eh kay allay t heugh kayr poh lakaleruh, pa pehdeer-tay pairdohn  pour aber-me ray-i-oh. COMO? Es que ayer te vi caer por las escaleras, para pedirte perdón.

Baby talk, right? Nope, the second accent I picked up. The kid called me over to apologize for having laughed at me when I tripped on the stairs. I had to get another teacher, raised in Valencia, to step in as a translator. She laughed and in her perfect British English, warning, “Don’t learn to talk like them. It’s absolutely wretched to listen to some of these villagers.”

Nevertheless, my adoption made me popular among my students who began to call me one of their own. And, after three years teaching, I subbed Que pasa chica? for Que’pah, mache?, olivareño for “What’s up, pal?”

photo by Jeremy Basetti of APOML

Then there’s the boyfriend accent. The Novio was born in Madrid and began schooling there, leaving his accent clear and manageable. Only when he’s using Andalusian slang does he begin to slip into the realm of misunderstanding, which has actually resulted in a few fights. When I don’t understand something, he’s quick to jump in and explain.

I remember that, during our first year of dating, when we used to spend every weeknight at La Grande. He and his friends would joke around about people, issues and memories that were already foreign to me, on top of the accent and slang. Towards the end of my third year, his friend David paid me a complement when Kike picked up a book from a trash heap in front of the same bar. A que somo unos gitanos, verdad? “Coño,” David said, “I remember when you used to fume because you couldn’t keep up in conversation now. Look at you now!” 

So, if environment and the people you’re with are akin to the dialect you speak, I had an outdoor classroom in my old neighborhood of Triana, the magical place so Spanish, it killed me to leave it. Once outside mini Cádiz in my apartment, I was free to roam amongst the lifelong inhabitants of the island carved by the Guadalquivir and its canal, people who are so fiercely from their barrio that even Triana has its own accent. And you better believe I picked upon it. People could identify my place of residence just from hearing me speak with the bartenders who served me beer and montaditos, the grocer who I often ran into on public buses, Fernando at Java café.

But as much as I tried, my accent had too many outside influences to let it be trianero for too long. I moved across town, spent two years teaching babies whose Spanish was far worse than mine (and correcting them, too), and then took up a job teaching English with Anglo coworkers. In fact, when I took the DELE a few years ago, the oral fluency examiner guessed I lived in Utrera.

My accent seems to be suffering from lack of practice these days, despite conducting a relationship in Spanish and finally being able to watch TV without subtitles or without desperation for trying to keep up with the plot.. It’s become a little orphan accent, trapped between the olive trees of Olivares, the empty extremeño plains and a barrio called Triana. 


Looking for Spanish classes in Seville? Sevilla Habla is a top-notch language school whose unique methodology will have you perfecting verb tenses and improving your confidence in lengua castellana. Not only are they great, but the classes are also wallet-friendly.

I’ve teamed up with both Sevilla Habla! and COMO Consulting Spain, a relocation consulting company for North Americans, to run this great contest: two weeks of free non-intensive courses with Sevilla Habla!





Entering is simple: leave a comment with your favorite Spanish word or phrase, and then earn extra entries by following Sevilla Habla! on social media (or a mí, también). The contest will run until March 10th, but you can use the classes until the end of the year.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Even if you don’t win, Sevilla Habla! is offering Sunshine and Siestas readers a great promotion – on top of already economical classes, you can grab a 5% discount on non-instensive courses (4 hours a week) or 10% on intensive courses (20 hours a week). When Pablo and Marta ask how you heard of Sevilla Habla!, tell them the code, COMO.

Have you ever tried immersion learning? How did you learn to speak Spanish? 

Seville Snapshots: The Sights of Alcalá de Henares

The Spain of my pre-Sevilla had one leading protagonist (perhaps loverboy?) : Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Spain’s most famous author is best known for his chronicle of Spanish knighthood, Don Quijote, Man of La Mancha, and he penned the book while living in Valladolid.

It seemed only fitting to make a day trip from Madrid to Alcalá de Henares, the city in which Cervantes was born and to which his name is commonly associated to pay an early homage to Día del Libro, a celebration of his death and contributions to the Spanish Language and its literature. My sister-in-law Nathàlia just finished up her degree at the famous Universidad de Alcalá, so I took the train early one Friday morning to Madrid and spent an afternoon wandering the old city.

The Universidad de Alcalá is considered to be one of the oldest universities in the world (and several of my blogging friends like Cassandra and James have earned masters degrees from the formerly named Complutense!). Taking a tour with a guide was the best way to learn about the long and interesting history of the campus.

Nath and I walked arm-in-arm through the winding streets of the city, gossiping while huddling together from a biting April day before dipping into a bar near the law faculty for a few tapas. Bars clustered around the university buildings typically serves free tapas with drinks, so we toasted to Nathàlia’s big move to Dublin and one more city to cross off of my list.

If you go: Alcalá de Henares is a quick cercanías trip from Madrid – it will take you 40 minutes on the C2 line from Atocha. Be sure to visit the Plaza de Cervantes, the Casa Natal de Cervantes (free, like tapas in many bars, too), and the university tour cost less than 5€ with a student card. 

How Much Spanish Should I Speak to Travel or Live in Spain?

One of the most common questions I’m asked about moving to Spain is the level necessary to be able to understand and be understood while traveling and working. This is a loaded question, as Spain is a place where English is both commonplace and rarely spoken. 

When I came to live in Seville, I had years of study and a few months in Valladolid as backing. Little did I know that Spanish was such a complex language, or that doing adult things like opening a bank account and settling claims would turn into such a frustrating task. After all of this time and the pummeling of different accents, my own manner of speaking is laughable.

Still, the importance of learning languages has hit Andalusia full-force, and English is much more widely spoken than five years ago. Here, your questions answered:

What Level of Spanish Do You Need for a Trip to Spain?

Spain is rightly regarded as one of the most exciting travel destinations in the world, but regardless of whether you decide to soak up the sunshine on a long, sandy beach or enjoy the food and exciting culture of cities likes Barcelona and Madrid it is a good idea to learn some of the Spanish language before you go. Of course, how much you need to learn depends upon what you intend to do with it and here are a few examples of to get you thinking.

I recommend having a working knowledge of transportation vocabulary and basic phrases, and the same goes for food and lodging. While many people in the travel industry will have some English, a little legwork goes a long way, especially if there’s a problem.

To Make Friends

The Spanish people are famously friendly and outgoing, making Spain a wonderful destination for anyone who is interested in becoming friends with people from a different culture. In this case, you will want a fairly wide vocabulary and to be able to speak in as relaxed a manner as possible. You probably won’t be overly worried about some grammatical faults, as you will iron these out once you start talking to your new Spanish friends.

Intercambios, or language exchanges, are becoming ever more popular with Spaniards and foreign residents alike. These weekly meetings are often held at bars or public spaces, and encourage language participation on both ends. In Seville, couchsurfing usually meets for an exchange on Thursdays, and there are several in the Alameda. You can also use University message boards to look for a one-on-one.

To Sample the Food

Spain is also famous for its magnificent cuisine. If you love food then you will want to try the likes of paella, tortilla de patata and other local treats. In order to get the most out of your culinary experience you might like to learn a good variety of food related words. This is going to be especially relevant if you plan to head off the beaten track and eat in small restaurants where English might not necessarily be spoken. If you are able to say, the best of my Spanish lessons in Miami is the bit where we talk about food for hours then you will be on your way to learning what you need.

Knowing regional dishes will not only enhance your visit, but also help you guarantee that you’re getting great service. I tend to shy away from places where English, French, German and a handful of other languages are present on menus, though I still have to learn parts of the pig in English!

To Look for a Job

Perhaps you are planning a dramatic change in your life and want to look to further your career in Spain. This is becoming an increasingly popular option in these days of the globally mobile workforce. There are some parts of the country with a high population of English-speaking expats and it is possible that you could land a job there with little knowledge of the Spanish tongue. Still, you’ll want to have a decent grasp of some formal Spanish phrases in order to make a good impression on the person interviewing you.

Yeah, Guiri Puss, aprende español!

Interested in studying for an exam to prove that you’re a Spanish crack? The DELE diploma is valid in nearly every country in the world, and I passed the C1 in November 2011. Check out my Do’s and Don’t post and what to expect on the exam.

This post was made possible by an outside source. As always, I reserve all rights of submission.

Do you learn any language bits before you travel? Looking to learn Spanish in Spain? Contact me for the inside scoop on the best language schools!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...