Archive for November, 2013

10 All Time Classic Spanish Movies

Posted on November 29th, 2013 by Samuel Max in Uncategorized | No Comments »

There’s some incredible cinema outside of your typical English flicks, and with the ease of watching new films though digital means, it’s time to start celebrating the culturally diverse realm of Spanish language cinema…


El Laberinto del Fauno – Pans Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro is becoming a well known director around the world, Pan’s Labyrinth remains his most iconic too date. The dark fantasy follows Ofelia, a young girl, lover of fairy tails, as she enters the labyrinth…

La ComunidadThe Community

A dark comedy that centers itself upon a real estate agent, that just happens to discover a fortune in a dead man’s apartment; there are unfortunately some others waiting to get their hands on it.

Todo Sobre Mi Madre – All About My Mother

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar, the story follows a mother as she raises a child without the father; as the story progresses the absence of a father figure takes it’s toll, and the mother, Manuela, finds she must travel to Madrid to find him.

El Oreanato – The Orphanage

The Orphanage is a horror film set in 1976, in which a 37-year old Laura returns and reopens an orphanage that she was once put up for adoption in; after the opening some mysterious events begin to take place involving her own adopted child.

El Secreto de Sus Ojos - The Secret of His Eyes

A retired legal counselor has been haunted by one of his previous homicide cases for years, so he decides to write a novel in the hopes he find closure, he finds that and more.


Volver - To Come Back

Staring Penélope Cruz as Raimunda, the story follows the lives of her and her sister, slowly unveiling details regarding the death of their parents.

Abre los Ojos – Open Your Eyes

The Sci-fi flick that Vanilla Sky was based on, César is disfigured in a car accident and proceeds though some very strange, tormenting aftermath including murder, cryonics, and virtual reality.


A thriller following Angela Márquez as she writes her thesis on snuff films, only to stumble across one featuring a former student of her university; this naturally leads to an investigating into the matter.

Amores Perros

Three distinct stories and sets of people, linked by a car accident and dealing with loss, regret and the harsh realities of life.


Diarios de Motocicleta - The Motorcycle Diaries

Recreating through film the epic motorcycle journey that Che Guevara once endeavored on; as he travels up and along the coast of South America, meeting many problems and sharing many laughs.


Watching films in different languages is a great way to learn new words and perfect your pronunciation, but first you might want to know the basics; send us inquiry or check out our Spanish courses to get you to the next level!

Top 6 Places to see in Argentina

Posted on November 26th, 2013 by Samuel Max in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Because of it’s size and the large diversity in scenery, Argentina boasts some of the most incredible sights on the planet; from green, lake filled bush to sparse, stretching red lands as far as the eye can see. Let’s take a closer look at the best places to see:

Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires has often been called the ‘Paris of South America,’ although I do not believe it’s a good reference; the city has it’s own culture and beauty that shouldn’t be compared to any in Europe. It contains many beautiful ‘barrios’ or neighborhoods, such as the colorful ‘La Boca,’ there’s the famous Teatro Colon, many stylish cafés and restaurants, and let’s not forget the many tango shows.

Iguazú Falls. The sound will get you before you see it. It’s made up of almost 275 waterfalls that cascade down into a misty abyss. You walk along pathways that traverse above and below, getting you so close you can touch it. If you’re up for it you can take a short day trip to the Brazilian side, not quite as good as the Argentine side, but definitely worth a look.

Perito Moreno. One of the worlds last advancing glaciers, nestled down in the deep south of the country, close to El Calafate. Take a trip in the bus along the winding road and soon, peering from around the corner will be the massive glacier, stretching 30 km long. Stay a while and listen to the creaks and cracks, with any luck you’ll see some of the glacier break away. During certain times of the year you can walk across the top, there are also boat trips that take you up close.


Mendoza. Argentina’s wine region is world renowned, the many ‘bodegas’ surround the city allow people the opportunity to come in, take a tour and taste some of the delicious red. The city itself is beautiful, waterways line the streets and trees are in abundance, in the middle of the city is one of the largest parks in the country, Parque General San Martin.

Bariloche. Sitting on the West hand side of the country, close to the Andes and next to the scenic Nahuel Huapi Lake, Bariloche is where many locals come on holidays, to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life to relax. The city contains many outdoor activities, mountains to climb, bush walks, boat rides and more. Within the city there’s an incredible array of chocolate shops, you can’t miss them, go in and treat yourself to some of the finest creamy sweets you can find.


Salta. The far North of Argentina is something entirely different to the rest, and Salta is one of the best examples. The area contains Quebrada de Humahuaca, a ravine with spectacular multicolored hills, and the Cerro de los Siete Colores, or ‘the Hill of the Seven Colors.’ You simply have to try the food here, it’s cheap and some of the most tasty, mouth watering you’ll find anywhere.

Argentinians speak their own Spanish, and to get by while traveling the country might be a tad difficult if you don’t know the basics; check out a Spanish course or send an inquiry if you’d like to get better!

RAE: Choosing the Spanish Language

Posted on November 21st, 2013 by Samuel Max in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Ever wonder how words get selected for the dictionary? In English we have Oxford, Collins, Longman and Merriam-Webster dictionaries; in Spain there’s the Real Academia Española, or Royal Spanish Academy.

Established in 1713 in Madrid, Spain, and modeled after the Italian Accademia della Crusca and French Académia française. The academy has the motto “Limpia, fija y da esplendor,” meaning ‘it cleans, sets, and casts splendor,’ it set out with the mission to fix the voices and vocabularies of the Castilian language with propriety, elegance, and purity.”


rae1At the beginning the academy was headed by Juan Manuel María de la Aurora, a Spanish aristocrat, politician and academician. Today, the academy is headed by José Manuel Blecua, taking office in 2006 and already seeing through some big changes.

One such change was to eliminate the “ch” and “ll” from the Spanish alphabet. While this does not seem to have any great effect on Spanish and the way it is spoken, as the sounds will remain present in the language and continue to have unique pronunciations; there has been a backlash, with people criticizing the simplification. An editorial from a Mexican newspaper had a bone to pick with the academy, asking “would the United States accept dictates from England over the use of English?” Another believes the changes to be money oriented, as “all the dictionaries will have to be remade, which is good for selling the Royal Academy’s dictionary, which they keep producing as though it’s the Bible.”



The RAE has also come under fire from many Spanish speakers in the Americas for being too conservative and favoring Spanish from Spain, not taking into account, or being very slow in taking notice of the dialects and changes in Spanish from the many Spanish speaking countries in the Americas. The response from supporters of RAE is that it is there to protect the Castilian Spanish and prevent the dilution of other dialects.

Something that seems to contrast this idea of the academy being too conservative, is the rumor that they are considering adding three new words to the dictionary; these new terms are “goglear,” “tuitear,” and “guasapear,” which translate to Google, tweet and WhatsApp, respectively. How’s that for being up to date?

Whichever side you look at the argument from, it’s fairly understandable that the Academy will continue to run into problems of this nature, when you consider it’s charged with maintaining a language of 450 million speakers in many countries with many different local words and uses, that spells trouble for anyone.


Which side do you agree with? Do you own a Royal Spanish Academy dictionary?

Flamenco, the Dance and the Music

Posted on November 19th, 2013 by Samuel Max in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The frilly red dresses circle and spin in time to the guitar wizard’s finger tornado, putting you under the spell of the Spanish flamenco.

Originating in the Andalusian area of Southern Spain in the 16th century, as an amalgamation of the cultures of the Gypsies, Moors, Jews and indigenous Andalusians.



The origin of the word ‘flamenco’ is uncertain; it’s understandably related to the bird ‘flamingo,’ which means “flame-colored,” which is possibly a reference to the fiery red traje de flameca – the flamenco outfits. Another possibility, as outlined by Blas Infante, an Andalusian historian, is that the word came from the Hispano-Arabic ‘fellah mengu,’ meaning “expelled peasant,” or ‘flahencon,’ meaning “collection of songs.”

While the etymology is cloudy, what’s crystal clear is that flamenco is one of the most technically demanding musics in the world. The dance is usually done solo, and characterized by clapping, percussive footwork, and sweeping intricate body movements. The music centers itself with the guitarist, with a unique style of playing that consists of lightning quick hand movements, strumming with each finger in rapid succession to create a sound unlike any other.


Along with this technically difficult style comes an abundance of terms and words used to describe and label the many unique features:

A golpe – A song that has only the single rhythm of a stick on the floor, knuckles on a table or the stopping of a foot.

Braceo – The sweeping arm movements of the dancer.

Calo – The language of the Gypsies.

Compás – The beat, or rhythm of the song, such as 4/4

Duende – Soul, something flamenco must be performed with.

Estribillo – The chorus.

Floreo – Hand movements.

Juerga – A flamenco party or jam session.

Letra – Lyrics.

Palmas – Rhythmic hand clapping.

Tocaor – The flamenco guitarist.

Toque – Guitar playing.

Along with the dancer and guitar player, there can often be a small rhythm section; castanets are an instrument often used, they consist of two shells tied together by string and clapped together to produce a rattling sound; also the cajón, which is Spanish for ‘drawer,’ but is an instrument that looks like a wooden box, the performer sits on top and taps it with their hands.


Paco-de-lucia Flamenco has been declared one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, and has become so worldwide that there are now more flamenco academies in Japan than there are in Spain.

It’s difficult to talk about the flamenco style and not mention Paco de Lucia; he was born in 1947 and has gone on to become the most commercially successful flamenco guitarist, some even talk of flamenco music as ‘before Paco’ and ‘after Paco.’ Many consider him to be the greatest musician to come from Spain and he has received much credit from other well-established guitarists, such as Eric Clapton, who stated that Paco is a “titanic figure in the world of flamenco guitar,” and has “astounding technique and inventiveness.”


Can you think of any other important flamenco performers? Have you ever seen a live performance?

The language of Asado

Posted on November 14th, 2013 by Samuel Max in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Juicy, mouthwatering steak coupled with full bourbon brown sausages on a large plate, topped with the local chimichurri sauce and a side of wine…Excuse me for a moment, I need to eat something…



Something very popular in Latin American communities, especially those in Argentina and Uruguay, is the asado; where people gather around from early afternoon to the early hours of the morning, to eat pound upon pound of glorious meat. It is a type of barbecue, the word used in association with both the method of cooking, and the event itself. It’s a traditional dish in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay; and it’s the national dish of Argentina, which is to be expected, for if you have ever tasted the succulent meat fresh from an Argentinean parrilla, you’ll never look at a ‘barbecue’ the same again.



The parrilla is the grill, with the meat often cooked over an open fire using charcoal, and garnished with plenty of sal, or salt; the asado is the act of cooking, and if you’re unfortunate enough not to have friends cooking up an asado, and in need of finding somewhere else to get your fix, you’d better head to a parrillada; the person responsible for the asado is the asador, who finely cares and nourishes the bife, or steak, to perfection.

Let’s get to the ‘juicy’ part…Carne, the meat. There are many cuts, some better than others, but all good: First we have the Bife de lomo, which is the tenderloin, and is often the most expensive cut. Then there’s the Entraña, the skirt steak, a thin cut that packs a flavorful punch. The Bife de chorizo, or sirloin, is the most common cut of meat, one you can eat over and over. The Asado de tira, short ribs, usually the cheaper option due to there being less meat, that’s made up for by the flavor and enjoyment in using your teeth and hands to tear at it. The Vacío, flank steak, not as common outside of Argentina and Uruguay, is a thin cut with a layer of fat that gets crispy when it’s cooked. Lastly, the Ojo de bife, the ribeye, one of the more flavorful parts, usually served without the bone, but not exclusively.


parrillaOther popular additions to the asado can range from chorizos — sausages, morcillas — black pudding, chivito — goat meat, pollo — chicken, cerdo — pork, ensalada — salad, chimichurri — a delicious sauce, and for any vegetable people out there there’s a large selection of venduras. 


The asado is so popular in many Latin American countries that every second house and even small apartments have a designed space specifically for a parrilla, and if you’re down south in Argentina, Uruguay, and some neighboring countries, you’d better not forget your mate, a local drink made of herbs that goes everywhere the people do.


What other cuts of meat do you like to have on you’re asado? Where was the place you tried the best food that’s ever hit your lips?

Formal and Informal Spanish

Posted on November 12th, 2013 by Samuel Max in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Spot the difference between “Have a pleasant day sir” or “Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen,” and the likes of “hey how’s it going?” or “you wanna grab a bite to eat for lunch?” One is an informal means of communication, while the other is formal; each has a time and a place to be used, and a particular vocabulary to abide by. Spanish is a language with a clear means for differentiating between the two, a select number of words change dependent on the formality of the occasion.



As you may know by now, Spanish has a few different ways to say ‘you,’ there’s the informal ‘tu,’ and the formal ‘usted,’ but then there is also ‘vos’ in Latin America; I’ve spoken before about the origins of these words and why Latin American Spanish is slightly different, the differences are more evident in these personal pronouns. In Spain the plural formal ‘you’ is ‘ustedes,’ in Latin America ‘ustedes’ is both the formal and informal plural ‘you,’ it is used regardless of occasion, whereas Spain use ‘vosotros,’ literally ‘you all’ for speaking informally.

What’s more, as you use a different pronoun, the conjugation of the verb will also be different; take the verb ‘comer,’ that is to eat: informally ‘tú comes’ — you eat, and ‘vosotros coméis’ — you all eat. When speaking formally, it becomes ‘usted come’ and ‘ustedes comen,’ as the singular ‘usted’ has the same conjugations used for ‘él/ella’ or him/her, and the plural ‘ustedes’ uses the same as ‘ellos/ellas’ or they. Things only get more difficult when taking into account Latin American Spanish, while the formal ‘usted’ and ‘ustedes’ remain the same, the informal ‘vos’ form is ‘comés,’ an entirely different conjugation from any in Spain.

So when exactly do you use these different types? The usage of informal and formal typically depends on who it is you’re talking to. While there are no hard and fast rules on when to use it and when not to, there is a general principal to follow: if in English you can use the persons first name, then you can use the informal way, if you would use something else, such as Mr, Mrs, or Sir, stick with the formal way. Of course there are exceptions, such as when dealing with someone much older than you, of a different social status, or in a specific culture; in these circumstances I would recommend using the formal conjugations to play it safe, if the person you’re speaking with is happy to let you speak informally with them, they’ll let you know, and will probably feel pretty chuffed that you spoke to them so politely, rather than the opposite of having someone feel insulted by your casual tone.


Can you think of other examples of situations where the formal tone should be used as opposed to informal? Have you ever accidentally used the wrong one?

The Arabic Influence on Spanish

Posted on November 7th, 2013 by Samuel Max in Uncategorized | No Comments »

A little while back I talked about history of the Spanish language and some of the events and cultures that influenced it; briefly I touched on the Arabic influence, now I would like to elaborate on that further and look at some of the many words and histories of these words, as the Arabic language has had such a large impact on the Spanish spoken today.



Arabic is a language that comes from the group of Central Semitic languages, including others such as Aramaic and Hebrew; these Semitic languages belong to Afroasiatic, which includes 300 languages spoken by more than 300 million people. Arabic is most widely spoken of these, being used in the Middle East and parts of North Africa.

To reiterate my previous post, “In the year 711, Islamic Moors invaded the region and brought with them the Arabic culture and language…” until in 1492 “…The Castilians began to reconquer the peninsula, driving out the Islamic and Arab presence.”

Once the Arabic forces were expelled, the resulting linguistic influences were for the most part only lexical, that is to say, that Spanish adopted many Arabic words, but the grammatical structure remained intact. The Arabic language is believed to have had the second largest influence on Spanish after Latin, there are four thousand Arabic or Arabic derived words in the Spanish dictionary, constituting 8% of it; most of these are nouns, with some verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and one preposition in “hasta,” meaning until. 

Let’s look at some words now: Starting with “asesino,” Spanish for assassin, this word comes from the crusades and the Arabic word “hashasheen,” which means ‘smokers of hash.’ It comes from a legend about a group of warriors who lived in the mountains, they attacked prominent leaders that threatened their movement, and then made no attempt to escape, sacrificing themselves. The word has two conflicting sources, one states that the warriors smoked the herb to reduce fear and heighten their courage; the second states that they were heavy smokers and pampered with all manner of drugs and pleasures in their mountain lair.



Somewhat related to assassins are hostages, and in Spanish a hostage is “rehén,” owing to the Arabic “raheen,” which means to deposit as security.

The Spanish “Ojala” means hopefully, the Arabic origin of it is “wa sha allah,” that is to say should god will it. Interestingly, another common Spanish phrases to mean hohpefully is “si dios quiere,” meaning if god wants. 

For all you designers out there, maybe you know of “Adobe” as the amazing all purpose software; the name comes from as far back 2000 BC, Middle Egyptian “dj-b-t,” meaning mud brick to refer to those old mud house structures. Arabic took the word as “al-tub,” and then the Spanish got hold of it as “adobe.”


There are thousands more, for you to look up and ponder over. What other interesting words do you know of Arabic origin?

Spanish Quotes and Sayings

Posted on November 5th, 2013 by Samuel Max in Uncategorized | No Comments »

What better way to get into learning Spanish than to look at and interpret some of the best linguistic maestros to have ever spoken the Spanish tongue? From the Argentinean Jorge Luis Borges to the Spanish adventurer Don Quixote, there are many popular sayings and quotes from some very passionate and fluid writers.


Don_QuixoteTo start, let’s look at the aforementioned Don Quixote. He is a character from a book written by Miguel de Cervantes Saaverdra, titled ‘The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. Don makes it his mission to revive chivalry, along with his squire Sancho Panza, whom is known for his many sanchismos, quotes that use wit and humor and ironic Spanish proverbs. While there are many quotes, we shall look at only a few, to start:

“El que lee mucho y anda mucho, ve mucho y sabe mucho.” – He whom reads a lot and walks a lot, sees a lot and knows a lot.

“Es natural condición de las mujeres desdeñar a quien las quiere y amar a quien las aborrece” – It is a natural condition of women to disdain whose who want them and love those who hate them.

“Mientras se gana algo no se pierde nada” – As long as something is gained nothing is lost.

“Señor, una golondrina sola no hace verano” – Sir, one solitary swallow does not make a summer. (To mean that one instance of something does not make it a condition)

“Ladran Sancho, señal que cabalgamos” – Let the dogs bark Sanco, it is a sign that we’re moving forward. (To receive criticism is a sign that your doing something)



Jorge Luis Borges, born in Buenos Aires in 1899, is a famous writer of many short-stories, essays, and poems that continuously tackle themes from dreams, mirrors, labyrinths, libraries, animals, philosophy, god and more. He died in 1986 at the age of 86, but he left behind a body work that will not be soon forgotten, among which, are these quotes:

“No hables a menos que puedas mejorar el silencio.” – Don’t speak unless you can improve on silence.

“La literatura no es otra cosa que un sueño dirigido.” – Literature is nothing more than a directed dream.

“Hay que tener cuidado al elegir a los enemigos porque uno termina pareciéndose a ellos.” – One must choose one’s enemies carefully as one ends up resembling them.


picassoThese are two heavyweights of Spanish virtuosity, but there are of course many more; take for instance Pablo Picasso, who you might already know as a painter:

“Todo lo que puede ser imaginado es real.” – All that can be imagined is real.

“Para dibujar hay que cerrar los ojos y cantar.” – To paint one must shut one’s eyes and sing.

“Yo hago lo imposible, porque lo posible lo hace cualquiera.” – I do the impossible, because the possible anyone can do.


To finish off, I’ll leave you with a couple of other quotes by some other incredibly talented Spanish linguists:

“Hay un cierto placer en la locura, que solo el loco conoce” – There’s a certain pleasure in madness that only the madman knows – Pablo Neruda.

“Sólo un idiota puede ser totalmente feliz.” – Only an idiot can be totally happy – Mario Vargas Llosa.

“El que busca la verdad corre el riesgo de encontrarla” – Who searches for truth runs the risk of finding it. – Isabel Allende.


Can you think of any other well known or popular Spanish quotes and sayings? Have you read any of the material from the mentioned writers?