First trip: Colombia

One night when I was five years old, I woke up since there was something going on.


The phone had rang and now my parents were talking in a serious manner and clearly upset. I found out that my uncle in Colombia had died (mom’s brother) and my mom was figuring out the details to go to Colombia right away.


My parents had shared many stories with me about Colombia and all of my relatives.  They had shown me pictures, I had talked to them on the phone and I knew a lot of their names. They had also helped me memorize two of my aunt’s phone numbers in Colombia, since they would come get me in Canada if something ever happened to my parents.


But I hadn’t yet gone to visit the country that my parents were from. A couple of days later after my uncle’s death, we were on our way to my first trip to Colombia. I had a LOT of relatives to meet.


Although I hadn’t visited, I was well aware of the culture.


Spanish was the first language I learned at home, my parents had Colombian friends and we all got together for the holidays. Their goal was to celebrate them the way they had done growing up in Colombia.


We ate Colombian food when we could.  It was hard back then to find Colombian food in Canada, so it was a real treat for my parents when they discovered more food products at Latin food stores as the years went by.


I don’t remember much of the trip getting there even though it was my first time on a plane and we were finally going to Colombia.


Memories of my first trip


My first memory was arriving in Bucaramanga, Colombia and it was nighttime. Two of my uncles were waiting for us at the airport.


They had come to pick us up and take us on a four hour car ride to where my grandparents still lived.  The family had all gathered there from other cities of Colombia because of my uncle’s death.


There are many parts of Colombia that are mountainous so the roads connecting different cities include driving on edge of the mountain on roads that swirl a LOT. It can feel like a roller coaster!


It’s normal for people to get motion sick.  I thankfully didn’t and just remember sitting in the backseat of my uncle’s car and looking out into the darkness and seeing the HUGE mountains up ahead.


Hours later and tired out, we arrived and I met my grandparents, uncles, aunts and some cousins.


I don’t remember all of the details but even through there were rough times with everyone grieving, I have an overall great impression of Colombia that began with that trip. I remember there always being relatives with us and although there were some fighting over toys with my cousins, I bonded with them all and felt the closeness that’s important to our families.


It took some get used to, but my mom told me that any of my aunts, uncles or grandparents could scold me if I was misbehaving. It seemed strange to me since I was used to getting into trouble by just my dad and mom (I was a bit stubborn at times….).


I remember when all of the cousins were running around the house too much, one of my uncles would announce it was time for an outing since they all took turns helping take care of all my cousins and me.


When I was little, I would sometimes mix Spanish and English but I soon found out that in Colombia most people  didn’t speak English. I picked up even more Spanish along with learning the slang.


Returning home


My grade one teacher and principal had thankfully agreed that it was okay for me to miss the first month and a half of the school year.


They pointed out that a trip like that would bring more learning and life experience during that time period than I would learn in school (I couldn’t agree more!).


The teacher gave us some learning material to learn while I was away. My mom had been a teacher in Colombia before moving to Canada and had learned more English throughout the years, so we worked through it together.


That trip ended up being three months long and my dad was able to get time off work and came for the last few weeks so we could travel back to Canada together.


Coming back to Canada was hard for me, I felt lonely and sad not to be in Colombia still with all of our relatives but our lives were in Canada. My parents allowed me a couple of days to adjust when we got back and then I was off to school.


As the years went by, we went to Colombia as a family when we could and I travelled there on my own later on. The number of relatives that I now have is 95, and that includes my 95 year old grandpa (mom’s side) and 91 year old grandma (dad’s side). I have visited different cities and always have more to see.


I fell in love with Colombia on that first trip and it’s always been my favorite place to visit. If I could visit every year, I would.


Where was your first trip to?



Words in Spanish That You Didn’t Know You Knew

Do you know how many Spanish words you already know without realizing it?


When starting to learn a new language, it seems like there are SO many words to learn.


Don’t worry, as long as you put the effort to keep learning, you’ll be surprised at how much you know.


You can learn them bit by bit and 6 months later you’ll see how many you can recognize, know the meaning of and say.


This surprised me when I visited Italy.


I did the typical touristy thing and bought a phrase book to practice some Italian before our trip.


While there, I didn’t end up bringing the phrase book with me when we were walking around. But, I noticed that I could recognize some of the words on the signs through knowing Spanish.


One of the days we were there, we wanted to buy tickets for the soccer game in Milan. The tickets are sold at the banks and we didn’t know there was a certain process to go into the bank.


My husband and I opened the first door without an issue and then we tried to open the second one and couldn’t. It seemed locked but we saw tellers inside. They started yelling from inside but we couldn’t understand what they were saying in Italian.


After what seemed like a while and trying to open the door, we finally saw the sign in Italian. Since there were enough words that we could figure out, we realized that it said we had to face the camera directly that we had seen in the corner before they would unlock the second door. Thankfully, we were able to follow the instructions and get into the bank.


After all of that, we weren’t able to buy tickets for the soccer game since only residents of that province can attend.


Just like I saw words in common with Spanish and Italian, there are many Spanish words that you will know from English that you can use when you travel to Spanish speaking countries.


Luckily, some of these have the same spelling and meaning to English!


The pronunciation will be different but at least it’s a start.


You never know what words can come in handy when you are travelling but here are some to get you started:



spanish words that are the same as english



Make sure you add these to your ongoing list of Spanish words that you are learning.


There are many other words that are the same or similar to English. We’ll be going over more in other posts.


What other words have you come across that you already know from English?

The Copa America Centenario competition heats up on the field and our home!

“How could the ref make that call!”
“We’re going to win!”
“I CAN’T believe we lost!”


As the Copa América Centenario goes on this year in the United States, these can all be heard from 1000s of fans across the country and everyone watching internationally on TV.


Copa América is the South American men’s soccer cup that is held every 4 years and includes 10 South American countries – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Perú, Uruguay and Venezuela. To make it 12 teams participating, 2 more countries are invited to join, usually from Central or North America.


The countries that have won the Copa most often are Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil (in that order).


This year (2016) there’s a special Copa América Centenario to celebrate it’s 100th year anniversary


It’s being hosted in the United States and there were 16 countries participating in it –10 of the regular South American countries plus Costa Rica, Haiti, Jamaica, México, Panamá and the United States.


The next Copa América is set for 2019 in Brazil.


The Copa América experience


Copa América games give people the chance to represent their country, to dress in their colours, their jerseys, decorate with their flags and have fun with family and friends. Even those who don’t follow soccer normally will be getting together with others to watch, eat, drink and yell along with the game.


With the Copa América Centenario being in the United States, my husband and I wanted to go as soon as we heard about it since we live in Canada.


He’s from Chile and I’m from Colombia so we looked for those games first. One of the Chilean games in the 1st round against Bolivia was being held in Boston, MA so we decided to go with his family members. We looked at the Colombia games in the quarterfinals but the prices for the tickets were too high, especially with the currency exchange rate, so we didn’t go.


I love the energy and excitement of going to live soccer games


Driving to and then walking to the stadium is full of people yelling out cheers, laughing and cars beeping as they drive by. People talk to each other easily and it was great to have conversations with other fans along our walk and in any lineup.


I especially love when I can hear the drums playing and people chanting. It can get quite tense as the game goes on, how the referee makes his calls and how the players are playing since there’s always a chance for either team to win.


Chile won this game and it was a happy occasion with the celebration continuing after the game.


How the Copa América works

Before the tournament starts, there’s a draw to divide up the 12 countries into 3 groups of 4 countries.


In the current Copa América Centenario, there are 4 groups of 4 countries since there were 16 countries.


1st round – 12 countries, 18 games


In the 1st round, each country within the group plays each other once so each country plays 3 games.


When they win they receive 3 points and if they tie they get 1 point.


At the end of the first round, the top 2 teams in the group advance to the next round, the quarterfinals. The 2 teams in 3rd place with the most points also advance. If the countries are tied in their number of points, the number of goals will be used to figure out who advances.


In the current Copa América Centenario, only the top 2 teams from each group advance without the option for the 3rd place teams. There were also 24 games in this round since there were 16 countries.


Quarterfinals – 8 countries, 4 games


In the quarterfinals, it gets even more interesting since the loser of the match is eliminated. They have one game that they have to win to advance to the next round, the semi-finals.


If there’s a tie after the 90 minutes of regular play time, it goes to a penalty shootout where 5 players from each team take turns shooting at the net with only the goalkeeper. The team with the most goals wins the game.


Semi-finals – 4 countries, 2 games


In the semi-finals, it gets even more tense since the winners of the 2 semi-final games go to the finals and the ones who didn’t win play the 3rd place game.


In the current Copa América Centenario, as of early June 22nd, there are 4 teams left – Chile, Colombia, Argentina, United States – and 3 more games to figure out which country ends up in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th place.


Since Argentina won their game against the United States on June 21st, they will be playing in the final on June 26th. The United States will be playing for 3rd place on June 25th.


Later today, Chile and Colombia are playing to determine who will be going to the final with Argentina and who will be going to the 3rd place game with the United States.


For my husband and I and our relatives, we’ll be in a friendly competition today as we wait to see who plays better and makes it to the final game. Well, it’ll definitely be an interesting game and one of us will have our country in the final!

3 Things You May Be Scared of When Speaking Spanish

“I’m scared of speaking Spanish. I’m scared of saying something wrong!”


I hear this from people that are learning Spanish. They know some words but tell me that they felt scared to use them when they ordered their food at their resort restaurant in Cancún, Mexico.


They were scared of messing up when they were talking.


I’ve been learning a lot about the role that fear plays in our lives.


As I read more about how we look at things, I learn more about how thinking positively can make all the difference in pushing past what we are scared of.


It got me thinking about the fear that we can have when thinking of learning a language.  It’s normal to feel fear or a bit anxious when learning something new and going outside of our comfort zone.


The problem can be when we allow this fear to be a reason to not pursue our goals and work towards making changes in our lives.


The important thing to remember is that we need to keep going forward or else we won’t achieve the goals that we want.



fears quote


3 Common Language Learning Fears


When learning a language, our main fear centres around being scared of looking foolish or being embarrassed by our pronunciation.  We may feel that we may forget a word or say it all wrong.


All language learners will experience this at one time or many times while learning!


It’s understandable that we will make mistakes since we are going through the learning process. I’m sure it’s happened to all of us, even when speaking English!


I sometimes can’t think of the word I need either in Spanish or English. Sometimes I can think of it in one language or the other but it’s the wrong language at the moment.


Fear #1 – Will people be annoyed or act impatient with me??


The main thing that we are scared of is that people may get annoyed or impatient with us as we try to speak the language.  The majority of the time this won’t happen.


But honestly, at times it can happen.


We have to remember that it’s not a big deal in the end since we are learning and we’re going to make mistakes.


I’m sure that person will also feel unsure of themselves with something in their lives when they are doing something new.


Fear #2 – Will someone make fun of me??


Another thought we often have when learning something new is whether we’ll get made fun of by someone.


At times it can happen. Somehow we have to put caring about this aside.


Usually though, it’s forgotten about moments later as their attention goes elsewhere.


We also have to remember to laugh at ourselves sometimes too.


Fear #3 – Will I say something wrong that might mean something else??


Another thing we are scared of is that we may mispronounce a word and say something else that is funny, embarrassing or even rude if the word sounds similar to another.


Other than to keep practicing and learning about these differences, there isn’t much we can do to prevent this.


Just remember, it can happen.


But if does, the other person will know that you are learning the language and it’ll make a funny travel story to tell when you get back home.


Have you felt scared of any of these when you think of learning Spanish?



3 Easy to Learn Spanish Grammar Tips!

Do you see the words ‘Spanish grammar‘ on the side of your textbook that’s been slowly gathering dust on your shelf and think, “I just want to learn to speak Spanish without it being so hard”


Don’t worry, I’m here to help make learning Spanish easier for you and so you can start speaking it quicker.


It’s true that Spanish grammar can be quite intensive but that’s usually when you are learning at an advanced level.  There are many different verb tenses that can be used and rules to follow.


Luckily, for beginners it doesn’t have to be hard at all.


Here’s 3 basic Spanish grammar tips to remember so that you can get started!



1. Masculine and Feminine


Tip number 1 is that you’ll notice that a lot of words have either el/la or un/una in front of it depending on whether it is masculine (el/un) or feminine (la/una).


For those of you that know some French, you will be familiar with seeing words that are either masculine or feminine.  For the rest of you, it’ll be something you will get used to seeing in Spanish.


As you learn more, you’ll see that it’s useful to know the gender of the word when it’s in a sentence to figure out what ending to add to it.


For now, what you need to know is that all words that are nouns (objects and living things) in Spanish are classified as masculine or feminine, such as:


the male cat = el gato (el ga-tow)

the female cat = la gata (la ga-ta)

a male cat = un gato (uwn ga-tow)

a female cat = una gata (uw-na ga-ta)


As you learn it’s best to always include the el/la or un/una before the word when you are practicing reading the words out loud.


Remember that reading out loud helps you start getting comfortable with hearing yourself speak Spanish.


The more comfortable you are speaking it, the more comfortable you will get when talking to other people.



2. Accents and how to type them on your computer


Spanish grammar tip number 2 is about accents. In Spanish, you’ll notice accents over many words. This means that the letter is to be emphasized when speaking the word.


It’s easy to remember that they only appear over vowels (á, é, í, ó, ú).


Thankfully, the accents always face the same direction.


When typing the accents over the letter on an English PC keyboard, press





At the same time that you press



(which is usually in the top left corner of your keyboard) and then type the vowel.


The letter will appear with the accent over it – á, é, í, ó, ú



On an English MAC keyboard, you would need to press:




And at the same time you hold down




Then you can select the vowel you need and it will appear with an accent on top – á, é, í, ó, ú


On smartphones,  you hold down the vowel for a couple of seconds and you’ll be given the option to select the vowel with an accent on top.



3. Upside down Question & Exclamation marks ¿ ¡


Yes, you read that right.  Upside down.


Tip number 3 is that in Spanish, at the start of a question there is an upside question mark to show that it’s a question.  Same with exclamation points.


At the end of the sentence, the question mark and exclamation mark are right side up, just like English.


This helps us when we are reading to know to change our tone so we can show we are asking a question or making an exclamation in our sentence.


In Spanish-speaking countries, the computer keyboard will often have the upside question mark and exclamation mark.


On an English PC keyboard, you can put in the upside question mark by holding down




And entering in either










On an English MAC keyboard you can get the upside question mark by pressing












If you want more info, this site explains it further.



For an upside exclamation mark, you would do the same on an English PC keyboard except with a different number codeYou would hold down




And enter either










On an English MAC keyboard, you can get an upside exclamation mark by pressing









In informal situations such as texts and emails, it’s become normal to not include the upside question mark or upside exclamation mark at the beginning of the sentences.


3 Spanish grammar tips recap


So, the 3 Spanish grammar points to remember are that:


  • All words that are nouns (objects/living things) are either masculine or feminine



  • Sometimes there are accents on the vowels meaning that the letter is to be emphasized (and we learned how to make them appear on a keyboard!) and



  • there are upside down question and exclamation marks at the beginning of sentences (and we learned to do these on a keyboard also!)



I’m guessing you didn’t find that too hard and I promise it will become more familiar as you learn more Spanish!