Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Naughty Natalie And Her Romance Novel

A few days ago Natalie wrote a great post over on the Lenguajero blog about how she practiced Spanish by reading a Spanish romance novel.

From the Lenguajero blog:


I used to read romance novels when I was 13, and I only read them when I was babysitting. I babysat for a family that had stacks of them lying all around their house. I would start one after the kids went to sleep, and then spend the next couple of hours furiously reading it ina desperate attempt to finish it before the parents got home. When I heard them at the door I would throw the book back where I found it, and turn on the tv.

So, when I first started learning/reading in Spanish the first book I chose was a Spanish Harlequin novel called Boda de Conveniencia. It was the first in a 3-book mini-series, Bodas de Sociedad. At the time that I bought this (second-hand in Spain) I was pretty sure that Boda meant “Body”. It doesn’t. (It means wedding.)

Read Full Article

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Catchin' Up

I haven't been writing much lately. Well, at least I haven't been writing here lately. I've been doing some guest posts for other blogs (and I'm working on a couple more), and writing a lot for the lenguajero blog.

So, in an effort to catch everyone one up with the trip, here are a few photos from the last month. (Actually all these photos taken during a one week time frame, for the last three weeks we've been holed up in our apt. eating, drinking, and sleeping Lenguajero.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

How August Learned Spanish

I'm reposting this story from the Lenguajero blog.

My first experience with Spanish was in Ms. Rose’s high school class. I believe that I actually sat through two years of that class. Somehow I managed to get through it all by using a newly available tool called “an internet translator” something my 65 year old on-the-verge-of-retirement teacher had never heard of before. I graduated without knowing how to say a single thing in Spanish, and promptly forgot all about the language, after all I was a red, white and blue blooded American, why would I ever want to speak another language, let alone Spanish?

Flash forward six years. I am now a slightly less ignorant American, and want to spend some time traveling in Latin America. I decide that the year of Latin I took at university, and a few iPod learning lessons will get me up and speaking Spanish in no time.

Two months later I end up in Guatemala completely unable to say a word to anyone. I stare blankly at everyone who tries to talk to me. I am in awe of the British girl who takes pity on me and comes to the bank with me to ask them if they will exchange some of my US dollars. “Ustedes cambian dolares aqui?” seems like an amazing phrase, and surely anyone who can say such a thing must speak the language fluently.

I spent three months in Central America, took a couple of weeks of Spanish courses, and left still unable to actually speak the language, though I had some how convinced myself that because I knew about 250 words I spoke Spanish.

About six months later I got “serious” about improving my Spanish. At first this basically consisted of feeding a BBC Mundo news article into Google Translate once a day and pretending that I had read it.

Eventually I admitted to myself that I was completely unable to speak the language, and decided that I was for real going to learn Spanish once and for all. Along the way I discovered a few things about learning Spanish that I think apply to learning languages in general.

  1. Unlike other subjects you might study you can’t actually learn to speak a language from a book. You can learn grammar and vocabulary (obviously important), but you still will not be able to speak.
  2. Speaking and listening to the language is the best way to improve your ability to speak and understand the language.
  3. Don’t try to read The Old Man and The Sea in Spanish. It is just as boring as in English, but harder to understand.
  4. It’s easier to learn if you practice conversational Spanish everyday. I had to move to Latin America to make that happen (remember Lenguajero didn’t exist in those days).
Read the rest of the story...

Friday, July 31, 2009

The road to internet induced psycosis

If you've been following the blog lately you know that Natalie and I just launched a website where you can go to practice English & Spanish called

Until Monday of this week we had been working an average of 4-5 hours a day, and while we were working hard, we were not obsessing. That all changed on Monday when we launched Lenguajero, thus throwing ourselves head first into a slow decent into internet induced psycosis.

The first night was not too bad, it was really the second night when it finally took hold, rearing its ugly head and forcing us to obsess over every little detail to the point that, at three a.m. while we lay still in bed, both trying not to wake the other (who we each envied for what we thought was their ability to shut off their brain and manage at least a few hours reprieve) someone finally whispered "hey I was just thinking about Lenguajero", and we both realized that it was OK to begin the chattering animatedly, like to whacked out meth-heads who had convinced themselves they had just figured out a way to prove Einstein's theory of relativity obsolete. (Wow I can't beleive I just managed to fit that all into one sentence.)

Since then we have tried various methods to keep the beast at bay, but every attempt ends in failure and we find ourselves obsessing over the most miniscule of all details, things that would seem absurd to anyone not in the midsts of a crippling mental breakdown.

I do not know how much longer I will be able to write, how much longer I will be able to form coherent thoughts, or observe myself with a slightly detatched sense of bewilderment. I don't know how long it will be until the first piece of feces is thrown, or the first primordial call sounded. I do know that I don't have much time left, the person known as August is fading, and a new more beastly creature is emmerging to take his place. It won't be long now...they are coming for me...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bootstrapping from Colombia: Connecting Our Users

Over at the Lenguajero blog our week long series on how we built Lenguajero while living in Colombia continued yesterday with a look at how Lenguajero connects its members for conversations.

From the Lenguajero blog:

The goal of Lenguajero is to connect Spanish and English speakers so that they can have online conversations that will improve their ability to speak the language they are learning. With this goal in mind we knew that we needed to a simple, effective way to put our members in touch with one another.

We kicked around the idea that our members would connect using Skype, and we would simply design our site to help the members find language learners interested in the same topics they were. We would then help members arrange a time for a conversation, and give out Skype usernames when two people had agreed to have a conversation. Needless to say that idea seemed pretty chintzy...Read Full Article

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bootstrapping from Colombia: Design & HTML

Over at the Lenguajero blog we are running a week-long series of articles on how we built Lenguajero while living in Medellin, Colombia. Yesterday we looked at how we got a good site design by outsourcing the work using 99designs and Elance.

From the Lenguajero Blog:

While building Lenguajero we came up against one challenge that we couldn’t solve ourselves…the actual site design. Here’s how we got it done with a $1000 budget.

DesignCost $888

Neither of us are could described as designers in any sort of context. We tried contacting a couple of designers we knew back home. They were busy working full time jobs and/or taking care of their families. So how were we going to find a designer who could do just what we were looking for? Read full article...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Launching Lenguajero

These last few months have been busy for Natalie and I. Aside from studying Spanish, making new friends, and exploring new countries we have also been hard at work building a new website called Lenguajero.

From the Lenguajero Blog:

Our main objective has been to develop a site that connects language learners online (currently only available to Spanish and English speakers) so that they can improve their ability to speak, listen, and think critically and creatively in a new language. We wanted to create a space where users would be able to have conversation exchanges (intercambios) right from their homes... Read full article