Twerky turkey day

Have some twerk with your turkey this Thanksgiving! Celebrate this United States holiday on the fourth Thursday in November* with this silly video that combines delicious turkey with a dance craze. Other traditional Thanksgiving dishes like corn, gravy, and stuffing get in on the fun, too.

*Thanksgiving in the United States was declared a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.  In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October (not to be confused with Columbus Day, which is celebrated on the second Monday of October in the United States).

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Take a trip to Latin America


Forget about gas prices.  We're your perfect s...

Armchair traveler. (Photo credit: Newton Free Library)

Want to travel around Latin America without leaving your house?  Check out these personal tours of different Latin American countries, written by friends of Latinaish blogger Tracy Lopez.

A trip to: México - Pyramids, artifacts, Mexican food and dance… can you guess why you should check out this one first? Photos and text by F.J. Kingsbury.

A trip to: Chile – Santiago and Valpariso during Fiestas Patrias.

A trip to: Bolivia – our favorite picture is the street parade in La Paz.

A trip to: Puerto Rico – avocados, Bacardi, coquí frogs, and more.

A trip to: Guatemala - featuring the beautiful colonial city of Antigua.

What’s your favorite country to visit?

Things I learned from The Story of Spanish

The Story of Spanish is the biography of a language, 394 pages (plus bibliography and index) of history, sociology, and analysis of a language from its beginnings on the Iberian Peninsula to all the forms of Spanish that exist around the world today. This book, by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, is a trove of information, sometimes subjective but full of random facts; there are plenty of interesting tidbits to teach even the most seasoned scholar of Spanish language and literature a few things. Here are facts about the Spanish language and Hispanic culture (and a few facts about other languages, too) that I learned from The Story of Spanish.

    • Klipdas (Hyrax) op Mount Kenya. De foto is gen...

      Klipdas (Hyrax) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

      Spain may be also known as “the land of the rabbits,” but the name of the place comes from the Phonecian for “land of the hyraxes.”  The Phonecians had never seen rabbits before so they named the Peninsula after the most similar small mammal they knew from home.

    • The verb ir (to go) is irregular because it is actually a combination of two latin verbs- ire and vadere.
    • San Isidro de Sevilla is the patron saint of the internet. (He, too, was into random facts.)
    • La noria meant waterwheel before it meant ferris wheel, and it came from Arabic.
    • The word español comes, ironically, from French.
    • El Cid comes from the Arabic word Al-sayyid (lord and master) and Campeador comes from Latin campi doctor (champion).
    • Tempura is not originally a Japanese word; it comes from Portuguese.
    • The first Castillian grammar book was published in 1492; before that the letters u, v, i, and j, were basically interchangeable.
    • In chapter 14 I finally got the answer to the question of why Spanish colonizers had lots of babies with native women and created a huge mestizo population in Mexico, but English colonizers in New England didn’t. It was because the Spanish didn’t bring any women with them from Spain.
    • Cover of the first edition of Foundation and s...

      Cover of the first edition of Foundation and statutes of the Royal Spanish Academy (1715) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

      The five US states with Spanish names are Florida, California, Nevada, Colorado, and Montana. The four with Hispanicized indigenous names are Texas, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. The word Texas (Tejas) comes from chechas which meant “friendly” in the language of the native Caddos people.

    • The oldest written records of US history (before it was the US) were written in Spanish by conquistadores and missionaries.
    • During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Spanish pronunciation changed rapidly, resulting in confusion over the letters x and j because of differences in the way words were pronounced in Northern versus Southern Spain. The two letters were used interchangeably for a while. Eventually writers began to use the letter x only for the ks sound in terms derived from Greek or Latin.
    • After the letter x began to take on a unique pronunciation, writers and lexicographers in Spain changed their spelling accordingly. But Mexico is still spelled with an x that is pronounced like a j. That’s because writers in Mexico were not as dilligent about adopting the new spelling conventions, so place-names like Mexico, Texas, and Oaxaca were not updated. The letter x is important in the native Nauhuatl language, but it is pronounced with a sh sound. During the 1600s, Spaniards started saying MeHIco and TeHas, but Mexicans retained the Nauhuatl MeSHico and TeSHas. This answers the question often asked by foreigners visiting central Mexico, “If x sounds like an sh in Nauhuatl words, and the name for the native people (before they came to be called Aztecas) was Mexica (prounounced Meshica), why is the country called Mejico and not Meshico?” The answer: it used to be called Meshico, and since Spaniards started pronouncing x differently from j they have been mispronouncing it ever since.
    • The word chicano also comes from the 1600s when “texicanos” was pronounced “teshicanos.”
    • The French letter ç came from Spanish; interestingly enough, the French adopted the letter at about the same time that the Spanish stopped using it.
    • Eighty percent of the population of Paraguay is bilingual.
    • Spanish used to have a letter ss before the Real Academia Española’s Diccionario de autoridades did away with it.
    • In 1803, the Academia gave the letters x, j, and g the sounds they have in (Spain) Spanish today, and made ch and ñ their own letters. The upside-down punctuation marks to begin questions and exclamations became official in 1764, and are the reason Spanish sentences and paragrahps can be longer than English.
    • The actual Real Academia Española (the building, not the group) is across the street from the Prado Museum.
    • Argentina takes its name from the French word for silver. Before deciding on Estados Unidos Mexicanos, Mexico briefly considered calling itself Anahuac.
    • Life size bronze of Rip Van Winkle sculpted by...

      Life size bronze of Rip Van Winkle sculpted by Richard Masloski, copyright 2000. Located between the Town Hall and the Main Street School. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

      The word tango originally meant slave music. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a Spanish professor at Harvard. He didn’t like teaching but he translated Rip Van Winkle and called it Andrés Gazul.

    • The two non-Hispanic countries where the most people are learning Spanish are the United States and Brazil. In fact, Brazil has a law that says all students must learn Spanish.
      Meanwhile, a lot (comparitively) of French people study Spanish, but that’s probably because they are required to learn two foreign languages. And you thought your high school or university language requirement was a drag.

Five snarky cinco de mayo pictures

You know that cinco de mayo is not Mexican Independance Day,* right? And you know that, in Mexico, cinco de mayo is not really a big deal?

If you didn’t know that, here’s a refresher. Cinco de mayo commemorates a military victory against the French in a war that Mexico ultimately lost. It is celebrated in the state of Puebla with a parade and a state fair. Outside of Puebla, the holiday is not terribly exciting: no parades, no fireworks, and (contrary to popular belief), not an excuse to drink or eat tacos. Cinco de mayo in the US, however, is often interpreted by those who don’t know better (or don’t care) as an excuse to indulge in tequila.  This handy infografic breaks it down for you: A US Citizen’s Guide to Cinco de Mayo,“a big deal for people who like to get drunk and make racist jokes on Twitter.”

*FYI, Mexican Independence Day is celebrated in September. If you’re confused about that, too, here’s a quick guide to Mexican Independence Day explained.

In the spirit of cinco de mayo and cultural exchange, here are five funny pictures that capture the spirit of epic US cinco de mayo fails.

Calendar fail. From

Calendar fail. From





Let's be honest. From

Let’s be honest. From

When you can't beat em, join em. From

When you can’t beat em, join em. From

The most beautiful phrase in the English language

what are word for?

What are words for? (Photo credit: Darwin Bell)

Do you like the phrase cellar door? Would you like it better if you knew it is considered one of the most beautiful phrases in the English language?

The claim that cellar door is beautiful to the ear — in opposition to its prosaic meaning — has been made by and attributed to a wide variety of writers over the years. “Poetry, in fact, is two quite distinct things,” H. L. Mencken wrote in a 1920 magazine column. “It may be either or both. One is a series of words that are intrinsically musical, in clang-tint and rhythm, as the single word cellar-door is musical. The other is a series of ideas, false in themselves, that offer a means of emotional and imaginative escape from the harsh realities of everyday.”

The New York Times

Do you agree? And what makes a word beautiful to you, anyway?

One website is set to find out, asking visitors to vote in word vs word battles. Laurel leaf vs yells. To take office vs umpteen. Comparable vs cosignatory. The viewer is given pair after pair of words or phrases and asked to choose the more beautiful. The idea is that at about a hundred million votes or so, a list of the top twenty-five most beautiful, and least beautiful, will emerge as chosen by the internet.

At the time of this writing the site claims there have been almost 200,000 votes cast, still a long way from a million. The lists of ten best and ten worst are thought provoking. On the ten most beautiful list, several words of distinctly non-English origin, including aide-de-camp, pita, and ibis. First among the ten ugliest: pregnant. Accompanied by negative pressure, data storage, and to flambé.

One can only speculate which words and phrases were voted up (or voted down) because of their internal rhyme structure, and which were chosen (or not) because of their meaning.

Convalescent home or oracle?

Macroscopic or redouble?

Price quote or century plant?

You decide.

Search for the most beautiful word

Hear what? Animal sounds in different languages

As a follow up to our post on animal sounds in Spanish, peruse this adorable page about animal sounds from different languages around the world, including English, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Swiss German, and more.  Make sure you have sound enabled on your computer or device because the audio clips are the best part.  It sounds like the people who contributed their best impression of a pig/cow/owl/dog etc were having a blast.
Animal Sounds – Badge

Teaching Thanksgiving in an EFL class

What do turkeys, travel, family, (American) football games, giant balloons, indigenous rights, cooking, shopping, school vacations, traditional costumes and thankfulness have in common?

Roasted turkey. Photo by M Rehemtulla via Wikipedia

Roasted turkey. Photo by M Rehemtulla via Wikipedia

They are all ideas associated with the American tradition of Thanksgiving, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November every year.  November is a great time for English classes around the world to learn about this American holiday and pick up some new vocabulary as well.  Here are resources to learn about Thanksgiving and plan your own celebration.

1. Learn the history of Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 in what is now Massachusetts, United States.  It was a harvest celebration attended by English colonists and Wampanoag indigenous people.  Back then, it wasn’t called “Thanksgiving” and it probably was not celebrated in November!  To learn more about what really happened on Thanksgiving, visit this Interactive Plimoth Plantation Exhibit and become a historian.

2. Read another point of view. Not everyone in the United States agrees about the way Thanksgiving should be observed.  This editorial explains another point of view.

3. Cook some food!  Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated with a big family dinner. It usually includes roast turkey, stuffing, cranberries, potatoes, squash, pumpkin, and other vegetables.  In 1621, the English colonists and the wampanoag ate venison (deer) and pumpkin.  Today, apple pie and popcorn are favorites.  Learn some traditional Wampanoag and English colonial recipes here.  Then, use this application from the New York Times to plan your own Thanksgiving feast according to your personal taste.

4. Be thankful.  Thanksgiving is a time to think about the good things in our lives and express gratitude for them.  Click here to read about an interactive art project called the Look for the Good Project.

Kermit the Frog

Kermit the Frog (Photo credit: MikeMonello)

5. Create your own Thanksgiving Parade float.  Every year on Thanksgiving Day there is a big parade in New York City, New York.  There are celebrities and musical performances, but the parade is most famous for its giant balloons.  They are usually characters from television, comic books, and movies. You can watch a video of the parade here.  Then, follow these instructions to make your own balloon floats.  Your balloon float won’t be as large as the ones in the parade… or will it?

6. Watch American football. The Thanksgiving Day football game is a tradition at the high school, university, and professional level.  Not sure how to play football?  This Goofy cartoon will teach you.

7. Go shopping. The day after Thanksgiving in the United States is called “Black Friday,” and it is traditionally a day for people to start shopping for Christmas gifts.  Stores have big sales and people go shopping very, very early in the morning to get the best deals.  Practice numbers and prices exploring this Black Friday shopping website. Who can find the best deal on a TV?  On clothing? On video games?

Hand Turkey by Kara

Hand Turkey by Kara (Photo credit: Rory Finneren)

8. Do some arts and crafts.  In the United States, most schoolchildren have a small vacation, starting with a half day of school on the day before Thanksgiving and continuing for four days.  It is traditional for families to travel to visit one another and be together for Thanksgiving Dinner.  If you still have school this week, here are some arts and crafts you can do with your class.
Send some e-cards here and here.
Do a variety of educational crafts here.
People in the United States don’t dress up in folkloric costumes as much as many other countries do, but schoolchildren often still wear costumes to represent the colonists and Wompanoag.  You can watch a video about how to make a colonist costume here.
And, no Thanksgiving arts and crafts session would be complete without our favorite craft: make a Thanksgiving hand turkey here.

9. Watch a Thanksgiving video.  Now that you know about American Thanksgiving traditions, sing along with this Thanksgiving song by Nicole Westbrook.  How many Thanksgiving traditions do you see represented in the video?  What do you see in the video that doesn’t make sense?  What traditions is the video missing?  Check your answers in the comments.

I’m wide awake, and I should take
A step and say thank you, thank you,
For the things you’ve done, and what you did
Oh yeah, ooh yeah.
December was Christmas, January was New Year’s.
April was Easter, and the Fourth of July, but now it’s Thanksgiving.
Oh oh oh, it’s Thanksgiving. We we we, we’re gonna have a good time.
Oh oh oh, it’s Thanksgiving. We we we are gonna have a good time.
With the turkey (hey!) And mashed potatoes (hey!)
We we we are gonna have a good time.
We need the turkey (hey!) And mashed potatoes (hey!)

Does this happen at your house on Thanksgiving?

It’s Thanksgiving, It’s Thanksgiving.
You know school is out, I can’t wait,
I can shout thank you, thank you, thank you.
No matter what you do, no matter what you say,
This is my favorite day.
December was Christmas,
January was New Year’s.
April was Easter,
and the Fourth of July,
but now it’s Thanksgiving.
Yo, it’s Thanksgiving-givin’ and I’m tryin’ to be forgivin’.
Nothing is forbidden, you know we gotta have it.
I gotta give thanks to you, and you, and you.
Can’t be hateful, gotta be grateful; gotta be grateful, can’t be hateful.
Mashed potatoes on my, on my table, I got ribs smelling’ up my neighbors’ cribs.
Havin’ good times, we be laughin’ ’til we cry.
It’s Thanks, Thanks, Thanksgiving, come on
It’s Thanks, Thanks, Thanksgiving, give ‘em thanks, y’all.
Oh oh oh, it’s Thanksgiving. We we we, we’re gonna have a good time.
Oh oh oh, it’s Thanksgiving. We we we, are gonna have a good time.
With the turkey (hey!) And mashed potatoes (hey!)
We we we, are gonna have a good time.
With the turkey (hey!) And mashed potatoes (hey!)
It’s Thanksgiving, it’s Thanksgiving.

Conversation Questions:

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving in your country?  Do you have another similar holiday?  Which Thanksgiving tradition is your favorite?


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