Keep Calm and Enrol for Autumn

Why not take this opportunity to enrol for my range of 1- 1 online classes which are designed to match your specific Spanish language requirements. My flexible online lessons are suitable for those with a hectic work or study schedule. Stay warm at home and enjoy Spanish language lessons with a qualified and experienced native Spanish language tutor. Contact me for a free assessment of your needs.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Autumn Term

Enrolment for the Spanish language courses starting in September 2015, is now open until 31 August 2015. 

The term starts on the 03.09.15 and ends on the 27.11.15.


Enrolment for the Spanish language courses starting in January 2016, will be open from 10 October 2015 to 15 December 2015. 

The term starts on the 07.01.16 and ends on the 31.03.16.

If you register between now and 31 August 2015 for the online autumn and winter classes you will receive a 10% discount off a minimum of 4 classes; and 20% discount for 12 classes.

I offer a free 45 minutes consultation session:
• assessment and drafting of an individualised plan;
• a brief online class taster.

Enrol now and pay when your lessons commence. Money back guarantee. Ask about terms and conditions.

For further information, please  click here or contact me by email at:


It’s The End of Term

Congratulations to all you heroes completing your Spanish Language classes whilst dealing with daytime jobs and other demands.

It has been a pleasure to work with all of you. Enjoy the summer and if you are off to the beach, don’t forget my recommendation about frequent exposure to the language you are studying. If you have the time, follow my suggestions for summer reading and listening.

I appreciate your continued interest, questions and suggestions for future blogs. I am making this blog as interactive and participative as possible. So, please continue the conversation.


  • The “Hoxton Spanish Online Coffee Club” remains open in the late afternoon/eve on Sundays, for informal language consultations and conversation
  • For Londoners: we are restarting the “Hoxton Spanish Wine Evening Group”. We can enjoy a conversation whilst having a glass of wine and nibbles. Meeting location to be agreed. Email me at:

Echo, Economy and Ecology

(Eco, economía y ecología) 

A Greek legend tells us that on mount Kithairon lived Echo, (Eco in Spanish), a very well spoken nymph. The most beautiful words came out of her mouth in the most pleasant manner. Zeus, the ruler of the ancient Olympian Greek pantheon, the God of the sky and thunder, used to be very flirtatious with the nymphs. Hera, Zeus’ wife, the Goddess of women, fertility and marriage was jealous of Zeus’ many affairs and was out to catch his infidelities.

Depending on the version of the narrative, either Hera caught Zeus wooing Echo; or Echo prevented Hera from catching Zeus flirting with the other Nymphs by distracting Hera with her famed eloquence. Either way, Hera’s jealousy lead her to curse Echo, taking away her eloquent speech; condemning Echo to repeat only the last word said by other people.

blue nudes 2

For many years, I did not realise that the repetitive echo I had heard in hilly areas or caves was named after such an ingenious narrative. ‘Eco’, the Spanish word and the English Echo are both borrowed from the Hellenistic language, via the Romans. Such was the prestige that the Greek language had amongst Latin speakers.

The linguistic links between the Greek and European languages, particularly those originating from the Latin, as with Spanish, are very narrow. Hellenisms, so frequent in the Spanish language, constitute a significant contribution from the Greek.

Many old and newly created scientific and technical words of the Spanish language come from Greek. For example: geografía, geography; fotografía, photography; and biodiversidad, biodiversity. A further discussion on the contribution the Greek language has made to Spanish will be given in a follow up article. For now lets look at the words: ecología and economía.

‘Ecología’,ecology and ‘economía’, economy are two other words with a Greek linguistic origin and although their root sounds like ‘eco’, they do not share the same etymology.

‘Economía’, – economy, means the administration of a household. It comes from the Greek ‘oikos’ [1], which translates as home or dwelling, and ‘nomos’ [2] meaning law.

Similarly, ‘ecología’ is the discipline that deals with the relation of living beings and their dwelling or habitat. It comes from the Greek ‘oikos’ [1], meaning home or dwelling and ‘logy’ [3] meaning study or treaty.

Bruce Witzel states in his article Practical Change [4]: “Modern civilization has largely fallen into a dualism that seems to put ecology and economy as two opposing forces”, when “in reality, the two, are interrelated”. 

the knife thrower 1947

The reflections of Bruce Witzel about ‘practical change’ have reminded me about the importance to rethink the relationship we humans have with nature. In 2008, a Latin American country, Ecuador codified the Rights of Nature, becoming the first country in the world to do so. This initiative, pushed by the native population of Ecuador, became a milestone, an example to follow.  One of the many steps needed to push forward a change of consciousness about the way we envisage our relationship as part of a natural environment.

Native peoples have an unrivaled knowledge of their local flora and fauna, and they play an essential role in the conservation of biodiversity. According to scientific studies, indigenous lands might be the most important barrier to the continuing Amazon deforestation. The Ecuadorian Constitution has recognised the rights of ecosystems, to exist and flourish.

This sounded very strange to many. How is it that nature can have rights akin to our human rights?

Cover of the book Entre el quiebre y la realidad

Cover of the book Entre el quiebre y la realidad.

It should not be much of a surprise when we consider the fact that private corporations in the United States have human rights. In the book: “Entre el quiebre y la realidad” [5], Eduardo Galeano reminds us that over one hundred years ago, “in 1886, the US Supreme Court … extended human rights to private corporations. The law recognized to them the same rights as to peoples, right to life, freedom of expression, privacy and to everything else, as if companies could breathe.” He remarks “This hasn’t caught the attention of anybody”.[6]

I would like to share with you a YouTube link of a video: La naturaleza no es muda, Nature is not Silent, where Eduardo Galeano presents on television fragments of his book Los Hijos de los días, The Sons of the Days. Only available in Spanish: click here. He concludes his presentation by affirming: “ … if nature were a bank, they would have already bailed it out [7]”.

ln Spanish we have an expression: ‘hacerse eco de’, which is similar as when in English we say ‘somebody echo’s something’ contributing to the spread of ideas, news or knowledge. I want to echo back to the beginning of this article and to refer to the power of the echo. Let us echo the global need for a change of consciousness towards our economy and our relationship with flora, fauna, biodiversity and ecosystems.

Cover of the book Los hijos de los días, The Sons of the Days.

Cover of the book Los hijos de los días, The Sons of the Days.

And the days walked.
And they made us.
And so we were born,
The children of the day,
The inquirers,
Searchers of life.
(Genesis according to the Mayas) [8]

June 2015

— —


[1] οἶκος [oikos]

[2] νόμος [nomos]

[3] λογία, [logy]

[4] Practical change: “Change that is required is a change of consciousness.” by Bruce Witzel.

[5] Entre el quiebre y la relidad, Constitución 2008. Alberto Acosta et al. 1era. edición: Ediciones Abya–Yala – Printed in Quito – Ecuador, 2008 – ISBN: 978-9978-22-765-7

[6] Free translation from Entre el quiebre y la realidad. En 1886, la Suprema Corte de Estados Unidos … extendió los derechos humanos a las corporaciones privadas. La ley les reconoció los mismos derechos que a las personas, derecho a la vida, a la libre expresión, a la privacidad y a todo lo demás, como si las empresas respiraran … a nadie le llama la atención.

[7] Free translation: “… si la naturaleza fuera un banco, ya la hubieran salvado”.

[8]   Free translation from the cover of  Los hijos de los días, The sons of the Days: Y los días se echaron a caminar. / Y nos hicieron a nosotros. / Y así fuimos nacidos nosotros, / Los hijos de los días, /  Los averiguadores, / Los buscadores de la vida. / (El Génesis según los Mayas)

Ex libris

( This book belongs to  … / Este libro pertenece a … )

The variation of a bookplate  created by my friend Rita, see below, reflects very well my feelings after having lent some of those books that deserve to be shared but are never returned. Believe me, my good friend Rita has a very dark sense of humor, but she would not kill a fly. However, why should I feel so possessive about a book that I might not read or consult for years?

Ingenious variation of a bookplate pasted in the books of my friend Rita López. It reads: A Body in the Library, Agatha Christie. You are respectfully asked to return the book to the owner.

Ingenious variation of a bookplate pasted in the books of my friend Rita López. It reads: A Body in the Library, Agatha Christie. You are respectfully asked to return the book to the owner.

The fact is that long ago, before me and my friend Rita, others had the same possessive feelings towards particular books  and the ex libris was a way of making these feelings visible.

Ex libris is a Latin expression that describes a small, often artistic print, which looks like a large postal stamp, without the perforated edges, containing various decorative embellishments. On this is printed the term ex Libris preceding the name of the owner.

Ex libris Hugo Wast. Biblioteca Nacional Mariano Moreno's collection.

Ex libris Hugo Wast. Biblioteca Nacional Mariano Moreno’s collection.

These little works of art, used to be pasted onto the reverse cover or onto one of the first pages of a book to indicate its ownership. This is not only a declaration of ownership, its shows a deep interest in possessing a book, just as others may write the name of the owner on the first page with the similar intention, perhaps, to safeguard against its loss or to even deter its theft.

Ex libris, art nouveau design by Alphons Mucha, for the Architect  Dr. Jaroslav Polivka

Ex libris, art nouveau design by Alphons Mucha, for the Architect Dr. Jaroslav Polivka

I have been generally ‘happy’ to share my books, particularly during my youth. However, in time, I experienced that terrible loss when loaned books were never returned home; and whilst some books that contain knowledge should be shared, I confess to becoming more selfish in my habits and loathe to lend those of particular importance to me.

Ex libris translates into Spanish “de [entre] los libros de …”, in other words: “este libro pertenece a …” ; which in plain English would mean “this book belongs to.”. In English they are also known as bookplates.

Whether made by an anonymous hand or a great artist, they have become a tiny yet highly collectible piece of art. Some ex libris were made by well-known artists, belonged to renowned writers, great personalities or members of the aristocracy.

Germany was the cradle of printed books as well as the first printed ex-libris. The first printed ex libris originated in 1470, by a Bavarian chaplain, Hans Igler . His beautiful woodcut print depicted a hedgehog (Igel is German for hedgehog); and the  illustration was crowned by a pun “Hanns Igler das dich ein igel kuss”, “Hanns Igler gives you a hedgehog kiss “.

First printed ex libris of Hanns Igler Knabensberge

First printed ex libris of Hanns Igler Knabensberge

The earliest designs, those from the XV to the XVIII century were mostly made depicting heraldic shields reflecting the fact that private libraries belonged to the nobility and the clergy.

During the XVII century slowly ex libris’ illustrations reflected the social changes of the time with an emerging educated middle class.  These new manifestations were full of allegorical or symbolic content and idealized landscapes, at times accompanied by a slogan. Images diversified to include those related to professions, businesses, crafts and hobbies of a particular owner. Some even were of an erotic nature.

By the end of the XIX century, influenced by the emergence of modernism and later by Art Noveau designs; and of the Spanish Modernist School (such as the contributions of Alexandre de Riquer i Palau)there was a renewed interest in these little prints. Those depicting legendary or mythological figures as sirens, minotaurs and tritons; as well as colourful nature or figurative art nouveau designs have always caught my eye.

Ex libris - 7th Count of Casa Dávalos, writer and poet Alexandre de Riquer i Palau, (1856 - 1920), one of the leading exponents of Modernism art in Catalonia.

Ex libris, writer and poet Alexandre de Riquer i Palau, (1856 – 1920), one of the leading exponents of Modernism art in Catalonia.

Ex libris have evolved in design and execution techniques: etching, woodcut, engraving, lithography and later photo-offset, silkscreen and digital have all been used. The variety of design is so vast that it would be a challenging activity to attempt to classify them all. They range from commemorative, music, erotic, the macabre to the comic, and from mythological to Masonic.

Ex libris Adolfo Ruiz

Ex libris Adolfo Ruiz

It is not a surprise that there are avid collectors of ex libris all over the world and Latin America has its fair share of collectors too. The largest collection of ex libris in Latin America belonged to María Magdalena Otamendi López de Olaciregui containing more than 25.000 pieces. Her collection was donated to the Biblioteca Nacional Mariano Moreno, Argentinean National Library, in Buenos Aires, where a selection is currently on show to the public until 12 July 2015.

Ex-libris by G. Granger of the Cuban poet and writer Armand Godoy (La Habana 1880 - Paris 1964), who wrote most of his books in French and lived for a long period in France.

Ex-libris by G. Granger for  the Cuban poet and writer Armand Godoy (La Habana 1880 – Paris 1964), who wrote most of his books in French and lived for a long period in France.

Ex libris de Victoria Ocampo (1890 - 1979), Argentinean writer and publisher of the literary magazine Sur, one of the most important Latin American magazines of its time.

Ex libris Victoria Ocampo (1890 – 1979), Argentinean writer and publisher of the literary magazine Sur, one of the most important Latin American magazines of its time.

Books have the magic to inspire huge political changes as well as the creation of this minimal art, which can become an obsession for some. I would like to give special thanks to my friend Rita López for the illustration at the beginning of this article. On a final note, if it happens that you have reached the end of this article and you have borrowed a book of mine: you are respectfully invited to return it to the owner …

June 2015

Forbidden Books

(Libros prohibidos)

Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano and To Live without Fear

Open Veins of Latin America, Las venas abiertas de América Latina, is perhaps one of the most well known works of Eduardo Galeano, the talented Uruguayan journalist and writer, who departed on 13 April 2015 from the world he described so well in his writing. Galeano is considered to be one of the foremost Latin American writers.

Cover of the first edition of Las venas abiertas de América Latina'

Cover of the first edition of Las venas abiertas de América Latina.

Besides having been one of his best known works, it was amongst the most forbidden books by Latin American dictatorships. Published in 1971 and translated in 20 languages, Open Veins of Latin America is an essay of ideas, a traditional Latin American genre.

It presents a non-lineal overview of some aspects of Latin American history beginning with the early colonial period and analyses the effects of colonialism in Latin America.

Eduardo Galeano transcended orthodox genres in his works to express his uncompromising views on social causes in honest, straight forward writing. He combined journalism, the political analysis of history and current affairs, providing a unique commentary on the world around him.

Cover of the Open Veins of Latin America, English version.

Cover of the Open Veins of Latin America, English version.

Associate Professor Gustavo Verdesio [1], compares Open Veins of Latin America with Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’ classic film, because of their puzzling  structures. He points out that both writers recognised their own ignorance: in Galeano’s case, his lack of knowledge about political economics; and in Welles’ case that of cinema. Professor Gustavo Verdesio also states that part of the enchantment of both works resides possibly in their freshness and the youthful spirit of their authors [2].

Some critics regard Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane as one of the greatest films ever made because of his meticulous planning of every frame of the film, a nonlinear narrative form, unusual camera angles, innovative uses of lighting, to mention just some of the techniques used in the making of this film.

Galeano’s narrative goes from past to present linking facts and events from distant periods awakening the curiosity of the reader and provoking further exploration into history.

This book is an essay, a solid traditional Latin American genre, presenting critical views and concerns of national and continental themes on social, cultural and political practices. It is the genre embraced by such writers as  Simón Bolívar (1783 – 1830), one of the leading figures of American emancipation from the Spanish Empire; Altamirano Prieto (1834 – 1893), the Mexican journalist and writer; and José Martí, one of the greatest figures of the Cuban Revolution (1853 – 1895), to name but a few.

Cover of Listas negras, Black Lists, a public report from the Minister of Defense, Argentinean Presidency

Cover of Listas negras, Black Lists, a public report from the Minister of Defense, Argentinean Presidency.

Censorship, the burning of books and black lists against intellectuals who were barred from access to press and employment were systematic practices during dictatorships in Latin America.

The recent discovery of a folder containing “secret black lists”, listas negras secretas, against hundreds of intellectuals, journalists and artists, as well as a thorough analysis of those lists, in the Edificio Cóndor, the headquarters of the Argentina Air Force, shows just how systematic was the methodology used to persecute intellectuals by the military regimen (1976 – 1983). Eduardo Galeano’s name appears on that list.

Copia de la lista secreta made by the military regime. The name of Eduardo Galeano appears with hundreds of other intellectuals  on this list.

Copy of  the secret list made by the military regime. The name of Eduardo Galeano appears on this list, along with hundreds of other intellectuals.

Tons of books have been censored, confiscated and burned. Just to mention one single event: on 26 June 1980, in the wasteland of Sarandí, a town located in the metropolitan region of Buenos Aires province, 24 tons of books and booklets were burned, with a judicial warrant. This was approximately more than a million and a half books from the Latin American Publishing Center, Centro Editor de América Latina. One word comes to my mind: abomination!

It would not be a surprise that to posses a copy of this book in one’s library could have been a dangerous affair during the non democratic Latin American times.

Galeano’s works have fed the hunger for knowledge of an emerging youth movement standing up for equality and justice of a “non traditional” and “non academic” narration of Latin American history. His works spurred revisionist views of a region subjected to pillage and exploitation from the beginning of  colonial times. Open Veins of Latin America is an honest and passionate analysis of Latin American history, bringing the optimism for a collective Utopia.

Fragment of a mural at Bar Cadencia.. Rosario. Argentina.

Soon after Galeano’s death in 2015, some of the press started a frenzied echoing of his own self-criticism about Open Veins of Latin America. They misread his honest remark.  Open Veins of Latin America was written nearly half a century ago and he pointed out that it was a stage, a moment in history that had passed.

Some believe that the echoing of his self criticism  after his death was an attempt to delegitimise a book read and loved by many, who considered it a classic of its time. Paradoxically, this criticism did the opposite by reawakening interest in Galeano’s works and particularly in the Open Veins of Latin America.

A few of Eduardo Galeano’s books.

Many other great works followed “Open Veins”. The prolific Eduardo Galeano was also editor of renowned publications such as the influential weekly newspaper Marcha and the newspaper Época.

In 1973, he exiled from Uruguay and sought refuge in Buenos Aires where he became Director of Crisis, a political and cultural magazine, which provided in each issue a series of original serigraphs and vintage facsimile editions of newspapers and maps. In 1976, following the coup d’etat in Argentina, he was exiled to Spain.

On his return to Uruguay in 1985, with other notable writers and Journalists with whom he had worked on Marcha, they founded Brecha, a weekly Uruguayan publication. He remained a member of its Advisory Board until he died on 13 April 2015.

Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano

For those who have not known Galeano, or haven’t had the opportunity to see what he says about To Live without Fear, Vivir sin miedo, I would like to invite you to see this 9 minutes video from you tube: click here

I am not saying “farewell” to Galeano, the writer obsessed with remembering. Eduardo Galeano has left his books and in them his words expressing views of the world we live in and a legacy of concerns that are contemporary today as ever.

May 2015

— —

[1] Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature and Indigenous Studies, University of Michigan.

[2] La tragedia y la utopía, The Tragedy and the Utopia, Gustavo Verdesio, Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature and Indigenous Studies, University of Michigan, Página 12, Radar, 19 May 2015.

NEWS: 25th London Latin American Film Festival

Here’s an important message to all you film makers out there.

Latin American Film Festiva 2

The 25th London Latin American Film Festival will be held between 13th and 22nd November, this year. The  Curator of the festival, Eva Tarr is now inviting submissions to be considered for showing at the Festival.

Just think of it, an opportunity to have your film presented and shown at this important and influential Festival. For 25 years the Festival, with its rich and diverse range of films has thrown an artistic beacon on the vibrancy of Latin American cinema and you and your film could be part of that showcase.

25 Latin American Film Festival  1


If you would like your film to be considered, please go to the Submissions Webpage at their website click here

For more information and regular updates on activities, there is also a Facebook page you can click here

May 2015

For a previous article on the Latin American Film Festival in London: The 24th Latin American Film Festival, 18 November 2014, click here

Are There Ways of Subverting Certain Generic Uses of the Spanish Language?

I see language students as adventurous 21st Century astronauts in a yet unwritten novel, exploring a new world with their own eyes. They are the new Adams and Eves in a new Paradise, eager to eat the apple from the Tree of Knowledge and re-naming everything they discover. (Learning Spanish as a Second Language Must be FUN, February 2014.)

People Talking, courtesy of Cartoon People Talking©Cartoon People Talking

People Talking, courtesy of Cartoon People Talking. ©Cartoon People Talking.

With the statement above I wanted you to realise that language is not a dry fossilised set of unchanging signs, sounds and symbols, but a vibrant living aspect of communication that could and should reflect the world in which we live.

I would follow the opening metaphor with an interesting fact that changed our views of existence: in 1960, the well known English theoretical physicist and cosmologist Dr. Stephen Hawking expanded Einstein’s theory of relativity to the point whereby the Universe began with a singularity. This fundamentally changed our understanding of existence and added to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, thus demonstrating the impact that a student can have upon the subject they are studying.

Language students and language tutors cannot help but contribute to the transformation of the language they are learning or teaching. Cultural attitudes now are dramatically different from past times. As a student of Spanish, you have the opportunity to challenge the generic norms and perceived sexist aspects of Spanish usage on a ongoing basis.

I accept we may be on contentious territory here – but language has always changed and evolved to support and define our view of the world and each other. Below are some examples of how we can improve our speaking in a way that promotes respect and equality:

Avoiding the use of words like “hombres” or other similar words in the generic sense, as the subject of the phrase, will contribute to the promotion of a more inclusive way of expressing ourselves.
forbidden and thumb up




    Generic                            Generic +  

    los niños                              la niñez                         (the children)

    los vecinos                         el vecindario                (the neighbours)

    los jóvenes                         la juventud                   (the youth)

    los adolescentes               la adolescencia           (the adolescents)

    el hombre (the men)         la humanidad             (the human beings)


Similarly with titles and professions use those terms that are neutral rather than the generic (masculine).
forbidden and thumb up




      Generic                          Generic +

       los jefes                         la jefatura              (the bosses)
       los directores                 la dirección          (the directors)

In some cases the female subject appears as an appendix, complimenting or being a possession of the male


Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 17.53.43
    Los nativos trabajan la tierra con la ayuda de sus esposas e hijos.  (The natives work the land with the help of their wives and children.)


thumb up


   La población nativa trabaja la tierra colectivamente.(The native population work the land collectively.)



Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 17.53.43

 Los gitanos desmontaron sus carpas y se mudaron junto con sus mujeres al pueblo vecino. (The Gypsies dismantled their tents and moved with their wives to the neighbouring   village).


thumb up


   Los gitanos y las gitanas desmontaron sus carpas y se mudaron al pueblo vecino. (The Gypsies dismantled their tents and moved to the neighbouring village.)

In the second paragraph, highlighted with a green thumb up, we have the chance to use an egalitarian and inclusive language.

Change the generic term “hombre” or “los hombres”, when they refer to human kind into a more inclusive term

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 17.53.43  Los hombres han preferido establecer asentamientos donde hay agua. 

(Men have preferred to establish settlements where there is water.)


thumb up La humanidad ha preferido establecer asentamientos donde había agua.

(Human beings have preferred to establish settlements where there was water.)


It is pertinent to mention both genders when referring to a mixed group as follows

forbidden and thumb up




   Generic                          Generic +

   los abogados                    las abogadas y los abogados      (lawyers [female and male])

   los ministros                    las ministras y los ministros      (female and male ministers)

• Professions

Be modern, reflect the social changes using the feminine when naming professions or occupations. The fact that it may sound odd to our ears because it was not used in the recent past does not matter. We will all get familiar with them in time.

forbidden and thumb up




los ingenieros            las ingenieras y los ingenieros       (engineers female and male)

los mecánicos            las mecánicas y los mecánicos       (mechanics female and male)

los carpinteros          las carpinteras y los carpinteros    (carpenter female and male)

How the language teaching institutions favour an andocentric orientated education is perhaps a wider subject that deserves a blog in itself. A sample of this is the 1970’s Spanish language third year secondary school book: Castellano, by Lacau Rosetti and published by Editorial Kapelusz. The book contains hundreds of extracts from Spanish literature and teaches how to analyse them. Only a dozen of them are pieces from women writers. Generations that are now in the position of influencing society have been educated with books like this one.

Cover of a 1970’s Spanish language third year secondary school book: Castellano, by Lacau Rosetti and published by Editorial Kapelusz.

Cover of a 1970’s Spanish language third year secondary school book: Castellano, by Lacau Rosetti and published by Editorial Kapelusz.

In the article entitled Vertigo I concluded with a couple of questions: Is the prevalence of masculine gender in Spanish a symptom of sexism in the language? Is the language a reflection of the culture or viceversa? Throughout my last two entries, I have attempted to answer these. Thus, this is my humble contribution: being a single star in a vast universe of opinion on this issue.

April 2015

This is a follow up article to: Finding creative and positive ways to transform a language, published 1 April 2015.

Finding Creative and Positive Ways to Transform a Language

It is certain that the prevalence of the masculine gender in Spanish is a symptom of sexism within the language and this has been part of a serious scholarly and coffee-table debate for quite sometime. This debate has intensified in the last decades.

"Look after your language, it says it all'. Illustration cover of a document produced by the Instituto Asturiano de la Mujer, only available in Spanish.

“Look after your language, it says it all”. Illustration cover of a document produced by the Instituto Asturiano de la Mujer. For a pdf copy of the document,  only available in Spanish: click here.

People used to speaking in their mother tongue in neutral terms find it a strange novelty that things, people, animals and ideas in Spanish are gender specific.In Spanish the masculine plural is used to describe any group with a male element in it. In doing this, the female component of the group gets overridden.

This is a reflection of an androcentric way of thinking that believes men are the centre of reference; and women are dependent beings who can be hidden or ignored. This is also the case in other languages, for example: French, Italian, Arabic and Hebrew.

Languages are a reflection of our sociocultural evolution and evolve constantly echoing the changes in culture. Spanish has mainly evolved from the Latin imposed by Rome. The Latin languages are the product of a sociocultural conception characterised by Roman hierarchical gender polarities, which promoted the concealment of women. It was under the ancient Roman law, the Law of the XII Tables, where the father[1] had the power of life or death over his children and wife[2] and of his slaves[3].

The XII Tablets were the ancient Roman legislation. A set  of definitions of private rights and procedures.

The XII Tablets were the ancient Roman legislation. A set of definitions of private rights and procedures.

In the Spanish language we can also see the influence of Arabic in different semantic, morphological fields and culture; which along with the Judeo-Christian tradition, helped to minimise – or even eliminate – the presence of women as a social subject.

As stated in Vertigo, the masculine plural in Spanish is used to describe any group with a male element in it. For example, parents will refer to a daughter as “hija” and to a son as “hijo”, but when referring to all of them, eg.: two daughters and a son, they will use “hijos”, the plural of son. This is the case regardless of the ratio of the male to female gender.

Would it be a repetition to state los niños y las niñas (the boys and the girls), instead of calling them “los niños (the children masculine), when describing a group of girls and boys? Certainly not, because a repetition would be to mention the same thing twice. Boys and girls are not the same, ergo, it is appropriate to describe such a group as “las niñas y los niños”.

La niña y el niño.

La niña y el niño.

I recall that in the sixties and seventies ‘the Left’ in Latin America, discussed el hombre nuevo (the new man). This discussion paradoxically came with a message where the use of the generic “el hombre”, described a society composed by both, “hombres y mujeres” (men and women). This “egalitarian idealism” was falling short of the egalitarian use of language. Fortunately, some progress has been made in the political arena regarding gender issues, but still the battle continues.

Similarly, as with the previous example, a group of women and men, should be described as las mujeres y los hombres; las personas (the persons); los seres humanos (human kind). Nothing simpler, as to describe a world, naming what is feminine and masculine.

Nombra is a document published in 1995, by the Comisión Asesora sobre el Lenguaje del Instituto de la Mujer, The Women Institute’s Language Advisory Commission, which could be considered a benchmark of excellence for other materials published subsequently; due to the fact that it brings a set of useful recommendations for a non-sexist language.

Cover of the document published in 1995, by the The Women Institute’s Language Advisory Commission: Nombra.

Cover of the document published in 1995, by the The Women Institute’s Language Advisory Commission: Nombra.

It also clearly defines the function of a word: A word cannot mean something or a whole that is different than named, and women and men are different.[4] And further on states: “The sexual difference lies in the world, it is not the language which creates it. What the language should do is simply name it, because it already exists. If we consider that men and women have the same right to exist; failure to name this difference is not respecting one of their fundamental rights: the existence and representation of that existence in the language.”[5]

Nombra poses a review of concepts linked to androcentric forms of language. It looks at the use of the Spanish language, which overlooks the sexual condition of humanity and the existence of women as autonomous and free subjects with their own voice.

Cartoon mocking the phrase "you're prettier when you keep quiet".

Cartoon mocking the phrase “you’re prettier when you keep quiet”.

There is a duty to make every effort to point out unambiguously the uses of language by tutors, language students in particular; and those whose mother tongue is Spanish. Promoting equality and respect of gender, regardless of beliefs that deny visibility and equality to all humans, must be a fundamental cornerstone of the way forward.

A language belongs to the people who use it. Finding creative ways to transform our language is the path to keeping it alive and current. Describing things truthfully will contribute to a better understanding of what constitutes society and should transform society for the better.

This is a follow up article to: Vertigo, published 28 Feb 2015.

April 2015

— — —

[1] The páter familias.

[2] The vitae nevisque potestas.

[3] Slaves were sub manu, that is “under the hand of their owner”.

[4] Free translation from Nombra (page 16): Una palabra no puede significar un algo o un todo que es diferente de lo que nombra, y mujeres y hombres son diferentes.

[5] Free translation from Nombra (page 16) la diferencia sexual está dada en el mundo, no es el language quien la crea. Lo que debe hacer el lenguaje es, simplemente, nombrarla, porque ya existe. Si tenemos en cuenta que hombres y mujeres tenemos el mismo derecho a ser y existir el hecho de no nombrar esa diferencia, es no respetar uno de los derechos fundamentales: el de la existencia y de la representación de esa existencia en el lenguaje.


Or, The Gender of Things, People, Animals, Places and Ideas in Spanish – Part 1 

Buenos días - saludos

Vertigo makes me dizzy – a student said.
Of course it does, that’s what it means – another replied.
No, I mean my head spins … why are “los días” (“the days”) in Spanish, masculine? But come “las tardes y las noches” (“the afternoons and the evenings”), they are feminine? Similarly … “vertigo” … the word “el vertigo”, is masculine in Spanish. Why does the word “vértigo” need a gender?

For those who are used to speaking in neutral terms it will be a “strange novelty” that things, people, animals and ideas in Spanish are gender specific.

The gender of nouns in Spanish

Spanish nouns, that is these words we use, for example, to name things, people, animals, places or ideas have gender, such as the words “dia”, “noche” and “vertigo”, are either feminine or masculine, but not neutral. There are no neutral Spanish nouns.

This is the result of the idea that these words are feminine or masculine – although, in many cases, the gender element of these words has nothing to do with the actual meaning of it.

Spanish speakers master it at a very early age and any Spanish language student will master this with a bit of practice and dedication.

Why is it relevant to know the gender of a noun in Spanish?

la casa bonita

la casa bonita

Because of all the elements that relate to the noun in a sentence, for example:

– the adjectives (words that describe a noun), such as: “casa bonita (nice house),  “día soleado (sunny day); and

– the articles (words we use to indicate a noun); la casa bonita (the nice house), “el día soleado” (the sunny day);

must have the same gender as the noun. This is known as “atracción genérica”, generic attraction.

In Spanish the definite articles are “la” and “el”, feminine and masculine singular respectively; and “las” and “los”, feminine and masculine plural. In English it is what we know as “the”.

la casa bonita / las casas bonitas

el día soleado / los días soleados

I’d like to advise Spanish language students to avoid, when possible, learning words from lists and to favour communicational context. When doing this attention should be given, at a very early stage of learning Spanish, not only to the noun, for example; “niña” but also to the article next to it “la niña”, when learning new vocabulary.

la niña, el nino

la niña – el niño

Paying attention and learning nouns, with their respective articles, will help students to memorise the gender of nouns in a more effective way.

Generally, “nouns” ending with the letter “a” are feminine and the ones ending with the letter “o” are masculine.


la niña        niño
las niñas    los niños


la taza   (the cup)    el vaso (the glass)
las tazas                    los vasos


la perra

la perra

la perra        el perro
las perras    los perros


la idea (the idea)    el pensamiento (the thought)

Now, some exceptions … or special rules:

a) Some masculine nouns end in “a”

el clima (the weather)         el día         el problema (the problem)

b) Some feminine nouns end in “o”

la radio (the radio)     

la moto (the motorbike)    

la foto (the photograph)

c) The nouns ending in “aje” are generally masculine

el masaje  (the massage)     

d) The nouns ending in “ción” y ”sión” are generally feminine

la television (the television) 

la canción  (the song)   

la prisión (the prison)

e) Be aware of the “gender trap”
We may associate certain words with a particular gender but these words do not conform to the stereotype:

La corbata (the tie)

El maquillaje (the cosmetic)

f) When there is a mix of gender in a group, use the masculine plural

In Spanish the masculine plural is used to describe any group with a male element in it. For example, parents could refer to a daughter as “hija” and to a son as “hijo”, but when referring to all of them: two daughters and a son, they will use “hijos”, the plural of son. This is the case regardless of the ratio of the male to female gender.

In doing this the female aspect of the group gets overridden. Similar use occurs when referring to a male-female couple:

“mis padres” (my parents) refers to: “mi madre” and “mi padre”. The masculine form is the default in these cases.

What do you think?

Is the prevalence of masculine gender in Spanish a symptom of sexism in the language? Is the language a reflection of the culture or viceversa?

To be continued…


A song which we all should know. Its name alone resonates deep within me and in perfect time with my heartbeat. Guantanamera. I love it when a song, its rhythms and beat, affect me with such physicality. Guantanamera is one such song. Imagine my excitement when I recently heard a new version of this Latin American musical gem. For anyone who has not heard “Guantanamera” and would like to listen: click here and please tell me what you think of it.


This  version of Guantanamera is a vast collaboration of no less than 75 Cuban recording artists. It was produced by Playing for Change [1]. They recorded and produced this track with Jackson Browne, who stated that travelling with Playing for Change across Cuba was one of the most rewarding and inspiring musical experiences of his life.

As with the most popular versions of this song, this latest recording, is based upon that of Julián Orbón (1925-1991). It was made with a selection of verses from poems by the Cuban poet José Martí’s Versos sencillos, Simple Verses, intertwined with these three very special musical words:

Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera.

Guantanamera - Music for change

The Simple Verses are rich in profound and colourful symbolism [2]. The couplet below captures the simple power of the words; a call from the past, to today, for tolerance and respect:

Cultivo una rosa blanca
En julio como en enero
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera.

Y para el cruel que me arranca
el corazón con que vivo,
cardo ni ortiga cultivo;
cultivo una rosa Blanca.

… …

I grow a white rose
in July just as in January
for the honest friend
who gives me his open hand.

Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera.

And for the cruel one who tears out
the heart with which I live,
no thistle or nettle I grow;
I grow a white rose. [3]

José Martí

José Martí

José Martí’s writing (1853-1895) contributed greatly to the Spanish modernist literary movement. He is known as one of the greatest figures of the Cuban Revolution and a Latin American intellectual. He also became a symbol of Cuba’s independence against Spain in the 19th Century.

Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera, but … what do guantanamera and guajira mean and why does this refrain appear between the verses?

Both words come from the aboriginal taínos dialect, an indigenous Caribbean ethnic group, and became part of the Spanish language, as did many other indigenous words.

Women from the countryside in Cuba, mujeres del campo, are named guajiras (masculine: guajiros).


As for guantanamera, it sounds similar to the term Guantánamo, the easternmost province of Cuba; and indeed guantanamera refers to a woman originally from Guantánamo (masculine: guantanamero).

Who was that anonymous country woman from Guantánamo, who inspired such a song? She became part of the legend of this song, as the Brazilian Garota de Ipanema, the Girl from Ipanema, did with the homonymous song?

As with any myth, the origins of the song Guantanamera are lost in the mists of time. However, the controversies about the genesis, and authorship of the tune and lyrics still remain.

We do know that, by the end of the 1920’s, this song was already being sung in Cuba and nearly 100 years later it has a new lease of life and it is infusing a new generation of fans to carry it onwards.


In the hot humid afternoons of 1930’s Cuba, the radio program El suceso del día, The Events of the Day, Radio CMQ, in La Habana, became very popular. Crime stories selected from the newspaper were sung proficiently to the tune of Guantanamera by the Cuban singer/songwriter/composer Joseíto Fernández (1908-1979). Actors also re-enacted the news events live on air and for several years El Suceso del Día became one of the most followed radio programs in Cuba.

It is said that Joseíto Fernández would have sung variations of the refrain in other radio stations, such as guajira holguinera (woman from Holguín Province) or guajira camagüeña (woman from Camaguey Province).

According to one of the accounts, he fell in love with a woman from Guantánamo who was very jealous. It appears that the “guajira guantanamera” found him talking (or flirting with …) another woman and following a tantrum and a curse, she ran away and he never saw her again. That day, he sung the song as usual and the audience was so enchanted with that version that they called the radio station in their hundreds to request that he continue singing those particular lyrics and he did.

Guantanamera cover

The best known version of Guantanamera is the version by Julián Orbón, who used Joseíto Fernandez’s original music, including the well known refrain, intertwined with the fragments of José Marti’s Simple Verses.

The American songwriter and activist Peter Seeger (1919-2014) reworked and recorded a live version of the song on his album We Shall Overcome, at Carnegie Hall, in 1963.

In 1966, The Sandpipers recorded it, to some acclaim, and their version become a Top 10 hit in the UK. Click here to listen to their version.

In time, this song was destined to become an unofficial anthem of Cuba.

When the beat of the music is with the beat of the heart, a song becomes a musical treasure. However, Guantanamera transcends its music, the words of Marti’s verses convey that perennial call for tolerance, respect, inclusiveness, equality and freedom; and it makes Guantanamera a song standing for those rights that are universal and indivisible.

Then, “in July just as in January, I grow a white rose”.

Guantanamera - The Sandpippers

— —

[1] Playing for Change is a movement founded by Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke, created to inspire and connect the world through music, with the belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people.

[2] The book Poemas sencillos, Simple Verses, comprises 46 poems written in a short form, using simple words, deliberately putting meaning over form. Besides this, the poems are of regular rhyme, scheme and alliteration.

[3] Free translation.

%d bloggers like this: