Don’t Knock It Until You Try It


Today we had our final Spanish class in La Paz. As we headed to the El Nopal campus we readied ourselves as a family to say goodbye to something that we had all thoroughly enjoyed. After repeating our mantra, “Saying goodbye to people, places, and things is a part of traveling. We would never have had this experience if we didn’t continue our journey forward”, we were back on track and ready to head to class.

As we have previously mentioned classes at El Nopal have been fabulous. The teachers are wonderful, the campus is inviting, and it has been a great way to get us practicing Spanish. However, the reality is that with all the support of the great folks at El Nopal, learning a new language is still challenging. This is especially true when you are tired, stressed, or trying to describe a complex idea or process. No matter how much you practice, changing your brain over to communicate in another language can be taxing.


Growing up in the United States it is not uncommon to hear friends, neighbors, politicians, and the media expound on how foreigners immigrating to America should have to speak English. There is so much debate about having to teach English to students in public schools who come from another country and don’t know the language. As well as debate on whether public services should be offered in any other language besides English.

However, it is really easy to sit in your native country comfortably speaking your native language and judge those who can’t yet speak the language, or those who are still learning. To those people that say “you shouldn’t move to a country if you can’t speak the language,” we say well then you go and give it a try. Of course everyone traveling to or moving to a new country would love to understand and speak the native language. Not many people truly want to struggle to understand or communicate. However, it is easier said then done. Mastering a new language takes a lot of work and even with all the best intentions it takes time. However, it is a lot easier when you have the support of the community.


Our teachers and new friends at El Nopal, from the adults to the kids, have been truly great in making us feel comfortable as we take that awkward step in speaking a new language. The people that we have met in La Paz have also been super friendly and more than helpful in working to communicate with us as we practice our language skills. It would be really helpful if everyone was put in the position of having to speak a new language in a foreign environment. That way we would all be a little more understanding and compassionate when interacting with others who are speaking a new language. From schools, to government offices, to grocery stores, it would be nice if we all worked to communicate with each other the way we would want to be communicated to if we were surrounded by a foreign language.


Our New Year’s Resolution: More Homework!

For the New Year, we made an important decision as a family. We still wanted to keep going with our classes at El Nopal Spanish, but we also wanted to visit only once per week to have more time at home for work and school. We talked things over with Juan and Marta, who were very accommodating as always, and they rearranged our schedule so that the Older Fives would each have private lessons on the day of the Younger Fives’ class. They also were willing to meet our other request, one that they don’t get too often: extra homework. With seven days in between classes, we wanted to be sure we stayed in practice all week long. 


While the Younger Fives’ class hasn’t changed too much, Five String and Five Spice have really loved the transition to private lessons. We did enjoy the group lessons we took last month, and it was comforting to be a part of a group working toward the same goal of improving their Spanish. However, we were both ready for the challenge of being the only one is class, which of course gives many more opportunities to speak and practice. It is pretty nice to be able to stop everything and review a troublesome concept on the spot, or to propose exactly what we would like to practice in coming weeks.


Five String even decided to create his own homework assignment after coming across the work of New Hampshire-based cartoonist, musician, and educator Marek Bennett. Marek is presently working with schoolchildren in Nicaragua, and he has request some help with translating some of the students’ comics. In order to learn more about Nicaragua (a place Five String and Five Spice visited after they first met) and practice his Spanish, Five String will be translating comics and having his teacher Marta review his work during class. All in all, this is a pretty fun way to practice Spanish.

Here are a few examples of the impressive comics the students in Nicaragua are creating about their beautiful country and the coffee harvest…

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Being here in Mexico, our New Year’s resolution is your New Year’s resolution. If you are looking for an opportunity to practice your Spanish, learn about life in Nicaragua, and help out an awesome project, your chance is just a click away.

¿Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Qué ves?

DSC02197-picsayAlthough our Spanish classes at El Nopal have been on hold for the holidays, we still have been getting in lots of good practice. Before break the Younger Fives’ teacher, Emily, prepared a wonderful activity based on Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Each of the kids received their own set of popsicle-stick puppets to color and a script of how to recite the story in Spanish. They all have been working very hard to memorize the parts, and the Older Fives have enjoyed daily puppet shows helping us practice our colors and animals.

While there is nothing like a live performance of “¿Oso Café, Oso Café, Qué Ves Ahí?” (tickets to go on sale soon), we wanted to give you the reader a chance to enjoy learning (or reviewing) some Spanish along with us. For those unfamiliar with the story, the first animal goes in the blank for the question, and the second animal goes in the blank for the answer. Then the question is asked again with the second animal, and the third animal goes in for the answer. When la maestra or los niños are in the answer, the personal “a” goes before the name. Finally, to be respectful we change “ves” to “ve” when we ask la maestra what she sees.


¿________, ________, qué ves ahí?
Veo un(a) ________ que mira a mí.

1. el oso café =  the brown  bear
2. el pájaro rojo = the red bird
3. el pato amarillo = the yellow  duck
4. el caballo azul =  the blue horse
5. la rana verde = the green frog
6. el gato morado = the purple cat
7. el perro blanco = the white dog
8. la oveja negra = the black sheep
9. el pez dorado = the gold fish

10. la maestra = the teacher
11. los niños = the kids
Veo a la maestra que mira a mí.
¿La maestra, la maestra, qué ve ahí?
Veo a los niños que miran a mí.



Una Noche Mágica

When we began planning our five month stay in Mexico, we never could have imagined trying steamed cactus, shouting ¡Lotería! in front of a group of strangers, and reenacting Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem. However, through our classes at El Nopal Spanish Language School all of these experiences came together last night at their traditional Mexican Posada party. The celebration remembers the journey of Mary and Joseph and their attempt to find lodging (posada) on the eve of Jesus’s birth. Since receiving our invitation to El Nopal’s Posada a few weeks ago we had all been looking forward to experiencing this traditional Mexican Christmas party.


When the evening finally arrived, it was truly magical. The holiday itself is all about family, and we were impressed (as always) by how accommodating Juan and Marta are in meeting the needs of adults and children alike. The evening started with the kids having their own special holiday craft while the adults learned about the history of Las Posadas and played a few rounds of Lotería (Mexico’s version of Bingo).


Next up was dinner, and we were delighted to find vegan versions of some holiday favorites made especially for us. The corn tortillas were out of this world, and in addition to a bean filling we were able to sample some cooked nopal cactus (with the spikes removed, of course). The younger Fives especially enjoyed the traditional Christmas punch called ponche, steaming hot with pieces of fruit to dig out with a spoon.

DSC02012-picsayAfter eating our fill of the delicious dishes everyone got a chance to reenact Mary and Joseph’s arrival at the inn by singing a traditional carol in Spanish. One group represented the innkeepers and the other group represented Mary and Joseph seeking posada (shelter). After the latter was able to secure some humble lodging, the kids were thrilled to find it was time for the piñata. While the Younger Fives were a bit more timid than their more experienced peers, they got some expert tips from Juan and each knocked a point off the piñata. When the piñata eventually revealed its contents, they excitedly snatched up their share of fruits such as oranges and pieces of sugar cane.


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After all the excitement, the evening ended on a more calm and peaceful note. We all sat around a table on the darkened patio of the El Nopal campus and sang more traditional carols with candles in hand. Singing Noche de Paz (Silent Night) in the City of Peace itself (La Paz) made for a perfect end to a magical evening that we could not have experienced anywhere else.


Learn more about Las Posadas by watching the video below.

El Nopal: A Fun Place for Kids to Learn Spanish

[The Younger Fives share in their own words their thoughts about Spanish classes at El Nopal Academia de Español]

The Teachers (Five of Hearts):
El Nopal is a great place to learn Spanish. It is a great place to learn Spanish for adults but also a really great place for kids. Emily is our teacher. She is a great teacher, really fun and nice. She is the best.

Juan was also our teacher one time, and he was really great too. He is great at teaching and is very funny.

I like our class so much because it is fun and teaches you how to speak Spanish.


What Class is Like (Five Ball):
Class is pretty fun. We have really nice teachers. Every class we sing a song, then read a book, and then make a craft. We have sung Cabeza, Hombros, Rodillas, y Pies (Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes) and Pulgarcito, Donde Estas? (Where is Thumbkin?).

For books we have read Margaret and Margarita and Salta, Ranita, Salta! (Jump, Little Frog, Jump!). We have made pictures of ourselves, food faces and monster pictures during crafts.

I feel great and excited when I learn Spanish!


Playing at El Nopal (High Five):
Before class, I like to play with my toys with the other kids. They share their toys too. We get to eat a yummy snack at Spanish class. I like to pack my own picnic for eating. I pack crackers and sesame butter.

At class a pink puppy [stuffed, of course] sits in my lap and barks at me. I can say “hola” and “adios” in Spanish!