Columbus Day & Word Loans


A few weeks ago, my best friend lent me a heating pad after I injured my back. It was a very thoughtful gesture and much appreciated; but eventually, I returned it. The heating pad wasn’t mine to keep, after all.

Objects and ownership are pretty straightforward, in that sense. I can lend you something, and after a while, you give it back. Now, depending on how [dis]organized someone is, this timeframe might be longer than you originally anticipated; but physical things are clearly here or there, yours or mine. The idea of lending money begins to get a bit more abstract when you are talking about credit (not cash); and to further complicate matters, sometimes the owner of that couch (~that you happened to ‘borrow’ for two years) no longer wants it anymore, which begs the question: did s/he lend or gift it to you?

What happens when we extend this to language? To jumpstart this conversation in my classroom, I like to ask first graders a deceivingly simple question, “So, does anyone know how to say, ‘taco’ in Spanish? What about mosquito? Papaya?” This throws even the native speakers off. Wait a second… (For older students, you can add in concepts, like déjà-vu.)

I can loan you a papaya to take a picture of it and you can give it back (well, you might eat it…), but what about the word papaya? Where did it come from? You see, word loans are not like other loans; they are, arguably, their own category and beast. But let’s back up.


My professional focus as a Spanish teacher is, of course, Spanish and everything that entails (culture, language, all 21 countries, music, food, etc.). But I am also equally interested in fascinated by other languages and particularly, what occurs when they interact or come into contact with one another. So… what happens when languages meet?

Is it like a meet-cute, where they walk off together in the sunset? Or more a ninja style battle, flying from roof to roof at dusk across the city? Or perhaps they don’t even notice each other at first?

Can we personify languages? Do they behave like humans? Every culture and word–and person–has its own story, that is for sure; but unlike people, I think it can be tricky to delineate exactly where one language ends and another begins… particularly when we take word loans into account.

For instance, today: [Christopher] Columbus Day. Now, many have (and had) strong opinions about this Genoese sailor from the 1400s–did you know that he was extremely religious but also thrown in jail for six weeks?–but today we will focus primarily on what happened to the Spanish language when he sailed across the ocean and unknowingly acted as a catalyst for languages to interact.

Let us start with the fact that, according to his diary entries, Columbus wrote in castellano (Castilian Spanish)–although, as philologist and historian Ramón Menéndez Pidal posits here, this was likely not his first language:

« nota reiteradas veces que el Almirante revela ‘ser natural de otra lengua, porque no penetra del todo la significación de los vocablos de la lengua castellana ni del modo de hablar de ella’ ».

Source (6)

Many hypothesize that Columbus’ native tongue was Ligurian, but he was clearly also familiar with Portuguese, Italian, and Castellano, among others. He presumably interacted with the monarchs Isabel and Fernando in Spanish when asking them (repeatedly, until he succeeded) to fund his overseas ventures and [four] voyages to the New World.


I mention this linguistic context and background because the subject of word loans comes up in his castellano diary entries. When languages meet for the first time, there is of course some general confusion. Columbus was actually prepared for this and brought along several interpreters–which was a great plan, except that he did not land in India, and therefore encountered over 600 indigenous languages in lieu of the expected Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Aramaic. Whoops!

Soon after sailor Rodrigo de Triana famously shouted, “¡Tierra! ¡Tierra!” (Land! Land!) upon sighting an island in the Caribbean, his fellow crew members and Columbus were to make initial contact with the Taíno natives. The Taínos spoke a language called Arawak. (Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow even explain in their book, The Story of Spanish, that Columbus captured indigenous Taínos and brought them back to Spain for the original intention of teaching them castellano so that they could act as interpreters for the Europeans.)

Spanish historian Bartolomé de las Casas accompanied Columbus on his third voyage and described this “language of the Indians [as with] the most elegant and abundant of words, and the sweetest of sounds (original: “la lengua de los indios [con] la más elegante y más copiosa de vocablos, y la más dulce en sonidos”). I read somewhere that Columbus himself had used the word, “apacible” (~pleasant, gentle, calm, peaceful) to describe Arawak, but I can’t find the source right now.

Anyway, this is where things get interesting. You see, the beautiful fruit of linguistic encounters is that new ideas are exchanged. As with any voyageur, Columbus and the other sailors learned and were exposed to so many new things in their travels. For example, the Europeans had never seen a canoe before. This is apparent in his diary, where Columbus starts out using the word, “almadía”, or raft in Spanish, to describe what he sees; but over a period of weeks, switches to the Taíno canoa and eventually drops almadía altogether (The Story of Spanish, pp. 99-101).

Here, we see one of the original dictionary entries (1505): canoa, boat of wood; from the Caribbean. How crazy is it that we have access to this information nowadays?

In addition to canoa, the Spaniards took many word loans from Arawak, such as canoe, shark, papaya, iguana, hurricane, corn, hammock, potato, barbecue, and mangrove for foods, animals, and ideas that they did not already have in their own language (i.e., castellano). Can you imagine not knowing what a huracán/hurricane was and experiencing one for the first time? Or seeing a tiburón/ shark or iguana? Or eating a papaya? Or having a barbacoa/ barbecue?


Now, to be fair, none of this is new: linguistic contact occurs all of the time, and we are constantly acquiring new words in our own language on both a cultural and individual level. Whether that is because of a new invention (iPads were invented in 2010, might I remind you), or simply because you moved to the country and someone said, “It’s spitting out” (instead of drizzling), our vocabularies naturally expand over time.

Nevertheless, it is fascinating to ponder how one word can be loaned or “borrowed” into another language and end up comfortably living in two places at once. Why are some terms bifurcated? Why is bread bread in English, pan in Spanish, and מָן (mān/ manna) in Hebrew; but barbacoa is shared by Arawak and Spanish, and papaya by Arawak, Spanish, and English? Conversely, how has Icelandic remained relatively untouched, linguistically speaking–(if you speak Icelandic, you can easily understand a text from the 900’s)–whereas English has undergone so many changes it is difficult to pinpoint a time period when it has stayed still?

There are linguistic answers to these questions (Iceland, for one, is geographically isolated as an island, which helped keep the language in one place; whereas English is sort of like your friend’s messy apartment: stuff is just spread out everywhere!)–but all of this still begs the question, how can some words be loaned or borrowed from other languages, while still remaining their own entity? Why did Arawak and Spanish not become one in the same? How many words can a language borrow before it loses its identity, or essence?

Regrettably, I do not have the answers to those questions today. However, I can share [below]–and just for fun–a chart from my FAQ page, if you wanted to delve a bit deeper. In the meantime, Happy Columbus Day!

P.S. Another fun fact: jaguar, petunia, and tapioca, among others–come from the Tupí-Guaraní languages, thanks to later expeditions through South America.

Venezuela- Roller Skating

Image Credit

VENEZUELA: “For locals in the capital of Caracas, it is customary to strap on your roller skates and glide to Christmas mass. As legend has it, children go to bed with a piece of string tied round their toe and the other end dangling out of the window. As skaters roll past, they give the string a tug and children know that it’s time to, well, get their skates on” (source). 

The streets are actually blockaded off each year so that families can roller-skate to Midnight Mass safely. People say this began as an alternative to sledding, since Venezuela is right on the equator and therefore quite warm in December. While I would not recommend roller-skating in the middle of the street in this country, you could go to a rink to skate!

Image Credit

Guatemala- Sawdust Carpets

GUATEMALA: Thousands of Catholics in Antigua, Guatemala join together during Lent each year to make colored sawdust carpets in preparation for Semana Santa, or Holy Week. In 2014, they broke the Guinness Book of World Records and made the longest sawdust carpet ever, at an astounding 6,600 feet.

Watch the video below and be amazed! It is a beautiful end result, but requires much patience and attention to detail! This SITE also has more stencils and ideas.

This video shows what the process looks like (note: there is no sound).

LINKS: Sawdust Carpets- Video (Guatemala)Sawdust Carpet Stencil Patterns, Easter in Guatemala


Year 2022: Colored Sand “Sawdust Carpets”

This year, every student in Lower School made his or her own miniature carpet with colored sand. For younger classes, a pattern was assigned; older students created their own designs. The end goal was to laminate all of them together into one very long “carpet”, which we did!

Danny Gokey Song

Year 2021: Kinetic Sand “Sawdust Carpet”

Here, we tried creating one gigantic carpet with DIY kinetic sand. It did not work perfectly, but the process was messy and fun, nevertheless!

RECIPE #1: 1 tsp. water & 5 drops dish soap, then add 1 tsp. corn starch, 2 tsp. Elmer’s glue, food coloring; mix; add 1/8 tsp. Great Value STA-FLO liquid laundry starch and mix together; slowly add 1/2 cup of sand; add another 1/8 tsp. liquid starch; add more sand, if necessary.

RECIPE #2: 1 cup play or craft sand; 1/2 c. PVA school glue; 2 tsp. dish soap; 2 tbsp. cornstarch; food coloring.; Dollar Tree party table cover.

More recipes & links: Kinetic Sand, Kinetic Sand- 3 ingredients, DIY Kinetic Sand, More DIY Kinetic Sand; Slick Slime Sam- YT Channel + Slick Slime Sam- 3 Insanely Cool Crafts for Artsy Kids


Year 2020: Virtual Learning “Sawdust Carpets”

Photos of student work from the Spring Quarantine of 2020. All of the following were done virtually.


Year 2019: Art Stencils & Sand “Sawdust Carpets”

The art teacher drew stencils in pencil on colored bulletin board paper, and then students filled in the designs with colored sand.

Cuba- Holidays

CUBA: For New Year’s, many Cubans mop their houses from top to bottom, and fill up a bucket with the dirty water. Next, they dump this water in the street, as a symbolic gesture to “throw away” all of the bad stuff from this past year and begin anew. Later, they walk around the block with a suitcase, waving goodbye to their neighbors. This is meant to ensure a trip abroad in the coming months.

A staple Cuban event is the pig roast (click on the link, if you dare), but they also will eat black beans and rice, plantains, and buñuelos for dessert for the Christmas Eve meal. A pig roast takes a long time, but the water-dumping and suitcase jaunt seem manageable!

Holiday Packet 2020

My Dear Friends, Fellow Linguists, and Citizens of the World:

The holidays are a time for family, friends, and much merriment. Hopefully, amidst the frantic shoppers and bumper-to-bumper traffic, you are able to relax and find some peace and joy in the season.

That said, learning does not stop or stagnate just because there are no classes; we learn constantly throughout our lives, and these breaks remind us that education takes many forms. While vacations are definitely for relaxing and spending time with loved ones, 20,160 minutes [two weeks] is a long time without a language, and parents frequently ask me what they can do at home to supplement their child’s language study. With that in mind, I have curated a list of cultural and linguistic activities that you and your children are welcome to explore over the break. Feel free to pick and choose what works for you and your family, but know that all of these activities are 100% optional.

CULTURE: Holiday Traditions from Spanish-Speaking Countries to Try

1) Cuba: For New Year’s, many Cubans mop their houses from top to bottom, and fill up a bucket with the dirty water. Next, they dump this water in the street, as a symbolic gesture to “throw away” all of the bad stuff from this past year and begin anew. Later, they walk around the block with a suitcase, waving goodbye to their neighbors. This is meant to ensure a trip abroad in the coming months. A staple Cuban event is the pig roast (click on the link, if you dare), but they also will eat black beans and rice, plantains, and buñuelos for dessert for the Christmas Eve meal. A pig roast takes a long time, but the water-dumping and suitcase jaunt seem manageable!

2) Venezuela: “For locals in the capital of Caracas, it is customary to strap on your roller skates and glide to Christmas mass. As legend has it, children go to bed with a piece of string tied round their toe and the other end dangling out of the window. As skaters roll past, they give the string a tug and children know that it’s time to, well, get their skates on” (source). The streets are actually blockaded off each year so that families can roller-skate to Midnight Mass safely. People say this began as an alternative to sledding, since Venezuela is right on the equator and therefore quite warm in December. While I would not recommend roller-skating in the middle of the street in this country, you could go to a rink to skate!

3) SpainEat twelve grapes at midnight on December 31, to welcome in the New Year and for good luck for each month of the coming year. People also wear red clothing (and underwear!) for extra good luck. There is also a highly anticipated, three-hour long Christmas Lottery called, “El Gordo” that Spaniards watch on television December 22nd. Children from the San Ildefonso School practice all year long to announce the winning numbers in song. THIS is what it looks like. (Note: The grape-eating tradition has been adopted in many other Spanish-speaking countries as well, and not just Spain.)

4) Mexico: “Families begin the nine-day observance of las posadas by reenacting the Holy Family’s nine-day journey to Bethlehem and their search for shelter in a posada, or inn. In some parts of Mexico, for the first eight evenings of las posadas two costumed children carry small statues of Mary and Joseph as they lead a candlelight procession of friends and neighbors from house to house. They sing a song asking for shelter for the weary travelers. When at last they find a family that will give shelter, the children say a prayer of thanks and place the figures of Mary and Joseph in the family’s nacimiento. Then everyone enjoys a feast at the home of one of the participants.

For the children, the piñata party on the first eight evenings is the best part of las posadas. The blindfolded children are spun around and given a big stick. They take turns trying to break open the piñata with the stick while the piñata is raised and lowered. Everybody scrambles for the gifts and treats when the piñata shatters and spills its treasure” (source). Here, you could act out las posadas and make or buy a piñata.

Oaxaca, Mexico also hosts a very unique radish-carving festival called, “Noche de los Rábanos” (Night of the Radishes) every December. The radish carvings are extremely detailed, intricate sculptures–see pics HERE and HERE–which wilt quickly; timing here is everything. See if you can carve a miniature radish sculpture at home with your parents.

5) Guatemala: Here, “Guatemalans use colored sawdust to construct their nativity sets, and create characters with indigenous features to represent their ancestors” (source). While these nativity scenes are very beautiful, perhaps even more impressive are the sawdust carpets Guatemalans create for Holy Week (Easter). Check out a few pictures HERE to learn more and read about the 6,600 foot long sawdust carpet–a world record. It might be fun to create a miniature sawdust carpet model, but using colored sand and a stencil outline instead. Take a picture so that it lasts forever!

People in many Latin American countries also prepare Christmas tamales, although the recipes differ from place to place and culture to culture (e.g., Mexicans tend to wrap them in corn husks and Guatemalans in banana leaves).

LANGUAGE: Spanish Language Activities

1) Watch a movie in the target language, with Spanish voiceover and English subtitles. If you have not seen Coco or Ferdinand, now would be a great time, but any movie works! NOTE: you are welcome to change the voiceover AND subtitles to Spanish, but quite often, the translations are done in different countries: what you are hearing is not what you are reading. This can be confusing for a beginner; it is more important right now for students to listen to the language: input, input, input! If your family does not want to watch the movie in Spanish with you, ask to invite some friends over. ¡Fiesta!

2) Find a Spanish radio station on your car radio and listen to it either driving around town or on a long road trip. Dance along to the songs and try to pick out a few words you know!

3) Schedule a family night out at a local Mexican/Cuban/Venezuelan/ Spanish-speaking restaurant. Then, either order in Spanish (if you already know how), or ask the waiter a few questions and learn how! Most people are more than willing to share their linguistic knowledge. Be courageous and try something new you have not had before. If you go to multiple restaurants, make a photo slideshow of Food from Different Countries!

4) Prepare a traditional recipe with your family from a Spanish-speaking country. Make it interesting and try something new that you have never had before. Tortilla EspañolaBocadilloChurrosFlanDulce de leche? Tamales? Guacamole? Patacones? Tres leches cake? Gallo pinto? Horchata? Enjoy the process of searching for a recipe (appetizer? drink? main course? dessert?), buying ingredients you may have never heard of before, and then preparing it as a family. There tends to be a big focus on family and community in Latin American households, so make sure that everyone helps out. The more, the merrier!

5) Not traveling this vacation? Plan an imaginary trip to a Spanish-speaking country. Pretend you have $10,000. But wait! Other countries do not all use the dollar. Google what type of money your country has. HERE is a currency converter to play around with. Then, decide where you want to go in said country. If you type in the search bar, “points of interest Spain” [or the country you are interested in], you will get photos and names of landmarks, palaces, monuments, beaches, etc. that may be of interest.

6) Find a Spanish language-learning app that you like, and then level-up three levels to complete this challenge. Grades 3&4 have been working on Duolingo this year, so they are welcome to ‘level up’, or explore another app for fun. Here are a few suggestions: MindSnacksDuolingoMemriseFluentUand/or Epic. Or play the Guess the Language game and see if you can beat your score. Please note that the latter is highly addictive!

7) It is very common in many part of Mexico to eat, well, bugs. Really! From worms and creamy winged-ant salsas to stink bugs, chapulines, and 88 species of beetles, “Mexico is the country with the greatest variety of edible insects: 549 species, according to the 2013 report Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security.” To test your courage, visit the Candy Store locally (ask me where!) and buy a few fried crickets, or try Amazon. There are even fun flavors to whet your appetite, such as: Bacon & Cheese, Salt & Vinegar, and Sour Cream & Onion.

8) Start looking for fruits, vegetables, boxes, cans, clothing, etc. that come from Spanish-speaking countries, and try to collect stickers and/or clothing tags from all 21 countries (e.g., clothes “Made in Guatemala”, bananas from Costa Rica, avocados from Mexico; that is, imports/exports). This was a Spanish Challenge, but many Lower School children (grades 2-4) can already name a majority of the Spanish-speaking countries**, and are encouraged to keep their eyes open.

**Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic (La República Dominicana), Puerto Rico (technically a territory), Spain (España), and Equatorial Guinea.

You’ve read this far and still want more? First, thank you for taking the time to read it; it is greatly appreciated. Second, feel free to check out my Summer Packet 2017 and Summer Packet 2016 for more ideas. For any fellow linguists, the Articles drop-down menu and corresponding pages have enough links to last a lifetime. In between your Google Rabbit Hole/Alice in Wonderland virtual searching, enjoy the time off, “sprinkle kindness like confetti“, and have a magical and very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays. See you in 2021!

Fondly,
-Your Resident Linguist

Christmas Songs in Spanish

***New Year’s Song


Mexico- Radish Festival

MEXICO: Mexico has a lot of holiday traditions this time of year, but one particularly unique one is Noche de los Rábanos (Night of the Radishes) in Oaxaca. Here, people spend all day long carving radishes into beautifully intricate sculptures; they earn cash prizes for the best ones. Watch the videos to learn more, and then try to carve your own radish sculpture (with an adult).


LINKS:  Radish Carving Festival Article (Mexico)Night of the Radishes (Mexico)Night of the Radishes Photos (Mexico)

Mexico- Cinco de Mayo

Anónimo, Batalla del 5 de mayo de 1862, óleo sobre tela, Museo Nacional de las Intervenciones, Exconvento de Churubusco, INAH. Imagen tomada del libro: Eduardo Báez, La pintura militar en el siglo XIX, México, Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, 1992, p. 1

MEXICO: Cinco de Mayo means “May 5th” in Spanish. It is celebrated especially in Puebla, Mexico, but has become popular in the United States to recognize Mexican culture in general. Historically, it is important because while Mexico’s army was the underdog and expected to lose a battle way back in 1862, the French & Napoleon (Francia/ France) actually lost.

You see, France was angry because Mexico had not paid back money they owed them; instead, the president Benito Juarez gave the money [he owed France] to his people instead, who were suffering (poverty, etc.). France decided that enough was enough, and went to invade the country, anticipating that it would be an easy win; however, something unexpected occurred that day: it started raining cats and dogs, which created huge mudslides on the hills surrounding the small town of Puebla… and allowed the Mexican army to win, proving the impossible possible.

In class, students made flags to represent each country (México/Francia), were divided into two groups, set up glue sticks to represent the armies (France’s army was really big; Mexico’s was small), built a circle out of blocks to represent the hills surrounding the town in Mexico, and then the French army group pretended to fall/slide down the hill as they listened to rainstorm sound effects on the Promethean board. Later, we celebrated with Mariachi music. ASIDE: immediately following this lesson last year, it started absolutely pouring, so kindergarteners thought that they had made it rain!!!

Other years, we have extended this project to talk about sombreros and sombras (shade/shadows) vs. luz/light (natural y artificial). Activities to do at home include the following: make your own sombrero; choose a different craft from THIS LIST; play Shadow Tag outside; take 3-5 photos of interesting sombra/shadow shapes; and/or cook something HERE. The Burrito Zucchini Boats look fun!

LINKS: Batalla de Puebla, The 5 Magical Towns of Puebla That You Should Not Miss, Mexican Metal Tooling, Ojo de Dios (Huichol), Talavera


Mexico- Día de los Muertos

MEXICO: El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) is a day to honor family members who have passed away. This tradition dates back to the Aztecs. People believe that spirits come back to visit us from Oct. 31-Nov. 2nd. The skeletons you see are very happy to be reunited with their loved ones.

People make ofrendas, or altars, in their homes to remember and honor their dearly departed. The movie Coco is a great introduction to this Mexican holiday, as well as the cortometraje/ short film below. Keep scrolling to see an infographic contrasting Halloween and the Day of the Dead–they are not the same!

LINKS: Article- Muy Bueno; 24 Day of the Dead Activities for Kids; Jigsaw Puzzle; Customs & Traditions (SpanishMama); Day of the Dead, Day of the Dead- Flavor; Day of the Dead; Receta de Pan de Muerto; Image #1, Image #2, Image #3, Image #4


Movies & Songs


Read Alouds & Coloring Sheets


In Guatemala…


DIY- Flowers, Makeup, & Papel Picado


Halloween vs. Día de Muertos

Full article & credit HERE.

Spain- La Tomatina

SPAIN: La Tomatina is a famous tomato-throwing fight that takes place every August in Spain. Tens of thousands of visitors flock to the city of Buñol to participate. While some say that it is a huge waste of tomatoes, a #funfact is that the acidity of the tomatoes actually cleans all of the streets, which I personally found pretty interesting. To say the least, it is a very unique tradition and an ‘attention-grabbing’ way to start the first semester.

“What is ‘La Tomatina’? Well, it is Spain’s most bizarre festival… ‘the tomato fight’! Legend has it this strange celebration began in the 1940’s in the town of Buñol. One hot summer day a squabble broke out in the town square and quickly developed into a massive brawl. Instead of using their fists, the locals grabbed tomatoes and began throwing them at one another!

Despite all efforts to break it up, the townsfolk found such great satisfaction in squishing the tomatoes that the battle continued well into the night. It was such a ‘smash’ it became an annual event. Today this ‘street fight’ draws locals and visitors from all over the world. The 35,000 participants go through about 50,000 kilos of tomatoes on the last Wednesday of every August! Wow! That sure is a lot of sauce!”

Teacher’s Discovery

Gazpacho is a delicious soup from Spain, and the perfect cold tomato dish to enjoy on a hot summer day. One year, third, fourth, and fifth graders took a day to celebrate La Tomatina by making Gazpacho in class. This is the recipe we used. Note that Salmorejo is very similar to Gazpacho, but it contains a few additional ingredients.

Another year, to celebrate and reenact the day sans actual tomatoes (someone had allergies), fourth graders made catapults out of Popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and hot glue, and launched decorative, lightweight balls at G.I. Joe firemen and LEGO men figurines. This was a great exercise in teambuilding and community to start the year, but did take more than one class period to complete.

Throwing crumpled up pieces of red paper, Dodgeball-style, in two teams can also be an exciting alternative and simulation.

Featured Image Credit


You can add “Closed Captioning” (CC) in English for non-native speakers.