7 tips to help your child learn Spanish

Whether your child expressed an earnest desire to learn Spanish, or was motivated by the parents to take a Spanish class at a local school, having the right tools will help improve understanding and speaking skills, which, in turn, will get your kid even more excited about learning the new language.

If you do not speak Spanish at home all the time and are looking for ways to maintain that curiosity for learning Spanish and help him or her learn the language, here are a few ideas of what you could do:

If you can speak Spanish, make a conscious effort to speak more of it around your child.

Make it fun, make a game out of it. Let's say, you have Spanish Saturdays, or Spanish breakfast, when during that particular period of time you speak only Spanish and your child must do the same. That will give them an opportunity to show off what they have learned in school and learn new things while practicing with you. If it is your spouse, or another caretaker who speaks Spanish, encourage them to do the same. Announce a prize for asking so many questions or naming so many items in Spanish. Incorporate a phrase or two into your daily life, and always use that phrase only in Spanish (for example, "get in the car", or "it's time for dinner", "wash your hands" etc.) Introduce more phrases overtime as the child becomes familiar with the previous phrases.


If you don't speak Spanish yourself, lead by example!

Take a class, or download an app on your phone and start learning so that your child sees your sincere desire to learn to communicate in a new language. Learn together. Have the child teach you what she or he learned in class. Practice together. Make stickers and place them around the house to help memorize vocabulary. Try to find ways to be in contact with Spanish speakers for real-world practice. If you have friends or relatives who speak Spanish, make it a point to see them more often for Spanish play dates.

Use technology.

There are a few great apps out there that your child might enjoy. Some are free and some are almost free. Since too much of screen time is no good, a half hour of daily practice is enough to make the new knowledge stick. A couple of weeks ago, when visiting a friend who recently started taking Spanish lessons with one of our teachers, I started asking her some questions to see how much she learned. A twelve-year old boy, who overheard me speak Spanish, jumped out from around the corner eager to make conversation with me, in Spanish! As his mom told me minutes later, he had been learning the language on a Duo Lingo app and was so excited to put it to some practical use. I came across this article that suggests a few good apps.

Watching familiar cartoons or movies in Spanish

can be a fun way for kids to hear the language more and possibly recognize some learned vocabulary and add a few more new words and expressions to what they already know. How about watching Frozen or another favorite film in Spanish (and with Spanish subtitles)? Again, remember to make it fun and enjoyable, don't push it too much if you meet resistance.

You cannot learn a language in isolation from the culture.

Moreover, exploring Hispanic cuisine can be a yummy addition to learning the language. There are many authentic restaurants right in our backyard where you can enjoy traditional food and practice ordering in Spanish. A list of a few authentic places can be found on our website (just scroll down to the bottom of the page).

Be creative! Plan a visit to a restaurant in advance and explain to the child that it is an authentic restaurant and you must order food in Spanish. Practice ahead of time, whether it is just memorizing vocabulary pertaining to food, or asking for something politely (for example, "agua, por favor")

Listen to music in Spanish.

Whether it is kids songs or Spanish radio in the car, listening to the language helps the child to get used to the sound of the language.

Get curious about the culture of the Hispanic world

by watching videos or reading books about Spanish-speaking countries. Part of the reason why we learn languages is to expand our horizons, and what better way to do it than by learning about the culture of the countries where language is spoken?

Whatever techniques you choose to help you succeed in your child's linguistic journey, remember to make it fun and enjoyable. As parents we know, that as a child gets older, he or she wants to be just like everyone else, so none of that Spanish-speaking nonsense that will make him or her stand out from the rest. But as parents we also know that we must BE CREATIVE in order to do what is good for the child, and being able to speak another language is definitely an asset.

Please feel free to share how you keep your child interested in learning the language and what tricks or tips you would pass on to other parents.

Good luck on your journey with Spanish!


Are you a non-native speaker of English who needs a TOEFL score for university or a professional certificate? And have you heard a lot of horrible things about the TOEFL? Then it is time to demystify the TOEFL! Most learners who want to prepare for the TOEFL are so afraid because the test is said to be very long, extremely hard and so difficult that it is impossible to get the full amount of points (120 points). So why even try?

Don't get deterred so easily! It may be true that the test is very long, but here is the good news. If you prepare for the test, make yourself familiar with the same type of questions that are always used for every single test and build invaluable test taking experience, you will be able to arm yourself with effective strategies and learn how to "beat the test". Moreover, once you know what score you need, you will also understand that you do not have to get the full amount of points, but only a fraction (around 80 points) to be successful.

The ETS TOEFL iBT® is an internationally recognized test that is accepted worldwide. You can take the test as often as you like and your test score is valid for two years. Having a TOEFL score will open a lot of doors for you and it is easier to train for the TOEFL than you think. The TOEFL tests your ability to use and understand English at university level. The TOEFL consists of four parts: reading, listening, speaking and writing (a maximum of 30 points per skill), but it also evaluates how well you combine these skills. 


You will read several reading passages and answer multiple-choice questions about each reading passage. You will have 60 -100 minutes to complete the reading section. 


You will listen to several lectures and campus-related conversations and answer multiple-choice questions about each listening passage. You will have 60 -90 minutes to complete the listening section. 


You will complete 6 speaking tasks in just 20 minutes. Your answers will be recorded. You will be asked to express your opinion or to summarize, compare and comment on what you have read and heard. 


You will complete 2 writing tasks. One writing task requires you to compare a listening and a reading passage, while the other writing task is a classic essay in which you express your personal opinion and experiences. 

You can learn how to master those skills and how to develop strategies to "beat the test". Here are 5 STEPS you can take to demystify the TOEFL and to conquer these tasks successfully: 

1. Go to the official ETS TOEFL website and read about the TOEFL: 


2. Download a free sample test and take the test at home:  


3. Record and bring your test results to World Class Languages and get a TOEFL score from an experienced TOEFL teacher at an affordable rate.

4. Discuss your score with an experienced TOEFL teacher and purchase a package of lessons tailored to your needs and your individual situation.

5. Be prepared, know what to expect and take the test with confidence. 

Do you have any questions? Speak with an expert today. We can help you "beat the test" and pave your road to academic success in the United States.

About the author: Renata Urban is a professional, resourceful and patient language and communication skills trainer with many years of experience in ESL and foreign language training, test preparation and intercultural training. Having grown up bilingually (English and German) and having studied several foreign languages throughout her life (Italian, French and Spanish amongst others) has deepened her understanding of problem areas when learning a foreign language and how to solve these issues. Renata specializes in test preparation and has gained invaluable experience in preparing non-native speakers of English for the TOEFL and all Cambridge ESL tests. She will customize the training to her students' individual needs and go the extra distance to help them succeed. Renata is an empathic training professional, passionate about languages and intercultural communication, helping learners achieve their goals and making a difference in people's lives.


With over twenty countries speaking Spanish as their official language, which Spanish is better? Which dialect of Spanish should I learn? From which country should my Spanish teacher be? How much does Spanish really differ across different cultures? These are the questions that language learners often ask, and in this article I will share my opinion as well as additional resources to shed some light on the topic.

When starting to learn Spanish and choosing a teacher, first, it is important to identify your reasons for learning the language. Is it because most of your colleagues are from Mexico and you want to better communicate with them? Or, does your girlfriend come from Ecuador and you want to be able to interact with her family? Or, is it because you love to dance salsa and want to understand Marc Anthony's Vivir La Vida? If you have a particular country of interest, you might want to choose a teacher who comes from that country or who has spent some time living there or who is familiar with its people and culture. This way, from the very beginning, you will be learning the dialect of Spanish with which you will be interacting very closely, and there will be no “surprises” in terms of pronunciation or vocabulary.

It doesn't mean, however, that if you learn from a teacher from Peru, you will be unable to communicate with Venezuelans. Spanish spoken in various countries around the world is essentially the same, because it is the same language, and there are some slight variations in pronunciation and vocabulary, and these variations, which can vary from country to country, or sometimes from one region to another, are called dialects. People who speak different dialects can understand each other, but people who speak different languages can’t.

what kind of spanish do you speak

Most variations in Spanish dialects around the world are reflected in the use of personal pronouns, vocabulary, and pronunciation. For example, instead of using “tu” as an informal way of addressing people, some dialects use “vos”, while “vosotros” is used instead of “ustedes” as a way to address a group of people. In terms of vocabulary, there are certain words that are universal across countries, and yet in some a preference is given to a unique way of identifying an object. For example, the word for “umbrella” is “paraguas”, whereas in Colombia, you are more likely to hear “sombrilla”, and such examples are many. In addition to that, the pronunciation of some sounds varies from country to country – Argentineans and Uruguayans pronounce the “ll” sound (as in “me llamo …”) as “sh”, while in other countries that sound is pronounced as “y” in “yellow” and yet in others as “j” in “jolly”. Spaniards also have a distinct way of pronouncing "c" which sounds like the American "th" sound (just pay attention to how Enrique Iglesias pronounces "coraTHon" or how Spaniards say “graTHias”). Once you begin learning Spanish, you will start to recognize these differences in pronunciation when you come in contact with people who speak that dialect.

Now, to the question about which Spanish is “better”… Some nations brag about their Spanish being the purest form after the original Castilian Spanish – I have personally met many Colombians, Ecuadorians, Peruvians, and Venezuelans who swore to me that their dialect of Spanish is sought after because of its purity. In every country there are people who speak a language properly while others do not and for that reason you might want to study with an educated native speaker if you wish to attain proper grammar and pronunciation. (If, on the other hand, you are an undercover cop who will be infiltrating a gang, perhaps it is a better idea to learn street Spanish so as to not stick out as a sore thumb with your proper Spanish. Just a thought J.) At any rate, just because of differences in pronunciation, one dialect of Spanish is in no way superior or inferior to another. Throughout the many years of learning Spanish I have had teachers from Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. In my opinion, discovering the variations in expressions and vocabulary – the personal twist that each country puts on Spanish – makes learning the language that much more fun! And along with the language comes the fun of each country's cuisine, folklore, music and rich culture! So whichever country’s dialect of Spanish you choose, have fun learning it and enjoy applying it to practicing speaking it with native speakers and soon you will see that people from many different countries understand your Spanish! 

To learn about the various expressions specific to each Spanish-speaking country, visit the site Veinte Mundos and then click on the country of interest: HTTP://WWW.VEINTEMUNDOS.COM/EN/SPANISH/

For more in-depth information about dialects and regional differences in Spanish watch this video: HTTP://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?V=SPFGEGLZ4C4

What are your reasons for learning Spanish? Submit a video, photo, or short story about what motivates you to learn Spanish for you for a chance to win a $50 gift card! More details here: HTTP://WWW.WORLDCLASSLANGUAGES.COM/BLOG/WHAT-ARE-YOUR-REASONS-FOR-LEARNING-A-FOREIGN-LANGUAGE.HTML

Watch a video of our student Chris explaining in Spanish why learning this language is important to her: HTTPS://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?V=MHJ8-OGQXCM#T=11

Coming soon! A video of our Spanish teacher Rosario from Colombia talking about Colombian Spanish and the four regional dialects of Spanish that exist in Colombia.

Coming soon! A video to help learners of Spanish to have their proficiency level evaluated from the comfort of their home (with the help of some technology, of course!)


learning french

“Where there is a will, there is a way.” Recently, when asked the question ‘How did I learn to speak French?” I immediately began describing WHY I learned French. Unless the WHY is strong enough to carry you through the journey of language learning, no method, no matter how scientific, how easy, or how intense will bring you to the desired outcome: fluency.

Here is what happened: My parents decided to take me to Europe when I was eleven years old. We stayed in Nice on the French Riviera for two nights before driving to Venice along the coast. In Nice, we stayed at a very elegant hotel. During that visit, I remember three things in particular. The bellboy kept staring at me which made me very self-conscious. Then I realized, he was staring at the magazine I had in my hands, ‘Mad Magazine’. Secondly, in France, back in the mid-1960s, young girls didn’t wear shorts. When I sported a polka dot green short set for a stroll along the boardwalk, the French ladies would laugh and point as they walked by. Thirdly, while I sat on the beach, watching the volleyball players, sometimes the ball would roll close to my towel. Finally, I picked it up and threw it back to one of the players. When I did so, he shouted out, “Merci, Mademoiselle!” It was the first time I had been called “Mademoiselle.” That made me feel so wonderful, and so adult, not at all like a skinny, shy child in polka dot shorts.

The seed of language learning had been planted: Knowing French would make me a better person. Knowing French might make me feel more womanly as well.

However the seed of motivation did not take root until much later in life, in my twenties, when I decided upon the advice of a family friend to go to Paris and study French at the Sorbonne. Even though Spanish had been my language of choice in high school, I was told that all writers should go to Paris. It seemed like a good idea, and certainly, the two years spent in Paris studying French was my rite of passage into adulthood.

As for the method of study, there’s no substitution for total immersion in French culture with day-to-day exposure to the language. I like to think of it as the ‘sink-or-swim’ method of language learning. For those that do not have the opportunity to reside in a country where French is the major spoken language, total immersion classes are a good alternative. Daily practice is essential for getting your brain ‘thinking in the language’. When you start waking up in the morning with French words dancing in your head, then you are well on your way to acquiring the language.

For me, learning a second language has been a tremendous gift, but it is a gift that needs to be nurtured. If you feel that your language skills are slipping, it’s time to sign up for a refresher class. Each new language you learn is the door to an exciting world with endless possibilities.

Chris Fuller, the author or this article, is a writer, world traveler and language enthusiast, who is currently working on perfecting her Spanish. 


learning languages florida

Are you an “old school’ Learner? Join the club. I’m not stupid, but I’m slow.  Ask me to plunge into conversation in a language I barely know?  Well, you might as well tell me to stand up in front of a group of strangers and take off my clothes.  Learning can be scary.  It ’s no game for some Learners. 

That’s why I need to share with you, ASAP, my ‘born-again’ experience this summer of learning through conversation.  Our afternoon classes always began with at least fifteen minutes of casual conversation.  No one was forced to participate, but depending on the subject everyone was eager to throw in a few phrases even if it took us a long time to find the right word, or more often than not, the right verb tense.

As much as you might dread stuttering and stumbling around in language, conversation practice serves its purpose.  No one needs to tell you where you need help.  You’ll know immediately as you scramble to remember the past tense of ‘to go’.  How do I express my past actions?  How do I translate all those’ ifs, ands and buts’ that I never even think about in my native language?

Conversation is your daily road map of what you ‘need to know’ to move forward.  Think of each conversation as a date.  Okay, so you’re on a first name basis - but where can we go from here?  Before you can move forward, sometimes you have to come up with some background history - and that means brushing up on your past tense verbs.  

And most important:  take the time to laugh.  Given the right dynamics,  language classes can be so much more than parrotingdialogues out of workbooks.  The right teacher brings out the joy, humor, and sometimes horrors of daily experiences living in new surroundings.  Even the bad turns good, when a student explains how he successfully fended off a would-be mugger.  Learning about what motivates other learners to approach a new language can expand your horizons also.  This summer I met a Korean student who was studying Spanish to pursue his passion:  Spanish classical literature.  Wow.  I never even considered that the famed Casanova was authored by a guy who spent much of his time in the monastic world.

Okay, so you’ve survived your first real person-to-person conversation and what do you need to do today to make tomorrow’s conversation even better?

To be continued . . .


Chris Card Fuller is a veteran blogger, currently authoring WWW.PARISGIRLSHOPPING.COM 

Passionate for languages, her recent favorite is Spanish.  What’s yours? 


why learn a foreign language

There are many reasons why learning Spanish, Italian, Chinese, or another foreign language is good for you and the list of benefits is long. However, our individual reasons for learning a language are unique and are what really drives us to master communication in a foreign language.

Share with us what compels you to learn a foreign language through a photo, video, or a short story. Submissions must be made right here by posting a photo, text, or a link to a YouTube video. It is not necessary to be a student of World Class Languages in order to participate in this contest – all language enthusiasts are welcome! Submissions can be made in English or in whichever foreign language you are learning. 

Here is an example of an entry by a student who is currently taking private lessons to learn Spanish at World Class Languages:

Quisiera aprender español para conocer mejor la cultura Latina y lo más importante para mi sería cultivar una profunda amistad con nuestros amigos Latinos. Desde que mi marido y yo vivimos en Flroida, hemos encontrado amigos de Argentina, de Puerto Rico, de Perú y de Colombia. Pero nuestra amistad es limitada por la falta de comunicación a causa de la diferencia de lenguas. Creo que la cultura española es muy rica, pero en el colegio y en la universidad aprendí poco sobre la historia de España. Me gusta mucho la musica Latina y quiero comprender las palabras de las canciónes. Vivo en la Florida, donde una gran parte de la población habla español. Es lógico que quiera aprender español porque, por seguro, el español será la lengua lo más hablada en la Florida en poco tiempo.
— Chris Card Fuller, language enthusiast, globe trotter, educator, writer

Here is a short video that Chris recorded of herself explaining the same reasons:


Looking forward to receiving your inquiries and learning more about your motivation to explore other languages! 


Winter is the time when our bodies long for hearty foods that warm up our souls, when the chilly weather makes us want to snuggle in the comfort of our homes, curled up on the couch under a soft throw blanket watching a favorite movie. Even in Florida. When the temperature dips to below sixty, what can be better than a cup of delicious home-made soup? 

Most of the ingredients on this list can be found in any house or can be easily obtained for very little money. This recipe was shared by Lucas, a charming French man with shoulder-length hair and a devious sparkle in his eye. I hope to convince to share more of his culinary secrets with me because his cooking is truly magical! 

The typical French onion soup does not contain potatoes, but this version does, and, frankly, being Russian, I love potatoes in any culinary manifestation. In my opinion, the more ingredients, the merrier, and it gives the soup more substance. 


Behind-the-scenes and the final masterpiece.

Here are the ingredients you will need for four servings of soup:

  • 2 medium-sized onions
  • 3 potatoes (creamy white potatoes or Idaho potatoes)
  • extra virgin olive oil for sautéing onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • several slices of white bread - old stale bread or fresh bread
  • parmesan cheese, grated (anywhere from half a cup to a one cup - depending on how much you love cheese)
  • 1 glass of dry white wine
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Onion soup is best served in French onion soup bowls or crocks. If you choose regular bowls or ramekins, they should be able to withstand the heat of the oven where the last step of the preparation takes place.


Peel the potatoes and onions. Chop the onions, slice the potatoes. Heat up olive oil in a medium-size pot, sauté the onions on medium high, add salt, and sauté until onions become of gold caramel color, turning them over frequently. This caramel color is the secret to making a delicious onion soup. Then add potatoes, add hot water to cover the potatoes and onions. 

While the potatoes are being cooked (which will take about 20-25 minutes), if you don't have stale bread, toast fresh bread in the oven and then rub garlic on it to have the flavor of garlic envelop and penetrate the bread. 

When the potatoes are almost ready (you can break them into smaller pieces with a spatula as you stir), add wine to the pot, and bring the pot back to rigorous boil. The alcohol will evaporate but the wine will give the soup delectable taste. Add black pepper to taste. 

Take the individual bowls in which the soup will be served and place pieces of garlic bread broken into small pieces to the bottom, then add the soup, cover it with grated Parmesan cheese, approximately four spoonfuls, so that the entire soup is covered with a quarter of inch of cheese. Then put the bowls in the oven and broil for a few minutes until the cheese melts. Serve immediately and wait patiently for the soup to cool off a little bit as it will be extremely hot.

Bon appétit! 


The arrival of New Year is symbolic of a new beginning, new chapter in life, and is celebrated with much fervor in many countries. Although some traditions are similar, I was curious to find out from my Spanish teacher Rosario that in Colombia there are some superstitions and beliefs about new year's celebration that are quite peculiar. To watch the complete video of Rosariodescribing in Spanish how the arrival of New Year is celebrated in Colombia, click here: HTTPS://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?V=AY0DKPQE_OY

Here is a brief description of Colombian superstitions and traditions (in English and in Spanish) when it comes to celebrating New Year:

When the clock strikes twelve at the end of the year, for each chime of the bell Colombians eat a grape and make a wish, for a total of twelve grapes and wishes for the new year. 

Globe-trotters will appreciate this one: grabbing a suitcase and going around the block with it is believed to bring local or international travels in the coming year. 

Beans, a staple in many Latin Ameircan countries, is a symbol of prosperity and scattering it around the house or putting up bags of it in different parts of the house is believed to bring good luck to all members of the family.

The most peculiar, however, is the Colombian tradition to wear yellow underwear, which is supposed to bring good luck!

Watch the video to learn about one more Colombian tradition that marks the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one: HTTPS://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?V=AY0DKPQE_OY 



La esperanza de que el nuevo año será mejor, viene cargado de optimismo y de múltiples creencias llamados agüeros para aumentar la salud, la suerte, la felicidad, los viajes y el dinero. 

Estas prácticas vienen de generación en generación y se realizan los 31 de diciembre de cada año. Las más comunes son: 

Las 12 uvas: Por cada campanada del reloj, se come una uva pidiendo en cada una de ellas un deseo. 

Vuelta con maleta por las calles: Darle la vuelta a la cuadra donde vivimos, es símbolo de viajes ya sean locales o internacionales. 

Champaña: Es sinónimo de prosperidad y fortuna para la persona que se baña en ella. 

Lentejas: Esparcir este alimento por la casa representa abundancia para todos los miembros del hogar. 

Ropa interior amarilla: Es una de las costumbres más populares y consiste en usarla al revés el 31 de diciembre para obtener buena suerte durante el siguiente año.


teaching languages

Despite the natural knack for teaching – at the age of eight I taught a friend how to ride a bicycle to discover later that I, myself, did not know how to ride a bicycle – my very first official language teaching experience was a disaster. When asked to teach Russian to a beginner (and having been theoretically trained on how to do that) I stayed with the student for about fifteen minutes, then excused myself and cried for forty five minutes because my student had already known the things I was planning to teach her and I did not know what to do with her! After that day I swore that I would never teach again. That was twelve years ago and now, with a more than ten-year teaching career, I look back at those times with a smile.

Teaching somebody how to speak a second or third language requires a special set of skills, which, like any skill, can be learned with a certain amount of guidance and practice. Luckily for me, I had wonderful mentors who taught me the art of language teaching and emphasized the importance of focusing on teaching students how to communicate in the language. Nowadays, conversational approach has been almost unanimously accepted by many as the most effective way to teach and learn another language because it allows students to jump into speaking the language and start learning how to use it. Check out these enlightening videos on language acquisition and teaching using conversational approach:



No matter what is being taught, I am convinced that the learning process must be fun. Along with being prepared, organized, knowledgeable, and all the other obvious traits of any other professional, the most important characteristics of a successful language teacher, in my opinion, is creativity. Being able to spark your students’ interest, keep them engaged, and help them learn in a fun and easy way are what makes an amazing teacher.  

Check out our Pinterest board for some creative ideas, as well as inspirational, fun, and educational resources:HTTP://WWW.PINTEREST.COM/WRLDCLSSLNGGS/TEACHING/

 "Who dares to teach must never seize to learn", said John Cotton Dana. And what better way to learn than from the other fellow teachers? Call me old-fashioned, but I am very much a believer in personal face-to-face communication that no technology can replace, and coming together to share ideas can be a super powerful tool in growing as effective teachers. Oftentimes we, teachers, do not have the opportunity to observe our colleagues in action and, therefore, must use our own imagination to create activities, or rely on Internet resources. The latter does offer access to a wealth of ideas, but actually talking to another teacher and finding out what has worked for them, and being able to share your personal insights, is a valuable tool that we ought to take advantage of more often.

If you are a teacher in the South Florida area and would like to attend one of our exciting teacher training workshops - check out the schedule of upcoming seminars. 

Happy teaching! 


One late lazy evening, when vacationing in Turkey, my husband got up, rounded up all the family members and with determination proclaimed, “We are going to eat şirdan (shirdan)”. Being open to tasting a new culinary delight, I was filled with anticipation as we drove around deserted streets of night Adana, a city located in the southeast of Turkey. We perused the city for a while, as if looking for a place the address of which we forgot, until on the sidewalk of one of the streets we saw a small kiosk, the roof and walls of which were made of plastic sheets, with a sign Kemal’s Şirdan printed in red over yellow background. Kemal, a typical-looking Turk with salt and pepper hair, stubble on his face and mischievous wink in his smile, was sitting behind a small table, was inviting us to join two other men who were already devouring something and not paying any attention to our arrival.

My first yummy encounter with this weird-looking deliciousness

We sat down. Our hands were sprayed with some lemony spray that smelled like cologne, but which, I was told, was made of lemon essence mixed with alcohol – think, homemade hand sanitizer. Then our host took the lid off a thermos-like container which kept his signature dish hot, and using tongs, plopped something that looked like a body part on a piece of brown wrapping paper for each one of us. I observed how others ate and imitated. Each patron to this very intimate eatery removed the string that kept the stuffing inside during cooking and helped themselves to seasoning, which was arranged on the table in large glass bowls and which included coarsely ground salt mixed with cumin, red pepper flakes, and pickled peppers. I did what everyone else did and took a bite. The taste was heavenly!

Now, as far as appearance is concerned, I must tell you that şirdan looks like a ... um... well... a penis. That might make the idea of eating it sound repulsive. The good news is that it is made out of a part of sheep’s intestine which first must be cleaned out really well, and then stuffed with seasoned rice and meat, sewn up, and boiled. The idea might still be repulsive to some, but the truth is that it tastes delectable! It melts in your mouth and keeps you craving for more. Unless you start looking at it and the thought of it being an animal’s internal organ makes you want to gag… It’s all the matter of perception, after all!

I discovered that şirdan(shirdan) is not common in other parts of Turkey, and is predominantly an Adana dish. My brother-in-law boasts: “we don’t waste any part of the animal, we eat everything”, and I am sure glad that it is so!

After I discovered şirdan, I tried it at several different places around the city – twice inside small restaurants, and several times outside, on the street, which for me was more romantic. Perhaps, the freshness of April night in Adana added more romance to this experience, which I am looking forward to reliving as soon as I have a chance to step on Adana soil again!


Here are some videos about Turkish food that might make you extremely hungry:

Turkish Culinary Guide



zleme: Turkish street food



Turkish Foods & Kitchen, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations




Despite the natural knack for languages that everyone claims I have, learning Turkish has been quite a challenge for me. Getting married to a Turk is what compelled me to start learning this language in the first place. “What better way to learn a language than being married to a person who speaks it?” I thought to myself. “Piece of cake! I will be conversational in no time!” The fact that Turkish belongs to a Turkic family of languages and has nothing to do with Spanish, French, English, Russian, or Japanese did not scare me but, quite the opposite, ignited my desire to learn this language precisely because it  was nothing like any of the languages with which I was familiar. Being an academic learner that I am, I ordered several books on learning Turkish which were recommended to me by a Turkish teacher. I learned from books, I learned from listening to my husband talk to his friends, picking out random words and asking what they meant, and, boy, did I learn while I was in Turkey for five weeks! During those five weeks in Turkey I would amuse my husband’s family by showing off the few phrases and sentences I learned, in response to which people commented that I was çok zeki (chok zeki - very smart (yeah, right!)). After the supply of my memorized Turkish would run out, I would be surrounded by incessant chattering of aunts, cousins, distant relatives, and friends; the meaning of that chatter was not comprehensible to my ear, and it made me feel so alone in a roomful of people... It also made me determined that I WILL learn this language in order not to feel that way again. Undoubtedly, being in Turkey was the most tremendous opportunity to learn and LIVE the Turkish language and culture, and I am looking forward to another such adventure which I resolve to begin better equipped!

Here are the resources that I have been using to help me befriend the Turkish language:

Books for learning Turkish.

Gökkuşağı Türkçe is a very colorful series oriented for school children but which can also be used for adults. There is a Dil Bilgisi (grammar book), Ders Kitabi (student book), Çalişma Kitabɪ (workbook), and audio CD to accompany each level. The books are entirely in Turkish so you will need a teacher or a Turkish-speaking friend to guide you. There is also a vocabulary CD-ROM which makes learning new vocabulary such as things around the house, food, etc. fun and easy. You can order this series fromWWW.ANTSTORES.COM and they have a variety of other books for Turkish language learners.

Teach Yourself Turkish with CDs is another book that I would recommend for those who must learn with a book. Thematic dialogues in the beginning of each chapter are also recorded on the audio CD, and easy grammar explanations are followed by exercises to practice. HTTP://WWW.AMAZON.COM/TEACH-YOURSELF-BEGINNERS-TURKISH-LANGUAGES/DP/0340845376



Busuu is an online community of language learners, so you can make new friends who are native speakers of Turkish and with whom you can practice and learn. In addition to the social aspect of this website, Busuu is a wonderful resource for an audio-visual learner because it has a series of lessons, many of which are free. Lessons are organized according to topic, for example, emotions, talking on the phone, family, and level. Each unit is set up as a series of flashcards which display an image, a written phrase, word, or sentence, and the audio component which allows you to listen to it as many times as you wish. In addition to flashcards that teach you vocabulary and pronunciation, each unit also contains practice exercises and tests which rate how well you’ve learned the material. Many introductory lessons are free, and as you get to a higher level, you pay a small fee for each lesson. It is a cool app to use on your phone when you have a few extra minutes to spare and you don’t want to just kill time.


Turkish movies.

In many cases they will make you cry your eyes out, but it’s totally worth it. My favorite ones are:




Aşk Tesadüfleri Sever (Love Loves Coincidences)HTTP://WWW.FLICKR.COM/PHOTOS/CHICAGOTURKISHFILM/7612787854/



Turkish music.

Listening to Turkish radio in the car is entertaining and educational! I love Kral Pop, which translates as King of Pop. You can listen to it by downloading a Tunein radio app on your phone or online: HTTP://TUNEIN.COM/RADIO/KRAL-POP-947-S25210/


Good luck on your quest of conquering Turkish, or at least making it your friend!


Russian Maslenitsa, which is often translated into English as Butter Week, Pancake Week, or Cheesefare Week, is a one-week folk and religious holiday before commencement of the Orthodox Lent, and which in 2013 is celebrated from March 11 until March 17. Before the advent of Christianity in Russia, around the time of the spring solstice people celebrated the imminent end of winter and the long-awaited beginning of spring. Each day of the Maslenitsa week had its own name and traditions associated with it. Usually, a human-like effigy of winter was made out of straw and other materials in the beginning of the week, and was burnt at the end of the week to symbolize the end of winter. In addition to that, glistening pancakes, round and hot like the sun, were cooked in every home and consumed in abundant quantities. The holiday was accompanied by joyous celebrations, singing, dancing, snowball fights, sliding off ice mountains, and visiting family members. During these festivities men would also choose future brides and arrangements for marriages would be made, and single young girls would steal shy flirtatious glances at young men. With the advent of Christianity in Russia Maslenitsa started being celebrated right before the beginning of Great Lent, during the seventh week before Eastern Orthodox Easter. Maslenitsa was the last week to enjoy eggs and dairy products, while consumption of meat and fish was already prohibited.

In the modern-day Russia not everyone celebrates Maslenitsa the entire week and not everybody observes the Great Lent. However, this celebration of arrival of spring is always accompanied with delicious bliny, or pancakes. Just as French crepes, Russian pancakes are very thin. For food lovers, here is a very easy and quick way of preparing bliny, which was shared by our student Lana Davis, who also happens to be an avid fan of culinary arts, travel, painting, and languages:


  • 1 small peach or strawberry yogurt (feel free to use plain yogurt)
  • 500 ml milk
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 3 eggs
  • about 1½ cups flour (to be adjusted)

To prepare the batter, in a large bowl combine yogurt, eggs and milk; beat them with a mixer at medium to high speed. Add 1 cup of flour and continue mixing at lower speed until the mixture forms into smooth batter without lumps. Add sugar and salt. Stir well and start baking.


You will need a skillet with a heavy bottom, preferably non-stick. Add 2 tbsp of oil and heat up the skillet on medium to high heat. Add the first batch of batter (approximately half a ladle) and quickly swirl the pan around to evenly spread the batter over the surface of the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes on one side, then, using a thin spatula, carefully flip it over and cook on the other side. The first blin/pancake is most likely to be shapeless and too greasy, so you can through it away, but it is a necessary procedure to prepare the skillet. The first pancake also indicates whether you need to adjust the batter: if the batter is too thick, add a little bit more milk; if the first pancake tears easily, it means you need to add some more flour.

Once bliny are ready, serve them hot with jam or honey, caviar and champagne, smoked fish, Nutella, or just with a cup of hot tea. Bon appétit, or, as we say in Russian, ПРИЯТНОГО АППЕТИТА!


I remember receiving a woven orange pouch, the size of a matchbook, tied with a string. When I carefully untied the string and emptied the content of the pouch onto the table, I discovered a huge family of tiny, colorfully dressed people. These were tiny dolls, less than half an inch tall, made of tiny twigs that were tied together, and then decorated with yarn for hair, scraps of fabric for clothing, eyes and mouths drawn on their faces.

guatemalan worry dolls

“What are they?” I asked the person who gifted them to me.

“They are worry dolls,” followed the answer.

“Worry dolls,” I repeated, mesmerized by the intricate details of almost a dozen little people that all fit on the palm of my hand.

I learned that worry dolls are traditionally made in Guatemala, where they were created by indigenous people many centuries ago as a remedy for worrying. To alleviate anxiety, before going to bed, you must tell each doll a worry that you have, after which you place the dolls under your pillow, and while you are sleeping, the dolls will take away your worries. To reinforce a child’s belief that worry dolls do their work diligently, parents sometimes remove worry dolls from under the child’s pillow. The psychological effect of worry dolls can be explained by the fact that, according to psychologists, saying what we fear or worry about out loud makes these fears lose their power, hence, less anxiety and better sleep.

I renamed my dolls into “don’t worry dolls”.  


This year spring brought about a stealthy condition akin to depression which replaced my usual joyfulness and eagerness to accomplish things. This inert condition of being in a rut is familiar to many, I bet; it creeps in when life settles into the mundane and routine predicts our schedules and activities. Looking at the variety of projects that I created for myself and that were once perceived as wonderful, I would think about all the work that would need to go into actually getting these projects accomplished, and I would get intimidated. Instead of taking action, I would sit myself onto the couch with a cup of coffee (or a pint of ice cream) hoping that perhaps a jolt of caffeine (or half a kilo of sugar) will give me what it takes to start actually DOING what needs to be done. I would remember my mother’s words when she encouraged me whenever I dreaded doing something: “your eyes are afraid, but your hands are doing [the work]”. However powerful, even those words were not able to move me from the couch.

I found the cure for this condition just the other day through the people who have been wonderfully placed in my life. A client told me how happy she was with a private teacher who started tutoring her eight-year-old in reading and math. “We are very happy with Marta - she has an incredible way of igniting my daughter’s interest in learning; and my daughter runs to hug her new teacher and looks forward to every lesson!” When I heard those words I started saying how much of an inspiration Marta is to me personally, how I have never seen her have a bad day, and that she is always upbeat, positive, eager to learn and share her knowledge with others, always smiling and radiating happiness. As I was speaking these words, I caught myself thinking that I want to be like Marta, an always-happy-and-productive inspiration to others.

Later that day I went to the house of my Spanish teacher in whom I confide all my secrets in my not-yet-perfect Spanish, and who, after listening to me whine about not wanting to do anything, told me that she starts every day with ENTHUSIASM. Waking up every morning, Rosario, whom I don’t ever recall seeing angry, disconcerted, or having a bad day, looks forward to the classes she will teach and things she will do. She talked about her mother, who even at the age of 82 wanted to go visit another city in her native Colombia and assured her daughter that she could still sew, knit, and do other type of work. As Rosario was telling the story about her late mother with tears in her eyes, about how she didn't fear work, it made me think of the last line in Voltaire’s Candide “we must cultivate our garden”…

Thinking about Marta and the words of Rosario, I decided to make ENTHUSIASM my word of the day, my slogan to keep me moving forward. Perhaps this article belongs in the realm of self-help and inspiration, but, after giving it some thought, I realized that enthusiasm applies to learning languages as well. How often do we get excited about learning a new language, sign up for a class, buy a book, or resolve to watch YouTube videos to start learning, and then after a while the flame dies down and the only thing that is left from the dream to speak a foreign language is the remorse for not having done what it takes to actually achieve that goal? How often do we as teachers (let’s be honest, it does happen from time to time) get into a routine, settle into our comfort zone, and continue teaching without trying to reinvent ourselves and think outside the old proven methods?  And how much fun is it to learn with a teacher who always thinks of new ways to interest her students with songs, games, and other exercises that are far from the traditional classroom but produce excellent results (like my wonderful Italian teacher Laura – grazie!) What is the prescription for always being excited and passionate about projects, life, languages?

I resolved to be ENTHUSIASTIC, just like Rosario taught me. Excited and ready to bring into life and to fruition all those projects and ideas that are born in my head, I decided to share this excitement with others, and, having googled “enthusiasm”, I came across the following quote by a photographer Gordon Parks: “Enthusiasm is the electricity of life. How do you get it? You act enthusiastic until you make it a habit.” Fake it till you make it, in other words, or become an energizer bunny like Marta, resolve every morning to wake up with enthusiasm like Rosario, and cultivate your garden one inch at a time even though your eyes are horrified by what seems to be an insurmountable amount of work. This quote convinced me to make ENTHUSIASM a mandatory supplement to my daily morning coffee, a habit, that will help me stay passionate about my teaching, work, and hobbies.   


Living in South Florida with its diverse mix of cultures, I often meet parents who want to teach their children their heritage language. These parents want their kids to understand and speak the language to be able to communicate with their grandparents and relatives who still live “back home”, and understand and appreciate their cultural heritage.  How can you teach your child another language when everything around you is primarily in English?

“Just speak to the child in your language,” is the advice you hear from friends and neighbors.

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? After all, this is how we humans acquire our native tongue – by observing the natural interaction between parents, immediate family members and caretakers, and by being spoken to in one language since birth. Somehow, the human brain just figures out the grammar of the language and by the age of 5 a child can speak its native tongue fluently.

If you speak to some of these parents trying to teach their children a minority language in a predominantly English-speaking environment, you will learn that raising a bilingual child is not as easy as it sounds. Researchers determined that there are certain things parents can do to ensure their success on the path of teaching their offspring a minority language, and here are some of the suggestions.

Talk to the child only in the minority language, no matter what. The dominant language, English, in our case, will penetrate every aspect of the child’s life, especially once they start going to school, since most of the input such as school, television, media, and surrounding environment are in English. Therefore, it is important to create as much input in minority language as possible.

Prepare to speak the minority language before your child is born. If both parents speak the minority language, they should switch to speaking only that language at least six weeks prior to the arrival of the newborn, as researchers say that it takes approximately that long for this type of communication to become a habit. As a native Russian speaker who has lived in the U.S. for thirteen years, I can relate: sometimes it is easier for me to express an idea in English rather than in Russian!

Provide your child with materials in the minority language, for example, books and cartoons. By recognizing that your minority language is a medium to understanding these, the child will learn the value of the language. However, it is recommended not to rely on television as a major input for the second language, as human interaction remains the most effective medium for teaching language skills to a child. Having your child attend a language immersion program in your area, where he can be spoken to in the second language might greatly help parents in the education process.

Become a part of the network of other people with children who speak the minority language. If your child realizes that there is a community of people who speak this language, it will help him understand that it is more than just a language spoken at home. If there are any language programs in your area, attending those classes will help develop language skills and nourish the love for learning it.

Raising a bilingual child in an environment where one language is dominant is no easy task. Is it worth a try? Definitely. I have met a lot of adults who regret the fact that their parents did not teach them their heritage language.

Here are some additional resources on raising a bilingual child:




Do you have any tips on how to raise a bilingual child? What works for your family? Please feel free to share your experiences, challenges, and advice!


A rational, educated person might argue that superstitions are nonsensical. A Brazilian lady told me once not to put my purse on the floor because, according to a Brazilian superstition, my money “will run out”. I like to think of myself as rational and educated, but ever since that incident I avoid putting my purse on the floor, and I am not even Brazilian! However silly and irrational they are, superstitions are inherent in every culture and are a part of who we are. Here are some Russian superstitions that I grew up with and with which most Russians are familiar.

Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia, my motherland

Before going on a trip, one must sit down for a few minutes. We say “присядем на дорожку” [prisyadem na doroshku], which can be translated as «let’s sit down before we hit the road.” Usually, friends and family who are seeing you off or taking you to the airport or train station will sit down with you. Out of all superstitions this one is the most reasonable one because it has a very sound explanation. Preparing for a trip and packing can be frantic and stressful, therefore, sitting down and calming yourself for just a few minutes has a soothing effect that also allows you to ensure you remember to bring the most important things such as passports, tickets, and money.

If you are invited to a Russian person’s home and you are the happy type who likes to sing, hum and whistle wherever you go, refrain from whistling at your Russian friend’s house. “Don’t whistle, there won’t be any money” is what you might hear in response to your whistling. At least that is what I heard from my parents when, after my brother taught me how to whistle, I attempted to practice my whistling skills at home.

It is a bad omen to return back home if you forget something. They even sing about it in songs («возвращаться плохая примета» - [vozvrashat’sya plohaya primeta]). This superstition has several variations. Some people say that if you do return home, in order to ward off bad luck, you need to look in the mirror before heading out again, while others say that you need to look in the mirror and say hello to yourself. I am embarrassed to say that I do look in the mirror and give myself a nod before leaving the house for the second time...

Giving your lover or significant other a watch or shoes as a present is a foreboding of breaking up with this person. The logical explanation behind this belief is that a watch “times” how long the relationship will last, and shoes mean that the person will “walk out of your life”.

Don’t celebrate a birthday early. This superstition baffles me. In my opinion, if you celebrate early and then something unfortunate happens, at least you have celebrated. Otherwise, you are just completely out of luck! However, most Russians do not share my point of view and celebrating a birthday early is a no-no. 

When someone leaves the house to travel to another city, don’t sweep, vaccuum, or wash the floor for a few days, otherwise, the person might not have a smooth trip. My mother taught me not to clean the floor for one-two days after the person leaves, whereas my sister-in-law instructed me not to clean the floor for seven days until her parents safely arrived in Western Russia after departing from the Far East!

There are a lot of other superstitions in the Russian culture, and some of them vary from one region to the other. If you spend a lot of time with Russian people, you will notice that they pay attention to many of these. You don’t have to make them constrict your life, but they are fun to know, a curious insight into what drives us to do what we do.

What superstitions do you have in your family?