Languages of New York City


I live about 1.5 to 2 hours from New York City, depending on where I’m going. Over the past couple of weeks, I thought it would be fun to drive down to a random section of the City and immerse in the local culture, language, food, etc. I’m not talking about walking around Midtown Manhattan and looking at the Christmas Tree, the Rockettes or Rockefeller Center. I’m talking about going to Spanish Harlem, Little Italy, Chinatown and anywhere else where they generally do not speak English and don’t eat hamburgers and  hot dogs five times a week.

I found this great interactive map which shows all of the predominant languages of NYC by geography. There’s an option to remove English and Spanish as well if you really want to drill down to the local culture. I am going to use this to plan my next trip.

Here’s the link:

Languages of New York City




Must … Learn … Spanish…

I picked up learning Spanish again, and heavy this time. No more “half-assing” these languages. Language learning is one of my passions and I decided that I need to get as close to fluent as possible in a least one of them … other than English of course. So, here’s where I’m at. I probably have an A-2 skill in Spanish, Italian and French. A-2 is what I would consider “advanced basic”. Meaning, I can read the languages with effort, converse in basic phrases and sentences with greater effort, yet probably be ultimately understood, and have little to no chance of understanding anything being spoken back to me.

I think that this is the point where most people give up. Why I am even doing this? If I can’t have a semi-intelligent conversation with anybody, what’s the use? Well, I’ve decided to get over this hurdle and I’m going to do it in Spanish!


(This is the flag of Mexico, BTW.)

I figure that if I put at least some effort into learning Spanish every day and better yet, find someone who will practice with me (ahem … my wife) 12940228_1559453554352960_907684049_n

I admit that Gina is more skilled in Spanish than I am, which actually works out better for me. Plus, she’s kind of easy on the eyes …

So, here’s my plan, which I assume will go terribly wrong at some point:

  • Do a least three segments of Duolingo every day.
  • Read something in Spanish every day.
  • Listen to something in Spanish every day.
  • Speak something in Spanish every day.
  • Flashcards for vocabulary.

That’s it. That’s the plan.

Oh and by the way, Gina and I may hit up a Mexican restaurant from time to time to further immerse myself in the culture.



Ahhh! I think I just learned the Spanish conditional!


Pimsleur Spanish just sneaked up on me and zinged me again!  Similar to when they hit me with the present perfect tense a few weeks back, today, while listening to Pimsleur Spanish II Lesson 5 in the car on my way to work, I hear “Me gustaria”.

Gustaria … it sounded to me like a place to buy meat or bread.  But actually, it is the conditional form of the verb “gustar”, meaning to like.  It’s conditional because it’s translated into English using the word “would”.  For example:

  • me gustaria – I would like (or it would be pleasing to me)
  • nos gustaria – we would like
  • les gustaria – you (formal) would like

Although it’s initially frightening on many levels, I like how Pimsleur just throws new tenses, pronouns, etc. at you without any warning or explanation whatsoever.  I agree that this is truly how a child would learn (ha! conditional!) a native language.  Nobody explains grammar to a 2 year old. Parents simply talk to them and they pick it up.  Then, theoretically, the child will learn the grammar in school.  Although even that point is open for debate nowadays.

My Spanish status right now is that I am on Pimsleur II, Lesson 5 for the second time and I am also doing a little Rosetta Stone and the Practice Makes Perfect Basic Spanish workbook.


Pimsleur is fantastic, but you need to supplement with grammar exercises.  Otherwise, I would have had no clue that “he hablado” was the present perfect tense … which is just cool to know.

“B” vs “V”

I have read dozens of articles and forums regarding the correct way to pronounce the letters B and V in Spanish.  Guess what? No clear answer!

I completely understand that country and dialect come into play. I have read that in Spain, for example, it’s considered correct to differentiate between the two letters. I also read somewhere that it is customary and correct in certain countries (Latin America), to pronounce both letters the same. Apparently you should pronounce the B/V as a “sloppy B”. Meaning, when you pronounce a word with a B in it, you should not say in a clipped, crisp Germanic manner, but with more of a half-V sound. If you think about it in English, both letters are pronounced basically the same. It’s just a matter of how close your lips are together.

My opinion, just like everything else, is that you are going to be completely understood regardless of how you pronounce the B/V. So, I’m not worrying too much about it. My goal was never to sound like a Spanish orator anyway.

Spanish Present Perfect Tense

I am finally up to Pimsleur Spanish Lesson 29!  Although, I have to say, Dr. Pimsleur just kicked it up a notch.  Out of the blue with no warning whatsoever, they hit me with …


Of course, I didn’t know it was the present perfect at the time, but starting around lesson 27, we started using sentences like, “E hablado con su madre” or “I have spoken with your mother” (I know it’s spelled wrong … just wait). The way that I study is that if Pimsleur introduces a word or concept that I am not familiar with, my goto site is .  Lo and behold!  I discovered the actual grammar to this new tense.


The present perfect tense is a compound tense.  This means that it is formed by using both a main verb and an auxiliary verb.  Specifically, the present perfect is formed by using the present tense of the verb “haber”, to have, with the past participle of the main verb.  Haber is conjugated:

  • he
  • has
  • ha
  • hemos
  • han

(I haven’t mentioned this before, but I am completely skipping the 2nd person plural conjugation of verbs.  From what I understand, it’s only used in Spain and frankly it’s one less thing that I have to learn.  Therefore, I will only be conjugating five forms of the verb for any given tense.  Sorry Spaniards!)

Ok, back to the present perfect.  You then take the conjugated forms of haber and add to it the past participle of the main verb.  For example, the past participle is formed by dropping the infinitive ending and adding either -ado or -ido; depending on whether your verb is -ar or -er/-ir.  Therefore, “He has eaten” is translated as “Ha comido”.  “I have spoken” is “He hablado”.

My study method of Pimsleur supplemented with internet and workbooks works for me very well.  Pimsleur taught me to speak Spanish in the present perfect tense without me even realizing it and then taught me the grammar.  However, the real key for me is that now when I hear it in Pimsleur, I can picture the phrase in my head spelled correctly by adding the silent “H”.


Pimsleur Spanish 13 & 14

I know it’s against Dr. Pimsleur’s rules, but I did two lessons in a row today: 13 and 14.  On short notice, I had to drive to New Britain court and since I was going to be in the car for a few hours, I figured … why not.

I think I was having delusions of grandeur as to my rapid progression in Spanish, because today’s lessons were at little difficult at first.  The lessons introduced the telling of time, which wasn’t that bad.  “son las ocho, son las siete y media, etc.” However, lesson 14 introduced pronouns for the first time.  Honestly, I had some trouble with these the first time around.  For example, you had to say something like, “I want to buy it”, which in Spanish was “Quiero comprarla”  The “la” is the pronoun referring to what you are thinking of buying. Although, the trick is to match the correct gender of the pronoun to the target noun.  So, if you are talking about buying a beer, la cervaza is feminine, and therefore the correct pronoun to tack onto the end of the verb is “la”.

On top of that, if the target noun is plural, then you have to make the pronoun plural as well (e.g., “las”).

I think though that if I do each lesson twice, I am about 90-95% correct and timely with my responses, which is good enough in my book to move on to the next lesson.  I also would never want to do any more than 2 lessons in a single day.

Immersion at Home

Ok, so the plan is to immerse myself in Spanish at home.  How will I do this?

  • Pimsleur – one lesson a day
  • Spanish Now – grammar workbook
  • El Hobbit – obviously The Hobbit in Spanish
  • Destinos – Spanish language soap opera/learning course

I truly believe that people who say they can’t learn a language simply do not try hard enough.  My theory is that if you’re going to do it … then do it!  Why take the time to learn another language and not actually learn it.

Also, I am at no time seeking fluency in any foreign language.  Would that be nice? Of course!  But not likely and I know that.  My actual goal will be to speak the language with a native speaker and be able to communicate with them.  Totally doable.

My “Realistic” Foreign Language Project


Hi.  Since this is the first post, I won’t get into too much detail.  I was simply excited to post something!

This blog is about my realistic (or maybe unrealistic?) project of learning languages.  Although I took French  and Latin in high school and college, I was never at all passionate about really learning a language other than English.  Then, I would say within the past ten years, I merely dabbled in it.  Meaning, I would read some foreign language grammar and reader textbooks, not retain anything and then just get bored and drop it.  Not very productive.

However, this time, I am going to do it!  Full steam ahead!

Over the past week, I started with the Pimsleur language course for Spanish and I have to tell you, it’s working.   It’s working very well.  I am also supplementing Pimsleur with other methods such as Destinos and reading “El Hobbit”.  Although, my level of Spanish makes it extremely difficult to get anywhere with reading even a children’s book.

I am going to try to post at regular intervals in order to chronicle my progress with Spanish and any other language that I decide to try.  Wish me luck!