advice

Por qué Duolingo NO funciona

Duolingo no funciona para aprender a hablar inglés fluidamente. Muchos alumnos que empiezan a llevar mi programa de inglés con clases en vivo me preguntan ¿Por qué no he logrado hablar inglés después de practicar meses con Duolingo? No aprenden por muchos motivos, pero en éste artículo me enfocaré en dos principales razones: la falta de contextualización y la falta de retroalimentación. En la primera parte te explicaré cómo Duolingo carece de contextualización y de qué manera trabaja con vocabulario y en la segunda ejemplificaré cómo carece de retroalimentación y listaré las razones por las que el feedback es vital para el aprendizaje del inglés.

Falta de contextualización

En aplicaciones como Duolingo sólo aprendemos palabras o frases sin mucho contexto. Podemos llegar a ganar un repertorio amplio de frases o preguntas que no podemos conectar de forma lógica en una conversación para comunicarnos en el idioma meta. Es cierto que Duolingo ofrece un vocabulario extenso incluso en temas básicos, sin embargo, prioriza el aprendizaje de léxico en vez de las funciones comunicativas. La funciones comunicativas son el uso que se le da a ciertas expresiones y formas gramaticales de un idioma para responder con propiedad a situaciones particulares como saludar a alguien, hacer una sugerencia, pedir direcciones, ofrecer una disculpa, brindar información, dar un cumplido, etc.

En lo personal, a mi me gusta mucho practicar un idioma con funciones comunicativas en conversaciones del día a día porque nos permiten ponernos en un contexto. Todas las preguntas y respuestas de esa conversación giran en torno a un tema, entonces aprendemos qué decir en dadas circunstancias, es decir, en el futuro podemos aplicar lo aprendido cuando se nos presenta la oportunidad de hablar en inglés en una circunstancia parecida. Por ejemplo, si vamos a aprender vocabulario sobre enfermedades, más útil que saber treinta y cinco nombres de enfermedades es saber en qué contexto se presentan esas palabras. Cuando te encuentras con un amigo en la calle y le preguntas cómo está y él te responde “no muy bien, tengo dolor de espalda”, ¿cómo continúas esa conversación? tener un vocabulario extenso sobre enfermedades no te ayudará de nada en esta situación, necesitas una “función comunicativa”. En este caso es mucho más útil saber como ser empático en inglés con una persona que está pasando por una dolencia o un momento difícil, necesitas aprender a decir “hay que pena”, “espero que te mejores pronto”, en inglés I’m sorry to hear that or I hope you get better soon o saber cómo dar una sugerencia “¿Por qué no visitas a mi quiropráctico?” Why don’t you see my chiropractor? Ésas son funciones comunicativas, algo que Duolingo y aplicaciones similares no incluyen en su sistema.

Falta de retroalimentación

La segunda razón-y no menos importante razón-por la que Duolingo no funciona es la carencia de retroalimentación, más conocida como “feedback”. Un profesor en vivo te acompaña en tiempo real, un docente especializado en la enseñanza de una segunda lengua creará el ambiente ideal para desarrollar tu producción oral en clase y te brindará retroalimentación inmediata. Sin duda la tecnología ha avanzado mucho y hoy en día encontramos aplicaciones que nos permiten grabar nuestra voz y compararla con la pronunciación de un nativo hablante. No obstante, incluso las aplicaciones que te permiten grabar tu voz y compararla con una computadora, no pueden ayudarte a corregir errores de pronunciación o decirte como debes poner la lengua para producir cierto sonido.

¿Entonces, no vale la pena usar Duolingo? Sí, vale la pena, pero no como herramienta principal para aprender un idioma sino más bien como una herramienta “adicional”. De hecho yo recomiendo su uso para repasar vocabulario pero si lo usas como única fuente de aprendizaje, es bastante limitante. Si quieres aprender inglés-o cualquier otro idioma-y hablarlo fluidamente, considera llevar clases con un “humano” que pueda brindarte contexto y corregir tus errores de forma inmediata, en otras palabras, un docente especializado en el aprendizaje de una segunda lengua. Aunque no puedas hacerlo de forma regular, o no cuentes con los recursos económicos para contratar a un profesor particular de forma diaria, por lo menos trata de hacerlo una vez por semana para que puedas tener una experiencia de inglés real donde apliques lo aprendido en estas aplicaciones.

Espero que éste artículo te haya servido de ayuda si aún estás indeciso sobre cómo proceder en tu proceso de aprendizaje del inglés. Aprovecho esta oportunidad para invitarte a una clase en vivo gratuita para que pruebes la metodología con nosotros, en WeSpeak Idiomas y tengas una idea de cómo trabajamos.

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B2, Blog, story

Beto, the pot-headed crazy chef

Level: B1-B2

One night in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

  • Let’s call Beto!
  • I texted him but he didn’t reply.
  • This guy… he’s playing with our feelings.
  • I know… he’s turned us into pasta addicts and then he ghosts us.

Who is Beto? Beto is this guy who makes amazing pasta dishes and lives around the corner from our apartment.

One Saturday evening…

Hungry and desperate Chris and I were walking down the road looking for a restaurant. We’d seen Beto’s restaurant before but it was closed then. The guy living next door said “take a brochure, he cooks Italian food and also delivers!” We put the brochure away and decided to call him the next day.

And so we did. We texted him and ordered an Amatriciana (a tomato-based pasta dish with bacon, onions and chilies) and a Four-cheese pasta (I think there’s no need to explain this one). The food was mouthwatering, it smelled and tasted delicious. We made a promise to ourselves to have it at least 3 times a week, I mean, $4 dollars for home-made, fresh pasta? Why in the world would I cook ever again?

Three days later…

We texted Beto. He didn’t reply. I insisted and texted again, called him twice, I was acting like a drug addict desperate for a fix. He didn’t reply until the following day “I apologize, I had to handle some family matters and couldn’t work yesterday. I’ll open again tomorrow”, it turns out he was lying! He didn’t open the day after, either.

The following Thursday…

Trying not to keep our hopes up, we texted him again but this time he was cooking! We got Amatriciana and Carbonara this time. Again, he had lived up to our expectations. Happy that he was back, we decided to fulfill the plan of getting his food delivered every day I had to teach back to back with no time to prepare dinner.

The Thursday after that…

We texted him again. Fifteen, thirty, forty-five minutes later, no reply. Hopeless, we left the house and embarked ourselves on a journey to get good food for a reasonable price, which wasn’t tacos or anything with a tortilla in it. As we were walking past Beto’s house, we saw him smoking weed with his friends in the living room of his house—doors and windows wide open. I stopped and demanded my pasta.

  • Why haven’t you replied to my messages? (with a sense of entitlement)
  • I’m sorry, you really don’t want me to cook right now. (holding on to a lamppost to keep his balance)
  • How about tomorrow? Will you open tomorrow?
  • Tomorrow I’ll definitely open. Sorry again!
  • Ok, Beto. I’ll text you tomorrow!

So, he was busy smoking weed, I get it, the guy has his own business and works when he wants to… I guess it’s his right. You should have seen me demanding my pasta from a guy that was totally high. Never in my wildest dream did I imagine I would be begging for food from a pothead. A very humbling experience, I have to say. I couldn’t help it, though. It’s like he gave us heroine to get us addicted and then left us wanting more (I’ve never tried heroine but I’m pretty sure it’s like that)

The following day…

  • Text him.
  • I just did.
  • (10 minutes later…) He hasn’t even seen the message.
  • I’ll try texting from a different number.

I had been texting Beto from Chris’s phone, thinking maybe he was overwhelmed by us, I tried contacting him from a different number. The message got through but he never replied.

The next day he had seen both our messages, two blue checks, yet, no response from him.

We’d been totally ignored, but we didn’t care, we were hungry and wanted his pasta. I swallowed my pride and called him again, he didn’t pick up the phone.

Three days later the brochure had been removed from the door… Why, Beto! why did you have to go? To this day we still dream of Beto’s pasta. I’m sure we’ll be reminded of this when we go back to the US and fail to find reasonably priced, fresh Italian food.

We’ll miss you, Beto the pot-headed crazy chef.

Vocabulary:

  • mouthwatering:food that is mouth-watering looks or smells extremely good
  • pothead: a person who smokes marijuana, especially habitually
  • demand: to ask for something very firmly, especially because you think you have a right to do this
  • entitlement: the official right to have or do something, or the amount that you have a right to receive
  • get through: to succed in speaking to someone on the telephone
Blog

Elections in the USA – The basics!

Would you like to be able to talk about the presidential elections that are being held in the US? Well, you will need a lot of new vocabulary! In this blog post I’ll show you the basic concepts you need to know:

An election for president of the United States happens every four years on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

What are the requirements to run for office?

You need to be:

  • A natural born citizen.
  • At least 35 years old.
  • A US resident for at least 14 years.

Political parties

Political parties are  organized groups of people with similar ideas or ideology about the function and scope of government.

These are some examples of political parties in Peru.

In the US, there are two main political parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Democrats are donkeys and Republicans are elephants.

The democrat and republican candidates campaign around the country to get more supporters.

You have probably heard people talk about the House of representatives, but what is it?

The United States House of Representatives is one of the two chambers or Houses. The House of Representatives shares equal responsibility for lawmaking with the U.S. Senate. As conceived by the framers of the Constitution, the House was to represent the popular will, and its members were to be directly elected by the people. In contrast, members of the Senate were appointed by the states until the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment (1913), which mandated the direct election of senators.

Who are the representatives?

They are also referred to as a congressman or congresswoman. Unlike the president, who is elected every 4 years, representatives are chosen every 2 years to serve the people of a specific congressional district. Among other duties, representatives introduce bills and resolutions, offer amendments and serve on committees.

Each state gets as many electors as it has members of Congress (House and Senate). There are currently 538 electors. Each state’s political parties choose their own slate of potential electors.

How is the population represented?

Well, although there are 50 states, there is not one representative for each state. In the US the population of the 50 states is represented proportionally.

For example, California has 53 districts, that means there is a representative for each of them, 53 representatives. The estate of Alaska is large in size but has a small population, therefore it has only one district, which means there’s only one representative for Alaska in the House.

What does a candidate need to win?

To win, a presidential candidate needs to get at least 270 votes.

Let’s compare!

I’m pretty sure elections are done in a different way in your country (because the way the US does it is pretty confusing and I don’t think it happens anywhere else in the world), so here’s an example of a comparison between the US and Peru.

More about electronic voting

There are three types of Electronic voting in USA :

  • The Paper based E vote system has a touchscreen added for the voter’s use. This system will print a hardcopy of the ballot once the voter is done. This ballot needs to be passed out the election officer so it can be counted.
  • The Direct recording electronic system has a touchscreen with digital swipe card buttons which will be used in order to make the choices. All votes are stored in a physical memory device which are sent to a special voting station for their results.
  • Internet voting is the type of vote that is done in remote locations. This type of voting service is not supervised by governmental representatives. The most common devices to used for this type of vote are: Personal computer, Television via Internet also known as i-voting and mobile phone.

Other related words:

absentee ballot (voto en ausencia), ballot, candidate, Election Assistance Commission, electoral college, electronic voting, runoff, paper ballot, paperless voting, poll, voter registration

Blog

Flying in times of COVID

I arrived at the airport alone and a little sad because I couldn’t have the “after check-in coffee” with my parents. They would always come with me to the airport and wait until I checked in my bags to head to a coffee shop on the second floor where we had coffee and desserts before I passed through security.
I was already kind of anxious because I had to take connecting flights before my final destination: Playa del Carmen in México.
But before I continue, let me tell you a little about how this journey was planned.


I’d bought a direct flight from Lima to Mexico City and was looking forward to my trip until the Peruvian government decided that Mexico wouldn’t be on the list of countries we could fly to because it didn’t meet the new requirement, the flight had to be four hours long tops. But why? I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense to me, what’s the difference between four hours and six anyway?
Well, the most reasonable thing to do was to have a stopover in Quito, so I had to change my flight Lima-Mexico city to Quito-Mexico City and then buy my ticket from Lima to Quito. So my itinerary was scheduled as follows:
Lima-Quito
Quito-México City
México City-Cancun
On top of the new ticket I had to buy–which cost me about 220 dollars–I had to comply with another requirement “a COVID test”. Local policies require you to be tested for COVID-19 before you’re allowed to enter some countries, another expense! I had to get that test, and not the cheap one—because there are two, a fast, useless, cheap test and a reliable, expensive one, the one I had to get.
Another 100 dollars later, I was walking out of the clinic hoping I tested negative. Even though I’d been careful, worked from home and limited my interactions to my parents and fluffy Rabito (my cat), I still thought that the virus might have managed to break into my home. The experience was disgusting, I sort of knew, though. Nobody explained the procedure as accurately as my good friend, Brigitte, who warned me, “they are going to stick a gigantic Q tip into your nostrils until they reach your brains, then they’ll slowly take it out”, and that’s exactly what they did.

Not only was the result of that test what kept me anxious, but also the possibility of the result not being sent on time, since the test had to be taken within 72 hours prior to my flight. I took it exactly three days before but I’d never relied on businesses to get things done on time in Peru.


OK Ayleen, now you have taken the test and bought the new ticket, you are ready, right?
No, not ready, not yet. They won’t let you in Mexico unless you show evidence that you will leave the country after your vacations, and that evidence comes in the form of… another ticket!
Really? Leaving Perú suddenly became a menace to my life savings.
The problem was I didn’t want to come back to Peru. So I had to get another ticket to a different destination, the new plan was:
Lima-Quito
Quito-Mexico City
México City-Cancun
Cancun-Atlanta
Atlanta-The Netherlands
Why the Netherlands? No idea, I just needed a ticket that said I would leave the country, I could change my plans later.

Back to the airport. There I was, looking for the LATAM check-in counter. I naively placed myself at the end of what seemed to be the line to check in my bag, well, it wasn’t. The line was so long that it continued on the opposite side. It’s OK Ayleen, you arrived on time, there’s nothing to worry about. One hour and thirty minutes later, there was a lot to worry about. I still wasn’t in the front and my plane was leaving in 40 minutes.

I didn’t remember the last time I felt sorry for so many people in one day.
I felt sorry for the girl in front of me, who was told she couldn’t board the plane because she didn’t have the face shield, until I overheard her say “I didn’t know, nobody told me”, then I didn’t feel so sorry. Was she trying to give an excuse? or had she been living in a cave? I felt sorry for the nun who was handing her phone to the ticket agent in an attempt to have the person on the other line explain what she couldn’t explain herself. They were speaking Spanish, but the nun didn’t seem to understand what the agent was saying, to the point that she needed a Spanish-Spanish interpreter. The agent gently said “we are not allowed to take calls” and tried to explain in an airport-for-dummies sort of fashion that she couldn’t check in that bag. Finally, I felt sorry for the new naive guys that, like me, placed themselves at what they thought was the end of the line not noticing that the line was so long that it was broken into two. I remember thinking “I’m so happy I’m not you guys” and gave a sigh of relief, which only lasted until I turned around and faced reality, I was nowhere near the front. Missing my flight became a possibility. Then I felt sorry for myself, too.


I finally got to the check-in counter and the person in charge demanded my covid test, which I had, and the entry immigration form to be turned in in Mexico, which I also had. And then she asked for my return ticket. This is how the conversation went:
Me: What do you mean by return ticket—knowing exactly what a return ticket was but denying the fact that I missed a requirement to get on that plane.
Her: A ticket that shows you’ll come back to Peru
Me: But I don’t know when I’m coming back.
Her: How can you not know
Me: I am a digital nomad, I only buy one-way tickets.
Her: I don’t understand.
Me: I don’t want to come back.
Her: You have to come back.
Me: I’m not staying in my destination, Mexico, if that’s the problem (I knew they had sent people back from Mexico under suspicion of overstaying). I continued, I know I can’t stay in Mexico, I’m going as a tourist for a couple of weeks, in fact I have plans to go to Amsterdam afterwards (I showed her my ticket to Amsterdam).
Her: It says Atlanta here.
Me: That’s the connecting flight.
Her: So you don’t know when you’re coming back.
Me: I have no idea when I’m coming back! (this time breathing heavily and getting a little impatient). What’s the problem?
Her: Let me consult it with my boss.
Me: It’s late and I’m going to miss my flight!
Her: OK, it’s fine, you can go, and run! You don’t have much time left before your flight departs.


Now I’m on the plane writing this. I’ve just realized I hadn’t written on my blog during isolation, I guess I had little or nothing to write about, life happens outside!

Blog, travel tips

Dining in the dark

I should have written this the day after it happened when the textures and flavors were still imprinted on my mind but it’s never too late to tell you about my best culinary experience in Malaysia.

He didn’t tell me where we were going, every time he looked at his phone for directions to guide the taxi driver, he was careful not to show me the name of the restaurant. It was a surprise!

He was anxious, he thought we weren’t going to make it—we had a reservation for 7 o’clock—we were only 5 minutes late, though. Did I mention he’s British? Time is important to him, five minutes late to a Peruvian is “only five minutes late”, to a Brit it’s “OMG we’re already five minutes late!”

We arrived and I walked in without reading the name of the restaurant. I found out what it was called once we were inside, “Dining in the dark”. The place was dark as advertised, “a romantic dinner with dim lights”, I thought. Little did I know…

We were greeted by our host, who explained to us what the procedures were… procedures?

While most restaurants try to overwhelm you with sensory stimulation, this one does the total opposite, it requires you to temporarily lose your sight to be able to explore your other senses.

When you go to a regular restaurant, you know pretty much what your dish is going to taste like by reading the description on the menu and looking at the photos, which help you avoid foods you don’t like.

For example, I don’t like cauliflower, so I wouldn’t order any dishes that have cauliflower in the photos, it makes sense. Why would I order cauliflower if I know I don’t like it? to see if I still don’t like it? After all, however it is cooked, it will still taste like cauliflower, right?

Well, this was no ordinary restaurant, there was no menu, food descriptions, or photos that could warn me against ordering something with cauliflower.

After a test that involved blindfolding us to try to find three paper clips in a bowl of rice, we were introduced to our “darkness expert” and led to a pitch-black room that made it impossible to make out any shapes with the naked eye. Having your eyes open and not being able to see anything triggers your imagination. You wonder what color the tables are, who is sitting next to you, what the foods look like…

IMG_20191106_212720
Before entering the pitch-black room

Akay, our darkness expert, walked us through the procedures for the night and made sure we felt comfortable and ready to explore our sense of taste. He is a great conversationalist—I bet the job requires waiters to have good people skills to help customers reduce anxiety. He told us how a few people don’t make it to the main course and leave the room because they can’t handle the darkness.

He brought the starters, four different foods with different flavors and textures.

The dishes were four little bowls that fit in a tray like a jigsaw puzzle—to avoid accidents I suppose—so it was easy to grab them and create a tactile memory of where they were placed.

Akay told us to start clockwise and, since we weren’t allowed to know the name of the dishes, we labeled them with numbers. The first starter was kind of bland, it tasted like a pastry with a mystery herb I couldn’t recognize. Starter number two was salad-like, I could have sworn I was eating fish with onions and parsley, maybe tuna? Number three tasted like the Peruvian Jalea, fried seafood. Yes, it was seafood, I could taste the crunch of the fried squid and shrimp.

Next, we were served two soups, a cold one and a hot one. The cold one had the distinctive flavor of beetroot, it tasted like an extract my mom would make me drink as a child. It was OK, I guess, but poor beetroot soup was no match for the delicious, hot soup next to it. I’d never had anything more delicious in my life.

– Asparagus?

– No, it tastes like something else, it’s got to be a vegetable…

–  Mushrooms!

The main course blew up my mind. Mashed potatoes with a meat I couldn’t guess, it wasn’t chicken, it wasn’t pork, it definitely wasn’t turkey—it would have been a bit dry. It wasn’t lamb because there was a side dish with the distinctive flavor of lamb and the meat on top of the mashed potatoes didn’t taste anything like it. “Could it be rabbit?”, I thought to myself. The thought of it scared me a little, I probably have no right to feel sorry for rabbits when I eat other animals, but still…I think of the pet rabbit I had when I was a child, all I picture when I think of a rabbit is cute long-eared Daisy having alfalfa :/

Maybe it was goat, I’d had Curry goat once (a famous Jamaican dish) but it was hard to remember the taste of the meat when it came soaked in an overwhelming curry sauce. Maybe the meat was an animal from Malaysia I’d never heard of? I gave up and ate the meat praying to God, “please don’t be rabbit”.

I was already kind of full but there’s always room for dessert so that was next. The desserts kept me guessing for a while, Akay would laugh at our inaccurate guesses every time we told him we had finally guessed what we were eating.

– Akay, we know what this is! It’s lemon ice cream!

– Haha it does taste like lemon, doesn’t it? Sorry, keep guessing.

It tasted like lemon—or vanilla or something white. It’s funny how even though I couldn’t see anything, I was so sure the ice cream was white. Maybe I was biased by the chocolate mousse next to it. Who eats chocolate mousse with dark-looking ice cream? It had to be white.

We left the dark room with a dozen questions about the foods we’d eaten. Our host led us to another table—this one in a well-lit room—and asked questions about our experience. We said we absolutely loved challenging our taste buds and that we couldn’t wait to see whether we were right about our guesses.

She left us with the menu. I carefully opened it and… What???

The first starter was a Mushroom quiche and the mystery herb turned out to be thyme. The second one was Salmon tartare with cucumber, celery and shallots… Wait, no onions? But I tasted onions! No, Ayleen, you did not.

I turned to the next page to see starter number three. What I thought was crunchy fried seafood was actually broccoli! Deep fried broccoli with cheddar fritter. I couldn’t believe what my eyes were reading.

It was time to see the soups. I was right about the first one, it had beetroot, yay! I finally got one right. However, it was the second soup that made me realize I had unfairly labeled a vegetable as “bland and boring”. Cauliflower cream! What! No, it couldn’t be. “You must have that wrong, I don’t like cauliflower and that soup was mouthwatering. These people are teasing me, they’re lying to me.” —I was in denial.

Or… had I been living a lie all my life and cauliflower was actually delicious? I almost felt ashamed of having advertised my hatred to cauliflower all these years. That soup was one of the tastiest I’d had in my entire life. The main ingredient, “cauliflower.”

The meat that came on top of the mashed potatoes was duck!

Time to reveal the desserts. I got the color of the ice cream right, it was white! But my taste buds failed miserably, it turned out to be Olive oil ice cream! But wait, isn’t olive oil, a kind of “oil” that you use for salad dressings? Isn’t ice cream made with fruits or nuts? Not at this restaurant.

This experience helped me realize how we categorize foods unfairly. If you ate something once and didn’t like it, if your parents made you eat it as a child and you didn’t like it, guess what! There’s a chance you could actually like that food. Having tried it once or twice is not enough to ban it from your diet forever. Maybe they were not good at the restaurants where you had them. Let’s be honest, the fact that you didn’t like it as a child only means you didn’t like the way your parents prepared it for you. I adore my mother but boiling the cauliflower did very little in her attempt to make me like it—sorry mom, no hurt feelings.

The chefs at Dining in the dark tease your senses by cooking foods in an unconventional way. For example, not many people like broccoli, so they fry it to give it a crunchy texture and make you believe you’re eating something else, a few people I know don’t consume olive oil because its flavor is too strong, but they would surely have eaten that ice cream!

Giving in your sense of sight can really make you “see” the world in a different way. If you are visiting Malaysia, I highly recommend you visit this restaurant.

Level: B2

Vocabulary

  • Imprinted on my mind (literary) to become fixed in your mind or memory so that you never forget

imprint something on your mind/memory/brain etc

The sight of Joe’s dead body was imprinted on his mind forever.

  • Overwhelm /ˌəʊvəˈwelm $ ˌoʊvər-/ ●○○ verb [transitive]

1 EMOTION if someone is overwhelmed by an emotion, they feel it so strongly that they cannot think clearly

be overwhelmed by something

Harriet was overwhelmed by a feeling of homesickness.

  • procedure /prəˈsiːdʒə-ər/ noun

[countable, uncountable] the official or accepted way of doing something, especially something that is done often

We have hired an accounting firm to evaluate our audit procedures.

  • ˌpitch-ˈblack adjective completely black or dark

The lights were off and it was pitch-black.

  • jigsaw puzzle /ˈdʒɪɡsɔː $ -sɒː/ ●●○ noun [countable]

a picture cut up into many pieces that you try to fit together

  • boil [intransitive, transitive] to cook something in boiling water

a boiled egg

  • mouth-watering adjective, food that is mouth-watering looks or smells extremely good

a mouth-watering aroma coming from the kitchen

 

 

 

B2, Blog, story

Jamaican me happy – Negril

Conversation one:

A: First time in Jamaica?

B: No, I’ve been here once before.

A: Oh, welcome back! (fist bump) You want some good quality weed? Look for me.

B: We will. Thank you!

Conversation two:

A: Wah Gwaan? Want some Ganja?

B: No, thanks. 

* Wah Gwaan: Jaimaican slang for “What’s going on?”
*Ganja: another name for weed

Conversation three:

A: Where you from?

B: England and Perú.

A: Yeah mon (fist bump). My wife is from Wembley. Here, a little gift for you (handing us a joint).

B: How much is it?

A: Just give me a donation.

*Yeah mon: a phrase commonly used in Jamaica to show confirmation of understanding a statement or approval of an action

Our first interactions with Jamaicans were all conversations in which there was weed being offered. Ironically, marijuana isn’t legal here. Surprised? Maybe the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Jamaica is Bob Marley and weed; nevertheless, it isn’t legal in this country.

Then, why does everyone seem to be dealing? We’ve been offered weed at the beach, at restaurants, at hostels, by taxi drivers, street vendors, food sellers, teens, adults, and even elders! There isn’t a place where “ganja” isn’t sold. Born and raised in Negril, a local taxi driver – “Big Ross”, as he calls himself – was telling us that business isn’t as easy as it used to be now that there are many locals offering rides, tours, and weed. He continued,

People multitask to get an extra income because a regular job isn’t enough to make ends meet.

Weed, ganja, kush

If you are a smoker, welcome to paradise! This must be the most accessible country to buy weed. There’s no need to sneak into a dark alley, you can get it at daylight in plain view of passersby. I mean, you can get it as easily in places like Holland and some states in the USA where it is legal; the funny thing here is that, although in 2015 Drug law amendments partially decriminalized small amounts of pot, the drug is still illegal.

For new readers, this blog intends to show cultural differences between English and Spanish speaking countries. In this case, I can compare the weed situation in Jamaica to that of my country of origin, Perú, since carrying a small amount of ganja (possession of two ounces or less), smoking it, or possessing pipes or other smoking utensils is legal, but selling it or possessing big amounts of it isn’t.

In 2014, we amended our criminal records legislation to provide that personal use would no longer attract a criminal record in Jamaica and to provide for automatic expungement of all processes in the past that had a criminal record for personal use,

declared Mr. Mark Golding at the Marijuana Reform Conference.

If you are more interested about Marijuana Reform, watch Mr. Mark Golding at the Drug Policy Reform Conference in 2015 here.

Unless you are staying at a five-star hotel, you need to know that people will approach you and offer you a number of products or services, weed, other drugs, braids, massage, taxi rides, tours, etc. My boyfriend and I were approached by at least 10 people on our first two days in the coastal town of Negril, located on the west side of the country. If that is something you would be bothered by, it’s best you stay in an all-inclusive hotel and avoid walking around public beaches. That’s going to happen, and you can’t avoid it.

A few tips on how to buy in Jamaica

Always have local currency with you. US dollars are accepted everywhere, but you should know that the exchange rate is the worst in commercial establishments, and if you’re buying from street vendors, you are very likely to get ripped off. We got some street food – jerk chicken – on our first day. The guy said it cost $6.00 US dollars; however, when we gave him $10.00 US dollars, he tried to give us $2.00 US dollars change. Needless to say, we never went back there again.

I can’t generalize and say everybody is the same. On our third night, we bumped into “Mr. Spice”, who is famous for selling the best jerk food on the street at $5.00 dollars the portion. We had $10.00 dollars, but he didn’t have change, so he let us give him the loose change we had: only $4.00 dollars. We even got double bread! If you come to Jamaica, look for him. He follows the crowds and shows up at concerts or other events in Negril. He’s never at the same spot, though, so good luck finding him!

If you appreciate good, local cuisine, you can’t miss Best in the West. There we had the best red snapper and, of course, their signature jerk is amazing, too. Go there for jerk chicken – unless you are lucky enough to find Mr. Spice – or Scovitch fish (it’s funny how this word sounds so similar to escabeche, a typical Peruvian dish which tastes very similar). I can say their fried chicken is even better than Willie Mae’s in New Orleans, which goes down to second place in my ranking now.

My next tip is to bargain. I am Peruvian, so this comes naturally to me. If you come from a country where bargaining isn’t customary, start getting some training. Jamaicans will give you a price based on whether you look like a tourist or not. For example, to get one side of my head braided, I was asked for $10.00 dollars. Two women gave me the same price; it seemed to be standard. However, I was very honest and told the second woman that, in my country, I could get it done for $5.00 dollars. After thinking about it for a while, she agreed. This proves they are ready to lower their prices. So, you just need to bargain!

New vocabulary: amendment, approach, bothered, bump into, decriminalize, expungement, ganja, pot.

Level: B1 – B2