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:
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:
Quito-Mexico City
México City-Cancun
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…

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


  • 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




B1, B2, Podcast, story

Episode 1: Shopping in Indonesia – Compras en Indonesia

This podcast presents everyday conversations in English and Spanish and is hosted by myself, Ayleen, and Chris, from London. What is different about this podcast is that you will listen to a conversation in both languages, I will be speaking Spanish and Chris, English.

Our content will help you improve your listening skills in the language you are currently studying. This podcast is for you if:
a) You are an English speaker learning Spanish
b) You are a Spanish speaker learning English
c) You have a different native language but are studying English and Spanish.

In this episode Chris and I talk about our impressions on shopping in Indonesia. Tune in to learn about the tactics Indonesian people use when trying to sell an item and how we feel about it.

Episode 1: Shopping in Indonesia – Compras en Indonesia.

advice, Blog, story, travel tips

Public transportation in Dubai Vs. Public transportation in Peru

We had one day to explore Dubai before flying to Thailand -Dubai was a one-day stopover- and decided to go to a mall, not too far from the airport. We got on the train a little unsure whether we’d jumped on the right line, so my fiance asks ‘Does this train take you to the mall?’ Everybody looks at him, nobody answers. He asks again, ‘can someone tell me if this is the train to the mall?’ Silence.

They were all staring at him, so they did acknowledge his presence but didn’t respond. After the doors closed behind us, a woman says ‘yes, this line takes you to the mall.’ I was thinking ‘has the cat got their tongues?’ Maybe they just don’t understand any English…

We kept speculating about the reasons why they didn’t respond and were still staring at him. Well, the answer had been in front of our noses the whole time. There was a sign that read “Are you in the right cabin? 100 Dirhms fine.”
It turned out we were in the women and children cabin, where, of course, men are not allowed. According to the sign if a man were found in the wrong cabin, he would have to pay 100 Dirhms (about USD 27). These women were staring at him and looked shocked because he wasn’t supposed to be there, he was an intruder.

Almost immediately after realizing he was in the wrong cabin, the same -and only- woman who gave us information said ‘you are in the wrong cabin, men go over there’, pointing at the adjacent cabin.

Everything made sense. These women must have felt their space was being invaded by an intruder who didn’t know the rules. My fiance went to the men cabin, which does allow women (at last we have more choices than them!)
I wonder why men and women can’t be together, religious reasons? Dubai is a Muslim city, so could it be an Islamic thing?

I don’t know the reasons but I love the fact that cabins are separated. So far Dubai has been the one city where I’ve felt really uncomfortable because of men looking at women as if they were a piece of meat. It would be unfair to generalize -I’m not judging or blaming the entire population in this city- but many men on the streets show this kind of offensive behavior.

This blog compares cultures and for me it hurts to admit that this behavior is comparable to the one observed in my country, Peru, where this occurs mainly because of the fact that Peru is a chauvinistic country whose culture lets men engage in this action and get away with it.

Unfortunately, outrage of modesty and street harassment is something every Peruvian women, teenager and child has to deal with when using public transportation. According to the Peruvian newspaper Perú 21, seven out of ten women have been harassed on public transportation. Nevertheless, the law is still lenient with offenders.

Only after Peruvian actress Magaly Solier was a victim of this outrage of modesty on Metropolitano, did street harassment make it to the headlines and called for a new law to be passed. Unfortunately, according to the Ombudsman’s office, to this date six regional governments and three ministries still haven’t approved the regulations for these cases. Out of 21 cases reported to Regional governments, the Judiciary and the Ministry of Public affairs, only two culprits were punished.

We would feel safer if there were assigned cabins for men and women (I speak for all my female friends and relatives). Now I’m not in my country but would love to see some sort of solution or at least an attempt to tackle this problem in a near future.


  • Outrage of modesty: a term commonly seen in the papers – for example, where a man gropes a woman inappropriately
  • Dirhm: currency in Dubai

References (material in Spanish)

Blog, story, travel tips

I discovered this interesting fact in Barcelona…

Today I found out that La Barceloneta beach, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Barcelona is, in fact, man-made. The fact that it’s not a natural beach doesn’t make it less beautiful, though. Locals and tourists come here to sunbathe, play beach volleyball, go for a swim , go bike riding, roller-skating or just people-watch. You can also come visit it for lunch or dinner, there are countless restaurants that offer fish and seafood dishes and of course, the popular Tapas.

When I asked my tour guide about the history of this beach, she said the sand was imported from arab countries and that the area used to be full of rudimentary houses and factories. It was the Olympic games in 1992 what triggered development in this area. In an attempt to increase the city’s popularity with tourists, the Spanish government took up the challenge of turning Barcelona into a must-visit touristic destination in Spain by dramatically transforming it into a beach town that offered a laid-back lifestyle to complement the already bohemian Barcelona.

As advertised, I enjoyed a nice walk and the most delicious Paella in one of the many restaurants along the beach.

Eating Paella at a local restaurant by La Barceloneta

Now, this isn’t a travel blog but an English learning blog which uses my travel experiences to explain vocabulary and grammar, so let’s go over the definition of the new word introduced in this story. As you read in the first sentence, La Barceloneta is “man-made.”

This word has two definitions, the first refers to the materials or substances that are not natural. For example I like cotton because it’s natural, I don’t like man-made fabrics.

The second definition refers to something made by people rather than by natural processes. For example The Barceloneta is a man-made beach. We can also say the beach is “artificial”, that would be a synonym.

This interesting fact reminded me of another man-made feature in my country. For instance, Oasis Huacachina in Perú had once a natural lagoon but it started to sink due to underwater consumption, today we can say that the lagoon is man-made. Well,  it’s “almost entirely” man-made since at least 70% of the water is pumped into the lagoon regularly to keep it from drying up.

What are some man-made features in your country?

If you are interested in learning English with real examples taken from my trips around the world, join me on social media. I am on Instagram and Facebook as @wespeakonline.english and on Twitter as @wespeak_online

To watch this lesson on Instagram in video format please click here

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 Peru.

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

B2, Blog

Cousins or nephews?

Ayleen: They look a lot alike, don’t they? (showing photo). They’re my nieces, Romina and Alejandra.

Ale y Romi 4
Romina and Alejandra

Gary: What do you mean by your nieces? your sister doesn’t have any children.

Ayleen: I know my sister doesn’t have any children, the girls are my cousins’ children.

Gary: Your cousins’ children? Well, in English your cousins’ children are your cousins too. The exact term for a cousin’s child is cousin once removed.

Ayleen: Cousin once removed? Removed from what? I’ve never heard that in my life. I can’t picture someone introducing me to their cousin once removed, “Ayleen, please meet my cousin once removed” haha.

Gary: Haha, that’s why we just call them cousins. Do you call them nieces and nephews in Spanish?

Ayleen: Yes, in Spanish a cousin’s child is our sobrino segundo.  We just call them sobrino or sobrina. It’s easy to get confused because the literal translation for sobrina is niece. That’s why I told you “Romina and Alejandra are my nieces”. 

This is a real conversation I had with a native English speaker. I had no idea that the translation for sobrino segundo was first cousin once removed. Any Spanish speaker would be prone to think that the translation for sobrino segundo is second nephew, at least that’s what I thought. I was wrong.

Sobrino RAE
Real Academia de la Lengua Española (RAE)

According to RAE, in Spanish your cousin’s child is your sobrino segundo. The word “nephew” is used to describe this relationship. However, as shown in the Oxford and Longman dictionaries your cousin’s child is your first cousin once removed. In English the word “cousin” is used to describe this relationship. There lies the confusion.

Longman Dictionary

Oxford dictionary

If you aren’t confused yet, wait until I introduce you to a couple of other kinship terms. We have the term second cousin, common sense tells you that if there are second cousins, there have to be first cousins too, right? Confused now?

So, what’s the difference between first cousin and second cousin? and cousin once removed and second cousin? Pictures speak louder than words they say, so I drew my family tree in an attempt to exemplify how it works. It’s headed by my grandparents Alicia and Luis; their children Pablo and Hilda (in reality they had 10 children but for the sake of this explanation I will only consider two); and their grandchildren, Emily, Giannina, Liseth and myself.

My family tree

Emily, Giannina, Liseth and I belong to the same generation; as children of siblings, we are first cousins or commonly called cousins.

Around 10 years ago, Giannina and Liseth had children; their children Romina and Alejandra are one generation further on than Emily and me. According to the standard symmetrical terminology used by most genealogists, Romina and Emily (or Romina and I) are therefore first cousins once removed (not, as is quite often thought, second cousins).

Emily and I don’t have children, but if we had children they would belong to the same generation as Romina and Alejandra: as children of first cousins, they would be second cousins.

Neither of us in the conversation used precise kinship terms when talking about our relatives, but generalized with catch-all terms such as cousin or nephew. Sometimes when we are not sure, we just use the word distant cousin or primo lejano in Spanish.


  • Giannina is my first cousin, or simply cousin.  (same generation)
  • Liseth is also my cousin. (same generation)
  • Romina is my first cousin once removed. (different generations)
  • Alejandra is my first cousin once removed. (different generations)
  • If I had a child, my child and Romina would be second cousins. (same generation)
  • If I had a child, my child and Alejandra would be second cousins. (same generation)

Here is the correct translation to Spanish:

  • Cousin, first cousin = primo, primo carnal o primo hermano.
  • Second cousin = primo segundo
  • First cousin once removed = sobrino segundo

Now take a look at your family tree and try to figure out how people are related to you!

Language level: B2


Blog, story

Where is the trash can?

As you know, I went to visit my best friend in Texas a few weeks ago. I was very happy to finally have the chance to catch up with her and spend our afternoons chatting. One of those afternoons we came to the realization that we never experienced the famous “culture shock”.  In our case, it was just non-existent. We wondered why the personal disorientation never happened. Anyway, to identify those cultural differences we began listing what caught our attention the most when we first came to the US and we agreed that the first had to do with a bathroom experience.

I ‘d already been aware of a few cultural differences by the time I came to the US for the first time but nobody had given me a toilet orientation guide for Latinos. After landing, what I wanted to do first was freshen up a little, so I went straight to the bathroom. I was getting all of my toiletries ready for a nice shower when I realized something was missing in the bathroom…

“Where is the trash can?”

“What do you mean the trash can? (bewildered)

“The trash can, you know, where you throw the toilet paper”.

“Ohhh, right, you don’t flush it in Perú! Hahaha”

In South American countries, due to poor sewage systems, toilet paper is dropped in a trash can by the sink, but apparently in developed countries people flush it!

My British boyfriend had a similar experience when he first went to Mexico with his best friend. He opened the bathroom door and saw a sign that said, “Do not flush the toilet paper.”

            “Did you see the sign”

            “Yeah, they throw shit paper in the trash!”


            “I almost threw up when I opened the lid”.

It turns out it’s shocking for people who live in developed countries to find out flushing toilet paper isn’t standard in developing countries. They are repulsed and shocked by the idea of having to see dirty paper in the trash. No wonder why there are tourists who refuse to follow this practice and end up clogging the toilet in hostels.

So, if you are an American, Western European or Australian tourist in South America, please read this toilet orientation list:

Toilet orientation guide

How did you feel the first time you went to a country where the toilet paper is flushed?

New words:

  • clog: to block something or become blocked
  • developing country: the opposite of a developed or first world country
  • flush: if you flush a toilet, or if it flushes, you make water go through it to clean it
  • repulsed:f  something or someone repulses you, you think that they are extremely unpleasant
  • toiletries: things such as soap and toothpaste that are used for cleaning yourself
  • trash can:a large container with a lid into which you put empty bottles, used papers, food that has gone bad etc SYN dustbin British English
  • toilet paper:soft thin paper used for cleaning yourself after you have used the toilet
Blog, vocabulary

“Dilivery”. Let’s analize this spelling mistake.

While in El Paso, I wanted to do some grocery shopping and didn’t want to go to the chain supermarket but a local one, so I went to “Ruidoso”, a latin supermarket downtown. It was there where I found the “dilivery” poster.


According the United States Census Bureau, in 2017, 80.2% of the population in El Paso county, Texas, were Hispanic or Latinos (including undocumented residents). So, does this mean that you can get away with not speaking English in El Paso? Well, if we talk about meeting daily needs like going grocery shopping, ordering food or using transportation, yes, it does.
I have been teaching English as a foreign language to Spanish speakers for a while and have seen all sorts of mistakes but this particularly caught my attention. Why hadn’t I seen that mistake before? That’s what led me to write this article and go deeper into analyzing this case. Who could have made that spelling mistake? It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to figure that out, the rest of the message is in Spanish, so… a Spanish speaker, right? However, by “who” I mean, what kind of English learner? What kind of exposure to the English language does this individual have?

The word delivery is pronounced /dɪˈlɪvərɪ/.  Focus on the first “e” (delivery), this letter is pronounced /ɪ/ like the sound in lip or tip.  To a Spanish speaker the reasoning is “it sounds like /ɪ/, it must be spelled with an i, then dilivery”. After analyzing the phonetics, it seems reasonable to say that the Spanish speaking individual who wrote “dilivery” with an “i” instead of an “e” in the poster is used to hearing how the word is pronounced, not reading or writing it; therefore, spells it the way it sounds. It makes sense to say that this individual would spell the word could the way it sounds to him, “cud”, applying the Spanish write-it-the-way-you-hear-it  rule to the English language.

But why hadn’t I seen that mistake before? I have a theory. I have worked in a classroom environment and the reason why students who have received formal education in English are less likely to make this kind of mistake is they have seen the word in writing more than heard it (unlike the first case). In this scenario students of English as a foreign language are more prone to make other kind of mistakes. Based on my experience (and this only applies for EFL students whose exposure to spoken language is not as high as for students of ESL), they are more prone to mispronounce words rather than misspell them. I have often heard the mispronunciation instead of read the misspelling of the word delivery. Students tend to say /delivery/ pronouncing the “e” like /e/. Here we have the opposite scenario, they pronounce it the way it is spelled because they have seen the word in writing more often than they have heard it. Their reasoning is “it is spelled with an “e”, it must be pronounced /e/”. That’s why when English students see the word “could” without having heard it, they pronounce it the way it is spelled, /could/. That is, they pronounce each and every letter in the word, the c, the o, the u, the l and the d, once again applying Spanish rules to the English language.

We can conclude then that in general, Spanish speakers who are exposed to spoken English might have a higher tendency to make spelling mistakes while English students who are exposed to written English more than spoken English are more prone to make pronunciation mistakes. This lead me to think that this person speaks English but doesn’t write it. Who knows, he may have been living in El Paso for a while but never taken English lessons. It’s likely his job does not require him to write the language.

Blog, story, travel tips

Teacher gone wild ;)

I have wanted to visit Texas for so long, for many reasons: my best friend, food, bats and the dry hot sunny weather. I am not a big fan of art exhibitions but this graffiti park is no ordinary gallery.

Teacher gone wild

This controversial Graffiti Park  is a popular attraction in the live music capital of the world. It is a pity that many argue it does not provide any historical value; apparently that was reason enough for the Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission to approve its demolition this year. However, the gallery will be thoroughly documented, with records preserved and archived by the Austin History Center. An example of this is the decision to relocate one of the concrete slabs from the old park to a location in East Austin just north of the airport near Carson Creek Ranch.


On the concrete slabs you can see street art depicting American and latin artists. There was one that particularly caught my attention and reminded me of one of my  favorite childhood Mexican TV shows, “El Chavo del 8”. Art here is constantly changing since part of this gallery’s beauty is the fact that it allows artists to paint over and over. See my artistic talent?

Loved it 🙂