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B1, B2, story

A boat resident in Rio de Janeiro

The following is a conversation I had with the owner and “resident” of a sailboat. I met him when I booked an Airbnb experience, which was a private boat tour around isolated beaches in Paraty, Rio de Janeiro. The tour also included a kayaking and snorkeling experience as well.

– Your sailboat is so cool, how long have you been sailing?

– I wasn’t always a sailor, I learned to sail on Youtube, watching tutorials. I’m still learning, I’m by no means an experienced sailor, I don’t have anything to teach haha.

His frankness was so refreshing! There he was talking to a client (whom you would normally try to impress in order to get a good Airbnb review) and explaining how he hadn’t been a sailor for long and how he learned the few sailing skills he had from Youtube. As a client, I was a little scared that he might not know what to do in a storm in the middle of nowhere. As a teacher, I was in awe, my admiration for his self-learning skills motivated me do this mini interview.

– Wow! That’s impressive! So where do you live?

– Here

– Here in Paraty?

– Here on this boat.

And to prove it he gave me a tour of his home.

– I’ve never met someone who lives on a boat before, how interesting! Is there a tax associated to living on a boat?

– You pay to dock, but you don’t ever have to dock.

– (You have my attention now! I’ve always admired people who know how to beat the system.) What do you eat?

– I fish for food.

– Sounds like you won’t be running out of food anytime soon! What did you use to do before you decided to become a sailor and live on this boat?

– I haven’t been a sailor for long… I used to be a jockey, my dad wanted me to ride horses but that wasn’t my true calling. I worked from 11 to 42 years old and I don’t miss it, I never had days off, I would always work on holidays.

– Who gave you the idea of offering Airbnb experiences?

– I got the idea from the guys who are doing the same thing. At first I didn’t think of it as a business, though, my goal was just to live the cheapest way possible, rent-free, tax-free, not spending a lot on money on food.

– Do you get many clients?

– Enough haha. If I work for 6 or 7 days in a row, I block my calendar and take a break. The truth is I don’t want more clients because I don’t want to work more. My girlfriend wants to work a lot but I don’t.

– What do you mean, does she want this business to grow?

– She does, she’s always suggesting marketing ideas and ways to get bigger and better but I’ve told her “You make your plans but don’t include me in them”, hahaha.

– You mentioned earlier you had a son, does he have a regular life?

– Yes, he does, at least for now. He lives in Sao Paulo with his mom, too bad he doesn’t love the sun like I do.

– Do you ever feel lonely?

– Not really, I have a girlfriend, she lives in Sao Paulo but even when she comes to visit me, she knows I need my space. She takes the kayak, goes snorkeling somewhere while I stay on the boat. We are cool living like that.

– How have you been spending your free time lately?

– I’ve been very busy fixing my boat. I had to fix the engine, install stuff, things like that…

– (Interesting to know the engine wasn’t working well not too long ago!) How do you spend your free time?

– I like doing nothing, you know? I like to take my time to spend on myself, contemplating nature, sleeping… When my friends come and ask me to do stuff with them, more often than not my answer is “I can’t, I’m busy”, they go “but you’re doing nothing”, I say “I need this time to do nothing!”.

It seems that our friend cracked the code to happiness! He lives a happy, stress-free life without the hustle and bustle of the city. What about saving for the future? building a credit history? He aims to live on his boat for good, the doesn’t need to make monthly mortgage payments for 20 years until he owns a place to reside, what about a car? he can get to places by boat or take taxis, which are affordable in Paraty, what about health insurance? healthcare is free in Brazil, this is true, I have first-hand experience as I’ve used healthcare as a tourist in Brazil, cost: 0 reais! (If you want to know more about my experience, look for my blog post I didn’t have health insurance and this happened to me in Brazil.)

This lifestyle is not for everyone but I applaud people who take the plunge and decide to live the best life possible for them. I know people who have all of the above, a big house, a nice car, a well-paid job, good health insurance, etc who aren’t half as happy as this man is.

Wondering what the tour was like? It’s one of the best boat tours I’ve ever taken in my life.

Remember my fears? Well, there WAS a storm! My guide didn’t seem to be too worried about it, though. Fortunately, he knew what to do (thank you YouTube!), we got on the boat and sailed back to safety.

So what did I learn from this experience?

  • That it’s never too late to follow your true calling.
  • That there are ways of beating the system.
  • That you can learn anything from Youtube!
  • That there are people in the world who don’t care about money, and they tend to be the most interesting people to chat with!
  • That kayaking looks easy and feels easy until the next day when you wake up with sore muscles.
  • That Airbnb experiences are cheaper and better than tours booked through agencies.

If you go to Rio de Janeiro, don’t skip Paraty! The boat tours are just one of the many activities you can do there. I’m already looking forward to going back!

B2, Podcast

Disagreeing and persuading

Are you good at persuading people? Do you know how to express disagreement?

Knowing how to use language for disagreeing with or persuading people is incredibly useful when debating. Head over to the episode and listen to a segment of one of my classes where two students, Mafer and Milton, debate the following topic:

“All students caught cheating should automatically fail the course and be required to take the entire course the following year.”

Listen carefully to their conversation and notice the expressions they use for disagreeing and persuading.

Expressions used for debating

Do you want to be ready to use these expression in English class? Download and print the document below and have it on hand when doing speaking activities.

How do I practice using these expressions?

You can practice with a classmate, a friend who is interested in improving his/her language skills or you can do it like we do it at WeSpeak Idiomas, in our conversation workshop 🙂 Whichever way you choose, just keep practicing!

B2, story

My healthcare experience in the USA

Me: So how much is a visit?

Receptionist: 176 dollars

Me: Oh, but I have insurance (me being as naive as a new American resident can be)

Receptionist: Yes, I know, the price you see on the website, 60 dollars for a consultation, is the price you pay only after reaching your deductible.

I got a sense of relief “Oh then, there WILL be a time when I only pay 60 dollars for a visit, ok, that’s not too bad”. The conversation continued:

Me: So what’s my deductible?

Receptionist: USD 1500 dollars. That means that after you spend 1500 dollars on healthcare, you will have reached your deductible and from then on you will only pay 60 dollars for a regular visit, 70 dollars for urgent care.

Me: (Silence. I started to imagine scenarios that would require me to spend 1500 dollars on doctors and medicine, a broken leg? an infection? food poisoning? I was doing the math and thinking how many times I had to go to the doctor to start paying 60 dollars for a visit.)

Receptionist: Are you still there?

Me: Yes, I have another question, I know I need a test to find out if I have asthma or not.

Receptionist: That’s a pulmonary test, it’s 198.25 dollars.

Me: Ok, so it would be 374.25 for both, the visit and the pulmonary function test, correct?

Receptionist: Correct.

So if you read the blog post I wrote in February, you know how it started. If you didn’t, I’ll sum it up for you. I started coughing and was short of breath, was prescribed prednisone, amoxicillin and antihistamines, the diagnostics: bronchitis. I got better after taking the medicine but relapsed two weeks after. I figured if I bought the same medicine I would get better again, I mean, that made a lot of sense since I had the same symptoms, right? and so I did, I used the same prescription and bought the same medicine. I did get better and I did relapse about 14 days after taking the medicine. It was difficult to get treated as I was living as a digital nomad, I saw doctors in the countries I was living in, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala but couldn’t have a primary care doctor, a doctor that had my history and knew me and my symptoms. When my husband and I moved to Florida, I decided “Now that I’m going to be living in the USA, it’s time to get a regular doctor and get tested for asthma”,  which was suggested by a doctor in Brazil.

People had warned me, they’d told me what health care is like in the US, but you don’t fully understand it until you experience it first hand. I went to my appointment, was ready for the PFT (pulmonary function test) and it made me a bit nervous to see the doctor writing down a bunch of tests on her notes as she said the names of the tests aloud. She said I needed a pulmonary test, a test called “SHAPE”, X-rays… I asked how much all that was, she said she had no idea and that I would find out when I checked out. I was reluctant to get any tests done before I knew exactly how much I had to pay for them. So the doctor sent me to the reception and this is how the conversation went:

Me: I was wondering how much the tests are.

Receptionist: The pulmonary function test is 198.25

Me: Oh Ok, I knew the price for that one, that’s the one I came for today.

Receptionist: The SHAPE test (Submaximal Heart And Pulmonary Evaluation) is 162.47 and the follow-up visit is 133.40.

Me: (She didn’t give me the price for the X-rays, to be honest I didn’t want to know)

I’d like to have the pulmonary function test today, that’s the one I came here for.

Receptionist: Oh, you can’t do that one now, you need to make an appointment so we can schedule a technician.

Me: (Trying to understand why  that information wasn’t shared over the phone when I made the appointment)

Receptionist: She continued… and first you need to book a follow-up visit, which is 133.40

Me: Wait, what? Why can’t I just pay for the test? I would be coming for the test only. I had the visit today.

Receptionist: No, you can’t. You need to have a follow-up visit when you come to take the test, so that would be 198.25 for the test plus 133.40 for the visit, 331.65 in total.

I didn’t want to leave without having done a test, after all that’s the only reason I was there for, so I asked “is there any other test that can be done now?”, and there was, the “SHAPE” test could be performed right away. “Perfect”, I said, “let’s do that one”. So the receptionist performed the test herself. Yes, you read that well, the receptionist performed the test on me. Maybe in this country people double up?

The following is conversation I overheard while I was waiting for my test results:

Receptionist: The results aren’t showing…. (I couldn’t understand what they said) Do we do the test again?

Doctor: No, there’s no need, just reboot the machine after the patient leaves.

Then the doctor came in with another doctor (a male doctor) and he said “there are some signs of asthma but we will know if there’s obstruction with the other test” then the female doctor continued “in the meantime we will give you an inhaler, which you have to use 30 minutes before you exercise”. I’d like to point out that neither doctor explained the reading to me.

Some signs? an inhaler? Where are my test results? Will you at least explain to me what that blue line and that red line mean? Will you at least tell me what kind of medicine is in the inhaler? Aren’t there like 20 different types of inhalers? Those are questions I SHOULD have asked, I was so overwhelmed and upset by them not telling me that I had to book the pulmonary test in advance that I didn’t ask those questions when the doctors gave me that vague information.

I left convinced that I didn’t want to go back to those scammers. I ordered a taxi and the taxi driver asked the wrong question, “how are you today? “

Poor guy, nothing could have warned him for what happened after, I started venting about what had happened, spoke nonstop for I don’t even know how long, I mentioned I was from Peru, then he switched to Spanish (he was Argentinean), and we both started venting together. He’d had an infection and had been hospitalized for three days, how much? 10,000 dollars. Yes, that’s the amount he had to pay because he didn’t have health insurance. I had to pay 338WITH insurancefor a visit plus a test with no results read, a vague diagnostic and no explanation of what kind of medicine I was prescribed.

I had gotten it off my chest by the time I arrived home, or that’s why I’d thought, but the moment I saw my husband, I started venting my frustration again. Even now, after talking to him , I still need to write about it to get it off my mind. Health care in the US sucks. Asthma isn’t a critical medical condition, I wonder what the people with major illnesses on minimum wage do, die? If you are looking to move to the US and you have a serious medical condition and get free healthcare in your country, DO NOT come, unless you have a well-paid job waiting for you the moment you land. Health care is way too expensive and it isn’t even good.

I felt lucky when I explained that my company was going to pay 100% of my healthcare. However, I didn’t know that I had to reach a deductible, that the deductible was 1500 dollars and that until that happened, a visit to a pulmonologist would cost 176 dollars. Not feeling so lucky now…

That’s healthcare in the US for you.

Vocabulary for English learners:

get it off my chest: to tell someone about something that has been worrying or annoying you for a long time, so that you feel better afterwards

inhaler: a small plastic tube containing medicine that you breathe in, in order to make breathing easier

minimum wage: the lowest amount of money that an employer can legally pay to a worker

naive: not having much experience of how complicated life is, so that you trust people too much and believe that good things will always happen → innocent

prescription: a piece of paper on which a doctor writes what medicine a sick person should have, so that they can get it from a pharmacist

relapse: to become ill again after you have seemed to improve

scam: a clever but dishonest plan, usually to get money

vent: to express feelings of anger, hatred etc, especially by doing something violent or harmful

Paraty-featured image
A2, B1, grammar

Practice making English questions about “Paraty”

Paraty is one of my favorite cities in Brazil. It’s an old, colonial city that makes you feel you are traveling back in time.

Today we’ll do both, practice making questions in English at the same time we learn a little about this picturesque town.

Read the questions and answers below and notice the verb tense and kind of question. Is it a yes/no question? a wh-question? is it in the present, past tense? is it in the active or passive voice?

How long were you in Paraty? (simple past with “be”)

I spent a whole week there.

Where did you stay? (simple past)

I stayed in a Posada run by Doña Martha, an Argentinean lady who fell in love with the city and decided to move there and start a business. Her breakfasts are delicious!

Having breakfast at the posada

Had you been to Paraty before? (past perfect)

No, I hand’t. It was my first time in that city.

Why are all the houses painted white? (simple present with “be”)

Because there was a law that said all the houses had to be painted white.

What happened to the people who didn’t follow the law? (simple past, subject question, that’s why there are no auxiliary verbs like “do” or “does”)

They were fined.

Is this law enforced in the present? (simple present, passive voice)

The historic center was named UNESCO heritage, which means home owners can’t change the structure or color of the construction.

What are those symbols? (simple present with “be”)

They are masonry symbols.

Why do the houses have many doors? (simple present)

For easy access.

Can the doors be changed into windows? (simple present with modals, passive voice)

Yes, they can. Some people wanted to convert the doors into windows, so the government allowed them to make the change provided that they show the new window used to be a door. As you can see in the picture below (on the right), those two yellow lines that go down to the floor signal that that window used to be a door.

Who lives here? (simple present, subject question, that’s why there are no auxiliary verbs like “do” or “does”)

Prince John does.

Whose house is that? (simple present, question using a possessive pronoun)

Prince John’s.

What’s this church called? (simple present, passive voice)

It’s called Santa Rita, it’s the oldest church in Paraty. You can find a museum of the catholic church inside.

What activities can I do in Paraty? (simple present with modal verb)

You can go Kayaking, take a walking tour downtown, go on a boat tour, go shopping (there are very nice clothes, especially for women), go to bars, restaurants, go on a cachaça tour and much more!

Why are there so many pink boats? (simple present with “be”)

According to my tour guide, the first gay elected mayor in Paraty painted his boat pink, then everybody started doing it.

What’s Paraty’s signature drink? (simple present with “be”)

Paraty’s signature drink is called Gabriela, which unlike the regular cachaça, contains clove and cinnamon. Gabriela is what is used to prepare Jorge Amado, a Brazilian caipirinha with passion fruit and lime juice, my favorite!

(question I asked my tour guide) How long have you been doing the cachaça tour? (present perfect continuous)

“I’ve been doing it for a year, it’s a new project. I noticed nobody was doing it and thought, would people be interested in a cachaça tour led by a local”? This town is known for producing the best cachaça in Brazil, so a cachaça tour made a lot of sense.

When did Paraty become known? (simple past)

Paraty became known when the locals started growing sugar cane in the region. Later on, after the discovery of the world’s richest gold mines in 1696 in the mountains of Minas Gerais, Paraty became an export port for gold to Rio de Janeiro and from there on to Portugal.

B2, vocabulary

Useful expressions in conversations

Whether you are speaking or writing, it is important to learn how to express your opinion on different subjects. If you are thinking about taking an international exam, for example, this could be particularly helpful, since you will be asked to write an essay or record your voice expressing your opinions on a given topic.

Expressing opinions

Here’s a conversation where two people give their opinion on the police and the use of body cameras, they agree and disagree with each other’s opinions, used expressions for persuading and clarify what was said.

Listen to the audio and identify the new expressions being used in conversation.

A: In my honest opinion cops shouldn’t be able to turn their cameras on and off.

B: Why do you think so?

A: Everybody has seen cases of police brutality and racial discrimination on social media. Many police officers use excess force when they arrest people, so it’s my belief that if their cameras are always on, they would be more accountable for their actions.

B: That may be true but some citizens are also concerned about privacy. Innocent bystanders, including minors, may be videotaped without knowing it. Can you see where I’m coming from?

A: I see your point but, from where I look at it, the police would be more accountable for their conduct if they wear body cameras at all times and I honestly think that’s the biggest concern for citizens, not being videotaped.

B: Put yourself in the shoes of a civilian that may be inadequately dressed or recorded at a location where an officer is rolling the cameras. Don’t you think we have the right to privacy?

A: So, let me get this straight, you think that officers shouldn’t wear body cameras at all, right? Is that way you’re saying?

B: You misunderstood what I said. It’s not black and white, I’m just saying being recorded when you are not aware of it is unfair on civilians.

A: Yeah, I agree with you there but a video footage could be used to solve a crime, maybe in court to back up somebody’s testimony, nobody would be looking at the civilian who wasn’t properly dressed.

B: I guess you’re right.

Why is expressing your opinion important when learning English?

As you can see, A and B disagree on whether the police should wear body cameras and have them on at all times. They, however, have a civilized conversation about it and debated this topic with useful expressions to express their opinions in a strong, assertive way without hurting the other person’s feelings. The ability to express yourself and defend your points of view using proper language is valued highly in conversation and can turn you into a great conversationalist! which is why I recommend learning at least a couple of expressions from each of the categories above (to give an opinion, to agree and disagree, to persuade, to clarify a point, to interrupt someone, etc) to incorporate to your conversations and debates.

More often than not I hear students using the worn-out expressions “in my opinion” or “I think”, but today I want to challenge you to stop using those expressions and start using expressions like In my honest opinion…, It is my belief that…, As far as I am concerned…, To my understanding… These expressions are more advanced and will surely give you extra points in an international exam when you are asked to give your opinion on a given subject.

Do you want to be ready to use these expression in English class? Download and print the document below and have it on hand when doing speaking activities.

How do I practice using these expressions?

You can practice with a classmate, a friend who is interested in improving his/her language skills or you can do it like we do it at WeSpeak Idiomas, in our conversation workshop 🙂 Whichever way you choose, just keep practicing!

Click on the video below to watch a segment of one of our live classes where we discuss this very same topic.

Happy learning!


Cómo mejorar tu entonación en inglés

Como alumno (a) de inglés quizá piensas que suenas raro o gracioso cuando imitas la entonación de un nativo hablante, quizá piensas que la entonación es un elemento decorativo y que no carga consigo significado. Éstas son ideas ERRÓNEAS. Y soy consciente de que no se deben usar mayúsculas en un artículo, pero lo hago apropósito porque necesito que sientas el impacto de esa palabra.

No es la intención de un profesor “imponer” un acento a un alumno; sin embargo, es absolutamente vital prestar atención a la entonación para aprender a decodificar un mensaje. Así es, decodificar, lo que quiere decir que con sólo comprender las palabras y no la entonación podrías captar un mensaje distinto, completamente distinto.

Mira este ejemplo. En una clase de inglés el profesor va a administrar un examen oral al inicio de la siguiente sesión. Un alumno no podrá asistir a clase puntualmente y le pregunta a su profesor si puede asistir a la clase 30 minutos tarde.

Alumno: I know there’s an oral quiz next class but I will get off work late that day. Can I join the class 30 minutes late?

Profesor: You can. (enfatizando el verbo modal “can”)

El alumno entiende que sí puede llegar 30 minutos tarde a clase y se va feliz. Llega el día de la clase y el alumno obtiene un 0 (la mínima nota) por no presentarse al examen. Él, muy fastidiado, le dice al profesor “pero usted me dijo que podía llegar tarde”.

¿Qué ocurrió aquí? Claramente el profesor le dio permiso para llegar tarde, ¿verdad? Pues no, el profesor en ningún momento le dio permiso. Las palabras fueron afirmativas “You can” pero el mensaje fue negativo. ¿Cómo así el alumno no entendió el mensaje? Pues el alumno ignoró la entonación por completo y no se dio cuenta de que después de “You can” sigue la palabra “but”:

– You can but you’ll miss the oral quiz.

– You can but I won’t be able to give you a score.

– You can but….

¿Es necesario completar la oración? ¿Fue culpa del profesor no completar la oración? No. No es necesario completarla y no fue culpa del profesor. Comprender un mensaje implica no sólo comprender las palabras en una oración, sino el “propósito”. En este caso el significado de “You can” lo carga la entonación y no las palabras en sí.

Cómo mejorar tu entonación en inglés

Y la pregunta del millón, ¿Cómo mejoro mi entonación? Te cuento cómo lo hice yo, es el método que me funcionó y siempre se lo recomiendo a mis alumnos (aunque no es el único método y puedes encontrar otros que sean más apropiados para ti). Cuando yo era alumna del nivel básico, utilizaba los audios de las conversaciones del programa de inglés que estaba llevando y los escuchaba como mínimo 5 veces.

5 Pasos para mejorar tu entonación

  1. Primera escucha: Escuchaba el audio para entender la idea general
  2. Segunda escucha: Escuchaba el audio para para entender detalles.
  3. Tercera escucha: Escuchaba el audio y lo pausaba al final de cada oración, luego repetía la oración.
  4. Cuarta escucha: Escuchaba el audio y ponía acentos en las palabras que eran enfatizadas. La entonación del inglés no es plana, hay altos y bajos así que identificar que palabras tienen mayor fuerza de voz (como sustantivos, adjetivos o verbos) es vital para entender y hacerse entender. En mis tiempos yo usaba material impreso, así que ponía tildes sobre las palabras con un plumón. Si tienes el guión de una conversación en material digital como en PDF, también puedes hacerlo usando herramientas que te permitan editar un PDF como KAMI.  
  5. Quinta escucha: Escuchaba el audio mientras leía el guión de la conversación a la misma velocidad del hablante. Ésta era la parte más difícil.

Incontables veces me han preguntado, ¿Cómo mejoro mi entonación? y siempre doy el mismo consejo. Es gratificante cuando un alumno regresa a las semanas y me cuenta como su entonación mejoró al seguir estos tips, o cómo su profesor lo felicitó durante la práctica de una conversación en clase. Por otro lado, a veces veo caras sorprendidas después de haber compartido mis tips, ¡Wow! hay que hacer todo eso? ¿Tanto trabajo? No tengo tiempo para eso.

Hay alumnos que de manera natural adquieren la entonación correcta con tan solo escuchar. Si eres de esos alumnos, ¡qué suerte tienes! Quizá eres muy joven (los alumnos menores de 15, 16 anos tienen una habilidad innata para esto) o quizá simplemente tienes dotes para los idiomas. Pero si no es así, tienes que ser consciente de que no hay una metodología mágica que te haga mejorar tu producción oral. Hay que trabajar, toda habilidad requiere de tiempo y esfuerzo para ser desarrollada. Pretender mejorar sin hacer el esfuerzo es como pretender hacer crecer tus músculos sin hacer ejercicios o ir al gimnasio.

Espero que sigas estas recomendaciones y me cuentes sobre tu progreso. Funcionaron para mi y estoy segura de que funcionarán para ti también 🙂

B2, story

I didn’t have health insurance and this happened to me in Brazil

I started coughing one evening. Being a teacher, I’m always talking and I usually get sore throats or even laryngitis. In Peru I would always get antibiotics or a shot of Megacilin and that was enough to stop the cough and itchy throat.

I was in Sao Paulo and went to a drugstore on a mission to get antibiotics. “Antibioticos, por favor.” I assumed the word would be the same in Portuguese. The clerk said something in Portuguese, which I didn’t understand, then I started using sign language (not the real sign language that deaf people use, just moving my hands in an attempt to get the message across). I touched my throat, tos, antibioticos, duele, algo fuerte, por favor. The clerk showed my a piece of paper and I understood that I couldn’t get them without a prescription. “I should have bought some in Lima”, I regretted.

I still needed to alleviate the pain so I got over-the-counter medicine knowing it wouldn’t really help. I bought a bottle of cough syrup, lozenges and antihistamine, as the clerk suggested. After two days of taking that medication, my cough hadn’t stopped (as expected). It got worse, my throat was tomato red and I would always wake up coughing in the middle of the night. Lying down was an impossible task for me to perform since every time I tried to do it, the cough would come back stronger.

“Should I go to the hospital?”, I wondered. I’d heard the horror stories about people going for a cold and leaving with COVID. “What if I get infected with COVID?”, “What if it IS COVID”?, “How will I communicate with the doctor if I don’t speak Portuguese?”, I pondered for a while. I’d read about clinics trying to take advantage of tourists by charging more than they’re supposed to for simple procedures. I decided not to go.

The funny thing was I felt great during the day and terrible at night. My cough seemed to have a biological clock that activated after my body got ready for deep sleep. Every morning I thought “why go to the doctor now?, I’m feeling better!”. Every night I would be like “I’m going to the doctor now, it’s getting worse”.

By the fourth night I couldn’t take it anymore, I regretted not going in the morning, it was three in the morning and on top of all the very good reasons I had for not going to the hospital, I added the risk of bumping into drug addicts, prostitutes or thieves, I’d seen them from my balcony, they always came out at night.

Off we were, my husband and I walking down Republica Avenue heading to a hospital that had good reviews. After walking for about five blocks, we finally saw the building. It was a private hospital and looked fancy and reliable… too bad it was only for people who had insurance there. The security guard pointed at the corner and said there was another hospital within walking distance.

This other hospital looked like a public one, it reminded me of Hospital Loayza in Peru, it was old and the furniture inside it looked that it’d been there since the place was built. Little did I care about the furniture or the building, I needed a doctor, so I went in. There was a lady at the reception. I asked where I could get a doctor and she said no with her hands and closed her little window in front of her all without making eye contact. Not a good sign.

The guy next to her was assigned to note down my clinic history. I wrote my name and last name in a piece of paper and handed it to him. He was much nicer and had a smile on his face. He wasn’t wearing the mask properly-he had it under the nose-and I thought how crazy that was coming from a staff member in a hospital.

He handed me a paper slip and sent me to another area to wait for a doctor. There was only one other person waiting in the same room, I scanned her carefully waiting to see if she had COVID symptoms. I didn’t want to get infected. She never coughed, apparently she was waiting for someone who was already been seen by a doctor.

What do you do when you’re waiting? Of course, you torture yourself and watch the clock every few minutes, and that’s exactly what I did. The ticking of the clock was a constant reminder that I had a bus to Rio de Janeiro at 6:30am and that if I wasn’t called in the following 10 minutes, I would surely miss my bus. I’d waited for 45 minutes before a doctor finally said my name out loud. I jumped out of my seat immediately and said the only phrase I know in Portuguese Não falo Portuguese.

The doctor led me to the consultation room. Some of the words were similar to Spanish and I understood instructions like open your mouth, breath in, breath out, say ah. The doctor was a nice young man who made sure I understood what he was doing and why he was doing it. “Now I’m going to take your pulse, now I’m going to use a pulse oximeter to measure the oxygen saturation level of your blood, now I’m going to do such and such in order to detect such and such”. He made me feel at ease and looked like someone I could trust.

He prescribed Amoxicillin, Loratadine, Prednisona… and a COVID test. He said the symptoms I had might or might not be related to COVID, that the new variant had totally different symptoms compared to the other variants and that taking the test was an extra measure just to rule out the virus.

The tough part, paying for the service

Me: How much is the consultation?

Doctor: (frowning) What was that?

Me: How much, money, how much do I have to pay? where do I pay?

Doctor: Ohhhh, no, no, no. You don’t pay, the government pays.

(Maybe I wasn’t listening well. Maybe the language barrier didn’t help him get the message across.)

Me: You mean I don’t have to pay?

Doctor: No, you don’t have to pay anything (using body language to make sure I got it). As a matter of fact, the medicine is also free provided that you go to this specific drugstore.

I wanted to hug the doctor, the receptionist who didn’t use his mask properly, the angry receptionist who ignored me, the security guard and all the staff in the hospital. I thought I was a tourist who had no right to health care. Little did I know. I was deeply moved by the way I was treated in that hospital in Sao Paulo, like a human being. I imagined a scenario where the same had happened to me in another country, like in the US, where they would have happily stripped me from all my life savings in exchange for a consultation… so much for a first world country.

I started this trip thinking Sao Paulo was an incredibly dangerous city that I could get robbed anytime but the city decided to prove me wrong, it showed me kindness, good hearted doctors devoted to helping people when they need it the most. It’s a relief to be living in a country where health care isn’t denied to anyone, I am profoundly grateful to Brazil for having helped me when I needed it the most. Thank you Brazil.

B2, story, travel tips

My first impressions of Sao Paulo 

We landed in Sao Paulo at 9:30pm. After a five-hour flight I was ready and excited to get to know a new city. Unlike the process to get into other countries, like the USA, passing through security and immigrations was incredibly smooth. I wasn’t even asked the reason for my trip or where I would be staying. The immigration officer just looked at me, made sure my face matched the photo on my passport and that was it.

By 10:15pm Chris and I were ordering an Uber. By 11pm we were still waiting for an Uber.
Here’s how the conversation went.

As you can see, we didn’t want to cancel. It’s the person who doesn’t want the service the one who should cancel, right? But he kept saying that he wasn’t able to do it and that there was no fee for me if I did it. Of course there’s a fee! I’ve canceled before and been charged a penalty for it. We kept playing this game for 15 minutes. I even thought about having dinner at the airport to kill time until he canceled… But he never did, we had to cancel.

Then we got another Uber… Or so I’d thought until he asked “which neighborhood are you going to?”. Wait a second, didn’t the first driver ask the same question? Don’t they know where they’re taking you before they accept the ride? A thought crossed my mind, maybe the neighborhood we’re going to is dangerous, that’s why nobody wants to take us there. I decided not to reply-I didn’t want to risk losing this ride too-so I waited. Fortunately, our driver arrived.

We drove past a park full of tents. Are they camping? What’s going on here? A man on bear foot emerged from one of the tents, he was scruffy and looked like he hadn’t had a shower in a long time. They weren’t camping, they were living in the tents. A few blocks away I saw the not so lucky people who didn’t have tents and were sleeping on mattresses on the street. Who would have thought, there is also a social status in the homeless community. The high class homeless people own a mattress, a tent and some even enjoy luxuries like stoves, radios and pillows! The middle class only own a mattress, sometimes a shopping cart and the poor ones don’t even own shoes and sleep on the floor.

Our driver took us to our apartment, which we booked through Airbnb, and my first thought was “I’m going to get robbed in this neighborhood”. Shady people everywhere! The receptionist of the complex didn’t let us in right away. He was asking questions through the intercom and we don’t speak a word of Portuguese “no falo Portuguese, do you speak English? Spanish?” . Deep down I was praying to different gods that he open the door soon. There was a shady individual  scanning us as we waited by the gate with our luggage. I was ready to put my hands up and say “please take everything, don’t hurt us”. Later that night my husband confessed he was having similar thoughts, even though he looked calm at the time. He did a great job pretending!

There was a buzz and the door opened. We walked in and waited for the second door to open. Yes, there’s a second door that only opens when the first door closes. I loved the security measures! I was relieved, only for a second before I came to the realization that there’s only this kind of security in a place where it’s needed.
Well, this is my first impression. I am sure I have a lot to explore to have an objective opinion about Sao Paulo.

New vocabulary

  • fee: an amount of money that you pay to do something or that you pay to a professional person for their work
  • mattress: the soft part of a bed that you lie on
  • ride: a journey in a vehicle, when you are not driving
  • shady: probably dishonest or illegal SYN suspicious
  • scruffy: dirty and untidy
  • tent: a shelter consisting of a sheet of cloth supported by poles and ropes, used especially for camping
B1, story

My older friends

People often hang out with people their same age, that makes sense since people your generation tend to have similar interests, but since I can remember I’ve always had friends who are older than me.

When I was in my 20’s I befriended a lovely lady, who was first friends with my parents. Sol was in her 50’s and somehow we hit it off and became friends. One day I was using the title “usted” (in English “you”), which we use in Spanish to address people who are older than you to show respect and the next day I was using “tu” (also “you”), which we use with friends and people our age. She used to sell make-up and I became her client, then somewhere along the way we started texting and we even went shopping for clothes together once when we lived in Lima. She moved to New Jersey and we lost touch for a few years but reconnected recently and I’m so happy we did.

This year I befriended two adorable guys who are at least 30 years older than me. Bertran and Gaytan were my neighbors in Playa del Carmen, where I was staying for a couple of months earlier this year. I would see them on the rooftop sunbathing or having what I thought were healthy smoothies (I found out later they were smoothies with rum haha). Once we got talking at the pool and I found them to be very sweet and easy-going and after I realized that we had a lot in common—like our desire to travel the world, living like nomads and not making plans for the following day—it only felt right to have them home for dinner. I’m not a great cook but did my best to cook ají de gallina (a Peruvian typical dish) for them. They brought wine and had a nice chat, we got to know them better and they also offered to cook dinner for us! Our relationship is not like the kind of small-talk interaction you have with a regular neighbor you bump into at the supermarket, it’s rather a let’s-get-together-in-Portugal-to-celebrate-our-anniversary kind of friendship. My two lovely brand-new friends and I got along so well that they invited my husband and I to meet in a different country, Portugal, where they were going to be celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. It’s a pity we won’t be able to go but I’m sure we’ll find the way to meet again.

Well today I just wanted to share that with you. Have you tried befriending people older than you? If not, you might me missing out!

In this blog you’ll find both, stories and learning materials. You have just read a story and can check out similar ones below.


Let’s get to know each other!

Teacher – Digital nomad

Hello, I’m Ayleen!

I’m the founder and content creator of WeSpeak Idiomas. I’ve been teaching English for about 14 years and am now a digital nomad teaching around the world with my team of teachers. My main motivation is to create original and personalized materials for you to use in class, discussing real-life situations rather than using English from a textbook.

What I do

✔️ English/Spanish Teacher

✔️ Teacher trainer

✔️ Content creator (learning materials)

✔️ Digital nomad

Where I’ve worked


(2015 – 2018)

(2010 – 2014)