Viernes de Vocabulario: ¿Tienes la hora?

Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.


¿tienes la hora? do you have the time?
¿qué hora(s) (es / son)? what time is it?

If you are wearing a watch or holding a cell phone in public, you will hear these questions and their variations a lot.  The difference between ¿qué hora es? and ¿qué horas son? is a regional one.

Es la una it’s one o’clock
Son las (dos/tres/etc.) it’s (two/three/etc.) o’clock

Since any number bigger than one requires plural agreement in Spanish, you’ll have to make sure your verb agrees with the time.

(las #) y cuarto quarter after …
(las #) y media half past …
(las #) en punto … on the dot
(las #) de la mañana … in the morning (am)
(las #) de la tarde … in the afternoon (pm)
(las #) de la noche … at night (either am or pm depending, as in English, “4 at night” is 4am but “7 at night” is 7pm)
mediodía noon
medianoche midnight

Es hora de (verbo) it’s time to …

If you’re hungry, it’s probably because ya es hora de comer.  If your friend tries to convince you at the party even though you’re falling asleep in a corner, you can tell her es hora de ira a dormir.  And always, always, always, es hora de practicar tu español



Viernes de Vocabulario: Ganas

Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.


Ganas doesn’t translate well to English.  It means desire, interest, or sometimes motivation.  Sometimes it’s singular, and sometimes it’s plural.  The simplest way to understand its meaning is to consider a number of idiomatic phrases.

tener ganas (de hacer algo)            to feel like doing something

Tengo ganas de cantar.  I feel like singing.  No tengo ganas de salir.  I don’t feel like going out.  Do you want to have dinner at my house?  No, es que no tengo ganas.  (No, I don’t feel like it.)  No tengo ganas de hacer nada.  I don’t feel like doing anything at all.  And so on and so forth.

dar(le) ganas (a alguien)            to make someone feel like something

Watching you eat me da ganas de un taco (makes me feel like a taco).  Sitting in class for eight hours a day me da ganas de gritar (makes me want to scream).  After all, ganas is something you have, so something can give them to you.

se me da la gana                I feel like it

I will go to the party si se me da la gana.  I will clean my room eventually, cuando se me dé la gana (when I get around to feeling like it).

de (buena / mala) gana            willingly / unwillingly

If you mop the kitchen floor and take out the trash, but only de mala gana, you’re doing it unwillingly.  If you do it de buena gana, you’ve got a smile on your face and might even be talking about how cleanliness is next to Godliness.

mantener las ganas                stay motivated
perder las ganas                lose interest
echar ganas                    put your heart into something

If you are working on a long project, it can be hard to mantener las ganas.  If you’ve worked hard all week, by the end of the weekend it’s possible that has perdido las ganas.  But échale ganas, put your heart into it.

quedarse con las ganas            to be unsatisfied

All week long, tenía ganas de un helado de chocolate (I wanted a chocolate ice cream).  But the store closed just as I got there, and me quedé con las ganas (I was unsatisfied because I couldn’t fulfill that need).  Every time I’ve tried to call my best friend, she hasn’t been home, and so me quedé con las ganas.  You know that feeling where you just haven’t quite satisfied a craving – usually because something got in your way – and you are exceedingly frustrated?  That is what it means to quedarse con las ganas.

Viernes de vocabulario: ¡échate a la vida!

Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.


Following up on our discussion of echar, we’ll look at reflexive uses of this verb.  echarse, to throw oneself, does have a literal meaning.  El gato se me echó encima, the cat pounced on me.

However, the most common use of echarse  is with a and an infinitive.  It means to begin doing something, usually in a sudden manner.  Se echó a llorar, she burst into tears.  Se echó a reír, he burst out laughing.  When I saw the big scary dog, me eché a correr (I burst into a run).

Similar expressions include:

echarse a la bebida            to take to the bottle, to begin drinking, to turn to drink

Someone who’s “thrown himself to drink” has started drinking, and heavily.  You can’t say this about someone who’s had their first sip of wine but only about someone who has recently begun to drink like a fish.  (In Spanish, you can’t drink like a fish, but you can beber como una esponja, or drink like a sponge.)

echarse a dormir            to go to sleep (lit.), to let things slide (fig.)

In English, you can “go to sleep on the job” in a literal or a figurative sense.  So, too, in Spanish.  La maestra se echó a dormir, por eso no regaña a estos chamacos.  The teacher’s gone to sleep, that’s why she doesn’t scold those kids.

echarse a morir            to lie down and die
echarse a la vida            to live life to the fullest

Someone who’s given up completely se ha echado a morir, with the same figurative meaning as in English.  The complete opposite would be echarse a la vida, or to really throw yourself into life.

echarse a perder            to spoil, to break down, to go rotten

echarse a perder means almost exactly the same thing as descomponerse.  If your car se echa a perder, it’s broken down.  If the fruit in your refrigerator se echa a perder, it’s rotten.  If your kids se echan a perder, you’ve spoiled ‘em rotten.

Other idiomatic expressions:

echarse atrás                to back down

When you make a promise or a threat and don’t keep it, what do we call it in English?  Backing down, backing out, or going back (on your word).  Me amenazó con la escoba, pero cuando le dije que me pegara, se echó atrás.  He threatened me with the broom, but when I told him to go ahead and hit me, he backed down.

echárselas de (…)            to brag or boast or pretend to be something

If you’re pretending to be brave when you’re quaking in your boots, te las echas de valiente.  If you’re trying to convince all your friends that you’re a ladies’ man, te las echas de galán.

echarse las manos a la cabeza    to be scandalized

echarse las manos a la cabeza means, quite literally, to put your hands on your head, but the English equivalent is to bury your face in your hands.  It means, essentially, to be so scandalized that you have to cover your eyes.

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico

Article and photos by Ron Mader
Latin America Correspondent and the Responsible Travel Contributing Editor 

Altar, Instituto Cultural Oaxaca

          Altar, Instituto Cultural Oaxaca

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is an annual celebration that manifests a rich blend of Catholic and indigenous traditions.

Spirits of the beloved dead return to their homes and visit for a short time with their families and friends. The first day of November the souls of departed children arrive, and on the second day of November they are joined by spirits of adults. Like all visitors, they are welcomed with food, drink, stories, memories, and good will. Their presence is thought of as a blessing rather than a curse, and brings joy to their loved ones.

In preparation for this celebration, the last days of October are spent preparing special loaves of sweet bread (pan de muerto), and desserts; making mole, harvesting special flowers, including marigolds (cempasúchil); creating altars in the home and decorating grave sites. Decorations in the form of macabre but whimsical skeletons and candy skulls abound. Death is not to be feared but embraced.

Read Full story at Transitions Abroad



Viernes de Vocabulario: Temporary States and the Verb Tener


Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.


As an English speaker, you’re used to talking about temporary states using the verb to be.  You can be hungry, be thirsty, be sleepy, be hot, be cold be in a hurry, be right, be afraid, be jealous, and all kinds of other short-term feelings.  In Spanish, however, you can’t be any of these things – you have them instead.

tener hambre / sed                    to be hungry / thirsty

The most common way to say that you are hungry or thirsty is to say, literally, that you have hunger or thirst.  No tengo hambre, es que tengo sed.  I’m not hungry, the thing is I’m thirsty.  If you’re really, really, really hungry, you can say tengo un hambre enorme, tengo un hambre terrible, tengo un hambre tremenda, or even just plain old tengo un hambre to indicate the sheer hugeness of your hunger.

tener sueño                                to be sleepy

Once again, you can’t be sleepy.  You can only have sleep.  Much like tengo un hambre, you can say tengo un sueño to suggest that you are incredibly sleepy.  (Tengo un sueño could also mean, “I have a dream” a la Martin Luther King, but you’ll have to rely on context for this one.)

tener calor / frío                         to be hot / cold

This one is trickier because of the potential for misunderstanding.  When you feel hot, tienes calor.  When you feel cold, tienes frío.  Once again, tener un frío and tener un calor suggest that you are really exceptionally warm or cold.

What is dangerous is that these words can be used with ser and estar, but their meaning is quite different.  If you say, soy frío, you are implying that you are a cold-blooded person who has no feelings whatsoever.  If a person es caliente, they are sexy.  Even more dangerous is to say estoy caliente, which suggests that you are currently “in the mood.”  Estoy frío, meanwhile, implies the exact opposite – you’re feeling cool and uninterested.  (¡Ten cuidado! Be careful!)

tener celos                                  to be jealous

Jealousy, much like these other short-term states, is something you have.  But watch out: in English, we conflate jealous and envious.  In Spanish, if tienes celos, it means you are feeling possessive of someone’s time and energy; if you simply want to have the stuff that someone else has, you are feeling a different emotion, envidia.

tener flojera                                 to be lazy
tener prisa                                   to be in a hurry
tener asco                                   to be disgusted
tener pena / vergüenza              to be ashamed or embarrassed
tener lástima (a algo / alguien)  to be sorry (for someone or something)
tener cuidado (con algo)            to be careful (with something)
tener la culpa (de algo)              to be guilty (of something)
tener razón                                  to be right
tener éxito                                   to be successful

A whole bunch more, similar to those above.  If you’re following me, congratulations – ya tienes éxito.  If you’re finding this confusing, tienes toda la razón (you’re absolutely right), because tengo la culpa (it’s my fault).  In fact, tengo mucha pena (I’m very embarrassed) that I hae presented so much information all at once.

tener (#) años                              to be a certain age

While this one may seem different from the others, in reality the principle is the same.  Your age isn’t a permanent trait.  Today, tengo 28 años (I’m 28), but just last week, tenía sólo 27 (I was only 27).

Anyway, we English speakers think of age as a mood all the time.  Haven’t you ever heard that you’re only as old as you feel?

10 ways an iPad can help you learn Spanish



Here at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca, we are beginning to use iPads in many of our classes.  It’s very important to be culturally immersed, but it’s also important in this historical moment to keep in mind how central technology is to our lives.  Especially for students who plan to use Spanish in a work environment, a familiarity with technology is vital.



1. Songs and movies mean you can hear Spanish at home, not just in the classroom.

2. With the iPad’s camera, you can record yourself speaking Spanish and see and hear your own progress.  Try recording yourself repeating a tongue twister on the first and last days of your stay: ruedan las ruedas del ferrocarril…

3. Play Scrabble and other word games with your friends and classmates!

4. Work on interactive exercises in your free time, getting feedback even when you’re not in the classroom.

5. If you’re at a high level, take advantage of access to news articles, magazines, and books with an e-reader app!

6. If you’re just beginning, use dozens of visual language-learning apps to connect pictures to words.

7. Dictionary apps make it easy to consult multiple dictionaries: get a word’s meaning in English, read a description in Spanish, or look at lists of synonyms, antonyms, or even rhyming words.

8. Interactive self-tests let you focus on your problem areas.

9. With an e-reader, get instant access to hundreds of books and magazines in Spanish.  Audiobooks and podcasts are also available for iPad.

10. Skype with your faraway friends in Spanish, or find an intercambio through Skype and practice for free.

And a bonus reason:

11. Familiarize yourself with the layout of a Spanish keyboard.