To celebrate Spanish Language Day on 23 April, we are joined by Dr. Carlos Soler Montes. Carlos is a Lecturer at the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures at the University of Edinburgh, where he teaches Hispanic Linguistics and advanced Spanish Language courses. He started working at The University of Edinburgh in 2015 as a Teaching Fellow and e-Learning Coordinator and now is the Learning and Teaching Director of the Department of European Languages and Cultures as well as Programme Director for Spanish and Portuguese at Bilingualism Matters.
One of Carlos’ passions is studying the Spanish language in Spain and Latin America. He is interested in language variation from a pan-Hispanic and pluricentric perspective and how this variation is dealt with by native speakers, as well as learners of Spanish. This is reflected in his research of Hispanic Linguistics, where he has examined the ways Spanish grammar varies across different Hispanic regions, its particularities, cultural connections and social contacts with other languages.
Currently, Carlos is co-leading a research project entitled “Linguistic variation in postcolonial contexts: historical, social and contact linguistic perspectives” funded by UNA Europa. The project brings together researchers working on postcolonial language studies and sociolinguistics within their university network, in order to produce new insights into linguistic variation and change in postcolonial contexts, promoting new and long-lasting collaboration initiatives that lead to a better understanding of European languages outside Europe. Additionally, Carlos is part of the “Spanish in Europe: Linguistic Demography of Spanish in Europe” research project, representing Scotland, which aims to better understand how groups of Spanish speakers are shaped by migration and the spread of Spanish as a foreign language, as well as how different social and linguistic environments affect language competency and use.
For introductory information about Spanish colonialism, check out these links:
– Expansion and Consequences: Crash Course European History #5
– Spanish Colonisation of the Americas
– Differences in Spanish Varieties
[Carine] Hola y bienvenidos al podcast Must Language Such Tak. Today you’ll be hearing from me, Carine, and my wonderful co-host Maria. Hi, Maria, how are you?
[Maria] Nice to see you!
[Carine] As it’s Spanish Language Day on the 23rd of April, today we’re talking with Dr. Carlos Soler Montes, a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh who teaches topics such as Hispanic linguistics and Spanish language courses in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, and is the University’s learning and teaching director at the Department of European Languages and Cultures.
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[Carine] Before we continue the introduction, we wanted to mention that we will primarily discuss the spread of the Spanish language through colonialism with Carlos but unfortunately, we only have an hour which is not at all enough time to cover a topic such as globally and historically impactful as it is. For more resources and links about Spanish colonialism and the history of the Spanish language, please head over to our website to learn more.
[Carine] Throughout his career, Carlos has also taught Hispanic linguistics and Spanish language courses at the University of Connecticut, Calgary and New Mexico. And before coming to the University of Edinburgh, he also worked at the Instituto Cervantes for 10 years as an academi coordinator, curriculum specialist, teacher trainer and quality evaluator. Carlos is passionate about studying the wide range of Spanish varieties across Spain and Latin America. As a researcher, Carlos is particularly interested in the language variation of different Spanish is and investigating it from multiple perspectives. He is interested in how this variation is dealt with by native speakers, as well as Spanish language learners. More specifically, Carlos’ research has examined how Spanish grammars vary across different Hispanic regions, cultural connections and through contact with other languages. So, welcome to the episode. Hi, Carlos. How are you?
[Carlos] Thank you. Hi, Carine. Hi, Maria. I’m very happy to be here with you today.
[Carine] Are you ready to just get right on in there?
[Carlos] Yeah, I am, I’m really excited and happy to share the day with all of you. Yeah.
[Carine] Fantastic. All right. So how did you get interested in studying languages?
[Carlos] Well, believe it or not, and as you can tell by my level of English, I was really bad a student of languages. In Spain, we started quite late with languages, we don’t start studying English until middle school. I was not very, very good on these. But I needed to start using them, which is since I decided to move out of Spain and complete my graduate studies in the US and then work in North America, in the US and in Canada. And now here. So I guess it was a way to become a global citizen. I have to say that I did study French in high school, and I am married to a French man. So I am part of a bilingual family and my French is actually not much better than my English, it is also closer to my native language. And I’m also a speaker of Italian. I did a year abroad in Italy. And I was able to familiarise with the language that I really love as well.
[Carine] That’s so fantastic. I was going to ask you what languages you speak. So it seems that you’ve got Spanish, English, French and Italian in there. All right. Any other little ones hiding?
[Carlos] And no, well, I did study Greek, Latin, Modern Greek for a year, but I have forgotten all that. And now Yeah, I look forward at some points since I’ve been in Scotland for six years to study Gaelic, and I know that the university offer these Gaelic courses for staff and students. So I look forward to finding some time and I’ll do that very soon.
[Carine] Do you have multilingual family? That’s fantastic. So what languages do you actually speak at home usually? Is that English, is it French, is it Spanish?
[Carlos] Yeah, well, we met we actually met speaking Spanish so that has conditioned our relationship.
[Carine] That is so sweet!
[Carlos] And you know that these things that they eat when it’s kind of more natural to use the language because you just started talking with the language. So we tend to use more Spanish but it’s true that we use we switch to French very often with family, with family in France. And again, depending on the topic and, or the things that were covered discussing here we may end up talking in French, which is also very nice to kind of have an idiolect and a code switching depending on the day or the hour of the day.
[Maria] It’s so hard sometimes to change the routines and those schemes if you have a language associated to a person is impossible, well not impossible, but there are languages associated to situations person, people language of love or friendship, and it’s hard to break those schemes for yourself.
[Carine] So you’ve taken your love of Spanish I’ve seen through your fun and exciting adventure through your career, your work and research focuses on different varieties of Spanish around the world. How should we refer to these different Spanish dialects? Because I think they’re the two major categories, which are Latin American Spanish, and that which can also even be contrasted with South American Spanish. And then, you know, you got European Spanish, or Castilian Spanish, we were actually talking about this before we started. So how do you label or like, what’s the criteria that you generally would use for those kind of Spanishes?
[Carlos] Well, it’s true that working with a Spanish language, we need to consider the language as a pluricentric language which means that has various centres in different areas. Maybe even though they can be very far to each other, which represent a community of speakers which are considered as contributors to the standard and to the general language that we use. So pluricentricity and the Spanish language is kind of the same in a way. Spanish is divided in many geographical areas due to the history of colonisation, and has been associated to European varieties, Latin American varieties. It’s also spoken in Africa. So we could also talk about African Spanish. And it is all very complex, sometimes, maybe hard to understand. But we could mainly talk about a European Spanish, which include at least three main varieties Castilian, Andalusian, and Canarian Spanish. And then in Latin America, we can think about five big areas, which are divided dialectologically into Mexican Central American Spanish, Caribbean Spanish, Andean Spanish, Austral Spanish and Chilean Spanish. But it’s true that those dialects are a connected. And the distinction between European varieties and Latin American varieties is not necessarily useful depending on which type of phenomena or a specific structure you’re studying. Because there are transnational connections that link some parts of the, for example, Iberian Peninsula to the Caribbean, or in coastal Latin American Spanish and other parts that are linked in some other ways. So it’s a very complex map. Very, very interesting to study. It also, there’s a lot of work to do, still to be able to transfer all this knowledge and be able to make it more clear to users, to teachers, and to learners of the language.
[Maria] And I think to Spaniards as well, because I don’t think I ever learned this at school. And we, from the Spanish perspective, we have like this central idea of like the language, and we forget that there’s a huge variety, and there’s more speakers from all the varieties than actually ours. And then obviously, the people who all are more Spanish monolinguals even have a more central idea than those who are bilingual from, for instance, from Catalonia or Galicia or Basque Country. So it’s very interesting, I think it should be taught at school as well.
[Carine] Kind of what I was getting from that is that instead of just coming up with this kind of like, you know, overall terminology, whether it’s like Castilian or Latin, it should be more kind of centred or to say, like, the region or the country where the Spanish is being spoken. Is that kind of what you generally do when you talk about specific Spanishes?
[Carlos] Yeah, yeah, I would rather go by something like that less general, because sometimes as I’m saying, by speaker of Spanish from Andalusia, is closer to a Chilean or to Cuban than to a Madrilean or a speaker from Barcelona or Galicia. So their connections had phonetical levels of grammar, or lexicon, are transnational and don’t have necessarily reflect upon geography. So that’s also very interesting to take into account. And also not to forget that Spain only represents 5% of the global community of Spanish speakers. So by all means, it should not be considered as the dominant variety, even though it has been placed by history and also considered as more prestigious in the past. But nowadays, the future of Spanish is in the Americas. And all the weight of the demographics are in the other side of the ocean.
[Carine] That’s so interesting that there’s such a difference between varieties within Spain, while there’s literally an ocean there. And then yeah, of course, that’ll hold the hierarchy, the power our hierarchy that goes into Spanish and how you know, I didn’t realise that Spain was only 5% of Spanish speakers that is less than I thought it was. But then you have to remember there’s an entire continent. That’s a lot of people. Okay, so you mentioned that they were similar to like so Andalusian and Chilean I think is what you said at those ones are more similar and things like that. So it seems that different varieties of Spanish are mutually intelligible so that people can understand each other when they speak this different varieties of Spanish, or are there moments where communication breaks down because actually speak quote unquote, two different Spanish?
[Carlos] Well, the good thing about the Spanish as it happened with other languages is that the dialectal structure, even if it is very rich, is quite homogeneous and quite simple in terms of internal variation. But it’s true that there are different especially when we use a colloquial registers and yeah, some dialects are really, really close. Due to history due to colonisation all the, all the soldiers and all the population that was meant to go to the Americas during colonies, there was transition in via Andalusia, via Seville, Cadiz, the main ports of exit to the new world. So the civilian then the Andalusian accent was naturally transported to the colonies and was reproduced there and is still maintained. So we can recognise some specific accent characteristics. So there are similarities on that. And also, other varieties, for example, Andean Spanish, which is far away from the coast as well as central Mexican Spanish can be more easily connected to the central dialects of the Iberian Peninsula. So there are these connections, which are really interesting to explore, as well as grammar phenomenons that are also linked to these two variants or superdialects. There are different tendencies and and dialogues that have been built since the colonisation and that are still maintained.
[Carine] So yes, regionally and contact with other languages that makes sense. But those two strain differently because anything can cause a dialect, to change the way that it sounds like literally, like, there could be a really heavy snowstorm and surprise, you now have a river here. And though these two communities no longer speak to each other, so they start to divert in the way that they speak. When it comes down to vocabulary. Specifically, when I went to high school in the States, I learned Mexican Spanish, and friends of mine who are Argentinian or from Colombia. And like in class, it was great. Obviously, we’d be learning vocabulary, and they’re like: that’s not the word for that. And I don’t know if you can answer this question, but it’s like, because how did it come about that there are such differences in the vocabulary? I’ve also learned that in Argentina, you have to be careful with every word you use. It’s really interesting. Yeah, how in one country, one word means something very, very common and benign in another country, maybe you don’t say that in public. (laughs)
[Carlos] Yeah, that’s happens a lot in Spanish in every country. Well, as you say, the history of language contact the history of bilingualism is at the end is the history of the language. Bilingualism is the engine that creates language change and evolution within, within a given language. And in Spanish as the context situations have been a constantly happening very far away and with different languages, with very different typological languages, we can find a lot of these pairs or, or different solutions in different countries. And this has to do with the with the period and the language by which the new term the loan was introduced. For example, after the decolonization and the independence of the new Latin American republics at the beginning of the 18th century, Spain was still very exposed to French influence, while Latin America started to be more exposed to English inference because of the emerging power of the of the US. So we could find a lot of technological our lexicon, or vocabulary referred to clothing to fashion that in Spain comes from French while in the Latin America has been introduced directly from English. So depending on the context, the type of domain of use of the language, we will see these differences. In food. There’s also a lot of richness as we tend to keep Arabic recipes and ingredients in Spain, whereas in Latin America, all the food traditions are coming from our autonomous, indigenous cultures. So there’s a lot of variation in terms of food habits and recipes. And then of course, in colloquial language, they will find that metaphors that represent, for example, metaphors that we use to talk about sex, about taboos, about religion, about a, I don’t know, familiar aspects or family language are totally artificial sometimes. And they may end up meaning of the whole different thing in another dialect, just by by luck. So that’s what happens with some terms that are absolutely polite and innocent, naive, in some areas are very, very rude in some others. So there’s also the need to develop these sociocultural, sociolinguistic competence, to be able to, to reframe, and to understand which of these words are really, really complicated to say, somewhere else.
[Carine] It’s so true. It’s so, I don’t wanna say it was exciting. It’s very embarrassing. When you go to a new country, and you think you speak this language perfectly fine. Like when I moved to the UK, and you ask for certain things, and people look at you being like, what did you just ask me for? Like, I’m still really used to saying like, oh, have you seen my pants? And people were like, no, you’re wearing trousers? And I’m like, Oh, no, no, no, I’m talking about my trousers. I’m not talking about my underwear. Why would I ask you if you’ve seen my underwear? Oh, no.! (laughs) And you’re just like in a classroom with nine year olds, and they’re all looking at you. Like, how could you have just said that to us? You’re like, Oh, this is so embarrassing.
[Maria] You learn as you go in anywhere, like even even when I learned English, it was academic English. And then I moved here, and then it sounded absolutely weird. And despite my academic English is based on the British variety. But then with Spanish, I guess, because in high school, I was exposed to different people from different parts of South America. And you learn as you go, and you make fun, there’s always a funny joke about it. And then they make a funny joke about your own variety. And then you encounter someone else in the world, and there’s always something new you’re gonna learn. And you’re like, Whoa, I’ve never heard that. And that’s a variety I was supposed to be aware of? That would be great if that was actually, it should all be taught at school. We should all be aware of it.
[Carine] Yes, exactly. There has to be a class. Like, it’s so great. Whenever friends of mine, who are second language speakers of English being like, haven’t you heard this phrase? And I’m like, what is what is this phrase? And then immediately I start hearing it in my everyday life, and I’m like, oh, okay, apparently, I’ve just never known what these three words together meant. That would be so great, imagine if we had a class just for that, just so you can learn about these global varieties of the languages you speak. That would be so cool.
[Maria] We do learn a bit about South American literature, but it’s not enough. And sometimes it’s like books that have been written like 50 years ago. So at the end of the day, the language is not actually the fresh version of it, kind of thing. And it’s for more formal. So they colloquial words are the ones which are confusing most of the time.
[Carlos] Yeah, it happens all the time and is so complex, it goes beyond the language is the culture, the attitudes, the pragmatics, the distance, the way we emphasise things, the use of specific interjections, all is related and can be a source of problems or misunderstanding.
[Carine] Problems and misunderstandings, language 101, that should be a class right there. (laughter) So we’ve mentioned it a few times, and this is talking about how these varieties and how this language has travelled. So we’ve mentioned colonisation quite a few times, if you can, can you talk about what exactly was the role of Spanish during colonisation? Like is the history of the language, of Spanish in colonisation similar to that of other languages like English and French? Or is it different? Or what is the role that it played there? Because it clearly, it spread across the world pretty quickly?
[Carlos] Yeah, well, I guess we cannot talk about Spanish without talking about colonisation. It’s absolutely crucial that we understand the dimension and the impact that this period of history had for the language, but also for the Spanish speaking communities and for what is today the Spanish speaking world. Colonisation was brutal, was a terrible, was ashaming. And it has an impact, a really big impact in the language that we speak now. That impact was positive because the heritage and the, the, the richness of the Spanish language increased incredibly, but it was also an impact and a legacy of death of languages, cultures, repression, and oppression and all kinds of, of bad things that happened while the colonization took place. From the end of the 15th century, to a, to the end of the 18th century, just before the, the independence of the Latin American republics. It’s a bit different to, if we compare it to the French or the, the English called colonisation because of the interest and the, and the need of Spanish colonisers and the politics in fusioning, in becoming part of the new societies that they were concrete and that they were founding. So, since the very beginning in the Spanish colonies, we can, we experienced a history of fusion of exchange and of Mestizaje [mix of colonizers and indigineous people] as we call it in Spanish, which had also an immediate effect in the language and in the use of the language because very soon, within a generation, Spanish was actually the mother tongue of many newborns in the Americas, which understood and see the world which is which was a mestizo world, very hybrid world through the lenses of the Spanish language. And that did not happen at the same time with the same speed and as easy in other European colonial territories. To give you some facts of what happened . There are historians that talk about an 50% of indigenous communities during the centuries of the colonisation and the death of more than 1500 languages that have disappeared since 1492. So, even though Latin America is still one of the richest linguistic ecospheres, the lack and the disparisation of, of so many languages, is really ashaming. And it does talk about what happened through all these years of imperialism and colonisation. On the other side of the of the problem, we can understand some aspects that have allowed to maintain these languages. For example, the interest of Spain in christianize these territories led to the learning of the indigenous languages, by the missionaries and by the church very, very soon, they would be in charge of transcribing, and starting to standardise these indigenous languages, especially the most common ones, Nahuatl in Mexico or Quechua in Peru, and kind of register and normalise these languages, so they could, so they could be learned and taught more easily. So that was also very important. And that allowed these languages to be protected and to be registered from that early moment. Also, very soon, within the colonial history, universities were founded, the first university that was a opening in the colonies, is the one in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic in 1538, just 40 years after the arrival of Colón [Christopher Columbus], which is quite impressive, and also can help us understand how the the languages, the knowledge, the cultural aspect of the colonization also plays a role in creating a new society, which was using Spanish as a way to, to express themselves to to make the language part of their own identity. And that’s exactly what happened.
[Maria] Do you think that Latin American Spanish and European Spanish, being split by an ocean, are they becoming more and more different because of the distance, because of other influences because of trying to separate the histories. Or are they staying or becoming more similar? Because we want to unite a bit like the international language-Spanishes?
[Carlos] Well, that’s a very good question. And it’s true that there’s so many things that are happening right now in terms of globalisation, geopolitics and, and all that. And a recent studies showed that Spanish is quite unified, and is in contact from both sides of the ocean, because of, of the social networks, the use of internet, the possibility of interacting with Spanish speakers from, from different countries. So there’s still this need of inter-comprehension within the different dialects of Spanish nowadays. But what we see today is that the Spanish speaking world is divided in two super-dialects, or supra-dialects, that not necessarily correspond to Europe and Latin America. We see that there’s an urban dialect, which reunite most of the Spanish speakers living in urban areas are unconnected to the internet and to the social network. And our rural Spanish, which could be another big dialect, which is unifying, and connecting the ways in we keep speaking in the rural areas, and that’s also transnational, and is also uniting, yeah, people from rural areas in Spain, in Latin America in some different ways. So it’s very, very hard to understand the dynamics of languages and the power of different varieties. There’s a need to use a neutral Spanish because of what we are now experiencing the netflixisation of culture, the sharing of, of series, of soap operas, of television, and it seems that the more neutral accent that is tolerated in a more countries is the Mexican accent. So we associated neutral Spanish to this Mexican variant from Mexico City, which is as being more consonant, is more easy to understand, to follow. But as well in Spain, we have Madrid accent that has come as very normative within television and politicians and the media. So there’s still different norms that, that coexist, and that are used and consumed by speakers in different ways.
[Carine] I-I want to mention something about you know, that whole nex-netflixisation, I think is the word that you used because I was like, I have watched The Cable Girls, which is like Las Chicas del Ca-Cable, Cablas? [Carlos: Sí, sí] I can never remember which one it is. Yeah, I-I mentioned like I learned Mexican Spanish and I still happens to me whenever I hear Spain Spanish speakers speaking. I’m like, “I feel like I should know this” (laughs). And so I started watching the show, like it was just like, so immediate to me just how different the language was. And I-I literally am like, “I need the subtitles to be a little bit bigger” cause I can’t keep up with it as quickly. Um, it’s true. And like there’s a show in the states called Jane The Virgin which I think did such a great job of having a mix of Spanish and English, just constantly throughout the show. But since they are using more Latin varieties, I think mostly Mexican Spanish, I don’t generally need to focus on the subtitles nearly as much. But when I watch shows from Spain, I’m just like, “What’s happening here? Oh, no”. So yeah, it is interesting how we’re creating a new language almost.
[Carlos] The good thing about Netflix is that they are incorporating teams of actors from different regions and from different dialects. And it is now more common to see actors from different varieties interacting and acting with their own accent. So that’s a way also to be exposed to other varieties and to develop our passive competence and in, in a way restructuring all these accents. But it’s interesting how, how this market and the and the media are reframing and, and making new paths for for these varieties to encounter them and to interact.
[Maria] Yeah I’m going to bring a bit my regional side out, but I was very proud when I saw that in Netflix for the first time they did a Galician TV show, it’s in Spanish, not in Galician, but it’s always in in Galicia and all the actors and actresses, they all speak that variety, and the accent sounds like that. And it’s famous throughout Spain because it comes from Netflix. So I was very happy that they’re actually introduced in this and also like in minority languages or smaller regions, which have a specific dialect or variety that is not very known, for instance, internationally maybe yes, entire Spain but not outside.
[Carine] That, that must be so nice to see that to have that like little bit of yourself like in the media. That must be so cool.
[Maria] Yeah, so I don’t know, heartwarming. (laughs)
[Maria] And so what you were mentioning that we have like the Mexican and Spanish that you kind of associate, I actually have been called Mexican. And I’ve received the comment on being yeah, like, “You’re from Spain, but you speak the same language.” So you’re identified as coming from the same place, you’re kind of this, you have the same culture, the same language, is the same thing for you and eating nachos and tacos, is the same than eating that like for someone that is Mexico, when it’s actually not. So why do you think this happens? Like, have you encountered this? Or how can we tackle these stereotypes and these tendencies to associate us, because of the language, associate us as one?
[Carlos] Yeah, that happens a lot. It has happened to me, I have to say that it has happened to me in, when I was living in the US and in Canada. There’s this understanding of Spanish as, as as one thing, which is good in a way because we are all part of the Hispanic speaking world, and we share so much. But sometimes the adjective in English can be used to address the language, Spanish language, or the culture, or the ethnicity. So it’s hard to condensate all these perspective in just one word, and that’s probably one of the causes of the misconceptions and the, and, and problems when referring to what is Spanish or, or what is Spanish language. In Spanish, we have more adjective to talk about all these we have a hispano, español , hispánico. So, we could play a bit more and differentiate the language, the region, the culture, the identity, but in English it’s harder. So yeah, I guess it’s a question of knowing geography, probably and history, and then also acknowledge that the Spanish speaking world is really rich. There are so many ethnicities within, within it, so many countries, so many regions. As I was mentioning before, we cannot forget about afro descendants, about the role of Africa in, in Spanish, which is also super important about a using a Spanish now in some African republics, such as Equatorial Guinea, where it is still an official language or in the Philippines. So yeah, there’s so much to learn and to know and, and we as Spanish teachers, we need to, to work on that also, to share the proper knowledge of what we represent.
[Maria] And since you’re a Spanish teacher, and you’re related to that area, where Spanish variety Do you use when you teach what you focus on?
[Carlos] Well, we all teach from a variety and it’s impossible to neutralise our language, especially when we’re teaching because we are thinking about many other aspects. So, being from Madrid, I mainly teach a Castilian variety, a central Spain variety. Although, being a sociolinguist, I am very concerned and, and conscious about what is missing in my variety, and how should I incorporate other accents, other varieties that are actually much more spoken and common than mine. So, I’m always working on, on balance, different varieties, and not given for granted that my variety is their standard or represents the norm at all. I also teach sociolinguistics and different courses on Spanish dialectology. So, I am able to do that very easily in other courses at a higher level. But it’s true that we should incorporate these aspects, these sociolinguistic components from the very beginning, making sure that the students are aware that we represent just one possibility of many, many others.
[Maria] Well, I’ve never encountered this situation myself, but maybe you have. So when, for instance, a students use, you try to expose them to more than one variety, but there’s teachers who actually don’t. So they learn either mainly Madrid’s variety or the Mexican variety. Have you encountered situations where students have learned Spanish from different varieties, in the same classroom? And how do you react to this? Or how do you work with this? Do you kind of encourage the use of all of them and that all of them are the same or you kind of neutralise all of them and kind of make them all use the same type of variety? How, How would you tackle this issue?
[Carlos] Well, yeah, this happens, a lot of time and especially in, in, in universities as ours as at Edinburgh University where you have students coming from America, from Asia, from all parts of the world. You, you find students with exposed to different varieties, I think is important and is part of their linguistic competence to develop this capacity to understand and to use different varieties, especially when you are graduating in this language and you’re acquiring a very advanced levels. So it’s part of the curriculum for sure. And it’s just a way to enrich the classroom and, and open the conversation. Many of our students, especially the ones coming from Britain, get to the university with a very European accent, but they start transforming it. As soon as they get in contact with other tutors from other parts, or when they engage with content from Latin America, or when they go to Latin America to spend their year abroad. We have exchanges with Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and also teaching positions in Ecuador, Colombia, so there are many ,many chances that they end up visiting Latin America and embracing the that way to speak. Which also makes more sense when you actually has English as your first language, because in terms of phonetics, it may be more easy to pronounce the Spanish as, as Latin American does. Unless you’re a Scottish and you’re able to pronounce the /x/ and the /r/ as good Scottish, and that’s totally suitable for, for European Spanish. So you never know what, what’s going to be more easy for you
[Maria] It’s super interesting that you’re actually emphasising this global aspect of the language and kind of also, playing with the strength of the students. Because if you say that phonologically for them it’s easier, like the Latin American varieties, than actually the European but for a Scottish citizen it’s great that you’re actually playing with even the students background towards the global aspects of Spanish. I’ve never actually heard of that, like I’m so happy like every, every day we learn something new.
[Carlos] Yeah, when you teach in Edinburgh, you can tell exactly who is Scottish and who isn’t in the Spanish class because of their ‘jotas’ and their ‘erres’ is very, very easy to identify.
[Carine] That’s so funny. A friend of mine, who is Israeli like me, since in Hebrew we do have the [x] sound, was learning when it got to university started learning German, and was just like ‘Got this, I can make the sound. No problem’. And the teacher just turned to them one day and was like ‘You want to tone it down a little bit, you’re a little bit too aggressive about that’. Like ‘This is the one sound I could do, I can’t even roll my “r”. It’s so interesting, that you can identify like, I know where you were raised, just from this one letter, I got it.
[Maria] Even like, I don’t know different Spanish dialects into English, you know where your… well or more or less, like, not maybe exactly the region, but then you can tell where you’re from and why you struggle with those sounds, which makes sense use these in a classroom to help the learners as well. Have you encounter like learners, Spanish learners, interacting with different Spanish varieties like reacting to them badly or like not expecting the variety, or not being able to… not accepting the varieties? Or like the global side of the language as wanting to stick to one?
[Carlos] Yeah, this is still very common language attitudes and and, and yeah, prejudice is everywhere. And a learner’s inherit that from their teachers, unfortunately, and there’s still a lot of work to do around that. Unfortunately, not all Spanish varieties are considered the same in terms of prestige, or political dominance or cultural level. And there’s still a lot of prejudice against, for example, Andalucian Spanish when talking about European Spanish, or other varieties, such as Chilean or Caribbean, within Latin America, that are less appreciated by teachers, by learners by users. So, this is something that that we need to also address appropriately and directly in class. And also, this is something that we need to address when training teachers of Spanish. That’s also very, very important. There’s a very recent study that showed that almost 70% of UK teachers of Spanish have never been taught any sociolinguistic aspect of the language. So, they just go to the schools and start teaching the language with very naïve perceptions of what the language is and we know that is a very complex side of the language that we need to understand and to address properly. We need to be prepared to answer students when raising these prejudice, and is not always the case. So, there’s a lot of work to do around that. And that’s also very important part of my job as teacher trainer.
[Maria] I assume, well, I guess these ideas are more associated to students who are in intermediate or advanced levels, who already have like a bit more of an idea of what the language involves the culture behind it, and the varieties. But someone who is a beginner, do they hear the different varieties and identify them as different languages or they can work with them mixing them or they’re capable of separating them by like, learning them, I don’t know how to explain it, like as two separate varieties, but that you can mix or use separately, or simply as different. They see them as different languages, and they just focus on one because they’re beginners and they’re starting.
[Carlos] No, in the case of Spanish, there’s no need for that you can introduce and exposed students to many varieties from the very beginning, from their first course, intending that you select appropriately the text, or the audios or the videos, or the experiences in which these varieties are introduced. But as I say, if you select a standard common formal text representing different varieties, the comprehension is warranted. So, the language is very unified at that level. So it could be possible to expose students to, I don’t know, media from Argentina, from Chile or from Spain from a Mexico without having problems in terms of comprehension, unless there are specific terms that need to be then addressed and explained. But varieties should be introduced from the very beginning from the A1 level, and then build up according to the curriculum to the development of the language, introducing also grammar variation, explaining how grammar can be restructure depending on the level, on the phenomena, and also talking about, yeah, different aspects of the culture.
[Carine] Yeah, I just I wanted to mention this one thing, because I have been a learner of Spanish. And as I’ve mentioned, I was just like, we learned so much of speaking Spanish a specific way. Like I remember in high school, it probably wasn’t the short, but in my mind, we spent a week studying Spain Spanish, and it was really like ‘The difference between ‘vosotros’ versus ‘nosotros’ is for ‘we’. And I was like ‘That’s it? That’s the only difference between these two different types of language?’. But like it is really interesting. Like I studied Spanish for four years, and was surrounded by Spanish speakers my whole life, but mostly they were Latin American Spanishes, when I interact with like people who speak Spanish from Spain, it really is a moment for my brain to just be like ‘Wait, what am I hearing?’ And I feel like yeah, exactly what you’re saying, as long as that’s introduced in the classroom. Hopefully that wouldn’t have happened, like it’d be easier for us to, you know, understand it quicker.
[Maria] I think that should be done even inside Spanish native speakers, because for me with having a minority language, they did it great for me, in my opinion, when I got taught Galician at school, they do teach us sociolinguistics. We have a section of the course that is based on social linguistics and how Spanish influences my Galician, or why do I use certain words, and then I understood how those two languages play together, and why there were differences with some speakers or with some even varieties inside my minority language. But no one did the same with Spanish. So, when I got a move to Madrid to start, when I started university, I found myself I didn’t speak Spanish properly. I did not use the right verbs, because I only use simple forms because in my minority language in Galician, we only use simple forms. We don’t use complex ones. So, no one understood what I was talking about the past because no one knew what I was saying. Because I didn’t use the right term, like the right terms, the right forms. And then I use a lot of words that they were like, ‘Wait. What are you talking about?’. And I thought they were synonyms. And they were actually not synonyms. They were two separate languages. So, no one actually explained me ‘You can’t’, like this is not Spanish like you separate that. So, using it with… and of course, when other varieties of Spanish were spoken, yes, I did get that because that was explained, but not the varieties inside my own country. So it’s great that even that in like foreign language learners, they’re actually learning all these synonyms because then they manage to kind of travel around the world or interact with different speakers from different varieties, and no problems of communications will arrive. But there has to be this type of teaching inside the Spanish classroom as well, for native speakers, because that happens to us as well. And then is more about me… how I react to people. Well, in my case, I was the one who was shocked because people wasn’t understanding me. And I was speaking the same language. And I was a native speaker. So, I think there are aspects that they are great they’re being introduced in a classroom, and they should be introduced in all the classrooms. In my opinion.
[Carlos] No, absolutely, yes, this is very important. And for some reason, it is not a priority, it has never been sociolinguistics is not considered part of the core curriculum of any language course at high school level, or for foreign learners, but it is really important to, to kind of establish connections from the beginning to just have the impulse to share, to go and, and find a way to have the resources to, to verify all these varieties. And yeah, and use them, or at least recognise them.
[Carine] I find it really interesting that you mix the two different varieties of the language that were spoken around you because generally, because I know with bilingual kids, they don’t mix the languages, with people who don’t speak they know not to speak, but like somehow, I don’t know how kids do it. They, they’re just kids are amazing, honestly, they know not to mix, the languages that they speak, if the person they’re speaking to doesn’t speak one of those languages. And so I would assume that if it will be the same as dialect, because there’s been recently some research that has shown that we process different dialects similar to processing different languages, and that we can code- switch and switch between the two languages like that. So like, have you when it comes to language acquisition, Carlos, I don’t know if you can say anything about that this specific situation about how, if children are exposed to two different more varieties,like to there are more than two varieties of Spanish- Do they normally mix them? Or do they separate them?
[Carlos] Well, yeah, I know that there’s now research on on how bidialectal children deal with their two dialects. And I have read studies comparing Cyprus Greek with a standard Greek in children and how have they developed both varieties, and is quite similar to what happened with bilingual children with two languages. And we can actually talk about being bilingual within your own language, I would totally agree with that assumption, or being bidialectal. And that’s, that’s very common. And I think we all do to some extent, of course, if your variety is more, is more different, or more distant, the need of becoming bidialectal is, it may be more present or may appear sooner in your life. But we all do that, in a way, we all transition from our local dialect to a more standardised dialect. And it’s just a different question of distance between, what is your standard your local dialect, and what is considered the standard in that region. And the speakers do that all the time. So we can just say that Maria, for example, is hard for me, bilingual is bidialectal, she speak Spanish from Galicia, and more standard Spanish from Spain. And she has that capacity to change, to code switch, and to go back and forth from one to the other. And in a way we all do specially when, for example, when we live abroad, or where or when we are teaching and we need to module our language, make it more neutral. So yeah, so it would be very interesting to compare how these bidialectal children behave, and how they feel the need to speak differently. And why is that and when.
[Maria] I’m absolutely interested, because I do realise, well I’m studying linguistics and analysing the own language, your own languages is great, I love it. It’s stressful, but I love it. When I speak Spanish in Galicia or before I moved to Madrid for the first time, my Spanish was this variety, Galician variety, and then I could accommodate to other varieties. But that was my main variety. And then I moved to Madrid for three years, and my variety change. And then my main variety was Madrid’s variety. And then I moved abroad, and abroad, my variety changed again towards a mix between Madrid and Galicia because now I know I don’t use the verbal forms people in Galician use, but I still use the vocabulary and many things because my main exposure right now is from Spanish speakers from Galicia more than Madrid because I don’t live there anymore. And my connection with Madrid was that I lived there only. But if it changes in me that I’m an adult, and I’m also aware of all these changes, imagine a child. It would be such a cool research to run.
[Carlos] And of course we have great examples of bidialectal celebrities. We can see Rosalia from Barcelona singing flamenco with Andalusian accent, or well, I don’t know many other singers or actors that try something new or just to get, to give another flavour to their music or their art. So it happens for all kinds of purposes.
[Maria] And in bilingualism, language contact by dialectal topics, since we’re on this line in the Spanish speaking world, well, I’ve mentioned that we have Galician, you’ve mentioned that there’s Catalan, we know there’s also Basque, we have an episode on Basque, and like the bilingualism in the Basque Country. So those are the three co-official languages in Spain. And that’s more known probably for a European audience. It might not be as obvious what languages Spanish is in contact with in South America, would you give us a few examples of bilingualism and language contact there, like maybe the main spoken languages apart from Spanish in the continent?
[Carlos] Absolutely. As we were saying before, the richness of the typology and language families in Latin America and in the Americas is incredible, nothing compared to what we have in Europe. And there’s still more than 50 millions of speakers of indigenous languages in Latin America, which includes North America, the Caribbean, Central America and South America. And some of these languages are very well populated. They are considered major languages that are still used by very large communities and that are contributing still today to varieties of Spanish in contact with indigenous languages. So to name the most important, I would say that we need to think about Nahuatl, which i,s the language is spoken in central Mexico, around Mexico City, and other states have to Jalisco, Mayan, which is spoken in the Yucatan Peninsula and in various countries of Central America. Quechua in the Andean countries South of Colombia, South of Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Northern Argentina, Bolivia and the north of Chile. Aymara, another language very similar to Quechua from the same family spoken in Bolivia, Guarani, a language spoken with a lot of speakers in, in Paraguay and Mapudungun or Mapuche, a language spoken still in Chile, in some parts of the border with Argentina, which is also very important. Those languages, all these languages have contribute a lot to Spanish, to the varieities in contact and are still representing big indigenous cultures with their own literature, their own cultural traditions. So they are very important, and they’re still taught and protected by states. Apart from that, we can think about diversity. There are many, many other languages. For example, only in Colombia, there are 13 linguistic families of languages and 68 native languages, including Creoles, language, from the Tucano family, Arawak languages, Chibcha languages, Witoto languages, Cariban languages, so many, many existing languages, interacting among them, and also a contributing and, and interacting with the Spanish.
[Maria] That’s such a diversity.
[Carine] Seriously wow. If language didn’t hold certain weight as they do, and because of the you know, the distance and everything we would, in my mind has only be speaking one global language at this point, if that is what it happened. But clearly, there’s something about language and our connection to it, we have this attachment to this language to the way that it is. And so that they haven’t all just become one language like that, you know, because there is this push, everyone always has this drive for a global language or something like that. But it’s like, Well, clearly, we have a very strong connection to our languages. So that’s why they stick around. And that’s why we keep them and that’s why we fight for them. And that’s fantastic.
[Maria] Diversity should be kept.
[Maria] I think we’ve emphasised, we’ve mentioned this in other episodes, and we’ve emphasised this, and I will never stop saying that diversity is key in this world.
[Carine] Be vocal and have people be aware.
[Carlos] Well, of course, talking about the United States, we should also consider that Spanish of the United States is one more variant to study, to think about. It is as legitimate as any other, and it may be them more prominent variant in the next 50 years when the Latino communities in the US reach or surpass the numbers of speakers in Mexico and become the first Spanish speaking country by numbers. These will happen according to the experts in 2050.
[Carlos] So The US, we believe in the future of the Spanish language if things continue to grow as they are now.
[Carine] That’ll be really interesting to see.
[Maria] I would love to see many, I don’t know if you agree, Carlos, whatyou said, saying it in front of a lot of people in Spain, I would love to see their faces. (laughter) ‘Cause we have a tendency to think that we’re the centre of the world, but we actually aren’t, not even you said, we are 5% of the speakers of Spanish.
[Carlos] No, yeah, yeah, that’s, that’s our future. And there’s nothing we can do about it, the weight of the language is no longer in Europe. It has been in Europe for many centuries. So we are just kind of in the periphery of the heart of the language in a way.
[Maria] a minority somehow. (laughter)
[Carlos] Yeah, totally.
[Carine] Oh my God, tell them that they’re our minority. They just be like, what?
[Maria] I’ve always considered myself a minority. But knowing that my home country, not only my region is a minority is actually perspective changing.
[Carine] Yeah, it really does shift about, you know, this, this position of power that Spain has had and the Spanish language for so long. You’re like, Oh, yeah, you guys, really, Sorry to say, you guys are really leading the change? I mean, within Spain? Yes. Globally, not so much anymore. (laughter) No, that’s not a bad thing, though. That’s like, that’s just that’s how language moves and language evolves. And speaking about learning languages and things like that. You are a Spanish teacher for 20 years be yours.
[Carlos] 20 years,yeah. So yeah.
[Carine] So you’ve got a little bit of experience doing that. What what’s your, the best advice you would give to someone who is just starting out learning Spanish? What would you tell them to?, like, obviously, there’s, remember this one grammar point, but like, what’s the thing you think that they should really kind of embody, when they start their journey learning Spanish?
[Carlos] Well, it#s a question of attitude, being open, don’t, don’t be too strict or too harsh with yourself. Try to forget what you sound. Don’t be shy. It’s a question of attitudes, acquiring strategies, skills, and potentially being able to go to the country, to any of them and practice in a real context. That’s also very rewarding. And it can be a way to really fall in love with the language and to use it. That any way of approaching the language really in watching Netflix, TV, or following courses, study for those are a good way to start. In Edinburgh, there are many, many opportunities to get in, in contact with the languages, all type of courses, there are tandem programmes to practice one to one conversation with native speakers. So all these things are useful and can help you from the very beginning. Yeah.
[Carine] I like your point about attitudes that it really does come from, ’cause if you’re going to fight it from the beginning, then you’re never going to learn it. 100% Yeah, yeah. Would you have any different advice for someone who’s a little bit farther along who’s like at those advanced stages or hitting those plateaus, where they’re not hitting their goals? Would you say anything else differently or?
[Carlos] Well, practising, be more reflective, read a lot, it is very important from cognitive perspective to read, to see the language to, to retain the language, not only via the input, but also visualising it. And yeah, be methodic, and learn from your mistakes, analyse yourself as a speaker and see and identify areas that you can improve. So it takes a lot of time, many years, just know that it’s a lifelong process. And that is very, very hard to become proficient quickly. So take it easy, and just enjoy the process. And just also remember that you will always have your accent, that the ideal speaker doesn’t exist, and their native model is no longer relevant. So remove all these a heritage and be yourself in the language.
[Carine] That’s beautiful. I love that.
[Maria] That’s an advice I need to remind myself when speaking English.
[Carlos] Oh, yeah, that’s what I say (laughs)
[Carine] I need to remind myself that all the time though, just be yourself. Like, yeah, trust yourself, be yourself. I like that.
[Maria] So I have experience as a Spanish teacher, do you have any general advice you would give to me or our audience that will include some Spanish teachers, hopefully. Do you have any advice you would give us when teaching in English speaking countries?
[Carlos] Well, I’m a very fierce advocate of using the target language since the day one of your class so don’t be scared of being seen as a bit of a of a crazy teacher just using Spanish but I would insist on doing that from the very beginning to make the classroom space, a natural space for the use of the language. I know that in British tradition, a lot has been done through translation through English. And I don’t think that’s the correct approach because there’s such a little space and room and time, during the week to practice the language that we should just embrace it and do an immersion experience even just for an hour. So that would be my main advice. And in general, for any teacher, keep developing yourself as a teacher, gaining more knowledge about the language that you’re planning to teach, developing skills, and also having positive attitudes about learning of the language. Remember how you were taught, remember yourself as a learner to empathise with with other students and just enjoy.
[Carine] We’re unfortunately almost done. I was just wondering, was there anything that you wanted to shamelessly self promote right now? Or talk about? Or was there anything that came to your mind while we were talking? This is your time, the spotlight is on you.
[Carlos] Well, I’m just very happy to announce that we were gonna be announcing a new project that has been funded by the Una Europa. The network of European universities, which Edinburgh University is part of and is actually looking into linguistic variation in post colonial context, is historical, social, contact linguistic perspective. And we actually going to compare what you were asking, how Dutch, French, English, Spanish have behaved in this post colonial context. So I’m very much looking forward to that, is going to be a project shared by six European universities. So it’s very exciting. And also in line with diversity and teaching diversity. I’m just very happy to announce that a new book is going to be published. I’m one of the editors about diversity of Spanish and how to teach it, La diversidad del español y su enseñanza and it will be published in August by Routledge. So any teacher who in need of some advice and guidance is welcome to look at it and see what can be of use.
[Maria] I’m definitely getting a copy of that. (laughs)
[Carine] These are, yeah, this is perfect. I love how that was, we were literally just talking about this and you have literal things that are connected to it. That’s so great. It’s so exciting.
[Maria] Real issues with real actions to those issues and solutions.
[Carine] Exactly, yeah. So in a more a slightly fun way. I like to say that which is funny, because as academics, we love our research. And we love producing these things. We love telling people about our research. So as I mentioned in the introduction, the 23rd of April is International Day of Spanish language. So what would you recommend people to do to celebrate this day in any variety of Spanish?
[Carlos] Well, traditionally, very traditionally, on this day, we would participate in a common reading of Don Quixote by Cervantes. And that’s something that has been done for ages that day, because it’s the day of the centenary of Cervantes. So we could keep that idea of organising a communal reading, but maybe just choose another piece of work, another author, something that is of interest for us, or relevant to our community. And just read it out loud, because reading is something that we can all try to do in our foreign language. Spanish phonetics are not very complex, are very simple. One of the most simple I would say, along with Italian probably. So that’s something we can organise online, physically, just celebrate the language by reading out loud.
[Carine] I had no idea that Don Quixote there was read on Spanish language day.
[Carlos] Well, all the Spanish teachers abroad have a lead ofDon Quixote on them. So yeah, I can feel sometimes connected to this character.
[Carine] Thank you so much, Carlos, for joining us. It’s been really enlightening, and has been really exciting to see just how Spanish has, you know, doing this weird movement thing, kind of flowed through history and through culture. And thank you so much for joining us. Just want to say thank you to everyone who is listening. If you want to learn more about Carlos and his work, we have all of the links to the projects that he’ll be working on in the description. You can find more about him with a link to his website page in the description as well. And as I mentioned, the 23rd of April is International Day of Spanish language. So if you’d like to read Don Quixote, now is the time. Thank you so much for listening. We hope you tune in next time. As always, stay safe, stay healthy, and
[Maria] Agur! (Basque for Goodbye)
[Carlos] Adios. (Spanish for Goodbye)
[Carine] See you later!