No language is a homogeneous mass of words and grammar. Instead, it’s a collection of tongues, too similar to be called languages and yet different enough to have a unique character of their own. While accent is the first thing that defines these differences to an unseasoned ear, vocabulary plays a big role too. The Spanish you hear in Mexico is different from the one you hear in, say, Argentina. And this difference is not only in terms of pronunciation, but also in the words they use. They use different words and, at times, even same words with different meanings.
We know these locally confined vocabularies as slang. Slang and colloquialisms make our learning fun and speech more natural. Today, we can find a gazillion sites teaching us the language but a very small handful of those teaching us a thing or two about these colloquialisms. And arguably the biggest such resource the world has seen until now is a website called Speaking Latino.
Run by Jared Romey of Florida along with his Puerto Rican wife, Diana, Speaking Latino is your go-to site should you ever feel like digging into the flavors of Spanish spoken in different countries. Jared has not only packed his site with all kinds of tidbits on Spanish slang, he has even churned out a wide assortment of books dealing with the subject! I haven’t come across a more prolific author in my life, especially in a niche like this!
Luckily, I had a chance to catch up with him for a candid chat recently where he opened up about Speaking Latino and himself. Given his vast experience with Spanish, it would be a shame to keep those nuggets of wisdom to myself which is why I am dedicating today’s post to him. Let’s explore the mind and works of Jared Romey, the man behind Speaking Latino!
1. Welcome to PeppyBurro, Jared! Let’s start with a little spotlight on your background before Speaking Latino.
My background before Speaking Latino actually ties in with how Speaking Latino came about. Up until I was 5 years old I had an atypical life, born in Japan and spending a year in Taiwan (which I have memories of in spite of my age at the time). After that, my childhood and early career after school were typical experiences for an American.
Then in my early 20s I started seriously studying Spanish. From there I went to graduate school and upon graduation moved to South America, taking a corporate job in Chile. I then moved to Argentina and after that Puerto Rico.
In the process I learned about the major changes that occur in Spanish from one country to the next. At some point I decided to write my first book, about Puerto Rican Spanish and from that came Speaking Latino.
2. Wow, that’s quite a journey in and of itself! Spanish is not your first language. When did you fall for the language and what prompted it?
It was definitely a process. Other than the typical experience with a few years of Spanish in school, I first became serious about it when my employer offered us free, daily classes. I thoroughly enjoyed it and when I went to get my MBA I went to a school where I could continue studying Spanish as part of the school’s program. During my 2 years of graduate study, I spent 8 months of that time in Mexico and Chile.
3. What do you think makes Spanish more fascinating than any other language in the world?
I don’t actually think it is more fascinating than other languages. It just happens to be the first language I explored and know most about. What I enjoy about Spanish is the massive variety of vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and cultures. Each and every exposure to Spanish is a new experience for me, when I learn something new about the language.
4. You have filled a very narrow niche: Spanish colloquialism. Do you have a favorite dialect? If so, which one?
While my initial focus, Puerto Rican Spanish, was extremely narrow, it has definitely broadened significantly. Not only do we now cover Spanish from 9 countries, we have expanded significantly into creating resources for Spanish teachers, focused on real-world Spanish.
I would say that I enjoy different things about the different dialects. Colombian Spanish is spoken so clearly and formally. Chilean Spanish is very singsongy with an extremely unique vocabulary. Argentine Spanish is spoken with emotion and has great swear words. Puerto Rican Spanish is its own enigma with a mix of Spanish and English unique to Puerto Rico. And of course Spanish from Spain is so enjoyable because of its history, culture and the influence on the rest of the Spanish-speaking world. Chilean Spanish is the first one I became comfortable with and Chile is a place where I feel at home every time I visit.
5. Which dialect of Spanish do you like the least and why?
Just as there are certain things I love about the dialects, there are things that bother me as well. However, they are minor details about the dialects and not major “problems” for me.
6. Many say Colombian Spanish is the most ideal when it comes to picking a dialect as a learner as it’s the clearest and the most respected. Would you agree and why?
Yes, I would agree. It is the clearest, most neutral pronunciation and is more formal than most Spanishes (yes that’s a word I’m using!). This makes it easier for Spanish learners to understand and also more applicable to other Spanish countries. A second option, I believe, would be Peruvian Spanish although in my experience they speak faster than the Colombians, making it a bit harder for a Spanish learner to follow.
It’s worth mentioning here that these comments are based on my personal experiences primarily in the southern cone of South America and the Caribbean. So for example, I haven’t been exposed much to Spanish in Central America, Ecuador or Venezuela. Because of that, other people may have differing opinions.
7. Your wife is from Puerto Rico. Has that ever swayed your opinion in favor of Puerto Rican Spanish?
Nope. In fact, I wrote an article on why not to study Spanish in Puerto Rico which now years later is still a perpetual argument at home, although the article really has nothing to do with Puerto Rican Spanish being bad or good.
8. According to you, at what stage of learning should one start making decisions around what flavor of Spanish to follow? In other words, when should one start moving from “general Spanish” to that of a particular country?
I think that when you start learning Spanish, if you already know that you are learning Spanish because of a specific goal related to a country or region (ex. moving to a country, have family there, etc), you should start at once. It makes no sense to learn that the word for avocado is aguacate and the word for banana is banana, if you are going to live in Argentina or Chile where the words are palta and plátano, respectively.
Having said that, if you are learning Spanish just for general knowledge, then focus on learning pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary from whatever resources you have available. You can certainly focus on a specific dialect later.
9. Speaking of general Spanish, does one even exist? If so, which country speaks it or anything close to it?
Again, I would go with Colombia, although “general” Spanish really doesn’t exist in my opinion, especially in reference to vocabulary. For grammar, the term “general” definitely applies more since there is a standard grammar that all countries use, for the most part and is universally understood.
10. What’s the most proud moment of your life with respect to Spanish?
Hmmm….I would say that it is finding out from the publisher that my first book, Speaking Boricua, was going to be published. It was (and still is) amazing to me that I wrote a book on Puerto Rican Spanish. It’s not something I could ever have imagined growing up or as I studied Spanish.
11. And then you went on to write over a dozen more. Now, that’s prolific! Now, what’s the most embarrassing moment of your life with respect to Spanish? More importantly have you ever found yourself in an embarrassing situation due to the same word meaning differently in different countries?
I’m not sure if this is the most embarrassing but it definitely ranks near the top. I had recently moved to Puerto Rico and was in a sandwich shop buying lunch, when I noticed a small bug on the counter. I mentioned it to the employee attending me, however I used the typical word for insect, bicho, which in Puerto Rico means dick. Oops!!!
12. Any message for people struggling to ace this language?
It’s all about consistency and persistence. If you study every day, you will eventually learn the language, no doubt. I roughly added up my study hours once, and it was thousands of hours, including 8 hour-a-day classes, years of living immersed where I only spoke a little English and even worked with a pronunciation teacher who taught me the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) as it related to Chilean Spanish.
Spanish, or any language, is not something you can become fluent in within a month, three months, or even a year, most likely. However, if you continue moving forward, you will eventually become fluent.
Let’s Talk Speaking Latino
13. How and when did Speaking Latino come to be?
Speaking Latino started with my first book in late 2004, although at the time, I didn’t realize the book would lead to something larger. At the time, I was ecstatic with having published one book. Somewhere along the way, as I worked on more books, it occurred to me that I could create a website and eventually start blogging about colloquial Spanish. We have been significantly involved with Speaking Latino since 2011.
14. You have written like a dozen-odd very comprehensive books on the subject of Spanish regionalism so far and still going strong. How do you manage to stay this prolific?
With lots of help. My wife reviews each book, designs the covers, the book layouts, and manages publishing and selling them. I have also worked with several teachers and linguists to develop many of the books. Finally, lots and lots of my friends have spent hundreds of hours working with me to better understand their local Spanishes (again!).
15. What does a typical working day in the life of the Speaking Latino founder look like?
Well in relation to Speaking Latino, our focus is on developing resources and activities to help teachers teach Spanish. Most of our time goes into interacting with teachers, to find out what they need and then work with some teachers that help us develop these resources and then creating these resources.
Generally, most of my time is focused on managing a company that I own, not related to Speaking Latino.
And of course, our son Adrian (7 months old) takes up a whole lot of our time.
16. What do you aspire to achieve through Speaking Latino? What is the central goal you’re working toward?
I would say I have three goals, one for each of our main readerships at Speaking Latino. For teachers, we want to provide them fun, real-world resources that help them share their passion for Spanish with their students, and at the same time decrease their prep time outside of school hours. A teacher who teaches 4 levels of Spanish, 5 days a week, just absolutely cannot prepare as much as he/she wants to on their own. We want to help them prepare so they can focus on providing their students the best experience possible during school and enjoy their free time with family and friends when not in the classroom.
For Spanish learners, I want to show them that learning Spanish is not impossible. It takes work, persistence and focus; however, anyone can learn it.
And finally for anyone interested in Spanish, I want to share, document, and teach the diverse Spanishes (and yet again! I’m in love with this word!) that exist in the world. Each one of them is amazing and so much fun to explore.
17. What can a Spanish-language noob expect to find on your website?
A whole lot of stuff that has come together over the years. We have resources for teachers, a dictionary of over 10,000 Spanish slang and local vocabulary, Spanish learning articles, lots and lots of real-world examples about the different dialects, and a variety of book reviews and recommendations.
Unfortunately, none of it is organized well at the moment so we are in the middle of major changes to how the website is organized. If someone is looking for a specific item, and cannot find it on our site, the best option is to write me directly and I’ll help.
18. We also have some parents raising bilingual kids and keeping their kids interested in learning Spanish is a struggle for them. Is there any way Speaking Latino can help such parents and educators?
We don’t have much information on our site for teaching kids yet, especially younger ones, however our general focus of sharing real-world Spanish also applies to kids.
If someone is struggling to get their child interested in Spanish, my first recommendation is to stop focusing on getting the child “hooked” or interested in Spanish. This applies specifically for younger children, probably younger than 8. Instead, offer the same things they are already interested in, but in Spanish. Do they have a favorite book or TV show? See if it exists in a Spanish version. If the child already has specific interests, focus on feeding those same interests but with Spanish materials. The earlier you start this, the easier it will be for them to accept the new language.
You can also put them together with other kids who speak Spanish. They will be able to communicate with each other in spite of the language difference.
For slightly older kids, make their Spanish exposure fun. Teach them about the foods, even if it’s just within your home. Set up video chats via internet with kids in other countries. There can even be chats with kids in other English-speaking countries. The idea is to open their eyes to a world outside their immediate surroundings. I believe that one of the most important attributes a language teacher can share with students is to make other languages and cultures fun, even more so than teaching the mechanics of the language. If they are interested in something they will absorb it at their own pace.
19. Do you also engage in any offline community outreach efforts in making Spanish more accessible for the people? Please tell us a bit about them if so.
At the moment our efforts are focused on online development and outreach since we believe we can impact the largest number of educators and learners this way.
I do, however, have this hidden idea that it would be fun to create some type of intensive Spanish language exposure and development to a small group of people. However, that’s definitely a project way, way off in the future.
20. Any word of advice for fellow language educators out there?
Reach out to other teachers and educators. I have spoken with several teachers in rural areas, or who are the only teacher in their school, and they struggle with ideas and moral support. The best thing for them would be to find an online community of teachers (stay tuned to Speaking Latino, something’s in the works) where they can trade and test out ideas with as well as share their frustrations.
So, ladies and gentlemen, that was Jared Romey (and Speaking Latino) for you. If his story doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will. I have tapped into his work more than often for my share of Spanish colloquialism and would urge you to do the same. It will open a vast new world for you and give you a fresh boost of motivation if nothing else. Do you have any questions for Jared or his work? Please feel free to drop in a comment and I’ll try my best to nag him for an answer!