Category Archives: ¿Por qué? 101 Questions about Spanish

Book review from former local paper

I lived in Los Alamos, New Mexico, from 1989 to 2000. I’ve written a bit about this experience in posts here, here, and here. A reporter for the Los Alamos Monitor recently interviewed me about ¿Por qué?; the resulting article is here. There are a few corrections I would make, but it’s still really nice coverage. Thank you Monitor!

NECTFL report

On Friday and Saturday I had a wonderful time at the annual NECTFL conference here in New York. NECTFL stands for the NorthEast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. It started as an independent conference, but is now the largest of the regional conferences under the umbrella of ACTFL, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. I’ve attended NECTFL several times, and this year, for the first time, presented a talk.

The talk was based, not surprisingly, on my book, but with an appropriately pedagogical twist, to focus on how foreign language teachers can bring linguistics into the classroom. The conference theme was standards for foreign language teaching, so I shaped my talk around two of ACTFL’s official standards: Comparisons (with other languages) and Connections (to other disciplines). In the talk I managed to work in two other standards: Cultural comparisons and — the big one! — Communication. The abstract is below.


My talk had a decent turnout, especially since there were more than a dozen concurrent talks for attendees to choose from, and was well received. I had some promising follow-up conversations, including an offer of collaboration and an invitation to speak at another conference. I’m also planning to write up my talk and submit it to one of the ACTFL journals.

Bloomsbury Linguistics had rented a table in the conference’s book exhibit, and sold every copy of my book that they had with them, in addition to taking advance orders. This made me very happy. I figured that if I couldn’t sell my book at a conference for language teachers, I was in big trouble.

As in previous years I learned a lot from the talks I attended. My chore today is to go over my notes and the handouts I accumulated, and digest the specific techniques that I can implement (i) immediately and (ii) later in my own teaching. In many talks I was struck afresh by the dramatic differences between K-12 and college teaching. Most attendees, and all the presenters I heard, are K-12 teachers. They have lots of time to work with their students, and usually have a classroom to call their own. As a college Spanish teacher I have less time to cover more material, and share an anonymous classroom. On the other hand, my students are more mature who are strongly motivated to do the work and earn good grades. These environmental differences will play a large role in how I adapt the techniques I learned in the conference.

I had a final dose of Spanish after the conference, when I struck up a conversation with an Argentinian family at an excellent taquería where I stopped for a bite on my way to the train station. (It isn’t hard to recognize Argentinian Spanish, but of course I was pleased, and these tourists somewhat surprised, when I guessed their nationality.) We chatted a bit about my two idiosyncratic Argentinian obsessions: pato, the gaucho version of polo originally played with a live duck, and the linguistic isolation of Argentinian Spanish during the formative colonial period, which was the subject of my first blog post back in 2013. Now I have friends to see when I eventually visit Buenos Aires!


Some nice local coverage

My home-town newspaper, the Scarsdale Inquirer, just published this article about ¿Por qué?. My dad, my biggest fan, was thrilled to see the article, even though it completely sidestepped his role in my ancestry. This is ironic since it was his abiding interest in Spanish that inspired me to take up the language in the first place, whereas my mom had studied French and barely spoke a word of Spanish. That wrinkle aside, it’s a nice article.

From the Scarsdale Inquirer, Friday, January 6, 2017

From the Scarsdale Inquirer, Friday, January 6, 2017

I’m still planning to get around to that “Cervantes on the beach” series, but first have to fulfill my civic duty this weekend and protest in Washington, DC. Will be back on Sunday if not in jail.

Some nice press from the UK!

Times Higher Education, the British equivalent of The Chronicle of Higher Education, has cited ¿Por qué? as one of its “Best new books of the week”. It would be tons more exciting if it were the year instead, but I’ll settle for the week!

Screen clip below, link here.

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It’s funny that both this review and the one in El diario mention the “la la rule”, which is one of the myths I debunk in the book rather than an actual rule of Spanish. Hopefully readers will get the point.

Today’s the day!

Happy book birthday!

Today is the official publication day of my book, ¿Por qué? 101 Questions about Spanish. Amazon’s book page is sort of funky — the Kindle price is wrong, and they are pessimistic about delivery times. In any case I would recommend ordering directly from Bloomsbury to take advantage of the 35% discount available with order code PQ101.

Please spread the word to your friends and colleagues who care about Spanish, and also consider asking your local and/or university library to order the book. If you patronize an independent bookstore that might be interested in stocking it, do contact me to let me know. Also, I love public speaking, and welcome any opportunities to talk to academic or civic groups within a reasonable radius of New York.

Between teaching and family obligations I have fallen behind on my blogging. Inter alia I want to write about:

  • students’ picking up on my English muletilla ‘so’
  • why ser + céntrico is confusing
  • diminutives in my latest Jordi Sierra novel

and so much more! Hopefully I will soon find the time and energy to pick up this important part of my life.

El Diario reviews my book!

With ten days to go till the publication of my book ¿Por qué? 101 Questions about Spanish, the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario has just published a full-page review in its National Hispanic Heritage Month supplement. See the scan below. I hope that this review will help my book find a readership among the Hispanic community as well as academia, a long-held dream of mine.