Four stories of inspiring international women

Here at Radio Lingua, we are proud to celebrate International Women’s Day. To mark this day, we asked four members of our team to tell the Coffee Break community about a woman from their home country who has inspired them in some way. From astronauts to poets, we really enjoyed hearing the stories about the four women they chose. Read on to find out which international women inspired Anabel, Francesca, Robert and Pierre-Benoît!

English translations are provided for all texts so that all of our learners can read more about these women, no matter the language they’re learning!

Language learning inspiration from the Tour de France

Every year, France plays host to the largest annual sporting event in the world: Le Tour de France. For 23 days, competitors cycle 2000 miles through 21 different stages, covering mountain ranges and coastal villages. With all of its twists, turns, rapid sprints and gruelling ascents, we couldn’t help but compare the event to the process of learning a language. So, whether you’re about to start learning a language or you’re close to reaching your goal, get on your bike and come along for the ride with us!

Stages 1-5: Prologue

It’s day one. You’re lined up at the start of the race and can’t wait to get going. Though your nerves are threatening to take over, you set your sights on your end goal as you wait for the sound of the starting pistol.

At this initial stage of learning a new language, it’s likely that you’ll feel that you’re advancing quickly with all of the new vocabulary you’re using each day. While it’s essential to keep your end goal in sight throughout, it’s equally as important to focus on how you’re going to get there, to ensure you stay motivated and don’t lose your enthusiasm if progress feels slow sometimes. The most helpful thing you can do for yourself at this stage is to find a method of learning which you enjoy. Whether it’s listening to podcasts, using apps, writing out colourful notes or going to language ‘tandems’ (pardon the pun!), you’ll be much more likely to reach that final ‘Champs-Elysées’ stage if you enjoy what you’re doing.

Stages 6-10: Flat

You are still filled with excitement and passion for the challenge you’ve taken on, but the further you advance, the more you realise how much is ahead of you. From here on, there’s no room for freewheeling.

You’ve reached the point in your language-learning journey where you’re starting to make real progress and you can already feel the endorphin rush! So far, you’ve been learning colours, numbers and days of the week but, to be able to advance further, it’s time to get stuck in to the grammar and move on to more complicated learning points. At this stage, make sure to keep enjoying what you’re doing and try to immerse yourself as much as possible in the language you’re learning, whether that’s through listening to the radio in your new language every day, watching TV shows with subtitles or attending evening classes to keep your ear tuned to the sounds of the language.

Stages 11-15: Mountain

Uh oh… You’ve hit the dreaded ‘wall’ and everything feels like an uphill climb that might never end. You’re at the back of the group, other people keep whizzing past you and you can’t help but compare your progress to theirs. Make sure not to back pedal, you can do this!

Anyone who has spent time learning a language will undoubtedly be familiar with ‘the wall’. This is when things start to feel more challenging than the earlier stages. As learning a new language isn’t something that can be done overnight, it’s only natural that there will be peaks, troughs and the odd plateau along the way. If you find yourself in a language-learning rut, why not try different activities and introduce some variety to your learning?Try something creative, like using Post-it notes or flashcards to help you memorise vocabulary. Changing your regular routine will stop things becoming monotonous, and will reinvigorate you, providing the motivation to get you to the next stage! Most importantly, as the saying goes “if you fall off your bike, the best thing to do is get back on and keep pedalling”.

Stages 16-20: Time trial

The end is in sight, and it’s time to get your head down and perhaps even switch up a gear. Maybe something has reminded you of why you decided to take on this challenge in the first place or perhaps you’ve had a sudden burst of motivation. Although there are still some mountains to climb, your confidence is coming back and you’re racing along the route towards the finish line. It’s all downhill from here!

One of the largest hurdles in any major challenge is the fear of making mistakes. In language learning, the most important thing to do at this stage is to think about how far you’ve come. When you have the opportunity to put what you’ve learned into practice, don’t be embarrassed, just go for it. There’s an Italian expression, sbagliando s’impara, which means that it’s only by making mistakes that you actually learn. Once you have this breakthrough moment and realise that nobody will laugh if you get a word wrong, there will be no stopping you! This is also the stage where you begin to feel comfortable in the language and your confidence grows, so enjoy the feeling of ‘freewheeling’ as you put your language learning into practice.

Stage 21: Champs-Elysées

Bravo ! You’ve won the yellow jersey! After countless ups and just as many downs you can be proud to say that you’ve accomplished what you set out to do at the beginning.

At this stage, it’s important to remember that reaching this level doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be mistaken for a native, or that you won’t muddle up a verb conjugation now and again. What it does mean is that you can deal with a variety of different situations in the language you’re learning, and that you are no longer afraid of making mistakes. Language learning is a lifelong journey, not a race, and there is so much to enjoy en route. With some of the skills you’ve already picked up, you’ll be ready for the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta d’España next!

Of course it’s not just about the language: just as the cyclists who have completed the Tour de France will have built their stamina, developed their fitness and hugely increased their mental focus, you will also have acquired a whole range of additional skills and attributes that go along with learning a language. Whether it is developing confidence, boosting your memory, becoming more creative, widening your cultural awareness or even making new friends, there really are no down sides to learning a language. So, which language are you going to learn next? There’s an open road ahead with so many beautiful scenes and experiences to be discovered and enjoyed. 


Jeu, set, match ! Parlez-vous tennis ?

The tennis season is well underway with the French Open – les Championnats Internationaux de France de Tennis – currently taking place at the Stade Roland-Garros in Paris. Since this is the only one of the four most prestigious tournaments in tennis which is held in a country where English is not the official language, we thought we’d take a closer look at the links between tennis and the French language So, if you “let” us, we’d “love” to “serve” you up this “set” of fascinating discoveries!

Of course, etymology is sometimes not an exact science in that some word origins are not 100% clear. However, we’ve done our best to investigate the words below and we’re excited to share our findings, donc c’est parti !

1. Tennis

Let’s start with the name for “the sport of kings”. Back in 13th century France, a version of what would later become modern tennis was played in which players would hit the ball with the palm of their hand. This game was called jeu de paume in French. In this game, before hitting a shot across to their opponent, it is thought that players would shout tenez (from the verb tenir, meaning “to hold”), to let them know the point was about to be played. Over the years, tenez evolved into tennis, giving the sport its name.

2. Let

A let is always an exciting moment in tennis. During a player’s serve, when the ball strikes the net and topples over onto the opponent’s side of the court, the player is given the chance to retake their serve. This is called a “let” and, due to the net’s starring role in this shot, “let” is thought to be a shortened version of the French word for net, filet.

3. Love

Next on the list is the term we use when a player has not yet scored any points in a tennis game. in English, we say “love”, but don’t be tempted to use amour, the French equivalent! In French, you simply say zéro in this instance. But what is the origin of the word “love” in tennis. Believe it or not it has something to do with the oval-like shape of the zero. Back when tennis was in its early stages in France, people thought that the zero looked like an egg, or an œuf. If we add a definite article, this becomes l’oeuf, and this is said to be where “love” comes from in the English scoring system.

4. Deuce

Our final tennis term is the word “deuce” which is used when two players have 40 points each. There are a couple of theories as to the origin of the word deuce, but one of the most likely is that it is derived from the French phrase à deux de jeu, meaning “to be two points away from winning the game”. It’s also possible that it came from the Old French word for two – deus – now deux in Modern French. Interestingly “deuce” is not used in French: instead when score reaches 40-40 this is called quarante-A. If one player then gains advantage by winning the next point but subsequently loses the following point, the score returns to 40-40. From then on “deuce” is referred to as égalité.

So now you have the perfect opportunity to practise your French further while enjoying watching – or playing – tennis. And if you’re learning another language then you can download our multilingual tennis terms cheat sheet below. According to our scorecard, that makes it jeu, set, match !

Download the Cheat Sheet

One final thing: make sure you’ve watched our Walk Talk and Learn episode which Mark filmed during his visit to the Roland Garros tournament:

¡Qué padre! 6 differences between Mexican Spanish and ‘Spanish Spanish’

We all know the feeling… Just when you think you’re starting to get the hang of Spanish, you discover that there are lots of different varieties spoken all around the world. Cue a brief sense of despair at the thought of having to learn every different form of Spanish, followed by the relief when you realise that this only makes the learning process more interesting and enjoyable!

In this article, we’re going to be looking at 6 differences in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation between the Spanish spoken in Spain, sometimes referred to as el castellano, and the Spanish spoken in Mexico. As Mexico is the county with the highest number of Spanish speakers on the planet – around 121 million – we thought it would be a good place to start, and on what better date than el Cinco de Mayo¡Vamos a empezar!

1) Describing something cool as being ‘so father’!

If you’ve been learning Castilian Spanish, or have ever visited Spain, it’s likely that you’ll have heard the exclamation ¡Qué guay! countless times, meaning ‘(that’s) so cool!’. In Mexico, the phrase ¡Qué padre! is used instead, which literally means ‘(that’s) so father!’.

Mexico: ¡Qué padre está la ultima canción de Shakira! = Shakira’s latest song is great!

Spain: ¿Vas al concierto de Shakira? ¡Qué guay! = Are you going to the Shakira concert? That’s so cool!

2) Calling your friend your uncle

If you have been learning Spanish for a while, you’ll probably recognise the words tío and tía,  meaning ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’. In Mexico, these words are used exclusively for this purpose. However, in Spain, they are also widely used to address friends.

For example:
Mira a ese tío. = Look at that guy.
¡Hola tía! ¿Qué tal? = Hey girl! How’s it going?

In Mexico, it’s more common to hear various other words, such as mano or güey, used to mean ‘pal’ ‘man’, or ’buddy’.

3) Speaking ‘Spanglish’

With Mexico sharing its northern border with the U.S.A, there is a strong American-English influence on Mexican Spanish vocabulary, particularly in northern areas which border the U.S.A.

Here are a few examples of some of these anglicisms:

  • Alquilar vs rentar

If you’ve ever been to Spain, you may have noticed signs saying se alquila on the outside of buildings. This means ‘for rent’, and is taken from the verb alquilar. In Mexico, alquilar is much less common, and is replaced by the English-sounding verb rentar, so ‘for rent’ signs say se renta.

  • Comprobar vs checar

Another example is the verb for ‘to check’. In Mexico, checar or chequear, more anglicised verbs, are used instead of comprobar, which is used widely in Spain.

Some more examples include:

  • Computer: computadora (Mexico) vs ordenador (Spain)
  • Fridge: refrigerador (Mexico) vs nevera (Spain)
  • Hobby: hobby (Mexico) vs pasatiempo (Spain)

4) Perfecto or indefinido?

Although you may have already been familiar with some of these differences in vocabulary, you may not have realised that there are also some subtle grammatical differences between Castilian and Mexican Spanish.

In Spain, it is very common to use the pretérito perfecto (the perfect tense) when talking about recent past actions which are still related to the present.

Example: ¿Qué has hecho hoy?

This is the most common way to ask someone in Spain ‘What have you done today?’. However, in Mexico, it is more common to say ‘Que hiciste hoy?’ using a different tense: the pretérito indefinido (the preterite tense)

But don’t worry – this grammatical difference is quite subtle, so you’d still be able to make yourself understood in both countries no matter which tense you use.

5) It’s all about usted and ustedes

In Mexico, and indeed in some other Latin American countries, people tend to use the pronoun usted rather than the less formal , which is used in Spain. While usted is reserved for formal situations in Spain, in Mexico it is used to address most people, including close friends, and is not seen as being quite as formal. Because of this, the pronoun vosotros, the plural form of , isn’t as widely used in Mexico as it is in Spain.

Spain: ¡Hola, chicos! ¿Cómo estáis?

Mexico: ¡Hola, chicos! ¿Cómo están?

Note: In some Latin American countries, such as Argentina, the pronoun vos is used instead of, or alongside, the singular pronoun . Its use varies from country to country and, in some cases, the pronoun has a totally different conjugation to . Using this pronoun is known as el voseo.

6) Dropping the Spanish ‘lisp’

Undoubtedly the most distinctive pronunciation difference between the Spanish spoken in Mexico and the Spanish spoken in Spain is the ‘lisp’ sound heard in Spain. First of all, we need to clarify something here: this ‘lisp’ phenomenon is not a lisp! If it were a lisp then every ‘s’ would become a ‘th’ and that doesn’t normally happen! To explain this further, it’s useful to look at the 3 different pronunciation conventions in Spain: el seseo, el ceceo and la distinción.

La distinción, is the most common pronunciation convention in Spain, and refers to the way in which the sounds ‘ci’, ’ce’ and ‘z’ are pronounced with a ‘th’ sound when followed by any vowel (the tongue sticks out between the teeth). The ’s’ sound is pronounced differently, meaning the words siento and ciento are pronounced differently.

In some parts of Spain, particularly in the Andalucía region and in parts of the Canary Islands, you may hear two other pronunciation conventions: ceceo and seseo. Without trying to overcomplicate things, the less common of these conventions is ceceo, where both the ’s’ and ‘z’ sounds in the words casa and caza are the same: both with the ‘th’ sound.

Much more common is the seseo pronunciation, where speakers also pronounce the words casa and caza in the same way, but they pronounce both the ‘s’ and ‘z’ with an ’s’ sound. And in addition to the south of Spain, this is the form most commonly associated with Latin America, and it brings us back round to Mexico where seseo is the norm.

Let’s take an example: ¡Qué cielo tan azul! = What a blue sky!

In most of Spain this would be pronounced: “¡Qué thielo tan athul!”

In Mexico this would be pronounced: “¡Qué sielo tan asul!”


We hope that you’ve found this article muy padre! You’ll now be able to begin to checar your use of different pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary when speaking to different Spanish speakers from different places. ¡Hasta la próxima!

Meet the team: Flora

flora imageHello! My name’s Flora, and I’m Radio Lingua’s Digital Communications and Content Executive. I’ve been working with Radio Lingua since October 2016, when I started as an intern during my final year of university. I studied French and Spanish at the University of Glasgow, and started working full-time for Radio Lingua when I graduated.

What is your role in Coffee Break?

Among other things, I help to create, organise and manage all of the content we produce, whether that be coming up with social media posts, or helping with the creation of new language learning materials. I also play a role in customer support and help with various admin tasks. My job is extremely varied and I learn new things all the time. On any one day, I might be transcribing Spanish interviews for a new podcast, and then replying to tweets from the Coffee Break community. I’ve also been involved in internship recruitment processes, and managing and setting weekly tasks for teams of interns each year.

What experience have you had speaking and learning other languages?

I was interested in French from a young age because my family moved to Brussels for 3 years when I was three. Being surrounded by different languages at that age is definitely what led me to pursue them further. I loved my French classes all the way through school and also tried my hand at German for one year. When I left school, I decided to keep studying French at university, and also took up Spanish as a total beginner. As part of my degree, I spent one year studying Translation and Interpreting in Granada, Spain and 4 months working in Montpellier in an English centre, both of which were fantastic opportunities for improving my Spanish and French. I also recently started going to a beginners Italian class, which I’ve really enjoyed because it’s just been for fun.

What are your favourite memories of working with RLN?

I really enjoyed helping with our internship recruitment processes, which involved speaking to students at my old university, presenting at our information sessions and asking questions in the interviews. Kristina and I have worked closely with all of the interns this year, so it’s been nice to see the whole process come ‘full circle’, as we both took part in the internship too. We also launched the Coffee Break Reading Club, which we first started working on as interns, so it’s been great to have been involved in that from start to finish.

Flora recording with Mark in Ronda, Spain

Another great memory is the work trip to Spain in September 2017 with Mark and Kristina, which I enjoyed so much that I accidentally referred to it as a ‘holiday’ one evening! We were in Spain to record new content for our En Marcha series, visiting places in the Málaga region and chatting to locals. It was my job to get in contact with potential interviewees via email in Spanish and to create an interview schedule for the week so that we knew who we were seeing each day. I also learned how to record professional video and audio footage, conducted an interview in Spanish with an art expert from the Pompidou Centre in Málaga, and went on a food tour around the city. It was a great week and I’ve since enjoyed coordinating the production of the series and seeing how many people have listened to the podcast and how much they’ve been enjoying it.

Where would your ideal coffee break be, and with whom?

My ideal coffee break would be a late-afternoon café con leche in one of the cafés at the San Nicolás viewpoint in Granada, overlooking the Alhambra Palace. As for the company, I’d have to choose the actor Miguel Ángel Silvestre, who stars in a few of the Spanish TV series that I’ve watched over the years. If he’s not available that day, though, I’d have to choose my two sisters.

Solo le falta a Miguel Ángel – all that’s missing is Miguel Ángel!

What’s your best language-learning tip?

For me, a huge part of language learning is overcoming the fear of making mistakes. I learned Spanish mainly through speaking it, whereas I learned French from textbooks in a classroom environment. When I started living in Spain, I could barely understand what people were saying, but made an effort to go to language exchanges each week. I made so many mistakes when speaking at first, and kept using French words by accident, but I found that the phrase ‘you can never make the same mistake twice’ is absolutely true for language learning, as making mistakes really helped me learn. I realised that nobody was going to laugh at me for mixing up a complicated verb conjugation or using the wrong past tense, and my Spanish improved much more quickly after that.

“Quick-fire round” (short answers)

  • Favourite language – Spanish and French
  • Favourite word/phrase in the language – I like the word for peninsula in French (presqu’île) as it literally means ‘nearly island’. I also like the word anteayer in Spanish, as it’s a really handy word which doesn’t exist in English.
  • Favourite film / TV show / Book / Radio Station?
    Spanish: Film – Julieta, TV show – Velvet (guilty pleasure), Chicas del cable and Sé quién eres
    French: Film – Les Intouchables, TV show – Les Revenants
    Swedish: Film – A Man Called Ove (adapted from the book by Fredrik Backman)
  • Favourite destination – In Spain: Granada or the Costa Brava, above Barcelona. In France: the area around Nice, or a wee town called St-Guilhem-le-Désert, near Montpellier.
Flora interviewing art expert Jaime Mena in the Pompidou Centre in Málaga

Any further thoughts?

Learning a language isn’t easy and can be an really frustrating process at times. It can sometimes seem that you’ll never reach a high enough level to be able to communicate with people fluently, and it’s so easy just to throw in the towel each time you hit a ‘wall’. However, if you manage to break through these walls, it’s so rewarding. Languages allow you to communicate with more people across the world, and meet people you never would have met if you had only spoken one language. They also broaden your mind and make you see the world in a totally different way; the advantages are endless!

¡Es intraducible! Our 10 favourite untranslatable Spanish words

Have you ever learned a new word in a different language and wondered how on earth you would translate it into English? Have you then started to doubt your translation skills, thinking that you no longer even know your own language very well? Well… fear not! In every language there are words which are ‘untranslatable’, meaning that they cannot be translated into another language using just a single word.

Often, the reason for a word’s ‘untranslatable-ness’ is rooted in the cultural differences between the speakers of each language, as some cultural concepts which exist in the Spanish-speaking world simply don’t exist in the English-speaking world, for example.

In this article, we’re focusing on Spanish words which can’t be translated easily into English, although some of them do have direct equivalents in other languages, such as French or Italian. All of the words on the list are used relatively frequently in conversation, so listen out for them next time you’re practising your Spanish. You might even come across some of them in an episode of Coffee Break Spanish! ¿Estamos listos? ¡Vamos!


1) Estrenar

Familiar with the feeling when you’ve bought a new outfit and can’t wait to wear it? Well, fashion-conscious Spanish-speakers have a single word to perfectly describe the 11-worded English equivalent “to wear a new item of clothing for the first time”: estrenar.

  • Meaning: To wear something for the first time / to use something for the first time.
  • In context: Esta noche voy a estrenar el vestido azul que compré ayer.
  • Translation: I’m going to wear the blue dress I bought yesterday for the first time tonight.


2) Tapear

tapear - to go out for tapas

Everyone who has visited Spain will be familiar with the concept of going out for tapas. While in English we say “to go out for tapas” or simply “to have tapas”, in Spain it’s more common to hear the phrase ir de tapas – literally “to go of tapas”. For example: vamos de tapas con José y Lucía esta noche. However, if this phrase is too much of a mouthful (excuse the pun), the Spanish have a verb to describe the activity of going out to eat tapas: tapear.

  • Meaning: To eat tapas, often with the idea of moving from bar to bar
  • In context: Este bar es uno de los mejores para tapear en Granada.
  • Translation: This bar is one of the best bars to go out for tapas in Granada.


3) Quincena

Although this next word does have a direct equivalent in French (quinzaine), the closest word we have in English is “fortnight” or “two weeks”.

  • Meaning: A period of 15 days, sometimes used in reference to the working calendar, as people are often paid bi-monthly in Spain. Commonly used to talk about the first or the second half of a particular month.
  • Context: En la primera quincena de julio llega la feria al pueblo.
  • Translation: The festival comes to town in the the first fortnight of July.


4) Friolero/friolento

Are you one of those people who always seems to be shivering while everyone around you is complaining about the heat and opening all the windows in the house? In Spanish, the words friolero/a and friolento/a are used to describe those who feel the cold more than others.

  • Meaning: Somebody who gets cold very easily.
  • In context: Javi es muy friolero, prefiere el verano al invierno.
  • Translation: Javi really feels the cold; he prefers summer to winter.


5) Puente

puente - a long weekend

You may have come across the literal meaning of the word puente before (bridge), but puente is also used in another very common context.

  • Meaning: A special type of long weekend, when a holiday falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday so you only need to take off one extra day off work to turn it into a four-day weekend, thus “bridging” the gap from Thursday to Monday, for example.
  • In context: ¿Qué haces el puente de Mayo? Yo me quedo en casa, las vacaciones son para descansar.
  • Translation: What are you doing during the long weekend in May? I’m staying at home, holidays are for relaxing.


6) Soler

Out of all of the words on this list, soler is probably the most commonly-used in everyday conversational Spanish. To describe habitual actions in English, we tend to use the structure “subject + usually + verb (infinitive)”, but in Spanish, we use the structure “soler (conjugated) + secondary verb (infinitive)”. Take a look at the example below to get your head around this unusual grammatical structure.

  • Meaning: To usually do something / to do something habitually / to tend to do something
  • In context: Suelo ir de vacaciones en junio.
  • Translation: I usually go to the beach in June.


7) Tocayo/tocaya

This one will come in useful for those of you who have a common first name!

  • Meaning: Somebody who has the same name as you / your ‘name-twin’, or namesake.
  • In Context: Me confundes con otra Elena, es mi tocaya.
  • Translation: You’re getting me mixed up with the other Elena, we have the same name.


8) Entrecejo

Ever wondered what that little space in between your eyebrows is called? No? Well, the Spanish clearly have, as they have a word to describe it!

  • Meaning: The space between one’s eyebrows.
  • In context: Pablo tiene muchas arrugas en el entrecejo.
  • Translation: Pablo has lots of wrinkles between his eyebrows.


9) Almorzar

El almuerzo is a light snack eaten between breakfast and lunch, and almorzar is its verb form. Some people think of el almuerzo as “lunch”, but when you consider that the main meal in the middle of the day in Spain rarely starts before 2:30 or 3:00, you’ll understand the need for almuerzo.

  • Meaning: Similar to ‘elevenses’ in the U.K.
  • In context: Almuerzo cada día sobre las 11 de la mañana. 
  • Translation: I have a snack every day at about 11am.


10) Sobremesa

sobremesa - after-dinner chit-chat

This may be one of the most well-known words on our list, as it refers to an inherent aspect of Spanish culture: the act of taking the time to sit around the table after a meal, talking to the people you’ve shared it with and enjoying each other’s company.

  • Meaning: The after-dinner chit-chat people share whilst still sat at the table. It can also literally mean “tablecloth”.
  • In context: Mientras los padres hacen sobremesa, los niños juegan en el parque de juegos.
  • Translation: While the parents take some time to chat at the table after eating, the children play in the playground.


We hope this list of ‘untranslatable’ words will help you on your way to sounding more Spanish in conversation! Remember that these words may vary from country to country in the Spanish-speaking world, so it’s always a good idea to read up on a country before visiting, just to ensure you’re saying the right thing! Let us know what you thought of this article in the comments section below. ¡Hasta la próxima!

How not to be an imposter with your pasta!

Today, we’re bringing you the first of our Italian blog posts, and where better place to start than with a staple of Italian cuisine and culture: pasta! Far from being just an ingredient kept at the back of the cupboard, in Italy, pasta is so cherished that wheat often has to be imported in from other countries to keep up with Italians’ pasta-making demands! In this article, we have taken five common varieties of pasta and researched the origins of their names, which will not only help you find out more about the famous foodstuff, but will help improve your Italian vocabulary. We hope you enjoy this delicious learning experience, and that it takes you on a journey from “pasta imposter” to “pasta pro”! All that’s left to say now is buon appetito!

To get started, let’s have a look at the origin of the word ‘pasta’ itself. The English word ‘pasta’ was, of course, adopted from Italian, in which pasta also means ‘dough’. Looking further back, the word also derives from the Greek word παστά (pasta), strangely meaning ‘barley porridge’.

1) Conchiglie

Picture: Jameson Fink (Creative Commons 2.0)

The first pasta on our list is conchiglie. In English, a conch is a type of spiral-shaped seashell, and that’s exactly where the name for this shell-shaped pasta comes from. In Italian, the word for ‘seashell’ is conchiglia.

This pasta is traditionally made from durum wheat, and can be coloured with spinach, tomato or squid to produce green, red or black shades. There are many other pastas – like lumaconi – which have a similar shell-like form to conchiglie, and are large enough to be stuffed with delicious fillings and baked in the oven.

conchiglia (f) – seashell
lumaconi (m/pl) – slugs / large snails

Hai fame? Hungry yet? Take a look at this delicious recipe featuring conchiglie. In this easy-to-follow recipe, the shell-shaped pasta is stuffed with buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil leaves and homemade tomato sauce – three pillars of Italian cuisine.

2) Farfalle

Picture: eltpics (Creative Commons 2.0)

Instantly recognisable as bow tie shapes, farfalle are a true crowd-pleaser. However, the translation has nothing to do with bow ties. Can you guess the meaning of the word farfalle? In Italian, una farfalla is a butterfly, and farfalle is the plural form. Farfalle are best served with rich cheese or tomato-based sauces due to their large surface area, which takes on all of the flavour from the sauce.

There is also a mini version of farfalle, called farfalline, which is often stirred into soups.

farfalle (f/pl) – butterflies

We’ve found another mouth-watering recipe for you to try out: a healthy recipe which puts a slightly different spin on the classic pasta dish. Vorresti assaggiarlo tu? Perfect for summertime dinners or light lunches, this pasta salad can be whipped up in just half an hour!

3) Radiatori

Picture: Dave Prasad (Creative Commons 2.0)

The third pasta we’ve chosen, and perhaps the easiest to work out the etymology of, is radiatori. This ruffle-edged pasta is relatively new to the scene: introduced in the 1960’s, radiatori are medium-sized pasta shapes which are a popular choice for casseroles and other baked dishes. The literal translation of radiatori is – unsurprisingly – ‘radiators’, which is exactly what this pasta looks like: little radiators!

radiatore (m) – radiator

This third recipe is written in Italian, which will give you a chance to practise your food-related vocabulary, while trying your hand at this mushroom and crunchy pancetta radiatori dish. Serve this with a good glug of extra virgin olive oil and you’ll be good to go!

4) Tagliatelle

Picture: Jason Hamner (Creative Commons 2.0)

This versatile pasta – often eaten with creamy or meaty sauces – is probably the most well-known on our list. But what is the origin of the word tagliatelle? Its name comes from a verb which translates as ‘to slice’ or ‘to cut’: tagliare. So, tagliatelle literally means ‘small slices’, perfectly describing the long strips of this ribbon-like pasta!

tagliare (vb) – to cut / to slice
taglio (m) – cut / slice

Although most would associate spaghetti with bolognese sauce, it is tagliatelli which most frequently accompanies an authentic bolognese sauce in Italy. Cosa aspetti? Try making your own Tagliatelle Bolognese using this recipe.

5) Rotelle

Picture: cookbookman (Creative Commons 2.0)

Taken from the word rotella, meaning ‘little wheel’ or ‘cogwheel’, this pasta is often referred to as ‘wagon wheel’ pasta in the U.S. Similar to the flower-shaped fiori pasta, the large surface area of rotelle, provided by their ‘spokes’, means that they take on extra flavour when added to any sauce!

rotelle (f/pl) – little wheels
rotare (vb) – to rotate
fiore (m) – flower

To finish, we have another recipe in Italian for you. Follow this step-by-step guide to create a tasty Italian sausage sauce – the perfect compliment to this ‘wagon wheel’ pasta.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed the first of our Italian articles, and that we’ve reminded you that learning a language is not all about grammar books and memorising verb lists. There are countless interesting opportunities for incorporating language-learning into our everyday lives, including at dinner time! Do you have a favourite pasta dish that you’d like to share with your fellow Italian learners? If so, let us know in the comments below!

8 ‘Digestable’ Spanish Idioms for your delectation

It’s said that in order to find out more about the culture of a country, one need look no further than the language, or languages, spoken by the people who live there. To prove this theory, let’s take the example of the United Kingdom, where two of the most well-known idioms are ‘it’s not my cup of tea’ and ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’… It’s quite clear that a country’s language reflects what is most important to the people who speak it.

Bearing this in mind, today we’re going to learn 8 Spanish idioms, or modismos, which are based on one particularly important aspect of Spanish and Hispanic culture: food. ¡Qué aproveche!

Note: the meaning of some of these idioms may vary from country to country, so watch out!

1. Ser la leche (Literally: To be the milk)

Ever wanted to enthuse about something in Spanish but already exhausted classic words like genial or bien? Well, next time you want to say that something or someone is really cool, you can use the idiom ser la leche.

For example: ‘Me encanta esa película, ¡es la leche!’ = ‘I love that film, it’s the best!’.

However, the catch with this expression is that it can also be used to mean the exact opposite.

For example: ‘¡Es la leche! Cómo puede ser tan terco?’ = ‘He’s really something. How can he be so stubborn?’. In this context, la leche is used to describe someone in a negative way. So how do people know when it’s being used as a positive or a negative word? Well, as with many expressions, it all lies in the context and the tone of voice of the person using it, so keep an eye (or an ear) out!

2. Estar de mala leche (Literally: To be of bad milk)

Our second idiom also uses the word leche, but this time with the verb estar. This is because this expression refers to a person’s current state and, as we know, changeable things normally use estar. So what does estar de mala leche actually mean?

Here’s an example: ‘Hoy es mejor no hablar con Juan, es de mala leche = ‘It’s better not to talk to Juan today, he’s in a bad mood’.

The word uva, meaning ‘grape’ can also be used instead of leche (estar de mala uva), but has the same meaning: to be in a bad mood.

Note: the phrase ¡Qué mala leche! can be used to express sympathy, like the phrase ‘Too bad!’ in English.

For example: ‘¡Qué mala leche que no pudieron venir a la boda!’ = Too bad they couldn’t come to the wedding!

3. Ser pan comido (Literally: to be eaten bread)

This is the only idiom on our list which can be directly translated into English with another food-related idiom, although in the English version it’s a different type of food. Can you think what it might be? Well, pan comido literally means ‘eaten bread’, although this still doesn’t help us to decipher the meaning of the idiom.

Let’s look at an example to make it clearer: ‘Con todo el trabajo que he hecho, este examen va a ser pan comido’ = ‘With all the work I’ve done, this exam’s gonna be a piece of cake!’.

So, ‘eaten bread’ is a Spanish version of the English idiom ‘a piece of cake’!

4. Importar un pimiento / un pepino (Literally: To matter a pepper / a cucumber)

How important is a pepper to you? And how about a cucumber? Apparently not very important, at least not in Spanish! This commonly-used idiom means ‘I don’t care’ or even ‘I couldn’t care less, if you’re really riled up!

Here it is in context: ‘A mi madre no le gusta mi novia, pero me importa un pimiento su opinión’ = ‘My Mum doesn’t like my girlfriend, but her opinion doesn’t matter to me / but I don’t care’.

5. Estar como una sopa (Literally: To be like a soup)

This expression is perhaps one of the easiest on the list to work out from its literal meaning.

Let’s have a look at it in a sentence: ‘Estaba lloviendo a mares y cuando la pobrecita llegó a casa, estuve como una sopa.’ = ‘It was absolutely chucking it down, and when the poor thing arrived home she was soaked to the bone.’

So ‘estar como una sopa’ means ‘to be drenched’.

Bonus point: ‘llover a mares’ literally means ‘to rain oceans’, or as we say in English, ‘to rain cats and dogs’.

6. Cortar /partir el bacalao (Literally: To cut / to share out the cod)

Who shares out the cod in your household or workplace? As you’ve probably guessed, this modismo isn’t actually talking about fish. Cortar el bacalao can be translated in many ways, but the closest equivalent in English is probably ‘call the shots’. Can you think of any other translations?

Here it is in an example sentence: ‘Tengo que hablar con la jefa antes de tomar una decisión mañana porque es quien corta el bacalao en esta oficina.’ = ‘I have to speak to the boss before making a decision tomorrow because she’s the one who calls the shots in this office.’

7. Ser del año de la pera (Literally: To be from the year of the pear)

Of the 7 on our list, this idiom is perhaps one of the most difficult on the list to deduce from its literal meaning. In Spanish, if something is ‘from the year of the pear’, it means that it is old-fashioned or dated.

Let’s have a look at it in context: ‘Me encanta esta canción, pero es del año de la pera.’ = ‘I love this song, but it’s quite behind the times’.

This expression isn’t exclusively used for thing such as clothing or music; it can also be used to say that somebody’s views on a particular topic are outdated.

For example: ‘Armando es muy amable, pero sus ideas son del año de la pera.’ = ‘Armando is really nice, but his ideas are pretty outdated’.

8. ¡Vete a freír espárragos! (Literally: Go to fry asparagus!)

Our final modismo is slighter ruder, but no less useful. It can be used when you’re fed up with somebody.

For example: ‘Estoy harto de ti, ¡vete a freír espárragos!’ = ‘I’ve had enough of you, clear off!’.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and are excited to have a go at using these 8 idioms in context, even if it’s just a case of talking to yourself in Spanish! The use of idiomatic phrases is one key aspect of language which will help you on your way to sounding more fluent. Although idioms can be quite tricky to remember – in any language! – they are an invaluable tool for more advanced learners who are wanting to take their language skills to the next level. It’s just a bonus that they are often quite amusing too!