Sunday, November 20, 2011

False Friend: Fábrica vs. Fabric

Hello! Today we have another quick False Friend. If you don't know what a False Friend is, see this introductory post. Today we're going to look at the difference between fábrica in Spanish and fabric in English. These two words also look very similar: 

False Friend: fábrica vs. fabric 
This SPANISH word...
Looks like this ENGLISH word...
...but they are DIFFERENT because...
In English, fabric is a noun; synonyms include cloth or textile:
"I need to go to the fabric store to buy some material to make a pair of pants."

In Spanish, fábrica is a noun that means factory or mill:
"Trabajo en la fábrica de zapatos."
("I work in the shoe factory.")

One more note: the verb "fabricar" in Spanish is very similar to "fabricate" in English, but the meaning is often different.
"fabricar" is normally translated as "produce" in English, because "fabricate" often means to invent a false story or to tell a lie!

A roll of fabric. Photo credit.
Good luck! If you have any questions, please leave a comment below, but do understand I may be slow in responding. If you have suggestions for other False Friends or Common Errors, please tell me. 

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Monday, November 7, 2011

False Friend: Éxito vs. Exit

Hello again! Today we have another False Friend. If you're not sure what a False Friend is, check out this introductory post. Today we'll look at the difference between éxito in Spanish and exit in English. They're not as frequently confused as some False Friends, but they definitely look very similar: 

False Friend: éxito vs. exit 
This SPANISH word...
Looks like this ENGLISH word...
...but they are DIFFERENT because...
In English, exit can be a verb or a noun:
-(Verb): "Sir, you're being disruptive-- please exit the theater."
-(Noun): "Many buses have two doors; one is the entrance and the other is the exit."

In Spanish, éxito is a noun that often means success, like when a person does things correctly and becomes successful:
"Mi presentación no fue muy exitosa porque estaba muy nervioso."
("My presentation wasn't very successful because I was very nervous.")

I wish you a lot of success when using these words! If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. If you have suggestions for other False Friends or Common Errors, please tell me. 

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Daylight Saving(s) Time

Hello! In a few days I hope to write a longer post about the Third Conditional, but for now I wanted to share an interesting video and an article I found related to time:

As you may know, in the US and other English-speaking countries, the people change the clocks by an hour two times every year. It's called Daylight Saving/Savings Time, and it's often an interesting or confusing cultural aspect. This year they'll change the clocks again on November 6th. The video above explains the logic behind Daylight Savings Time, but the narrator also speaks pretty quickly. If you're having trouble understanding everything, don't worry: I also didn't understand parts of it!

It's pretty interesting and I know that it's even controversial sometimes. I personally think Daylight Savings Time is great because it means that it's light until 8:30 or 9:00 PM in the evening in Colorado.

So, thanks for reading, and check back in a few days for more information about conditional tenses. Have a great day!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

False Friend: Asistir vs. Assist

An emergency call box for assistance (help). Photo Credit: Eric E. Johnson

Hello again! In a few days I'll post more about the Third Conditional, but for today we have another False Friend. If you're not sure what a False Friend is, check out this introductory post. I want to look at the difference between asistir in Spanish and assist in English. My students commonly confuse these two words: 

False Friend: asistir vs. assist 
This SPANISH word...
Looks like this ENGLISH word...
...but they are DIFFERENT because...
In English, assist is usually used as a verb. It is similar to the word help. For example:
"If you have English problems, please tell me and I'll be happy to assist you."

In Spanish, asistir is a verb that often means to go to or to attend. BUT, it can also mean to help, depending on the context.

As nouns in English, an "assistant" is a helper, and "assistance" is help. Note that "attendance" is a noun form of "attend." Compare:
"When her car broke down, Jane called her insurance company to ask for assistance."
"It's important to go to every English class because 10% of my final grade is based on class attendance."

As nouns in Spanish, asistencia can mean either "attendance" (in a class) or "assistance" (help, like in the photo above).

I hope that helps you. If you're confused or have any questions, please leave a comment below and I'll be happy to try to assist you! If you have suggestions for other False Friends or Common Errors, please tell me. 

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Monday, October 10, 2011

English Conditionals: 2nd Conditional

Hello! A few days ago we talked about the use of the First Conditional in English, and today we'll talk about the use of the Second Conditional. I'll keep the format of these posts similar so it's easy to compare them. The last post had a video to help illustrate how to use the tense, and so will this one. Listen to this song by Beyoncé and see what you can understand (if you want, you can also follow the lyrics here):

This is a very popular song to illustrate the second conditional, and my students have used it in different classes. So, the big question: In the song, is there a real possibility that Beyoncé can become a man? No, definitely not. So in this case, we're talking about an unreal possibility. That's what the Second Conditional is all about:

The Second Conditional (Unreal, Improbable Possibility)

Second conditional phrases are used in situations that are not likely to happen. Similar to the first conditional, they have two parts:

1. The "if" part (also called the "if phrase," "if clause," or "condition")
2. The "fantasy" part (also called the "would clause" or "result")

For example, I can say:

If a day had 25 hours, everyone would sleep more.

Obviously, this is an impossible, unreal situation because a day always has 24 hours. But it's nice to imagine alternate realities sometimes, isn't it?

Like in the first conditional, second conditional phrases can usually be inverted:

Everyone would sleep more if a day had 25 hours.  

In both sentences, the "if" part expresses the improbable condition (a day with 25 hours), and the result expresses the outcome (everyone would sleep more).

In the second conditional, the condition is written in a past tense (past simple or past continuous), and the result is written using would/could/should/might + a base verb. Also notice that it's acceptable or at least common to use was or were with the "if" phrase:

If I found a million dollars, I would travel around the world.
If Jane had more friends, she might not be so strange at parties.
Tom would be a better basketball player if he were taller.
If Costa Rica won the World Cup, the entire world would be amazed.

In other words,

If (past tense), then (would + base verb) .

Can you complete the following phrases?

If I had a Lamborghini, ___________ .
Mary would feel happy if ___________ .
If Jake never had to work again, ___________ .
I might be better at English if ___________ .  

As a side note, it's important to mention that there are some situations where both the first and second conditional are possible. It often depends on the speaker's attitude or perspective.

For example, let's talk about an iPhone:

If I buy an iPhone, I will sell my old phone.

In this case I'm using the First Conditional, which indicates that there's a real possibility I will buy an iPhone. But what if I don't want to buy a phone, and I only want to speak theoretically? In that case, I would use the Second Conditional:

If I bought an iPhone, I would sell my old phone.

Notice that the sentences are very similar, so the conditional tense can often indicate the speaker's attitude about the possibility. If you want more examples and summaries of the second conditional, check out this page or this page

For more practice, listen to the song again and try to find some phrases that use the second conditional (there are a lot--remember that I would can be contracted to I'd). Here are the lyrics (I'll put the second conditional phrases at the end of this post so you can check your answers):

Beyoncé - "If I Were A Boy"

If I were a boy even just for a day
I'd roll out of bed in the morning
And throw on what I wanted and go
Drink beer with the guys
And chase after girls
I'd kick it with who I wanted
And I'd never get confronted for it
'Cause they'd stick up for me

If I were a boy
I think I could understand
How it feels to love a girl
I swear I'd be a better man

I'd listen to her
'Cause I know how it hurts
When you lose the one you wanted
'Cause he's taking you for granted
And everything you had got destroyed

If I were a boy
I would turn off my phone
Tell everyone it's broken
So they'd think that I was sleeping alone

I'd put myself first
And make the rules as I go
'Cause I know that she'd be faithful
Waiting for me to come home, to come home

If I were a boy
I think I could understand
How it feels to love a girl
I swear I'd be a better man

I'd listen to her
'Cause I know how it hurts
When you lose the one you wanted
'Cause he's taking you for granted
And everything you had got destroyed

It's a little too late for you to come back
Say it's just a mistake
Think I'd forgive you like that
If you thought I would wait for you
You thought wrong

But you're just a boy
You don't understand
And you don't understand, oh
How it feels to love a girl
Someday you'll wish you were a better man

You don't listen to her
You don't care how it hurts
Until you lose the one you wanted
'Cause you're taking her for granted
And everything you had got destroyed
But you're just a boy

How many second conditional phrases did you find? Many start with the phrase "If I were a boy," although she doesn't repeat the "if" clause or even the "I'd" for every result:

"If I were a boy...
-I'd roll out of bed in the morning
-(I'd) throw on what I wanted
-(I'd) go drink beer with the guys"

"If I were a boy, I think I could understand how it feels to love a girl..."

For some of the instances, the people involved change:

"If I were a boy, I would turn off my phone, (and) tell everyone it's broken so they would think that I was sleeping alone."

"If you thought I would wait for you, you thought wrong."

And in some of the instances, the "if clause" is actually not even included; that's common with second conditional phrases, especially in songs:

"'ll wish you were a better man"

Many other songs use second conditional phrases-- do you know of any others? I like Barenaked Ladies' "If I Had $1,000,000" and "If" by Red Hot Chili Peppers (but neither have videos).

So, that's it for now! As usual, if you have any questions or problems, please leave a comment below or contact me.

Thanks for reading, and check back soon for information about the third conditional-- yes, there's a third one, too! Have a great day!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

English Conditionals: 1st Conditional

To start today's post, watch this video and try to understand as much as you can
(If it's too difficult, or if you hate ice cream, you can also follow the lyrics here):

In this song, do you think there's a real possibility that the singer will run? The song's title is "If I Run"; when we use the word "if," we're expressing a possibility. Sometimes the possibility is real, and sometimes the possibility is unreal. Sentences with "if" are also called "conditional sentences" because they express an idea or a desire for the future, but they also mention a condition or requirement for the idea or desire to happen.

In the next few days we'll look at three common ways to use conditionals in English. Today we'll talk about the First Conditional:

The First Conditional (Real, Probable Possibility)

First conditional phrases talk about real, possible situations. These phrases have two parts:

1. The "if" part (also called the "if phrase," "if clause," or "condition")
2. The "future" part (also called the "future clause" or "result")

For example, I can say:

If you learn some grammar, your English will improve.

In this case, the condition is first, and the result is second. You can also generally reverse the order of the two parts (but remove the comma):

Your English will improve if you learn some grammar.  

In both sentences, the "if" part expresses the condition or requirement (you learn some grammar), and the result expresses what will happen (your English will improve).

In the first conditional, the condition is written in a present tense (present simple, present continuous, or present perfect), and the result is written in a future tense (will, going to, can, must):

If Ken misses the bus, he will walk home.
If Ken is learning English, he's going to learn conditional tenses.
If Ken hasn't eaten, he can buy a sandwich in the cafeteria.

In other words,

If (present tense), then (future tense) .

Can you complete the following phrases?

If I feel bored tonight, ___________ .
Mary will feel happy if ___________ .
If everyone in class passes the exam, ___________ .  

Now that you've learned a bit more about these phrases, listen to the song again and try to find some phrases that use the first conditional. Here are the lyrics (I'll put the first conditional phrases at the end of this post so you can check your answers):

Semisonic - "If I Run"
Morning comes and morning goes
Now it's me against the sun
The day goes by and darkness grows
And it's over before it's done

Well I know it'll be alright if I just get on the road
If I run I can free my worried mind
Yeah I know on the day I die I will lose my heavy load
But I wouldn't want to leave you behind

All my time keeps creeping on
Now I've grown into a man
But Mr. Child still wants to run
From the cradle to the van

Keep thinking it'll be alright if I just get on the road
If I run I can free my worried mind
Keep thinking of the day I die when I lose my heavy load
But I wouldn't want to leave you behind.

Did you find the first conditional phrases? They are:

"I know it'll be alright if I just get on the road"
"If I run I can free my worried mind"

Do you know other songs that use the first conditional? One that I like is Garth Brooks' "If Tomorrow Never Comes," but it's a bit more complicated because he also mixes in the second conditional (which we'll talk about in a few days). If you want more information about the first conditional, check out this page or this page.

So, that's it for today! If you have any questions or problems, please tell me. Sometimes it's difficult to make grammar interesting and easy to understand!

Thanks for reading, and keep checking Sitzman ABC in the coming days to learn more about second and third conditionals!

Monday, October 3, 2011

False Friend: Discusión vs. Discussion

Are these birds having a discussion? An argument? Read on to find out! (Photo Credit)

Hello! Today we have another False Friend to discuss. If you're not sure what a False Friend is, check out this introductory post. Today we'll be looking at the difference between discusión in Spanish and discussion in English. Like most False Friends, they look very similar and in fact sometimes there's no difference in meaning. Still, there are some contexts where they mean different things. Let's look:

False Friend: discusión vs. discussion 
This SPANISH word...
Looks like this ENGLISH word...
...but they are DIFFERENT because...
In English, a discussion is usually the same thing as a conversation. It can be positive or negative, depending on the context.

In Spanish, a discusión is usually a negative thing. In other words, if you use this word, it indicates that people were possibly yelling and getting very angry. Basically, it's like a verbal fight.

If you want to say discusión in English, try to use a word like "an argument" or even "a fight." Those are closer to the meaning in Spanish.

I'll be posting more False Friends in the days and weeks to come, but if you have any suggestions for other False Friends or Common Errors, please tell me. 

Thanks for reading, and have a great day full of interesting discussions--but hopefully no arguments!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Introduction: False Friends

A sign for a "night club" in Costa Rica. Read this post to see how "night clubs" in Spanish and "nightclubs" in English are different! 
There's a common English phrase that I like: "With friends like these, who needs enemies?"* It means that sometimes the people who we think are our friends, are the people who hurt us most. This can be applied to language learning when talking about cognates, or specifically false cognates

Cognates are words that look identical or very similar in two languages. For example, the Spanish word "actor" is identical to the English word "actor," and their meanings are the same. Only the pronunciation is a little different. So, we could say that "actor" and "actor" are cognates. (Click here for a nice list of many English-Spanish cognates.)

False cognates --also called "false friends"-- are pairs of words that look similar, but in fact have different definitions and meanings. One example that causes problems for a lot of people is the word "once." In Spanish, once means "eleven," but in English, "once" means "one time." Another example is "actual." In Spanish, actual means "current," but in English, it means "authentic" or "real."

I notice my students getting confused by false friends very frequently. As you know, I already have a Common Errors section in this blog, but since false friends are quicker and more specifically related to vocabulary, I decided to start a False Friends page on this blog. I'll post more of these false friends and their explanations occasionally, but if you want to have a quick list now, you can check different extended lists here, here, and here.

So, here's our first False Friend: "night club" in Spanish vs. "nightclub" in English:

False Friend: 
This SPANISH word...
Looks like this ENGLISH word...
...but they are DIFFERENT because...
"night club"
Obviously, "night club" isn't really a native Spanish word, but it's used frequently, at least in Costa Rica. BUT, there's an important difference. If you go to a night club in Costa Rica, you're going to what's called a "strip club" in English, where strippers take off their clothes for money.

In English, a "nightclub" is a place that normally serves food and alcohol in the evenings, and usually provides a place to dance. It's very similar to a "disco" or a "dance club." If you go "nightclubbing," it means you go out  dancing in the evening.**

I'll try to post more False Friends in the future, and you can find them by clicking on the "False Friends" tab at the top of this blog. If you have any questions or suggestions for additional False Friends, I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks very much for reading, and have a great day...or night; and if you're going to a night club, be careful!

*Apparently, this phrase may have originally come from German, since there's also a similar phrase in German: Mit solchen Freunden braucht man keine Feinde mehr.
**"Nightclubbing" is also the name of a song by Iggy Pop.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Free Online German Class

Berlin, Germany... Pretty much exactly like Berlín de San Ramón, right?

The other day I posted quite a few links that my German students can check out (click here for that post). I was also chatting online with Sharon, and she pointed out a great, free online German class. It's got explanations in Spanish, so it could be a great resource for my students here in Costa Rica. It has some videos and some sound, too (you may have to wait a few seconds after clicking, just so you know). In any case, check out the course here. If you have any comments, please feel free to share them. Thanks, and Viel Glück!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Common Names

A few weeks ago I wrote two articles about naming customs in the USA and Costa Rica. I mentioned that I also wanted to talk a little bit about common names in both countries, but since the posts were already so long, I decided to do a shorter post later. This is that post.

Common Last Names in the USA

First of all, let's look at last names, since they're the same for both men and women, obviously. According to this list, which seems to be available in some form on more than one site, the two most popular names are Smith and Johnson. I had actually thought it was the other way around, but they're both very common. The top 5 is rounded off with Williams, Jones, and then Brown, which didn't really surprise me much. In fact, of the top 20 names the only ones that surprised me were Garcia (18) and Martinez (19), mainly just because they were the first Hispanic last names on the list, and I expected Hispanic names to be a bit higher. I'm sure that a lot of last name statistics also depend on geographical regions, though.

I also noticed that "Sitzman" was conspicuously absent from the Top 20... and the Top 100. So I searched for it, and apparently it's number 24,083... that's right, my last name is the 24,083rd most popular last name in the US! Believe it or not, but it's even less common than the last name "Pizza" (ranked 24,007th). But still: Pizza! I'd have a more common last name if my name were "Ryan Pizza." Ouch, that hurts.

Common First Names in the USA

Now, first names were the ones that surprised me a bit more. I discovered that the Social Security Administration (the agency in charge of retirement and pension payments in the US) keeps statistics related to baby names. I spent a while looking at different names, charts, and statistics on their website, and it was pretty interesting.

According to this table, the most common first names in 2010 were Jacob, Ethan, and Michael for boys and Isabella, Sophia, and Emma for girls. Hmm, not too bad, I guess, but then I saw that for boys Jayden is #4 and Aiden is #9. Are those even names? (Disclaimer: I'm a mean, grumpy man.) I suppose that it's cold comfort that it's not as strange as the list of top baby names in Great Britain (seriously, England: "Alfie"? What's going on over there?). 

Still, I guess the names don't seem so strange if you look at this chart, which displays the top 5 names for each year from 1911 to 2010. It also explains why I know a lot of Jennifers, Ashleys, Matthews, and Christophers. 

So how does "Ryan" fit into these numbers? Well, in 2010 it was number 23, just above "Samuel" and "Jackson" (and probably even further ahead of babies named "Samuel L. Jackson"). Sadly, it's still below Mason and Logan. Brian and Bryan don't seem to be on the top 25 list for 2010, but maybe they count them as two different names because of the two spellings?

On the SSA site you can also search for popular names from the year in which you were born, so I did that. I had always imagined that my name was pretty common and boring, since I know a lot of Ryans, Brians, and Bryans. I was right. In 1980, Brian was #12 and Ryan was #15. The #15 name for girls in 1980 was Christina, and that seems about right.

There is one part of the SSA baby names website that is very disturbing, though. It's the "Change in Popularity" section, which lists names that have gained in popularity recently. There are some really ridiculous names on this page, especially for the boys. Seriously, who in their right mind would name a beautiful baby boy Bentley, Knox, Jax, Zayden, or Ryder? 

Anyway, that's my names post. I hope there was something interesting for you. And if any of my friends who read this have children with those "strange" names, then of course I was just kidding! Your baby and his name are both wonderful and special!

Thanks for reading. If you want to join in on the discussion, say hi in the comments section. Take care, and have a great day!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Some Links For German Students

Let me just say this now: EXTRA CREDIT to anyone who comes to class next week
wearing a Dirndl or Lederhosen!

Hi to everyone, but especially to my German students! I enjoyed our class this evening, and I'm excited that we'll be learning more together in the weeks to come. To help you study outside of class, I wanted to pass on a few links for you today:

Basic German

-One good place to go is this site on It really is a free, basic German course, but there are a lot of text ads along the way. There's not many pictures, either. One good thing about the site is that you can listen to any of the highlighted phrases just by clicking on them.

-A second option is actually the BBC's German learning site. It's got quite a lot in English, but it's a good way to move into German bit by bit.

-Finally, Deutsche Welle (which means "German Wave") is a famous international broadcaster based out of Germany. It has some basic German courses you can use online. Here's an "audio trainer" course with the instructions in Spanish (you can also find instructions in English or German).

About German and German-Speaking Countries

-There are many, many internet sites about Germany, the German language, and the German people, but two that seem pretty good are and Young Germany. The first page is from the German embassy in the U.S. so it's in English. If you prefer Spanish you can go to the German Embassy in Costa Rica's page.

-If you want more information about tourism in Germany, check out this site.

-If you want to know more about "Die Schweiz," then try Swiss World or

-If you prefer to learn about "Österreich," head to this page for general information or this page for tourist info.

-If you want to learn about Liechtenstein, that small country we mentioned in class, check here.

A lot of the information on those pages is available in English, German, and sometimes also Spanish.

Dictionaries, Verbs, the Alphabet, and Changing Between Keyboard Languages

-The dictionary I mentioned in class is LEO. They also have apps for smartphones, but it's probably easiest to get them by searching through your phone's store (like the Apple App Store or the Android Market).

-If you want a quick site for verb conjugations, this one is pretty good. It's a little weird about German letters, though. For example, if you want to find "heißen," you need to use the ß... it doesn't seem to recognize "heissen." 

-If you want to add the possibility to easily type German letters on your keyboard, there are directions here. Just so you know, your keyboard will obviously look the same, but if you normally have an American English keyboard layout, the Ä key is the apostrophe (') key, the Ö key is the semi-colon (;) key, the Ü key is the left bracket ([) key, and the ß is the dash (-) key. If you have a Spanish keyboard layout, Ä is the accent key, Ö is the Ñ key, Ü is the weird downward accent key (`), and ß is the apostrophe (') key. 
That sounds pretty confusing, but if you set up Windows to change between languages, it's really fast and easy once you get used to it (just click "Left Alt + Shift" to change languages in almost any program, including Word and web browsers like Firefox or Chrome).

-If you want to practice the alphabet, check out this site for pronunciation and this site for pronunciation plus a few songs. Here are the numbers if you want to practice them.

German Magazines and News

-Two of the most popular news magazines in Germany are Spiegel and Stern. Both are obviously in German, so they may be difficult if you're just beginning, but at least they have nice pictures and you can see how some world news is reported in Germany (it's also a good chance to notice many German-English cognates when reading headlines). 

-Deutsche Welle has a news page in Spanish (and many other languages... just use the drop-down menu at the top right to select the language you want).

-Additionally, Spiegel has a good English site. It's good if you're looking for more English practice!

SO! That's a LOT of links. I'm sure that if you want to practice German, you'll be able to keep busy at least until next week. If any of the links are good, bad, or don't work, please tell me. Also feel free to mention any other links that you may know of, so that I can share them with the rest of the class.

Thanks, and have a great week!

Friday, September 16, 2011

German Class Tonight!

Eating food is OK in my class, but you probably can't smoke...
Unless you look like Herr Lessing or his daughter in the picture.

A few quick notes for students in tonight's German class:

-Class will go from 6-9. We can have a short break, but it will only be a few minutes. If you want to bring some food along, that's OK with me.

-Please bring a notebook and either a USB flash drive or a laptop (I have some extra materials I can give to you).

-Tonight we'll start with basic introductions and vocabulary. We'll also discuss materials (I have a few possible books we can consider, but they all have advantages and disadvantages).

-Consider what language you want the class to be in. I think most of the students will speak English, but it may be hard for you to go between German and explanations in English. And for me, it may be hard for me to go between German and explanations in Spanish. If you want to do the class in German, that's also a possibility, and don't worry, I wouldn't be as strict as I am in English classes. :)

So, see you tonight!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Common Error: Plurals and Apostrophes

"Taxi's" or "Taxis"? Read on to find out! (Photo Credit).

Hello everyone! It's been a while since we looked at a Common Error, but this is one that I've noticed a lot recently. Interestingly, it's a common error that advanced learners and even native English speakers make--the sign in the picture above was in England! The problem happens when you try to incorrectly make a word plural by adding 's (an apostrophe plus 'S').

Common Error: Incorrectly making a word "plural" by adding an "apostrophe + s"
DON’T say this:When I teach young student's, I talk with their mother's and father's.
The sign said it sold "ice cream, hot dog's, and hamburger's."
WHY?-This is an easy error to correct and recognize:

-Generally, to make a regular noun plural, add "-s" or "-es."

-If you add "'s" (apostrophe + s) to the end of a word, it usually makes it possessive, not plural, or in some cases it may be a contraction of the word "is."
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-When I teach young students, I talk with their mothers and fathers.
-The sign said it sold "ice cream, hot dogs, and hamburgers."
-Mike's a great guy, and he can make delicious hamburgers. (Here, Mike's = "Mike is")
-Let's go to Mike's house. (Here, Let's = "let us," indicating a suggestion, and Mike's = the house belongs to Mike)

So, apostrophes can sometimes be a bit confusing, but remember that they're usually NOT used to make plurals! If you are comfortable reading advanced English, AnnaLisa has written a couple of posts about apostrophe use on her blog "Word-wise." The posts are very complete, so check them out if you can!

If you have any comments or questions, or especially if you have any suggestions for future Common Errors, please leave a message in the Comments section or contact us

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Language in Bilingual Couples and Families

My wife Angela and I. Or should I say, "Mi esposa Ángela y yo"?
Or even, "Meine Frau Angela und ich"?

As you may know, I'm from the USA, so my native language is English. I'm married to a Costa Rican named Angela, and her native language is obviously Spanish. One question that people ask us a lot is "What language do you speak at home?" The answer is that we alternate between the two languages, but sometimes people are surprised at how infrequently we switch languages: once a year.

That's right, every August 25th (the way we chose that date is a more complicated story) we change languages. So about two weeks ago, we ended an English year and started a Spanish year. There are some advantages and some disadvantages to this approach.

I've heard of some couples or families that switch between languages every month, week, or even every day, but I think that would be a bit too confusing. The way we do it, once you start a new language year, it's very unlikely that you'll forget which language you're supposed to speak. As a result, one person can really work on building up his or her fluency. You can also avoid falling into a "Spanglish" trap wherein you speak a mixture of two languages, which can be confusing for you or some onlookers (or in this case "onlisteners," I guess).

There are also some disadvantages. In the case of Angela and I, we usually prefer to not speak our native language. In other words, I prefer our Spanish years, and Angela prefers our English years since we both want to practice a language that's foreign to us. With this approach, one of us has to go for most of a year with little practice in the target language. We do still speak English with my friends and family and Spanish with Angela's. Also, while living in Costa Rica many daily interactions out of home are in Spanish, but we both speak mostly English at work, so at least there's always some practice of both languages.

One big question mark for the future is what we'll do if we have kids. As I noted in my articles about naming customs (USA here and Costa Rica here), we don't even know what last names our kids would have, and we're also unsure how to best raise a bilingual child. I've heard that it's best if each parent always speaks his or her native language with the children so the children don't mix up the two languages. But if we had a kid and it were a Spanish year, for example, it would maybe be weird for me to speak English with the kid and Spanish with Angela, all in the same conversation. I guess we'll cross that bridge if/when we come to it.

What about you? Are you in a bilingual or multilingual family or relationship? Do you know anyone who is? How do you handle it, or how would you handle it if you were? Wow, we have a great opportunity here to practice conditional tenses! 

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

German Class To Start Next Week!

You'd love to be able to communicate with all these people, right?

We've finally found a day and time for our German class! It will be at the Discovery Language Academy in Palmares (that's right across from the Canela clothes store, I'm told). The class will be Fridays from 6-9 PM and the first class will be September 9th. To register for the class or for more details, call Kenia at 2453-4541 on weekdays from 2-8, or Saturday morning from 8-11. I'm excited to start this class, so I hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Different Countries, Different Names: The U.S.A.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Well, it took me longer than I imagined, but here's the second half of our series about naming customs. We recently looked at naming customs in Costa Rica, so today we'll look at names in the United States.

Generally speaking, the naming customs in the U.S. are sometimes similar to the practices found in Canada and some western European countries, such as the U.K. or Germany. Still, there are variations, especially from generation to generation. Because of that, you should only read this as a subjective explanation of names in the U.S., since it's based on my own personal observations of people that I have known and met while living there.

Names in the U.S.A.

In the U.S., most people have three names. We'll talk later about where those names come from. Unlike in Costa Rica or many other countries, there is no national ID card like a cédula. Most people do carry some form of photo identification, like a driver's license or a student ID card, but carrying an ID is generally not required by law (unless, for example, you're driving a car, in which case you'd need a license). Now let's look at an example of two typical names in the U.S., one female and one male:

Sarah Marie Johnson
Matthew William Smith

As you can see, each person has three names. They're called the first name, the middle name, and the last name. 

First Name: The parents choose the first and middle names of a baby; when they do this, the verb we'd use is "to name." For example, I can say "My parents named me Ryan." If the parents give the child the same name as a relative or any specific person, you can say that the baby is named after that person. For example, "John was named after his grandfather." or "Tina was named after the singer Tina Turner." My parents named me, but they didn't name me after anyone--they just liked the way "Ryan" sounds!

Middle Name: There are some people (but not many) who have two middle names, and there are also people who don't have a middle name at all. Still, it's most common to see people with one middle name. However, in contrast to some countries (like Costa Rica) most people in the U.S. rarely use their middle names in normal interactions. I almost never use my middle name, and I don't know most of my friends' middle names. Most people see a middle name more as a "decoration," but not a very useful one! There is a notable exception, and that's when the middle name is abbreviated with an initial, as in "John F. Kennedy," "Michael J. Fox," or "Homer J. Simpson." Perhaps some people write their names that way because they think it makes them seem more sophisticated. Or, maybe they just like the way it sounds. In any case, it's still not as common as not using a middle name.

Last Name: This is where you can see the biggest difference between names in Costa Rica and names in the U.S. As we mentioned before, in Costa Rica a person normally has two last names; the first one is from the father and the second one is from the mother. In the majority of families in the U.S., everyone has the same last name. My last name is obviously "Sitzman," and that's also my brother and sister's last name, my dad's last name, and my mom's last name. How is that possible? Well, the majority of women in the U.S. change their last name when they get married. It's not obligatory, but it's still common for a woman to take her husband's last name after marriage. If a woman does this, the children would also automatically inherit the family's last name. Let's examine this a little more:

Names After Marriage

Men: Generally, when a man gets married, he doesn't do anything to any of his names. It's theoretically possible for a man to change his last name to his wife's last name, particularly if her name is prestigious or his is "bad" (if he were named "Peter Hitler," for example). In practice, this is very uncommon.

Women: When a woman gets married, she has to decide if she's going to keep the last name she got from her parents (this last name is also called a maiden name) or if she will adopt her new husband's last name. If she does the first option her name will remain the same with no changes. If she decides to adopt her husband's last name, she can either eliminate her maiden name, or she can eliminate her original middle name and replace it with her maiden name. Using our names from above, if Sarah Marie Johnson married Matthew Smith, Sarah could become either "Sarah Marie Smith" or "Sarah Johnson Smith." From what I've noticed, the second option is more common.
A third possibility is for the woman to "hyphenate" her last name. If she "hyphenates," then she uses her maiden name and her husband's last name, connected with a hyphen. Using our examples above, if Sarah married Matthew and wanted to hyphenate her name, she'd be "Sarah Marie Johnson-Smith."

Children: As mentioned above, it's most common for the children in a family to have the same last name as their mother and father, that is, the father's last name. Using our example of Sarah and Matthew, if they had a kid, they might decide to name her "Emily Rose Smith."
Another, less common possibility is to incorporate the both the parents' last names with a hyphen. If they do this, the child's last name would start with the mother's last name first and the father's last name second (in other words, the opposite order from Costa Rican last names). So the girl's name would be "Emily Rose Johnson-Smith." This is maybe less common because it's more complicated to decide what happens to a hyphenated last name if its owner gets married. (See this article for an interesting perspective on all this.)

Ways to Address People

It's sometimes a little difficult to know how to address someone if you're talking to them for the first time. If you're asking for someone on the phone, it's usually no problem if you want to use the person's first and last name, as in "Could I speak with Emily Smith, please?" If you know a person's title (such as Doctor or Professor), you should usually include those. If you're talking to someone face to face, it's often best to use a title and his or her last name as a show of respect. You could say "Hello Mr. Miller" or "Good morning Professor Johnson." Very often, people find this a bit formal, so the person you're talking will say something like "Please, call me Jane." If the person doesn't say that, it's still best to be cautious and use a title.

Titles for Men: Titles for men are usually not as complicated as titles for women. For most men, if you say Mister and his last name, as in "Mr. Smith," you'll be OK (or he'll ask you to simply call him by his first name). There are a few exceptions. If you know that the man is a doctor, you can and should address him as "Doctor Smith," and if he's a professor (meaning a teacher at the university with a doctorate degree), then you should call him "Professor Smith."

Titles for Women: There are three main titles specifically for women: Miss, Mrs. (pronounced "missus"), and Ms. (pronounced "miz"). Here are some guidelines:
Miss: Used for unmarried and/or young women, and generally followed by the maiden name
Mrs.: Used for married women, and generally followed by the husband's last name
Ms.: Used for married or unmarried women. If you don't know if a woman is married or not, this is a safe choice. Also, some women choose to use this as their title since it's really nobody's business but their own if they're married or not, and the title "Ms." allows them to keep that information private.
As with men, if you know that the woman is a doctor or professor, use the appropriate corresponding title instead of Miss, Mrs., or Ms.

For men and women, there's really no corresponding title to "Don" or "Doña" in Spanish, since those are used with a person's first name. For example, no one would call me "Mr. Ryan," since Ryan is my first name.

One major difference that I've noticed as a teacher is how my students address me. When I taught classes at the university in the U.S., my students generally called me simply "Ryan" because I asked them to (I was only 24 or 25 at the time and "Mr. Sitzman" sounded strange to me). When I was teaching German a few students called me "Herr Sitzman" semi-ironically, but that's a different story. None of them called me "Professor Sitzman," though, since I'm not a professor (I only have a Master's degree in German). In Costa Rica, though, my students all call me either "Teacher Ryan" or simply "Teacher." It's pretty weird and annoying. I've eventually gotten used to it, but I still call my students "Student" until they address me as "Ryan." I don't even want to try "Mr. Sitzman" since my last name seems to give most people here nightmares!

So, I think that's it for now! Thanks for your patience if you made it to the end of this article! When researching for these two articles I came across some interesting statistics related to names, so I'll try to write a shorter post about that in the near future.

If you have any comments or questions, or if you're from the U.S. and your name doesn't follow these patterns, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Note For English Teachers

I know that most of Sitzman ABC is for my students, but there are a few teachers who read this, too. So, here's an announcement for 2012's National Conference for Teachers of English:

(Click on image for higher resolution)

It's sponsored/hosted every year by the organization that I work for, and it's a good chance for English teachers to come together and learn from each other.

Obviously this is mainly for English teachers in Costa Rica, but if you live in another country and teach English, you're welcome to sign up and come to Costa Rica for the conference, then stay for a wonderful beach vacation--January and February are usually the best months to visit here!

Thanks for reading. In a day or two I'm still planning on posting the second half of our naming customs series, so stay tuned! Have a nice day!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Different Countries, Different Names: Costa Rica

The Jiménez Coat of Arms. Jiménez is one of the most common last names
in Costa Rica, and it's one of my wife's two last names. Image: Wikimedia

I've been wanting to write a post about naming customs in different countries, since it's a common conversation topic with my students and also with my friends and family back in the U.S. I know that this sometimes depends on the individual person and/or family, but from what I've noticed, names in Costa Rica and in the U.S. follow patterns, but they're different in a few important ways. Today we'll look at Costa Rican naming patterns, and in a few days we'll look at patterns in the U.S. If you have any observations, comments, or corrections, or if you're Costa Rican and your name follows a different pattern, I'd love to hear from you!

Names In Costa Rica

Almost everyone in the country has four names. There is a national ID card called a cédula for people over 18 years old, and the cédula generally has a person's four names. In normal social interactions, though, people often introduce themselves with only one or two names, or even a nickname. Let's look at an example of a typical female name in Costa Rica:

María Andrea Rodríguez Campos

(By the way, I just invented that name, but I would bet money that there's at least one woman in Costa Rica with that exact name!) So, in our example, María Andrea is this woman's name/s (nombre/s in Spanish). Since María is one of the most common first names in Costa Rica, it's often not mentioned, and sometimes it's abbreviated "Ma." as in "Ma. Fernanda." There aren't many "rules" for the two names, and parents usually choose to name a child after a relative, or they just choose a name that they think sounds good (even if it often doesn't!). Occasionally parents even give their children a third name, often related to religion. Common examples are (name 1) + (name 2) + de Jesús / de la Trinidad / de los Ángeles / del Carmen / etc. Oh, and a quick note: "María José" is a girl's name, and "José María" is a boy's name. That always caused me problems at first! 

In this example, Rodríguez Campos is the woman's last name/s (called "apellidos" in Spanish). This is where it gets confusing if you're not used to these naming customs. The first last name, "Rodríguez" in this case, is from the father. The second last name, "Campos," is from the mother. If María Andrea gets married later in her life, she will almost certainly not change her last names. Occasionally, especially in the past, a woman might add her husband's last name at the end after "de"; For example, if María Andrea married John Schneider, she could call herself "María Andrea Rodríguez Campos de Schneider," but this custom is pretty rare these days, at least in Costa Rica. You may have noticed, however, that the Argentinean President, Christina Fernández de Kirchner, followed this practice, so it may be more common in other countries or in certain situations.

A note: there are some very common last names in Costa Rica, such as Rodríguez, González, Jiménez, Araya, or Hernández; these are the "Smiths" and "Johnsons" of Central America, apparently! In some cases, a person's mother and father may have the same first last name, even if they're definitely from different families. If that happens, say with two parents with the first last name "Rodríguez," then their kids would simply be named "(name) + (name) + Rodríguez Rodríguez." 

As a result of these naming practices, in a hypothetical nuclear family consisting of a mom, a dad, a daughter, and a son, there would be three different last name combinations. The father would have his two last names, the mother would have her two last names, and the kids would both have the father's first last name followed by the mother's first last name. Does that make sense, or are you as confused as I was when I arrived here?

So how do you address a Costa Rican person? Well, if you're asking for someone on the phone or in person, it's common to ask for him or her using one or both names and the first last name. In our example, you'd ask for "María Andrea Rodríguez" if you didn't know her personally. If you knew her personally and knew that she preferred to be called "Andrea," then you might also ask for "Andrea Rodríguez." If it were an informal situation and you knew her personally --and you knew that she didn't object to the title-- you might possibly ask for "Doña Andrea," but this can also lead to problems. Doña (Don for men) is a title of respect paired with a person's first name, but it often is used only for older and/or married men and women. My wife Angela, for example, hates to be called "Doña Angela." I personally wouldn't mind being called "Don Ryan," since it makes me think of The Godfather's "Don Corleone" or the legendary lover "Don Juan," but the connotations aren't as positive or interesting with Doña. So be careful with that one!

As always, there are probably numerous exceptions to these rules, but from what I've noticed, the broad majority of Costa Ricans' names follow these patterns. Like I mentioned before, no matter where you're from, I'd love to hear any comments you might have about this article.

Thanks for reading, and in a couple of days we'll look at naming customs in the U.S.A. 
Have a great day!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Vocabulary: Holidays and Vacations

August 2nd is a holiday in Costa Rica, so today I thought I'd mention a few good vocabulary words related to holidays.

First of all, today is a holiday, which means that it's a special day for some reason. It's also a holy day; "holy" is similar to "sacred," and it can be used to describe things related to religion. An example of a holy day is Easter (click here or here for more information). Some holidays aren't necessarily holy days, and some holy days aren't necessarily holidays. For example, many countries have bank holidays and national holidays such as Independence Day or Mother's Day, which aren't connected to the church. 

Today's holiday is a Saint's Day connected to the Virgin of Los Angeles. In many Catholic countries, there's basically a saint for every day of the year. The reason today is special in Costa Rica is because the Virgin of Los Angeles is the patron saint of Costa Rica. Many people go to the city of Cartago to visit the basilica (also called a cathedral or even simply a church) to see a statue of the saint. Those people are sometimes called pilgrims, and the event or their journey can be called a pilgrimage.

Sometimes English learners get confused about the differences between holiday and vacation. In American English, the word "holiday" is generally used to indicate a day when there's no school or work. "Vacation" can be used to indicate a trip (when you travel somewhere for business or tourism) or you can also say "vacation" to indicate when there's a longer period of time when schools are closed. For example, in the U.S.A. most schools have a summer vacation or a summer break, as well as a winter vacation/break and a spring break/vacation. As you can see, "break" can also mean "vacation" sometimes.

British English is a little bit different with some of this vocabulary. For example, Americans might go on vacation, but British people might go on holiday. Also, notice that in American English, "vacation" and "holiday" are almost always in the singular form; only say "vacations" if you are talking about more than one vacation.

That's probably enough vocabulary for today but before we go, let's take a look at a dialogue using some of these terms:

(The phone rings--John answers)
John: Hello? This is John.

Ana: Hi John! This is Ana. How are you doing?

John: Ana, hi! I'm great, thanks. How are you?

Ana: I'm fine. Hey, are you doing anything special today?

John: No, why?

Ana: Well, today's a holiday! It's the Saint's Day for the Virgin of Los Angeles!

John: Oh, you're right! I'm not from Costa Rica, so I forgot about that. Are you doing anything special?

Ana: Probably not. My sister and brother are making a pilgrimage to Cartago to visit the church. They're walking 10 hours to get to the basilica, but since I broke my foot on my last vacation, I can't walk that far.

John: You broke your foot?! That's terrible!

Ana: I guess I didn't tell you. Yes, last month we had a break from school, so I went with some friends to the beach. It was a great vacation, but on the last day I tripped and broke my foot while I was leaving the hotel!

John: Haha! I'm sorry to hear about your foot, but that's a little funny!

Ana: Actually, you're right. It was kind of stupid, but also a little funny. At least the rest of the trip was great. Hey, I've got to go now, but do you want to come over later for coffee?

John: Sure, that sounds great! Should I stop by your house at 3?

Ana: Excellent! I'll see you then. Bye!

So, that's all for now. If you have any comments, questions, corrections, or want to share more vocabulary, please leave a comment or contact me. Thanks for reading-- if you're in Costa Rica, have a great holiday, and if you're not, have a great day!