Spanish Immersion Series Pt 4: Rio 2016

Olympics or not, the natural beauty of Rio De Janiero is hard to describe. Massive, strangely shaped mountains lay on one side, and beautiful bodies of water – the Iconic bay(Guaranaba) and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.


I wake up, and take the bus from Niteroi into Rio De Janeiro. It is important to note that “Rio De Janeiro” means “River of January,” which is a misnomer. The first Portuguese explorers to arrive mistook the mouth of the Guanabara Bay as a river. In modern times, the Guanabara Bay is quite polluted; so much so that many residents will not go into the water.

However, the beaches on the adjacent side – Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon – are absolutely stunning, and that is the first place I decide to go. There is a saying in Rio De Janeiro, that “the beach is everyone’s living room.” It’s where most Carioca’s(people from Rio De Janeiro) meet during the day, and the place to be while the sun is out.


It’s hot, but not too hot. Beach vendors pass by, selling everything from beer to freshly caught shrimp. More than anything else, the intense Brazilian heat is best counteracted with chilled young coconuts. Brazilians sell them whole, using large machetes to hack the top away. The chilled, potassium rich coconut water is extremely refreshing.

While sitting on the beach, I look up and notice both of Brazil’s world famous landmarks. The first is “Christo Redentor,” or “Christ the Redeemer,” which is the massive statue of Jesus Christ, arms outstretched. It sits perched on the very top of a mountain. It is absolutely huge, making it visible from very far away. It is lit up at night, making it visible from nearly every part of the city, at nearly every time of the day and night.


The other is “Pao de azucar,” which translates to “Sugarloaf Mountain.” These are two massive mountains that are connected by cable-car, giving perhaps the best view of Rio De Janeiro. The scenery in Rio is intrinsically wild – the raw and natural beauty is simply not available in a place like Los Angeles.


Like the background, Rio De Janeiro’s inhabitants are also extremely beautiful. Brazil is a place where many cultures have historically come together: Portuguese, African, and Indigenous Brazilians. The result is a mosaic of features that delight the senses.

While both Rio De Janeiro and the people who live there have immense physical beauty, perhaps the best part about Rio De Janeiro is the pervasive “Carioca” attitude. Once again, a “Carioca” is someone who is from Rio De Janeiro. At the end of my 21 days, I feel comfortable saying that most “Carioca’s” enjoy having a good time. That means dancing, drinking, and being exceptionally friendly to a foreigner like myself, who speaks limited Portuguese.

This attitude is very much Latin American – and a reason that I loved my time in both Bogota and Rio. People seem to be more laid back. They take their time, and they don’t seem to take themselves or their lives too seriously. Constant laughter is a way of life.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of learning the local language when traveling. My experience would have been a fraction of what it was had I not been able to communicate with the people who actually live here.

The beautiful thing about immersion is that this is always the case. More than where you go, it is the people that you meet that shape your experience – and it is much more easy to meet people when you can speak their language. People are generally amused and appreciative.

On top of beautiful and nice people, Brazil also offers some very delicious food. The fruits are insane – larger and sweeter than the United States. Things like guava, acai, and coconuts are available at all times. Fruit juice is a staple of the Brazilian diet – as is a toasted flower mixture known as “farofa,” which is sprinkled on nearly everything.


Brazil is also known for its savory stews and delicious meats – both dried and grilled. The famous Brazilian “Churrasco” is no joke, but the most famous Brazilian meal is “feijoada,” which is a stew of black beans with beef and pork. The meal is extremely heavy, but fantastically satisfying and is only served during the day.

However, when the sun goes down, the city becomes even more alive. There is a vibrant night life in Brazil – one that is only heightened by the Olympic experience. The caipirinha – the most famous Brazilian drink – is a mixture of “Cachaza”(a pungent alcohol distilled from sugar cane), lime, and sugar. Although they go a little overboard with the sugar for my taste, the end product is refreshing and delicious.

Sounds of samba fill the streets. This is especially true in neighborhoods like Lapa – where it turns into a full-blown street party on the weekends. Vendors and party goers pack the road to the point where it is nearly impossible for busses and cars to get through. Guitar, drum, and wind instruments work together in unison to create a rythym that is infectious.

All of the sounds, smells, and sights are only amplified by the festive nature of the Olympic games, which turned out to be a massive success.


I speak to many locals about the Olympics and the controversy that has surrounded it – topics ranging from the Zika virus, National Security, the suffering economy and the Olympic implications, as well as the tumultuous political situation that Brazil finds itself in. But by the end of my stay, it is obvious that the positives of this experience have outweighed the negatives. Although Brazil has a lot of work to do, there have been improvements in poorer areas. An entire downtown area was built for the Olympics that Brazilians are utilizing. And last, but certainly not least, the overwhelming national pride that Brazil has for its country, it’s inhabitants, it’s culture, and it’s athletes, is overwhelmingly infectious.

Personally, I can’t wait to go back! And I cannot emphasize enough how helpful learning Spanish by immersion has been in my journey!

So what are you waiting for? Sign up for Kallpachay and Play Your Way to Spanish!


Spanish Immersion Series Pt. 1: Introduction to My South American Adventure!

I recently spent 33 days completely immersed in South America. I traveled alone, to both Colombia and Brazil, and I couldn’t have done it without learning Spanish through Immersion!

Summer Olympics 2016
I made it!

Let me begin by explaining one thing: I am NOT a native speaker. I am from the United States, as are my parents. I have no Spanish speaking relatives – I am, and have always been, a GRINGO. However, I was lucky enough to study abroad in college, where I immersed myself while living in Spain for a year. I now have the confidence to travel in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.

But back to my adventure! I spent a little more than a month in South America, where I stayed with friends and their families – who speak little to no english. That forced me to speak in Spanish, and then Portuguese, exclusively.

Why? Because that is simply the best way to learn a language and experience a culture. I threw myself in, head first, hoping to come out having improved my Spanish and Portuguese, as well as creating some life long friends. And I can tell you that I was successful on both fronts.

I started and ended my trip with 5 days in Bogota, because I love the city and have a very good friend who offered to allow me to stay with her and her family. It was also much cheaper to get a round trip ticket from LA to Bogota, and then a round trip ticket from Bogota to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

Why Rio De Janeiro, you ask? Well, the 2016 Summer Olympics, of course! I hope to give readers an up close and personal look at my experience there – and I was there for the entire Olympics experience, which lasted 21 days.


I also hope to give insight on how learning Spanish has made this all possible for me. It will obviously help me navigate Bogota, where Spanish is spoken by everyone. But it has also opened my eyes and ears to other beautiful languages, especially Portuguese. A lot of people don’t realize that Brazilians don’t speak Spanish, but in fact they speak Portuguese. Thankfully the two languages are VERY similar, and learning Spanish has made learning Portuguese much easier.


I will compare and contrast Spanish and Portuguese, as well as the cultures in Bogota and Brazil.

More than anything, I hope that this blog series will inspire some of you to immerse yourself in Spanish as well – whether through Kallpachay or otherwise – and understand what a rewarding and useful tool it can be.

So, let the travel adventure begin!

Until next time,


Top 6 Things to Look for When Evaluating Your Child’s Spanish Language Program

First in Our SERIES :

Achieving Success in Raising a Child to be Bilingual

 Los Angeles is a city of paradoxes in many aspects and Spanish language education is no exception. Out of all the continental US cities Los Angeles has one of the largest populations of Spanish speakers, yet surprisingly the prospects of raising a child bilingual here  present unique challenges.

 A large number of native speakers report they struggle to get their children to communicate in the most basic ways even though they know that their child has the capacity from been exposed to the necessary vocabulary in the home. 

Could LA be an easy place to raise a child to become bilingual?  Of course…..what would be helpful is to demystify the second language learning process.  

Perhaps what is lacking is a roadmap for all who want to give their child the gift of a second language.  Our new series of articles will illuminate some of these processes.



Learn How to Recognize Key Factors that Matter

 Why is it that many mothers, fathers, grandparents, nannies who consistently speak to  their children in Spanish as part of their casual home life are seeking out ways to  guide them to become competent communicative Spanish speakers? 

There are simple steps to know what goes in will come out.
There are simple steps to know what goes in will come out.

 The shocking reality is that statistically the probabilities of a child successfully acquiring a language at the level that matches their English language development through home life exposure alone while living in a culture of English speakers is low. 

Here are some key factors to keep in mind if you want to make a difference in your child´s language acquisition success. 


First of all, be mindful that a person’s ability to speak a language does not automatically make them an effective language teacher. Frequently parents, family members, nannies, or simply bilingual speakers use a technique over and over that they THINK SHOULD work without really knowing if it is or isn’t working until it is too late. 

Real time results are available.
Draw your attention to the passage of time.

Making assumptions about what is or isn’t happening for your child is a true roadblock you want to avoid since retrieving this critical time for learning is impossible.

Fossilization is when a student makes the same error so many times in a second language that they are unable to correct it at later stages.  Picking up on this early is another benefit to finding a quality program. Teaching is a vocation that requires multiple years of training and second language instruction is no exception. 


One might assume if results are not evident in the beginning stages of a child’s home life acquisition that these will show up later when a child is truly motivated to speak Spanish for jobs, travel or forming new friendships.  

What is more likely to happen though is that the child’s level of Spanish will not match their age level and natural communicative interest.  If Spanish is not developing along with the child’s cognitive capacities then a gap exists.  To avoid this interruption in the language learning process quality programs would be able to show evidence of progressing students gradually through more and more challenging activities that include reading, writing and use of grammatical structures.  

There is a way to determine if your child is being taught using  proven strategies of acquisition. 
Good teachers will design and implement activities in class to practice language through a variety of learning styles that address the diverse needs of all the students.  This includes using rhythm, movement, visuals, gestures, acting, reading, writing, presentation skills, art and more.


When living in a Spanish speaking country for a number of years an English speaker will have context rich interactions making it possible to reach a communicative level even if their education was limited to speech only.  

Simple measures to overcome obstacles
Take simple measures to overcome obstacles.

Not so though for children living in the US.  To acquire Spanish in this English speaking culture requires design and planning to create meaningful, ‘artificial’, context.  Children here will be underserved from well meaning instructors that use ineffective strategies to guide their learning.  If you can discern what learning strategies are being employed you will have a sense of what results are possible. 


In the home, where a combination of English and Spanish is spoken, if reading and writing in Spanish is not introduced then becoming fully bilingual is rather improbable

While not impossible, generally speaking, it´s unrealistic to expect your child to gravitate toward reading, writing, and grammar from home life exposure alone.

Just as in English, a progression through the stages of reading, writing and grammar is vital to student advancement and requires consistency.  Would you want your child to learn English but not how to read, write or spell?


It is not enough to just know a language in order to teach it for there are fundamental teaching techniques that make a critical difference to the child’s ability to acquire Spanish.

What can you do to ensure that the ‘teacher’ is helping your child to internalize Spanish and not just hear it 

First notice if they are using different teaching techniques?  Notice if the main focus seems to be on comprehension? Pay attention to the types of activities and in which way the teacher is interacting with your child. If it is a lot of talking at the child then it is highly likely the child is not given the opportunity to internalize the language.


Motivation for speaking Spanish goes hand in hand with building up comprehension through dynamic speaking practice. The good language teacher will employ activities that boasts a range of diverse activities that are developmentally appropriate.

An overwhelming number of children whose nannies and parents are native speakers are faced with a phenomenon where the child is unmotivated to speak Spanish with them and this becomes a consistent home life struggle.

Social learning one key to success.
Social learning one key to success.

It is around preschool age when a child becomes disenchanted with speaking most likely because they form attachments with their new teachers and friends and notice that Spanish is not a language of choice among them.  Most children are not going to embrace the opportunity to stand out and be different.  Language development at this age is going through rapid advances and without proper reinforcement Spanish acquisition will suffer. 

When evaluating a class, teacher, or program you are looking to see if this dynamic is slowly turning around with positive associations created through natural opportunities to include Spanish instruction in ways that take advantage of preschoolers natural curiosity about their world and strong proclivity for social engagement.

For the preschool age child all activities and class routines must include speaking so that it becomes a natural part of the language learning environment just as it is in English.  

There are ways to study, experience, and live the richness of a second language within a classroom setting, but a laymen may be hard pressed to create such a balance. 

Keeping motivation and interest broadening for the child is so important and by introducing new material gradually and systematically.  Doing this in peer group settings enables a child to gain confidence and increase their joy in using Spanish.

Having fun together with friends in Spanish programs.
Having fun together with friends in Spanish programs boosts confidence in speaking.


 There are options available to find qualified teachers, or to connect with a program that can provide training, curriculum, materials, manuals, oversight and support.

 Imagine if our schools employed unskilled Math, Science and English language teachers? Unacceptable of course and the same should go for your children’s second language education. In most countries second language development receives a lot of attention and is an early years standard next to all other core subjects.

As we endeavor to help you sidestep the time and money drain that can occur during your child’s most productive language learning years we rely on you to share your experiences with us as well.  

I encourage you to read our next blog in this series, “Stages of Second Language Learning”, in which we discuss what are fair assessments of what you can expect your child to be able to do at each of these stages.

Through your continued self education on this topic you will gain a critical awareness that improves your ability to evaluate programs and teachers and your child’s progress toward bilingualism. 

—-Your KPY Team

SPECIAL EVENT NOTE for: Los Angeles Families: Please join us for an in depth talk on this topic: “The Science Behind Learning a Second Language”


Cartoon Face of man with a big mouth. His tongue sticks out. He is hungry

DAY: Friday, Nov. 4th

TIME: 9:30  – 10:30 am 

PLACE: Silverlake Ind. Jewish Community Center  1110 Bates Ave.

FEE: $10 per person or a couple

REGISTRATION LINK: Click here to register.

Speaker: Cristina Rubio Hignett

One year ago Ms. Rubio-Hignett relocated to LA from Valencia, Spain where she was teaching and creating programs for native Spanish speaking students to learn English.

Ms. Rubio-Hignett has a double B.A. in Hispanic Literature and Linguistics (University of Pittsburgh) and a Master in Applied Linguistics specializing in Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language (Universidad de Jaén, Spain).

After graduating university, she spent a summer teaching Spanish in Nicaragua and then moved to Spain where she continued to expand her skills as a foreign language teacher (Spanish and ESL).  In the process, she has written six foreign language textbooks, taught for ten years, developed curriculum for after school activities, study abroad programs and summer camps.

Last November she presented her research about Spanish-USA exchange programs at the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages Conference.

Now, after having lived in Spain for almost a decade, she is passionate about sharing her love of Spanish language and culture here in the US.

Ms. Rubio-Hignett holds firmly to the belief that communication is the key to understanding others, achieving personal goals, and above all, having fun!  Teaching others to have this opportunity is rewarding personally and professionally.

*Be our guest : Bring a friend and we waive one entry fee of $10.  Funds raised go toward our camp scholarship fund.