Take a trip to Latin America


Forget about gas prices.  We're your perfect s...

Armchair traveler. (Photo credit: Newton Free Library)

Want to travel around Latin America without leaving your house?  Check out these personal tours of different Latin American countries, written by friends of Latinaish blogger Tracy Lopez.

A trip to: México – Pyramids, artifacts, Mexican food and dance… can you guess why you should check out this one first? Photos and text by F.J. Kingsbury.

A trip to: Chile – Santiago and Valpariso during Fiestas Patrias.

A trip to: Bolivia – our favorite picture is the street parade in La Paz.

A trip to: Puerto Rico – avocados, Bacardi, coquí frogs, and more.

A trip to: Guatemala – featuring the beautiful colonial city of Antigua.

What’s your favorite country to visit?

Forests of hemlock and pine: weird spam comments, plagiarism, and the internet

English: Two small cans of Spam. One is closed...

English: Two small cans of Spam. One is closed and the other open and sliced. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spam comments are a fact of life for websites and the people who maintain them.  These are comments generated and posted by computer programs (or “robots”) that contain a link to another website, for the purpose of getting as many clicks on the URL as possible to drive up traffic to that site.  The interesting thing about spam comments on Bilinguish is that we get them in a variety of languages and on a variety of topics, apparently resulting from the content we post.  Shortly after posting an article about Swahili, for example, we started getting comments in a variety of new languages we hadn’t seen before.  Sometimes it’s fun to feed these comments into an automatic translator and wonder about the stories behind them.

Here are five weird spam comments that have appeared on Bilinguish:

1. Uważaj z wyborem marzeń. Marzenia się czasem spełniają. I z marzeń można zrobić konfitury. Trzeba tylko dodać owoce i cukier  cyt: S. Lec……  Google does this Polish-to-English translation: “Be careful with the choice of dreams. Dreams sometimes come true. And dreams can make jam. You just need to add the fruit and sugar.”  Thanks for the advice, spambot.  We couldn’t find a source for this comment but if you type the Polish into an internet search engine, the results are all spam comments on blogs.

2. Моя родственница дожила накануне очень преклонных лет, только при этом неустанно добавляла в вероятно чуть-чуть водки. Я не знаю, нужда это была иначе нет. Скорее только, это был какой-то психологический “подбадривающий” момент, позволявший ей вникать, что это полезно чтобы здоровья. Она в это верила.Мои родители практически ежедневный накануне ужином… пропускают сообразно рюмке водки (начинать, вовсе малюсенькая рюмочка  ). И тоже считают, сколько это “для пользу”. Задание: относительный алкоголизме позволительно говорить лишь тогда, если смертный начинает испытывать потребность (пусть и вовсе в маленьких дозах)?  This is in Russian, and it’s about vodka.

Hemlock Ravine (1)

Forests of hemlock and pine? (Photo credit: Nicholas_T)

3. “Although the rare, beautiful, and abundant fields of orchids that have made [insert business name here] famous for. Forests of pine and hemlock cover the lower elevations of the national park.” Spam comments often use fragments of text copied from a legitimate website with the name of a business or website spliced at random into the middle. The fields of orchids and forests of pine and hemlock intrigued us, so we fed this spam comment into a search engine to find the original source. The comment in its entirety only lead to other spam comments on other websites. But searching for just the second sentence, “forests of pine and hemlock cover the lower elevations of the national park,” resulted in an interesting discovery. Dozens of websites about the Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal use the exact same description, which includes this sentence. It’s in the Sagarmatha National Park Wikipedia page. But it’s also in a mountainclimbing blog called EverestMyDream. And a page from Denmark called Heindorffhus. And an article on protectedplanet.net. And travelingonepal.com, and margaontek.com, and touristlink.com, and JOURNEYS International, and nepaltravelerinfo.com, and Nation Master Encyclopedia.  This search results page continues for eight pages of search results of Nepal travel related websites and blogs that all plagiarized the same text. Which leads to more questions: Who was the original author of the text, and when that person sat down to write about the Flora and Fauna of the Sagarmatha National Park, did she or he imagine that the resulting text would become the go-to article to plagiarize on this subject? And while the Wikipedia writer may or may not have been the original author of the text, due to Wikipedia’s high rank in search results, we can assume that many if not all of the copy-cat sites stole the text from Wikipedia. So if one were to go back and reword that sentence to something like “The lower elevations of the national park are covered by forests of hemlock and pine,” how many of the internet articles about tourism in Nepal plagiarizing from other sites about tourism in Nepal would use the new text and how many would use the old?

(FYI, doing the same exercise to search for “rare, beautiful, and abundant fields of orchids” leads to only five websites about travel to North(ern) Cyprus that all seem to have copied from the same source.)

4. “What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious know-how on the topic of unexpected emotions.”  This comment was left on one of our Arabic pages.  Material of un-ambiguity? Indeed.  We have to assume this spam comment started out in another language and was poorly translated by one machine before being posted all over the internet by another.  We just 1) want to know what the original language was, and 2) really wish this comment were genuine, if only because it would mean that someone out there, somewhere, is interested in precious know-how on the topic of unexpected emotions.

5. Hi! A name in my Facebook congregate shared this locale with us so I came to check it absent. I’m positively loving the information. I’m bookmarking and will be present cheeping this to my followers! Outstanding blog and wonderful design. We like this comment because it illustrates the pitfalls of using an online translator. This looks like it started out in English, was translated into another language, and then translated back to English. In the process Facebook group became congregate, site became locale, and check it out morphed into check it absent. The act of tweeting it to my followers changed species from songbirds to baby chicks and became cheeping.  If you search for the text of this comment you can find it in its original correct English, as well as variations of it further along its evolutionary path when someone has been changed to superstar, shared has become public, and locale is now situate, as in “A superstar in my Facebook congregate public this situate with us.”

Once you start thinking about all the ways that translation can change a sentence, the only logical thing to do next is to feed the comment through a half dozen languages in Google Translate and see what happens. We took the spam comment above and translated it from English to Afrikaans to Albanian to Arabic to Armenian to Azerbijani to Basque, through all the other languages in Google Translate in alphabetical order, until we got back to English, eighteen languages in all.  Here’s the result:

Hello! “I’m so hot my friend hierdie land connection or hot Geko abestros and know KYK said afwesig program. Positive accessories inligting stabbing my PPC areas follower data Sarah Be love teenwoordig market. Outstanding EC CIF miracle like the blog.

Now that’s something to cheep about.

Five snarky cinco de mayo pictures

You know that cinco de mayo is not Mexican Independance Day,* right? And you know that, in Mexico, cinco de mayo is not really a big deal?

If you didn’t know that, here’s a refresher. Cinco de mayo commemorates a military victory against the French in a war that Mexico ultimately lost. It is celebrated in the state of Puebla with a parade and a state fair. Outside of Puebla, the holiday is not terribly exciting: no parades, no fireworks, and (contrary to popular belief), not an excuse to drink or eat tacos. Cinco de mayo in the US, however, is often interpreted by those who don’t know better (or don’t care) as an excuse to indulge in tequila.  This handy infografic breaks it down for you: A US Citizen’s Guide to Cinco de Mayo,“a big deal for people who like to get drunk and make racist jokes on Twitter.”

*FYI, Mexican Independence Day is celebrated in September. If you’re confused about that, too, here’s a quick guide to Mexican Independence Day explained.

In the spirit of cinco de mayo and cultural exchange, here are five funny pictures that capture the spirit of epic US cinco de mayo fails.

Calendar fail. From cheezburger.com

Calendar fail. From cheezburger.com

From someecards.com

From someecards.com

From cheezburger.com

From cheezburger.com

Let's be honest. From someecards.com

Let’s be honest. From someecards.com

When you can't beat em, join em. From buzzfeed.com

When you can’t beat em, join em. From buzzfeed.com

Teaching Thanksgiving in an EFL class

What do turkeys, travel, family, (American) football games, giant balloons, indigenous rights, cooking, shopping, school vacations, traditional costumes and thankfulness have in common?

Roasted turkey. Photo by M Rehemtulla via Wikipedia

Roasted turkey. Photo by M Rehemtulla via Wikipedia

They are all ideas associated with the American tradition of Thanksgiving, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November every year.  November is a great time for English classes around the world to learn about this American holiday and pick up some new vocabulary as well.  Here are resources to learn about Thanksgiving and plan your own celebration.

1. Learn the history of Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 in what is now Massachusetts, United States.  It was a harvest celebration attended by English colonists and Wampanoag indigenous people.  Back then, it wasn’t called “Thanksgiving” and it probably was not celebrated in November!  To learn more about what really happened on Thanksgiving, visit this Interactive Plimoth Plantation Exhibit and become a historian.

2. Read another point of view. Not everyone in the United States agrees about the way Thanksgiving should be observed.  This editorial explains another point of view.

3. Cook some food!  Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated with a big family dinner. It usually includes roast turkey, stuffing, cranberries, potatoes, squash, pumpkin, and other vegetables.  In 1621, the English colonists and the wampanoag ate venison (deer) and pumpkin.  Today, apple pie and popcorn are favorites.  Learn some traditional Wampanoag and English colonial recipes here.  Then, use this application from the New York Times to plan your own Thanksgiving feast according to your personal taste.

4. Be thankful.  Thanksgiving is a time to think about the good things in our lives and express gratitude for them.  Click here to read about an interactive art project called the Look for the Good Project.

Kermit the Frog

Kermit the Frog (Photo credit: MikeMonello)

5. Create your own Thanksgiving Parade float.  Every year on Thanksgiving Day there is a big parade in New York City, New York.  There are celebrities and musical performances, but the parade is most famous for its giant balloons.  They are usually characters from television, comic books, and movies. You can watch a video of the parade here.  Then, follow these instructions to make your own balloon floats.  Your balloon float won’t be as large as the ones in the parade… or will it?

6. Watch American football. The Thanksgiving Day football game is a tradition at the high school, university, and professional level.  Not sure how to play football?  This Goofy cartoon will teach you.

7. Go shopping. The day after Thanksgiving in the United States is called “Black Friday,” and it is traditionally a day for people to start shopping for Christmas gifts.  Stores have big sales and people go shopping very, very early in the morning to get the best deals.  Practice numbers and prices exploring this Black Friday shopping website. Who can find the best deal on a TV?  On clothing? On video games?

Hand Turkey by Kara

Hand Turkey by Kara (Photo credit: Rory Finneren)

8. Do some arts and crafts.  In the United States, most schoolchildren have a small vacation, starting with a half day of school on the day before Thanksgiving and continuing for four days.  It is traditional for families to travel to visit one another and be together for Thanksgiving Dinner.  If you still have school this week, here are some arts and crafts you can do with your class.
Send some e-cards here and here.
Do a variety of educational crafts here.
People in the United States don’t dress up in folkloric costumes as much as many other countries do, but schoolchildren often still wear costumes to represent the colonists and Wompanoag.  You can watch a video about how to make a colonist costume here.
And, no Thanksgiving arts and crafts session would be complete without our favorite craft: make a Thanksgiving hand turkey here.

9. Watch a Thanksgiving video.  Now that you know about American Thanksgiving traditions, sing along with this Thanksgiving song by Nicole Westbrook.  How many Thanksgiving traditions do you see represented in the video?  What do you see in the video that doesn’t make sense?  What traditions is the video missing?  Check your answers in the comments.

I’m wide awake, and I should take
A step and say thank you, thank you,
For the things you’ve done, and what you did
Oh yeah, ooh yeah.
December was Christmas, January was New Year’s.
April was Easter, and the Fourth of July, but now it’s Thanksgiving.
Oh oh oh, it’s Thanksgiving. We we we, we’re gonna have a good time.
Oh oh oh, it’s Thanksgiving. We we we are gonna have a good time.
With the turkey (hey!) And mashed potatoes (hey!)
We we we are gonna have a good time.
We need the turkey (hey!) And mashed potatoes (hey!)

Does this happen at your house on Thanksgiving?

It’s Thanksgiving, It’s Thanksgiving.
You know school is out, I can’t wait,
I can shout thank you, thank you, thank you.
No matter what you do, no matter what you say,
This is my favorite day.
December was Christmas,
January was New Year’s.
April was Easter,
and the Fourth of July,
but now it’s Thanksgiving.
Yo, it’s Thanksgiving-givin’ and I’m tryin’ to be forgivin’.
Nothing is forbidden, you know we gotta have it.
I gotta give thanks to you, and you, and you.
Can’t be hateful, gotta be grateful; gotta be grateful, can’t be hateful.
Mashed potatoes on my, on my table, I got ribs smelling’ up my neighbors’ cribs.
Havin’ good times, we be laughin’ ’til we cry.
It’s Thanks, Thanks, Thanksgiving, come on
It’s Thanks, Thanks, Thanksgiving, give ‘em thanks, y’all.
Oh oh oh, it’s Thanksgiving. We we we, we’re gonna have a good time.
Oh oh oh, it’s Thanksgiving. We we we, are gonna have a good time.
With the turkey (hey!) And mashed potatoes (hey!)
We we we, are gonna have a good time.
With the turkey (hey!) And mashed potatoes (hey!)
It’s Thanksgiving, it’s Thanksgiving.

Conversation Questions:

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving in your country?  Do you have another similar holiday?  Which Thanksgiving tradition is your favorite?

Winter traditions in the United States

Happy winter!  Today is the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.  Religious celebrations for holidays like Hannukah and Christmas are here.  Here’s a look at Christmas traditions and winter traditions in the United States.

English: Christmas lights on a village street,...

Christmas lights on a house in New York. Image via Wikipedia

1. Lights.  It’s location in the Northern Hemisphere makes the days shorter and the nights longer in December.  On December 21st, the sun rises at 7:28 AM and sets at 5:24 PM in Phoenix, Arizona.  In New York, New York, the sun sets at 4:30 PM.  And in Anchorage, Alaska, the sun doesn’t rise until 10:14 AM and sets at 3:41 PM– that’s just five and a half hours of daylight.  It’s no coincidence that lights are an important winter tradition– for Hanukkah, for the winter solstice, and for Christmas.

2. Greens.  Taking trees and branches from plants that stay green all year, such as evergreen trees, pine trees, holly, and mistletoe, is a tradition borrowed from celebrations for the winter solstice.  By celebrating plants that do not die in winter, people encouraged the winter to go away, the sun to return, and the days to lengthen.  The most famous part of this tradition is the Christmas tree.  Some people cut down their own trees and some people buy pine trees or fur trees for their houses.  Traditional tree decorations include garlands, tinsel, glass balls, snowflakes, candles, angles, babies, stars, and candy canes.

Christmas tree

Decorations on a Christmas tree. Image via Wikipedia

3. Giving gifts.  Exchanging presents dates back to the ancient Roman feast called Saturnalia.  Gifts are an important part of celebrations for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.  It is also traditional for employers to give gifts to employees, coworkers to give gifts to each other, and students to give gifts to their teachers.  “Secret Snowflake” or “Secret Santa” gift exchanges, where each person in a group gives an anonymous present to somebody else, are popular.

4. Carols.  Caroling is the tradition of singing winter or holiday songs.  Sometimes people go from house to house singing for money.  Some songs, like “Jingle Bells” and “Let it snow” are about winter, some are about winter traditions like “Deck the Halls,” and some like “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” are about Christmas.

5. Food.  Traditional winter food and drink include hot chocolate, cookies, cakes, and pies.

Questions for conversation: Is it winter where you live?  What winter traditions are celebrated in your country?

What makes you grateful?

Tender, juicy roast turkey - the main attracti...

A traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Image via Wikipedia

Two-hundred forty-eight million turkeys.  Seven hundred fifty million pounds of cranberries. Two hundred sixty six point one million pounds of cherry tarts.  What do these large quantities of food have in common?  They are all traditional foods for the North American holiday Thanksgiving.  The quantities are forecasted production of each kind of food for the year 2011.  Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November in the United States, when families share a large meal.  It is also celebrated on the second Monday in October in Canada.  Traditional dishes include turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkins, mashed potatoes, and pie.

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth"...

An artist imagines what the first Thanksgiving looked like 300 years before. Image via Wikipedia

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American ate 13.3 pounds of turkey in 2009, and 5.3 pounds of sweet potatoes.  But the holiday is not only about food.  Its origins come from North American festivals to celebrate a good harvest in the autumn.  The “first Thanksgiving” was a festival held in Plymouth Colony (in what would later be called Massachusetts) in 1621, although similar festivals were also celebrated in other places in North America in other years.  U.S. President Abraham Lincoln made the holiday official in 1863.  Thanksgiving is about the food, but more than that, it is about being grateful for the food, and other good things in life as well.

Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation for positive things.  Gratitude is the good feeling you get when you are happy about the things you have.  To be grateful or to be thankful is to express gratitude.  On Thanksgiving, it is traditional to think about the things we are thankful for.

The spirit of Thanksgiving is reflected in the Look for the Good Project.  An artist collects postcards from around the country that answer the questionWhat makes you grateful?”  The postcards are published on the website for everyone to read.

Look through the postcards.  Where are they from?  What are people thankful for?  Do you see any similarities between the cards?

Find this image and others like it at http://lookforthegoodproject.org

Which card is your favorite?  Who do you think wrote it?  Why do you like this card?

Find this image and others like it at http://lookforthegoodproject.org

Thanksgiving vocabulary:

to be thankful / to be grateful
to give thanks

Questions for Conversation:

Do you have a special day to give thanks?

Do you have a special day to celebrate (and eat) with family?

What makes you grateful?  Tell us in a comment.  Then write your answer on postcard and send it to the Look for the Good Project.  Check the website to see if it is posted online.

I like being bilingual because…

Do you like being bilingual for a different reason?  Comment and tell us why!


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