January 2024 Newsletter

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Siempre pa’lante y nunca pa’tras

Happy New Year!

Thanks to those of you who joined the You Have Homework community this past month. ¡Bienvenid@s!

This month’s newsletter includes:

🪇 A Christmas performance from Puerto Rico

👁️ Looking at the subjunctive in the wild

📜 How a book on rhetorical devices helped me improve my Spanish pronunciation

🦾 My goals and YHH’s goals for 2024

🪇 Salsa navideña

Right now I’m south of the equator enjoying the warm weather. However, no offense to South America, the Christmas vibes aren’t as colorful as they are on a Caribbean island floating in a cerulean sea. 

If you’re suffering through chilly weather, add a bit of tropical flavor to your winter by reimagining your holiday season in a backdrop of coconut trees, rum, and swinging salsa music. I’ve been enjoying the intimate shows Norberto Vélez creates in his Sesiones Desde La Loma for a while now. The boricua accent is pretty difficult to decipher, but luckily they chat enough to give us the opportunity to practice our listening comprehension!

¡Vamos a gozar!

(I also created an hour-long playlist for popular tunes from the past year and a half. Check out this Spotify playlist, or this YouTube playlist with lyrics.)

👁️ Hold on, I need to write this in my notebook

I can’t be the only one who collects uses of the subjunctive in the real world. Applying the subjunctive is still a challenge for me, almost as hard as rrrrrrrr-ing or saying a 7+ syllable word quickly. 

If you haven’t guessed, I’m a salsera through and through, and my favorite artist is Frankie Ruiz. Gone too soon, but lifelong fans of his were kind enough to put his performances on YouTube for his memory to live on.

Every so often I binge on his live performances because, well, he’s incredible. I’m not the only one who thinks so.

This fellow fanatic uses the subjunctive five times in his stream of consciousness. 

“Without special effects, singing the same way live as on his records… How I would have enjoyed to have seen him even if only one time in concert… The great Papá de la Salsa… wherever you are, I hope you are continuing to delight that place with your voice.”

One for the books!


Theoretically, I already knew that English-speakers, like me, “uh” a lot of our Spanish vowels. However, this quote from The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth was a revelation:

Half the vowels in English aren’t what you thought they were. They’re schwas. A proper vowel is formed in a particular part of the mouth. So E is near the front, I is at the top, and Ooo is at the back. A schwa is formed in the middle. It sounds a bit like all the vowels, and is really none of them. It’s a lazy compromise between all the proper vowels, and we use it all the time. The word another may be spelt An-Oth-Er but you pronounce it uh-nuh-thuh. You may pronounce the bout in about clearly, but what’s the first vowel? It’s a schwa. Uh-bout.

So that’s the problem! Since reading that (it’s in the chapter about assonance), I’ve been working on moving my aaaaah’s, eeeee’s, and oooooo’s to their rightful places. 

The ultimate test came when I had to go to the pharmacy for more tretinoin. Usually when I ask for tretinoína, the pharmacist is stumped until I show them the word on my phone. “Aaah, tretinoína!” But that’s what I said 🥺. 

But not this month! I made the conscious effort to move the vowels away from the middle my mouth and received no puzzled looks in return. 

🦾 We’re all in this together

This wouldn’t be a New Year’s Day post without talk of resolutions and goals. 

I’m very happy with my progress last year, and with learning the lesson of humility. I really thought I could be more fluent, since I’m immersed in a Spanish-speaking country, in a year. I was wrong.

My brain needs to go through full reprogramming, especially in terms of verb tenses and moods. The relationship Spanish-speakers have with communicating events is totally different from that of English-speakers. Learning to accept this is a challenge, and the only way I’m getting through it is a ridiculous amount of practice.

Thanks to those of you who have bought my Spanish Verb Drill Workbook, I hope it’s helping. After a few shed tears, of course! Find your Amazon marketplace on our Beacons page here.

In 2024, I want to continue working on my verbal fluency – it’s still super difficult for me to say the right words in front of strangers. So far, reading out loud has been my biggest game-changer.

As for You Have Homework, I’ve been reading the comments on what people struggle with, and hope I can fill that gap. I had to solve these problems for myself because I couldn’t find the right resources for me, and I believe I’m in a place where I can share what I’ve learned with the rest of the world. 

The first step will be to release a course for folks looking to get over the intermediate plateau. And then I would like to create a real app that’s less for hobbyists and more for learners who are serious about getting to an advanced level. The exercises will be focused on using real-world vocabulary and practicing choosing between verb tenses and moods. I don’t want to name names, but none of this “tengo una manzana verde” business.

🥂 🪇🧑🏿‍🤝‍🧑🏽

¡Feliz año nuevo! I wish you all the best in 2024, with many opportunities for new friendships.


Founder, You Have Homework

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