Language Zen

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6 Important Things You'll Need In Costa Rica


Whether you’ve set your sights on a relaxing beach resort, or a backpacking Costa Rica adventure - here are some things you’ll want to know.


1. Bring Sunscreen. 

Yeah, I realize you’re probably dreaming of bringing back your souvenir tan, but you’ll probably end up with one even if you wear sunscreen. The real question is, do you also want to roast until you look like prematurely aged chicken fillet? Not a good look. Not a good life decision.

2. Avoid Driving After Dark.

Streets aren’t always well-lit. Manholes aren’t always covered, so there’s a lot more men falling into holes. And, any road smaller than a highway isn’t likely to be marked by a sign. So if there’s a particular reason you want to travel at night, hail a taxi. They’re the red cars with the yellow triangle on the door. (Going into a taxi that doesn’t have this label? No bueno.)


3. Know How To Be Polite.


In Costa Rica, it’s customary to greet someone before asking them a question. Really, it makes sense. No one likes to feel like you’re just pumping them for information. Here are the most basic greetings you should know:


¡Buenos días!  (Good day!)

¡Buenas tardes!  (Good afternoon!)

¿Cómo está? (How are you?)

¡Buenas noches! (Good night! Note: In Latin America, this can be used as a greeting.)


4. Bring Something with Long Sleeves (Bundle Up).


Just because Costa Rica is 10 degrees from the Equator doesn’t mean it’s always sunny. Check the elevation of the place you’ll be staying. It can get chilly during the night in the mountains, so remember to bring something warm.


5. Cheek Kiss, Don’t Hug.


When you’re introduced to someone in Costa Rica, don’t go for the hug. It’s more common in Costa Rica (and most Latin American countries, for that matter) to go for the cheek kiss. Note: This does not actually mean kissing someone’s face. And, guys, when meeting another guy, it’s generally okay to shake hands.


6. Learn Enough Spanish to be Understood.



We’re not saying you should be fluent before you travel--but your travels will be richer if you can communicate.

Language Zen teaches you the most important words first--the stuff you’ll need to know as soon as you touch down in Costa Rica. (We’re not selling it to you. You can use Language Zen every day for free.) Since Language Zen personalizes the learning experience to fit you, you won’t waste any time. Click to start learning Spanish. 



7 Things to Know Before Traveling To Argentina

With world-class steak, wine, and a capital city that’s sometimes compared to Paris--it’s easy to understand why Argentina is such a popular destination. (And don’t forget the Argentinian football team, the Andes, and the tango.)


There’s much to see and do in this lush, culturally-rich country. Here are a few tips to make the most of your trip:

1. Take your time. It’s part of the culture.


You know the saying, “time is money?” That’s an American idiom--and it’s definitely not true in Argentina. It’s a place to sit back, prop up your feet, and get a feel for your surroundings. Don’t feel pressured to hop from landmark to landmark. Argentina is meant to be savored slowly, like a good steak.

2. Meat-lovers, prepare to meet your match.


Speaking of steak, Argentina is known for it. Really, you’ve never eaten steak until you’ve eaten it in Argentina, where it’s called “Bife de chorizo.” In case that isn’t binge-worthy enough, the country is also known for “asado,” which is amazing Argentine barbecue.


That being said, Argentina has a lot to offer in other areas of cuisine. Many Argentines are descended from Italian, British, German, and Jewish immigrants--so pizza, sauerkraut, and even scones can be found at certain restaurants. (These are often made with a local, Argentinian twist, though, so prepared to be amazed.)

3. Welcome to the Deep South.


Not that Deep South. The real one.


Though...if you think about it, there are similarities. Argentina boasts cowboys (gauchos) and banjos. Fried chicken is a bit of a local comfort food (milanesas de pollo). And if you think the Louisiana bayou is something, you should see Argentina’s Iberá Wetlands.


But in many important ways, the two places are not the same.


As you can see in our Argentina map, the country is located deep in the Southern Hemisphere, which means that the seasons are flipped. When it’s winter above the equator, it’s high summer in South America.


So, the next time you’re freezing, remember that South Americans are probably enjoying a toasty, sun-bathed day. You’re welcome.

4. Learn Argentine pronunciation.


If you’re going to Argentina, be prepared to throw out some of your typical Spanish pronunciation. Argentina is known for a distinctive brand of Spanish--called “Castellano” (caste-zha-no).


Now, if you accidentally forget to use the Castellano pronunciation, rest assured that people will be able to understand your Spanish anyway. But, here are some differences you can expect to hear:


  • In Castellano, the double “ll” is pronounced as a “zh.” (Does “zh” sound hard to say? It’s not. Just think of the “s” in the English pronunciation of “vision.” It’s a very soft sound, almost a “sh.”) An example word: llamo (zh-ah-mo)


  • When there’s an “S” at the end of a word in Castellano (such as “querés”), it’s often dropped. So, “querés” would be pronounced more like “queréh.”


Want to learn some other slang? Just for fun:


  • Gomía” is slang for “friend.” (It’s an inversion of “amigo.”)


  • “Mira vos!” It’s a lot like saying “wow.” The word, “vos” is used often in Castellano, often replacing the word “.”.


  • “Todo bien che?” That’s a common way to ask “how are you?” in Argentina. (Notice the “che” part? That’s another extremely common word. It’s similar to saying “dude” or “pal.”)


  • “Bajá un cambio” is usually translated to “slow down,” but the meaning is more on-par with “chill out.”


  • “Mala leche” means “bad luck.” (Literally, it’s “bad milk,” but if you’ve tasted bad milk, you know it’s nasty and you’ve had some bad luck to drink it.)


  • “Feca” is slang for “coffee.”


If this all sounds overwhelming, just keep in mind this tip from our friend and fellow-polyglot, Ofir:


“The moment you hear a word you don’t understand, you’ll have the tendency to stop and try to understand it--and you’ll lose the rest of the sentence.” So don’t sweat the small stuff. If you hear a word that sounds strange, just keep going. Let context help you comprehend the meaning.

5. Wine? ¡Sí!

Where there are incredible mountains, there are also incredible valleys--which means wine country. Mendoza Province lies in the shadow of the Andes mountains, and it’s famous for producing one-of-a-kind Malbec wine.


Of course, you don’t need to travel to Mendoza to drink the wine. You’ll find it served in restaurants throughout Cordoba, Buenos Aires, and other cities.


Find a vintage red that pairs with a plate of empanadas, and all you’ll do is win.

6. Treat your money nicely.


Paper money in Argentina is famous for being worn out, so prepare to handle the bills carefully lest they crumble in your hands. Know that if you run out of the paper stuff, you can access more at ATMs (cajeros automáticos), but they’re not always easy to find. It’s best to ask a local where the ATMs are located near your hotel or hostel.


Of course, this is easier if you’ve considered tip #7...

7. Speak Spanish.



We’re not saying you should be fluent before you travel--but your travels will be richer if you can communicate.

Language Zen teaches you the most important words first--the stuff you’ll need to know as soon as you touch down in Argentina. (We’re not selling it to you. You can use Language Zen every day for free.) Since Language Zen personalizes the learning experience to fit you, you won’t waste any time. Click to start learning Spanish. 

Why Guatemala is the Best Place to Learn Spanish

Most people like to go to big cities like Buenos Aires or Barcelona to learn Spanish; Guatemala tends to fall through the cracks. However, it’s is one of the greatest places in the world to learn Spanish, and here’s why:


1. It’s the easiest Spanish in the world.

Guatemalans do something that not all Spanish speakers do: they pronounce their words very, very clearly. As compared to somewhere like Mexico where they speak super fast, or Argentina where their dialect is tough to pick up, Guatemalan spanish is known to be the easiest in the world.


It’s the perfect place to be a beginner speaker, but don’t get too spoiled! The true test of your spanish skills will be when you move onto another country and have to pick up the pace.


2. Spanish classes here are cheap, cheap, cheap!

Antigua and Lake Atitlan are two of the best and most popular places to take Spanish classes in all of Central America. Many of the language schools offer group classes or one-on-one tutoring for as cheap as 3-4 bucks per hour. Yes, you heard that correctly: four dollars. Makes you want to rethink that $5.00 Starbucks, doesn’t it?


San Pedro Spanish School is a favorite amongst many travelers in Guatemala, located in San Pedro de Lago de Atitlan. San Pedro is also a quaint and charming town on the lake, so when you’re not studying, you’ll have plenty to do!


3. Simple living is an experience of a lifetime.

The saying do as the Romans do, can certainly apply here too. When you’re in Guatemala, do as the Guatemalans do. This means that you can pay cheap rent, eat delicious local food, and take a step back from the luxuries that you’re used to back home.


Minimalist living teaches us a lot, and seeing how other people live makes us appreciate the luxuries from back home.


4. They offer many different packages of classes.

Unlike some other countries where you are required to commit to a minimum number of months for Spanish classes, lots of Guatemalan schools are flexible in this department. Whether you’re interested in homestays with classes, or just a few hours per week, you can find anything you want in Guatemala.


There are even some places that do “backpacker crash courses” where you can take a quick 4 hour class just one day - if you’re passing through, and want a quick crash course on just a few of the most important things.


5. Guatemalans are some of the happiest people in the world.

Guatemala’s economy is constantly suffering: an immense percentage of the population is living below the poverty line, while a very small percentage is considered elite.


Despite this, Guatemalans are extremely warm and open. They are resourceful, family-oriented, and very welcoming to outsiders visiting or living in their country.


6. It’s quick and easy to link this Spanish with Language Zen.

Language Zen is a great complement to Spanish classes (in Guatemala or elsewhere). We create personalized courses for every learner that integrate with what you already know. Whether you’re learning from a classroom or from a street vendor, we’ll fill in the gaps so you can spend more time hanging out with your new Guatemalan friends.  

Click to start learning Spanish.