What to do in Spain in autumn: Visit Vall d’Aran

Spanish culture
20120823183 Vall d’Aran, vista des de Canejanflickr photo shared by Xavier E Traité under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

From time to time I like to talk about Spanish culture here. This is something I also do when practicing a Spanish conversation with a student, and helps them to undestand the language.

When somebody talks about Spain, even in autumn, what usually comes to mind is the warm south, big sun, you sitting on a beach, drinking a cocktail and overlooking Morocco. Even though tempting, that is just too much of a cliché. Instead, I will make you dream about the far north-east, abundant hanging valleys, in the corner of the Pyrenees, the Vall d’Aran. Hiking, good food, cultural activities, adventures and beautiful villages sounds so good that it would be a pity for this place to only be read about, and not visited. And to do so, I will take you to a virtual journey firstly explaining a bit of history and then moving on to food to satisfy your appetite, so that you can be prepared for a further mountain exploration and finally end your journey in a beautiful village listening.

Being at the north-western tip of Catalonia, and the headwater valley of the river Garonne before its final flow into the Atlantic in Bordeaux, France, makes its history and culture different than any other valleys in Spain. Its culture has clear Occitanian roots, which makes Arenese the official language of the valley, in spite of Spanish and Catalonian. Archeologists in Naut Aran have found the first signs of life to be during the Bronze Age. Further remains in Arties, Les and Tredos date back from Roman times. Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods can as well be testified by the architecture and many churches around. Firstly being a part of Catalonia, Vall d’Aran faced tense relations with France which ended in invasion and conquest by the French troops in 1283. However, after James II of Catalonia and Aragon secured an appointment that brought Vall d’Aran back to Catalonia in 1313. In the same year, James II implemented important tax exemptions. The valley was divided into six parts, each one having its own councilor, all together forming the Conselh Generau, existing until today.

Feeling hungry after a history lesson? Well, I have something for your longing appetite. The Aranese cuisine has its roots from garden hunting and fishing. Our appetizer will be the traditional soup Olha Aranesa, a mixture of beef, chicken, pork and duck with various herbs and vegetables. Next, we go with a Duck Confit served with a fruit jam. To end, crêpes with wild berries as a dessert. What about a cup of coffee and then moving on to hiking?

As Vall d’Aran is a river of mountains, most of them higher than 2000m above sea level, there are numerous breath-taking hikes. One is the famous Royal Path, or Camin Reiau, 150 km long, historically used as a way of communication between villages intertwined in the valley. In addition, it was used by the Roman to build the now-existing routes. The National Park Aigues Tortes as well offers many toured hikes through villages and the lakes of Saboredo and Colomers. Scattered around the mountains, Vall d’Aran has 33 villages built in wood, slate and stones, and witnessing towers and steeples.

Can you just imagine the staggering view of an alpine snowy valley rich with rivers, lakes and mountains around? Paradise for the soul and seasoning for your imagination. If you want to see autumn as a second spring, where every leaf is a flower, do not even finish reading this sentence- pack yourself and do not forget to take your winter clothes!

13 Common Spanish Phrases for Expressing Opinions

common spanish phrases to express opinion
Open Air Dining flickr photo shared by Anne Worner under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

One of the best Spanish practices is conversation, but you might feel stuck if you’re not sure how to express your opinion appropriately.

When expressing your opinion, remember the phrases below and you’ll be ready to tell anyone what you think using the Spanish language. When using these phrases remember to ensure gender and number agreement when forming the noun and adjective.

1. En mi opinión: Direct translation of in my opinion, though in Spanish it sounds more formal than in English. You wouldn’t say this expression to your friends when deciding where to go party this weekend, but you can use it in a work meeting.

2. Yo pienso que: The typical “I think that…” phrase that can be used for almost any opinion-related topic. Usually Spanish learners start out with this one and with experience and practice learn to use other phrases to express their opinions. An example of how to use this phrase when talking about your friend’s great new cell phone would be “Yo pienso que el móvil es muy bonito y de buena calidad.”

3. Creo que: Is another classic. Creer means to believe so it is a way to give a guessing about something. But that guessing can be very strong. For instance you could say “creo que tienes razón” meaning “I think you are right”.

4. Me ha parecido: This expression means “seems to me…” When talking about a product, for example tomato sauce, you could say “La salsa me ha parecido muy rica.” Remember that if you’re talking about shoes, which is plural, you need to change the phrase slightly: “Los zapatos me han parecido muy incómodos.” You can also begin a sentence with this phrase when responding to a question or if the subject is already obvious. For example when asked, “¿Qué tal el libro?, you could respond, “Me ha parecido interesante.”

5. Para mí: This expression means “For me…” This is an excellent opener so as not to offend anyone because this expression makes it very clear that what your about to say is your personal opinion. For example, when talking about the movie your friends all loved and you hated, you could say “Para mí no estuvo tan bien la película.” You can also end a phrase with this expression, “La película estuvo un poco aburrida para mi.”

6. Se me hace que: This phrase, typical from LATAM but not so common in Spain, indicates your impression or deduction about something. For example, when you see some cheap, bad-quality sun glasses for sale, you could say “Se me hace que no son de marca” (They don’t look like they’re brand-name). This expression is also great for speculating about situations and people’s emotions. For example “Se me hace que Pablo está algo enfadado” (Pablo seems like kind of an angry person.)

7. A mi me gusta/no me gusta :The verb “gustar” can be used to express what you like and don’t like. It’s usually a bit of a challenge for non-native speakers to use this verb correctly, but after some practice it can be very useful for expressing your opinion. To help you understand how to use the verb, you need to understand that it means that something is “pleasing to you.” For example, if you like a brand of soap, you can say “A mi me gusta el jabón Limpiol.” But, since the verb is dependent on the object, not the speaker, if you’re talking about something plural such as the flowers, you would say “A mi me gustan las flores rojas.” And of course to make it negative, you would change it to “A mi no me gustan las flores rojas.”

Other Spanish phrases for opinions

  1. Está claro que
  2. Lo mejor sería
  3. Me parece buena idea
  4. Estoy a favor de
  5. A mi juicio
  6. A mi parecer

Hope this helps. Feel free to ask or write your favourite expressions.

Sites That Will Give You a Reliable Writing Job

find jobs as writer or copywriter
Job search flickr photo shared by slightly everything under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Are you a writer or copywriter looking for a job? You have a knack for words, and you want to turn your talent into a career. On the Internet, there are so many writing jobs out there that it’s a bit intimidating, and you wonder if it’s even worth it to look, or if the market is too saturated.

But have no fear. There’s a job out there for you that can pay your bills and then some. It all depends on what you’re looking for, though. Do you want to be a novelist, a journalist, or a bit of both? Is this your full-time job, or something on the side?

We’ll be looking at some of the best places to start your writing career that are great alternatives to more mainstream writing sites such as Upwork or Elance, where the competition can be a bit unfriendly towards newcomers. Let’s get started.

Journalism Jobs

If you’re an aspiring journalist, whether it’s for a magazine, paper, radio scripts, what have you, this site is amazing. Journalismjobs.com is a giant classifieds for all things journalistic, from freelance to a full-time career. Using it is simple. Just search for what kind of job you’re looking for, and go by location. Read the job description, and follow the instructions on how to apply. Simple!

Jobs.ProBlogger

For those who are looking for jobs that are a bit bloggier, we have a site for you. Jobs.problogger.net is another classifieds site dedicated to those who are looking for someone to post on their blog, whether it’s a guest post or a full-time writer. Like with Journalism Jobs, you click on the job posting, read the description, and apply.

Freelance Writing

Since 1997, during the pioneer days of the Internet, FreelanceWriting.com has been a good tool for writers to find the writing job of their dreams. From fiction to journalism, there’s something in there for everyone. Just go to their “Jobs” tab and look around. They’re a linking site, so their postings will take you to a site not affiliated with them, so be aware.

Freelance Writer’s Den

Freelancewritersden.com is a site for those who have a bit of experience and want to make it to the next level. Their site can land you more expensive jobs and there’s a community where writers help one another out.

However, it should be noted that there is a monthly fee, but the site gives you a week to refund if you’re not satisfied, for those who are skeptical about a site where you have to pay. Also, as of this posting, they’re not accepting new writers. However, you can sign up for a waiting list if you’re interested.

Freelance Writing Gigs

Freelancewritinggigs.com keeps on the lookout for jobs that will interest you, updating their blog constantly with some of the best job offers out there. Sign up, and check it out.

The Five Clients a Freelance Writer Should Avoid

freelance writer clients that are like monsters
flickr photo shared by Erik Charlton under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

As a freelance copywriter, you’ll run into a diverse cast of clients, from big publishing companies to an average Joe who just wants you to ghostwrite his novel. However, no matter how big or small the client is, they may exhibit undesirable traits that should raise you a few red flags, and if you see the warning signs, run away if they’re not paying you enough. Here are the top five clients to avoid at all costs.

  1. The Penny Pincher

We’ve all met this one. They want quality, yet will pay you wages that are absurd even in the Philippines. While all clients have budgets, they can’t pay their writers slave wages, especially if they’re freelancing to make a living. If your potential client doesn’t want to pay you a living wage, back away. They’re not going to give you an increase.

  1. The Clinger

A client and a freelancer need to have good communication if they want the project to succeed, but there is such a thing as too much communication. If your client is constantly messaging you over Skype like an insane lover, demanding updates every other hour, wanting your personal Facebook, or threatening to cancel your contract just because you didn’t respond to them within a few hours, toss them. Freelancers have lives and can’t answer right away at some times. In order to prevent a clinger, tell them your contact hours beforehand.

  1. The Client Asking You for Free Work

Clients should never ask you to do work for them before you apply. Some may ask for you to write a small sample of writing so they can “see your style.” That’s what your portfolio is for! If they don’t have good feedback and are asking you to jump through hoops to apply, don’t bother.

  1. The Unreasonable Deadliner

Deadlines are important within reason, but as a freelancer, you’re probably balancing your client’s job with a handful of other projects. That’s why you should never stress over unreasonable deadlines. You can’t give your client a quality novel within a week, nor could you give them hard-hitting journalism in a day. Good quality takes a reasonable amount of time.

Granted, some clients are more lenient about their deadlines, but if your client isn’t, stay away.

  1. The Perfectionist

No matter how many times you submit your piece, it’s never good enough. Your client sends it back with a list of corrections, and once you fix them, the client then moves the goalposts by sending out more.

Are you their writer or their editor? If you are both, then skip this. But, reality is that most writers have a hard time scrutinizing their own work, especially on a limited deadline. Before you set the contract, tell your client that they’ll have to fork up extra every time they ask for unnecessary edits.

Granted, there are exceptions. If your potential client is your big break, but has an unfavorable trait, still work for them. However, for the average-paying client, say sayonara and move onto the next client, as there isn’t a short supply of them.

Doubling Your Freelance Writing Salary: Beyond a Penny a Word

earn more working as writer at homeSo you’re an established freelance writer who is making enough money to live. However, you’re ready to take it to the next step. Freelance writers do hit those roadblocks where it seems like they can’t earn any more, that they’re destined to write for a penny a word.

Well, we’re here to tell you that you can earn more and have more cash to have fun! Here are ten ways you can double your rate with ease.

  1. Set a Rate and Stick With it

One of the most important rules when it comes to making more money is to have confidence in your work and show your client the rate you think you deserve. If you feel like you deserve more than a penny a word, tell your client that’s your rate.

They may try to negotiate with you to work for a lower rate, but don’t budge. Show your client that you have a portfolio to justify your rate, and don’t back down if they ask to do it for less. Most clients who want quality will bite and pay you what you want.

Of course, don’t make your rate too ridiculous. You should first look at your competition and see how much they’re charging.

Never forget that everybody can write, but most of the people can’t do it well.

  1. Don’t Stick With Hourly Rates

One of the biggest flaws of traditional jobs is being paid by the hour. No matter how much work you put into an hour, you’ll be paid the same, and your client will get angry if you take too long.

Instead, work with a fixed rate. By doing this, you’ll be rewarded the harder you work. If you have lots of projects, you can blaze through them and earn even more.

  1. Type Fast With No Distractions

You’d be surprised how much money you’re missing out on if you spend a few extra minutes on Facebook. Instead of doing that, eliminate distractions and type as fast as you can. Take typing classes to maximize your potential, and experiment with different keyboards.

  1. Look for More Sources for Writing Jobs

If you’re just getting your jobs on a freelancing site, try looking for other sources. It’s nice having a comfort zone, but some of the most obscure corners of the Internet can be the most rewarding. Look around and find those higher-paying jobs.

  1. Don’t Let Your Doubts Get You Down

So you see a job that’s offering you an amazing amount of money, or a prestigious newspaper looking for freelance writers. You may think, “I’m nowhere near qualified” and not apply to it.

Don’t. You have enough experience and confidence to get the job! Feel free to send out as much applications as possible to the jobs of your dreams.

You may get rejected, and you it may be more than once. But just remember that some of the biggest writers and authors got rejected dozens of times before finding their big break. And you can too!

So what are you waiting for? Adjust your rate and start working for more today!

Games to Help with a Writer’s Stress

videogames for freelance writers
“Game Chair at flickr photo shared by thomcochrane under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Sometimes, even freelance writers need time to cool down. Maybe your brain’s turned to mush after writing for hours, or writer’s block has stricken you. Whatever the case, you should take a few minutes from your session to calm your mind, and what better way to do that than with a few simple games that can stimulate your mind? Let’s look at some of the best.

Word Whomp

This game, hosted by Pogo, has been around for many years, and there’s a reason why. It’s exciting for those whose vocabulary is expansive, or for those who want to build onto their internal dictionary.

The game is simple. You have six letters, each held by a cute gopher. Your goal is to create as many words with those letters as possible. The longer the word, the better your score, and there is usually a word that implements all six of those letters. After the game ends, they do show you what words you’ve missed. Check it out.

Tumble Bees

Another one from Pogo, the goal is similar to Word Whomp in that you spell as many words as possible in the allotted time. This game, however, is a bit different. There’s an area that fills with honeycombs, each with a letter on them. You must spell out words with those letters before the honeycomb fills up. Each successful word fills up a jar of honey on the right of the screen. Fill up the honey to win. If the screen fills with honeycombs, you lose.

Hangman

Most of us have heard of this game, but for those who haven’t, it’s simple. The game provides you with a number of blank spaces which spell out a word, and you must guess which word it is by guessing a letter. If you guess the write letter, the proper space fills with the letter, but if you fail, the game starts drawing a man, which is hanging from a noose. It will gradually fill out the man’s head, body, and limbs, and when he’s complete, you lose.

There are many sites that host this game. Check it out.

Type Racer

If you’re looking to improve your typing speed, look no further. This game pits you up with other people online, and you must type a paragraph provided. Each player has a car, and the faster you successfully type, the further your car goes. Whichever car gets to the end first is the winner. So if you feel like you could type faster, this game is a good training tool.

Grammar Ninja

Looking to spruce up your grammatical skills? This game will help you with that. You’re a ninja in training, and the only way to make it to the top is to identify all parts of a sentence, from the adverbs to the clauses. Even if you’re picky about grammar, this game can provide a challenge for you.

So if you’re needing some time to unwind, these games can give you fun while stimulating your brain.

Do you know any other that is worth saying?