Changing Accents & The Chameleon Effect

Shakira and fellow Colombian singer, Carlos Vives, May 2016

Shakira and fellow Colombian singer, Carlos Vives, May 2016

I saw recently on the news that famous Colombian Shakira was getting some flack for “forgetting her roots.” It turns out, Colombian fans overheard Shakira on the set of a music video speaking with a Spanish accent, rather than her native accent from Barranquilla, Colombia.

Here’s video of the interaction that had some people jumping to judgement.

At 35 seconds into the video you hear Shakira say, “¿Pueden ayudar, por favor?” and apparently some detected the accent there.

This isn’t a new accusation for Shakira, as years ago she was also accused of using an Argentinian accent.

So what’s the deal? Has Shakira forgotten her roots? Does she feel the Argentinian and Spanish accents are superior to her native Colombian accent? Is she being pretentious?

Not at all! What some people don’t realize is that being around people with an accent different than your own can have this effect on some people. It isn’t a coincidence that during the time Shakira seemed to have a bit of an Argentinian accent she was dating Argentine Antonio de la Rúa, and as everyone knows, she now shares her life in Barcelona with Spanish football star, Gerard Piqué.

What Shakira is experiencing is called “mirroring” or the “Chameleon Effect.”

Research has shown that humans unintentionally mirror each other, imitating gestures, body language, and accent. This is a way we subconsciously try to get people to like us, to build rapport, and to seem less threatening. Essentially we’re saying to the other person, I’m similar to you, I belong. You can see this taking place between humans as early as infancy. Ever seen a baby imitating facial expressions?

It’s also been found that people who are more empathetic tend to be more prone to the Chameleon Effect, so is it any wonder Shakira has this “problem”? Look at all the charity work she does, from her own Pies Descalzos Foundation which helps children living in poverty, to her benefit concerts which have served as fundraisers for numerous initiatives, and her role as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador – Shakira is definitely one empathetic individual.

If that’s not enough to change the minds of the skeptical, I’ll add my own personal anecdote. Yes, I have also experienced the Chameleon Effect. I still remember the year we went to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving. Carlos and I had been married probably about five years at that point. I was speaking to my father and he looked at me kind of funny. When I finished talking he said, “You’re speaking with an accent.” That was the first time I become self-conscious of it, but he was right, I had picked up some of Carlos’s accent in English which made me sound vaguely like it wasn’t my own native language. To this day I catch myself sometimes, but who knows how often it happens because I’m just not even aware of it.

Has this ever happened to you? What is your own experience with the Chameleon Effect?

7 Fun Ways to Improve Your Child’s Spanish This Summer


Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. No payment, monetary or otherwise, was received by This is a guest post with language learning tips from PandaTree which includes a code for a free session for Latinaish readers!

Summertime, and the living is easy; or at least that’s how George Gershwin’s song goes. If your kids are learning a foreign language, it can be challenging to keep up their language practice during the summer. Kids can lose one to several months of learning over the summer, which means they spend time catching up in the fall instead of making new progress. Luckily, you can turn summer into a chance to maintain – and even deepen – their language skills without losing out on any of the fun.

1. Traveling to a Spanish-Speaking Destination

Maybe this is just the excuse you needed to visit a new place, learn about another culture and give your children a chance to practice Spanish in the process. Dos tacos, por favor! Immersing yourself in a different culture can be a great motivator – and a lot of fun for the whole family. If a trip isn’t in the cards, try regularly visiting a Latin American or Spanish restaurant or looking for local events celebrating Spanish-speaking cultures.

2. Summer Camps

Similarly, foreign language camps can provide an immersion environment and boost language skills. Your child can build friendships and make connections with other children studying a foreign language.

3. Books on Tape

Long car rides – or hanging out in the hammock – are perfect times to listen to audio books. Choosing a book your child has already read in English can be helpful because knowing the plot line helps with comprehension if they don’t know all the words. Check your local library for Spanish audiobooks. also has quite a large selection of a selection of Spanish audiobooks for kids.

4. Spanish Game Night

If you speak some Spanish, try turning a family game night into a Spanish theme. Games like Bananagrams, Scrabble, Pictionary and even card games are fun to play in Spanish, and no need to buy a Spanish version. You can also play games while on the road, like I Spy or Twenty Questions. Or play an alphabet game where a player has to think of a word starting with the last letter of the previous player’s word. Everyone’s Spanish will get sharper and you might even have a few laughs.

5. Become the Student

If you don’t speak Spanish yourself, asking your child to be your summer Spanish tutor can benefit both of you. Mark 20 minutes on your calendar a couple of times a week for you to be a willing pupil. Your child can even use some of the materials they covered in school as teaching aids. Not only is teaching someone else a great way to reinforce your child’s own learning, your child will gain a new perspective on the learning process. Even parents don’t learn things instantly – it takes practice and making mistakes is part of the process. By seeing you model a positive growth mindset your child will pick up some important learning strategies in the process.

6. Find Someone to Practice With

Conversation practice is crucial for developing language fluency and one of the best ways to help your child keep up their Spanish language skills over the summer is to find someone for them to practice with. If you speak Spanish at home you’re already doing this, although sometimes as kids get older it can become more difficult to get them to reply in Spanish. If you don’t speak the language yourself, it can be extremely helpful to find a trusted person that your children can practice with. Is there a babysitter or a grandparent they can talk to regularly?

7. PandaTree

One option parents find really convenient is online foreign language video sessions with a native Spanish speaker. It’s a great way for kids to get one-on-one conversation practice. has made it simple for parents by handpicking tutors who are friendly and engaging to talk with. A few 25 or 50 minute sessions a week can accelerate your child’s skills – and fit conveniently into busy summer schedules with no driving required. Sessions are recorded so parents can review their child’s progress, and parents get updates after each session about what their child covered.

Want to give it a try?

Until June 15, 2016, Latinaish readers can get their first PandaTree session for free!

Just visit and use promo code Latinaish516

Know it’s Worth the Effort

Whatever approach you choose for keeping your child’s language skills fresh over the summer, know that it is worth the effort. By helping your child learn a foreign language you are giving them a gift for life. Learning a foreign language boosts their brainpower, opens future career doors and deepens their understanding of different cultures as well as their own. So bring on the summer (learning) fun!

Kristina Klausen is the Founder and CEO of Her children are learning Mandarin and Spanish. Kristina started PandaTree to help give kids the conversation practice they need to become fluent. One-on-one online video sessions with carefully picked native-fluency tutors are easy to schedule and happen conveniently from home. Sessions are tailored to each child’s interests and language level, and parents receive updates after each session and can even watch recordings to see their child’s progress.

Ancestry DNA: Part 4


In Part 1 and Part 2, I took you through the process and results of my own DNA test with – Now it’s Carlos’s turn! Check out Part 3 for Carlos’s thoughts before taking the test. Part 4 (this final post) is Carlos’s results!

Carlos’s results are in! His took much longer to arrive, (40 days compared to the 22 days I waited.) Maybe the Ancestry DNA test has become more popular since I did mine. At first I thought maybe it was taking so long because we did it around Saint Patrick’s Day and you tend to see a lot of their commercials encouraging people to see if they have Irish ancestry around that time of year, but that can’t be it, because I also did mine around Saint Patrick’s Day last year. While we were waiting for the results, Carlos joked that it was taking so long because they discovered he’s el eslabón perdido (“the missing link”) and they were busy gathering researchers from around the world, which was a very Carlos-ish joke to make.

Anyway, I won’t keep you in more suspense than is necessary. Let’s get to the results!

When I asked Carlos if he had any predictions, he had answered, “Maybe that I’m mostly indigenous” – And it turns out he was correct! Carlos is 57% Native American. It’s just a shame that Ancestry DNA can’t go into more detail than that.


We can assume this is most likely Central American tribes descended from the Mayan and/or Aztec, but we really have no way of knowing for sure.

Carlos also got 27% Europe. Unsurprisingly the majority of that (16%) is from the Iberian Peninsula.


What about the rest of that 27% though? That’s where we start getting some interesting results.

4% Italy/Greece
3% Great Britain
2% European Jewish
2% Ireland

This means Carlos and I have some ancestry in common! (It also means I can no longer pinch him on Saint Patrick’s Day for not being Irish.)





We’ve got 16% left, any guesses before we go on?

Well, here’s some more surprises. Carlos is 12% African.

The breakdown is:

North Africa 5%
Senegal 2%
Mali 2%
Ivory Coast/Ghana 2%
Africa Southeastern Bantu 1%

And here are the maps with more detailed information on those:






Now we have just 4% left, and that is broken down as:

Caucausus 3%
Middle East < 1%



That’s it! Here’s a picture of the full breakdown (including expanded trace regions) and the world map showing all his ancestral areas:



A few last questions with Carlos:

Tracy: Which result surprised you the most?
Carlos: Jewish and Irish.

Tracy: Has this changed anything for you? How you see yourself? How you see the world?
Carlos: I don’t know yet. I’m still kind of processing it.

Tracy: Was there anything you were disappointed not to see?
Carlos: Well, I’m not disappointed, but I’m surprised that I’m not East Asian at all. I was kind of expecting I would be because of the way my [paternal] grandmother looked. I also wish the technology was advanced enough to give me more detail about the Native American result.

Tracy: What is your advice to other people considering doing the Ancestry DNA test?
Carlos: I recommend it, they should do it.

The Bilingual Household: Changing Family Dynamics and The End of an Era

On my older son's future college campus.

On my older son’s future college campus.

Family dynamics are complicated in any household, but in a bilingual household, even more so. The addition or subtraction of one member can change everything – and I think that is what we’re getting ready to face in our family as our oldest son prepares to go off to college.

For the first time in our youngest son’s life, he will be the only child, (at least in respect to who will be physically living under our roof day-to-day.) This creates an interesting opportunity. With his brother around, he had a willing “accomplice” to speak English to. Despite my best efforts, having two people speaking English all the time has made it difficult for me (a native English speaker) to remain consistent with Spanish. It’s like when you go on a diet, but the rest of the family keeps eating cake and Doritos right in front of you — it makes sliding back into comfortable habits much more difficult to resist.

My prediction is that when my older son goes off to college, it will become easier to maintain a better balance of Spanish in the household because I’ve seen it happen before when he went off to summer camp. With only me to talk to (and Carlos usually at work), my younger son ends up speaking Spanish more easily without his brother around. Although I’ve long given up on a “100% Spanish only” household, I think a realistic expectation is that we could get closer to 50/50. Right now, unfortunately, I would say we’re down to 80/20, (Eighty percent English, twenty percent Spanish… no bueno.)

While I have my eye on this new possibility of fluency for our younger son, of course I’m also dealing with the emotional aspect of closing a chapter in our lives. There’s the expected mix of pride and bitter-sweetness at seeing our son grown up and ready to go off into the world, but there’s also a sort of ticking clock feeling, like our days together are numbered. Of course our days have always been numbered, but they felt infinite until only a handful remained, which is where we’re at right now. When time begins to run out, as a parent you start to think about all the things you’ve taught your child to prepare them, and all the things that somehow, regretfully, you never got around to teaching them.

I think we did well. We’ve taught him to be kind to others, confident, to make good choices, to be self-sufficient. We’ve taught him to be true to himself, to always ask questions, we’ve encouraged his passions. We’ve done everything we could to make sure he was well-rounded, well-educated, and knew his roots, but this “raising bilingual children” experiment which has gone on for the past 18 years is coming to an end. Was that part of our parenting successful?

The answer isn’t immediately apparent, but I’ve decided success isn’t always a pass/fail sort of thing.

While I do mourn the fact that native speaker fluency wasn’t in the cards for him, I can honestly say we gave it a good shot, and I’m content with the results. Maybe he can’t read and fully enjoy a novel in Spanish, and maybe he doesn’t dream in Spanish. Maybe he doesn’t always understand every single word, but if we were to drop him off alone in a Spanish-speaking city, I have no doubt he would be able to get about just fine on his own. He talks to his abuela on the phone without a problem, and he has lost count of how many Spanish-speaking customers he assisted at his part-time retail job. Do I wish he was fluent? Does he wish he was fluent? Of course.

But we’ve given him what we were able to, and like so much else in his life, the rest is now up to him.

Conversations at Casa López – Part 9


Here we go – my family’s most recent “bilingual moments” and funny conversations. (Be sure to share your recent funny conversations in comments!)

Telivision/Boxing Match: …the new champion, de Sinaloa México, Gilberto “El Zurdo” Rámirez!

Tracy: Wow, he’s deaf?

[Confusing the word “sordo” which means deaf, and “zurdo” which means southpaw/left-handed]

Tracy: You see? That bird has the same beak as that one. They’re both Cardinals but that one is a female, the red ones are males.

Carlos: Beak?

Tracy: Beak, pico.

Carlos: But that’s how you pronounce it? Like Vick-Vaporu?

Television/Chavo: Es que la Chilindrina me preguntó ¿con que “v”?
Television/Doña Florinda: Pos, con los ojos.
Television/Chavo: Sí, pero, ¿de vaca o de burro?

Tracy and Carlos: [laughing]

14 year old son: What’s funny?

Tracy: Chavo wanted to know whether you write “bicicleta” with a “v” or a “b” because they sound the same in Spanish and they call them “big b” and “little v”, or you can say “b de burro, o v de vaca” – so he asked Doña Florinda “Con que v?” which sounds like “What do you use to see?” and when Doña Florinda said “ojos”, Chavo said “cow eyes or donkey eyes?”

14 year old son: [blank stare]

Tracy: It kind of gets lost in translation.

Tracy: El Salvador is north of the equator, right?

Carlos: Right.

Tracy: Wait, so which country does the equator pass through?

Carlos: [amused expression] Ecuador.

Tracy: Oh my God…I feel stupid now.

17 year old son: What’re you watching?

Carlos: It’s about Billy the Kid.

17 year old son: [sits down to watch]

Carlos: Didn’t you study him in school?

17 year old son: I was more into Jesse James.

Carlos: Is he a gang bang, too?

Tracy: We’re almost out of bird feed again.

Carlos: Again?!

Tracy: It’s those big, black birds – the Grackles. I think they’re eating it all. I read that they’ve been known to devastate crops, they come down as a huge flock and eat everything.

Carlos: Ohhhh, those are the ones that do that?

Tracy: Do they do that in El Salvador, too?

Carlos: I don’t know.

Tracy: How do you know about them then?

Carlos: There was an episode of Pink Panther…

(Here’s the episode of Pink Panther if anyone wants to watch. I had to look it up after that conversation, and then watching it made it even funnier.)

Ancestry DNA: Part 3

Image source: Flickr user charamelody

Image source: Flickr user charamelody

In Part 1 and Part 2, I took you through the process and results of my own DNA test with – Now it’s Carlos’s turn!

Around this time last year I asked Carlos if I could order the DNA test for my birthday present. Ever since then Carlos has been wanting to do his own DNA test, but has always balked at spending the money on it. I decided that since my birthday is coming up again, this year my present will be Carlos’s test. You may wonder how something for Carlos is a birthday gift for me, but I’m just as curious about his results as he is, and I can think of few things I want that would be this much fun. So we ordered the test today. Below is my interview with Carlos to see how he’s feeling and his thoughts on the topic. Because I already covered the “how to” of the DNA test in Part 1 when I did mine, we’ll skip discussing the technical aspect of Carlos’s test. Part 4 will be posted when we receive his results!

Tracy: How are you feeling about the DNA test? Nervous? Anxious? Excited?

Carlos: I’m not really nervous, more curious than anything else.

Tracy: What do you think you’ll find out? Any predictions?

Carlos: No, I’m not sure. No idea. Maybe that I’m mostly indigenous?

Tracy: Why do you say that? Did anyone in your family speak an indigenous language or anything?

Carlos: I don’t know, because of my skin color, I guess. No one in my family spoke Náhuat that I know of, I don’t know if older generations spoke it.

Tracy: What do you already know, or think you know, about your roots? What family stories, recipes, or traditions did you have growing up that offer clues to your ancestry?

Carlos: I don’t have any clues. My family didn’t pass down traditions the way people do here [in the United States]… I mean, my family’s traditions were like everyone’s traditions – just Salvadoran traditions, Salvadoran culture.

Tracy: Were both sides of your family Catholic?

Carlos: Yes, as far as I know.

Tracy: Who are the oldest relatives you remember, and what do you remember about them?

Carlos: My mom says some of her father’s side of the family was light-skinned, but for my dad I don’t really know anything. My dad looked more Japanese than anything, and his mother looked Asian too.

Tracy: Your mother’s side of the family, as far back as you know, was from Chalatenango and your father’s side was from Ilobasco, right?

Carlos: Right, as far as I know. I don’t know any family history farther than that.

Tracy: Wait, you told me a story once about one of your family members in Europe, didn’t you? Who was that? Was she born in Europe?

Carlos: Oh, that was one of my [maternal] grandfather’s grandmother’s sisters…I think. She was born in El Salvador but she learned French and went to be a nanny in France. During World War II they had to flee and the family got separated. She took the child up to the mountains and kept him safe. When the family was reunited they were so thankful that they took care of her the rest of her life.

Tracy: She stayed in France and died there?

Carlos: No, she came back to El Salvador but they sent her money the rest of her life… Something like that. I’m never sure about these stories.

Tracy: Anyway, you said she was born in El Salvador, so that wouldn’t make you French.

Carlos: No.

Tracy: What if you get a really unexpected result? Do you think you’ll want to explore that culture and your roots a bit more?

Carlos: Yes, definitely.

Tracy: When I got my results I shared them with my sisters so they would know more about their heritage, but you don’t have any full-blooded brothers or sisters; all your siblings are half-siblings. Do you think you’ll share your results with any of them even though they won’t know what parts of your ancestry results are also theirs?

Carlos: No, it’s more for me to know, and for our boys to know the other half of their heritage.

Ask Latinaish: How Can I Learn Spanish?

Image source: Kasaa

Image source: Kasaa

Over the years I’ve received hundreds of emails from people who have stumbled upon and, recognizing a kindred spirit, reached out to me. Sometimes they want a recipe for sopa de mondongo, or to know the meaning of a word in Salvadoran slang, and sometimes they just want to say thank you for something they found useful on my blog. Sometimes the words I receive make my day, and sometimes they keep me up at night. Sometimes the person needs mother-in-law advice, or bicultural relationship advice, sometimes the person emailing tells me they know no one else who understands their situation and they hope I can help. I’m always humbled that complete strangers trust me with their very deepest hurts. I always respond from my corazón and give the very best guidance that I can. Sometimes the person will correspond with me for awhile and I see the situation resolved, but most of the time I never find out what ended up happening.

As much as I love receiving these emails, I realize that for each one I receive there are many more people out there who may have the same question, or a similar situation, and could be helped by my reply, so I’m going to start publishing some of my responses as “Ask Latinaish” posts. I will of course always keep the identity of the person asking the question and the details of their situation completely anonymous.

The first question I’ll be answering here is:

How can I learn Spanish?


I most often get this question from gringas like myself who have married into the culture and want to raise bilingual children. Either she has had limited experience in the language, a few classes in high school, or has just learned a thing here and there after meeting her native Spanish speaker partner.

The human tendency is to want immediate gratification – We’re surrounded by it: Lose 10 pounds in 1 week! Organize your junk drawer in 5 minutes!

Language learning isn’t one of those things you can magically speak fluently in a short amount of time – Even babies start out with the basics and build their way up. That being said, there are ways to become proficient in a language more quickly, and the very best way is through immersion.

For the benefit of yourself and your child, encourage/beg/make deals with your native speaker partner to speak to you in their native language. It is one of the most valuable gifts they have to give. Encourage your partner to speak Spanish to your child and tell him all the benefits it will bring to your son or daughter. A few of the benefits:

• Your child will be more in touch with his heritage, and better able to visit your partner’s native country to explore his roots.

• He will be able to communicate with his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Family is so important and if he can’t speak Spanish, chances are as he gets older, he will drift away from relatives he can’t easily keep in touch with.

• Being bilingual, particularly English/Spanish bilingual, means that his job opportunities increase as an adult, plus he is likely to make more money than monolingual employees!

• Research has shown that children who are raised bilingual perform better academically in seemingly unrelated subjects like math, and music, plus they’re better at multi-tasking.

• Research has shown that bilinguals have a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s later in life.

Tell your partner all of this, do a quick Google search and find the articles to back it up if he doesn’t believe you. Some people just need to know concrete ways their child will benefit before they jump on the bandwagon.

As for learning Spanish yourself, aside from downloading Duolingo to your phone and playing it each day, (which I recommend!) – immerse yourself in the language as much as possible: the music you listen to, the TV you watch, the books you read, the friends you make… Surround yourself with native speakers as much as possible and SPEAK. Even if you feel awkward, make a million mistakes or people laugh at you. Speaking Spanish, more than anything else, will help your brain “click.” The more you speak, the more comfortable you become and the more vocabulary you learn, even if you have to stop mid-sentence and ask what something is called, or carry a little English/Spanish dictionary with you.

I hope this helps! Suerte! (Good luck!)