Bogotá: A Love Hate Relationship

colombia, bogota honest guide
colombia, bogota honest guide

Many tourists come to Bogotá and are disappointed by how little the capital corresponds with their stereotypical image of what Colombia is – Bogotá isn’t hot and it doesn’t have any beaches. Moreover, recent articles claiming that Bogotá has a “European atmosphere and brilliant museums” (The Telegraph), the Transmilenio is “unrivaled for size and efficiency” (World Travel Guide) and that it is “about as bike friendly as Copenhagen” (Forbes) is laughable and disingenuous. Bogotá is many things… but none of the above. These kind of gushing, sycophantic descriptions paints Bogotá to be something it’s not, and gives unsuspecting tourists a completely false idea of it.

Bogotá is not love at first sight, that’s for sure. It is gritty and crowded and polluted. It is a smokescreen of black car fumes, terrible traffic jams and drivers who don’t give a shit about red lights or one-way roads. Bogotá is potholes, uneven pavements and the horror of transmilenio at rush hour. Now throw in some serious bipolar weather with miserable, torrential downpours one minute and sunny blue skies the next… Bogotá is changeable, to say the least.

However, when you look beyond the hazy grey smog, shrouded in the mist of low-hanging clouds, lies the majestic lush-green cerros orientales, red-brick apartments buildings dotted along its foothills. In the unpredictable chaos of the city, the mountains are the one constant you can rely on. And for all its faults, Bogotá does have its charms: street vendors selling delicious street food such as arepas, mazorca, and obleas and freshly squeezed juice on every corner, office workers eating their packed-lunches in the park, evening walks around the tree lined streets of Chapinero Alto, everybody out and about cycling, running, and dog-walking on Sunday morning ciclovia, the buzz of Usaquén at the weekend, the eclectic mix of arcade-like activities and street performers in the Candelaría, people casually walking down Carrera 13 with an armful of mirrors or mops or chairs for sale, the fact you can buy a cigarette for 500 pesos, or have a beer at the cigarerría (like going to the local newsagent for a beer – shop price, but you can drink there)… How the sun sets at the same time every day, flooding the sky with a radiant orange glow.

colombia bogota la candelaria

It’s definitely not for everyone, and as a tourist, you have to watch what you read and manage your expectations. The best way to describe my feelings for Bogotá is like your relationship with your family – you complain and bitch about them all the time, but nobody else is allowed to – and you give hell to anybody who tries to insult them.

Bogotá is chaotic, unapologetic and no for the faint-hearted – but we wouldn’t change it for the world. We absolutely love Bogotá – for us, it is home. And we would love for you to love it like it we do!

Help make most of your time by reading our guide on the Top 10 Things to Do in Bogota – and please, venture beyond the Candelaria!

12 Tips for language learning

12 Tips for Language Learning

Many dismiss any notion of moving abroad as they can’t speak the local language and they’re “bad at learning languages” – but this isn’t true. Unfortunately the British education system is appalling for language teaching, sucking all the life from the language. The vitality of a country’s culture; history, literature and cinema isn’t even touched upon until later years when we’ve already dropped Spanish in favour of a class that doesn’t make us want to stab ourselves in the eye. To most of us, foreign languages is a distant memory of mind-numbingly dull grammar lessons and we left school barely able to order a coffee in French. For those of us who have stuck it out, we know it was worth the pain – in the end, studying languages is a fantastic mix of history, geography, politics, philosophy, literature, art, cinema and linguistics. 

But, don’t worry, monoglots, it’s not too late! With the snazzy invention of the internet and smartphones, language learning has never been easier or cheaper. There is no need to invest in private classes or even a dictionary! So after two decades of learning Cantonese, Spanish and Russian to varying degrees of success,  here are my top tips for learning languages:

1. Know your own language.

Before learning any language, you need to understand how your own language works. It may sound stupid, but you never actually learn how your own language works because you don’t need to – our brain plasticities as babies do all the work for us. However, if you know the function of each grammatical component, how tenses are used, you will understand the relationship between words. When learning your new language, you can compare this what you know in your own language and this will make the process a lot easier.

2. Learn your conjugations.

It’s boring, but you have to practise conjugating those verbs. Incorrect conjugations are nails on a chalkboard to native speakers. Use flashcards to test yourself and help memorise them. Always be conscious of your subject and verbs when reading and listening. This will help you produce them correctly when writing and speaking.

3. Read in your own language

This might sound irrelevant, but this will improve your vocabulary in both languages. This will especially help if your new language has the same roots as your own language. For example, words with Latin or Greek roots can help you make an educated guess with many Indo-European languages.

4. Read in the target language

To begin with, read headlines, memes, facebook and twitter posts. If you are in the country, make an effort to read shop signs, posters at the bus stop, restaurant menus. Then, you can go onto reading newspapers, magazines, books. It will be difficult at first, and you won’t understand every word – but don’t hesitate at every unknown word, instead try to get the gist from the context and only look-up recurring words. 

5. Write down new words.

Carry around a small notebook to write down new words and phrases that you come across in your daily life. Or if you are more technologically up-to-date, make a list on your phone. When writing down new vocabulary, put it in context. Doodle, or write down a phrase that includes the word and a few examples. Our brains make memories using connections, so learning “to ride a bike” is easier than just learning “bike”.

6. Watch movies and TV series

Putting your target language into a cultural context makes it more interesting to learn. Put subtitles of the target language on your regular TV shows. Watch movie or series that you know really well in your target language audio. Disney films work great! Since you already know the plot, you can focus on the listening to the target language. Here, you can start with subtitles in the target language, then take them away when you feel more confident and watch everything in the new language. Avoid anything with complicated plot-twists or existential, philosophical topics. Also, try to find original foreign language films or series – this will be a more authentic reflection of the language in use and its culture.

7. Use language-learning apps

You cannot solely depend on apps to learn a language, but they are brilliant for learning vocabulary and useful phrases. Duolingo is great because it uses images for new vocabulary, which is then built into phrases and sentences as you go through each lesson to help memories and internalise the target language. Each lesson take abouts 5-10 minutes, so it is not a major commitment and you can do a little chunk every day during your commute. There are also support forums where native speakers explain any parts that are unclear to you. 

8. Put up post-it notes around the house

Integrate language learning with your daily habits – label objects around your house with a post-it note. (maybe with some sellotape so it won’t fall off!) For example every time you use the bathroom you have “shower” “sink” “mirror” “toilet” , you will see these and subconsciously your brain will take them in. 

9. Talk to strangers

If you are living abroad, the best way is learn is to go out and strike up conversation with the man in the shop, or the arepa lady on the street corner. Use your daily interactions such as super-market shopping, or going to the café to practise. Don’t be shy – people are a lot friendlier and more patient than you think. Often, locals are interested in foreigners, so make the most, ask about their lives and tell them about yours!

10. Find a language exchange partner

There are lots of free language exchange events you can find online on Meetup and Couchsurfing. These are a great way to meet different people and practise your language. These events can be tedious and repetitive, but instead of attending the events and introducing yourself again and again, find one or two people who you can arrange a regular one-on-one meet-up with. This way you can develop your skills by engaging in more interesting and deeper conversation topics.

11. Dating

Get out on the dating scene. Regardless of whether you’re looking for a bit of a fun or a something more serious, you will be forced to speak the language constantly. You will have to talk about your life and your interests, your goals and your dreams. Further down the line, you might even have to discuss your feelings and probably have a few arguments. When you are able to yell and cry and chastise in another language, you know you are doing a good job!

12. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Making mistakes is the best way to learn. This not only applies for languages, but in life! We all learn from our experiences, so don’t worry about making mistakes! Making an idiot of yourself is a sure way that you won’t make the same mistake again!

Finally, the absolute key to language learning…

Language is used to communicate an idea. In different languages, we used different words to communicate the same idea. When you are learning a language, you need to separate the idea and the word you are using – you are looking to transmit meaning, not translate. For example, you want to link the word manzana to the image of an apple itself, not the word apple. This may be a difficult concept to grasp, but if you can get your head around it, it will change the way you view languages and hopefully make it much easier for you learn!