Friday Five – Using Twitter to learn more Spanish

Google did a bad, bad thing, and my Spanish is the worse for it. Once upon a time, you see, Google had the sweetest, most rockingest feature ever: it would let you winnow your search results to only Twitter streams. Every time I learned a new word or phrase in Spanish and wanted to see if people really use it in real life (i.e., NOT Dictionaryville, where all words live safely and happily, usefulness be damned), I’d check to see if I could find it in those results. I could also see how it was used and where. What a boon it was! I knew that if I could find it there in various examples, I was A-OK on the colloquial meter, which, as you all know, is importantísimo para mí. Just as no one’s going to break out Dickensian English in their 140-word limit, if you can’t find several examples of your word on the Twittersphere, you can probably safely assume that it’s not very useful and relegate it to the hinterlands of your consciousness. But. That all ended in July of last year, sadly. You can still look for enfardelar in images, videos, news, books, blogs, discussions, and patents, but the didactic warbling is no more. (No one’s talking about enfardelar in their patents, FWIW.)

What’s one to do? Get on Twitter, of course. I bet you’re already on it, and if you’re not, consider making an account purely for educational purposes. (That’s all I use mine for… so far.) Come on, you’re clearly not as web-adverse as you like to make yourself out to be if you’re spending all this time reading my lengthy posts. Once you’ve been Twitterfied, you’ll have full access to the search feature to look for your words. Use it!


For example, today I learned the phrase color de hormiga. A Peruvian friend of mine posted on Facebook, “Happy no more. Things are looking color de hormiga.” A nice, healthy mix of languages there, and I just knew it had to come from some colorful phrase. An ant-colored phrase, to be precise. But were we talking red ants or black ants? I simply had to know. Hopping over to the Spanish-English forum on and searching for color de hormiga, I learned that ponerse las cosas color de hormiga means that things suddenly take a turn for the worse, get ugly, go awry. I was also led to a Wikcionario page that explained that the phrase is used in Mexico, Peru, and Chile. Now things were getting interesting. I’ll admit, I was content to stop there (and, no, I didn’t take the trouble to research what color ants are found in those countries, as fascinating as that little online whirl would have been), but for the sake of this post, I’ll now go to Twitter to get some authentic and fully Spanish uses of the phrase. Here are five tweets from today to help us get a better feel for the phrase in real usage.

@DavidJimsa Esto se esta poniendo color de hormiga!

@NievenDesierto Esto se me esta poniendo color de hormiga… Lamentablemente a mi, solo a mi.

@PedroAlvaradoHz Ya van a ser las docéeeeee pero esto esta color de hormiga se acaba de empatar a dos Carreras en la novena entrada, Mexicali y Hermosillo

@EnClaveDSol Todo es color de rosa hasta que una hijueputa lo vuelve colorhormiga.

@cdelaha Cuando la cosa se ponía color de hormiga, Marcos Pérez Caicedo, una gloria de la radio colombiana decía: “¡A esto se lo llevó pindanga!”

I find it incredibly useful. What about you? Just from these results (and there were many more), I see:

– Common to say that something se está poniendo color de hormiga.

– Can take an indirect object (me/te/le/nos/les) to show that it affects someone.

– Can use estar instead.

– Things can become (volvercolor de hormiga, and you can leave out the de

– Another interesting word for another day– pindanga — and even a bit of culture.

As you can see, only the last guy took the time to correctly include all the tildes and even the upside-down exclamation mark. (He’s a professor–Colombian, by the way) Twitter is no place for pedantry, so you can be sure that anything you find there will be colloquial and thus highly useful, keeping in mind regional differences. Plus, you also learn lots of other fun things de paso. The fourth tweet is especially funny and not appropriate for the kiddies!

You can also have fun looking at the hashtags that people use to categorize their posts. Since everyone has New Year’s resolutions on their minds right now, let’s take a look at some of them. Resolutions = propósitos.

Searching for the hashtag #propósitos2012, here’s some of what we find.

@LuisChataing #PROPOSITOS2012 No cantar en inglés bajo la ducha hasta que aprenda a hablar inglés. (Not sing in English in the shower until I learn to speak English)

@maire_wink #Propositos2012 1- comprar una membresía en el gym y usarla nuncota 2- Emprender nuevos proyectos que abandonaré por ahí de marzo. (1- Buy a gym membership and not use it ever, ever, ever. 2- Take on new projects that I’ll abandon around March or so)

@enredadera Debo dejar ya de tuitear cosas sin sentido acompañadas de un jeje. #Propósitos2012 (I have to stop tweeting things that don’t make any sense followed by a haha)

@soypablito_digo Aja siempre me agarra la tarde #Propositos2012 ser mas Puntual ;) (I’m always late…. be more punctual)

@lulabullebulle  #Propósitos2012 Echar menos chisme por celular para no quedarme sin minutos. Existen otras maneras más baratas para chismosear. (Gossip less on my cell phone so I don’t run out of minutes. There are cheaper ways to gossip)

Hey, some of those are words we’ve talked about here on Vocabat– por ahí, me [coge] la tarde (they used “agarrar” instead, so they must be in a country where coger is offensive), puntual. Once you learn things, they really do start showing up everywhere. There’s no greater encouragement than realizing you’re not just memorizing all these boring words in vain–they will genuinely aid you in understanding people around you and sounding more natural yourself. So, get your nose out of the dictionary and get your butt on Twitter pronto!

As you already know, I really believe in learning Spanish from people, but you don’t have to have a tête à tête to learn from a person, of course–Twitter is a very valuable tool that you could start benefiting from today. There’s really no excuse to not be able to learn colloquial Spanish no matter how shy, out of ideas, or far from Latin America you may be. I hope this year is one of incredible Spanish progress for you! Please share your ideas on how you’re going to make it happen.

_________________________________________________ So, have you ever thought of using Twitter to learn more Spanish? Would you? What other ideas do you have for finding sources of colloquial language? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with? 

15 responses to “Friday Five – Using Twitter to learn more Spanish

  1. This is an awesome tip Katie. Twitter just changed from a cursed web site where everyone in the world says EVERYTHING they are thinking, all at once, to a sweet language learning tool! Michael


  2. Hi, I’m following you now :)
    I think any social net work is great to practice Spanish.
    About “color de hormiga”, we say that when things turn out bad. Usually the dark color is related to disapointment, desilusion, and the most know ants around South-american cities are black or very dark bronw.
    I don’t know if you hear the expresion “ese muchacho es un pan de Dios”, I heard that in Peru, when someone is so good, sweet and nice. I love expresions, they contain a lot of popular wiseness.


    • Hi Leila!

      Thanks for the follow. You are so right, and I will actually take it a little further– any social anything is great Spanish practice. Non-social methods? Definitely not as helpful, at least for me.

      OK, black and dark brown ants in South America, got it. If you had started with things color de rosa, that would be a pretty bad turn, indeed :(

      Es un pan de Dios me suena! To be honest, I don’t remember hearing it in Colombia, but I know I picked it up por ahí. Yes, I love expressions, too– please keep sharing them with us in the future :)


  3. I don’t use Twitter, nor do I have such plans, but it clearly seem useful as a language learning tool. But then it obviously depends on what you are learning a language for. I bet you would get into trouble using some of these expressions in more formal communication :D


    • It depends. Just as many people use it for informal language, there are many, many others that use it with very formal language, indeed, using it for professional purposes. A quick look around the web should help you determine what’s formal and what’s informal.

      Too true– it does depend on what you are learning a language for. What are you learning Spanish for? Do you hope to work as a Spanish translator/interpreter one day? Is it to be able to travel and use it socially? Enjoy Spanish-language media? I guess I’ve never asked you!


  4. I never thought to use twitter this way. I have already learned heaps from it!!!!


  5. Nice post. I don’t have a twitter account, although you make a good argument for getting one. I do however, use Facebook to do the exact same thing. I have to admit, I’ve learned a ton.

    Another thing you can also do with FaceBook, and probably Twitter, is subscribe to pages like Fundéu (!/fundeu) that makes posts daily about how to properly use different words and phrases in Spanish. Stuff like:

    ” «Se explosiona» una bomba y no «se explota», ”

    The actual webpage is loaded with all kinds of interesting stuff like that. You can also subscribe to various newspapers that post many short news bites that are perfect to read throughout the day.

    Another great post!


    • Yes, Facebook is very useful. I guess the only catch is that you have to have Spanish-speaking friends. It’s not really the place for friending random Latino strangers just for language practice. I know that neither of us has a problem with finding Spanish-speaking friends, but other readers (one in Poland, for example) might have more of a challenge doing that. I’m always trying to anticipate the excuses of my readers! ;)

      Thanks for the link! I already subscribed– it looks very useful. Heh, their second latest post is about how caucus, an English loanword, is los caucus in plural, not los caucuses, something I just wrote about last week :)

      Thanks for the comment.


  6. Hm, you may have me convinced despite avoiding twitter for so long. Understanding random people’s resolutions is so satisfying! (and humorous, jeje)

    Sometimes it feels like there are parallel universes on the internet, like when I somehow end up in the Spanish “version” of youtube. Pero algunas veces es dificil salir uno y entra otro.


    • Oh, you’ll find lots of humorous things to read. If you mostly roll your eyes at Twitter (I do), just create an account and be a peeping Tom of other people’s tuits.


  7. I’ve certainly picked up some slang and various expressions through social media, but never thought of testing out words on twitter – clever!


    • Thanks! Yeah, I have found it to be a good source of authentic language. When you only have space for 140 characters, you’re not going to waste it with any highfalutin words :)


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