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Episode 89: Back-to-School Vocab!

Since this is August, the month where many are going back to school, let's review some back-to-school vocabulary! We'll first talk about the different levels of school, followed by some general school subjects you might have (so you can practice your Spanish as you get ready for the new school year). The story format seems to be working well, so we're going to stick to that again for this episode. And we will also finally begin our Cultural Tip on Honduras. Let's begin!


Once again, I would like to apologize for being late. I had several projects that needed completed and worked on this past week, and since those are paid, they took priority. ;) I have tried to make this episode jam-packed with vocabulary to make up for it!

Are you ready for the new school year? I remember always being excited to go back to school, ready to learn new things and see my friends again. Or perhaps you're more like some of my siblings, dreading the start of another school year. Whatever your situation, August is a month of new beginnings. Hopefully today's episode will equip you with the Spanish you need to talk about them!

Education Levels

I'm trying a different layout for the blog this time. For the first read through, please click on the first drop-down item. This one will have the English translations and explanations. Then, for your second read through, click on the next drop-down item. This will not have those English tips, so you can practice reading through and seeing how much of the Spanish you remember from the first read.

Education Levels (with English translations)

It can be difficult to translate between the different levels of education in the United States and in other Spanish-speaking countries, since the various systems don't necessarily follow the same rules. For example, Spain's education system has required attendance for educación primaria y secondaria (primary and secondary education), which would look like our primero a sexto grados (1st - 6th grades) and séptimo a décimo grados (7th - 10th grades). After that, Spain has two options students can take: 1. el Bachillerato, which is kind of like el undécimo al duodécimo grados (11th - 12th grade) in los EE.UU. (the United States), but with the specific goal of taking the Selectividad exam to get into a university. Or students can go to 2. Ciclos Formativos, which is basically Vocational training.* The first Grado Medio would be like 11th - 12th, but with a focus on vocational skills, and then they can choose to take an extended two more years, Grado Superior, if they want (and those who have their Bachillerato could even take that).

So for today's episode, we will focus on just the Spanish words for the US education system. Many people begin sending their children to el preescolar (preschool) around the age of 3, and then send them to el jardín de infantes (or el jardín de infancia)**, kindergarten, around 5 or 6. At my school, kindergarten was considered a part of la escuela primaria, elementary school, which went from el jardín de infantes to el quinto grado, 5th grade (this includes el primer, segundo, tercer, y cuarto grados, or 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades). Some places in the US also include el sexto grado, 6th grade, as part of la escuela primaria. At my school, however, el sexto grado was a part of la escuela intermedia (middle school)***, along with los séptimo y octavo grados (7th and 8th grades). My secundaria, o preparatoria (high school) had los grados de noveno, décimo, undécimo y duodécimo (9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades).

Once you graduate with your diploma de Bachillerato (high school diploma), it is off to la universidad (college**** or university) to earn la licenciatura (bachelor's degree). Should you wish to go even further with your education, you could get una maestría (master's degree) or un doctorado (doctorate).

*There is a growing movement in the US to promote and highlight la formación profesional (vocational training), which I think is awesome! We definitely need more vocational training here.

**In Latin America, it is called el kínder.

***Because the Spanish-speaking world categorizes their middle school and high school levels differently than we do here in the US, the terms are a bit harder to translate into Spanish. Why? Because when you are speaking to a Spanish-speaker who is not from the US, you might use words in a way that they understand completely differently. For example, I found multiple translations for both high school and middle school as la escuela secundaria. This is because places like Spain and Mexico would consider la escuela secundaria to be los grados de sexto al noveno or décimo and our concept of high school is mainly their version of el Bachillerato or la Preparatoria. So if you are trying to tell someone from Mexico that you have a child in el undécimo or el duodécimo grado, but refer to them as being in la secundaria, they might assume that your child is in a grade before el décimo. It can be a little confusing. Other translations I have seen are to call middle school la secundaria and high school la preparatoria, or to call middle school la media or la intermedia and high school la superior or la secundaria. But I've also seen translations calling high school la media and middle school la secundaria. It can get pretty confusing. At school, I was taught to call high school el colegio, but after researching that term more I discovered that el colegio really just refers to the institution of school (like la escuela, although there are some differences in their other meanings). So, with all of that said, what should you do? I recommend being really clear in your communications as to what you mean, based on to whom you are talking to (i.e., where they are from) and how your school district has translated them. Personally, I prefer using la intermedia y la secundaria. Or, if you want just a simple reference for going forward, I would refer to both middle school and high school as la secundaria and make sure you clarify your meaning by mentioning the actual grade.

****I don't think there is a difference between a college and a university in Spanish like there is in English. With the exception of Spain; they use escuela profesional to refer to a small university.

Education Levels (with NO English translations)

School Subjects

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of all possible school subjects. Rather, it's a general compilation of the most common ones (or what are the most common in my mind. If I didn't include your favorite classes, please don't take it personally:D).

School Subjects (with English translations)

Un estudiante (a student) often has to take unas clases (classes) in materias (subjects) that he or she might otherwise prefer to avoid. For me, that was las clases de las Matemáticas (Math classes)*, like la Geometría (Geometry) or el Cálculo (Calculus) (although I quite enjoyed el Álgebra** - Algebra). For my husband, it was las clases del Inglés y de la Historia (History and English classes). I preferred las Ciencias Sociales (Social Science), as well as la clase del Español y la clase del Francés (Spanish class and French class), whereas my husband preferred la clase de la Física y la clase de la Química (Physics class and Chemistry class). He loves las Ciencias (science). There is also la Biología (Biology), la Informática (Computing),La Cívica (Civics), la Educación Física (P.E.), and la Salud (Health), all required materias. There are also los cursos optativos (elective classes), taken just for fun. Los cursos like el Arte (Art), la Banda de Marcha (Marching Band), la Orquesta (Orchestra), el Teatro (Theater), la Economía Doméstica (Home Ec), la Biblia (Bible, if you go to a Christian school), la Psicología (Psychology), la Filosofía (Philosophy) y la Antropología (Anthropology).

And don't forget the language classes! My favorite! (If I could have, I would have filled my schedule up with every language I could think of. Alas, my school only had el Francés y el Español; it wasn´t until college that I got to dabble in el Alemán (German)). Many schools also offer el Chino (Chinese), el Latín (Latin), la Lengua de Signos Americana (ASL, or American Sign Language), or el Árabe (Arabic).

Other courses I enjoyed, as una estudiante universitario (undergraduate student), included my cursos de Negocios (Business courses), like el Derecho Comercial o el Derecho Comercial Internacional (Business Law or International Business Law) and la Publicidad (Marketing). I did not enjoy la Contabilidad (Accounting). I spent a lot of time in las aulas or las clases (classrooms)*** with los escritorios (desks). My husband took la Química Orgánica y la Química Inorgánica (Organic Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry) and spent a lot of time in los laboratorios (laboratories). Other cursos might include las Ciencias Políticas (Political Science), la Criminología (Criminology), la Ingeniería (Engineering), la Ciencia Ambiental (Environmental Science), la Arquitectura (Architecture), la Ciencia Forense (Forensics), el Periodismo (Journalism), el Diseño de Web (Web Design), la Fotografía (Photography), la Educación (Education) and la Seguridad Cibernética (Cybersecurity, a super important one these days!).

As una estudiante graduada (graduate student), I was able to take cursos on la Traducción y la Interpretación (Translation and Interpretation). I really love learning. I don't currently miss los papeles o las pruebas (papers or tests), especially los exámenes parciales y los exámenes finales (midterms and finals). I also don't miss the late nights, dragging la mochila (backpack) to the biblioteca (library) to estudiar (study) and hacer tarea (do homework). I prefer el horario (schedule) that I have now. But I do miss the thrill of los libros de texto nuevos (new textbooks) and new materias. Who knows? Maybe someday I will call myself una estudiante de posgrado (doctoral student). ;)

*When you talk about a school subject, it is capitalized in Spanish. You do not necessarily need to put the articles in front of these subject names - like with la Geometría - and they definitely don't need to be after the phrase clase de...., like clase de Historia - but I have gone ahead and included them in this section to help you with the genders. In the section without English translations, I have removed most of them.

**This is a feminine noun, but you use el because the noun starts with an accented á.

***You might also hear, in South America and Mexico, el salón or salón de clases.

School Subjects (with NO English translations)

What do you think, is the story format helpful? Do you have thoughts and opinions on which words to use for "high school" and "middle school"? Please let me know at

See you in two weeks!

Remember, learning a language is a lifelong journey.

¡Aprovéchalo, Disfrútalo y Compártelo!


Cultural Tip: Honduras

Country Facts

Name: República de Honduras (Republic of Honduras)

Size: It is 112,090 square kilometers. According to the CIA World Factbook, it is just a little bit bigger than the state of Tennessee. It is divided into 18 departamentos (departments).

Location: It is located in Central America, right above Nicaragua and to the east of Guatemala and El Salvador. A small part of its western side touches the Pacific Ocea, but most of its ocean-facing borders are along the Caribbean sea.

Government Type: Presidential Republic, just like with the Dominican Republic. The executive branch is not accountable to the legislature, and the government is elected directly by the people. But there are a lot of differences between Honduras and the Dominican Republic. The President is both head of state and chief of state and is elected via simple majority popular vote. The President serves for 4 years, and as of 2015 the Honduran Supreme Court struck down the Constitution's term limits for presidents. As of January 2022, President Iris Xiomara Castro de Zelaya has been their first female president. There are three Vice Presidents and a unicameral National Congress (Congreso Nacional) made up of 128 seats. Members of Congress are elected directly by, according to the CIA World Factbook, "closed party-list proportional representation vote" for 4-year terms.

The Judicial Branch has the Corte Suprema de Justicia, or the Supreme Court of Justice, which has 15 principal judges (with a court president) and 6 alternates. The court president is elected by the other members of the Supreme Court, who are all elected by Congress for 7-year terms.

Capital City: Tegucigalpa (even though the Honduran Constitution claims both Tegucigalpa and Comayaguela are both the capital, but almost all of the governmental institutions are in Tegucigalpa).

Religion: Mainly Christian, with Evangelical/Protestant at 48% and Roman Catholic at 34%.

Official Language: Spanish

Currency: Lempiras (HNL)

Brief History

Many indigenous groups lived in the area prior to Spanish colonization, especially the Maya. When the Spanish took over, gold-mining played a key role and made the Honduran town Gracias the capital of la Audiencia de los Confines, or Spanish Central America in 1544. Honduras later became a province of the Kingdom of Guatemala. The British and Spanish fought for control of the area, with Spain coming out triumphant in Honduras.

Honduras gained its independence from Spain in 1821, only to join the Mexican Empire of Agustín de Iturbide in 1822. Then in 1823, when Iturbide abdicated, Honduras formed the United Provinces of Central America with Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, all simultaneously declaring themselves independent of Mexico. It was supposed to be a federal republic, but tensions between liberal and conservative policies caused it to fail (these are not the same terms as used in the US, so be careful not to confuse them. For example, Honduran conservatives tended towards monarchism). Honduras then became an independent nation on November 5, 1838.

While most of the political history after that deals with Conservatives and Liberals alternating being in power, things were a bit unstable. There was a military revolt in 1957, resulting in a congressionally elected president, who in turn was overthrown in 1963 by a colonel. Then Honduras went to war with El Salvador in 1969 with the Soccer War. Yes, there were serious underlying issues between the two countries, but a soccer game really did trigger the war. Basically, there was a lot of government upheaval - all with military rulers - until 1982, when Honduras finally elected a civilian government.

Beginning in 1979, Nicaragua went through a violent revolution, as did El Salvador, and Honduras was an interesting cross-section for Nicaraguan guerrillas fighting against the communist Nicaraguan Government and Salvadoran forces fighting against their leftist guerrillas, as well as the workings of the US. The country next went through Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed around 5,600 people, caused about $2 billion in damages, and ruined Honduran infrastructure (not to mention destroyed its economy). Politically, modern Honduras is still very unstable, with constant power struggles between the National and Liberal Parties, claims of unfair elections, violence, and protests. According to the CIA World Factbook, it is one of the poorest Latin American countries with one of the highest murder rates in the world.



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