Lecciones de Español


Back to School Vocabulary

Summer is almost over (well, if you live in the northern hemisphere) and after tanning under the sun, enjoying lazy afternoons, lots of oversleeping and all sorts of binging, it's time to get back to work. For many of us that means going back to school. Time to get up early, grab textbooks, check schedules, study for exams, and learn more Spanish.


So let's explore some school-related vocabulary that may not be that new to you, but that you may need to refresh a little, desempolvar tus conocimientos (literally "to dust off your knowledge") as the Spanish expression goes.
School supplies are first on the list:

Como presidente, López Obrador entregará libros y útiles escolares gratuitos.

As president, López Obrador will provide free books and school supplies.

Caption 3, Andrés Manuel López Obrador - Útiles

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Do you know what the first three levels of education are called in Spanish?

a todos los alumnos de preescolar, primaria y secundaria.

to all pre-school, elementary and high-school students.

Caption 4, Andrés Manuel López Obrador - Útiles

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Actually, things are are little bit more confusing than that. In some countries secundaria is called bachillerato, liceo, or educación media. High school, on the other hand, is called preparatoria or bachillerato in Mexico and educación secundaria or colegio in Spain, but in other Latin American countries, it could be secundariabachillerato, preparatoria, or educación media.

Me levanto y me llevo a los niños al colegio.

I get up and take the kids to school.

Caption 60, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 17

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Colegio never means "college." In most Spanish-speaking countries colegio simply means "elementary school," and it's sometimes abbreviated as cole. In Mexico, colegio tends to be used for private elementary schools. The word for "college" in Spanish is universidad, a "college student" is a universitario or estudiante de universidad, and a "college degree" is called a título universitario:

El veinte por ciento de los universitarios...

Twenty percent of the college students...

Caption 3, Europa Abierta - Bruselas impulsa estudios en el extranjero

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If you want to know how school life is in Latin America, we strongly recommend you start watching our new series Los Años maravillosos. It's full of interesting situations and great vocabulary. Bet you don't know what a pupitre is:

...cuando compartiéramos el pupitre con niñas.

...when we shared the desk with girls.

Caption 12, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 1 - Part 4

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Pupitre (borrowed from Latin pulpitumis only used for a special type of student's desk. In a school context, escritorios (desks) are usually for the teachers.
Anxieties about el primer día de escuela (the first day of school) seem to be universal:

Soñé que llegaba al colegio y estaba sin ropa.

I dreamed that I arrived at school and I was [there] with no clothes.

Caption 27, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 1 - Part 4

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You can learn many other school words by watching this series and other videos in our catalog. Some examples are mochila (backpack), cuaderno (notebook), calificaciones (grades), and the super fun sacapuntas (pencil sharpener, but literally "spike maker"). We'll leave you with an interesting example: tiza (chalk). Why is tiza so interesting? Because it comes from a Mexican language, the Nahuatl "tizatl" ("white clay"). Tiza is what everybody calls a piece of chalk in all the Spanish-speaking countries.... except for Mexico, where chalk is known as gis, a word that is closer to "gesso" and "gypsus." The word tiza in Mexico is only used to refer to "billiard chalk"!

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