Enjoy a cocktail and improve your Spanish

by July

It’s True: Alcohol Helps You Speak a Foreign Language Better

You know this is true.  After a drink or two the words flow more easily, in any language!  Remembering my youthful days traveling in Mexico, I always had more confidence yakking it up with locals once I had a drink or two.

Let’s talk languages and imbibing.  What foreign languages do you speak, fluently or passably?  Do family members speak other languages besides English?  What about your drinking habits?  Are you drinking less, more, or about the same as ever these days?  What’s your favorite adult beverage?  Any health concerns?  And is the decriminalization of marijuana having any effect on the partying habits of people you know?

Also, do you have specific examples where knowing another language has helped in career growth?

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92 thoughts on “Enjoy a cocktail and improve your Spanish

  1. Yes, totally. The whole trick to learning a language is to simply relax and TALK. Alcohol relaxes your inhibitions against talking.

  2. What foreign languages do you speak, fluently or passably? In descending order of fluency – Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese

    Do family members speak other languages? DS1 speaks a bit of Spanish

    specific examples where knowing another language has helped in career growth? Knowing the limited amount of Japanese I do (Pimsleur method, on tapes) was very helpful when I traveled there on business a few times ~20yrs ago. Mostly gave me the rep as being a culturally aware American so helped break the ice and I think was somewhat helpful in negotiations.

    Are you drinking less, more, or about the same as ever these days? Probably somewhat more than 10 years ago.

    favorite adult beverage? Beer, followed by scotch (neat), vodka w/club soda & lime, occasionally wine. Not daily, but when I have one drink, it’s very high probability I’ll have 2.

    health concerns? mostly it’s old(er) age creakiness

    is the decriminalization of marijuana having any effect on the partying habits of people you know? DS1 has taken it to heart, I believe, by ensuring he will be fully ready when it becomes legal in his two most frequent places of residence.

  3. I never really drank in college, except for at a friend’s house that I trusted. Anyway, one night he had a get-together, but I had a calc take home exam. I was struggling with it for days, and needed it done. So I brought it with me and hid in their kitchen while the rest of the group was in the family room (worked out for me, I was too shy and I didn’t know many people). Anyway, I was drinking and slightly tipsy. I actually understood the take home exam better and scored really well.

    Long story short – I think drinking alcohol is good for math language as well! :)

  4. This is absolutely true. My study abroad in France, I felt like I was struggling — I was doing well in my classes (and strangely enough my highest grade was phonetics), I could understand people most of the time,* but I never felt like I could actually speak the language in more than a halting, fumbling way. And then one night after about a month or so, we went out to a cafe and had a few carafes of wine, and suddenly I was fluent. And I mean fluent — speaking as rapidly and (almost) as easily as in English. The alcohol got me out of my own head; after all, it’s hard to speak French naturally when you also have a running dialogue in your head in English second-guessing your word choices, verb conjugations, whats-the-right-word-for-this, kicking yourself because you realize you used “le” instead of “la,” etc. etc. etc. From that point on I had no problems speaking to people — it was like the dam broke, and I proved to myself that I could do it, so I stopped worrying about it and just did it.

    *Added complication that I was in Alsace, where they have a very pronounced accent that I was unaware of and so just assumed I was stupid because it took me a long time to follow along.

  5. What foreign languages do you speak, fluently or passably? English. And some days barely passably. Dyslexia did not help me with foreign languages and I got frustrated fast so I gave up.

    Do family members speak other languages besides English? Nope.

    What about your drinking habits? Maybe 1-4 drinks per week. Depends on the week and what we’re doing. Median is probably 1 drink per week.

    Are you drinking less, more, or about the same as ever these days? Drinking less than I did 10 years ago, but slightly more than I did 1-4 years ago.

    What’s your favorite adult beverage? Not picky…

    Any health concerns? Alcoholism doesn’t run in my family, it takes its time and gets to know everyone. I realized during my comps that I could be a functional alcoholic, so I gave it up for a long while.

    And is the decriminalization of marijuana having any effect on the partying habits of people you know? Not yet. But even when it was criminalized, people I knew and partied with were smoking it.

  6. @Ada: just now caught up on the other day’s discussion — what’s Provigil? Sleeping pill? I don’t tend to use those because they knock me out and leave me feeling horrible the next day, but given how horrible I feel anyway after a night in coach, may be worth a shot.

  7. I love beer, cider, wine, cocktails. Anything really. I generally prefer cocktails in the winter and beer in the summer. Wine is OK anytime. I prefer white wine over red, but only if I’m in public. Red wine makes me break out in hives and it’s a little embarrassing.

    As far as languages go, I speak a little French and Spanish. I would like to learn Italian too. Spanish is easier to keep up with though because I can go to any of the Mexican grocery stores nearby and they are happy to talk to you.

  8. What foreign languages do you speak, fluently or passably? British – passably, and a wee bit of Spanish.

    Do family members speak other languages? DH is fluent in Spanish (his first language) and speaks passable Italian. The kids are learning Latin. I think at least one with start Spanish next year.

    specific examples where knowing another language has helped in career growth? Picking up British slang and football (soccer) and cricket references helped when I lived in London.

    Are you drinking less, more, or about the same as ever these days? Less.

    favorite adult beverage? Wine or beer. On occasion scotch, neat, a gin and tonic or Bailey’s on ice.

    health concerns? Same as Fred – mostly it’s old(er) age creakiness

    is the decriminalization of marijuana having any effect on the partying habits of people you know? Since the last “party” I went to (outside of my work year-end party and kids’ birthday parties) was over a year ago, I’ll say no.

  9. What foreign languages do you speak, fluently or passably?
    Barely passing Spanish. I can make myself understood and understand others, if they speak slowly and talk with their hands.

    Do family members speak other languages besides English?
    The kids have my level of Spanish, plus all the bad words. DH is fluent and when we travel abroad gets asked directions by other tourists.

    What about your drinking habits?

    A glass of red a day.

    Are you drinking less, more, or about the same as ever these days?
    I think about the same.
    What’s your favorite adult beverage?

    Wine. Very occasionally I’ll have a cocktail when we are out. If we have the kids with us, they can drive so DH and i might have two drinks.

    Any health concerns?

    Middle age creakiness.

    And is the decriminalization of marijuana having any effect on the partying habits of people you know?

    Not so much on the partying habits, but there is an interest in growing hemp/CBD since that has been decriminalized. Although, and this ties back to the discussion on rules yesterday, we haven’t quite settled on the moral principals of growing CBD. In a real life discussion someone said, “we want to make money, but we also want to go to heaven.” Just because something is legal doesn’t make it moral and just because something is illegal doesn’t necessarily make it immoral.

  10. Alcohol: Northern Italian wines, Belgian-style non-hoppy ales. I could drink both of those forever.

    Strangely enough, the nutrition challenge at the gym has changed my drinking habits, because it has made me highly conscious of how the alcohol fits into my macros. This is another “lowering inhibitions” thing for me — I don’t drink often, but when I find something really, really delicious, I will have more than I planned to, because it just tastes so good. It’s not something conscious, just the part of my brain that thinks/plans decides to take a nap, and the Id takes over and chases the yummy. But the past few weeks I’ve had a beer at least 1x/week, and each time I have left about 1/4 of it in the glass,* because my “thinking” brain remains alert, and when I pay attention I realize that I have had enough and now I’m just drinking it because it’s there.

    *Except last night’s Blackhawks game. It was a long, COLD walk to/from the L, and even mediocre beer tasted GOOD.

  11. I don’t drink alcohol at all. Not because of any moral or religious issue; I just can’t tolerate alcohol, even in trace amounts. Even a tiny sip leaves my head spinning, and my limbs feeling like they’re made of lead. This might explain why I’ve never become fully fluent in any foreign language, even though I’ve studied three (French, German, and Japanese).

    In anticipation of our trip this summer, I am doing the “17 Minute Language” online course in Greek. I’m trying to faithfully do 17 minutes every day. I find that I retain the words much better if I study right before I go to bed. Even if I’ve struggled with the lesson before bedtime, I tend to remember the words easily the next morning.

  12. “I find that I retain the words much better if I study right before I go to bed.”

    NoB – I’m sure someone has studied this, but I find I retain info much better before bed as well. I guess it may have something to do with how our brains process the day’s information to have it ready for the next day. The key will be to see if it sticks into your long-term memory… (my trouble with a lot of things).

    I may need a celebratory drink tonight. We may have a staff shake-up in the future and I’m positive the impact on me will be positive. And I was told everything in confidence so I’ve been sitting at my desk unable to focus because I’m vibrating with energy.

  13. Congrats, Rhode! You’re the second friend this week who’s shared good news about possible job promotions.

    I usually struggle with rolling my Spanish R’s, but after drinking I can trill like a songbird. :D

  14. Languages – I took 2 years of French, but at two schools with two different approaches,so my abilities are minimal. I can muddle through signage and menus for the most part, can politely say excuse me I speak very little French, and can manage most of the tourist questions such as where is the restroom or the train station. Though I have been exposed to a lot of Spanish, I know very little. I have a friend whose family says they speak “SPANGLISH” which to them means the conversation basically flows in Spanish and English the whole time with each person speaking the one they feel more comfortable with. When I would spend a couple of weeks with her family, I could follow the conversation with my limited Spanish. Again, signs, menus and tourist-type questions are manageable.

    My mom’s French was decent and both my DD’s have had through Spanish IV (AP Spanish). DD#1 can read and write, but hates to speak it and says following local speakers is difficult. DD#2 just does what is required to get by. She can noodle some of it out, but says she doesn’t “know” it. I think with their backgrounds, either would become fluent quickly if immersed.

    Drinking – I would say overall in my life it is cyclical. As a young professional, happy hours were a regular weekly thing, as a parent to young children less so, now with 6 taprooms in 3 miles of home and the very social aspect to several of them, more frequently.

  15. Provigil has one of those great drug names – it wakes you up, makes you vigilant. It’s has indications for jet lag, and shift work sleep disorder. Your PCP should be willing to give you an RX for 10 tabs if you’re traveling overseas. (List price is $40/pill last I checked). It’s used off label for ADHD and weight loss.

    It is widely used in the ER community and I’ve heard no bad stories about it. It’s like caffeine without the autonomic changes (no jitters, no fast heart beat, no high blood pressure). I understand that the military uses it widely in combat zones.

  16. Congrats Rhode!

    Alcohol – with DH’s knee replacement on the calendar, his Dr said to limit alcohol before surgery and he decided to simply stop drinking. Since Thanksgiving, he has dropped about 15 lbs and he swears it is from not drinking. I did close to the same along with him, and although I feel better in general, I did not see the weight loss bonus.

    Languages – passing Spanish only. When DH was little, his grandmother spoke to him in Polish and when he hears it he says he can recognize certain phrases, but has lost the ability to converse.

    Decriminalization – I am struggling with this. Mine are 19 and 15 and have shared freely that smoking weed in high school and college is pervasive. DS 19 does not partake, and it has caused him to pull away from certain friends and social situations because he says it’s zero fun to be with a bunch of guys who are high when he isn’t. It has been eye opening to discuss with him. He is losing two new friends at college (they will be transferring after freshman year) and he commented “Well, there goes two people who don’t get high, that leaves…me.” DD isn’t there yet, but will likely be in a situation soon where it will be available to her, and I hope that she takes the same path as her brother, but I’m not fooling myself into believing that she won’t try.

    To clarify, I struggle because as decriminalization becomes more common, parents of teens lose leverage.

  17. Late to the party as always…re: yesterday’s discussion about Oreo cookies, do not bother with the pistachio flavor. Don’t be tempted, just put them back on the shelf.

  18. Congrats Rhode!!

    What foreign languages do you speak, fluently or passably? German. I spoke it fluently as a child. Now I feel very clumsy when I speak it. A recent hire that I work closely with is German, and sometimes we just lapse into it. I’m surprised at how much vocabulary I’ve retained but I’m shaky on the grammer.

    Do family members speak other languages besides English? DD is fluent in French. Youngest DS has picked up some Portuguese. His girlfriend’s family is from Brazil and it’s the primary language in their home. Even their dog only responds to commands in Portuguese, which was pretty funny when it spent the weekend with us.

    What about your drinking habits? Craft beer, especially session IPA’s with a hint of citrus. Good red wine. Bourbon now and then.

    Are you drinking less, more, or about the same as ever these days? More beer. Less red wine but of higher quality.

    What’s your favorite adult beverage? Beer or wine, depending on the food and the occasion.

    Any health concerns? Not at the moment (knock wood).

    And is the decriminalization of marijuana having any effect on the partying habits of people you know? Not on me but on people, I know, yes.

  19. Alcohol – I am drinking less volume than I used to 10 or 15 years ago due to age. I might drink more than I did 5-10 years ago when DS was really young & I was desperately tired & busy with very hands-on parenting all the time. I enjoy a lot of different types of alcohol – craft beer, wine, a nice cocktail, or just a bourbon & ginger ale.

    Languages – At one point, I was conversational in French and Spanish, but both have atrophied badly without use. So now I can barely squeak out reading signs and ads in either language, but I can’t come up with the vocabulary to speak to a native speaker for the life of me. I definitely DID find that having a few drinks & socializing outside of the office helped me take my Spanish to the next level when I lived there.

    Decriminalization – The people I know in my age group who partake have all pretty much gone the medical card route & buy from dispensaries now. I know a few people say that they want to “try it” if it becomes truly. As for me, I have little interest at this point in my life.

    Heath Issues – Nothing special except needing a lot of extra stretching in the morning. I need a crown, which made me thankful that I put extra in my FSA this year. No wonder good teeth are a sign of wealth! I’ve held off needing bifocals another year, which I am considering a win and a sign of my youth and vitality. (haha)

  20. I can converse a bit in French, and read it well. I can deal with posted signs and menus and ask for toilets in many languages, can make myself understood in German and can read enough to follow a news story. Never any work benefit. Probably what did the most for me was my enthusiastic willingness to eat any food served.

    What about your drinking habits? Are you drinking less, more, or about the same as ever these days? I am getting old. I like a bit of wine or a cocktail, but I can’t manage a second drink anymore except on vacation.

    What’s your favorite adult beverage? At home I like a half glass of house red wine while making dinner. In the summer a dark and stormy or Moscow mule (I really like ginger beer) a couple of times a week. As for cocktails out, Sazerac on vacation only, Rye Mahattan, Vodka martini (Chopin, dirty). In my working days Campari and soda was my go to – one was easy to nurse for a long time.

    Any health concerns? None, but I am watching portion size, especially carbs to lower gradually my hunger threshhold and my default weight point. A long slog and I am grumpily hungry most of the time.

    And is the decriminalization of marijuana having any effect on the partying habits of people you know? At my age, no. But my suburban kids have confirmed that about a third of their neighbors in a high class school district turned out to be closet pot smokers. Didn’t surprise me at all.

  21. DS has been taking Spanish at school since preschool, but his Spanish is still pretty elementary. He never practices, and the kids who speak Spanish at home never speak it at school (according to him).

  22. “Even their dog only responds to commands in Portuguese, which was pretty funny when it spent the weekend with us. ”

    DH’s childhood dog only responded to commands in Spanish. His non-Spanish speaking friends always got a kick out that.

  23. Thank you all. I needed to get lunch out of the building, so I called DH. This shake up is not surprising, but definitely interesting. To link to today’s topic – he was thrilled he picked up more rum for me so I could have a nice drink tonight! ha!

    I think by the time it all shakes out, I will have been here a full 5 years, and nearly a performance review which is where I’ve set myself up for a “promotion” (really a job title change).

    But part of me is “if I had known this shake up was coming I would have applied for the director position! GAH!”… but the bonus is that I get to learn from our new director in a potentially much tighter environment. Less drama.

  24. On animals respondng to non English commands… I’m pretty sure my dog (the one who passed ~2 years ago) responded to Italian. I know a few words (more like commands.. please, thank you, eat, stop, etc.). Well I said “eat” in Italian one night to the dog and he responded. It was the weirdest thing (we rescued each other when the dog was 10, so a whole life with another family).

  25. Thanks RMS and Ada — definitely sounds like something to check out whenever we do that flight!

    And congrats Rhode!! Less drama is SOOOOO good for a happy work environment.

  26. I hope it’s late enough to post a tangential comment. We are having snow/ice and DD will start at a new preschool next fall, assuming I get the paperwork done this weekend. (Yup, another to-do.) They said that they make weather judgments based on local conditions but since their students come from a 2000 square mile area with varying weather conditions, it’s always fine to stay home based on local conditions.

  27. @LfB – Sorry about the weather. :) DH & DS were at the game last night, and I drove the short distance to pick them up because the wind was BRUTAL.

    @Rhode – fantastic news!

    @WCE – I can’t imagine driving 40+ miles to go to preschool.

  28. WCE – that’s a huge area. How long is the school day vs. how long it takes you to get their in good weather? I envision a lot of snow days in DD’s future… :)

    What was the draw for this school? I know you do a lot of research about these things vs. your schedule and the DSs’ schedules.

  29. The draw for us is that it’s a good preschool (associated with a private Christian school) with before/after care and is between home and work. Several of our friends have sent their kids to school there.

    When I chose preschool for DD for this year, I thought I would still be part-time and the lack of before/after care is problematic for our family schedule. (Yes, both preschools end at noon, but DD loves afternoon free play with friends. She has asked both of us to come later sometimes.)

  30. What foreign languages do you speak, fluently or passably? English. I took French in HS and college, but I can’t do anything with it now.

    Do family members speak other languages besides English? No

    What about your drinking habits? I don’t drink much, if at all. I just don’t like the taste of most alcohol.

    Are you drinking less, more, or about the same as ever these days? The same – very little.

    What’s your favorite adult beverage? I like hard cider, but the last few times I’ve drank it, it really upset my stomach.

    And is the decriminalization of marijuana having any effect on the partying habits of people you know? It’s very prevalent around our kids’ school. They know to be very careful when anyone offers them candy or baked goods that aren’t from a package.

  31. their students come from a 2000 square mile area

    That’s not as big as it seems. It’s 40 x 50 miles, and if the school is in the center, people are driving about 30 miles at most. So if it’s near their workplace or on the way, that’s very reasonable.

  32. I speak Spanglish with my housekeeper, whose English is a bit limited. My sentences may start out in Spanish but I throw in English words as needed.

    Lately I’ve been splurging with drinking Tom Collins, a throwback to my youth since that’s the first cocktail I remember having. Both the taste and the look give me a a nice nostalgic feeling, but I need to get some true highball glasses to complete the effect. Some of those cheap looking tall tumblers with really thin glass, like they used to serve at the bars I frequented back in the day.

  33. I took French in HS and was nearly fluent when I spent 3 weeks there. DH was the same with Japanese and still retains a little Spanish from growing up in southern CA. Both of us have lost most of the language we took by now. My dad has been studying Polish (his parents’ first language, but they never spoke it to him) but hasn’t made much headway.

    I like a cocktail if we go out. Usually something with gin and it often ends up being pink or green. But I also like a good penicillin w/ scotch. If I am cooking at home I will sometimes have 2 glasses of white (usually German). Most red wines make my head hurt. Exceptions are the $100/bottle wines our rich friends get, but I have that like once a year when we are at their house. If we go out for fancy pizza (or sometimes if we have it at home with friends) I’ll have a beer (craft, non-IPA). Usual consumption is 2-3 drinks a week (1-2x – I like to keep my tolerance low).

    We haven’t seen any difference from legal weed yet, but there are still only 4 stores (I think) open in MA so far. DH has a number of friends who partake but they have all had their medical marijuana card for years so haven’t changed their habits either.

  34. I took French in high school, but had a terrible time speaking it. Even on multiple trips to France. Maybe I should have been drinking more. I was much better at reading it, and even now I can sort of understand written French. I’ve mentioned before that I also had a terrible time pronouncing street names, landmarks, etc. in Hawaii.

    My drinking is along the same lines as L’s, however I like a dark and stormy instead of a gin cocktail.

  35. This conversation reminds me of when my AP chemistry teacher paired me with the foreign exchange student from Mexico because I was willing to subject her to my horrible Spanish.

    I think I must be as uninhibited sober as some people are buzzed.

  36. I took French for six years, but I am not fluent. I was able to understand some of the people when we were in Quebec last year, but most people spoke to me in English so I couldn’t really practice. I wish I knew Spanish, but I am learning a few words from DD since she is studying Spanish.

    I have 1 – 3 drinks per week and it Is usually wine. I started drinking Tito’s with some of the mom friends, but that is just once a month. I drink less in the winter because I am a social drinker and I rarely drink at home.

  37. “Anyway, I was drinking and slightly tipsy. I actually understood the take home exam better and scored really well.”

    Not a surprise. BITD, some people I knew would sometimes take a break from studying to take a few hits before returning to studying, especially if they were having a hard time grasping the concepts they were studying. They said it helped clear their heads.

  38. I’ve mentioned DD learning Korean, but recently found out that quite a few kids at her school also have learned varying amounts of Korean because of their love for K-Pop and/or K-dramas.

  39. Several people here mentioning English among the foreign language they speak reminds me that back when DS was in 6th grade, we were told that all kids in 7th grade would have to take a foreign language, with the choices being Latin, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, and Hawaiian (no Korean option).

    I chided the grade supervisor for the characterization of Hawaiian as a foreign language, but the next year, we were told that all 8th graders had to take a language class from among the choices of Latin, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, and Hawaiian.

    Both my kids took Latin, and DS really enjoyed the “Life of Brian” Latin lesson clip HM posted here.

  40. As has been the case for many years, I’ll enjoy a beer when we have pizza, or sometimes have one when we’re having dinner with friends and I don’t have to drive.

  41. L, thanks. I had no idea penicillin was anything but an antibiotic.

    Once again I learn something here.

  42. Off topic – last week or so there was some discussion on if crime decreases with cold weather. Well today the temp remained below zero all day. When I got home the garage door was wide open, and had been open all day. A perfect crime of opportunity…big snowthrower, golf clubs, bikes. They were all still there when I got home. One is out looking to commit crime when it is this cold.

  43. I understand and speak haltingly at least 3 home country languages. I started taking a 4th in school but was bad at it. At one point in school, I studied English, the national language, the state language and this 4th language. Too many, no wonder I was failing the 4th. I took French in high school but I am not fluent.
    DH’s family speaks a home country dialect and since his parents live with us, kids and myself now understand it. At one point, the grandparents thought the kids couldn’t understand them, but then the kids would respond in English.
    The kids took elementary school Spanish. DS took Latin for three years and has switched to German. He likes the speaking aspect of German and has taken to it.
    DD is starting French. She is enthusiastic and I think she will stick to it. I was surprised that both my kids had strong preferences for their language choices.
    When I have the time, I will take community college classes in Spanish. I like a structured approach and being in class with others.

  44. We were looking for something funny to watch and we found the Kominsky Method after the show won a couple of Golden Globes. It is the perfect show for us right now as our parents are dealing with a lot of health issues. very funny show.

  45. I liked this book. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou.

  46. Louise — I read that book a while ago, based on a recommendation by Houston (I think). AmazAn amazing and and very disturbing story, really well told. I heard somewhere that a movie might be made based on the book, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Elizabeth Holmes.

  47. NoB – rumors have surfaced that she is trying to raise money for another start up. I hate needles, and I thought the idea was great, but as it turned out difficult to implement with current technology.

  48. Louise — Based on her portrayal in the book, I can’t imagine how anyone would trust her with anything anymore.

  49. I tried to post on Friday in between meetings but it didn’t go through. Any suggestions on how to learn a language now? Any good apps? I’d like to learn Spanish so that I can talk to my son’s friend’s parents. They are really nice, and I’d like to be able to talk to them more.

  50. Tcmama, I keep intending to read this book: Becoming fluent : how cognitive science can help adults learn a foreign language by Richard Roberts and Roger Kreuz.

    Other than that, lots of people use Duolingo. I use it periodically when I’m bored. When I took that intensive Spanish class a few months ago, the instructor said that research shows you can learn a language from watching TV, and that you don’t have to speak it to others. We all expressed disbelief, and she agreed it seemed implausible, but that that’s what the research shows.

  51. I know I said I would take a class but I looked quickly through the apps available and decided on Duolingo for Spanish. I have to make the effort though and get going !
    On a related note my kid showed me the PhotoMath app and I think it’s awesome. You take a photo of the Math problem and it shows you the steps.

  52. I used Duolingo successfully to learn basic travel French. I found the pronunciation guidance very helpful. My kid has used it for several languages in preparation for travel with great success. Using it for advanced Spanish is on my list if I ever get around to it.

    Where was that PhotoMath app back when I was in school???

  53. I did my taxes yesterday. It took less time than in past years, in part because I have gotten better about keeping everything sorted, but also because the tax law eliminated enough of my deductions that I had preplanned well and didn’t waste any time on stuff that will have no effect. 2018 was a maximize itemized year, 2019 will be a standard deduction year, so tax prep will be even quicker, but I will owe two to three times as much in Fed.

    I achieved the CPAs dream result – owe the Fed 600 and get a 40 refund from the state. For the average person, however, the refund is a part of cash flow planning. The hue and cry over tax refunds is a result of the IRS fixing the withholding allowances on wages with the new tax law to make them almost perfect in the CPA sense, but not in the working stiff sense. So it may be that people’s Fed tax liability went down a little or stayed the same (the limited child allowance and increased std deduction does not fully replace the lost exemptions for many), but the few dollars a week that the paycheck went up with the new withholding allowances is essentially invisible, and the lack of a refund is very visible.

  54. the lack of a refund is very visible.

    I find it comforting to know that the masterminds behind this are so deliriously out of touch with the average person.

  55. I’d like to get my taxes done…but DW is a partner in a couple of partnerships and those forms never get to us till mid March.

    “visible lack of refund” I started talking about this among financially attuned/savvy friends and maybe even here a year ago. And, lo and behold, in the past couple of weeks there have been a bunch of articles, stories in the news, about how people’s refunds are going to be lower than last year for the stated reasons. We all at least were aware of needing to take action to avoid having to write a big check this spring. Some of us even took said action.

    Macroeconomically I think the impact will hit in the retail sales reports that come out in May and the GDP (growth) numbers that come out in late July/early August for the 2nd quarter.

    Rhett – they might be out of touch with how the average person perceives the tax refund, but I think they got a result they were looking for: in 2018 the economy grew well, unemployment continued down, wage growth was up. The equity markets were flat to slightly down, thereby not directly hitting the average wage earner*, just those of us who love our 401ks.

    *to the extent they have 401ks or IRAs, maybe there was no growth, but the weekly/every-other-week paycheck was good.

  56. Rhett – they might be out of touch with how the average person perceives the tax refund, but I think they got a result they were looking for: in 2018 the economy grew well, unemployment continued down, wage growth was up. The equity markets were flat to slightly down,

    Thanks for making my point.

  57. tcmama — I started out with Duolingo for learning some Greek for our trip this summer, but I didn’t love it. I switched to a web-based program called “17 Minute Languages,” which I’m enjoying. I paid about $50 for a course aimed at travelers; they have other courses aimed at people who want to learn the language more generally, or people who want to focus on business terms. You can make your study sessions as long as you want, but I’m trying to do the 17 minutes a day, pretty much every day.

  58. “I find it comforting to know that the masterminds behind this are so deliriously out of touch with the average person.”

    And yet if the IRS had NOT adjusted the withholding tables to incorporate the new provisions, there would have been a great hue and cry that the government was getting interest-free loans from taxpayers.
    So they really can’t win.

  59. “And yet if the IRS had NOT adjusted the withholding tables to incorporate the new provisions, there would have been a great hue and cry that the government was getting interest-free loans from taxpayers.
    So they really can’t win.”

    Nah. I’m with Rhett. The average American doesn’t understand how taxes work and ONLY cares how big their refund is. I have had so many maddening conversations about this with people who are not dumb but just don’t really care/pay attention/think about taxes. People who pay an accountant to do a return with a standard deduction and 2 W-2’s. It is really, really hard to convince them that their “refund” is not the right measure of tax law.

  60. I had to take tax classes in college because my major for my undergraduate degree was Accounting. I think the tax rules and laws are understood by people that like solving puzzles or long what if problems.

    DD wanted to watch the Grammy awards so we watched the show with her last night. I’ve always loved Alicia Keys because she is so talented and I like how she treats her crew on The Voice. I was reading about her background and I thought of Finn because she graduated early (16) from her HS and she was a valedictorian that was offered a scholarship to Columbia. She was working and taking classes at the same time. Big night for women last night.

  61. The hue and cry over tax refunds is a result of the IRS fixing the withholding allowances on wages with the new tax law to make them almost perfect in the CPA sense, but not in the working stiff sense.

    But they didn’t make them perfect, they intentionally under withhold to make the tax cut (if you even got one) look bigger. When I checked the calculator in May or June, we were projected to owe quite a bit of money even though I had 0 exemptions and DW had 1.

  62. Today is day 1 of the teachers strike. Schools are open and I’m sure it will be total chaos and nothing productive will get done. But they don’t want to have to make days up at the end of the year.

  63. “I took French in high school, but had a terrible time speaking it.”

    FWIW, the trick I figured out halfway through my time there: purse your lips slightly and tighten your cheek muscles, sort of like you’re sucking on a lemon. Then speak. I am not making this up. ;-) I remember thinking to myself, wow, all these French people have awesome cheekbones, is it genetics or what? And somehow I noticed that when they spoke, they activated their cheek muscles in a way that we never do in English. So I watched a few people and tried to mimic what their faces looked like when they spoke, and suddenly my pronounciation got 10x better! And my cheeks got very, very tired. ;-)

  64. @Ivy: you’re not kidding about the wind! We bought hats at the game just to survive the walk back to the L — and it’s the first time I can EVER recall DH complaining about being cold! Meanwhile, DD had refused to bring her ski jacket and hadn’t thought about gloves and hats and such, despite my repeated reminders that it was going to be a high of 8 while we were there — and sure enough, the next morning we got a text before 8AM asking if we had a hat she could borrow. It was fun saying “I told you so.” :-)

    Visit update: I think IIT has gone down in the ranks a bit, because after spending a couple of days there, DD ended up not liking the physical plant and area quite as much. I think it hurt that she was with a friend who didn’t like it for reasons that are entirely irrelevant to her (friend does something DD has zero interest in, and facilities for that are pretty poor). But I also think she was influenced by some stupid little things about how they managed everything — like apparently DD was supposed to bring a sleeping bag and towels and such, but we never got that message, and that’s really impractical for kids who are flying; and then they started the Saturday sessions an hour before the cafeteria even opened, so the kids who were doing that had to go until noon without any food. Nothing really bad, but sometimes it’s those little things that make a difference to a kid’s decision (I know DD wrote off UMBC entirely because they made her sleep on a concrete floor — at least IIT gave her a bed!). Meanwhile, DH liked some parts of it quite a bit; he was underwhelmed by the research projects they presented (thought they sounded like busywork), but the new Kaplan center and project opportunities sounded fantastic, as did “intro to the profession” class. So it passed DH’s “engineering school” requirements, and we would be comfortable if that’s where she ended up going.

    So we’ll see what else comes in. I suspect DD’s hopes are definitely pinned on Olin now, because her clear #2 isn’t quite as clear anymore. ;-) Although she is keeping her cards very close to the vest at this point (she’s the kind of kid who would never admit how much she wants Olin because then she’d have to admit how much she’s disappointed if she doesn’t get it).

  65. Off topic. Thank to suggestions from all of you last year, I’ve done a much better job keeping weight on DS during basketball season this year. Regretfully, I’ve also benefited (sarcasm) (because if I’m adding buttered garlic bread to his plate, how can I not add it to mine???). OMG. Must lost 5 (okay fine 7) pounds. HOLD ME TO IT.

    The inability to run for 4 months hasn’t helped.

  66. I dd read that the IRS intentionally reset the withholding tables with expectation that more people would owe as well as refunds would be smaller. Which if accurate has proved to be a political miscalculation. And the loss of exemptions is not nearly offset by the child credits. Lots of people don’t have young enough kids. Well personally lost 32K in deductions and exemptions with the law change.

  67. LfB, those little things make a big difference.

    DS texted me that the teacher gave them a packet of work to do and said they can color if they don’t want to do it, and “just don’t start a fire.” So this is going to be really productive.

    But he did tell me that he ordered a book to use to study for AP environmental. I’m not sure who this kid is that actually has some academic motivation :)

  68. There is some speculation that the IRS was under pressure from the Trump administration to under-withhold in order to goose paychecks in 2018. But Congress seems to have opened the door to allow just such manipulation:

    “THE IRS HAD to guess how the changes in the law would impact individual tax burdens, and then apply that to withholding, and they had to do all this under the constant strain of underfunding. Congress gave the Treasury Department and the IRS the authority to accomplish this in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act; previously, Congress had a role in withholding, because the legislative branch is well aware of the political potency of the question.” https://theintercept.com/2019/02/06/tax-refund-trump-tax-cut/

    It may be that this was indeed a political misstep, but perhaps it will be a learning experience for the vast majority of taxpayers who confuse “bigger refund” with “tax cut.” I have had several conversations with educated professionals who have started running the numbers for 2019 and were disappointed because they thought they were getting a tax cut. My response was “you already got it.”

  69. My response was “you already got it.”

    But a lot of people actually didn’t get a tax cut because of the loss of deductions.

    DS texted me again because they said they can leave with parental permission, so I called in to excuse them for the rest of the day.

  70. “But a lot of people actually didn’t get a tax cut because of the loss of deductions.”

    Right. But a lot more people (including my friends) did get a tax cut, especially because of the huge increase in the standard deduction.

  71. From a WaPo article:
    “Ramirez couldn’t remember whether his total tax bill went up or down. He was just focused on his refund.”

    and

    “Many Americans appear to like getting a refund because they feel that if they received an extra $20 to $40 a week, they would spend it. But when they get a one-time refund of $1,000 to $2,000, they put it toward paying off credit card debt, paying down a mortgage or saving for retirement.”

    I have to keep reminding myself that many many people can’t just log into their retirement account website and change their contribution amount like DS1 and I can. e.g. DW can’t. If she wants to change something she needs to get the form, fill it out and then send it to the company’s administrator. Sure, having to do everything on paper makes it harder (and better IMO) to stop contributions/request a withdrawal/loan but it also makes it just that much harder to decide to throw that additional $20/pay period into the 401k (assuming there is a contributory retirement plan at work….something like 50% or close to it of people have no access to one).

  72. The principal sent an email a little bit ago that parents can excuse them from coming and it won’t count against their absences. I’m thinking that’s what we’ll do. We had them go today because we wanted to see what they were going to do with them.

  73. Right. But a lot more people (including my friends) did get a tax cut, especially because of the huge increase in the standard deduction.

    Right, but with the under withholding, they aren’t getting refunds or getting very small ones. And as mentioned, most people don’t notice that extra $30 a week.

  74. “do you have specific examples where knowing another language has helped in career growth?”
    Couldn’t have written my master’s thesis or dissertation without good German, and I worked as a translator during diss research.
    Most of my foreign-language learning came through guys I dated, not alcohol.

  75. “most people don’t notice that extra $30 a week”

    Proving again, I am (and honestly I suspect many of us here are) not ‘most people’

    I get paid monthly, and I’d see the bump of $130 (4.35 weeks x $30). That is if I had not already anticipated it and upped my direct deposit into the general savings account or the travel account or whatever

  76. I haven’t done the math yet but I’m curious to see if I did pay more taxes in 2018 or if there was an over/under withholding issue. So far looks like I owe federal and get a state refund, in comparable amounts as last year, so I’m guessing no tax cut for me.

    Why are some 1099s readily available and others take so darn long? I’m waiting on one 1099 on a mm account before I can file.

  77. Kerri, aren’t 1099s, at least the 1099-int and 1099-div, supposed to be sent out by January 31?

    Maybe the interest earned on the mm account isn’t enough to warrant a 1099. There’ve been years when our bank didn’t send a 1099 for DD’s account, and I called them and was told the interest earned wasn’t enough to require them to report.

    If I had everything else done, I’d call that institution and ask about the 1099. If they will send one, but not for a while, I’d look at the YTD interest earned for my Dec 31 statement and use that to go ahead and file. If the 1099 finally comes and is different, then I’d file a 1040x.

  78. I get paid monthly, and I’d see the bump of $130 (4.35 weeks x $30). That is if I had not already anticipated it and upped my direct deposit into the general savings account or the travel account or whatever

    Most people only deposit their pay into one account. That you are divvying it up makes you not “most people.”

  79. Finn- It’s Schwab. Their site says it’ll be ready the 15th. Another account we had with them already posted its 1099, so no idea why there’s a delay on this one. The amounts should be miniscule. Not a big deal to wait until Friday.

  80. TIAA is claiming they’ll be ready Feb 15 too. Mildly irritating, but I don’t have the rest of the info either, so I’ll just have to be patient.

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