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Cervantes International school in Málaga, Spain

These days, the site makes a little money from advertisers such as Cervantes language school in Málaga, Spain, and Language Trainers in England. But Fitch says it's not nearly enough for her to consider quitting her day job. A printed dictionary she published in 2006 has not been a big seller, though Fitch has been gratified to learn that it is becoming standard in college libraries.

She was also gratified to learn recently that her site was being visited regularly by members of the Real Academia Española of Spain. "They are the authority for the Spanish language. They set the rules on grammar, vocabulary, anything to do with the Spanish language. What was really funny was that, last year, I noticed that the Academia was going into my website quite frequently. I have a little program that tells me who comes in and what they're looking at. So I noticed that they were coming in and looking at stuff, but they never sent me a message or anything to let me know. So I wrote them and asked what they were looking for and whether I could help them. After five months and no answer from them, I decided, I'm going to post all the statistics from their entries into my website. And it was really funny because I posted the proof that they were entering my website and three days later they wrote me. They admitted that they had been entering my website because they are creating a new dictionary themselves, which is called Diccionario Académico de Americanismos. It focuses on all the Spanish vocabulary that originated in the Americas, not in Spain. So they were taking material from my website, 'getting ideas,' as they said. They were really happy that I had my website with all its material because it quickened their process. Because I do have a lot of material. They told me they were willing to give me credit in their dictionary when it was published. The only problem is, it will be published in 2010, and before that nobody will know that in some way I contributed to that dictionary. So I decided that I needed to go to Spain and talk to them about it. Because I've never received any support from them. It was just 'thank you, you'll get your little credit.' Some fine print in the back of the book. Who's going to read that?"

Asked to weigh in on the age-old discussion of what nation speaks the most beautiful and correct Spanish, Fitch refuses to take sides. "I think they all have something. Seriously, working with the slang trends and dialects of 20 different countries, I have a way of comparing. Each has its own distinct flavor, its own idiosyncrasies, its own something that makes it special, interesting, and alive."

That doesn't mean she teaches slang to her students in Bologna. "We get our textbooks from Spain," she explains, "and a lot of things they expect me to teach I won't teach because I don't think it's correct Spanish. These books just assume that if it's spoken like this in Madrid, it's proper Spanish. But it's not."

As for Tijuana, "I do miss it a lot. I may be able to find a Mexican here, but more often than not, it will be somebody from Mexico City. I have never met anybody from Tijuana here. So to me, our brand of slang and colloquialisms is really special. I am fond of it because that is what I grew up with. I try to visit once a year, and when I do I find myself having to learn new terms and new uses for old terms. For example, I'm sure you're familiar with the word güey [pronounced way]. When I left the country, the term was used to refer to men, never to women. Now, women say it to each other. Mothers say it to their children. I can't stand that."

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