Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ways to Practice Your Spanish


I try to use any opportunity I can to practice my Spanish - repetition is both the key to memorization and pronunciation. One way is counting - in the gym I count my reps in Spanish and you have to start with uno. Try cuarenta one day, cien the next.

Another good way to remember what things are called or learn new ones (at least around the house) is use post it notes to label things you.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Demonstrative Adjectives in Spanish

Sounds pretty ominous - perhaps those anarchistic adjectives and are marching to occupy the college president's office right now.

Aactually this is a little lesson I lifted from a past issue of "Think Spanish" magazine (febrero, 2007) that was at the bottom of my bedside reading pile.

Demonstrative adjectives help identify or distinguish a noun from others of the same type. They often place the noun spatially in relationship to other nouns sort of sounds complex, doesn't it? In general, they precede the noun. What are these words? In English they are: this, these, that and those.

In Spanish, we end up with three times as many; we not only have to remember the singular and plural, but masculine and femine versions as well, plus Spanish makes an additional subtle distinction with "that and those" - we have those (esos,esa) that are further than these (estos, estas) but we also have another set of those (aquellos, aquellas) that are even farther away, e.g. those way over there or those way back when. Confused yet? I was for a long tme.


A little rhyme helped me to recall the right ones to use:

In Spanish "this (este/esta)" and "these (estos/estas)" have "T's".

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Conversational Spanish - It's Best

I'm fortunate to be able to take an ongoing Spanish class once a week (www.spanishinmarin.com)- it's two hours every Thursday evening and I've been going for about 18 months now. Sometimes it's a bit difficult to switch the brain on after having worked all day and I generally commute by bicycle (15 miles each way). But no matter, we have a core group of 8 people and an entertaining and engaging teacher, Patricio Tapia. We usually spend the first hour engaged in conversation - almost entirely in Spanish. Typically, each of us describes what we did that day (week) or we pair up and discuss some topic then relate to the rest of the class what our compañero said: "Mi amiga Brenda me dijo...". Sometimes we do some fast drill, maybe reciting verbs in the preterit, each of us getting a turn on the "silla caliente" or hot seat.

The second hour is usually reading from an ongoing story in Spanish, detective stories starring Lola Lago. We just finished "Vaccaciones Al Sol" and we're now im the midst of "Una Nota Falsa". We take turns reading out loud and finish by having to pose (our homework or La tarea") 4 to 6 questions about the previous pages to our maestro.

Prior to finding Spanish in Marin, I had been taking adult education classes at the local junior college - they weren't doing much for progress - we were tied to an expensive college text book - better suited to a student taking a 4-5 unit class. Patricio's conversational approach definitely pushed my Spanish to a higher level and I feel moderate fluency is only a month's stay in Mexico away.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

1001 Palabras Inglesas

Sometime ago I took the time to share a favorite book I have for expanding my Spanish universe -1001 Most Useful Spanish Words - A great little book, I can stick it my pocket or messenger bag, and whenever I have some slack time work on vocabulary.

What makes it slick is that it contains useful and essential vocabulary - it's not a dictionary. What I especially like is each word is accompanied by a contextual usage - one or two sentences that demonstrates its meaning. The bonus is it also gives me lessons on sentence structure, direct and indirect object pronouns, grammar and conjugations in general.

Since then I've found the its mirror opposite, also by Seymour Resnick , and also aptly tilted "1001 Palabras Inglesas - más útiles para hispanoparlantes".This book is as fun and useful as the other - it let's you come at things from a reverse engineering point of view, as if your were a Mexican learning English. It's set up identically, just bass ackwards.

What makes particularly useful, though, are the examples where one word in English has two different meanings in Spanish. Most of us are familiar with to be ser/estar and to know saber/conocer but there are more subtle ones that are great to come across. In these cases, Seymour provided contrasting example sentences:

For example: Get - conseguir and obtener both convey similar get meanings in English and Spanish, but bajar isn't interchangeable with those verbs to get off. Seymour's examples illustrate this well: "It will be hard to get all of these things in one store" - Será difícil conseguir todas estas cosa en una tienda. "Please tell me when I have to get off" - Haga el favor de decirme cuando tengo.


Best of all, both books are a bargain - $2.00 each! ¡Que bueno!

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Spanish Verbs that Change Meaning

The whole reflexive verb thing is a bit of a difficult concept to get your arms around, let along your brain and lips (at least for me, but I spent most of my formative schooling years asleep or stoned and only just recently started to learn that the imperfect tense was not a state of mind). That said, let's take a closer look at a group of Spanish verbs that do just that we used with reflexive pronouns.

Acostar: to go to bed - reflexively it's Acostarse: to go to bed
Dormir: to sleep - reflexively Dormirse: to fall asleep
Ir: to go - Irse: to go away, to leave
Levantar: to raise or lift - Levantarse: to get up
Llamar: to call - Llamarse: to be called
Poner: to put or place - Ponerse: to put on
Probar: to try or taste - Probarse: to try on
Quitar: to take away - Quitarse: to take off

Por ejemplo:
- ¿Te vas a acostar? Are you going to go to bed?
- ¿Ya te vas? Are you leaving already?

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Google, Twitter and Spanish users

Google estaría construyendo un buscador de 'twitteos' - reads a post on a website that purports to be all about Google in Spanish. (acerca de google en español). Quite a fascinating site for a Google power user learning Spanish it's possible to learn twice as much at one time!

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Great Wall of Spanish


In a class I recently attended, the topic was Spanish indirect object pronouns, a heretofore difficult subject for me - and one of my fellow students spoke of her time in an immersion program in San Miguel de Allende. Her teacher there described the inability for English speakers to understand them as "The Great Wall of Spanish" - those students that got over the wall and understood how to use them, were basically on their way to full conversational fluency in Spanish. I want to climb that wall. Quiero subir aquella pared.

I'm not quite to the top yet, but I've found myself using them more, and hearing them spoken. I get it: Darme isn't some new word I haven't seen or heard before it's dar-me: give me. Puedo hacerlo! ¡Démelos, por favor! ¿Tengo que practicarlos más, verdad?

ME to/for me
TE to/for you
LE, to/for you, to/for him, to/for her
NOS, to/for us
LES, to/for upu (plural), to/for them

Verbs that require indirect object pronouns are easy to spot - if you can say "to" or "for" after the verb in English, it takes "le" in Spanish. por ejemplo:
I spoke to him: Le hablé.
I sang to her: Le canté.
I bought for him: Le compré.
However it doesn't sound right to say:
I visited to her.
I invite to him.
I kissed to her.
So these types of verbs take "lo" or "la", not "le".
I visited her: La visité.
I invite him: Lo invito.
I kissed her: la besé.

Test the verb: if you can say to/for with it, then it take LE.

Another aspect about using LE is that in Spanish you must use both the noun and the pronoun with verbs that take "le". Por ejemplo:
I wrote to my mother: Le escribé a mi madre.
Literally you are saying "To her I wrote to my mother" notice that the "a" is a personal a and not "to".
It works the same when asking a question.
¿Le compró una camisa a su primo? Did you buy a shirt for your cousin?

Things get a bit more complicated when you combine pronouns, ¿pero bastante ya, verdad?

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