Category Archives: Learn to Speak Spanish

Tips and tricks for studying Spanish. Learn some basic Spanish words, phrases and grammar that may help you in a Spanish conversation.

3 Do’s and don’ts of learning Spanish

Do's and don'ts of learning Spanish
flickr photo by quinnanya shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Learning a new language does not come easy to many people. Some parts are easier to understand for some people, while others find them hard. For example, there are people who find vocabulary easy to learn, while for other people grammar is key. However, the sad part is that we kind of need both grammar and vocabulary to learn Spanish. Well, do not panic as this post is going to help you with some tips and tricks to make your life easier and who knows, maybe you will end up speaking Spanish in no time.

Do’s:

What should you actually do while learning Spanish?

  • Repeat new words

It is said that you have to stumble upon a word for a number of 80 times in order for it to remain locked in your mind forever. What can you do about it? Listen to eat, repeat it out loud, and even write it down.

  • Put words in context

Learning a new word might be hard. However, putting it in a context will ease your way. You can listen to some songs and the words will come easier in your mind. You can also try to make sentences with the new words in order to remember them better.

  • Try to think in Spanish

Thinking in Spanish is one step forward towards learning the language. Writing your sentences directly in Spanish without translating them is essential and you are less prone to making mistakes.

Don’ts:

  • Skip learning some words

I am 100% sure that you have at least once in your lifetime found a word that you were like: oh, when will I use it? Three years later, you are stuck in a gas station not knowing how to say that you have a flat tire. Learn words when you stumble upon them. You will later thank yourself.

  • Translate sentences

You should not think about full sentences in your own language and then try to translate them. You will end up frustrated and your text might not sound as good as you have imagined it.

  • Skip writing accent marks

Accent marks are a key aspect of the Spanish language. They can change the whole meaning of a sentence. It is important to learn how and when to put them. In addition, you should always try to write them. This way you will get used to it and your Spanish skills will definitely improve.

Learning Spanish might not come so easy, but in the end it is totally worth it. Whether you are planning on visiting Spain or Latin America, or simply want to read your favorite authors in their original language, it is always good to know how to speak it. Do not worry if your Spanish is not yet perfect, the good thing is that there is always room and time for improvement. Also, if you are not sure about whether your text has errors or not, you can always hire a proofreader.

Tips for Spanish essay writing

Whether you are currently learning Spanish or already have good Spanish language skills, there is always room for improvement. You might understand it when it is spoken, you might be able to perfectly understand a text in Spanish, but how good are your Spanish essay writing skills?

Writing in a foreign language is usually hard. I mean learning to write in your own language is hard as well. Just think about it. When you were little, you first learned to talk, then to read, and finally, you learned how to write. As you can see, writing is the hardest thing to do. So, regardless of if you are writing an essay in Spanish as a Spanish native, or as a Spanish learner, below are a few tips for Spanish essay writing that will improve your skills.

  1. Use words that you know

 

Writing in a new language does not mean opening the dictionary every couple of minutes just to use fancy words and sound smart. It also does not mean that you should not open a dictionary when you do not know a word. What I meant to say is that you should mostly rely on the words that you already know. Why? Because in writing you are also applying your grammar skills and trying to perfect them. In addition, using words that you do not really know might result in a disaster as the words might have many different meanings that you are unaware of. Better stay safe than sorry.

  1. Think in Spanish

Thinking in Spanish will make it easier for you to write sentences correctly. Trying to compose a text in your mind and later translate it in Spanish will only create confusion and frustration. Some expressions are hard to be translated. Other times, writing a text in Spanish as complex as the one that you are thinking about might not be possible. Why? Maybe because your Spanish skills are not that developed and you might end up disappointing yourself.

  1. Take accent marks seriously

As mentioned in a previous post, accent marks play a key role in the Spanish language. They can make or break a sentence and they can change the whole meaning of a word. It might take a bit of time to master accent marks, but in the end, I guarantee you that they are worth the effort. Accent marks contribute to the correctness of your text and show that you have the necessary skills.

If all of this seems like a lot of effort, do not panic. There are still some things that you can do. For example you can hire an essay writer to do the work for you and this way you will have a correctly written text in no time. If however you want to write the text yourself, but also want it to be correctly written, there is also an option. You can hire a proofreader to make sure that your Spanish essay has no errors in it.

Conditional in Spanish language

Si clauses, which are the equivalent of if clauses in English, are quite hard for most people who are trying to learn Spanish. One of the main reasons why it is not so easy to learn them is because of the beloved “subjuntivo”. However, there is no need to panic, because this article has got you covered. Arm yourself with a pen or a pencil, a notebook or a piece of paper, and let’s get started.

  • Si + present indicative=?

When we use this structure, the actions that we are talking about are possible. The condition has a high chance of being fulfilled. In addition, it is important to know that the two parts of the sentence “si clause” and the result clause, can be interchanged in terms of which comes first, without changing the meaning of it.

If in the “si clause” we have present indicative, then in the result clause, we have three options:

  1. Present indicative

Example: Si nos vemos hoy, te doy el libro. (= If we see each other today, I give you the book).

2. Future

Example: Si tengo dinero, viajaré a Paris. (= If I have the money, I will travel to Paris)

3. Imperative

Example: Si me desmayo, dame agua. (= If I faint, give me water).

  • Si + imperfect subjunctive =?

When we use this structure, we think about a hypothetical situation, which is impossible to happen. If in the “si clause” we use the imperfect subjunctive, then in the result clause, we will use the conditional. Write this down: we never ever use the conditional after si. Contrary to all expectations, si is never found near the conditional.

Example: Si pudiera volar, viajaría por todo el mundo. (= If I could fly, I would travel the world).

  • Si + pluperfect subjunctive

 When we use this structure, we talk about the opposite of what happened. It refers to a hypothetical situation, in which things would have turned out totally different. We have three options for this situation:

  1. Past conditional

Example: Si hubiera ganando la apuesta, habría ido al concierto. (= If I had won the bet, I would have gone to the concert).

2. Simple conditional

We use this structure when the result clause is still valid in the present.

Example: Si hubiera aprendido hablar inglés, entendería mejor las películas americanas. (= If I had learned to speak English, I could understand American movies better).

3. Pluperfect subjunctive

We use this structure mostly in the spoken language.

Example: Si hubiera tenido un hermano, no me hubiera aburrido tanto. (= If I had had a brother, I wouldn’t have gotten so bored).

You see? Si condicional clauses, are not that hard after all. Apply three magical formulas and you have learned your lesson. Try it, it is fail proof. Your Spanish will improve in no time, and if you learn these magic formulas, then you will have demystified the Spanish language. Spanish grammar, is easy if you find some simple tricks. Go ahead, test them out.

How Humans Learn Language – Can Adults Become Bilingual?

The simple answer to that question would be yes, of course they can! However, it’s slightly more difficult for an adult to learn a second language than it is for a child, and that’s because of the way the human brain works.

Linguists have suggested that humans have a ‘Critical Period’ in the early stages of their life, in which they are more open to environmental stimuli. In terms of language, the critical period spans from birth to around seven years old: in this phase of life, the brain is more easily moulded, and that is why children learn so fast. Because of this, children can learn two languages, from birth and never really confuse the two.

Past the age of seven, however, humans lose the ability to learn in the same way. Adults can still learn a new language, it just takes a little more work. There are many theories about the way children learn their first language, and we can actually apply these theories and techniques to ourselves when learning a second language.

First is the behaviourist approach. This idea states that children acquire new language by copying the adults around them. In the case of the adult learner, it is important to be around native speakers of the language, and to be in contact with native forms of the language. Let’s take Spanish, for example, watching TV shows in your target language or finding an online chat forum with native speakers will help you to progress and improve your Spanish vocabulary, as you can listen to how the language and the Spanish words are used and imitate certain sentence formations or phrases –particularly useful when learning idioms and metaphors. Language learning via immersion (i.e. moving to a country that speaks it) is one of the quickest ways to learn a language, albeit one of the scariest.

Similarly, other linguists have suggested that children need contact with a “more knowledgeable other,” i.e. somebody who is above the level of speaking you are at who can help to push you into the next phase of learning. A teacher is best here, but any contact with native speakers is good practice.

Studies have shown that grammatical development is something that takes place through usage of the language and making mistakes along the way. For children, grammar is an extremely hard concept to grasp, and for this reason, science has proven that adults can out-perform children at learning language when it comes to this area. Short-term, adults can pick up grammar much quicker, because we have a basic understanding of it in our own language, and can adapt that knowledge to apply to something new. So, adults aren’t completely disadvantaged when it comes to learning a second language! In fact, the only area where adults are more hindered is pronunciation, because certain languages have sounds that we don’t possess in our own.

To fully answer the title question, adults can most definitely become fluently bilingual. All it takes is a willingness to put in effort, and enough nerve to talk to other speakers. Be confident! We might not have a child-like neuroplasticity, but don’t let that put you off. It’s never too late to start learning.

Spanish grammar: Subjunctive vs Indicative

One thing that annoys us all about the Spanish language is that it wants to ruin our dreams. I am kidding, of course. However, if there is one thing thing that is certain is that Spaniards are really specific about what is real and what is not. This is kind of annoying for us dreamers, because we have to think twice. They are so specific that they even created a new mood, the subjunctive in order to tell hypothesis apart from reality. Arm yourself with a pen, a piece of paper, and some patience and let’s start.

The indicative mood is usually applied when talking about things that are certain, such as facts, events, object descriptions, and locations. Easy? What if I tell you that this certain things should be certain from the speaker point o view? Yeah, that is the key. Indicative is for assertions and assumption.

On the other hand, we have the subjunctive mood, which is used when talking about subjective things, possibilities, things that are not certain. We use the subjunctive when we talk about doubts, wishes, probabilities, and recommendations. In other words, anything different to assertions and assumptions.

When you say I like you singing, you are not saying that the other person is singing, you are just saying you like it. So in Spanish like goes in indicative and singing in subjunctive:

Me gusta que cantes

Fortunately, most sentences that use the subjunctive mood have three common features:

  1. Two subjects

The first clue that you are dealing with the subjunctive mood is the fact that there are two subjects. Like two people? Well, to be more specific, you have a subject in the main clause, and another in the subordinate clause. Usually, the person in the main clause wants the person from the subordinate clause to do something. If it is not as clear, maybe some examples will help.

Ana quiere que su madre le deje ir a la fiesta de su amiga. (Ana wants her mother to let her go to her friend’s party)

Pablo le pide a Juan que le escriba un mensaje. ( Pablo asks Juan to write him a message)

  1. Two verbs

As you can see, these sentences have two verbs, one in the main clause and one in the subordinate clause. The verb in the main clause is usually something that triggers the verb in the subordinate cause. In the two examples above, you can see that the second verb is related to the first one, or the first verb depends on the second one. I mean, for Ana to go to the party, her mother has to allow her to do so. Also, for Pablo to have the message, he needs Juan to write it.

  1. A relative pronoun

The majority of subjunctive sentences include a relative pronoun, such as “que” or “quien”, which usually links the main clause (indicative mood) with the secondary clause (subjunctive mood). If you look at the two examples that I presented you with, after the main clause: Ana quiere, we have the relative pronoun “que” which tells us that we need to use the subjunctive mood. The same happens in the second sentence, where we have the main clause Pablo le pide a Juan. The relative pronoun “que” is a sign that we must use the subjunctive mood.

Now that you know what the main characteristics of a sentence that needs the subjunctive mood are, you are one step closer to not mixing them up. Stay tuned, because there might be another post about the subjunctive mood soon.

 

Are e-books killing paperback editions?

We are witnessing more and more readers nowadays who are shifting towards electronic devices. Likewise, real bookshops are becoming replaced by online digital libraries. Is this an ongoing process where the software takes place over the good old book? Or maybe we shall have more libraries and shelves prettily arranged again?

In any case, there seem to be advantages and disadvantage of both ways.

The spread of digital technology has changed many habits making life easier for the consumers. Booklovers are among those who have experienced the great impact of the digital era.

Once we were used to enjoying the fun of strolling through bookstores to find the favoured title and would spend hours going over the covers, turning the pages, looking for the publishers and ultimately affording only a few editions to pay for paperback or even more for a hardcover. Of course, if we are lucky, we may find the book we are looking for as a used copy which is less expensive.

Also, lending and borrowing is always a convenient way for printed books, not to speak of the leisure of spending the day in a library, surrounded by the tranquility of the area.

Most of all, many of us are proud showing visitors to our homes the sacred place where we keep the colourful front pages with some amazing titles. In particular if we are the owners of some old books in their first edition.

On the other hand, when it comes to digital versions we have the advantage of carrying around thousands of pages on one device. Kindles have become frequently seen in almost every place, from stations to cafes.

We do not spend much time going to get a book, we find it more comfortable to just sit on the computer and order it in a few minutes. There is also an access to a lot of other information this way as we are able to see recommended links with references as well as the option of having other media in an e-book like sounds or videos. For example, if you read a scientific book and you come up with a new word, you may have a hyperlink directing you to a dictionary.

Moreover, you can easily search a passage by using various functions digital editions offer. One of them is the `put my finger` which helps you to scroll over the text and flip back to a certain place.

Above all, there are a number of possibilities to get a virtual version of a book as there are many websites offering free download of books in PDF formats. This may refer to copyright protection and the allowance of literary works. Copyright may have a limited time of duration and the author may agree to give permission their book to enter the public domain. When this happens the book is available on the Internet and can be downloaded.

No matter which opportunity people choose, we can say as long as they read it does not matter how they do it. Though the question is how much we really absorb of what we have read. It has been a long enough time to sum up the results and bring some conclusions. Until then, it is a choice of preference whether we use the paper or an e-reader.

In any case, this is an interesting topic to talk about in a Spanish conversation class.

B vs V and other similar errors in Spanish

Choosing bettween B and V in Spanish
Initiales BB” (CC BY 2.0) by Mon Œil

If there is one problem that even Spaniards have is with the letters b and v. What is so difficult about these two? Well, they are pronounced almost the same. This is why some confusions appear. In addition, on the keyboard, they are one next to the other. Even though you might be able to use this excuse when typing, it is better to learn when to use which letter. Arm yourself with a pen and a piece of paper, and let’s get started.

We use the letter b in Spanish for:

  1. The words that come from other languages (latin, arabic) and in their original language are written with either b or p. Here are some examples: bien, bueno, biblia, biblioteca, along with words that start with bi-( from the number two): bipolar, bigamia.
  2. Words that start with the syllables: bu-, bur-, and bus-, such as: búsqueda, burla, búho.
  3. The words that end in: -bundo, -bunda, and -bilidad, such as: moribundo, errabunda, There is an exception: movilidad.
  4. All the tenses of the verbs whose infinitives end in: -aber, such as haber, saber, and caber, in -bir, such as escribir, recibir, and in -buir, such as The only exceptions are: hervir, servir, and vivir, along with their compounds.
  5. The verb endings: -ba, -bas, -bamos, -bais, and -ban of the imperfect tense of the indicative mood which correspond to the verbs of the first conjugation, such as cantaba, bailabas, saltábamos, fumaban.
  6. The imperfect verb tense o the verb ir: iba, ibas, iba, íbamos, ibais, iban.

We use the letter v in Spanish for:

  1. Compound nouns formed with the prefix: vice- (which indicates that the person can do this instead of the other). Examples of such words include: vicepresidente, vicealmirante. Other prefixes that indicate the use of the letter v are: villa-, villar-. These are prefixes that indicate geographical places, such as: Villafranca, Villarcayo. Other geographic prefixes include: valle-, vall-, or val-. Examples of such words are: Valparaíso, Valladolid.
  2. The words that start with the syllables: ad, cla, di, pri and are followed by the “v” sound. Such words include: adverbio, clave, diversidad, privilegio. There is an exception: the noun
  3. The words that end in: -viro, vira, -voro, -vora. Examples of such words include: Elvira, carnívoro. As an exception, we have the word víbora.
  4. The words that have the following endings: -ava, -ave, -avo, -eva, -eve, -iva, -ivo. Examples include: suave, nueva, guava, viva. The exception for this rule is the word árabe.

So now you know some of the main ways in which you can learn to distinguish the letter v from the letter b when writing in Spanish. Here are some more tips to help you not mix the two up. Oh, and remember. If you ever happen to type b instead of v, just use the excuse that they are one next to the other on the keyboard. It is the best temporary solution.

Though if you don’t want to rely in excuses, you can contact me to proofread your texts!

The easy way to ser, estar, haber

The Spanish language sometimes likes to over complicate things. One example of such thing is the fact that there are three words to express the same thing: “to be”. If that is not over complicating your existence, then I do not know what is. It looks like they could not simply decide on one simple verb and that kind of sucks. Natives do not seem to mind it that much though. It is the people who are learning Spanish that have major problems with it.

Three verbs that express the same thing means that you can use any one of them whenever you want to, right? Wrong! Unfortunately, the three verbs: ser, estar, haber are used for different things. This confuses many people who want to and are learning Spanish. However, there is no need to worry. This blog post is here to help. Enough rambling, let’s cut to the chase.

  1. SER

The first verb is probably the most common verb in the Spanish language and also the first verb that people learn. It is usually used for:

introducing yourself:

Example: Yo soy María. (= I am Maria)

permanent characteristic ( color, shape, size):

Examples: El cielo es azul. (= The sky is blue)

           El cuadro es redondo. (= The painting is round)

Los pantalones son grandes. (= The pants are big)

where and when something takes place:

Examples: El evento será en Madrid. (= The event will take place in Madrid)

  El festival será en abril. (= The festival will take place in April)

indicating the owner:

Example: La casa es suya. (= The house is his/hers)

indicating the materials that something is made of:

Example: La pulsera es de oro. (= The bracelet is made of gold)

-indicating price:

Example: La chaqueta es 50 euros. (= The jacket is 50 euros)

There is a simple trick to determine whether we are going to use the verb “ser” as opposed to the verb “estar”. Is it permanent? If the answer is yes, then we use the verb “ser”, if not, then we use the verb “estar”. Seems simple, right?

  1. ESTAR

The second verb on the list is also one of the most common verbs in the Spanish language. It is usually used for:

temporary characteristics (it might surprise you, but marriage is a temporary characteristic also, what a pessimistic view!):

Examples: El chico está enfermo.(= The boy is sick)

Los dos están casados. (= The two are married)

location

Example: La biblioteca está en la calle principal. (= The library is on the main street)

There is a simple trick to determine whether we are going to use the verb “estar” as opposed to the verb “haber” , it is the question: “Do we know it?”. If the answer is yes, then we use the verb “estar”.

  1. HABER

Haber is mostly used for determining the location of unknown places or persons.

Example: Hay un banco por aquí. (= There is a bank around here) as opposed to El banco está aquí. (= That certain bank is here).

Now that you know the difference between these verbs, it’s time to use them!

How to reduce your cover letter to 350 words

Tips to study Spanish
Studying flickr photo shared by mer chau under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Cover letters are a great way to promote skills in front of the prospective employer. Though, today you need to make some alterations to what is considered as a good cover letter.

The most important one is that you should not keep it too long. Cover letters used to be around 675 words but nowadays they are going down to 350. Employer have less time to focus on long and time consuming activities like reading about someone`s achievements.

The main aim of the short cover letter remains the same- to show how you could contribute to the organization and why you are the right person to do so. But you should not repeat the things you have written in your CV – all your formal competence and your experience with former employers is already in your CV. That is where recruiters look for this type of information, because the CV is very clear and schematic.

The same for references – if you have a referee`s name reference on your CV, don’t mention them in the cover letter. It makes you look insecure – as if you are leaning too much on somebody else.

About the outlook-in the top right corner, you should have your name, address, telephone number and email address.

Try to find out who is doing the recruiting –do some Internet research. It is better to address the person by name. It makes it more personal. For example, write something like “To Ms. Alex Jenkins. Add the job title like “Director or HR Manager. Then put the name of the organization or company. Below it, write in bold letters “Application for the position”).

You need shorter paragraphs and more space between the lines. Though old-fashioned, Times New Roman is usually recommended. Your cover letter needs to be “airy”, and it shouldn’t look packed.

Don’t use additional things to make sentences more complex like “I would like to highlight the key reasons why I am so keen to be considered and how I can contribute to your company.” Just do it, don’t announce that you’re going to do it. That’s a bit like what good teachers give students in class: they don’t tell students what they’re going to tell them – they simply tell them.

In fact, the cover letter should be so short, clear and to the point and concise that the recipient would be able to read it in about ten seconds.

Once you have done this, proof-read it carefully to make changes if necessary. Do not feel insecure- it is the same job as writing the classic cover letter. Imagine this is a zip version of it.

This may sound overwhelming, but it is the reality of today’s market, and it’s the way recruiters work. Be catchy – grasp their attention but don’t overwhelm them with too much unnecessary information.

Next time you apply for something, give it a try-at least you will know that your letter was read by someone.

If you need to have your cover letter in Spanish proofread, contact me.

Spanish phrases for tourists

Spanish beach  Spanish phrases for tourists
“Nerja .. Andalucia” flickr photo by Nick Kenrick.. shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

If you’re spending a few weeks in Spain for your holidays you probably don’t want to bother becoming a fluent Spanish speaker. However, a few key phrases can go a long way, especially if you’re not planning to spend your trip in an all-inclusive resort. Not only does it make getting what you want easier, a lot of people appreciate it when foreigners take the time to learn a few basic phrases so it can often make you friends.

  1. Introductions

Let’s start with the basics:

Good day Buen día

Hello, my name is… Hola, me llamo…

What’s your name? ¿Cómo te llamas? (informal) or ¿Cómo se llama? (formal)

How are you doing? ¿Cómo estás? (informal) or ¿Cómo está? (formal)

I’m well, thank you – Estoy bien, gracias.

Goodbye   Adiós

In most parts of the Spanish-speaking world, strangers should be addressed using the formal version to be polite. However, it’s worth noting that in Spain, Argentina and some parts of Uruguay you can use the informal right away. Actually, being honest, it seems the overall trend is going towards the more informal versions.

  1. Ordering Food

A table for two, please Una mesa por dos, por favor.

What is this? ¿Qué es esot?

I am a vegetarian Soy vegetariano(a)

When the waiter asks you what you would like to drink, or something along the lines of ¿Algo de beber? or ¿Qué van a tomar?

To drink, I’ll have a… Para beber quiero…

When the waiter asks you what you would like to eat, or something along the lines of ¿Qué desean ustedes?

I would like the… Me gustaría el/la/los/las…

Could you bring me some… Me trae un/una/unos/unas…

No, thank you.  No, gracias.

Yes, please. Sí, por favor.

To make changes to your order, use sin or con for without or with. And, of course, don’t forget to thank your waiters with muchas gracias, as you would in English.

  1. Asking for Directions

In case you ever find yourself without your phone in a chaotic city like Mexico City, Barcelona, or Buenos Aires, here are a few simple questions to help you figure out where you are and where you need to be going.

Where are we? ¿Dónde estamos?

What street is this? ¿Qué calle es esta?

Excuse me, where is…? Disculpe, ¿dónde está el/la/los/las…?

Where is the bus stop? ¿Dónde está la parada del autobús?

Is it near? ¿Está cerca?

Now for the answers:

Go straight. Sigue derecho.

Turn left Gire a la izquierda.

Turn right Gire a la derecha.

Take me to this address, please. Lléveme a esta dirección, por favor.

Stop here, please. – Deténgase aquí, por favor.

How much is the fare? à Cuánto es la tarifa?

Spanish speakers have a wide variety of dialects and accents. So, while you may find it difficult to understand the questions being put to you, if you answer using standard Spanish you will most likely still be understood. However, pay attention to your pronunciation and intonation as that can confuse a local with little to no experience listening to foreigners speak.