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.

Impersonal vs passive “se”

Once again the Spanish language is offering us something confusing, this time I am talking about the word “se”. The two constructions, impersonal se and passive se look quite similar and it is not that easy to tell them apart. As usual, you should get prepared, take a pen, pencil, or whatever writing tool you want, a piece of paper or a notebook and let’s get started. Oh, not to forget, also arm yourself with optimism and you will surely succeed.

Impersonal se in Spanish

As its name states it, this kind of “se” does not refer to a specific person. It is actually used to refer to something that should be done, without specifying who should be in charge of it. This is what makes the statement impersonal.

We normally use impersonal expressions in order to say how things are usually done, whether we are referring to custom, rule, or general consensus. We also use impersonal expressions when we make general statements.

So now you know when we use impersonal expressions. However, there is still one question that has probably crossed your mind. How do we form “se ”constructions? Do not panic, because it is actually quite simple.

To from an impersonal se construction we use “se” + a verb in the third person singular. Below are a few examples that will help you have a better understanding of the concept.

  • Se habla español. ( = Spanish is spoken here.)
  • Se usa el reloj para saber la hora. ( = The clock is used to know the hour.)
  • No se permite hacer fotos aquí. ( = It is not permitted to take photos here.)
  • Se dice que antes vivía una bruja aquí. ( = It is said that before there lived a witch here.)
  • En Francia se come mucho queso. ( = In France they eat a lot of cheese.)

Passive se in Spanish

We usually use the passive voice in order to talk about an action that happened to an object, but without specifying who or what did that thing to it. Passive se constructions are formed using transitive verbs, which are those that require a direct object. Below are a few examples that will help you have a better understanding of the concept.

  • Se ha roto la puerta. ( = The door has been broken.)
  • Se te ha acabado el dinero. ( = Your money has run out.)
  • Se busca profesor de inglés. ( = English teacher wanted.)
  • Aquí se alquilan coches. ( = Cars are rented here.)
  • Se ha quemado la comida. ( = The food was burnt.)

I guess that by now you get the difference between impersonal and passive se. If not, you should read more. However, there are more problems that people face when learning Spanish, so you should definitely refresh my blog every few days and something new might appear. Sooner that you know it your Spanish skills will improve.

Christmas traditions in Spain

Whether you are going to spend the winter holidays in Spain this year, you want to incorporate some Spanish Christmas traditions this year, or you simply want to learn some more about Spanish traditions, you have reached the right post. There are many different traditions related to the beloved holiday. However, I will only mention a few of the most important ones.

  1. Lotería de Navidad

This is probably the craziest Christmas tradition in Spain, not in terms of how weird the tradition is, but in terms of the craze around it. Ever since the beginning of the year, people from all around Spain, buy tickets for la Lotería de Navidad, or the Christmas Lottery. They do this in the hope of winning the grand prize, or the so called “el Gordo”, which would translate into the fatty, because the prize is in fa big.

The unofficial start of Christmas holidays in Spain is on December 22nd. Yes, you have guessed right. This is when people start camping in front of the Tv, hoping to hear the lucky numbers that they have chosen in order to win “el Gordo” . On this day, children from San Ildefonso School sing both the numbers and prizes of the beloved Christmas Lottery. This is exactly when you know that the holiday spirit has reached the country.

  1. Día de los Santos Inocentes

While not exactly related to Christmas, but a few days after, el Día de los Santos Inocentes or the Day of the Innocent Saints, is celebrated on the 28th of December. This holiday was originally used to commemorate the young victims of a massacre, which was order by Herodes. He was hoping to eliminate a newborn that supposed to be the “future king of the Jews”, which was a threat to his power.

Despite the sombre background that this holiday has, Spaniards have given it a funny spin. The Day of the Innocent Saints is the Spanish equivalent of, April Fool’s Day. It is the day when the Spanish people prank each other. You should be careful. You either prank someone or you risk being pranked.

  1. Waiting for the Three Kings

The Three Kings or los Reyes Magos visit the Spanish people on the 6th of January. The day before, people rush to the bakery in order to get a traditional Roscón de Reyes, which is a cake shaped like a ring. This delicacy is eaten for breakfast on the 6th.

This holiday is anxiously expected by everyone in Spain from the little ones to adults. In town, you can see parades, where the three kings throw candy to the children. Then, they go to sleep, to find out the gifts prepared for them the following morning.

These are three of the most striking Spanish winter traditions. I hope that you will add at least some aspects in your own celebrations.

Regarding the content writing, knowing this and many other traditions is mandatory if you want to speak about things that matter for the audience just before they will become important through the year.

Key differences in Grammar between English and Spanish

Due to the fact that both Spanish and English have Indo-European origins, they have some common vocabulary. In addition, the structure of Spanish language is not so complicated to understand if you know English. For example, these two languages use the parts of speech in the same way. Moreover, the prepositions in both languages are placed before an object. However, besides these similarities, the two languages are not identical and have some key differences in terms of grammar. Read on to find out more.

  1. Placement of adjectives

In English, adjectives are usually positioned before the noun that they are describing. However, in Spanish, they are normally placed after the noun which they determine. For example, we say “a happy dog”, which translates into “un perro feliz”.

There is however, a possibility to place the adjective in Spanish before the noun that it describes, but it will totally change its meaning. For example “an old factory” is translated into “una fábrica antigua”. If however, we decide to say “una antigua fábrica”, then we actually mean that the place used to be a factory, but it is now something else.

  1. The verb to be

In English, we only have one verb “to be”, which in Spanish, can be translated in three different ways: “ser” ,‘ëstar” or “haber”. Just to sum up, the verb “ser” is used for permanent characteristics, for names, for future events. The verb “estar” is used  to express the location of known subjects, temporary characteristics, such as the emotional state. The verb “haber” is used to express the location of an unknown subject.

Even though it might be hard to understand the differences between these three verbs that mean “to be”, you should not panic. The explanation was an oversimplified version of this post, that will most definitely help you in the future.

  1. Need for subject

In English, you can’t form a sentence without stating the subject, because it simply does not make sense. However, in Spanish this is possible due to the fact that each pronoun has a corresponding conjugation. So, do not worry if you decide to skip the subject or if you omit it by mistake, just make sure that you are writing in Spanish and not in English, because otherwise you might just have a problem.

It is true that there are many more differences between Spanish and English, as they are not identical languages. Do not worry, however, because you will learn them in time. It is normal for these two languages not to be identical. What is even more important when learning a language is to try to speak regardless of whether you are making mistakes. It is normal to do so at first.

3 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

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!