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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.

 

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 make plurals in Spanish

For English speakers, Spanish plurals aren’t too bad. Like in English, you generally just add an “s” to the end. Unfortunately, nothing is ever quite that simple. As always, there are a few differences. But don’t worry – this post will walk you through the whole process.

  1. Forming Basic Plural Nouns

Let’s get a few things clear first. A noun, as you may know, is the person, place, or thing being talked about. A plural noun is when there is more than one person, place, or thing. In English, when we want to show that we’re talking about more than one noun we add an “s” to the end of it:

  • I have a dog. 
  • I have three dogs.

For Spanish nouns that end in vowels, it’s exactly the same:

  • Tengo un perro.
  • Tengo tres perros.

And it doesn’t matter if the noun is feminine or masculine:

  • Juan tiene una manzana.
  • Juan tiene cuatro manzanas.

However, for nouns that don’t end in vowels, it’s a little different.

  1. Nouns That End with Consonants

For nouns that end with consonants, like televisión or avión, we need something a little different. Try saying “televisions” with a Spanish accent. Pretty hard, right? It just sounds like English. That’s because in Spanish nouns that end with consonants need an “es” at the end.

  • Tengo una televisión.
  • Tengo unas televisiones.

Don’t forget that the accent in television gets taken off when it becomes plural!

  1. Exceptions

There are no rules without exceptions, especially in grammar. Luckily, there’s only one exception to plural nouns in Spanish: nouns that end with “z,” like la voz or el lápiz. In the plural they’re spelled with a “c”:

  • la voz
  • las voces

 

  • el lápiz
  • los lápices

Luckily, lapis keeps its accent, so that’s one less thing to worry about. Bu the next question is: what about that el and la?

  1. Pluralising Articles and Adjectives

This is where things get a little trickier. Unlike English nouns, in Spanish not only does the noun become plural, but so do its article and its adjective, if it has them. If you’re not sure what an article is, see my post on articles. In Spanish, the definite articles are el for masculine nouns and la feminine nouns. In the plural they look like this:

  • Mira al perro.  (al comes from a + el)
  • Mira los perros.

 

  • Mira la televisión.
  • Mira las televisiones.

Indefinite articles in Spanish are uno for the masculine and una for the feminine.

  • Quiero un libro
  • Quiero unos libros.

 

  • Quiero una manzana.
  • Quiero unas manzanas.

Often, however, words come with descriptions: a strong drink or a green apple. In Spanish, these need to be pluralised to match the noun they describe:

  • Quiero un libro bueno.
  • Quiero unos libros buenos.

 

  • Quiero una manzana verde.
  • Quiero unas manzanas verdes.

This can get tricky when you have an adjective that needs to be changed for gender and number like rojo, or “red.”

  • Busco un coche rojo.
  • Busco unos coches rojos.

 

  • Quiero la manzana roja.
  • Quiero las manzanas rojas.

That said, Spanish plurals really aren’t too scary. Remembering to match the adjective to the noun might take a while but, with a bit of practice, it will soon come naturally!

Ready for a Spanish practice?

Spanish Indie Authors – Gorka E Argul – La llave de la eternidad

Is it hard to find novels to read in Spanish? Many students of Spanish want to read novels in Spanish, but don’t have a clue about which one to choose. The classics are always there, but let’s face it, sometimes are not the most engaging for the general public.

Shakespeare is a great author, but when it comes to enjoying the story, many people would prefer reading Ken Follet.

So today I bring you a review about a novel by a Spanish indie author that you may consider reading:

Review of La llave de la eternidad

cover of la llave de la eternidadThe Key of Eternity is a fantasy novel written by  Gorka E Argul. It is a fast-paced novel, which will make you overcome the limits of Physics.

The Key of Eternity is a thriller book, at the border between fantasy and science fiction. In this novel, Gorka E Argul takes the historical figure of Nikola Tesla as a starting point in order to develop a fantastic story in which the time travel journeys are not only for the characters of the novel, but also for the reader.

The novel is a modern one, in which the characters continually cross each other and in which the narrative line plays with the different perspectives of the characters themselves. It is a fast-paced novel, in which the events happen in a thrilling way, with the added interest of the fact that the narrative is not linear, but there are various gaps in the timeline, which contribute to keeping the suspense.

The gaps in the timeline and skipping from one period to another help embellish this fantastic story. This raises the question of whether the advances in science make it possible for people to teleport themselves or even travel back in time.

In The Key of  Eternity time travel and teleportation are not only possible, but also they have existed for a long period of time. Even though it is, of course, a highly kept secret from there and that is why, the protagonist of the story, a journalist from New York Times, called Patrick Stevens finds himself involved in a mysterious and dangerous plot, which could become one of the major revolutions of the history of humanity.

The story begins with Patrick taking part in a scientific demonstration. He soon goes from being a spectator to a protagonist, which happens immediately after he helps the injured after an accident. That is how, in a short period of time, Patrick makes contact with various important characters, in what is no more than a small example of the pace of the events.

An especially interesting aspect of the book are the events that happened in the past, where the author takes important figures such as the above mentioned Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein as characters, along with a two American solders whose friendship will remain in question.

It is a perfect novel to take on vacation or for the days in which you have some free time to read, because it requires you to pay close attention in order not to miss part of the main plot, given the different time ‘hops´ and the constant change of the characters from the perspective of whom the narrative is presented. The difficult part of this novel is that it must be read in one sitting, or else important details could be forgotten.

It is important to take into account that the publisher is not as important as the ones that you are accustomed to if you only read books from important publishers. It is a detail that could attract your attention, but which does not make the lecture more difficult.

In the same manner that an independent publisher could have his problems, this also has its advantages, which means that we are presented a story which has a fresh vibe to it along with originality, which is quite rare today and frankly, we see it lacking from the majority of the bestsellers that we can find nowadays in the bookshops of  any given city.

Besides what one may enjoy from reading it, The Key of Eternity gives us something to reflect upon: What scientific progress could have been stuck in the process of innovation? How many times were investigations that could have had a major impact or even a change in history abandoned?

I recommend you to read this novel.

Spanish level to enjoy the reeading: Advanced C1-C2

The difference between language learning and language acquisition

Taking up a new language brings uneasiness to most of the learners. We often speak about learning a language though this is a process that does not only involve learning by itself. There is a difference between how we learn a language and how we acquire it. As we chose to adopt a new language, we need to consider the process just like any other skills aimed to provide us with the ability to do something well. Particularly if we need to reach a more advanced level.

Then, what do we basically mean when we say ‘to learn and’ to ‘acquire’?

Learning is connected with memorizing, studying and being informed. We learn our school subjects in that way trying to remember various facts and details in a given field of study. On the other hand, the meaning of `acquire` refers to a process when something comes into possession, something is gained through efforts or a natural flow.  For example, you can learn a poem and recite it by heart but acquiring a deeper knowledge of poetry may lead you towards the mastery of writing your own.

How we learn a language?

Things are similar with languages. Learning does not mean you will be able to communicate properly with people who speak that language.

We often learn plain grammatical rules and bunch of words we are unable to use in real situations. You may know how to compose sentences, you may even create complex construction but you may still have difficulties in applying them smoothly whether in speaking or writing. This means you have memorized partially the language but not in all language skills.

This kind of learning is typical for passing standard testing with filing in gaps or multiple choice questions because it only needs passive, conscious knowledge usually gained in a classroom.  Saying that you have learned a language does not necessarily make you good at speaking or listening-skills which require communicative approach.

How we acquire a language?

Language acquisition has a different approach. Firstly, there is an environment with an adequate context that will enable to acquire the language in the most efficient way. The best example for this is the way children learn to speak and communicate.

A child learns in a subconscious way without thinking of grammatical rules as he/ she needs to communicate in the family. They may say ‘childrens’ instead of ‘children’ and they may be entirely understood because the importance is on the text of communication not on the form. This is how all of us acquire our first language.

When it comes to a foreign language, there is a similar situation. Why do we learn a foreign language? We need to communicate with it, speak, listen, read and write. Acquisition stretches beyond classroom and involves real situations. A very good example of language acquisition is how young people adopt slag words and colloquial expression from movies or while staying abroad. In a traditional classroom they are expected to say I`m going to do but in an appropriate environment I’m gonna do becomes their natural language. Language acquisition means that you aim towards achieving a native command of the language both spoken and written as well as in communication.

Having in mind the difference between learning and acquiring a language, it is important to think of the methods when taking up foreign language courses. Few of us are fortunate enough to afford spending time among native speakers in a country where the language is spoken. When you pick up a course, make sure that the methodology of teaching is focused on multiple structures responsible for oral understanding and the capacity for creative communication besides the standard teaching techniques.

Liven Up Your Spanish Study Routine!

We all know about language classes and programs like Rosetta Stone. But, for some people, classes can be too expensive or inconvenient, and self-directed study can get lonely. Even worse, when you study alone, it’s hard to measure success and you can forget why you’re trying to learn the language in the first place. Luckily, there are plenty of learning options out there, especially for Spanish. Remember, the most important thing is to have fun – learning a new language should be a challenge, but not a nightmare.

  1. Skype lessons

Obviously, I’m a fan of this method. Not only do you get one-on-one lessons, you can do it from the comfort of your own home. Not to mention, you can learn from native speakers from around the world. Language is all about communication and studies show that we retain the words we use in conversation more quickly and more easily than those we just memorise. Use personal Skype lessons or tandem partners to get speaking right away. Getting comfortable speaking a foreign language will also give you more confidence in your language abilities.

  1. Tandem partners

Having a tandem partner is like having a coffee-date that also helps you practice Spanish. Usually, a tandem partner is someone who is fluent in the language you want to learn but needs help improving their abilities in your language. In this case, half the conversation would be spent in English and half in Spanish. Put up wanted flyers at your local college or university, or check out on-line language exchanges such as Itaki, Speaky, or The Mixxer.

  1. Telenovelas

One of the best resources for Spanish-learners is telenovelas. These over-the-top soap operas come in all kinds of scandalous subgenres and can be found on YouTube or, more recently, on Netflix. Telenovelas are a great way to learn conversational Spanish and get used to hearing several people talk at once. If you’re unsure where to start, Betty la fea is a funny, warm-hearted telenovela from Columbia, Maria la del barria is a classic Mexican telenovela featuring everything from vicious gossip to staged deaths, and, for something steamier, Mujeres de Lujo is a Chilean telenovela following the lives of upscale escorts.

  1. Language-learning apps

If all you want is to build basic grammar and vocabulary, there are a ton of apps out there that offer fun games aimed at strengthening your vocabulary. Download one you like to your phone and play it on the bus, waiting in the doctor’s office – wherever you have a few spare minutes. Duolingo is probably the most well-known and is great for starting out, but Memrise offers a wider variety of “courses” and you can choose your level and even your dialect.

The most important thing is to keep yourself interested and motivated. If you make the process as fun as possible and involve other people such as online tutors or tandem partners, you will make your language learning experience more rewarding and ensure that you stick with it, even when the going gets tough.