Sunday, 18 December 2011

"You can't always get what you want . ."

"But if you try sometimes . . you might find . . You get what you need"
Well, according to the Rolling Stones song, anyway.

Asking for what you want, or need, in Spanish, isn't always as straightforward as you might think.
One of the earliest verbs you probably learnt is 'querer'.
"I want" is simply "quiero" but, as mothers have long said, to demanding children " 'I want' never gets"
It's simply not a very polite way of asking for anything.
So, what other options do we have?

Well, in English, you might say "I need", so "necesito" is a good substitute, or "I'm looking for . .", which is "busco . ."
However, you will often hear "me gustaría . .", which is the Conditional form of "me gusta" (it pleases me = I like), and means "I would like . .", or "it would please me",
or "querría" (note the double 'r'), which is the conditional form of "querer", literally meaning "I would want", but taken as "I would like",
or even "quisiera . ." which is (don't freak out!) the subjunctive mood of the imperfect tense of the verb "querer", which in the vague nature of the subjunctive sort of means "I kind of might have wanted . .", but is used to mean "I would like". It sounds very complicated, but is actually used a lot.

Sometimes, you don't even have to ask for something. Just point out that it's not there, and let logic do the rest.
For example "falta un tenedor", means "a fork is lacking". It doesn't take a degree in rocket science for the waiter to figure out that "there's a fork missing" is a polite way of saying "I need another fork".
Actually, if you wanted to specify that it was YOUR fork that was missing, you could say "ME hace falta un tenedor". Literally "to me, makes lacking, a fork". Note that in this,and the previous example, it's the fork which does the lacking and the making, so conjugate accordingly.

And the final method of getting what you want, is to just ask the person to give it to you and, as with the previous methods, there are varying levels of politeness.
You might say to a waiter "traigame una cerveza" (traer- to bring) "bring me a beer" although, if you have any manners at all, I'm sure you'll add "por favor"
More politely, you could say "¿puedes traerme una cerveza?" which equates with "can you fetch me a beer?", but you'd be better off with "¿podrías traerme una cerveza?", which is the equivalent of saying "COULD you fetch me a beer?"

The same method can be applied to "dar" (to give) or "pasar" (to pass). "¿podrías pasarme el azúcar?", "could you pass me the sugar?"

Using "poder" in this manner is a great way of asking people to do things, without making it sound like an instruction, and can be used with many verbs, such as . . .
"¿podrías decirme . . ?" - 'could you tell me?'
"¿podrías ayudarme?" - 'could you help me?'
"¿podrías parar aquí?" - 'could you stop here?'

The only exception I've come across, where a direct order appears to be acceptable, was in a video on the BBC language learning website, where students are advised to use the imperative version of "poner"(to put), when selecting fruit in a market, for example "pongame cuatro manzanas", literally "put me four apples", presumably in a bag.
Cultural note here: in Spain it is considered rude to handle produce before buying it.

Well, I hope these tips help you to express your needs and wants in a more delicate and polite manner.
It can make all the difference.

¡Nos vemos!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Viva Il Divo

Once in a while, some genius comes along, and takes two of your favourite things, and combines them to produce something which is truly magnificent, like coconut ice-cream, or tequila-flavoured beer.
Well, this week it has happened again. I am currently listening, for about the twelfth time, to the latest CD by Il Divo, which unites a breathtaking musical talent, with the language of Spain.

For those of you unfortunate enough never to have encountered Il Divo, they are a group of four singers, three opera and one pop, hailing from as far afield as Switzerland, the US, France and, of course, Spain.
They are known world-wide as the masters of classic/pop crossover, mixing popular opera with reworkings of pop songs,translated or given new lyrics in Italian or Spanish.
The new album, Wicked Game, takes its title track from the 1989 song by Chris Izaak, rewritten in Italian as 'Melancolia' .
 The real bonus, for we Spanish fans, is that, along with five tracks in Italian and one in English, there are four tracks in Spanish.

Two are Il Divo versions of classic pop songs. Roy Orbison's  1960's ballad 'Crying' returns as 'Lllorando', and Shakespeare's Sister's 'Stay (with me)' becomes 'Ven a mi'.
The other two tracks are 'Falling slowly' (Te prometo) and 'Come what may' (Te amaré), which is one of several which showcases the blistering vocals of Carlos Marin at his best.

If you don't want tobuy the whole album, just click over to Amazon (  from the UK) and you can download individual tracks for 89p each.
You can listen to an extract from each song, but they really don't do them justice, as none of them feature the Guys at full volume, during one of their big finishes. There is a short video clip to view but, if you don't know Il Divo, you're better looking on YouTube to get an idea of what they can do.
There's a bonus, if you buy the physical CD, though, as the enclosed booklet has all the lyrics. Unfortunately this extra was slightly marred (at least in the version I have) as it was obviously typeset and proof read by non-Spanish speakers. All of the accents are missing, and there are two instances where the word 'hoy' has been printed as 'hot'!

Finally, before I head off to play Wicked Game for the 13th time, just a mention of one other of Il Divo's claims to fame . . they recorded the theme music to a Mexican soap opera called 'Sortilegio'.
You can find it at and this version includes the lyrics.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Getting beyond 'bueno'

There's more to life than Black and White and, likewise, much more than Good and Bad, so why is it, whenever we come across something we like in Spanish, the only word that seems to come to mind is 'bueno'?

It's maddening, when you've just finished a meal in a restaurant in, say, Barcelona, the waiter comes over and asks if everything was OK, and you either mumble 'bueno' or fail back to English to express yourself.
So, while I'm not a great fan of word-lists, I think it's important to have a selection of adjectives to hand, which you can call on to push your descriptions and comments well beyond the trusty 'bueno'

Let's start with the basics
the best= el/la mejor

now we begin to improve . .
nice or pleasant=agradable
superb=estupendo ó magnífico
awesome=alucinante (literally, hallucinatory ;¬)

or, if it's not so good . .

So, how about those food words?
tasty=sabroso, rico
delicious=delicioso, riquisimo
yummy/scrumptious=de rechupete
spicy/seasoned/hot=condimentado, sazonado, picante

If you're introduced to someone's kids, or shown a photo, it's nice to be able to pay compliments.
beautiful=hermosa, bella
pretty=linda, bonita
attractive=atractivo, guapo
likeable=simpático, majo,amable

Don't forget that most of these can be used with masculine or feminine endings, but I wouldn't call a six-foot body builder 'bonito', if I were you!

Finally, harking back to my previous post about using 'pasarlo' to describe the fun you're having, here are a few related adjectives.
exciting=emocionante, apasionante

Of course, while I've roughly grouped the adjectives, a lot of them can be used to describe a variety of things, people, food, places etc. , just like we'd use excellent, nice, pleasant etc. in English.

Just one last thing NOT to say, when the waiter asks you how the food was, and that's 'muy bien'
Don't forget - 'bien' means 'WELL', not 'GOOD'
¡Hasta la próxima!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Tweet me

For those of you who found me via some other route, here's a great way to keep up to date with new postings. I always announce updates on Twitter, so all you need to do is click the new 'Follow me on Twitter' icon, to get a message, every time this blog is updated!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Sing a song of Spanish

I've recently discovered the music of a very talented Mexican singer, by the name of Julieta Venegas.
Apart from producing very catchy tunes like 'Eres para mi', 'Andar conmigo' and 'El presente', she also has very clear diction, and the lyrics of her songs are quite easy to follow.

While searching YouTube for videos of her music, I came across
which is a YouTube channel dedicated to helping promote the Spanish language by presenting videos featuring songs in Spanish with the lyrics displayed, Karaoke style, so you can follow along.

Beneath the Spanish lyric is an English translation, accompanied by annotations to help with understanding.
For instance, the Spanish might say 'Tengo', the English says 'I have', and the annotation says 'Tener +yo'
Parts of each phrase, e.g. verbs and nouns, are highlighted in different colours in both Spanish and English, to help you identify them.

The songs I have listened to (including Julieta's) have obviously been chosen because their lyrics are not too complicated for Learners.
So, if you want to have some fun, while learning some new vocabulary, check it out!
!Hasta la proxima! 

Water, water, everywhere . .

In a recent post, I covered the subject of feminine nouns which take a masculine article, simply because it sounds better.
Unfortunately, I missed THE most common noun,probably one of the first you will learn when starting to speak Spanish  . . EL agua!
Yes, water is feminine, but takes the masculine 'el', so 'cold water' is 'agua fria', but 'water' is 'el agua'
Apologies for the omission ;¬)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Learn Spanish, become a better person

I've recently started listening to the Notes in Spanish Intermediate podcasts, available via iTunes.
They're a few years old now, they make references to 2008, but well worth a listen for practice,and new vocabulary.
The podcasts are produced by Ben Curtis and Marina Diez. Marina is a native Spanish speaker, born in Madrid, while Ben hails from a village near Oxford, and has lived in Spain since 1998. The two work very well together. At the time of the recordings, Ben had about 9 years of studying Spanish, and had met Marina during intercambios.
What's encouraging, in a way, for learners, is that, even after all that time, he still made some of the same basic mistakes that you and I continue to make, after a much shorter period of study.

Common examples are
forgetting the gender of nouns
forgetting to make adjectives agree with the gender of nouns
using the preterite, instead of the imperfect, and vice-versa

Marina good-naturedly corrects most of his mistakes, which he gracefully accepts, after all no-one wants to teach their listeners bad habits.
Marina has a beautifully clear voice, contrasting with Ben's occasionally barbaric anglicisation of some vowels (I'm sure he's much better, a few years on)

I wholeheartedly  recommend these podcasts, which are pitched very accurately at Intermediate Level and cover a wide range of interesting subjects, from Spanish Cinema, music, the Mafia, and holidays to eating out and comparisons of country and city life.
Just as soon as I've finished listening to the series, I'm going to try out the Advanced podcasts.
Beginners need not feel left out, as there is a series of podcasts for you, too.

Finally, to the point of the title.
Ben's, and our, mistakes tend to be ignored by most Spaniards. They just seem to be so genuinely pleased that you have made the effort to learn their language that you will often be told ¡Hablas muy bien!, which is a tremendous boost,especially when you feel like you're struggling.
What the experience does tend to do, though, is to endow you with a little humility, when dealing with foreigners.
Your local Asian shopkeeper probably speaks three languages, at least two for the Cook in your local cantonese takeaway, and the waiters so many British tourists abuse on their holidays in the sun can probably get by in most of the West, and some of the East European languages, as well.
Learning to speak Spanish gives you an insight into the work they have had to put in, and some of the difficulties they will have faced, hopefully making you a little more patient, open-minded and tolerant of those around you.
(End of Sermon :¬)

¡Hasta luego!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The gender-bending eagle

According to one of my recent postings, nouns ending in 'A', apart from some exceptions, are feminine and, if you look up águila (eagle), in a Spanish-English dictionary, it will probably say 'NF' (noun, feminine)

So why, if you type 'eagle' into the dictionary at , does it come back with 'EL águila'?
Stranger still, type in 'the eagles', and you will get 'LAS águilas'
Finally, just to completely confuse you, try 'the bald eagle' and you will get 'EL águila calvA' not 'calvO'

It all revolves around the fact that Spanish speakers don't like 'cacofonía', things which sound bad. So, while 'águila' IS indeed feminine, as is seen in the plural, and the agreement of adjectives, 'LA águila' sounds awful, and is awkward to say, so they just changed it!

That's not the only example, it also applies to 'EL hacha', a hatchet, or axe.

The same dislike of awkward sound combinations probably explains why the pronoun 'le' is changed to 'se' when it sits alongside the pronoun 'lo'
I gave him a book = 'le dí un libro'
I brought it for him = 'lo traje para él'
I gave it to him = 'se lo dí' and NOT 'le lo dí'

But that's why we learn Spanish, rather than, say, German. It just SOUNDS better!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Are we there yet?

Here are a few little words which can cause some confusion, when you first come across them, especially in their negative forms.
Todavía, aún and ya.

First off, the easy bit. Todavía and aún are pretty much interchangeable.
Now the straightforward, positive, meanings.

ya = already or yet
ya hemos comido - we've already eaten
todavía = still
todavía vive con sus padres - he still lives with his parents

The negative versions are a little different, however.
ya no = no longer
ya no vive con sus padres - he no longer lives with his parents
todavía no = not yet
todavía no hemos comido - we haven't eaten yet.

You see, in the negative ya and todavía seem to swap places.
It takes a bit of getting used to, but it will be easier now you're aware of it.
Keep practising!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Guru? Maybe not.

Those of you who visit this Blog regularly ( and that's the odd thing about blogging . . you actually have NO idea if the same people ever come back, or what they think of your ramblings) may have noticed the new addition, below the Blog archive list.

Just before I began taking lessons with Ximena, in SecondLife, I signed up for an online course with Rocket Languages. As I had a limited amount of time available to use the PC, I didn't spend as much time on the course as I should, and concentrated instead on my virtual classwork.

Just recently, however, I've revisited the course and, while it's now much more basic than the level I'm currently studying, it includes some useful listening practise and some online tests, just to brush up on the basics. After all, I did pay for it, and it's a crime to waste my investment and, finally, I just took the Stage One exam.
I have now received, by email, a certificate ( I may even print it off) and have permission to use the logo you see on the page.

To be honest, completing Rocket Stage 1 definitely doesn't qualify me as a Guru but, if you're taking the Rocket course, and have worked down the seemingly never-ending list of multiple-choice questions, against the clock, you'll know that the occasional recognition of your hard work and achievement, by a third party, is a welcome boost.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Future is now

The first option some courses will give you, for expressing the Future in Spanish, is to use the Present tense.
An example you will hear often is 'Nos vemos'
It translates literally as, 'we see ourselves', or 'we see each other', but is commonly used to mean 'we WILL see each other' or, put another way 'See you!'
Although that may sound 'foreign' to you, mixing tenses is not uncommon in English.

What if I told you that you may often use the Future tense to describe something that happened in the past?
No? look at this.
'Why didn't Pete come to my party?'
'He will have been working'
Now, unless I'm mistaken, 'He WILL' is the Future tense.
Funnily enough, this is actually one occasion where the exact same construction exists in Spanish.
'¿Porque no vino Pete a mi fiesta?'
'Habrá estado trabajando'

This isn't always the case. For example, there's a tense in English (even English teaching websites disagree on its name, so it may, or may not be called the Present or Future continuous) where we also use the Present tense to describe the future, but in a different way to the Spanish.
The construction 'what are we doing at the weekend?' is common enough in English, but does not exist in Spanish. In Spanish you would have to say 'what WILL WE DO at the weekend?' or 'what WILL WE BE DOING at the weekend?'
'¿que haremos el fin de semana?' or '¿que estaremos haciendo, el fin de semana?'
A little confusing, I know, but the point is to make you aware of some of the habits we practise in English, without thinking, and how some of them just don't translate into Spanish.
¡Hasta la proxima!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Is it a flying bird, or a bird, flying?

Remember how I previously mentioned going back over your early notes and tests, just to prove to yourself how far you've come?
Well, there's another reason to do it. You may just see, or hear, things you missed the first time around.
I've been listening to some of the 'advanced' lessons in the Pimsleur course and, just today, came across something which set me thinking (apart from recognising at least one use of the Subjunctive - which is not dealt with anywhere in the Pimsleur system)

The lesson uses the phrase 'él está parado, allí' (he's standing, over there) and 'su esposa, tambien, está parada, alli' (his wife is also standing over there) and, later in the lesson, a male characters says 'estoy hablando el libro' (I'm reading the book), which is repeated 'estoy hablando el libro', by a female character.

Spot the difference?

The man 'está paradO' and his wife 'está paradA', whereas both the male and female characters 'está leyendO' the book. Hmm. Something's not right.

Actually it's all correct. The difference is that 'parado/a' is an adjective, describing the state of the people, whereas, 'leyendo' is a 'Gerund', or 'present participle' describing what someone is doing, at that moment.

I've mentioned Gerunds in passing, when talking about verb conjugation apps for mobile phones, but didn't explain what they are.
Short version =  infinitive +ing.
Explanation for humans = it's the conjugation of a verb, ending in -ando, or -iendo, used in the formation of the progressive present tense, e.g. I am typ-ING = estoy tecl-ANDO.

The most difficult task, for a student of Spanish, is to decide which -ing they are using  in English, adjective or gerund.
I don't pretend to be an expert (in fact, instead of posting this, I should be doing my tarea [homework] for my next lesson, on Saturday) but I just thought it worth pointing out this interesting anomaly, and adding a link to a page which might just offer a little more guidance

Finally, the bird.
This is where translation sites disagree, but I reckon a bird flying is 'un ave volando' and a flying bird is 'un ave volador'

¡Nos vemos!

Are we having fun yet?

The simplest way to express enjoyment in Spanish might be to use the verb 'divertirse', but there are other options available, many of which employ the verb/noun combination 'pasarlo', with an adjective.
Sure, you can say 'me divertí', but won't it sound so much better to say 'lo pasé fenomenal!'
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing that the 'lo' refers to the time (el tiempo) I passed (yo pasé), and that it was phenomenal!

Other expressions using the same construction include . .
pasarlo bomba
pasarlo genial
pasarlo en grande
pasarlo de película (just like the movies ;¬)
pasarlo de miedo (honest!)
pasarlo de maravilla

Just to cover the technical side of things, while we're enjoying ourselves (lo pasamos genial), the verb 'pasar' should be conjugated to suit the person who is having the good time, and can be in various tenses.
Lo pasaré bomba - I will have a great time
Espero que lo pases genial - I hope (that) you have a good time.

For anyone wondering why that's 'pases', instead of 'pasas', welcome to the Subjunctive!
I've been working on it now for a couple of months. Don't let anyone ever tell you that it's easy. It's not, and an awful lot of mastering it involves learning things by heart (e.g. which verbs force you to use it)
Having said that, it's not impossible but I wasn't expecting, after 3 years of learning Spanish, to hit such a stumbling block.
Don't worry about it. By the time you get around to having to deal with it, you'll be far enough along with your Spanish that you won't be easily put off. Just get your head down and charge right in.
I'll probably write a posting on the Subjunctive, some time soon, once I'm a little more comfortable with it myself.
It helps to have a good teacher (Quick plug for mi profesora XimenaModotti Carami, in Secondlife - visit the schoolhouse at

Finally, just a note that 'pasarlo' can also be used in a negative sense, so you can use 'pasarlo mal' if you didn't have such a good time. But hopefully not here.
¡Hasta pronto!

Friday, 16 September 2011

One that got away

Here's a curiousity, that had the promise of becoming a useful tool in my Spanish learning kit, but didn't quite make it.
It's a 3D environment, reminiscent of Secondlife, populated with 3D characters, who you engage in dialogues.
There are a couple of difficulty levels, and the program allegedly uses speech recognition to assess your proficiency.
The character voices are obviously computer-generated but, for the most part, fairly clear, although there were some sentences that got cut short  once or twice.
It's an interesting concept, that uses on screen text boxes to prompt you what to say next, with translation to English, and a phonetic guide to pronunciation, along with the text in Spanish.
There's an option to remove the phonetics, and the English, but it would have more useful to leave the English, and remove the Spanish, so you would have to translate for yourself.
You can also click on various object to discover their names in Spanish, and some background or cultural information in English (I have to admit, I did learn a couple of things)
The download is a 60-minute limited version, and the link to 'Buy now' doesn't work, so I guess it was never a commercial success, which is a shame, as it's very easy to get drawn in and find yourself reading the Spanish, without fear of embarrasment, as you're only talking to your PC.
You can download it at

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Waiter, there's a dictionary in my newspaper. . .

I know, I've mentioned Spanish and Mexican newspapers before, but how about an online newspaper, with a dictionary which is only a double-click away.
Imagine how useful it would be, for anyone doing the Times crossword, or a Sun reader struggling with more than two syllables (sorry, Lads. Chanting 'In-ger-land' , at a footie match doesn't count as three!)

I often find, when I'm perusing the foreign press, over breakfast, thats it's just too much hassle to pick up a dictionary, or go to and type in a word I don't know, and will simply pass on to another article.
Until, that was, profesora Ximena (my teacher in SecondLife) asked me to prepare a presentation on an article from the Mexican paper La Jornada.( ) and I made this discovery.

La Jornada has a simply brilliant app, built into the page, which allows you to just highlight a word (click and drag) then double-click to open up a dictionary definition in a pop-up window. Even better, if you don't understand the explanation (did I mention it was in Español?), you can highlight any word INSIDE the pop-up , and double-click again, for ITS definition! Brilliant! ¡Cojonudo!

Looks as if, thanks to 'Dixio technology', I'll be forsaking El Universal, in favour of La Jornada.
Oh, one other thing. If you just fancy a quick read, La Jornada has a regular column called 'Mar de Historias', written by Cristina Pacheco. They're short stories, not too taxing, and make a break from 'hard news' , or harder novels ;¬)


Written the morning after.
Just noticed that the Dixio dictionary doesn't seem to be enabled on the Site's Homepage, but don't be put off, it appears to work on all the other pages I've tried.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Pussy Galore.In Spanish, of course.

If you listen to the 'News in slow Spanish' podcasts, you'll be familiar with the phrase 'Expresiones, la salsa del idioma', and it's true, Spanish has its fair share of colourful sayings.
I decided to do a little research, based on a few sayings I'd come across, referring to El Tigre's domestic cousin, the Cat, and found there were a good many more than I expected.
Here's a selection – there are more but, to be honest I didn't understand some of them! ;¬)

Aquí hay Gato encerrado
There's something fishy going on here. (There's a cat locked up here)

El hijo de la gata, ratones mata
Like father (mother), like son. (The son of the cat kills mice)

De noche, todos los gatos son pardos
All cats are grey in the dark (at night)

Cuando el gato sale, los ratones bailan
While the cat's away, the mice will play (dance)

Hasta los gatos quieren zapatos
Everybody's after something (even the cats want shoes)

La curiosidad mató al gato
Curiosity killed the cat

A gato satisfecho no le preocupa ratón
A satisifed cat doen't care about a mouse.(Interpret that however you like ;¬)

Con ladrones y gatos pocos tratos
Be careful who you do business with (certainly not thieves or cats!)

Al ratón que no sabe más que un agujero, el gato lo pilla presto.
Always have a plan 'B' (the cat will soon catch the mouse that only knows one hole)

Cara de beato, y uñas de gato
Every rose has its (her) thorn (a beautiful face but claws like a cat)

Casose con gata por amor a la plata, gastose la plata, quedose la gata
Marry in haste, repent at leisure (marry the cat, for love on a plate, enjoy the meal, but the cat remains)

Como me tratan de gato salvage, me pongo a robar gallinas
Treat me like a human being, and I'll act like one (treat me like a wild cat, and I'll steal your chickens)

Dar gato por lievre
To pull a fast one, con someone (to serve cat as hare)

Donde hay chorizos colgando, no faltan gatos husmeando.
The nearest I could get to this is the rather unsavoury 'they're like flies around sh*t'
(where sausages hang, cats will come sniffing)

El gato gruñón no caza raton
Softly, softly, catchee monkey (the grunting cat can't hunt mice)

Como los gatos siempre cae parado
He always lands on his feet (like a cat, he falls standing)

Hermanos (or reyes) y gatos, todos son ingratos
Brothers (or kings) and cats are all ungrateful

Más come en una semana un gato que cien ratones en todo un año
The cure is worse than the disease ( a cat eats more in a week than a hundred mice in a year)

No importa el color del gato, lo importante es que se coma a los ratones
Any port in a storm (it doesn't matter what colour the cat is, so long as it eats mice)

Pajaro que dice pio pio se le come el gato
If you stick your head up, someone will blow it off. Know when to keep quiet (the cat will eat the bird that tweets) Hmm, better lay off Twitter for a while.

Si no es gato, es gata, y si no, gatito.
Whichever way you look at it, it's still a cat!!

I've included English sayings with the same sentiment, where possible, otherwise the translation shows the meaning pretty well.
If you want to wallow in even more Spanish colloquialisms, on all types of subject, head on over to and have a party.

Spanish Eyes (and Greek ones, too)

One of the things I like most about Spanish, and I have mentioned this before, is that each letter in the alphabet has only one pronunciation, making reading aloud, and learning new words by reading, so much easier than in English.
There are, however, a couple of letter which have very similar sounds, and, if you're trying to learn the Spanish alphabet, one of them has a peculiar name, which I used to find very easy to forget.
The letters are I and Y.
So, here's an explanation of why Y is called 'igriega' and why you're never going to forget it again.
In Maths, we use a lot of Greek letters as symbols, alpha, delta etc and, in the same way, what was originally a Greek letter was imported into the Spanish language.
Who knows why they decided that they needed two letters that both made the 'i' sound, but there had to be a way to distinguish one from the other.
If I tell you that another name for the humble letter 'I' is 'i latina' and that the Spanish (female) adjective for 'Greek' is 'Griega'. then you're never going to forget that 'Y' is just a Greek 'I', which makes it 'igriega'.


Saturday, 3 September 2011

More free Spanish eBooks.

I'm really going to have to get myself an ebook reader.
There are just SO many books, just waiting to be read, and so little space left on my bookshelves.
Now the situation has been made worse, by my discovery of
Worse yet is the fact that you can type l:es into the search field on epub, and it returns titles for which the language tag is set to Spanish.(or you can just click here and save a little typing :¬)
We're not just talking crusty old Classics here, either (not that there's anything wrong with don Quixote). Fancy Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, or the True Blood series?
All there, in Spanish, along with literally hundreds of others, free to download, at least until somebody hits them with a copyright suit, and closes them down.
So, be quick, get them while they're still available, and enjoy some modern novels,en Español.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Sky's the limit

Just a quickie, and I'm sorry, but this one is UK-specific.
In fact, it's even more specific than that.
Don't bother reading any further, unless you happen to have access to Sky Anytime+

Still reading?
Good news!
There are currently three Spanish films, all with English subtitles, available to download and view on Anytime+.
The first is 'Rec' (more info at )
Then there's the imaginatively titled 'Rec2' ( )
 I've actually seen Rec2. Best decribed as a cross between Cloverfield, Crazies and The Exorcist.
Finally there's a crime thriller called 'The secret in their eyes' (

I don't know what the 'shelf life' is on Anytime+, but I seem to recall 'El Mariachi' was available for quite a while.


Sunday, 28 August 2011

Free Spanish books on your Kindle

The Amazon Kindle is everywhere, either as a physical device, or as an App.
I currently have the Kindle reader installed on my Android phone, my iPod touch and, most recently on my Windows Netbook.

Finding books for it in Spanish can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you don't want to spend much (or anything ;¬)

Well, here's a tip.
Go to
and you'll find yourself on the Advanced Search page.
I have to admit, I found this link on a page from 2009. I haven't been able to find the page via any of the menus on the or sites.

Once on the page, you have the option to search for books in your chosen language.
It's much easier than using the normal search and typing in Spanish or Español.
If you're in the States, that's all there is to it. For us in the UK, it's a little more difficult.
Unlike hard copy books, won't let you buy from the UK. I'm afraid the only option is to make a note of the book's name and search on Kindle Store.

Important Note!!
When searching for a book in Spanish, on the UK site, be sure to order the results by 'Price- low to high' or you might end up paying for a book which is listed as free on

Friday, 26 August 2011

Reflexive verbs - a pain in the (d)arse?

There's a language learning site that I haven't mentioned before, called .
Quite some time ago, when I was still looking at courses, I signed up for free tips, and the site owner, Marcus Santamaria, is a persistent sort of bloke, and still sends me emails.
Unlike a lot of mailing lists, I don't have a rule which sends Marcus's emails to the Trash, as most of them usually contain a link to a page including a 'taster' lesson from the Synergy Spanish course.
Now, I can't begin to evaluate the course, as I've never taken it but, if all of the lessons are as good as the examples I've heard, it's got a lot going for it.

As an example, there's a lesson on the use of reflexive verbs. These can be a bit of a pain, which is probably why so many of them end in 'arse'
A lot of reflexive verbs are ordinary verbs, with the reflexive pronoun (don't get too hung up on the terminology) 'se' tacked on the end, which indicates that the verb acts on the do-er.

Quick Grammar refresh here.
In the sentence 'Sam washes the car', Sam is the 'Subject' of the verb (the one performing the action) and the car is the 'Object' of the verb (the thing on which the verb acts)
In the sentence 'Sam washes himself', Sam is both the Subject and the Object.
This is a typical example of a reflexive verb so, instead of using the verb 'lavar' on its own, as in 'Sam lava el coche', we would add 'se' and use 'lavarse', rearranged in the sentence as 'Sam se lava'.

That's one thing that always confused me. The 'se' is only tacked on the end when using the infinitive (that's the verb in its 'to' form - TO be, TO wash, TO wash one's-self etc)

Anyhow, the point Marcus makes is that the 'one's-self' interpretation works for certain verbs, like 'lavarse' - to wash one's-self, but for others, it just doesn't seem to make sense, or translates into rather stilted English, like 'levantarse' - 'to raise one's-self' or 'irse' - 'to go one's-self'
He offers a much more appropriate translation, comparing the pronoun 'se' to the English word 'get', so 'irse' becomes 'to GET going' and 'levantarse' becomes 'to GET up'.
It's not a literal translation, but it's the closest I've seen to the correct sense of the phrase, which is easy to remember, and makes sense of those reflexives which don't really work with 'one's-self'.

Click on over to and see what else you can pick up.

And the reference to 'darse' in the Post title?
'darse cuenta de que . . . ' means 'to realise that . . .'

Thursday, 18 August 2011

You're having a laugh . . . . !

Well, you could be.
I previously recommended reading books and newspapers (or newspaper websites, at least. Did you read about the 'Fairy of Guadalajara' in El Universal? and I thought UK journalists were desperate;-) and still think they're a good way to pick up new vocabulary and, especially with books, get a feel for dialogue, and how the language is used in conversation.
But, if you want just a quick dip into something a little lighter, which only takes a few minutes, but still qualifies as 'practise', click on over to and read some of the funnies in Español.
They have quite a few well-known cartoons, from Garfield and Heathcliffe, to Calvin and Hobbes, B.C. and the Wizard of ID, right through to Modesty Blaise. There are also some I've never heard of, but that's probably because they originate from the States.
Incidentally, just browsing one or two, I came across a word which I couldn't find in any of my electronic or online dictionaries, which eventually led me to
Word Magic is yet another online Spanish dictionary which seems to do quite a good line in colloquial expressions, in both English and Spanish.
The word ? Nalguitas . Look it up ;¬)

Friday, 12 August 2011

Men are from Madrid. Women are from Valencia

Or should that be Mars and Venus?
Whatever the case, one of the big stumbling blocks for new Spanish students is the idea of Gender.
How, exactly, do you remember whether a specific object is 'el' or 'la' ?
What about new words?

Often, hearing someone else using a word doesn't help. They might say 'voy a recoger mi traje' (I'm going to collect my suit) but that doesn't tell you whether the suit is masculine or feminine (it's 'el traje' by the way)

Well, there are some guidelines that can help. I'm not going to call them Rules because, to be honest, there are a lot of exceptions, but they can help.

First, good news Guys. U is N O R MA L
It might not look much, but this is a quick way to determine which objects are masculine (el, un) based on the last letter (or two). So, we get EL impetU (impetus),EL cinturóN (belt), EL gatO (cat), EL prograMA (program), and so  on.

Sorry, I couldn't come up with a handy mnemonic for the feminine nouns, but here's a list of endings for objects which are normally LA, or UNA.
a,d,cíon,síon,umbre,sis. So LA tapA (lid), LA ciudaD (city), LA naCION (nation), LA incertidUMBRE (uncertainty) etc.

Note: don't confuse masculine words, ending in MA, with feminine words ending in A. The MA ending usually indicates a word which has been 'imported' from Greek. There is, however, one notable exception - LA caMA (bed).

Well I did say these were not hard and fast rules!
Hopefully, though, you will still find them useful.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


The first thing that impressed me about Verbling ( was how easy it was to sign up and get started.
The site checked my WebCam and microphone and, within minutes, I had a ringtone, indicating that I was about to start my first intercambio.
Firstly, I'll correct an error in my previous post, you actually begin by speaking Spanish then, after 5 minutes, a flashing bar across the screen announces 'Speak English now'
I was greeted with a cheerful 'Hola, David', which surprised me a little, as there was no indication of who I was speaking to, but they could obviously see my username.
My chat partner was a very nice lady, from Mexico City, whose name, I found out, was Lucia.
The sound quality was pretty good, although because I could hear my voice repeating from her speakers, I could tell there was a significant lag (up to 2 secs) which did make it rather too easy to talk over each other.

The beauty of Verbling is that the person you are talking to is also learning to speak a foreign language and understands, and shares the problems you might be having, with vocabulary, verb conjugations and confidence.

According to Lucia, although she is taking English classes, there are very few opportunities for her to actually practise conversation so there are, potentially, a lot of eager Spanish speakers just waiting for your call.

10 minutes passed surprisingly quickly, so much so that we exchanged Skype names, and switched to Skype to chat for another half-hour, mixing English and Spanish in fairly equal measure. I have to say that the sound quality, and lack of lag are much better on Skype.

Another small quibble I have with Verbling is that my call with Lucia had no sooner ended than there was half a second of ringtone, and a new face appeared in the Verbling window (Lucia had not had a webcam connected, so I had no video feed during her call) As I was about to initiate a Skype call with Lucia, I quickly closed the window. Apologies to the unknown student of English, it was nothing personal.
At the end of each call you are prompted to give the call a rating. Presumably this will allow Verbling classify users and perhaps create a list of 'preferred connections' or drop users who consistently upset others?

As far as doing what it sets out to do, Verbling is a success. It's the speed dating of intercambios. 10 minutes and you're done, unless you decide to exchange details and continue the chat elsewhere. I was just lucky ;¬)
As a no-commitment,anonymous and secure, way to have a quick chat with a new face, who understands that you are still learning too, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Mo . . men . . . tum . . . .

The Oxford English dictionary defines it as 'the force or energy with which a body moves'.
However you describe it, it's all too easy to lose it, when studying Spanish, especially if you're doing it alone, with an Audio, Video or PC/Internet-based program.
There are countless distractions, and excuses not to do it Today.
You take a holiday, then come back and find you can't quite fit it back into your schedule.
You might begin to feel as if you're not making much progress, or you come across a subject which you're struggling with.
Whatever the reason, we all have times where we lose momentum and, if you don't take steps to correct it, you could end up never getting around to picking it up again, and all the work you've done will be wasted.
First, remind yourself why you decided to learn Spanish in the first place. If those reasons are still valid, you still have motivation to carry on.
Remind yourself of how much you're already learned. Dig out some of your old exercises, or redo some of the early tests and exams you completed when you were just beginning. How easy are they now?
Rather than having a break from Spanish, just have a break from the track you're currently following (before it becomes a rut ;¬)
Experiment with some other learning sources, try out some of the free online content I've mentioned in previous posts. Watch Dora the Explorer, or Handy Manny with your kids (or, if you're feeling adventurous, you can watch Dora in Spanish! Just search YouTube)
Speaking of kids, if yours are learning Spanish at school, and aren't yet at that age where any inetraction with Parents is taboo, why not join in when they're doing their homework, or try and engage them in a chat?
The best cure for a stall in your Spanish learning is to find opportunities to speak it.
SecondLife I've mentioned before, is a great place to meet Spanish speakers whether you're typing, or actually using voice.
You can find chat partners at,there's a forum at, and I've just heard about an 'intercambio' site at, where the idea is to speak 5 minutes in English with a native Spanish speaker, then switch to Spanish for another 5 minutes (thanks to Ben at, for the link)
Of course the best boost would be a week or two on holiday in Spain (I wish)
If,after all that, you're still wondering whether it's worth pressing on, I can only draw on personal experience. I have always found that the Spanish are delighted to find out that you have taken the time to learn their language. They don't take it for granted like we English do, and will go out of their way to be supportive and patient.
I remember sitting in a beachside cafe in Corralejo, Fuerteventura, and I asked the waiter, in Spanish, if we could possibly have one serving of Tiramisu, with two spoons, as we weren't too hungry. He grinned, from ear to ear and said 'Hombre, por supuesto!' ('course you can, Mate!) and fetched us a portion that would have served three, but charged us for one!
A strange coincidence is that, sitting in the same restaurant were a couple who we had once met through mutual friends, who had been trying to decide whether to approach us but, when they heard me conversing in Spanish decided that they were mistaken, we must be locals, and didn't bother! We didn't find out until we were back in the UK.
Right, that's enough for tonight, I'm off to sign up for an intercambio, at verbling. I'll let you know how it goes. ¡Hasta pronto!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

What are you doing . . . right now?

Here's an exercise I find very useful, whether it's while I'm driving to work, wandering around the shops or waiting in a queue at a favourite takeaway.
Talk to yourself.
It doesn't have to out loud, but it's probably more effective that way.
Now, I'm not referring to tables of verb conjugations, or anything else that you might be trying to crowbar into your brain, ready for your next lesson.
I'm talking about description.
Think about what you're doing at this exact moment, and try and figure out how you would describe it in Spanish. Or if you're in a situation where you're not actually doing much, like sitting on a train, look out of the window, and try and describe what you can see. Alternatively, if you've progressed to where you're using the past tense, imagine you're telling someone what you did last night, last week, or during your holidays.

I find that, apart from the practise of composing sentences,it's a great diagnostic tool for identifying words that you might use in normal daily life, that you don't actually know the Spanish equivalents for, so have your dictionary ready, or at least a notepad, so you can look the words up later.

You'll probably also find that this encourages you to find ways around words you don't know. Some of your constructions might be a little clumsy, or outlandish, to begin with, but we're talking about communication,not works of literature, so don't be afraid to be creative ;¬)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The iPod strikes back

Well, it wouldn't be fair to heap praise on Android Spanish learning Apps, without mentioning a couple I also have on my iPod.
Ever bought a pocket Spanish dictionary. Be honest. Wasn't it a waste of money? How about the pocket electronic Spanish English dictionary? Never found a word I needed in mine.
I have a pretty good paperback dictionary but it's way too big to go in my pocket, and takes up too much of my luggage allowance, if I take it on holiday.
My solution was to buy the Collins Spanish-English translation dictionary by Ultralingua.
It claims over 100,000 words, translates from English to Spanish, or vice-versa, and has a superb conjugation section covering 19 tenses, plus Gerunds and Participles.
I use it more than you could imagine, simply because it's so quick to find the word you want.
As you begin to type, it offers potential words,based on what you've typed so far, so it's rare you have to type in a complete word.
My only gripe, and it's mentioned, by a number of posters on the website ( is that reflexive verbs aren't handled seperately. If you wanted, say, 'equivocarse' (to be mistaken, which I frequently am) you'd need to select  'equivocar', then look at the entry below.
It's not cheap, either. I seem to remember paying about £12, but that's on a par with a physical dictionary with the same number of words, and I haven't regretted a penny.

If, however, you don't have a lot of cash to play with, might I recommend the iPod App from, a site I have mentioned before. This FREE app, features a Word Game (just a multi-choice vocabulary tester/builder), a list of useful phrases, grouped by type such as 'weather', 'shopping','restaurant','airport' etc. and a surprisingly useful dictionary.
Like the Collins, it translates both ways, attempts to autocomplete as you type, but doesn't feature verb conjugations. What do expect for nothing?  If connected to the Internet, you will also get an updated 'Word of the day'.
Like the Collins, again, it is totally portable and doesn't need a connection the SpanishDict website, once you've installed it. As a replacement for the pocket dictionary, it's certainly worth a look.
Hmm, it seems there's also an Android app, but I'm not able to download it on my little HTC Wildfire.
It's at . If you manage to download it to your phone, let us know how well it works.

What DO androids dream of ?

The title of the short story, by Philip K.Dick, on which the film 'Bladerunner' was based, asks if androids dream of electric sheep.
My android phone dreams of Spanish verb conjugations!
I recently downloaded a brilliant App called Spanish Verb Trainer Pro, by Robert Muth.
The most succinct description would be that it is a set of electronic flashcards, to help you memorise verb conjugations, but its real beauty lies in the level of configuration available.
There are a  number of built in 'drills', and you can try some of these by downloading the free version from Android Market Place, but once you begin to create custom 'drills', basically cardsets, the fun really begins.
With a selection of 322 verbs, regular and irregular, and 23 tenses (that's what it says, and there are enough for me) including Present(Indicative), Preterite, Imperfect, Future, Subjunctive, Imperative, Gerunds, Participles, Present and Future Perfect, to name but a scary few, you can tailor drills to exactly suit your current needs.
Want to practice irregular verbs in the the Imperfect and Preterite?
Regular verbs in the Future?
All verbs in the Present?
Just the verb 'estar' in Preterite, Imperfect and Present Perfect?
No problem! Just invent a Title for your drill, select the verbs you want to practice, select the tenses you want to practice, you can even select the 'persons' or nouns you want to practice (he,she,I,they etc.)
I find this especially useful, as I'm studying South American Spanish which, for those of you who have studied a little already, does not use the 'vosotros' form, as used in mainland Spain (it's like a plural version of 'tu', replaced in Latin America with 'usted'), so  just leave it out of all my drills.
Once you've attempted a flashcard, you're given a chance to grade your response, based on confidence, and the App keeps track of your weaknesses, and will test you on them again, next time you try the drill.
I love it because it's always with me, and you can fit in a quick practice any time, waiting for a train, on the bus, coffee break, what ever.
Oops, nearly forgot the price for all this Android Spanishness . . .  a cool £1.82. Hardly going to break the Bank, is it?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

You must remember this, an 's' is just an 's',an 'i' is just an 'i' . . .

Some things never change and, thankfully, when learning Spanish, it's useful to know that one of life's constants is the pronunciation of the Spanish alphabet.
Unlike English, each letter has one sound and, irrespective of where it appears in a word, that does not change.
I'm not even going to attempt to give examples, as the words I might choose to illustrate a particular sound might be pronounced quite differently by a Southerner, a Scot, or someone from Liverpool, Birmingham, or Dublin.
Suffice it to say that, unlike a poor European, trying to determine how to pronounce 'cough', 'rough','through','bough' or 'though', once you have mastered the pronunciation of the letters, you will be able to pronounce any Spanish word, just by reading it. Anyone remember 'Catchprase'? Just 'say what you see!'

There are a couple of extra letters thrown in, just to make things a little more exotic, like 'll' and 'ñ' but they, too only have one sound each.

Obviously, there are regional differences, as there are in the UK, but they won't affect the way you speak, just the way you listen.
Notably, in northern Spain, 'c', in the middle of a word, before a vowel, tends to be pronounced as 'th' e.g. 'Barthelona' for Barcelona.
In parts of South America you may hear 'll' and 'y' pronounced as a slurred 'j', so 'yo llegué' (I arrived) becomes 'zjo zjegué'.
There is also a tendency, in Argentina for example, for the letter 's' to morph into a barely perceptible, nasal 'h', or disappear altogether, so 'lo mismo' (the same) becomes 'lo mihmo', and 'los lobos' (the wolves) are reduced to 'lo lobo'.

Don't worry about it, at this stage. Your initial aim is to be able to pronounce words clearly and be understandable.

If you'd like to experiment with some Spanish words, and find out how they will sound, here's a great text-to-speech site, which will read your input and speak to you with correct Spanish pronunciation.
Not only does it include a range of langages but also, at least in the case of Spanish, a variety of voices and regional differences.
Try typing 'lo mismo', for instance, and listen to the difference between voices of Rosa (Lat. Am) and  Francisca (Chilean), or listen how Violeta and Carmen differ with 'yo te llamo' (I [will] call you)
Apart from the multitude of voices, the application also recognises the extra Spanish characters, like ' ñ ', so it pronounces 'manana' differently to 'mañana'.

Obviously that's not a deal of use to you, if you can't type the special characters.
'LetslearntospeakSpanish' to the rescue! Just click over and download the brilliant little App which uses your CapsLock key as a 'shift' key to type Spanish characters like ñ á é í ó , and it's free! If you're submitting any typewritten classwork, it's a lifesaver.
Almost forgot, it also does the inverted exclamation and question marks.
¿Muy bien, no?  ¡Saludos!

Learn on the move . . .

A couple of years ago, the organisation I work for relocated me 35 miles further up the M1. My daily commute went from 15 minutes each way, to almost an hour in each direction.
I complained bitterly, to anyone who'd listen but, if it hadn't happened, I wouldn't be speaking Spanish now.
My car became my classroom, and I used the extra travelling time to my advantage.
There are a number of audio courses available. Some of you may remember the old Linguaphone cassettes, popular in the 70's and 80's, but most modern courses are in CD format, and easily transferable to mp3.

Obviously I can only comment on the courses I've tried.
I started looking on ebay, and bought a trial CD of the Pimsleur language course. It contained the first 10 half-hour lessons,and cost me around £20. I've since listened to some sample Pimsleur lessons, in other languages, and they all take the same format.
Rather than blowing your mind with grammatical jargon and verb conjugations, they start off with a few basic phrases, and show how you can switch bits around to make new ones. You are speaking from the very first lesson, and the sense of achievement you can get, early on, encourages you to continue. Each lesson begins with you listening to a conversation in Spanish and ends with the same exercise only,hopefully, the second time around, you can actually understand it all.
The lessons are designed to be undertaken one-per-day, and are based on a spaced repetition and recurrence of key phrases, for maximum reinforcement.
It certainly worked for me.
Now the bad news, buying the whole Pimsleur Spanish course, even  on ebay, could cost you between £200 and £300. Spread over three proficiency levels, available seperately, there are nearly 50 audio CDs. Note, however, that some of the other Learn Spanish Quickly courses sold on ebay are actually pirated copies of the Pimsleur system  in mp3 format, on one CD, typically for around a fiver. The choice is yours. If you'd like to try a free sample lesson, go to and click the 'Free Sample Lesson' button.

My second experience of Spanish audio lessons was the offering from Michel Thomas. It struck me, initially, as a little bizarre, learning Spanish from a Frenchman, but he is a very good teacher.
The format is quite different. You effectively become the third student in Michel's class. It works quite well, but some of the mistakes made by the other students can become a little irritating,and there is always the risk that what will stick in your mind are their errors, as opposed to Michel's corrections.
The pace is quite rapid,and you soon move from the simple present to other tenses, and Michel begins to introduce elements of grammar. He avoids using formal terms for the various tenses, explaining, instead, when they should be used, but he does explain the differences between the 'persons' (you, me, he etc).
I found it followed naturally on from the Pimsleur system as it explained WHY I had been doing some of the things the Pimsleur course had introduced me to. Michel places great emphasis on understanding how the language is constructed, encouraging you to think before you speak. The basic and advanced courses, along with a couple of ancillary CDs(around 20 in total) can normally be picked up on ebay for under £50, for the genuine article.

My most recent acquisition was the 11CD 'Learn in your car' course, for under £20 on ebay.
This one is definitely NOT for beginners, as it offers virtually no guidance on learning the language, apart from the little fold-out instruction book, but it does introduce some new vocabulary and phrases not found in the other two courses, although I have used it primarily as a self-testing resource. I can't really recommend this one.

Finally, you may see books with tempting titles like 'Speak Spanish in 8 hours (complete with CD/DVD)'
As you can tell from the number of CDs in the other courses, any course which purports to teach you anything more advanced than 'dos cervezas, por favor' (two beers please)  followed  by '¿donde está el baño?' (where's the bathroom?) on one or two CDs, is rather over-optimistic!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Is this thing on?

Apparently one of the things that sets us apart from most animals (chimps and dolphins excepted) is the ability to recognise our own reflection in a mirror. But how many of us, watching a video recording, and hearing our own voices, have said "it sounds nothing like me"
Imagine if that voice were speaking Spanish!
Here's a tip to help with the task of memorising lists, whether it be of verb conjugations, or new vocabulary, or whatever.
Sure, you could just read it over and over from a list, or copy it over and over in a book, but both of these methods require that you have hands and eyes free.
Most of you will have some method of recording your voice, whether it be via your PC microphone, a digital voice recorder (my old mp3 player has one built in), or a mobile phone.
Just record yourself, reading your list, in your best Spanish accent, then play it back, as often as you like.
You might talk along with it, try to anticipate it, or just follow quietly,in your head, but you can do it anywhere, any time, with no books or PC.
I've been using this method for the past two weeks, to learn a list of verbs which trigger the subjunctive.
I have a lesson in a couple of hours, so we'll see how I did.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Visit Colombia, Mexico, Peru or Barcelona for free!

Well maybe not quite, but all of these places are represented in the virtual world of Second Life (
Joining SL is free and, providing your PC and Internet conection are up to the task ( it doesn't require as much processor power as you might think) you could soon be wandering around a virtual Spanish speaking country.
While a microphone and headset are required if you want to engage in voice chat, conversing via keyboard is just as common and you can still hear the voice conversations around you.

SL is now one of my primary resources for Spanish learning.
I go to school there!

I have weekly lessons with a Spanish teacher, based in Mexico, in a virtual classroom, complete with slideshows (which I can snapshot and print off later), one-to-one voice chat, regular homework, and all for under £4.50 per hour!

Mi profesora (my teacher) is Ximena Modotti Carami, a native Spanish speaker, with over 20 years of experience teaching Spanish as a second language, in real life schools in Mexico.
I have been learning with her for around a year, and the progress I have made in both comprehension, expression and confidence, is extraordinary.
Ximena teaches all levels, from beginner to advanced, and my first taster lesson was free.
You can find her SL profile at and she has a blog at
Once you sign up for SL, you can visit the schoolhouse at but do me a favour and don't just wander in, if I'm having a lesson :-p

Last but not least, those exotic locations I mentioned

See you there!

Everyone loves a freebie!

Nobody wants to spend a lot of money on something which might not suit their needs.
Language learning is no exception but, thanks to the Internet, it's easy to get an introduction to learning Spanish for FREE.

One of the best learning sites I have come across is . Apart from the excellent online dictionary and translator ,and the supportive user community, the online video lessons are excellent, and you can download them to your iPod or mp4 player and carry them with you.

Another language site, which supports several languages, including Spanish, is

Not forgetting good old Auntie Beeb at which even includes a multi-part mystery series, with commentary and quizzes related to the videos.

If all you want is a dictionary, and one which can be used offline too, look no further than . OK, it doesn't contain as many words as some commercial offerings, but it's pretty good on slang and clloquial expressions and is portable.
These guys actually produce dozens of dictionaries, for languages from Afrikaans to Zulu, including oddities like Old Norse along the way.

Speaking of portable, , and all support excellent podcasts and, while not all of the content on the last two is free, the podcasts cost nothing and are full of interesting and informative content, aimed at improving your listening comprehension, and expanding your vocabulary, and the voice of Mercedes Leon at spanishpodcast (recorded in Barcelona) is so relaxing, you could listen to it all day.

You want more?
Personally, I start the day catching the headlines on and, for something a little more exotic, and there are dozens of other Spanish language newspaper sites. Just Google them. is more of a magazine, but well worth a look.

Finally, if you want some Spanish TV (and you don't happen to have a non-Sky satellite receiver ) try I'm not certain of the legality of the site, but it appears to virus-free and allows you to watch films and TV series online, in Spanish. 

If you come across any more free content you think would be useful to other Estudiantes, post a reply, and let us know.

Getting started

So, where do you go to learn to speak Spanish?
Often, it will depend on your location, your budget, and the time you have available.

The Internet is always a good starting point, and there are many online resources, some free, some not, to help you along. From podcasts, to online courses, from newspapers to online movies, I'll be covering some of these options in future postings.

Local colleges often have courses, at varying cost. Usually aimed at beginners, these can be just what a novice learmer needs to get them started. The only problem is that you might need to make a financial commitment before getting a chance to find out if this method really suits you. You will also have to commit to a set lesson timetable, and may have to travel some distance to a suitable centre.

 PC CD-Rom based learning is an option that will suit many people, as you can time your 'lessons' to suit your own calendar, and retake lessons as often as you like, but you are restricted to sitting in front of your PC. This goes for online courses as well.

Audio courses on CD are the most portable learning method, and the one I started with. Easily converted to mp3, so you can take them anywhere on your iPod or mp3 player, there are a variety of suppliers, again of varying quality. Along with podcasts from the Internet, they are another learning method that allows you to set the timing and pace of your learning.

As you can see, there's plenty of choice, when it comes to beginning to learn.
Next time, I'll examine some of the options in more detail.


Welcome to 'Let's learn to speak Spanish'
I've never created a Blog before, so bear with me, while I find my feet.
I suppose I'd best start with a note on what this Blog's about.
What I don't pretend to do is to teach anyone to speak Spanish (I'm still a learner myself) but what I can do is to offer support and advice, point out some resources I've found useful and interesting, and help new 'estudiantes' avoid some of the mistakes I've made. 
I hope you will find it useful.