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 (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/collins-pro-spanish-english/id292239107?mt=8) 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 SpanishDict.com, 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 http://www.spanishdict.com/android . 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 http://www.onehourprogramming.com/spanish-accents/ 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 http://www.pimsleur.com/Learn-Spanish 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 (http://www.secondlife.com/)
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  https://my.secondlife.com/ximenamodotti.carami and she has a blog at http://ximenamodotticarami.blogspot.com/.
Once you sign up for SL, you can visit the schoolhouse at http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Sede%20di%20Marte/214/71/39 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
Colombia http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/COLOMBIAMOR/129/127/67
Mexico http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Mexico%20Lindo/127/81/37
Peru http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/USMP%203D/204/2/32
Barcelona http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Barcelona%20Virtual/208/223/90

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 http://www.spanishdict.com/ . 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 http://www.busuu.com/

Not forgetting good old Auntie Beeb at http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/ 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 www.freelang.net/dictionary/spanish.php . 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, http://www.spanishpodcast.org/ , http://www.newsinslowspanish.com/ and http://www.voicesenespanol.com/ 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 http://www.20minutos.es/http://www.canarias7.es/ and, for something a little more exotic, http://www.eluniversal.mx/ and there are dozens of other Spanish language newspaper sites. Just Google them.
http://www.muyinteresante.es/ 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 http://www.veocine.es/. 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.