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 ;¬)