Sunday, 19 February 2012

Televisión en Español, gratis.

Some of you may recall, in a previous post, I mentioned that I had installed a satellite dish, to enable me to watch Spanish language TV.
It wasn't a particularly expensive project, but here's a way you can watch dozens of Spanish language channels, absolutely free.

Just go to and you can access over 100 channels.

Once you've selected the language you wish the site to be displayed in, just select the a country from the scrolling list on the left, and you will be presented with a list of the channels, from that country, available to view online.

The list includes Spanish-speaking countries from Argentina (35 channels) to Venezuela (7 channels), passing through Mexico (32) and Spain (70) along the way.
Other countires include Aruba, Chile, Cuba (I have to admit, I get a much better picture on CubaVision with my satellite, than you will online, but it is watchable), Dominican Republic, Peru and several others.

A couple of my favourites, are CubaVision (Cuba, obviously) and Telesur (from Venezuela), but you can spend a few happy hours, finding out which suit your needs best.

I'm not sure how often WWITV (World Wide Internet TV) is updated, but there are a few channels which don't play.

Connecting and displaying the content works in a variety of ways, depending on which channel you choose.
Some open a new window, direct to the Broadcasters' websites (these are labelled 'on site').
Some require the Microsoft Silverlight plugin.
Some require Real Player, some Windows Media Player, some Flash Player and still others require installation of a plugin called 'veetle'.

Obviously you'll have to make your own mind up about what you are comfortable installing on your PC.

Available content varies from Government-run stations, to Music TV, Christian TV, News Channels and General TV, where you can find kids programmes and even some movies.
So now you have a good excuse to spend hours watching TV - it's Educational.

¡Hasta la próxima!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Demystifying Spanish Grammar (with impenetrable English explanations?)

It's rare that I buy books on Spanish grammar. There are just so many resources available free on the Internet, but I was recently searching for a definitive list of 'when to use the imperfect' (yes, for last week's posting) and I followed a link to Google books, where I came across a book called 'Demystifying Spanish Grammar', by an author called Brandon Simpson.
So, here's a short review.
Brandon begins with a statement that the book is not for beginners. Up to a point, I would agree. Some of the explanations and background assume a good grounding in English grammar and language; by chapter 2, he is already talking about 'diphthongs'.
Don't let this put you off, though,as there is a lot in this book which can be of use to beginners, as well as students of other levels. You can always skip sections that are currently beyond you, and return to them, as your studies progress.
It's not a big book, by any means, according to the Google books version, it's 111 pages ( I mention this, because it's available in a variety of formats, at varying prices - but more on that later ) but it is split into clearly defined sections, each dealing with a specific Spanish 'problem area', some of which you may have already encountered.
1) Written accents
5)The Subjunctive

Now, as I mentioned, Brandon has a habit of using some pretty esoteric English grammar terms, like 'Monosyllabic Homonyms', but he does, usually give an explanation of each term, and follows it with examples.
So 'monosyllabic'? - not difficult - having one syllable. 'Homonym'? - a word that sounds like another word. The term 'monosyllabic homonym' crops up in chapter on accents, and the words in question are 'el' and 'él', so don't be blinded by the technical vocabulary.

Throughout the book, Brandon explains the rules which underpin the correct usage of the various parts of Spanish Grammar, adds acronyms of his own, to help you remember how they should be applied, gives  a wealth of examples, and there are even exercises for you to work on, with answers in the appendices.

Overall, I think this book falls into a difficult niche.It is dealing with a number of grammar constructs, which vary in difficulty from Ser/Estar up to the Subjunctive which, to be honest, deserves a book to itself. Consequently, there are areas which intermediate students will probably already have mastered, and areas which are, as Brandon states, too advanced for the beginner. In his bibliography, he even recommends a book on English grammar, to assist in the understanding of any foreign language. Having said that, it's a compact volume, which is structured in such a way that it can easily be used as a reference book, just picking out the parts you need, as you need them.

For this reason, and the quality of the content, I found the book to be a very useful addition to my Spanish learning toolkit and, what's even better is the price.
You can buy the book in paperback from for £4.95 or you can do what I did, and buy the Kindle version at £3.08 !
Don't worry, if you don't have a Kindle. For the one payment, I now have the book on my Kindle, my iPod, my Android phone, and my Laptop, all running the Kindle application and, what's even better, if your devices are continuously Internet connected, you can close the book on one, and open it on another, in the exact same place where you left off!

If you want to have a browse through some of the book's content, before deciding to buy, click over to and have a read, but be aware that only selected pages are available to view.

Let me know if you find it useful.
¡Hasta luego!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

No 'ifs' or 'buts'

Re-reading yesterday's post, I realised there'd been something niggling at the back of my mind.
Anyone familiar with the Spanish learning course recorded by Michel Thomas will have one or two of his catchphrases burned into their memory. He had a knack of summarising certain topics, which made them impossible to forget.

The most memorable is his preterite cha-cha, where he took the endings of the first and third person singular (that's 'I' and 'he/she/it/you [formal]') for 'ar' and other 'non-ar' verbs, in the preterite tense, and chanted them to a cha-cha rhythm - "e and o and i and io, e and o and i and io. It's like a cha-cha. You could dance to it and, you know what . . you'll never forget it"
You were spot on Michel. I never have.
However,unfortunately, I have to take issue with one of his other memory aids.

This one's a little  more complicated. He started with the endings for the condtional tense, which are based on '-ria'.
The word for a river is 'rio' so, if there were such a thing as a feminine river, he argued, it might be called a 'ria' - with me so far?
A word which crops up frequently in conditional phrases in English is 'would' - e.g 'I would do it, if you let me'
Michel reasoned that using conditional statments was going into the 'woulds' (woods) so the way to remember the ending was to imagine that, every time you went into the woods, you would find a feminine river (-ria)
I have to admit that, until now, like many of Michel's lessons, it has been a great help to my poor memory.
Until I started using it in the wrong place!

For a phrase to qualify as conditional, there has to be a condition.
In most cases this would be 'if', or perhaps 'provided that' or 'so long as' - so it's quite correct to say 'yo te lo traería si me pides' - 'I would bring you it, if you ask'

However, if you were to say 'When I was young, I would bring him a newspaper every day' - there's no condition. It's just something I did, or used to do.
Back to yesterday's posting - actions repeated in the past?
So that's 'cuando yo era joven, le traía un periódico cada día'

Well apart from pointing out that little pitfall, I hope I've made two other points. One is that you CAN learn valuable Spanish lessons, which will stay with you for a long time, from a quality audio course, but the other is that there's no substitute, as you advance, for having a real teacher to pick up on, and correct any misunderstandings along the way.
All learning is good - enjoy yours.
¡Hasta luego!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Past comes back to haunt us

We've just started telling stories in class.
Profesora Ximena has been giving us examples of legends from Mexico, then encouraging us to retell them in our own words, and also to provide examples of fables or tales from our own countries (I did a reasonable rendition of 'the sword in the stone')

Now you can practice verb conjugations and do exercises to prove that you know when to use each of the two past tenses, but it's not until you start telling a tale, from scratch, in your own words, that you realise that the only way to master them is to practice using them in conversation.

But, until you get the chance to have a face to face with a real-life Spanish speaker (don't forget, there are plenty of them waiting in SecondLife, and at here's a brief reminder of some of the principle differences between the preterite and the imperfect.

Use the imperfect for:
Habitual actions in the past - 'I used to see him every day' - 'Lo veía todos los días'
Physical, mental or emotional states - 'she was sad and she was hungry' - 'estaba triste y tenía hambre'
Things which already existed - 'there was a car park' - 'había un aparcamiento'  (estacionamiento in South America)
Actions in progress - 'I was brushing my teeth' - 'me cepillaba los dientes'
Reported speech - 'she told me she was going to the shops' - 'me dijo que ella iba a las tiendas'
Useful hint here: - memorise 'IBA A' - it means 'WAS GOING' and can be used with almost any verb to express 'was going  . . . to do . . whatever'

There are several hints which you might hear, to help you remember general cases for the imperfect.
Anyone who has completed the Michel Thomas course will remember his references to WAS-ING and WERE-ING, i.e if you WERE do-ING something (action in progress) then you'd use the imperfect.
Another trick is to remember imperfect as 'incomplete', this follows the same logic - if you WERE doing something, then you hadn't completed it, so imperfect again.

Final trick - if the question is 'what happened?',  the answer is in the preterite. If the question is 'what was happening?', the answer is in the imperfect.

A few cases to look out for here. The first two involve mixing the imperfect and preterite in the same sentence but, thankfully, they're fairly hard-and-fast rules so are easy to apply, once you've mastered them.

1) Reported speech.
The part of the speech you are reporting is always in the imperfect.
So - 'he told us that the Pharaohs built the pyramids' - ' nos contó que los Pharaohs construían las pyramides'
(I don't want to complicate things too much here, but it would also be possible to say 'he used to say that the Pharaohs built the pyramids'  - where 'used to say' is an habitual action, so you would use the imperfect for both that, AND the reported speech - 'nos decía que los Pharaohs construían las pyramides')
2)Where one action interrupts another.
The action which you WERE do-ING is in the imperfect, interrupted by another in the preterite.
'I was reading, when you called me' - 'yo leía cuando me llamaste'

Finally a couple of little oddities. One will be familiar to Michel Thomas devotees - the use of 'saber' (to know). Almost every time you use 'saber' in the past, it will be as 'sabía', on the basis that you didn't just know it for a moment, you still know it, so the action is incomplete. The preterite 'supe', 'supe' etc, when it is used, is taken to mean 'I found out'

The second is one I was corrected over in class - I wanted to say that Merlin has taken the young Arthur, as a baby, and used 'Merlin lo hubo llevado', assuming that it was a completed action and should therefore be in the preterite.
However, when you think about it 'Merlin lo llevó' is a completed action (Merlin took him) but having taken him, you could argue that he was then in a continuous state of 'having taken him' and continuous or ongoing actions require . . the imperfect. So that's one to remember, along with 'iba a' - 'Had done something' = 'había hecho algo'

Apparently 'hubo' is used, but mainly to refer to events - for instance 'hubo una fiesta' - 'there was a party'

Well, I've rambled on for long enough, and reckon you can probably figure out for yourselves what's left to use the preterite for, and I still have some homework to do so it's ¡Hasta la proxima!, and see you next time.