Wednesday, 4 December 2013

What do you mean . . 'you couldn't do it'?

A simple enough phrase, 'You couldn't do it', but there are at least 12 different ways to say it in Spanish (16 if you're in Spain, not Latin America)

Let's start by looking at what the phrase actually means.
A common complaint, when people begin to speak Spanish is that the same word or phrase can mean different things, depending on the context.
Well, it's the same in English.

We'll start with the simple part, the word 'You'
There are four options here:
'Usted' - polite form of 'You' singular
'Tu' - familiar form of 'You' singular
'Ustedes' - plural of 'You'
'Vosotros' - plural of 'You', familiar form. Not used in Latin America

So, having determined who we are speaking to, now let's figure out what we're actually trying to say.
Is it 'You were not able to do it'
or 'You would not be able to do it' ?

Let's go for 'You were not able to do it'. Simple. Past tense.
Ah, but which one?
Is it Preterite, as in 'You were not able to catch the bus at 6 o'clock last night', or Imperfect, as in 'We played chess every night for a year, but you were not able to beat me'

OK, let's try the other option 'You would not be able to do it'
Is it 'You would not be able to do it, without my help': Conditional?
or 'I built a wall, in order that you would not be able to get in' : Past Subjunctive? ( following the construction 'para que')

Well, that gives us four (or three) different Persons and four different Tenses or Moods (Subjunctive isn't really a Tense)
Multiply them together, and you have 16 (or 12) different translations of an apparently simple English phrase.

Without wanting to complicate things, I'd best mention that there is another Past Subjunctive conjugation that you might see written but is rarely spoken, see the conjugation chart at the bottom of the page, which would actually bring our total up to 20! 

How about some examples?

'Usted no pudo hacer un pastel anoche' - You (formal) couldn't make a cake last night (Preterito. Single action in the past)

'Tu no podías hacer un pastel jamás' - You never could make a cake (Imperfecto. Action repeated in the past)

'Ustedes no podrían hacer un pastel sin mi ayuda' - You (plural) couldn't make a cake without my help (Condicional: Would not be able)

'Escondí el azúcar para que no pudierais hacer un pastel' - I hid the sugar so that You (familiar) couldn't make a cake (Pasado de Subjuntivo: following 'para que' : 'so that you would not be able')

So, the next time you're struggling to figure out exactly how to translate a phrase, in English, to Spanish, stop for a moment, and figure out exactly what it is you want to say in English, and it might help you get to the correct construction in Spanish.

I knew you COULD do it, really.
¡Hasta pronto!

P.S. some conjugations for you.










Monday, 18 November 2013

Speak to the Future - 1,000 Word challenge

Learning to speak Spanish, or French or Italian brings with it a certain advantage over learning, say Japanese, or Korean.
The advantage is vocabulary,
Thanks to the Romans, the Normans, and the Catholic church's  long affinity for Latin, many words in these languages share roots, or are virtually identical.

This will give you a big headstart if you decide to take up the 'Speak to the Future' 1,000 word challenge. (

As the site's creators put it

Not everyone will become a fluent linguist, but the aspiration for EVERYONE to have 1000 Words in another language is realistic and achievable.

They put forward a number of reasons why we lazy English speakers should take up the gauntlet, from improved Trade (& job) opportunities, to intellectual growth, to improving our reputation internationally.

But, how difficult would you find it to reach the 1,000 word target.
You might be surprised at how wide your vocabulary is, already.

Let's start with the word 'vocabulary'
In Spanish, it's 'vocabulario'
So, all we did was remove the 'y' and replace it with 'io'
I've heard some Brits on holiday, who obviously think that's all there is to Spanish, I shudder at the memory of 'I-o want-o a drink-o' ;¬p

But there are other words it works with.
Dictionary- diccionario (OK, the 'ct' becomes 'cc', but the sound is the same)
Commentary- comentario
Estuary- estuario
Salario- salario
Mortuary- mortuario
And the list goes on.

But wait, there's more
How about all the words, in English, ending in 'tion'
Easy, just replace it with 'ción'
Education - educcación
Organisation (organization in the U.S.)- organización
Realization - realización
And so on.

How about
legislation - legislación
and, from that
legislative -legislativo
leading on to
imperative - imperativo
punitive -punitivo
And there we have another case -
if an adjective ends in 'ive', change it for 'ivo' or 'iva' depending on the gender of the noun.

Finally, lets look at a short list from a large selection (selección - getting the hang of it?) of words which are spelt the same, just pronounced slightly differently.
Possible (OK. just one 'S' in Spanish)

All of a sudden, the 1,000 word target begins to look a little more achievable.
From the Speak to the Future website, you can click through to the Vocab Express site ( where you can sigh up for a free account which will give you access to the list of the 'best' 1,000 first words to learn.
As the site is new, the lists aren't complete yet but, in the meantime, you can access a vocabulary list and online tests at GCSE level (that's the General Certificate of Secondary Education, if you live outside the UK)
Once the new lists become available, you can practice towards achieving an electronic certificate for your efforts.

Who knows, you might be inspired to try learning an additional language.
Meanwhile, spread the word and tweet about it #1000words

Finally, I found a great little link on the site, to where you can play Word Search, HangMan and do Crosswords, in your chosen Language.

¡Hasta la próxima!

Goodbye Paralee, Hello Fluencia

You'll often see references in this Blog to .
It's a site I use regularly, for the online dictionary, the translator, and the verb conjugation charts.
When I was beginning to speak Spanish, I also downloaded a whole series of videos from the site, recorded by an enthusiastic young teacher called Paralee Whitmire.
Now it look s as if SpanishDict have sacked poor Paralee, in favour of their new teaching venture, Fluencia (
Don't worry if you're still working through Paralee's lessons, though. You can still find them at

So, Fluencia. I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed that SpanishDict's free offering has been supplanted by a paid-for service, but I'm quite impressed with the quality of the content.
For $14.95 per month, reducing to $6.95 a month, if you sign up for two years, you have access to some high quality audio, recorded by Spanish speakers, with quite a wide selection of subjects, situations and vocabulary.
Even better, you can sign up for free and try a number of free lessons (I think it was fifteen, but I can't exactly remember)

The lessons generally start with a conversation, with the speech typed out in Spanish, to aid recognition.
The you follow on with a number of different exercises including:
Hear and see a new word, and type it yourself.
Pick the correct word from a selection of pictures, labelled in English.
See a picture, and the word in English, then type it in Spanish.
Create a sentence from jumbled words, to match a picture labelled in English.
Type what you hear, in Spanish.
Translate written English into Spanish.
Lessons will last 20-30 minutes.

My recommendation is that you sign up and try the trial lessons for yourself.
There are 5 levels of difficulty to choose from.
This kind of learning doesn't suit everyone, and lacks the verbal interaction, and practical construction of sentences found in, say the Pimsleur, or Michel Thomas courses, which are audio-based, but the use of illustrations can be a big help for some learners.

That does, however bring me to one of my two minor gripes. In one exercise, the adjective being taught was 'cómodo' - comfortable.
In the quiz, a picture of a reclining woman was shown, but the program accepted 'cómodo', even though it should have been 'cómoda'
Speaking of which, you don't lose marks for missing accents - whether that's a good or bad thing, you can decide for yourself.
On the other hand, the program is clever enough to accept verbs with or without pronouns e.g. 'soy de méxico' OR 'YO soy de méxico'

The only other gripe is that, just occasionally, the recording of the native-speaker appears to be missing, and is replaced by a rather robotic synthesised text-to-speech.

Finally, as you'd expect from a program priced in dollars, it seems to be aimed at South American Spanish.
I did not see any reference to the 'vosotros' form used in Spain, and the audio lacked the 'siseo', or lisping of the letter 'c' before vowels, as in Barcelona.

All in all, the amount of free content should give you more than enough experience to decide whether you want to pay for a subscription, and you can' really say fairer than that.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Día de los muertos in Second Life

If you've been following this blog for a while, you'll know that I take quite a lot of my lessons in Second Life, a 3D virtual world, but there's a lot more goes on there.

Apart from recently meeting and having an interesting hour chatting with a group of Spanish speakers 'Las Criaturas Salvajes', who hailed from both Europe and South America, from Lloret del Mar to Argentina, there is also cultural content to be found.

If you want to learn more about the Mexican traditions of 'El día de los muertos', there's an exhibition in Opera Joven, until the 15th of November.
Previous exhibitions have included the works of noted Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and there's an upcoming exhibition around the Mexican Revolution, in the latter half of November.

If you want to find out more about Second Life, or just go direct to the site (you'll need a free SL account, and the browser installing on your PC),  go to

If you missed the exhibition, or you just can't be bothered to go to SL, I did a walkthrough of the expo, opening all the information cards as I went, and uploaded it to YouTube.
Unfortunately, I had to upload it at double speed, to get it under the 15 minute limitation, but you can always pause it to view the details.


Oh-oh. Avoiding Teletubby Spanish

Way back in October 2011 (I can't believe I've been writing this blog so long) I mentioned several instances where the rules of Spanish are 'bent' a little, to avoid dissonance, just to make it sound better. 

Examples included 'el agua' (when, as we know, 'agua' is a feminine noun) and 'diga SE lo a él', to avoid the 'lelo' combination of sounds. 
Well, here are a couple more cases, slightly different, where we substitute a vowel, to improve the flow and sound of the language. 

Consider the following sentence:
'I will travel to Wales and Ireland in summer or autumn'
Just think, for a moment, about how you would translate it into Spanish. 

Unless you already know what I'm talking about, you'd probably say something like
'Viajaré a Gales y Irlanda en verano o otoño'
At which point I interrupt with 'oh-oh' 
You reply 'What? What's wrong with that?' 
The answer is in the interruption. In Spanish the 'oh-oh' sound, found here in 'verano O Otoño' is not used. 

To avoid this combination of vowels, you replace the 'o' with a 'u', so it becomes 'verano u otoño' 
Don't believe me? 
Copy and paste the English sentence into the translator at and see for yourself. 
Not all machine translations are accurate but, when I tried it, at least one of the suggested answers got it right. 

But, wait. If you've done that, you've probably noticed something else. 
What happened to the 'y' between 'Gales' and 'Irlanda'? 
It appears to have turned into an 'e'. 
So, not only are Spanish ears offended by the 'oh-oh' sound, but it appears that they don't much like 'ih-ih' either! 

So, there's the lesson. 
If 'y' , meaning 'and' is followed by a word beginning with 'i', it becomes an 'e' and if 'o', meaning 'or' is followed by a word beginning with 'o' it becomes a 'u'. 

Here's a couple more examples
'la sustitución se puede hacer con nombres E igualmente con adjetivos'
'The substitution can be done with nouns and, equally as well, with adjectives' (such as igualmente ;¬)

And, just to prove it can be done before verbs too, how about:
'Simon wanted to see or hear the group'
'Simon queria ver U oir al grupo'

You can make yourself a list of words beginning with 'o' or 'i', whether they be verbs, nouns or adjectives, and practise positioning them after 'o' and 'y', to get used to making the change.

So, let's say goodbye to Teletubby Spanish and sound even more fluent. 

¡Hasta la próxima! 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Parental Guidance - Adult Content!!

This post contains explicit language.
If you are easily offended, DON'T READ IT!

When I was at school, if you gave a 12yr-old an English-Spanish (or French, German, whatever) dictionary, the first thing he'd do would be to look up 'rude' words. Of course, the Collins Gem Dictionary didn't have the breadth and depth of some of today's electronic offerings, so most of the words tended to be anatomical terms.

However, it has to be admitted that, if you begin to watch foreign language TV and films, you will come across some of the more unsavoury words in your chosen language, just as you will if you watch 'The Godfather' or the TV series 'Deadwood' in English.

With this in mind, I finally decide to write this post, not for the titillation of any 12yr olds reading, but because the words exist, are in common usage, and crop up on Spanish and South American TV.

Well, I suppose I'd better start with the 'F' word.
It's one of the commonest expletives in the English language, and can be used in various ways:
1)To describe the act of sex.
2)As a deprecative adjective e.g. 'I hate this f*cking car!'
3)As an interjection, or a single expressive word, as with 'Shit!'
It works the same in Spanish, but there are a number of synonyms.

In case 1), you might hear 'Follar', 'Joder' or, in South America 'Chingar' or 'Coger'
A note here:
'Coger', in Spain, simply means 'to take'. That's it. There's no negative connotation at all, as there is in South America, where you would need to use 'recoger', or 'agarrar' to have the same meaning.

Case 2) Normally either 'pinche' or 'chingado/a' in South America, and 'jodido/a' in Spain.
Note: 'pinche' does not agree with the gender of the noun it refers to.
So 'tu pinche hermano ha follado mi pinche hermana'

The Mexican word chingar can be used in all three methods. There's a famous quote from a 1986 movie 'Blue Velvet', which goes 'F*ck you, you f*cking f*ck', which could be translated as 'Chinga te, chingado chingón', were it not for the fact that 'Chingon' is almost a compliment. It translates roughly as 'Bad-ass', with overtones of being a 'Player'

Case 3) 'Joder' is probably the commonest.
Another note: in Spain you will often hear what sounds like 'Jo'e' (pronounced howay). This is a milder form of 'Joder', and not regarded as so vulgar. If you've ever been to Ireland, and heard anyone talking about their "feckin' boss", you'll get the idea.
In a similar situation, you might also hear 'mierda' ='Shit' or even 'coño' ( a word more commonly used to describe the female reproductive organs)
If you've ever seen the film 'Havana Blues', however, you'll know that 'Coñooooo' can be used as a vulgar greeting.

So, speaking of reproductive organs, let's get the words for those out of the way.

As mentioned: 'Coño'
also 'panocha' and 'concha'
You'll probably know that 'concha' is the Spanish word for 'shell', but I recently found out that it's also a shortened form of the female name 'Concepción', so be careful what you call your daughters.

'Polla', 'Verga' although I personally find it rather odd that the male member is known by two feminine nouns.
Then, further down we have 'cojones', also known as 'huevos'
'Tener cojones' is often used to refer to someone having a lot of nerve, whereas 'no me toque los huevos' (literally 'don't touch my balls) means 'Don't piss me off', in the Canary Isles.

The word 'puta' is a contraction of 'prostituta' and is used in two very different, but common phrases.
'Hijo de puta', pretty much the equivalent of 'son of a bitch'
'De puta madre' which, believe it or not, is an extremely positive, or favourable description.
So '¿que tal tu coche nuevo?' - 'how's the new car?'
'Es de puta madre' - the closest expression I can find in English is 'it's the dog's bollocks!'

I'll finish with a few insults, which are pretty common.
'Gillipolas' - about on a par with 'tosser', although in South America 'Pajero' means 'wanker' (always makes me smile, when I'm walking the dogs, and I go past the house on the next street , where the owner parks his Mitsubishi Pajero 4x4)

'Cabron' - Bastard

'Pendejo' or 'Capullo' - Asshole

'Maricón' - Faggot (although I've heard this used to describe Drag Queens)
Again, in the Canaries, it's not  uncommon to hear 'hombrito' (little man) to question someone's masculinity.

Well, by no means an exhaustive list, but it should make some of the interjections common in films and TV a little clearer.

I wouldn't advise using them in conversation, as they vary greatly in perceived level of profanity, depending which country you're in, or which side of the Altantic you're on, and it's all too easy to 'Cagar y saltar en la caca'  (shit and then tread in it)

Sunday, 29 September 2013

It's been a while ;-(

Those of you who caught my Tweet on the 26th will know that the European Day of Languages was celebrated on that day.
While looking around the Council of Europe page, I came across a competition, organised by an online learning, company, promoting their product, and offering a subscription as a prize.
Note: if you're reading this after midnight EST on Sept 30th, then you've missed the deadline.
However, you can still take a look at their site at and try out a couple of practice levels (In Spanish, French, Italian or German)
Their approach is quite different to traditional learning, and reminds me more of the Pimsleur learning system, where you are given blocks of words, which you put together to build sentences.
There's no verb conjugation as such and, right from the start, you will be hearing both present and past tense, in different persons.
What makes the product different is that the learning exercises are presented as games, featuring Memory Cards (I believe the technical name is Pelmanism ;¬), Shooting Gallery, Word Invaders, Snap Clouds, and one based on the Fairground game, where you have to inflate a balloon above a Clown Head, among others.
It's a novel approach, perhaps aimed at younger learners, but the sound samples are clearly recorded, and the game controls are easy to operate.
It's certainly worth having a free look, and subscriptions are available from 1 month, so you're not immediately committing to a full year's payment. You can even get a free month by simply clicking the link on the site, to recommend it to a friend.

A quick note here, for UK readers, who have access to the Sky Arts TV channel. There's a new series called Isabel, based on the life of Queen Isabel I of Spain. Not surprisingly it's in Spanish, but does have English subtitles. I've just watched the first episode, which was an hour and a half long.
It looks very promising but, be warned, it contains adult scenes and some nudity. However, if you're missing your weekly fix of the, now sadly finished, 'Borgias', this could be right up your street.

And finally, I read recently that Spanish has only half the active vocabulary, in terms of the number of words used, as English. This might sound like a great plus for learners but, don't forget, using different verbs and even use of different word order, can completely change the meaning of a sentence.
A few examples:

Estoy listo - I'm ready
Soy listo - I'm clever

Estoy aburrido - I'm bored
Soy aburrido - I'm boring

Es un hombre grande - He's a big man
Es un gran hombre - He's a great man.

Oops! one more thing.
As part of my homework I've been watching a Colombian TV show called 'Correo de inocentes' which is about how people unwittingly become caught up in the Drug-trafficking business.
In it, one of the characters refers to the drug 'mules' as 'Golondrinas', which is the name of a migratory bird, known in English as the swallow.
How coincidental, then, that the 'Golondrinas' preferred method of concealing drugs is to 'swallow' them (wrapped up in a protective coating).
So 'las Golondrinas tragan las drogas' - 'the swallows swallow the drugs' - it just struck me as an amusing coincidence :-)

If you want to have a go at watching the series, you can find it at
Most of the actors speak quite clearly, but one or two, especially the character of Cosme, the drug baron, mumble a little or, as my Profesora says, 'hablan entre dientes'.

Just a tip here, if you watch the videos in Firefox, and you have FVD (Fast Video Download) plugin installed, you can just select to download the 'ustream' file, and avoid the adverts, which otherwise interrupt the viewing periodically.

Well, that's me caught up, and I'll try not to leave it quite so long before the next post.
Hope you're still enjoying your Spanish learning.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

I see what you're saying . . .

When you come to think about it, it's a ridiculous question.
But, how would it be, if you could see what people were saying.
I bet you've all entertained the thought 'Spanish doesn't look so scary when it's written down, but I just can't pick out the words, when it's spoken'
Well, help is at hand,
Ever heard of subtitles?
I'm not talking about watching a film in Spanish, with English subtitles.
I don't know about you, but my mind rebels, at trying to read in one language, and listen in another, so I either end up reading and not really listening, which defeats the object, or ignoring the subtitles, and struggling to keep up with the dialogue.
Then I had a breakthrough.
I was watching a Chilean film called 'Santos' last week, via a rent-online service called Netflix.
The English subtitles were bugging me, so I brought up the subtitle menu, to turn them off.
At that point I noticed an option to switch subtitle languages.
Guess what?
One of the available languages was Spanish.
That's right, I watched a film in Spanish, with Spanish subtitles.
Not all of the Spanish language films on Netflix have Spanish subtitles, and I haven't found any English films with Spanish subtitles, but I've got to wonder what subtitle languages would be available on, say DVDs or BluRays purchased in Spanish speaking countries?
Sadly, when I picked a few DVDs from my (UK) collection at random, most only had English subs for the hearing impaired, although some did go as far as Dutch, Danish, Czech, Italian or Polish. No Spanish :¬(
If you come across any, let me know.
This week wasn't without its successes, though.
Profesora Ximena introduced me to the music of a Mexican group, called Maná, and we studied one of their songs in class.
Called 'El muelle de San Blas', it's based on the true story of Rebeca Mendez, whose death was reported in the following News article
I was so taken with the music, that I sought out a couple of albums on
I bought 'Sueños liquidos' and 'Revolución de Amor', both second-hand, for under a fiver for the pair! And they were from UK sellers!
Finally, I came across this little diversion, to help practise the difference between the Preterite and Imperfect past tenses.
It's a simple game of Battleships but, each time you get a hit, you have to correctly answer a question, or your shell is a dud.
Nothing too hard, but you will require Flash to play it, so that may exclude some Tablet users, sorry.
Well, that's all for now.
¡Hasta Pronto!

Thursday, 1 August 2013


One, or several, of the stumbling blocks which trip up Spanish learners is the fact that Spanish frequently offers a choice of two words, where only one exists in English.

The commonest of these, in no particular order, are:-
'Ser' and 'Estar', both represented in English by the verb 'to be'
'Por' and 'Para' -'For' in English
'Saber' and 'Conocer' - 'To know'

There are multitudes of references on the Internet, dealing with these common choices, along with whether to use the Imperfect or Preterite Tense, when talking about the past, so I'm not going to reinvent the wheel ,or pass off someone else's work as my own. I'll just refer you to Google.

No, the subject of this post is a choice which I personally have had difficulty with, in the past, but is actually quite straightforward, once you look at what you're really trying to say.

Look at these examples.

'I arrived the next day'
'I will arrive next week'

In English, it's quite simple. If one thing comes after another, it's 'next'
In Spanish, you have a choice 'Siguiente' or 'próximo/a'

So how do you remember which to use?
Simple. Change the way you use English.
Let's rewrite the examples a little.

'I arrived the following day'
'I will arrive in the coming week'

It might sound a little odd, but it underlines the difference between 'siguiente' and 'próximo'
'Siguiente' is from the verb 'seguir' which means 'to follow'
If you accept that 'Próximo' means 'forthcoming', then it stands to reason the 'próximo' can only be used to refer to things which have not happened yet so, for anything which happened 'next'  in the past, you must use 'siguiente'.

'Llegue el día siguiente'
'Llegaré la próxima semana'

Of course, there's always the odd exception to the rule.

'I caught the next bus'
It's in the past, so it must be 'siguiente'
'Cogí el siguiente autobus'


'I'll catch the next bus'
Not in the past, so you can use 'próximo'
'Cogeré el próximo autobus'
but, in this case ,the 'next' bus also happens to be the 'following' bus, so you could also use 'Cogeré el siguiente autobus'
In fact if you type the phrase into Google translate, using either option, it will just come back with 'I'll take the NEXT bus'

So, if anyone else has the same 'blind spot' as me, when it comes to the 'next' choice (surely it's not just me?) just remember not to use 'próximo' in the past, and you're halfway to solving the problem.

¡Hasta la próxima!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Call me Al . . .

In my last Spanish lesson, professor Ximena presented me with a short story, written by Mexican author, journalist, and television presenter Cristina Pacheco.

It contained several colloquial phrases, one of which I'd like to share with you.
It tells the story of a woman who has to seek employment, after her husband is made redundant, and the only work he can find is as a night-shift taxi driver, which doesn't pay enough to keep up with expenses.

She hires a maid, but leaves for work before the maid arrives, so she has to leave notes with instructions for her.

Among the notes, is one which asks "¿Llamó al del gas?" "¿le pagó al de la basura?"
My first thought was 'who's Al?' but, of course that's not the meaning of the expression.

The 'al' is a contraction of 'a él', and there's also an implied word, which has been left out, which is 'hombre'.

So, the full version of "¿Llamó al del gas?" would be "¿Llamó (usted) al hombre del gas?" or "Did you call the gas man?" and "¿le pagó al de la basura?" becomes "¿le pagó al hombre de la basura?" or "did you pay the refuse collector?"

This construction can also be applied to women so "Ví a la de las flores" is "I saw the flower lady".
Of course, you don't have to restrict yourself to professions. How about "Diga lo al de la nariz grande", "tell it to the guy with the big nose".

Just be sure not to get confused with Al Del Greco who, apparently, was Placekicker
 (I honestly have no idea what that is) in SuperBowl XXXIV for the Tennessee Titans ;¬)

Friday, 5 July 2013

School's IN for Summer

If any of you have been considering joining the Virtual Language School I attend in SecondLife, I have some good news for you.
Mi Profesora, Ximena, has just acquired new premises in downtown virtual Jalisco, at the Merchants' Market, in Tlaquepaque.
The slurl is 
Foe those of you who have never visited the 3D world of SecondLife, clicking the link is the first step in the right direction.

The new school is large and spacious, on the top floor of a building adjoining the cathedral.

Inside, Ximena has a variety of teaching aids, from whiteboard to YouTube linked Multimedia display, and has decorated the room with some of her favourite pictures from her previous school.
But, if learning in a virtual 3D world isn't to your taste, or your PC doesn't have the resources to run the SecondLife viewer, Ximena is now also experimenting with lessons delivered via Google Hangouts.
Hangouts is a Skype-style multi-user web telephony system, but with lots more features.
Apart from talking to each other (headset with microphone recommended), you can share files via Google Drive, view the same YouTube video simultaneously, and even share desktops.
There's even the option for Video calls, although Ximena hasn't got around to investing in a webcam, just yet (such things are not cheap in Mexico.)
Hanging out
So, if you're looking for some one on one tuition, to kickstart your Spanish, or just to have a trial lesson, to see how new technology can benefit your Spanish education, drop her a line.
Don't forget, she works Mexico time so, while that's great for anyone in the US, opportunities for we Europeans to book lessons are limited, due to the time difference, so get in quick!
Email Ximena at
See her SecondLife profile
Tell her 'Chas' sent you :-)

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

It's not easy finding your way around a foreign city, or a foreign language.
Sometimes you will get lost, make mistakes or cross boundaries you didn't realise were there.

In those moments, it's handy to have a few phrases to hand, to apologise, to smooth any feathers you may have unintentionally ruffled, and leave a favourable impression instead of a poor one.

Let's start with the situations where you know that what you're doing might disturb someone else, like trying to squeeze past them, to get off a bus or train.
You can request their cooperation, in advance, with '¿Con permiso?' or '¿Me permite?', or you can begin your manoeuvre, then apologise, with 'Perdón'

'Perdón' is also a good way to get someone's attention, if you require assistance e.g.
'Perdón ¿Podría decirme, donde está la estación de autobuses?' - 'Excuse me, could you tell me where the bus station is?'

If you do happen to tread on someone's toes, as you squeeze past, 'Lo siento' (literally 'I feel it') is probably the commonest way of saying 'I'm sorry', and you can say it to anyone, without having to consider whether the situation, or their status, requires 'tú' or 'usted'

You DO have to consider that, if you want to use 'perdóname' (tu) and 'perdóneme' (usted) and 'discúlpame' (tu) or 'discúlpeme' (usted).
If you've really upset someone, though, you could always try 'mil disculpas' (a thousand pardons)

I like to pick words apart, and the etymology, or evolution of 'disculpar' is an interesting case.
From the original Latin word 'culpa', meaning guilt - 'DIScúlpame' means 'unguilt' me = relieve me of my guilt = pardon me.

The word 'culpa' also means guilt in Spanish so, if someone begins to apologise to you, for a bump, or jostle, but it's really your fault, you could take the blame with 'No, yo tengo la culpa'

Your parents and grandparents may have told you that good manners cost nothing, but it's definitely worth spending a little time, learning a few exculpatory (another lovely word ;-) phrases, although I hope you don't need them.

¡Hasta la próxima!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Cat got the Canaries

El Tigre returns from his vacacciones, in Las Islas Canarias.
Situated some 100 miles off the coast of Morocco, the Canary Islands are the most westerly of Spains autonomous communities, and were a stopping off point for adventurers setting out to plunder the New World.

The people are open and friendly, and Tourism plays a big part in the economy of most of the islands.
The weren't always so welcoming though. Horation Nelson lost an arm in an attack on Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797.

I had loads of opportunities to practise my Spanish with the locals, who were all very patient, and quite prepared to give me time to think, rather than reverting back to English, which they have to use with most of the Tourists. They really appreciate you having a go.

A big thank you to Reina Cárdenas, an expatriate Mexican lady who works, attracting customers into the excellent Asado Tio Bernabé restaurant in Corralejo, on Fuerteventura, and who made time for a chat, in Spanish, on more than one occasion.

So, enough of the travelogue, and on with a few local expressions.

"Tate quieto bobo mierda"
"Behave, you idiot"

"!!Cojelo Cuco¡¡"
An expression of amazement (Like the Yorkshire expression "By 'eck!")

"Pareces un machango"
"You look extremely scruffy"

"Se le pusieron los ojos como a un cherne"
"Your eyes nearly popped out of your head" (i.e. you couldn't stop staring at something)

"Vaya chuso, tiro p'al chozo"
"It's slinging it down (raining), I'm going home"

You'll also notice that the Canarians don't use the 'seseo', the characteristic lisp heard in other parts of Spain, and sound more like their South American cousins, many of whose ancestors probably set sail from these islands.

Finally, a little more history. The Canaries aren't named after the birds, but from the Latin Expression 'Canariae Insulae' which means Island of Dogs, and was originally applied only to Gran Canaria. You'll see stickers eveywhere on that island with silhouttes of the emblematic local dog breed, rather like a mastiff.

The local 'mascot' of Fuerteventura is the goat, in fact the capital, Puerto del Rosario, was know as Puerto del Cabra (Port of the Goat) as recently as the 1950's.
You might find goat on the menu at Tio Bernabé's too!

So, visit the Canaries. Speak Spanish. Eat. Drink. Get some sun. Enjoy.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Back to school with Verbling

Some time ago, I mentioned a site called Verbling, where students of Spanish could go for intercambios with Spanish speakers who are learning to speak English. 
I thought it was a great idea at the time, and it just got better. 

Now Verbling are offering online lessons. 
As with all things,there are pros and cons. 
First, the positives. There are a wealth of recorded lessons, not only for Spanish students,  but also for students of English, and in which you can see the actual format of the live lessons, and for free. 
The lessons are indexed by language, subject, and level of difficulty, and as well as by teacher, which might be important for some students. 
If you want to dive in, and right now, and for a look, go to

I've not taken part in any live lessons, but have dipped in and viewed a few of the recorded ones, which are free to view.
As you might expect, there's a fair but of meet and greet at the beginning of each lesson, as students introduce themselves. This can take up to ten minutes.
The level of fluency of the students varies enormously, some are very halting and hesitant, especially in the beginner lessons and some of the pronunciation, even in the intermediate lessons, will probably make you feel much better about your own efforts ;¬)

The lesson content, itself, is very wide ranging, from basic vocabulary, through discussions, on such subjects as 'telebasura' (junk TV), to one of my favourites, listening to music in Spanish.

There are a number of different teachers, and you can choose to follow an individual teacher's lessons. It's all about choosing the content and presentation which makes it easier to learn.
Do you find it easier to understand men, or women? Can you keep up with an enthusiastic native speaker, who is motivational, but speaks a little faster than you're used to?

The lessons are powered by Google hangouts, and so are primarily aimed at PC users, with webcams, as a plugin is required. Hopefully full integration with Android and Apple tablets will soon follow.

Ostensibly, Verbling lessons are free. You can register well in advance, to reserve a seat, but preference will always be given to 'Verbling Premium' users, so you might register early only to be denied a seat if the class limit is exceeded by Premium students.
I'm not sure what the limit is, but I've seen over 15 students in one lesson I viewed.
Verbling Premium is free for the first week, then $25 (US) per month thereafter, and Premium Members can book unlimited classes (I haven't seen any mention of the limit for non-Premium students)

All in all, it's a well-designed and executed addition to the burgeoning Spanish online learning market, and appears to have quite a lot of regular followers already.
I'd definitely recommend taking a look, to see if it suits you. Try out a few of the free lessons. If nothing else, there's plenty of practice to be had, listening to the different voices of the Teachers, and it's educational too ;¬)

I'd also like to say a big 'Gracias' to a very helpful chap from Zagreb who , in SecondLife, goes by the name of Fofo Morales, who pointed out the following links is a site where you can view Spanish TV series online, among other things, and which is site full of podcasts, on a wide variety of subjects, from science, to culture, to comedy, to food and even sport and music. Excellent for even more audio comprehension practice.