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!