Saturday, 1 November 2014

When in Spain, keep your eyes open

This post comes hot on the heels of my return from a fantastic short stay in Madrid.
It was a chance to practice what I preach, being the appointed translator for the whole family.

One of the first things that struck me, now that, as I like to think, I'm fairly fluent, is just how little Spanish you actually need to get by as a tourist.

So long as you can ask for directions, buy tickets, order meals and drinks, and ask whether an establishment has toilets, you'll get by.
It gives you a real confidence boost.

The other bonus of the visit, apart from visiting an amazing city, is the opportunity to pick up new vocabulary, without really trying, and see some of the things you've learnt in class in action.

See? Not hear?
Well, I got some pretty odd looks, when I was pointing my camera at things that aren't exactly Tourist fodder but, for me, it was an opportunity to chronicle some examples of how the Subjunctive (and its close cousin, the Imperative) are all around you.

Look at this photo.

I spotted this in the Window of a bank.
'Vaya donde vaya' - wherever you may go . .
You can't get a better example of the subjunctive than that!

And this one

This was a paper place mat in a VIPS restaurant, where we went every morning for breakfast.
'Do you know what might feel as good as the good time you're having here?'
'Spending some time helping others'
What's interesting is the fact that the verb 'sentir' -  to feel, is in the Subjunctive mode, rather than in the conditional , which you might choose, if you were translating 'Do you know what would feel better' from English.
It's an example of how the Subjunctive is used to convey a sense of 'possibly' or 'maybe', rather than a concrete fact.

Here's a good one
Seen outside an 'all you can eat' restaurant.
Imperative and Subjunctive in one sentence!
The translation into English is succinct, but doesn't quite match the subtlety of the Subjunctive which implies 'as much as you want, however much that may be'

More of the same
The instruction 'contrata tu seguro de Sanitas y empieza a gestionar tu salud' has two verbs in the Imperative '
'Arrange your insurance with Sanitas, and begin to manage your health', followed by a clause with two instances of the Subjunctive 'estés donde estés' - 'wherever you may be'

Wait, didn't I just see 'wherever you may go' further up the page?
As a matter of fact this duplication of the Subjunctive is very common in Spanish, to imply 'no matter what' or 'no matter where'
Other examples include 'coma lo que coma, no gano ni un gramo' - 'no matter what I eat, I don't gain a gramme', or 'digas lo que digas, no voy a escuchar' - ' no matter what you say, I'm not going to listen.

And finally, an instruction, in the negative

'No te quedes fuera de juego'
'Don't be left out of play'
Apparently, if you order a bucket of four bottles of Coronita, you get a fifth free (plus a 'ración' of some tapas, thrown in, too)
I saw quite a few pavement cafes selling these buckets, filled with bottles of beer packed in ice, and at ridiculously low prices (and it was hot, in Madrid, in October!)

You might also have noticed that all bar the first of these examples use the familiar 'tu' form, no doubt to make the appeal, suggestion, or instruction feel more friendly.

One final photo

I took this in the Parque del buen retiro, in Madrid.
I'd just walked by a building with a sign outside, announcing that it was the 'Teatro de los títeres' and guessed that it was a puppet theatre (partly down to having come across the word 'titiritero' in the Spanish version of 'Game of Thrones: Book 2' - it means 'puppeteer')
The next thing I heard was the puppet asking the kids if they liked 'títeres', which pretty much closed the deal.

So, if you get chance to travel to Spain, or any Spanish speaking country (or area, if you live in a city which has a friendly Hispanic neighbourhood you can wander around) while remembering to keep your ears open, use your eyes too.
There are posters, and advertisements in every bus shelter, offers in shop windows and banners on the side of buses, full of examples of constructions you already know, but might not get chance to use or hear, in the limited context of tourist conversation.

Finally, I'll leave you with a tiny clip I caught in the Retiro, of a guy making music on what looked like a Wok!
What has it to do with Spanish?
Well, let's just call it Spanish Wok Music ;¬)
¡Hasta la próxima!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Justin and Jim - subjunctive failures!

Never let it be said that this blog doesn't span the Generation Gap.
Here are lines from the lyrics of two songs.

Justin Bieber (who?)
"If I was your boyfriend, I'd never let you go"

Jim Morrison (The Doors)
"You know that it would be untrue
You know that I would be a liar
If I was to say to you
Girl, we couldn't get much higher

So, what do they have in common?
They are both glaring examples of where the lyricist/singer should have used the Subjunctive, in English!

"If I WERE your boyfriend..."
"If I WERE to say to you..."

It's hardly surprising that we English speakers have such a hard time with the Subjunctive in Spanish, when we don't even use it properly in English.

The problem is compounded, in Spanish, by the fact that there are situations where the word 'if' (si) is not followed by the Subjunctive, and others where it is.

Let's start with the case where it does not require the subjunctive.
It's all about probability and possibility (and even positivity)

In English 'IF this happens THAT happens' or 'IF this happens, THAT will happen'
There's no doubt about the outcome.

There's a fair likelihood that 'THIS' will occur and, if it does, 'THAT' will be the result.
There's none of the element of doubt which normally characterises the subjunctive.
You'll notice, also that, whether we're saying 'THAT happens' or 'THAT will happen', 'if THIS happens' is always in the present (indicative) tense.
So there's the easy one.
'Si' in present tense is not followed by Subjunctive.

'Si me dudas, te equivocaras'                'If you doubt me, you're mistaken'
'Si haces algo diferente lo haces mal'   'If you do something different, you're doing it wrong'

Note: the same holds true, even if you swap the clauses around and say 'THIS will happen, if THAT happens'

'Suenas raro si hablas como así'    'You sound odd, if you talk like that'

Now there's a clue to the next construction.
How about if we began our sentence with 'That WOULD happen'?
Anyone who's ever listened to Michel Thomas's Spanish CD lessons will immediately say 'Would? Wood? it's Conditional!'
So, this time the clause containing the oucome is in the Conditional Tense.

As my Profesora is constantly reminding me, if something 'WOULD' happen 'IF' something else 'WERE' to happen, we use the past Subjunctive.
It has to be the past, as we just said 'WERE' which, apart from being subjunctive, is also in the past tense.

Now, the full sentence 'If this WERE to happen, that WOULD happen'
Let's see the examples again.

'Si me dudaras, te equivocarías'      'If you were to doubt me, you would be mistaken'
'Si hicieras algo diferente, lo harías mal'
'If you were to do something different, you would do it wrong'
'Sonarías raro si hablaras como asI'  'You would sound odd, if you were to speak like that'

In this second construction, we have introduced the element of doubt or uncertainty, which ushers in the Subjunctive.
The phrase 'If you were to do that .  .' suggests that it is unlikely that you would do it but, if you did . . . . Subjunctive.

On to the third in the series.
This time were looking at things that you didn't actually do (but, IF you had done . . . . Subjunctive) Yet again there's the hint of improbability which is so closely associated with the Subjunctive.
Although this construction looks a little more complicated, it's only because it's longer.
It goes something like 'If you WERE TO HAVE done this, that WOULD HAVE happened'
So, in Spanglish 'If you HUBIERAS done this, that HABRÍA happened'

The examples again:
'Si me hubieras dudado, te habrías equivocado'
'If you had doubted me, you would have been wrong'

'Si hubieras hecho algo diferente, lo habrías hecho mal'
'If you had done something different, you would have done it wrong'

'Habrías sonido raro si hubieras hablado como así'
'You would have sounded odd, if you had spoken like that'

And that's it!
When to use the Subjunctive following 'si', and when not to.
There's a very informative page, in Spanish, at which covers the same topic, and gives some more examples.

Of course, typically in this Blog, there's always a little more to it.
There are a couple of phrases which include the word 'si', which also generate the Subjunctive, and these are 'y si' and 'como si'

Let's start with 'como si'.
The literal translation is 'as if' and, in English too, it generates the past Subjunctive.
'He talks to me AS IF he WERE the boss'
'Me habla como si FUERA el jefe'
That's really all there is to it - 'como si' followed by pasado de Subjuntivo.

The second construction 'y si' I know is used in Spain, but can't actually be certain that it's common in South America.
The literal translation is 'and if', but more implies 'how about . . . ' or 'how would it be if . . '

e.g. '¿Y si, nos encontremos a las ocho?'
'How about we meet up at eight o'clock?'

'¿Y si tomemos un taxi?'
'How would it be if we WERE to take a taxi?'

Again, this uses the past Subjunctive.

Well, sorry it been such a long time since the last posting.
I hope it's been worth the wait.
I've been a little busy concentrating on my own Spanish.
I've just finished reading 'Cien años de Soledad' by Gabriel Marcia Marquez.
I can definitely recommend it, although I can't pretend to understand all of the symbolism, it's a very readable novel.
I'm also still ploughing my way through the 1,000 words challenge, mentioned in a previous post, and I've also managed to complete 'Beneath a Steel Sky', the graphic adventure, in Spanish :)

¡Que disfrutes tu aprendizaje tanto como yo!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Adventures in Spanish

¡Hola Chamacos! ( I'll explain later ;¬)

I'm not talking about the Great Adventure of learning to speak another language, then being able to talk to people in other countries, although that's why we're here.

No, I'm talking about Adventure Games.
From the original Pirate Adventure, which was pure text, through classic point-and-click adventures, like 'Beneath a Steel Sky' and 'Monkey Island', right up to brand new point-and-click graphic adventures, just out on Android, PC and Apple.
And all availablein Spanish!

That's right, a great way to practise your Spanish and play some excellent games at the same time.

Most of the adventures I've looked at are based on the Android platform as, even though I use a PC, my Android tablet and phone are so portable that I do most of my Spanish learning and playing on them, wherever I happen to be, but there are lots of examples of programmes on PC and Apple too, if you take the time to search.

So, let's start with some of the simplest offerings.
Text only adventures:

There are several text-only adventures available via Google Playstore, including

Aventura Pirata:
A Spanish translation of Scott Adams' 'Pirate Adventure'.
With a very simple parser (i.e. small vocabulary) this is an early text adventuring classic.
By the way text adventures in Spanish are called 'aventuras conversacionales'

This is a slightly different slant on the text adventure, as you don't actually type anything in.
This is an electronic rendition of the old 'fighting fantasy' books, where you picked an option from a list at the bottom of each page, then were told which page to go to next, to continue your quest.
Santiago has some nice, simple but atmospheric graphics and plays quite smoothly
unlike . . .

Lobo Solitario:
Don't bother downloading this one. It's another multiple choice adventure, but the graphics wouldn't fit my screen properly and were barely readable on a 7 inch tablet, so forget it on a phone! (unlike Aventura Pirata which works quite well on my phone ;¬)

Aventura Original:
A reworking (in English and Spanish) of the Colossal Cave Adventure.
The program is a little buggy as selecting certain features in the main menu (book/libro) causes a crash, but generally it works quite well.
There's some atmospheric 1980's music and some classic 8-bit artwork, to illustrate the locations.
On my tablet, it also read the descriptions to me, in Spanish.
There are some in-game ads, which always annoy me, but someone's taken the time to create this from scratch so, I suppose, I shouldn't complain.


All of the above are available FREE!

There's a site at  dedicated to the development of text adventure games using the Quest authoring system, which allows those gifted with talent, time and imagination to write adventure games which they can share on the site, and can be played either via a web browser, or converted to applications, to be played on Windows, or Android or Apple platforms.
Some of the games listed above are created in Quest.
If you have an idea for a text adventure (preferably in Spanish) why not get hold of Quest, for free, and get writing. There are some examples of adventures, in Spanish, playable in your browser, but I'd love to see some more.

So, moving on to the 90's . .
We began to see 'point-and-click' adventures like 'Monkey Island', 'Simon the Sorcerer' and 'Maniac Mansion'

The last is of particular interest because, a few years ago, a clever bit of software called SCUMM (scripting utility for Maniac Mansion' appeared, which allowed you to play your old adventure games, written using the Maniac Mansion 'engine', on other devices.
Such games include 'Flight of the Amazon Queen', 'Lure of the Temptress', and my favourite ever point-and-click adventure 'Beneath a Steel Sky'.
Well, I installed SCUMM on my trusty Android tablet, fired up 'Beneath a Steel Sky' and, guess what? there's a language option, and it includes Spanish!!!
I am just SO excited at the moment.

So how about writing your own point-and-click adventures in Spanish?
Yes, you can do that to!
Just download Adventure Game Studio at
I searched the site using the filter 'Spanish' and found one game listed but, unfortunately, the writer's website appears to have disappeared.
Why not have a go, and create a Spanish p-and-c adventure?
Finally, let's come bang up to date, with a (FREE!) offering from Pendulo Soft, called Yesterday.
It can be played in Spanish, English, French, Italian or German. My only gripe is that all of the introductory sequence, with audio, is in English and you can't actually change the language until you're into the game.
That said, it's free (did I mention that?), it's very pretty, and it's available on Android, Apple and PC.
You can find download links at and there's a promotional video on YouTube.

I hope you enjoy investigating this facet of gaming in Spanish as much as I did, but that it doesn't keep you away from your studies and your 'tarea'

¡Que lo disfrutes!

Oh, chamacos?
It's a term much used by a Mexican radio presenter Brozo 'el payaso oscuro' (the dark clown) and it means 'kids'
Brozo does the early morning show on W Radio in Mexico city but, as we in the UK are six hours in front, I can listen to it on TuneIn radio at lunchtime, without having to get up early :)
If you like talk radio, I can recommend it. or you can go direct to the Radio Station's site at and click on 'Al Aire'

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Spanish does not speak itself here - that's your job!

'¿Como se llama?'
'Me llamo David'

Two of the first phrases most people learn, when beginning to speak Spanish and, for most people, their first introduction to, what appears to be, a reflexive verb.
'Appears to be?

Well, let's consider the translation.
'Me llamo David' doesn't really translate to 'I call myself David', it's 'I am called David'
Not sure?
OK, you may have seen a sign which reads 'Aqui se habla español'
Now, that definitely does NOT mean 'Spanish speaks itself here' - it means 'Spanish IS SPOKEN here', from which you can see that 'hablarse' is not a reflexive Spanish verb (if it even exists)

One more example, before we begin to look at the theory.
In Lila Downs' song La cumbia del mole the first verse opens with the words
'Cuentan que en Oaxaca se toma el mezcal con café' which translates as 'they say that in Oaxaca mescal is drunk with coffee' - it definitely does NOT 'drink itself with coffee'

So, what's going on?
Well, a true reflexive verb is one where the subject and object are the same
(Quick refresher - Subject is the do-er, Object is the recipient of the action)
so 'él se lava' means 'he washes himself', so 'se' comes to mean 'himself, itself, herself' etc.

However, in the construction we're looking at today, the verb isn't really reflexive, it's more like a way of expressing an action in the 'passive voice'
In that case (this will probably make grammar teachers cringe) 'se' acts more like the verb 'to be', while the verb acts more like an adjective.
So 'se habla' becomes 'it IS SPOKEN'
and 'se llama' equals 'he IS CALLED'
and you may have seen the signs on buildings in Spanish-speaking areas saying 'SE VENDE' ?
You can probably guess now that it means 'it IS FOR SALE' (OK 'for sale' might not be a real adjective, but the principle still applies.)

Now you know about this construction, you'll be able to spot it more easily, and it will make sense out of some of those apparently nonsensical 'reflexive' phrases you've seen.

I came across one only today, in a Podcast from . The podcast was actually about the use of the imperfect tense, but contained, by way of example, a typical use of this method:
'Cada invierno, los prados se cubrían de nieve'
'Every winter, the meadows WERE COVERED with snow'

Apart from '¿como se llama?' you may even have been using this structure without knowing it.
Ever asked your teacher '¿Como se dice en Inglés?'
'How IS IT SAID?' - passive voice - NOT 'how does it say itself?'

There's a good reference page (in English :-) at which explains more about the use of the passive voice, and about another method of invoking it, using the verb to be, which is beyond the scope of this posting, but includes examples like 'el libro fue escrito por Manuel' - 'the book was written by Manuel'
It also includes a quiz, so you can test yourself on a number of examples.

One final point:
The sentence or phrase doesn't even have to include the subject, as in the 'Se Vende' example above, where we don't know who is doing the selling, just that the building is being sold .

¡Hasta la próxima!

Monday, 21 April 2014

From Pirates to Dracula, in search of the perfect 'R'

I've heard it said that one of the most difficult things about learning to speak a new language is learning to make sounds which don't exist in your own language.
My own take on that is that it's even harder if there is a similar sound in your own language.

So, in this post, we're going to concentrate on one letter -  the letter 'R'

You may have, like me, listened to Spanish podcasts, seen American actors speaking Spanish on TV, or watched recordings of other people's lessons on Verbling.
A lot of people, as you will notice, have problems with pronunciation of the 'R' sound in Spanish.

I want to pronounce my 'R's like a Spanish speaker, not like a Pirate.
I asked my Spanish teacher, Eunice, about this, as I'm quite aware that my 'R's are a little weak, and she explained the root cause of the problem with a short lesson in anatomy.
Apparently, just behind your upper teeth is a flat ridge, just before the roof of your mouth arches upwards to the hard palate.
This is called the Alveolar Ridge, and sounds which are produced with the tongue positioned against this ridge are called Alveolar sounds, and include 'd' 't' 'l' and 'n' in English.
In the illustration 'A' shows the Alveolar Ridge and 'P' shows the palate.
The letter 'R' in English is not an Alveolar Sound.
Trying saying 'Arrrr!', as if you were practising for International Talk Like A Pirate Day and be aware of where the tip of your tongue is, in your mouth.
Unless your anatomy is significantly different to mine it's probably about midway back along the roof of your mouth, making it a Palatine Sound.
In Spanish, you guessed it, 'R' is an alveolar sound, which means it's formed with the tongue in a completely different position.
So, if you've been trying to make that fantastic rolling 'R' in Spanish, and failing miserably, it's quite possible that your tongue has been in the wrong place all along.
There is quite a lot written on the subject of getting your tongue position right, but most of it is down to practise.
That in itself can be a challenge, if you don't have a 'feel' for where the correct position is.
So, before trying the 'R', it's best to limber up with a few Alveolar Sounds you do know.
Try saying 'do, do , do, to, to, to' then while your tongue is in pretty much the right position, try 'rroo, rroo, rroo' trying to make the trilling 'R' as the air vibrates over the tip of your tongue.
So, by now you're probably saying one of two things, either 'YESssss!' or 'Huh?'
If you don't get it immediately, just keep practising. Having your tongue in the correct place greatly increases the chance of success.
You'll soon want to have a go at some real Spanish words but pick carefully.
Some combinations of letters are easier than others.
For instance, I find that 'R' following 'O' as in 'dorado' is much easier to enunciate than 'R' following 'I', as in 'mirar', and 'R' after 'B', as in 'abrir' is easier than 'R' after 'N', as in 'enriquecer'.
Start with combinations you find less difficult, and work up to the ones you have problems with, as you improve.
Oh, and have plenty of water handy. I don't know why, but practising the 'R's makes my mouth incredibly dry.
Finally, once you've mastered the rolling 'R', you need to be aware that some 'R's are pronounced with more emphasis than others, so you have a 'Strong R' and a 'Soft R'
The 'Strong R' is found . .
At the beginning of words e.g. Remo, Rojo.
At the end of words .e.g. Hablar, Comer.
Where the R is double e.g. Cigarro, Ferrocarril (ouch, double double R)
Before a consonant e.g. Horno, Armas
Before a vowel, but after 'L', 'N' or 'S' e.g. Alrededor, Enrique,Israel
In all other cases the 'R' is 'softer'
Oh, where did Dracula come in?
That's just one example of a word I use when practising the Alveolar sounds.
Don't bite your tongue :)

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Using the right 'Whatever', whatever the occasion

One of the things to remember, when you're searching for help and guidance with your Spanish, is that nobody knows Spanish, like the Spanish.
So, rather than just searching in English, try searching in Spanish.

I recently came across this excellent Blog posting, by Alberto Bustos on the subject of 'Cualquiera' , and its plural, which is NOT 'Cualquieras' but 'Cualesquiera'
View Alberto's Blog

I won't try and pass his work off as my own, but I appreciate that not everyone will be able to read and understand his blog in Spanish, so I'll translate the important parts into English here.

Firstly, let's translate the word. It equates with 'any', or 'whatever/whichever' in English.
For instance,
'Puedes practicar tu Español en cualquier bar en España'
'You can practice your Spanish in any bar in Spain'

It looks simple enough but, as Alberto explains, people become confused as there are three versions of the word, 'cualquiera', 'cualquier' and 'cualesquiera' and knowing which one to use when is important.

Alberto begins by saying that the first thing to do, to determine the correct form, is to decide whether it is accompanied by a noun, or not.
Secondly, if there is a noun, we need to identify whether 'Cualquier(a)' goes before, or after the noun, and whether it is singular or plural.

If it goes before the noun, and the noun is singular, then we will always use 'cualquier' whether the noun be masculine or feminine (Hey! look at that. I just used the Subjunctive, in English 'whether it be . . . ')
The example Alberto uses is
(1) [...] el [teléfono] móvil es el mejor disfraz, el que te permite disimular cualquier cosa, camuflar cualquier sitio, el que hace que el enemigo no sepa dónde mirar cuando te está buscando [¿Quién es Juan? / e-life, acceso: 26-4-2008]

(The mobile phone is the best disguise, which permits you to hide any thing, camouflage any place, which means that the enemy doesn't know where to look when he's searching for you)

If it goes after the noun, then we would always use 'Cualquiera', again irrespective of the gender of the noun.
(2) Trabaja en una oficina cualquiera, en un polígono cualquiera [Ideario Personal sin Censuras, acceso: 26-4-2008]

(Works in any office, in any area)

'Cualesquiera' is the plural form, used after a noun. The gender, again, is irrelevant.
(3) Una mañana cualquiera, en un tren cualquiera, unos ojos cualesquiera [Más de Cien Mentiras, acceso: 27-4-2008]

(Any morning, on any train, any eyes)

This example also shows a contrast with the singular version.

There's also the form 'Cualesquier', which can be used before the noun but, in practice, it's rarely seen as, rather than saying, for example 'Cualesquier problemas', we'd just use the singular 'Cualquier problema'

Finally, if there is no noun in your construction, you can only use 'Cualquiera' or 'Cualesquiera', depending on whether you are talking in the singular or the plural.
(4) Como sabe cualquiera, en un principio todos los elfos eran blancos: formas blancuzcas de niebla, espíritus claros [Escritos e ideas, acceso: 27-4-2008]

(As anyone knows, in the beginning, all elves were white: misty white shapes, bright spirits)

(5) Cualesquiera que sean su cuna o ascendencia común, lo cierto es que en la época del profeta Mahoma [...] existían varios dialectos entre las tribus de la Península Arábiga [Silvia Peralta Morillo, acceso: 27-4-2008 (texto eliminado de la web a 8-12-2009)]
(Whatever may be their origin, or common ancestry, it is certain that, in the time of the prophet Mohammed, there existed various dialects among the tribes of the Arab Peninsula)

Alberto finishes his brilliant post with an example of how 'Cualquier' is used.
'Con esto debería quedar resuelta cualquier duda que pudiera surgir sobre el uso de cualquiera, pero, de todas formas, lo mejor que puedes hacer para afianzar estos conocimientos es resolver unos ejercicios.'
Which translates as
'With this you can resolve any doubts which might arise over the use of 'cualquiera' but, in any case, the best you can do to reinforce this knowledge is to solve some exercises.'

The link takes you to a page if exercises which, if you've read the explanations carefully, you should be able to solve with ease.
There's also a link to the solutions, so you can see how you did.

I'd also recommend following Alberto on Google+, for some reading practice, and some excellent Grammar tips.

¡Que esto les sirva!

Monday, 10 February 2014

A descriptive way to remember gender

Getting back to basics, you'll probably remember some of the rough-and-ready rules that you learnt, to remind you how to use the correct gender for certain nouns.

Let's do a quick recap:

If it ends in 'o', it's masculine
If it ends in 'a', it's feminine
If it ends in 'ción' it's feminine
If it ends in 'umbre', it's feminine
If it ends in 'ama' it's masculine

You probably know a few more, but you will certainly have found that, while they're useful guidelines, they're not always right.

How about 'la mano'?
and 'Mama' ends in 'ama' but she's not (usually) masculine.

There are other groups of words, too, which share an ending, but seem to have no reason or rhyme to their gender
'el coche'
'la leche'

'la mente'
'la fuente'
'el puente'
'el diente'

So how do you remember the gender?

Thankfully, there's a trick you can use, which works quite well in Spanish, simply because most adjectives must 'agree' with the gender of the noun they describe.

So, if you can remember a combination of a noun and an adjective, it makes it a lot easier to remember the gender of the noun.

Let's take an example.
How about 'nube'? (cloud)
There's no handy rule you can apply to remind you of the gender but I always remember it with the phrase 'las nubes negras'
This just happens to be a phrase from a Gloria Estefan song 'Te tengo a ti' (aren't I always saying music is a great learning tool?) but I won't ever forget that 'nube' is a feminine noun

Another example 'torre'.
My key phrase here is 'las torres gemelas' (the twin towers)
Now, whether that reminds you of the World Trade Center, or the second book of 'Lord of the Rings' is immaterial, but it reminds me that 'torre' is another feminine noun.

So, looking back at the words I mentioned earlier, how about
'manos limpias' (clean hands)
'un coche rojo' ( a red car)
'leche fría' (cold milk)
'una mente aguda' ( a sharp mind)
'una fuente escondida' ( a hidden source)
'un puente largo' ( a long bridge)
'dientes blancos' (white teeth)

So, over to you.
Make a short list of problem nouns and have a go at creating some brief descriptive phrases to remind you of their gender.
I hope you find it useful.

¡Hasta la próxima!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Time to say goodbye

Now, don't panic.
The title doesn't mean I'm winding up the Blog.

Here's a puzzle for you.
I call this picture 'Anna says goodbye to her sister'

So tell me, which of the women is Anna, the one on the train, or the one left behind?
In English, there's no way of knowing.

There's a Spanish verb 'despedir', which means 'to say goodbye'
You may have heard of a 'despedida' or Farewell Party?

We could say 'Ellas se despiden', which simply means 'they say goodbye to each other', but that's no more informative than the English version.

Ah, but Spanish is cleverer than that  ;¬)

Consider 'Anna despide a su hermana'
and 'Anna se despide de su Hermana'

You might have had to look twice to see the difference.

Here's the clever part
'Anna despide A su hermana' means 'Anna says goodbye to her sister' but carries the implicit meaning that her sister is the one who is going away, while Anna remains.

'Anna se despide DE su hermana' has the same literal translation but implies the opposite situation, Anna is gong on the train, while her sister remains behind.

I freely admit, it took me quite a while to get a grip on this one, and I frequently mixed them up, until I came up with a little rhyme to jog my memory

'Yo despido A alguien que se VA' - 'I say goodbye to someone who is leaving' (which means I'm staying)
You only have to remember the meaning of one of the uses, to remember both, after all.

One final word, if you use the verb 'despedir' in its non-reflexive form, the common meaning is to fire, or lay-off someone.
e.g. 'le despidieron por ser constantemente tarde' - 'they sacked him for being constantly late',
rather than
'Le despidieron a él por última vez' - 'they said goodbye to him for the last time'

So, until next time 'tengo que despedirme de ustedes' (me voy)

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Owl is a real Nag - welcome to Duolingo

Most online learning sites will tell you the same thing - little and often is best.
Better to do a half-hour of Spanish practise per day, than try and do three hours in one day, in an attempt to catch up.

I recently came across a site, which gives you just that, and more, as it's available on your PC, through whichever browser you use, and also as a mobile app.

The website is, where you can choose between Spanish, French, Italian, German and Portuguese ( or learn to speak English in one of ten other languages)

To be honest, I've not looked closely at the very basic sections, as the site allows you to 'Test in' and makes an assessment of your current level of fluency, and you begin from there.
So far I can't say I've learnt anything new, as I think it rated me a little low, but where Duolingo wins is as a fantastic practice and refresher tool.

I personally use the app on my Android device but, when you log in, your performance is saved so you always start where you left off, even if you switch from PC to Tablet to smartphone and back.
Duolingo divides the language up into skill areas such as groups of nouns(e.g.Family,Animals,Colours etc), conjunctions, tenses, adjectives, adverbs, object pronouns etc.

A new skill will appear in your list of choices as greyed-out, if you haven't attempted it  yet.
Once you've mastered it, it turns orange (gold?)
The interesting part is what happens after that.

Although you can continue to plough through the subjects, increasing your 'Level' (part of the 'gameification' of learning which Duolingo uses) skills which you have learned previously lose 'Strength' and you have to keep revisiting them and retesting to bring them back to 'Gold' status
In the image to the left, you can see grey untried skills at the bottom, a gold completed skill on the fourth line, and other skills in various stages of 'Strength' in different colours.

This process of reinforcing skills which you have already mastered, to ensures that you don't forget the basics, while accumulating new skills, is one of the features which makes Duolingo different from some other applications.

So, let's take a look at some of the exercises in Duolingo.
1) Translate Spanish to English
2)Translate English to Spanish
3) Type what you hear - good listening practice
4)Mark ALL correct translations - increases awareness of multiple persons and tenses
5)Select the missing word
There's also a feature which I've not seen in other comparable apps - the ability to speak into your microphone, and have the software assess your pronunciation
Now, it has to be said, there's quite a lot of leeway here. I did manage to make it reject several efforts by deliberately mispronouncing words, but it's quite forgiving, but a nice feature nonetheless.
There are also other exercises which ask you to type in words, to match a picture - simple vocabulary, and a feature I haven't explored much, an opportunity to contribute to the translation of online resources such as Wikipedia.
This helps build your confidence, as it's always aimed at your current skill level, but it's a way of giving something back, while you're learning, which reminds me . . I've left the greatest feature of Duolingo until last  . . . .
Access to both the website and the application for your mobile device is absolutely FREE!!
So, I'm not saying Duolingo will teach you Spanish from scratch although, looking at some of the basic pages, it's not half bad but, if you want a regularly daily dose of Spanish, to help polish up your vocabulary and grammar, and build confidence, that won't take up too much of your day ( a typical session only consists of 20 questions) then look no further than Duolingo.
I personally use it every day.
Finally, one caveat.
The mobile app has a built in 'Nag' feature, which reminds you to practice each day, either by email, or by sounding (typically) your 'incoming text' alert.
This is OK as far as it goes but, the last time I got an alert was 26 and a half hours after my previous session (24hrs, wait a bit, then remind you)
Unfortunately, I'd done my previous session at 10p.m. so I was awoken, rather annoyed, at 00:30 by the nagging Duolingo Owl reminding me to practice my Spanish.
So, be warned, practice early, or turn the reminders OFF!
In any case, make the most of this great free product.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Would have, could have, should have

¡Felíz año nuevo! and welcome to my first post of 2014.

Let's kick the new year off with a little puzzle.
Spot the odd man out.

a) I have done it
b) I would have done it
c) I could have done it

Got it yet?
How about a clue?
One of them will not translate exactly into Spanish
Two of the phrases will end with a past participle, while the other will end in an infinitive.

O.K. it's c)
Here's the reason.

'I have done it' translates as 'lo he hecho', ending in the past participle of the verb 'to do', just as in English, with 'done'

'I would have done it' is 'lo habría hecho', where we use the verb 'haber', in conditional, for 'would have' and end with the past participle of 'hacer'

When you get to 'I could have done it' things come unstuck.
'Could have' is'había podido' and you CANNOT say 'lo había podido hecho'

The issue lies with 'could'.
Even in English, there is no verb 'to can'.
The verb is 'to be able'
So, in Spanish, as I've mentioned in a previous post, the only way to say 'could' is to say 'would be able'

Now, if you do that to our phrase in English, you have to make a significant change to the structure, because you can't say 'I would have been able to DONE it'  so you say 'I would have been able TO DO it'
So, all of a sudden, our sentence doesn't end in a past participle, it ends in an infinitive.
And THAT'S how it translates into Spanish.
'Lo había podido hacer' or 'Había podido hacerlo', which I think sounds better.

Another example of a verb which doesn't behave is 'should'
We use it every day, but what does it actually mean?
If you use 'to have to' instead, I reckon it's a fair match for the verb 'deber' so the structure of 'I should have done it' becomes'I would have had to do it'

OK, it's not an exact match, but you can see how the structure changes from ending in a past participle to ending in an infinitive again, giving us 'Había debido hacerlo'

So, it's worth remembering, if you're struggling to say something in Spanish, think for a moment about what you actually mean in English and see if there's another way of saying it which translates more easily.

Don't forget your New Year's reolution, to practice your Spanish, and have fun doing it.
¡Hasta pronto!