Archive for the ‘Study Tips / Advice’ Category

Leaning Spanish – Part 6 – Using Text Books

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

In my last article I started to talk about a Spanish textbook called ‘Pasos’. This was the textbook I used when I first started learning Spanish. When I started studying from it I didn’t use it to its full potential. This was really down to time constraints and the fact I was about to embark on a long trip to central and South America. I wanted to finish the book before I set off.

The point of the article was really to warn others against falling into the same trap if possible. This particular Spanish textbook and others like it are full of quizzes and exercises that are designed to test the reader’s ability to retain and understand the information that is being taught. I didn’t spend enough time working through the various chapters or attempting all of the exercises. In hindsight I know it would have been better to spend as much time as I needed in order to cover everything that the book had to offer.

In this article I want to talk some more about the same Spanish textbook, in particular about how it dealt with teaching Spanish verb formations. Learning how to form Spanish verbs can be very frustrating for native speakers of English. This is because they are formed very differently. In Spanish it is often not necessary to use subject personal pronouns (I, you, he, she etc) with verbs like it is in English. Look at this simple example:-

I live in England. = Vivo en Inglaterra.

Notice in Spanish no word for ‘I’ is used. This is because much of the time the way that a Spanish verb is formed will automatically indicate what subject personal pronoun is being referred to (I, you, he, she etc). At first this can seem very confusing and then later on it can still seem very confusing! The difficulty is that there are so many different ways that one single verb might be formed. Not only does the verb change depending on which subject personal pronoun it is used with but it also changes depending on what verb tense is being used (present, past, future etc).

Unfortunately, you will have to learn how Spanish verbs are formed even to have a very basic conversation. There is no escaping it!

Spanish verbs can be split into those that are regular and those that are irregular. The benefit of learning how to form Spanish regular verbs is that once you know how to form one verb in one particular tense you can apply the same formation rules to all regular verbs. You only need to know how to form the verb once!

So, what are the best ways to go about learning how to form Spanish verbs? There are without doubt a lot more regular verbs in Spanish than there are irregular ones so learning the formation rules that apply to regular verbs is probably a good start. Some of the most very common verbs in Spanish are irregular however, so sooner or later you will have to study these too!

The Spanish textbook I was using started to introduce verb formations right from the very beginning but didn’t include any detailed explanations about them until perhaps half way through the book. I was putting sentences together using different verb formations without really knowing why. Of course a sentence without a verb is not much of a sentence so being subjected to them right away was unavoidable.

To begin with it is probably a good idea to start making sentences with verbs by concentrating on remembering what the verb in it’s infinitive form means rather than trying to learn how it is formed in different tenses.

Infinitive verb examples – (to live = vivir / to eat = comer / to talk = hablar)

You are still learning, simply by remembering what lots of different verbs means. Later on at a point, which best suites, you, you can begin to look at different verb tenses and formations. For me, the Spanish textbook I was using didn’t explain in sufficient logical detail how verbs were formed. I was keen to understand this quite early on in my studies. My textbook approached the subject on a piecemeal basis, which seemed a little too disjointed for me. I would have preferred to learn about verbs as a separate topic rather than having them introduced them bit by bit!

Whichever way you decide to learn about verbs, one thing you will almost certainly want in your possession is a verb conjugation (formation) book. This is a book that will tell you how every conceivable verb in the Spanish language should be formed in all tenses. (Some books are more in depth than others!)

Verb conjugation books and more about what my basic level Spanish text book taught me is what I intend to continue talking about in my next article.

Learning Spanish – Part 6 – What’s The Best Way to Learn Spanish Verb Formations?

In this article I start to talk about Spanish verb formations. Verb conjugation forms a significant part of learning Spanish grammar and isn’t really something that can be ignored. It has to be learnt!

Be Realistic, Learning Spanish Takes Longer Than Six Weeks

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

People often sign up for a six week Spanish program and are shocked when they complete the course and cannot communicate with aplomb in Spanish. If this statement sounds like it holds just a grain of truth for you, then you need to be realistic. Learning Spanish takes longer than six weeks. Think about this: I bet it took you longer than six weeks to learn English. Am I right?

Toddlers and young children who are flung into new situations and have to learn a completely different language learn fast and easily. But even these guys with their sponge like brains take longer than six weeks to decipher the ins and outs of Spanish.

Unfortunately adults are much slower at picking up languages. We are no longer producing new brain cells and making connections between neurons is a lot more difficult. We also have many years of using our own language to fight against. Adults sometimes have a tough time accepting that sentence structures may seem backwards to what we are used to, or prepositions don’t always translate across from English to Spanish.

The truth is that different languages structure communication differently to English. Often, as is the case with English too, there is no logical reason why something is the way it is, it just is and you have to accept it. This can be a bitter pill to swallow for people who are accustomed to wanting to know the whys and wherefores of things. Asking questions like “But why is it a regular verb in English and it is irregular in Spanish?” or “Why does mano end in ‘o” but has la as its definite article?” will hinder you in your language learning. There are certain things that you have to accept with childlike credulity when learning a language and then get on with it.

In my experience as a language teacher, there are people in this world who are more pre-disposed to language acquisition than others. Some people find it easy to untangle the web of Spanish grammar and can ram it into their brains with relative ease. Others struggle to remember how to conjugate the present tense. If you belong to the former group, then you are lucky; if you belong to the latter, then you are not alone and with persistence you will make it.

Another reason it takes us English speakers longer than six weeks to pick up a language is that by and large we are not very good at it. I know this is a terrible stereotype, but since English is so widely spoken, there is less motivation and necessity for us to master other languages. It is true than you can generally find an English speaker anywhere on the globe. As such, we do not grow up learning different languages in the way that other cultures do and the languages taught at school are not compulsory into the upper reaches of secondary school, nor are they taught with a communicative focus.

With realistic expectations you will be able to become a great Spanish speaker. It will take you more than six weeks; in fact if you are serious about it you will continue learning for the rest of your life. Just as we learn new words or phrases regularly in our native language you will continue to do so in Spanish too. After six weeks you can reasonably expect to have mastered some of the basics of Spanish that will form the foundation for the rest of the language to flourish in your brain.

How to Build a Strong Spanish Vocabulary

Friday, July 5th, 2013

Building up a strong Spanish vocabulary is important to improve your ability to understand conversations that happen around you and to make you sound like a smart cookie when you speak or write in Spanish. There are many different ways that you can strengthen your vocabulary, try using a few of the following techniques and you will be impressing people with your vast lexicon in no time.

A Spanish vocabulary notebook should be one of the first things you do when you set out to improve your vocabulary. Each time you encounter a new word include it in your notebook, along with a definition, the type of word it is (adjective, noun, verb, adverb, idiomatic phrase etcetera) and an example of it in use. Studies in brain cognition have shown that you are far more likely to remember things when you read it, write it and say it.

Making word family trees is also a good way to expand your vocabulary when you are beginning to learn Spanish. These can help you to make connections between Spanish words. For example you can make a tree with all the living room vocabulary you know, or all the greetings that you have learned. To make vocabulary trees you start with the theme or subject written in the center. On branches that radiate outwards write all the words you currently know relating to that theme. On the flipside of the paper re-create the tree in your native language. By comparing the two you can uncover gaps in your vocabulary knowledge.

Prioritizing your learning is an important part of remembering vocabulary. There is no point learning a whole lot of slang or idiomatic expressions before you learn to use more basic vocabulary as you will not use it and you will quickly forget it. Learn vocabulary for everyday situations first and then build up to more complex ideas and themes.

Reading much and often is an essential part of building a strong Spanish vocabulary. Make the Internet your best friend and check out Spanish language newspapers and other Spanish language websites. There are also online newsletters that will email a new phrase or word everyday to your inbox. Why not use Spanish language search engines when you are surfing the net and try clicking on websites in Spanish?

There are thousands of Spanish language websites that have free vocabulary exercises and word games on line. Try to visit one of these sites each day. By setting aside just a few minutes to do this you will build and refresh your Spanish vocabulary.

If your current Spanish level is intermediate, then try visiting your local library and borrowing Spanish language books. There are some amazing Spanish and Latino writers and it is always best to read in the original language. Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel Garcia and Isabel Allende are just a few shining literary lights in Spanish. Pablo Neruda’s poetry is simply sublime when it is read in lilting and romantic Spanish.

Listening to Spanish music on line is another great way that you can improve your listening and expand your vocabulary. Once you have listened to the song search for the lyrics in Google and you are sure to learn lots of new words and phrases.

When watching DVDs switch on the Spanish subtitles that are included on many movies and you will get to learn new words, many of them slang.

There are many different techniques you can use to build a strong Spanish vocabulary. By utilizing just a few of the ideas in this article you will be able to understand others better and wow people with your vast grasp of the Spanish language.