Posts Tagged ‘learn Spanish’

Stay with a Family in Latin America and Learn Spanish

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

So you have started learning Spanish and you want to take it to the next level? Well, by staying with a family in Latin America you will be able to become fluent in Spanish very quickly.

A few years ago I ventured to deepest, darkest Peru to stay with a Peruvian family on the coast. It had always been my dream to visit South America and I would like to tell you that I had done my research thoroughly and knew exactly what to expect from the experience: but that would be stretching the truth.

In reality, I was super young, footloose and fancy free and caught up in the spirit of adventure. It only occurred to me to start thinking about what I was in for when I was on the airplane. I suddenly realized how little research I had done into the place I was going to be staying for the next four months and began to get nervous.

Luckily the family I was placed with was very welcoming and had as much interest in me and learning about my culture as I had in theirs. Everyday I would help the mother of the family go to the market for the daily food and then prepare it in the kitchen. This was a great experience because not only did it give me a solid couple of hours to speak Spanish and develop my fluency and vocabulary, it also taught me how to make many delicious Peruvian dishes.

At first eating a hot dish in the middle of the day in summer heat was difficult for me, but I got used to it and came to see this ritual as part of the glue that holds Peruvian families together. The chance to escape work to meet with your family is an important factor in why Peruvian families are so close. As everyone sat around the dining table it was another chance to speak Spanish and interact with both adults and teenagers – boy did I learn a lot of slang!

Apart from “sit down please” and “how are you?” no one in my host family spoke any English. From day one I was forced to interact in pure Spanish and a little bit of sign language.

At times it could be frustrating when I really wanted to share something with them and I felt clumsy doing it, or could not find the words. At times I just really wanted to have a chat to someone in English. At times I would think I understood something correctly and it turned out I did not. At times it was really tiring communicating 24/7 in Spanish. Immersing yourself in another culture and language is a challenge, no matter which way you spin it.

Poco a poco things got much easier. Gradually I found that I could communicate my thoughts and feelings much more clearly, I could keep pace during the dinner conversations, I could understand jokes and give come backs when I was being affectionately teased and I could keep up with the drama taking place on the TV soap opera.

Without having completed my stay with a Latin American family I doubt I would ever have reached the level of fluency that I achieved after only four months in Peru. I learned more in that time than any grammar book could ever have given me and it motivated me to keep trying to surmount the nightmare of Spanish verb conjugations.

There is no doubt in my mind that staying with a family in Latin America is one of the best ways that you can develop your language skills – and, if you are lucky learn to make some awesome South American food.

Watch TV and Learn Spanish

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

Using TV, whether it is broadcast programs or DVDs, can be a great tool for helping you to learn Spanish. It might be called the idiot box from time to time, but when you are trying to master Spanish that is a misnomer. In fact, it can be one of your greatest resources.

Using video or television can benefit your Spanish ability in many different ways. From improving your listening skills to enabling you to tell someone off in Spanish using creative vocabulary generally involving references to one’s mother, TV can really help your Spanish along.

One of the obvious ways that it can work is by improving your listening skills. The more you listen, the more you are likely to understand. Spanish is quite a fast language and it can be hard to adjust to the speed of listening required. Regularly force yourself to listen carefully to Spanish language programs and you will be amazed at how your listening ability improves.

Another benefit you will get from listening regularly to spoken Spanish using your TV is a sense for how the language should sound. This might seem a bit strange, but when your Spanish ear is well developed you will be able to tell when, what you are saying is not correct and you may be able to fix your error. A sense of the Spanish language is just as important as an understanding of the language and with it you will be able to hear the difference between different Spanish accents.

Speaking of accents, this brings us to the next point: pronunciation. When you listen to how Spanish is spoken you can begin to mimic the sounds and rhythms of the language more effectively. You can create your own listen and repeat exercises at home using DVD. Simply listen carefully to a sentence or phrase, then pause the DVD and repeat using your best impersonation. Your mouth will begin to be able to reproduce the sounds just the way you hear them – even the double “r”!

The person who invented DVDs was a genius and the person that decided to put different audio and subtitle options onto DVDs was a super genius. It means that you can watch just about any movie in Spanish, rather than having to watch obscure foreign movies like on video in the past.

Subtitles are wonderful, wonderful things. What your ears might miss, your eyes can catch. Use subtitles on the television to expand your vocabulary. When watching a movie with the Spanish subtitles on you will pick up all kinds of colorful language and slang. But more importantly, you will see how Spanish is spoken everyday around the world. You will see the grammar forms that are used more commonly than others and you will become more familiar with sentence structure and verb forms.

Watching television in English with the subtitles on might seem a little bit like cheating, but it is actually a very valuable exercise. You can pick up many useful new expressions and phrases by doing this. It is easier for us to read Spanish, than it is to listen to it, so this can be a useful start to using DVDs and TV to improve your Spanish. As you get more confident then you can switch to Spanish audio and subtitles.

Using TV can be a very powerful way to improve your Spanish. There are many benefits such as improving your listening, vocabulary, pronunciation, intonation and even reading skills. Most DVDs come with Spanish language options these days, which means that you can make any movie experience an educational one as well.

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!