Beyond the Basics

The Complete Guide To Spanish Subjunctive Triggers, Part 1

The Complete Guide To Subjunctive Triggers

Part 1: Introduction
Spanish subjunctive triggers
When learning about the subjunctive tense, we not only have to learn new conjugations, but also when to apply these conjugations. One trick for learning the “when” is to memorize the various subjunctive triggers.

Triggers are words or phrases that automatically require you to use the subjunctive. Triggers are usually in the first part of a two part sentence. The two parts are usually separated by a que or si, and the second part of the sentence has a subject that is different than the first part.

I explain this in more detail, as well as how to conjugate in the subjunctive in the following articles:

What Is the Spanish Subjunctive and How To Use It

How To Conjugate the Spanish Subjunctive

When I was creating the course Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive, I was able to get a little more intimate with the various types of triggers. So I have decided to write an in-depth series of articles, one for each type of trigger.

What is Wrong With W.E.I.R.D.O.?

Triggers are usually grouped into a type, or category, to help identify them. Each category has different characteristics. This series of articles will explore the nuances of each trigger group.

One of the things we will look into is how these trigger types can differ depending on the tense. There are 4 possible subjunctive tenses that can be used: the present, present perfect, imperfect, and past perfect. These tenses sometimes work differently with different trigger types. Because of this, I found it makes more sense to classify the trigger types a little differently than how they are conventionally categorized with the W.E.I.R.D.O. approach.

Will this new categorization be revolutionary, controversial, or, most likely, completely ignored? Who knows. But it makes sense to me, and maybe it will make sense to whoever decides to look into it themselves.

So the W.E.I.R.D.O. categorization is this.
W = Wishes
E = Emotions
I = Impersonal Expressions
R = Recommendations
D = Doubts / Denial
O = Ojalá

Now the creator of this acroynimcally inspired categorization system, I am pretty sure, meant for this to be a useful mnemonic device for helping us remember when to use the subjunctive. It wasn’t meant to be an exact science that could be strictly applied to all aspects of the subjunctive. I am not saying the W.E.I.R.D.O. system is bad, I’m just not sure how really useful it is. It may help some high school students pass a test, but in the moment of a conversation, the brain isn’t going to have time to take that detour. I have noticed, however, that other Spanish learning websites have tried to incorporate W.E.I.R.D.O. into their teaching method as if there is some science to it, and it doesn’t really hold up well.

My categorization is somewhat similar but there are a few alterations. For now, let’s compare it to W.E.I.R.D.O., and then in future articles I will treat each category in more depth.

1. Doubts, Desires, Denial and Ojalá
Whereas W.E.I.R.D.O. gives doubts and denials their own category, and keeps them separate from wishes, I include them with desires/wishes. First off, there is really only one denial trigger that I can think of, the verb negar, so that doesn’t deserve its own category. Secondly, all of these wish/desire triggers act similarly to the doubt/denial triggers in terms of the tenses. So they all go good together. Also, Ojalá means to hope (in the present) or wish (in the past) so it functions similarly, especially in meaning, to the other triggers of desire. The only difference is you don’t have to worry about conjugating it.

2. Emotions
This is the same as W.E.I.R.D.O. These triggers are emotion based and they must indicate a specific subject that is a person expressing the emotion (as opposed to impersonal expressions below).

3. Impersonal Expressions
Same as W.E.I.R.D.O. It is important to note that impersonal expressions either express doubt or emotion. So they are similar to 1. and 2. above. However, the subject is removed from the sentence, though not from the process of expressing the opinion. These impersonal expressions essentially could have “I believe that” in front of it. This implies a degree of uncertainty, however miniscule, as it is just the opinion of the speaker. Interestingly, if you were to say “I believe” or “I think”, it only triggers the subjunctive if it is negative. But for some reason, when it is expressed as an impersonal expression, it DOES trigger the subjunctive. We’ll look at some examples in the article on this trigger type.

4. Suggestions and Commands
W.E.I.R.D.O. calls these Recommendations. They also include demands and ordering people around. Probably the biggest difference between my classification system and W.E.I.R.D.O. is that W.E.I.R.D.O. includes imperative triggers with wishes and desires. In a way it makes sense because it IS a wish or a desire. But grammatically, these imperative triggers work differently. For example, you can’t use them with the present perfect or past perfect in the subjunctive. Go ahead and try it! Another interesting feature of these triggers is that they can be used as command forms, like the recommendation triggers, whereas desire triggers cannot also be commands. If that was confusing, there will be some example to look at in another article. Imperative triggers belong in the Recommendation category, not the Wishing category.

5. Adverbial Phrases
The weird thing about W.E.I.R.D.O. is that it doesn’t include this type of trigger. Most Spanish textbooks and websites do. It just doesn’t fit well into the anacronym. The person who created W.E.I.R.D.O. does indeed cover adverbial phrases in his textbook. Basically this category covers all the adverbial clauses that trigger the subjunctive. There are quite a variety within this category.

6. Miscellaneous
This final category includes all the oddball triggers that don’t fit nice and neatly into the categories above. This includes indefinite antecedents. It is important to remember that Spanish is a language that has it’s own rules. It doesn’t obey the rules of English speaking linguists. What I mean by this is that the subjunctive is a rather fluent and amorphous aspect of the Spanish language that sometimes defies logical explanation.

So those are the 6 categories of subjunctive triggers that I use in my course Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive. I will be writing a series of articles that explore each of these triggers in greater depth. Each article will have plenty of examples, and come with a podcast episode with practice drills! So don’t worry if some of the above explanations were confusing.

I would also like to mention that memorizing all the triggers in all of these categories will help you about 97% percent* of the time. There are certain cases where the subjunctive is used in ways that can’t be easily confined within the concept of a trigger. These types of uses come with greater facility and familiarity with the language. Creating instructional drills for learning them is impractical.

*percentage is an estimate and will vary from person to person

And now, I fear, that I must christen my own acronym so that nobody runs off with my idea and makes a boatload of cash. What’s more, nobody is going to go running around calling this Scott’s system. So let’s see what can we come up with here. We have a D, E, I, S, A, and M.

Oh, this is too hard for me. I just wrote a long article and my brain is fried. Let’s see if there is an online acronym generator. What do you know there is!

So, those 6 letters do not spell any recognizable word. I tried swapping out some of the words, for example Recommendation for Suggestion, or Expression for Impersonal, but the best that I got was M.E.D.I.C.S.
Doubts and Desires
Impersonal Expressions
Clauses (Adverbial)

Lame. Misc should be at the end because it is least important. You aren’t going to start by learning the oddball triggers! OK, I guess I am going to settle for Scott’s Not Weirdo as the title. Let’s see if that sticks.


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Different Ways To Say To Give in Spanish

There are a few different ways to express the verb “to give” in Spanish. Each verb has a unique quality and refers to a specific type of giving. Often in spoken English, the verb “to give” would be used to cover all of these. But in Spanish, these verbs are more commonly used. Let’s look at a few examples.

The verb dar is the basic way to express “to give”, and the one most beginning Spanish students learn. It usually is specifically used in reference to a person giving something to another person.

Le voy a dar un consejo.
I’m going to give her some advice.

¡Démelo ya! (formal) or ¡Dámelo ya! (familiar)

Give it to me now!

If you are giving a gift, you wouldn’t say “dar un regalo”. You would use the verb regalar, which means to give a gift. There really isn’t a direct verb in English that translates.

Le voy a regalar una cadena de oro.
I’m going to give him a gold chain (as a gift).

Vamos a darle un vestido negro a la novia.
We are going to give the bride a black dress (as a gift)

Another verb which is used is otorgar. This translates as “to grant” in English. But the usage of “to grant” in the sense of “to give” is not very common. The Spanish verb otorgar is more commonly used than “to grant” is in English.

Me otorgaron un premio por mi descubrimiento.
They gave (granted) me a prize for my discovery.

El científico les otorgó a los periodistas una entrevista breve.
The scientist gave (granted) the journalists a brief interview.

Yet another verb that can be used is brindar. This verb tends to work more with inanimate objects or concepts.

Ese arbol brindaba una sombra muy buena.
That tree used to give (offered) a very nice shade.

Su visita me brindó la ocasión de conocerlo mejor.
His visit gave me the opportunity to get to know him better.

One more verb is donar, which means to donate. In English, you may casually use the verb “to give” when “to donate” could be used.

Donó ropa al orfonato.
She gave some clothes to the orphanage.

Quiero donar cien dólares a la organización sin fines de lucro.
I want to give a hundred dollars to the non-profit organization.

Notice that all of these verbs require an indirect object (me, te, le, nos, les) if there is a recipient to the action of giving.

As you can see, there are quite a few options in Spanish to express giving, each with a subtle difference. These Spanish verbs can be interchanged somewhat and the listener will get the idea. But learning the subtle differences of these verbs will make you sound more natural when you speak Spanish.


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Ways to Say Gross In Spanish

Whether you are referring to a stenchy odor, a weird tasting food, or something that makes you squirm, like maggots crawling around a dead bird, needles being injected, or talking about liposuction, there are plenty of things in the world to gross us out. Some people are more easily grossed out than others. And some people are just plain gross themselves! So how do we express all of this grossness in Spanish? Here some words and phrases to get you started.

The most common way to express disgust is the adjective asqueroso.

Me parecen asquerosos sus hábitos.
His habits seem gross to me.

Creo que la liposucción es algo asquerosa.
I think liposuction is rather gross.

To describe a person as being gross, you could say:

Ese viejo es muy asqueroso.
That old man is very gross.

This could also mean “to be easily grossed out”.

Ese viejo es muy asqueroso.
That old man is easily grossed out.

Yo era muy asqueroso.
I used to be easily grossed out.

The context will indicate the difference of being gross, or being grossed out.

A shortened version, asco, is also common.

¡Qué asco!
How gross!, or How disgusting!

If something grosses you out, you would use the verb dar and asco.

Los gusanos me dan asco.

Maggots (or worms) gross me out.

La violencia les dan asco.

Violence grosses them out.

¿Qué te da asco?

What grosses you out?

NOTE that when it is singular, da asco, is going to combine in speech and sound like dasco. So the last example above sounds like “¿Qué te dasco?” if spoken at normal speed.

If you want to express grossness as a noun you could use asquerosidad.

¡Qué asquerosidad!
What a revolting thing!

Ella me evita como una asquerosidad.

She avoids me as if I’m disgusting.

And finally, a fun way to say “Nasty!”, which is used in Mexico and Central America:


Of course you can always get by with the universal facial expression for “eww!”

If you can think of anything else to add to the list, feel free to leave a reply below!


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Best Way To Learn Spanish Slang

Best Way To Learn Spanish Slang

When I was starting to teach myself Spanish, one of the things I did was waste a lot of time learning vocabulary words that I was never going to use. If you have been studying Spanish for any length of time, you probably know that there are often multiple words for the same thing. So why learn the word used in Spain, for a particular item, if you are never going to go to Spain? And how do we even know that we are learning the best word for our particular destination?

The same can be said for slang, that is, expressions that people use that are often not recognized by the official dictionary. These words and expressions are often not taught in Spanish text books, web sites, or Spanish learning programs. And of course, each country or region, sometimes within a single country, or covering multiple countries, will have unique slang. Why bother learning the slang of Argentina if you are going to México?

Add to that the fact that slang is often easily exported to other countries via music, television or movies, and it really gets challenging to track and pinpoint.

Most aspiring Spanish students probably feel they should be able to speak slang so they can sound more natural and hang with the native Spanish speakers, and less like a Spanish textbook. But how to go about doing this?

My first recommendation is to not even bother learning too much slang until you know for sure the country in which you will be spending most of your time. If you are already in that country, then you already know the slang you want to focus on. Or maybe you don’t plan on traveling or living in another country, but you know you will be working with mostly Mexicans in the United States.

So if you don’t know which country’s slang to focus on, just continue learning as much “normal” Spanish as you can, and you can phase in some slang later. And if you DO know which variety of Spanish slang you want to focus on, this article compiles a list of useful resources to get you started. This will be updated with new resources as I learn about them.


Once you have narrowed down the country or countries of interest to you, I would start by treating slang just as you would any other vocabulary word. You probably have a method for learning new vocabulary words that you already use. If so, just start gradually adding some slang to your method. If you don’t have a vocabulary building method that you already work with, then you will probably need to set one up for learning your new slang words.

For me, memorizing vocabulary words is just the first step to learning a new vocabulary word. If I don’t use the word in some other way, either by hearing it in an audio, or applying it in conversation regularly, I will soon forget it. So you may want to figure out an alternative way to encounter the vocabulary word outside of your vocabulary learning method.

Another helpful approach is to find television programs or streaming radio shows that originate from the same country that you are focusing on. You’ll most likely encounter the slang expressions and be able to get used to the appropriate context for using it.

Once the slang word is in the brain, I don’t necessarily recommend using it right away. If you are living in the country where the slang is used, your best bet is to observe and listen for its use with native speakers. Try to understand the context in which it is applied, because the way you learned it might have subtle differences in use or meaning, or, worse, it may just be completely wrong. So before you start using it yourself, make sure you are using it correctly by hearing how the native Spanish speakers use it.

Now that you feel confident that you can use it correctly in the appropriate context, try to start using it yourself. I have noticed that when a gringo uses slang, often times this is seen as humorous. So be ready for that, and just laugh along and smile.


Below I list various resources for learning Spanish slang, categorized by country of slang.

Before looking at the list, I want to mention the SpeakingLatino website. A while back, I thought it would be an amazing project to travel to all the different Spanish speaking countries and compile their slang, and then write a book specific for each country. But lo and behold, somebody has already done that! His name is Jared Romey and he spent 14 years doing just this. His web site offers tons of slang by various countries and his books go into further depth.

Of course you can go to Amazon and do a search for your target country plus “slang”, or “colloquialisms”, and you will probably find some other options. You will also find some Spanish slang books that don’t specify country, but rather try to include all Spanish speaking regions. Usually they will indicate with symbols which regions use the particular slang.

This is just a short sampling of some resources. To really get a more in-depth list, go to Jared’s web site and select your country under the Spanish Slang Resources tab in the navigation bar.

Slang in ArgentinaCHILE

A Quick Guide To Dominican Spanish

Slang in Guatamala

“¡Qué boquita!” No seas pelangoche.

Slang in Nicaragua

Puerto Rican Spanish

A Quick Guide To Venezualan Spanish

My Spanish Notes

If you know of a Spanish slang resource that is not included on this list, please leave a comment below.


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Take the Spanish Challenge!

Take the Spanish Challenge!

As a Spanish student, it probably didn’t take you long to realize that the Spanish you learn from a text book or in the classroom, is a LOT different than the Spanish you hear on when native Spanish speakers speak normally. This is often a cause of frustration for Spanish students.

It’s important to realize that learning Spanish happens in steps, oftentimes lots of baby steps that are unnoticeable. Being able to understand native speakers is just a step that you have to get to, and then something you have to practice once you get to it. It’s part of the language learning process and nothing to get frustrated over.

As a Spanish student, I needed to create a system that would allow me to focus on this particular aspect of language learning, that is, being able to hear and understand native Spanish speakers. And so I developed a 12 part system to do this, which I tested for over 2 years. I have turned this method into a video course which is called Hear And Understand A Foreign Language.

The purpose of this Spanish challenge is to show you first hand the effectiveness of this method. We’re going to work with one simple video, and if you take the challenge, you will follow a few steps to see how much your listening comprehension improves over the course of 7-10 days.

The first step is to test yourself. You do this by viewing the video, and doing a self-assessment of how well you understood what you heard. The girl in the video is from Colombia, and just to give you a context, she is talking about the months of the year. You will probably be very familiar with most of the vocabulary, but you may not actually be able to understand it, given the way she speaks. So go ahead and watch the video.

Now, if you could give a percentage of how much you comprehended, go ahead and write it down along with today’s date.

The next step is to look at the transcript and review the vocabulary used. Pick out any words that you do not know, write them down, and then study them however you study new vocabulary words. Once you have memorized these words, come back for the next step.

NOTE: BONUS CHALLENGE: There is a one word she says that I can’t figure out. Please see the ??? in the transcript and leave a comment with the correct word if you can understand it.

Now that you have memorized the words that you didn’t know, open up the transcript and read it to yourself, out loud, two times. That’s it. Come back the next day for step 3. (It really works best to come back the next day to do each step. It reinforces the learning.)

Now we are going to do 3 things.
1) Read the transcript aloud,
2) Play the video AND read along with the transcript,
3) Repeat #2
(Be sure to keep track of the steps you have done on a sheet of paper or on a text document on your computer, along with the date you completed the step)

Today do these three steps:
1) Read the transcript aloud,
2) Play the video AND read along with the transcript,
3) Watch the video WITHOUT reading the transcript.

Today is a repeat step 4
1) Read the transcript aloud,
2) Play the video AND read along with the transcript,
3) Watch the video WITHOUT reading the transcript.

Today is another repeat of step 4
1) Read the transcript aloud,
2) Play the video AND read along with the transcript,
3) Watch the video WITHOUT reading the transcript.

Today is a bit different
1) Play the video AND read along with the transcript,
2) Watch the video WITHOUT reading the transcript.
3) Watch the video WITHOUT reading the transcript.

The final step is this:
Watch the video 3 times without using the transcript. Assess what percentage of the audio you can now understand. Write this number down and compare it to the percentage you wrote down in step 1.

In most cases this number will have increased dramatically. You may even have attained 100% listening comprehension.

OK, you may be skeptical and you may be thinking, “Well, of course my listening comprehension increased. I just listened to the same video 15 times!” Yes, this is true. But what happens when you do this with several videos or audio sources is, that over time, the percentage of the first time listen to any source, gradually increases. In other words, after time, when you hear something for the first time, you comprehend much more than you could before.

The beauty of this approach is that you can personalize the steps to suit your personal situation. Perhaps you are already pretty advanced in Spanish and all of these steps were too easy for you. You can simply modify the number of steps, or what you actually do during the steps.

This method works best with short videos (or audios). And the step of reading the transcript is very important and shouldn’t be ignored. It really helps with internalizing the flow of the language by imitating native Spanish speakers in this way.

NOW, if you can see the benefit of using this technique, you can try to apply it on your own to a variety of sources. But if you really want to get the most out of it, I highly recommend my video course Hear and Understand A Foreign Language. In it I cover some more advanced techniques like working with multiple sources concurrently, and creating concurrent streams. There are lots of great details that will really help you advance your Spanish learning.

By the way, the above video is one of 500+ short videos of native Spanish speakers available in the collection 500 Spanish Videos. The is an excellent source of content to help you with your goal of understanding native speakers.

If you completed this challenge, and you want to invest in my course and the videos to improve your Spanish, then I would like to offer you a special price on both items. The video course normally sells for $22, and the 500 Spanish Videos sell for $69. Together that’s $91. If you write me a comment below with your results, and mention that you want the special price, I will email you a special discount code to receive both for only $57!


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My favorite Spanish learning blogs

My Favorite Spanish Learning Blogs

A lot of the Spanish blogs out there are created to help promote a product, much like this one. The idea is, if you have something to sell or promote, you write a bunch of articles to create interesting content for your site, and the hope is you will drive traffic to your website and make some sales. So, that is how and why I started my blog.

As a Spanish learner though, when I go looking for informative and useful blogs and bloggers, I am annoyed, no annoyed is too strong, let’s say I recognize when a blog is genuinely useful for me, and when it is “fluff” for getting better search engine ranks. SO, in this blog post I am going to list my favorite blogs, that I find the most interesting, helpful, authentic, useful, etc. for those interested in learning Spanish. These seem to be made by Spanish language geeks / enthusiasts, like me. And they give me some ideas and inspiration to what this blog can become some day.

Also I will be adding to this as I discover new ones. The list is pretty short:


Created by a Spanish language geek named Andrew, he offers great advice on learning Spanish for serious Spanish students. Andrew is funny and genuine in his Spanish geekness and I want to be friends with him! LEARN HOW TO LEARN SPANISH

This blog has really great articles about ways to learn Spanish. Articles titled “Screw grammar” and “Use seduction to speak Spanish” give you an idea. Personally, I am more of the bookworm / grammar geek type, and I am somewhat non-social and a non-drinker. So much of his advice isn’t suitable for my boring personality type. But for those of you who are more gregarious and capable of hanging with the locals in a bar, you will dig this. I dig it in a voyeuristic way.

Effective Swearing in D.F.

Towards a Manual of Communication for English Speakers visiting Mexico City
This is a hilarious blog for learning some street Spanish Mexican style. I don’t spend that much time with it as I am more interested in S. American Spanish, and if I start swearing in Mexican Spanish, it may not make any sense. But it’s still fun to read this one. I wish I could find a blog for S. American only slang.

My Spanish Notes

“This blog is a collection of the things I learn from talking with native Spanish speakers on my quest to become bilingual. No grammar, no verb conjugations, no “book” Spanish – just real Spanish I learn from real conversations.”

The voice in the first person above isn’t me. It’s a guy named Rodney who I think also does the Swearing in the DF blog. Anyway, again, it is Mexican-centric but done really well.


This blog features short lessons using Latin American culture (music videos, TV clips, comic strips) and creates learning worksheets around the topics. Kind of like LoMás TV but free.

Believe it or not, those are the only Spanish learning blogs that I have found so far that engage me. Please feel free to send me recommendations if you know of others.




Posted by Rachel Shell in Articles of Interest, Beyond the Basics, 0 comments

How To Slow Down Or Speed Up Audio Without Changing The Pitch

How To Slow Down Or Speed Up Audio Without Changing The Pitch

In this post we will look at two programs which allow you to slow down and speed up audio files without changing the pitch. Pitch refers to how high or low something sounds. Normally if you slow down an audio, the effect on the vocal makes it sound like the evil villain in a scary movie, while speeding up the audio makes the vocals sound like the chipmunks.

The feature of slowing down and speeding up audio WITHOUT changing the pitch, is relatively new in the world of audio editing. Higher end audio editing programs usually contain this feature. But if you have no need for all the features of these professional audio editing programs, then you will be happy to know that there are smaller, more affordable programs available. And these programs are very useful for language learners and teachers.

These programs allow you to open up any audio file, such as an mp3, then manipulate the speed and save it. You can then transport the new file to your portable. This doesn’t replace the original audio file.

The main reasons to want to slow down or speed up an audio file is for developing ear training skills. Let’s say an audio is too fast for you, then you can slow it down and practice listening at the slower speed. Once you can hear everything perfectly, you can practice listening at a higher speed.

The opposite is true. If you have an audio that is too slow, you can simply speed it up. With these programs, the speaker will still sound natural because the pitch isn’t changing.

The other reason to want to slow down an audio is if you are transcribing something. Let’s say you can’t type as fast as the speaker is speaking. By slowing down the audio you match the speed of the audio to your typing speed, and also be able to zoom in on a passage that you may not understand at normal speed.

For slowing down audios, I like a program called Transcribe. The main feature that makes this better for transcribing is the visual scroll bar, which allows you to easily locate a passage that you want to hear repeatedly.

For speeding up audios, I prefer the Amazing Slow Downer. It has a scroll bar which allows you to easily select the desired speed. With Transcribe, you can select 5 preset percentages of speed, but if you want a different amount, you need to do select it manually. The audio quality for the fast version seems to sound better in the Amazing Slow Downer. Plus it gives you an EQ feature right on the player face so you can adjust the sound quality. But if you want to hear a passage repeatedly, the Amazing Slow Downer is harder to use that Transcribe.

To see the differences between the two, I recommend viewing my tutorial.

Posted by Rachel Shell in Articles of Interest, Beyond the Basics, 0 comments

How To Become Fluent In Spanish

How To Become Fluent In Spanish

If becoming fluent in Spanish is your goal, there are a few things to know. First, the definition of “fluent” is quite subjective. There are really no clear benchmarks for when one is intermediate, advanced, or fluent in a foreign language. And those definitions may mean different things to different people. Does being fluent mean that you can understand others and communicate yourself well enough to be understood? Or does it mean you can understand everything you hear while speaking and sounding like a native speaker?

The second thing to know is that achieving a state of fluency is a long, arduous process which requires time, effort and dedication. To keep what you’ve learned and to build upon it takes years for most people. Even those who have spent several months in an immersion experience report that they slowly begin to lose what they’ve learned with the passage of time after they have moved back home. Everything you can do to keep practicing will help. After learning the basics of Spanish, this can include watching television or movies in Spanish, joining a Spanish conversation group in your area, or working with one or several Spanish learning programs.

At a certain point when learning Spanish, you may feel you have done all that you can to teach yourself the grammar and to build vocabulary, but you still don’t feel comfortable with speaking or hearing Spanish. This is a great time to attend a Spanish immersion school for a few months in order to take your Spanish to the next level. But for those who are unable to get away for an extended period, there are a few things you can do to come closer to being fluent.

One of the most important things to know is that in order to speak fluently, you have to hear fluently. Becoming fluent as a speaker depends on how well you hear real spoken Spanish. If you can’t hear it, you can’t speak it. And if you can’t hear what somebody is saying, you won’t be able to contribute much to a conversation. So if you want to be fluent in Spanish, developing your aural skills is the most important thing to focus on.

When I was at this point in my Spanish, I tried several approaches for improving my hearing of Spanish. One of the obvious things I tried was to watch movies in Spanish. Although this can be fun if the movie is good, the problem that I found was that my hearing really only improved when I watched something over and over again. In the case of movies, this is not that practical. What I discovered is that when I watch shorter videos, from 30 seconds to a minute, in a systematic way several times, my ability to hear Spanish really started to take off. Of course if you listen to the same thing several times, it will get better with each listening of that particular recording. But eventually I found that my comprehension of first time listening improved.

For example, the first time you hear something, maybe you understand 50%. After 10 times, you will understand closer to 100%. As you practice in this way, the first listen comprehension increases from 50% closer to 100%. Hearing fluently means you can listen to anything the first time and understand 100% of what is being said.

As you work on developing your aural skills, you come closer to becoming fluent by simultaneously working on your speaking skills. Here it is important to make the distinction between “speaking” skills and “conversational” skills. Conversational skills involve being able to converse which involves improvising, pulling out words and phrases from your memory and sharing your ideas and thoughts. It is certainly the goal of most language students to get to the point of being able to converse in their new language.

But before getting to that point, it is necessary to develop speaking skills. By this I mean the ability to speak the language naturally while sounding like a native. By sounding like a native, I don’t mean with a perfect accent, but rather saying things and using word combinations and phrases the way a native speaker would. The best ways to develop this ability are to read things out loud and to imitate native speakers.

Reading out loud helps the muscles in your mouth and face to get used to the different possible word combinations. It also helps you mentally get into the flow of the language, or the syntax. Here you also develop what I call “macro-pronunciation” which is when words flow into each other to form common phrases, which then flow into each other to form more complex sentences.

When reading aloud, I recommend working with a selected material on 5 different occasions. Each time, read the material 2 times consecutively. That is read it once, then repeat it. You will find that the first few times you are working on a comprehension level. Once you have the comprehension out of the way, you will notice your pronunciation improving. By the tenth time you read it, you will really be sounding like a native. You will also notice that as you do this and begin working on a new reading, the point of sounding like a native will come earlier and earlier, for example, by the 9th time, then the 8th, then the 7th, etc.

The other really important aspect of developing speaking skills is imitation. By observing the way real Spanish speakers speak and then copying that, we really start to sound like a native. There are a few ways to go about doing this. I feel it is best to find audios or videos of people speaking in an unscripted setting. Many learning programs have voice actors reading from a script and it doesn’t always sound natural. If you want to sound like an announcer and get a job reading script for the radio, then imitate this. But if you would rather sound like a real Spanish speaker, seek out the opportunity to practice imitating native speakers who aren’t reading from a script.

Remember, in developing the aural and speaking skills described above, we aren’t trying to become conversational. But this is happening without effort as a result of all the things you are practicing. The reading aloud, the imitation, the aural skills, are going to naturally improve your conversational skills. Seriously, the next time you talk to somebody in Spanish you will be amazed at how much your conversation skills have improved because you have worked on these other things!

In figuring these things out on my own, I developed a couple of Spanish learning programs with methods to create optimum results in developing these aural and speaking skills. Be sure to check out and

The final thing to know about becoming fluent is that it requires practice, practice and practice! And patience! And it helps to enjoy the process and have fun with it!

Posted by Rachel Shell in Articles of Interest, Beyond the Basics, 0 comments

Learning Spanish With Harry Potter

In this article I’m going to share my experiences with the Harry Potter books and movies as a means to practice and learn Spanish.

The Harry Potter books were first published when I was an adult, and since I didn’t have kids, they were well off my personal radar. Plenty of adult friends of mine were reading and recommending them. At the time, it seemed like a huge investment of time that I wasn’t willing to make.

After a couple years of learning Spanish, I wanted to find some movies that I could watch that would help me practice and develop my aural skills. I reasoned that a movie for kids would be a good place to start, so I opted for the first few Harry Potter movies which were available on DVD at the time.

I knew going into this that I was getting Spanish overdubs, and it was probably not the same thing as watching movies that originated in Spanish. I didn’t feel advanced in my Spanish to quite take on those yet.

At first I would watch the movie in English, so I understood the story. Then I would watch it in Spanish with the English subtitles on. One thing I noticed was the incredible discrepancies in the spoken overdub and the Spanish subtitles. They are completely different, so having the Spanish subtitles on was just way too confusing.

I saw some of the new Harry Potter movies as they came out, and continued buying them on DVD for Spanish practice. The difficulty level of the overdubs seems to fluctuate between movies. In some, the spoken Spanish seems easier to understand, while others, the voiceover actors are speaking much more naturally and faster.

Several friends would comment on how the movies weren’t as good as the books, and that several interesting details were left out. Since I already knew the plot of the story, at least what was depicted in the movies, I decided to start reading the books too, in Spanish of course.

I bought the first book, Harry Potter y La Piedra Filosofal a few years ago, and devised a system to try to learn all the vocabulary I encountered that was new to me, involving 5 different colored highlighters and writing on the columns. I got a little ways into reading it several times, but didn’t commit to finishing it for various reasons. I also felt a little overwhelmed by all the vocabulary I still didn’t know.

Recently, I picked it up again, and found that although my vocabulary had improved, there were still quite a few words I didn’t know. Then I recalled the sensation that I had as a kid, when I would read books in English. In 4th grade, I went on a reading tare, and read tons of books for kids. I remember what it felt like to be reading these, and not knowing all the words. Basically, you just keep plowing through it, and get the jist of what is being said, and figure out the meaning of words within the context of what is happening in the story.

I decided to embrace this approach, and I finally read the 1st Harry Potter book from cover to cover. As a Spanish student, I found that doing this was useful in reinforcing the vocabulary I had already learned, or once learned and forgotten. And I also was being mindful of the Spanish grammar as I was reading.

So as I read, there were multiple layers happening. On one level, I was trying to enjoy the story, and comprehend what was happening. On another level, I was building and strengthening my vocabulary. And on yet another level, I was studying the grammar and solidifying my grasp of it.

I recently started book 2 of the 7 part series. And for fun, I decided to watch all 8 DVDs in succession, in Spanish since it’s been a while. What I have noticed, watching the movies, is that my listening comprehension is better than ever. Especially with some more advanced things like the various subjunctive tenses, since I’ve been practicing those a lot. It’s exciting to see my hard work paying off (figuratively)!

The nice things about the videos is that they don’t use the vosotros forms. I’ve been more interested in the Spanish spoken outside of Spain, mainly because I haven’t felt like I would ever go there. But I am a little disappointed that book 2 uses the vosotros forms (even though book 1 didn’t). Not sure why that is. But it isn’t really that much of a distraction.

I’m really looking forward to the point where I can watch movies that originate in Spanish, and read Spanish literature, and not feel overwhelmed. I think I have a couple more years to go before I can delve more into that. In the meantime, Harry Potter is helping me get to that point.

UPDATE: (November 2013)
Actually, book 2 didn’t use too much of the vosotros form, or at least I didn’t notice it. I have since finished book 3, and it seems the Spanish translations of that were better than the first 2 books. Now I’m about 100 pages into book 4. Starting with book 3, there are a lot more details that are omitted from the movies. Also, many of the sequence of events are different between the books and movies (3 and 4).


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Posted by scottshell in Beyond the Basics, 0 comments

The Many Ways To Say “To Keep” In Spanish

The Many Ways To Say “To Keep” In Spanish

The Spanish translation of the English verb “to keep” is one that requires the correct usage of a few Spanish verbs, depending on the exact meaning you are trying to express. For example, you could keep an object in a locker, you could keep yourself in good physical shape, or you could keep trying to learn Spanish. If you don’t know how to use the correct verb, you will sound very odd to native Spanish speakers. Let’s look at how you would translate these in Spanish.

If you want to keep something safe, or keep something in a location such as a locker, your bag or your pocket, use the verb guardar. This looks similar to the English verb “to guard”, which is a similar meaning of keep in this context. You are guarding something in your bag from being stolen, or being exposed to oxygen, or whatever. Guardar also has the sense of putting into something, holding on to something and storing.

Will you keep this for me in your purse? = ¿Me guardas esto en tu bolsa?

I’m going to keep it in the locker. = Voy a guardarlo en el casillero.

We used to keep the knives in the garage. = Nosotros guardábamos los cuchillos en el garaje.

Other examples:

To keep quiet = Guardar silencio

To keep up appearances = Guardar las apariencias

To keep a secret = Guardar un secreto

Another meaning of “to keep” has to do with the idea of maintenance. If you are referring to keeping yourself in shape, or keeping something clean, use the verb mantener. You can see the similarity with the English verb “to maintain”. Also, mantener is going to conjugate like the irregular verb tener.

I keep myself (stay) in good shape. = Me mantengo en plena forma.

Keep it in good condition. = Manténlo en buen estado.

He used to keep his room clean = Él mantenía limpio su cuarto.

Other examples of mantener meaning to keep:

To keep a promise = Mantener una promesa

To keep calm = Mantener la calma

To keep something balanced = Mantener algo en equilibrio

To keep up a correspondence = Mantener correspondencia

To keep the food hot = Mantener la comida caliente

To keep something refrigerated = Mantener algo refrigerado

To keep something up to date = Mantener algo actualizado

To keep out of the reach of children = Mantener fuera del alcance de los niños

To keep secret = Mantener en secreto (guardar is also used)

To keep away = Mantener alejado

In the past tense, it is more likely you will use mantener in the imperfect than the preterite, as the nature of the verb is one of continuation.

Another common way to translate keep is when you want to express the idea of continuing doing something. In this case, use the verb seguir. Seguir usually means “to follow” or “to continue”. This use of seguir has the sense of still doing something, or keeping on. You will notice this usage is followed by another verb in the gerund form.

He keeps wasting energy. = Él sigue gastando energía.

I kept on bumping into walls. = Yo seguía tropezando con las paredes.

Let’s keep calling her. = Sigamos llamándola.

These three verbs, guardar, mantener, and seguir have other English translations. And sometimes there is some overlap with guardar and mantener. But in general they all handle the subtle differences in the English verb “to keep”.

Can you think of any other Spanish verbs that can be used for “to keep”?


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Posted by scottshell in Beyond the Basics, 0 comments