Articles of Interest

10 Reasons To Study Spanish

Looking for a reason to study Spanish? Here are 10 reasons!

1. It’s Easy!

Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn. It follows very regular rules in pronunciation and grammar. There are also many Spanish words which look like English words and have the same meaning. Learning Spanish will give you the confidence to try learning a more challenging language later on.

2. Good for the Brain!

Scientific research shows that learning a 2nd language, even at an older age, helps enhance mental abilities, reduces the chance of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s, can improve memory, and slow age-related decline in mental acuity.

3. More Job Opportunities!

Job opportunities in the United States, especially in the fields of health care and education in urban areas, favor those who are bilingual. Speaking a second language looks good on anyone’s resume.

4. It’s Popular!

Spanish is spoken by 400 million people, the 4th most spoken language in the world, behind Chinese, English, and Hindi. If you remove those who speak English as a 2nd language, Spanish has more native speakers than native English speakers.

5. Enhance Your Travel Experiences!

Spanish is the native language of 21 countries! Many of these countries are desirable places to visit. Your experience as a tourist will be greatly enhanced by being able to speak the language.

6. Adopt A New Home!

Many Americans are turning into ex-pats, deciding to retire early in Latin America and enjoying a more relaxed lifestyle. Older Americans are moving there because the health care is cheaper. Others are drawn to the exotic natural beauty or the cheaper cost of living. Those who know the language will adjust more easily and be less overwhelmed by culture shock.

7. Make New Friends!

In general, Latinos are super friendly and outgoing. Even more so if you speak their language. You will be shown the real culture that’s off the tourist path when you can earn the trust of the locals. The best way to do this is to know Spanish!

8. It’s Sexy!

Close your eyes and listen to how sexy the language sounds! No wonder Latinos are known to be amazing lovers.

9. Settle Down!

Latinos and Latinas make wonderful life partners. They are very affectionate, passionate, expressive and they have a deep commitment to family. Finding a potential mate, and impressing his/her family will be much easier if you speak Spanish!

10. It’s Fun!

The culture of Latin America is rich, the people are warm and inviting, the history is captivating, and the natural environment is awe-inspiring. Discovering all of this is like discovering a new world! And the best way to explore this world is by learning the language.

Posted by Rachel Shell in Articles of Interest, 0 comments

10 Tips for Improving Your Spanish Conversation Skills

After you have been studying Spanish for a bit, you may feel inspired to try using it in real life situations. Or you may have attempted to, and found out, to your disappointment, that you didn’t get very far in your conversation. Perhaps the native Spanish speaker decided to speak back to you only in English, thinking their English is better than your Spanish. Or maybe you felt limited by what you could talk about with your lack of vocabulary or understanding of verb conjugation.

Perhaps this discouraged you from practicing conversation and you decided to spend more time studying, and less time conversing, choosing instead to wait until the right moment when your confidence level in Spanish is greater. In this article I share some of my own personal experiences in attempting to improve my conversation skills in Spanish, as well as some random and helpful observations I have made in my efforts to speak Spanish fluently.

1. Don’t Be Afraid! Whether you are a beginner or intermediate student, there’s no reason to be afraid of practicing your Spanish. No matter what, just be prepared to embarrass yourself a little, and be gracious about it. Not often, but once in a while, when you make a mistake, people get a good laugh out of it, especially if they like you! In that case, just smile and don’t worry about it. In other words, don’t take it personally if your Spanish evokes laughter.

2. Don’t Let Someone Else’s Mood or Prejudice Bother You
You may also happen to catch someone in a bad mood who is in no way obligated to entertain your attempts at practicing Spanish. Or maybe, and for a legitimate reason, they have a prejudice against gringos. Again, don’t take it so personal that it deflates your enthusiasm for learning Spanish. Prejudice is a fact of life everywhere, and although you may not have done anything personally to cause someone else’s prejudice or bad mood, you don’t have to let it affect you. The best thing is to be kind to everyone, smile, and try to be authentic and genuine. Perhaps this will help to break the prejudice or improve the mood of the person.

3. Let Them Know You Are A Spanish Student
More often than not, a native Spanish speaker will be gracious to oblige your Spanish practice, especially if you inform them that you are a Spanish student and would like to practice your Spanish with them. This is especially true for beginners. Oftentimes they may intentionally speak slower than normal to help you out. Or they may want to try out some of the English words they may have learned. If you have a hard time understanding them, or if you miss a word or phrase, ask them to repeat it. Or ask them to speak a little more slowly. “Lo siento, pero no entiendo. ¿Cómo dice usted?” (I’m sorry but I don’t understand. What did you say?) Or “¿Por favor, me habla un poco más lento?” (Can you please speak a little more slowly?) You can also simply express that you didn’t understand something with the universally understood facial gesture of “huh?”. This works well too.

4. Learn To Parrot
After a while, you will realize that many of your conversations end up covering the exact same limited subject material. This is usually due to limited vocabulary, or the inability to conjugate verbs fluently. Have you ever noticed some people seem to always say things the same way, as if they are just re-broadcasting things they’ve said multiple times in the past? Or have you noticed children often speaking on autopilot, or using catch phrases that they obviously picked up from somewhere? These people are usually “parroting”, speaking without giving much thought about what they are saying. Religious zealots and politicians are very adept at this.

This way of communicating is rather unconscious, and usually lacks the ability to listen to another, or care what they may have to say. However, if you are conscious of doing it for the purpose of building your conversation skills in a new language that you are learning, it can be a helpful tool. The key is to observe recurring words and phrases that native speakers use, and imitate their use of them. These can be connecting words which are used as conversation fillers. Or they could be short idiomatic expressions that are very common.

Developing this parroting skill requires exposing yourself to more real spoken Spanish rather than what you would learn from a textbook. For this purpose, 500 Spanish Videos is an incredibly useful tool, especially if you do not live in a Spanish speaking country. You may also try listening to the radio or watching television. But depending on your current level of Spanish, this may be too challenging, especially if you don’t have a transcript of what is being said.

5. Develop Your Listening Skills
Half of having good conversation skills in any language is listening! If you can’t hear what the other person is saying, your conversations won’t get very far. You may be able to practice your speaking skills or impress your listener with how well you pronounce Spanish or conjugate verbs. But if you aren’t able to understand what someone is saying, or if you aren’t a very good listener in general, the person you are with will likely get bored of your company.

Also, you’ll get frustrated that you can’t understand them or contribute to the conversation. So take your time to develop your listening skills. I highly recommend the short video course on this subject called Hear and Understand A Foreign Language.

6. Keep It Simple
Remember, most conversations are simple and superficial. Don’t expect a native Spanish speaker to be culling your brain for the secrets of the universe. You may be the self-appointed mayor of Genius-town, but to most you will be a “dumb Gringo”. Embrace the role of student and let your good qualities shine through whatever language barriers may exist.

7. Be Sure to Greet Everyone
Always, always, always begin any conversation with native Spanish speakers, with a polite greeting. “Buenos días” before noon. “Buenas tardes” in the afternoon up until dark. “Buenas noches” after dark. Or simply “Bueno” when you are feeling lazy. Don’t just start telling someone what you want or need from them without a proper greeting, an acknowledgement that they are an actual person and not merely your servant on demand. It is also incredibly helpful and inviting to smile as you greet somebody. This will help to melt the ice of distrust that people tend to have at first contact with a stranger. And they will be more likely to engage with you or offer their assistance.

8. Find a Latin Lover
So if you are single, finding a Latin lover will help you improve your conversational skills immensely. Of course, if this is your only reason for being intimate with someone, you are probably a hardcore Spanish geek. Just don’t let them know this is your ulterior motive. But for most people, this opportunity to improve your Spanish will be a natural consequence of human nature.

9. Be Thankful
Thank people for the chat. “Gracias por la charla.” Or, “Gracias por platicar conmigo.” Or, “Muy agradecido por la lección de español.” Many people enjoy helping others and thanking them is a simple way to acknowledge their kindness. Don’t take the kindness of others for granted and continue to give gringos the reputation they’ve earned.

10. Spanish Immersion
Of course the best way to develop your conversation skills is to spend time in a foreign country. It is also highly helpful to attend a Spanish language school and do a home stay with a local family. There are tons of schools with home stays to choose from, throughout Spain and Latin America. Consult the Spanish Immersion Directory to get you started on your search.

As with anything, being able to converse well in Spanish takes lots of practice. So be patient with your progress. When the day comes when you are able to have meaningful, spontaneous, profound conversations in Spanish, you will feel very satisfied with all the hard work you put in to reach that point. The effort is worth it!

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Practice Spanish With Native Spanish Speakers – Intercambios

Do you need to practice your Spanish with someone but you live in a part of the world, say Nebraska, where nobody speaks Spanish? Welcome to the year 2013!

The idea of intercambios is that you meet with a Spanish speaker who is learning English. Together you spend half the time conversing in one language, then you switch languages. Usually, having intercambios meant meeting someone face-to-face, usually in their country, while you were visiting. Not any more!

It’s really amazing that Spanish students the world over can practice their Spanish with a native Spanish speaker over the internet for free. There are a variety of options to do this. Some sites allow you to connect on Skype, others allow you to “chat” with text messaging chat programs, and others can even arrange traditional face-to-face intercambios if you happen to be traveling. (What a great way to make friends or find a date!)

These are some of the sites that I have found that seem to be the most useful and reputable. Although I haven’t used them all myself (yet!), I was able to get some basic information together to create this blog post.

MY LANGUAGE EXCHANGE

This site seems to be the most rockin’ in terms of activity. They connect language learners from all over the world (any language). You can “chat”, penpal, voice chat via Skype, or arrange face-to-face meetings. It’s not exactly free, because if you want to initiate a contact, you must be a paid member. Fortunately it’s affordable ($12 for 3 months). What a great way to meet people if you are traveling! They even offer lesson guides to help you along with your conversation.

CONVERSATION EXCHANGE


This site is pretty much the same as My Language Exchange, in terms of what it offers. The main difference is that it is completely FREE.

http://www.intercambiodeidioma.com/
I can’t write too much about this site as I am currently denied access to the English version. (Because I’m in Peru). I think it must go by another name and website in English. It doesn’t have any real time features, but rather focuses on meeting people face to face when traveling. It seems to attract a younger crowd, judging from the pictures.

iTALKI


This site not only matches you with language learning partners, but they allow language teachers to offer their services. So you can find an online Spanish tutor here. There is also a good forum with lots of resources for language learners. If you join by clicking the above link, it will send you a personal invite from yours truly.

VERBLING
This is another Spanish / English only site. They have a 5 minute time clock for your intercambios, so in case it doesn’t go well, you have an escape hatch. But you can continue with the conversation if it’s going well.

Conversing online with people you don’t know isn’t for everybody. I haven’t been particularly drawn to doing it. I don’t like small talk in general, and I’m not very talkative in my own language. But when I get back to the States, I’m going to try these out and see how it goes. And the next time I travel to a Spanish speaking country, I’m going to seek out some new conversation friends.

One final suggestion. If you are traveling to a Spanish speaking country, you may want to consider joining CouchSurfing.org. This is a great way to meet new people who speak Spanish, who let you stay with them for free (thus you can save on lodging) and they usually are happy to show you around and take you to the secret places that regular ole’ tourists don’t get to see. This is the best type of intercambio you can have with a native Spanish speaker.

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Posted by Rachel Shell in Articles of Interest, 0 comments

Best Way To Learn and Practice the Spanish Subjunctive

For those who have been wondering how to learn and practice the Spanish subjunctive, I am thrilled to announce a new course that I have been developing. It is called Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive and you can read all about it by clicking this link. There is a lot of information on that page specific to the course, but I wanted to also offer a little more personal information with this blog post.

Most native-speaking Spanish students have difficulty grasping the Spanish subjunctive, especially how and when to use it. It is one thing to learn about it theoretically, and a completely other thing to use it fluently, or naturally, in conversation. There are so many times when I still catch myself not using it when I should. I usually notice right away after I say something incorrectly. No matter how much I’ve studied and practiced the subjunctive mood in my studies, when it comes to using it without thinking about it, I am still not there.

This is what I call being fluent with the subjunctive: that is, being able to use it naturally without thinking about it. This is how native Spanish speakers speak. Most of them can’t explain what the subjunctive is or why they use it. But they always use it correctly with the correct conjugations. It is really hard-wired into the language and into their brains.

The reason English speakers have such a hard time with the Spanish subjunctive is because it doesn’t really exist in English. It is NOT hard-wired into our brains. Technically, there are a few cases of the subjunctive use in English. Like, “I wish I were going to the baseball game.” But compared to its usage in daily Spanish conversation, it pales in comparison. To be fluent in Spanish includes being fluent in the subjunctive tense.

I recall a story in one of the Spanish language resources I have worked with about a woman who was sent to Mexico by her company to negotiate a business deal. She told them she spoke Spanish pretty well, but she admitted that she never really mastered the subjunctive mood. When she started the negotiation process, she realized how ineffectual she was as a negotiator because so much of what she needed to express required the use of the Spanish subjunctive mood.

LEARNING ABOUT THE SPANISH SUBJUNCTIVE

There are plenty of resources for learning the basics of the Spanish subjunctive. These usually consist of showing how to conjugate the verbs correctly. You can find plenty of pages on the internet that offer this information for free. Most that I have seen are pretty basic. In an effort to offer this information in a more useful and in-depth way, I recently wrote my own version of how to conjugate the Spanish subjunctive. Here is a link to my article How To Conjugate the Spanish Subjunctive.

HOW TO PRACTICE THE SPANISH SUBJUNCTIVE

However, learning this information is just step 1 to becoming fluent in the Spanish subjunctive. It is also the easiest step and it is mostly intellectual. In terms of practicing the Spanish subjunctive, most workbooks or textbooks offer you a handful of examples. This will help you practice the conjugations and introduce you to the applications of the subjunctive mood, but they are quite ineffectual for attaining fluency.

A little more useful, though not much, are the audio-based programs that I have worked with, such as FSI (Foreign Service Institute) and Learning Spanish Like Crazy. These, again, give you some good practice with the basics, but come up short in terms of helping us become completely fluent. The verb conjugation program called the Verbarrator is useful for practicing the conjugations of the 4 main subjunctive tenses, but it only uses one “trigger” (Espero que), and the sentences that are formed (if you use the phrase-maker option) are often grammatically incorrect, mixing tenses and not making much sense.

So there are plenty of resources available to get you started on understanding the basics of the Spanish subjunctive, the conjugations, the uses, etc. However, as a Spanish student I was wishing there would be a way to really nail down the Spanish subjunctive so I could speak it fluently. Since there wasn’t, I decided to create my own program.

The basis and focus of Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive is to provide hours and hours of audio-based practice. In designing the program, I felt this was going to be the most useful and practical way to really get good at using the subjunctive mood. I know grammar drills can be boring, and many language learning products assume everyone is ADD and needs to be entertained with games and flashy designs. But for those of us who are able to focus for 30 minutes at a time, these grammar drills provide specific targeted practice.

I appreciate that other Spanish language learning tools base their exercises around practical conversations, or a scripted dialogue. This is a great approach, and I am not belittling its effectiveness. However, I really do think there is a time and place for that, and a time and place for old boring grammar drills. In the case of nailing the Spanish subjunctive, due to there not being a direct English equivalent, I feel this is an area of Spanish learning where tons of targeted practice with grammar drills will get the best results.

I joke somewhat that this approach is boring, and for some it will be. I have tried to make the exercises in Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive as interesting and useful as possible by using challenging vocabulary and verbs throughout the course. I have found that learning the Spanish subjunctive, especially the imperfect and pluperfect tenses, is quite fun in an intellectually challenging, puzzle-solving sort of way.

In addition, I have created supplemental audio tracks for each lesson which is me informally sharing what I’ve learned from native speakers, nuances of different words and phrases, and other personal observations, related to the lesson at hand. I don’t just throw you to the wolves and let you figure everything out on your own. But I also assume you know at least intermediate Spanish and so we aren’t going over things you have already mastered.

This commentary track is separate from the lesson which contains the grammar drills. By keeping them separate, you can enjoy my commentary to prepare you for the drills. Then when working with the drills, you can focus solely on them. You will likely use the drills multiple times, but there will be no reason to hear my commentary more than once, maybe twice.

TRANSLATING INTO SPANISH

Another aspect of the Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive course that I felt was important to include, was good and accurate English translations. As language learners, it is a natural tendency to think about what we want to say in English, and then translate this somewhat literally in our head and express this direct translation in Spanish. However, since the subjunctive mood isn’t used the same way in English as it is in Spanish, we tend not to imagine a translation that incorporates the subjunctive.

Conversely, when we learn the Spanish subjunctive, and try to translate that back into English, many textbooks and Spanish learning programs offer a literal translation that sounds unnatural in English. For example, if you were asked to translate Es possible que ella traiga las almendrasinto Spanish, you would probably say “It’s possible that she is bringing the almonds”. Grammatically this is fine, but most English speakers wouldn’t say that. Rather they would say, “Maybe she’s bringing the almonds”.

Again conversely, if you thought in your head that you wanted to express “Maybe she’s bringing the almonds”, most English speakers would attempt a literal translation: Tal vez ella está trayendo las almendras. The word tal vez is usually a subjunctive trigger, so this isn’t a good translation, but it is what a typical Spanish may come up with. Would it occur to you to say Es posible que ella traiga las almendras?

Throughout the Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive course, whenever practical, I offer natural sounding English translations that help you associate a common way of saying something in English with a corresponding, natural-sounding way to translate it using the Spanish subjunctive mood.

There are definitely plenty of times when the English translation is just awkward. In these cases there is no way around it, because what is being expressed in Spanish works well in Spanish but not so much in English. And there are plenty of times where, out of context, the grammar drills don’t make much sense. Don’t worry, I explain a lot of this in my commentary audios. Basically, the grammar drills are meant to ingrain how and when to use the Spanish subjunctive. If you want to learn or practice basic Spanish conversation skills, there are plenty of programs that are useful for that.

THE SPANISH SUBJUNCTIVE IS TOO HARD!

Yes, it seems to be the final frontier in mastering Spanish. So why not tackle the challenge? Remember when conjugating basic verbs in the present tense seemed challenging? Hopefully you are past that point. It just takes practice and familiarity to master the subjunctive mood. Until now, there were not any effective ways to practice the Spanish subjunctive. That’s why it has felt especially daunting to try to use it in real life situations. We just didn’t have the confidence to use it.

With Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive, you will develop the confidence to use the Spanish subjunctive mood whenever the situation arises. You will no longer fear using it, or learning about it. This course makes learning the Spanish subjunctive as fun as it can possibly be. To learn more about how this course is structured to give you the most well-rounded learning experience, read the details on the course description page by clicking here.

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Can Gamification Really Teach You A Language?

You may not be familiar with the word “gamification”, yet. My text editor isn’t! It refers to the use of games to teach something. In marketing, it is considered to be a highly effective way to teach and train people, and it is being touted as the next best thing.

If you explore the language learning products that are out there, you will see that companies are experimenting with gamifaction. This may include word games, like multiple choice, matching, or fill-in-the-blank games. Some sites have taken it up a notch and offer incentives for completing lessons as well as ways to compete against other learners. These incentives are usually little icon badges, or some other digital representation, which is not a physical item that has real value in the real world.

If you looked at LiveMocha.com, you can earn points by helping review the work of English language learners. Then you can use these points to buy new lessons in the language you are learning.

All of these ideas can make learning fun, and depending on the type of learner you are, they may appeal to you more or less.

The $100,000 question though is this: Does gamification really teach you a language? At this time in the development of gamification applied to language learning, I would say the answer is a resounding NO!

All of the language games I have seen focus on only one thing: memorizing vocabulary words. As I have harped upon already, memorizing vocabulary words is an important component of language learning, but after learning the basic pronunciation of the language, and a few useful words, putting emphasis on vocabulary memorization is a big waste of time. And it seems these games are designed for beginners anyway. So if you are serious about learning a language, but you really enjoy these types of games, be sure to use them sparingly, in conjunction with more effective language learning methods.

Another thing to consider is the quality of the audios that you may be working with. I recently reviewed the popular language site duolingo.com, which looks great, and is lots of fun from a gaming perspective. But the audios sound horrible! They sound computerized and all garbled. If you are at the stage where you are learning the pronunciation of a language, and that language has some subtle sounds to pick up, duolingo.com is practically useless.

Further more, they don’t put emphasis on the audios. The audios are more of an afterthought, as far as when you can hear them. Compare that to Byki, and it makes me appreciate Byki even more! The audios are clear and crisp sounding, and they are used in a way that you hear them at the appropriate time, and often, which builds your ear training, and pronunciation skills.

Maybe, and hopefully, gamification in regards to language learning will evolve and become more sophisticated. I bet there is a designer out there working on something right now. Or maybe you are a designer and you will revolutionize language learning gamification. I think though, the person to do this will be someone who has taught themselves a language, and knows intimately what works and doesn’t work.

If you have used a game to learn a language, please leave a comment below and explain how it helped you. Or if you know of any good language learning games, please share them in the comment box.

This article is taken from my video course Teach Yourself A Foreign Language. CLICK HERE for more details about the course.

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Confession – My Spanish Really Sucks!

Confession time! As most of you know, I have been teaching myself Spanish for several years while living in the United States. Although I’ve made a few trips to Perú and have spent a total of 9 months in that country, I’ve never really had a full-on immersion experience where I absorbed the language by living it fully.

So when I do get the opportunity to travel to a Spanish speaking country, it’s a great opportunity to check in and see how my Spanish skills are doing in real world situations. And man, I am a bit concerned!

OK, let me preface this by saying, I have a tendency to be a perfectionist, and I can be a little hard on myself at times. AND, as you may know from reading my blog, I have had a hearing impairment my entire life, giving me an extra challenge to learning another language. It’s like an extra step of processing. First I have to HEAR something, then I have to INTERPRET what I am hearing.

Despite all my practice in a somewhat controlled environment, when it comes time to actually understanding the Spanish that I hear, why am I still struggling? I often have heard that the Spanish spoken in Ecuador is supposed to be the easiest to understand. But why does it seem so hard?

I recently went through a tough period of self-doubt, questioning if I am ever going to be able to become fluent in Spanish. And by being fluent, I mean being fluent in hearing as well as speaking. I was close to throwing in the towel.

Slowly though, I have been able to get my inspiration back, as well as my confidence. Let me share some of my recent observations.

One issue, that has become glaringly apparent to me, is that there is a huge difference in the Spanish that is spoken by the rural population and the more urbane population. For example, and this is a generalization, the people who work the land, as well as coastal fishermen, are less educated. And they tend to speak what I would call “uneducated” Spanish. The Spanish we Spanish students learn is “educated” Spanish. It’s practically a different language! You can hear lots of the “uneducated” Spanish in the cities, as many people have migrated to the cities. Likewise you can also hear “educated” Spanish in the rural areas. I would even suggest that there is a type of Spanish which is like of mixture of both “educated” and “uneducated” Spanish.

(By the way, I don’t want to sound elitist with these terms “educated” and “uneducated”. I don’t think I am a better person because I speak “educated” Spanish. I don’t necessarily think one is better than the other. Like I said, they seem like very different languages.)

I have found it consoling to know that, as an Ecuadorian friend reminded me, English has many different dialects with varying degrees of comprehensibility. For example, I am from Chicago, and although there is a Chicago accent that you hear from the South Side and suburbs of the city, I ended up with a very neutral accent. If you go to the rural areas of Illinois, people speak what I used to jokingly call a “hick” accent, or Southern accent. Actually, the majority of people in the U.S. speak with the kind of hillbilly twang to their English, associated with people from the South.

It definitely reminds me of the time I spent a year in the deep south of Florida and had a (very) odd job where I was working with garbage collectors. I couldn’t understand ANYTHING that they said, other than the f-bombs and other swear words that seemed to permeate every sentence. Seriously, it was like hearing a foreign language.

I have also always had trouble understanding people from England, but not as much as people from Scotland and Ireland. The Scottish accent in particular has to be the hardest of all. A lot of whites in America have difficulty understanding the accents of Americans of African descent, both rural and urban people. And then there’s Australia and New Zealand, not to mention Boston and other east coasters.

The point here is, that being reminded of this has made it easier for me to put a more appropriate perspective on my self-doubts about my Spanish.

Another thing I have had to be reminded of, by my Ecuadorian friend, is that the people from the coast speak a really fast type of Spanish. I was lamenting the fact that I had a hard time understanding the locals. It’s interesting and somewhat disheartening that they also seem to have a hard time understanding my so-called “educated” Spanish!

That’s another thing that I want to confess. Since most of my Spanish study has not involved conversation with others, that particular aspect of language learning has suffered, and I have been shown that it is something I need a lot of work on still. I’m not much of a talker to begin with, even in English. So conversing in Spanish isn’t a natural activity for me to partake in. But I am finding, that the more I do converse in Spanish, the more confident with it I seem to become. And being in a Spanish speaking country, there are plenty of opportunities to converse on a daily basis.

Another consolation has been hearing other gringos speaking Spanish, and hearing all the mistakes they make. Again, this isn’t a competition, or a way to put myself on a pedestal. It just helps me to gauge my progress a bit, put it in perspective, and feel less like a failure or like I’ve been wasting my time.

Besides this, I have also been consoled by the fact that I actually have met a few people recently who I understand very well, and who understand me also. And a few people have complimented me on my Spanish lately even though I have lost a bit of confidence with it.

That is what I was struggling with the first couple of weeks here in Ecuador. But I am relieved to say that the more time I spend here, and the more I converse with native Spanish speakers, the more I am able to understand, and the better I feel about my conversation skills.

Thankfully, lately, my resolve to continue improving my Spanish seems to have been kindled again. And I have been enjoying studying Spanish every day on my own, and supplementing that with all the opportunities to use it in real life situations!

The key to learning any language really well, is without a doubt, immersion in the language, culture, and country. So I encourage you to consider taking your Spanish to the next level by visiting a Spanish speaking country for as long as you can.

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The Verb Poder and Learning When Not To Use It

The verb poder, which means “to be able to”, is a verb that is really easy to overuse in Spanish for native English speakers. Any time we would say “can” or “could” in English, we are quick to use the verb poder as a literal translation. I have been noticing that literally translating this verb is often unnecessary, and that there are better ways of expressing “can” or “could” in Spanish.

As in English, the verb poder has two slightly different interpretations. If you were to ask, “Can I use the restroom?” you are obviously asking for permission, not inquiring somebody else’s opinion of your ability to use a restroom. But it could be interpreted as “Do I have the necessary skill and experience to use that particular restroom?”

In this case when “can” is seeking permission, even if the permission is obviously going to be granted, you could use the verb permitir or dejar. In this usage, permitir is more formal, while dejar is informal. “¿Me permite usar los servicios?” or “¿Me deja(s) usar el baño?” You could also simply state you want or need to use the bathroom. In more informal situations you could say “Necesito usar los servicios”, or “Quiero usar los servicios.” More formally, you could say “Quisiera usar los servicios.”

If you wanted to ask somebody if they could give you a broom to use, in English we would often say “can” here: “Can you give (or lend) me the broom?” If you use poder, “Puedes darme la escoba”, this could translate as “Are you physically capable of giving me the broom?” This may be necessary to express in certain contexts, but if you just want them to give you the broom, you don’t need to use the verb poder. Simply ask ¿Me das la escoba?” You could also use the command form which in Spanish doesn’t sound as bossy as in English, especially when followed by “please”. “Dame la escoba porfa.”

Poder in the past is more likely to be used in the imperfect tense, since it would describe something one was able to do, and is or was continually able to do. “Nosotros podíamos beber cerveza en casa” would be used if you were talking about your youth and your parents let you drink beer in the house. But it could also imply that you were technically capable of drinking the beer in the house, but maybe not in other places. In this case it may sound more natural to use permitir. “Nuestros padres nos permitían beber cerveza en casa”.

If somebody was able to do something just one time in the past, we might naturally use poder in the preterite tense. For example, “Last night, I was able to dance without stopping.” In this case, consider using the verb lograr which means to achieve. “Anoche logré bailar sin parar.” This is going to sound more natural than “Anoche pude bailar sin parar”.

MORE EXAMPLES
What is another way to translate the following without poder?

Can you help me?
¿Me ayudas?

Can I have a chocolate?
¿Me permite un chocolate?

Can you get that bottle down for me?
Alcánzame esa botella, por favor.

Can you meet me at 8?
¿Me encuentras a las 8?

Could you (were you able to) eat the whole pizza (last night)?
¿Lograste consumir toda la pizza?

I don’t remember. Were we able to do it?
No recuerdo. ¿Logramos hacerlo?

Can I see that?
¿Se puede ver eso?

In the last example, it is very common to use poder in this way, in the 3rd person. Literally, “can one see that?”.

When you want to say can, as in being able to do something, poder is the most natural choice, especially in the present tense.

I can (am able to) see your smile behind your sadness.
Puedo ver tu sonrisa detrás de la tristeza.

I can (am able to) eat 20 hot dogs without puking.
Puedo consumir veinte hot dogs (perros calientes) sin vomitar.

He can (is able to) work 16 hours a day.
Puede trabajar 16 horas al día.

Although in most cases, if you use poder as a direct translation from English, you will be understood, especially considering the context you are in, and it is grammatically correct. However, learning how to not be redundant with the use of poder will help make you sound more natural in Spanish. It is very natural to go to poder when translating from the English in our head. But with practice, we can gradually drop that crutch.

OTHER ARTICLES OF INTEREST


Best Ways To Learn And Practice the Spanish Subjunctive


10 Tips For Improving Your Spanish Conversation Skills

Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive Free Lessons

Posted by Rachel Shell in Articles of Interest, 0 comments

My Experience with the Dentist in Peru

I can’t imagine anyone actually enjoying going to the dentist, especially when you know there is a lot of dental work that needs to be done. But if you happen to know you are saving a ton of money because you are having the work done in a foreign country, the experience isn’t as dreadful.

Because of a a freak accident I had at a dentist office about 8 years ago in Chicago, I was naturally avoiding ever going to another dentist. But for a while I’ve really wanted to get the ugly toxic mercury fillings removed from my mouth. When I went to a dentist in Arizona who specializes in mercury filling removal, he told me there were plenty of other problems in my mouth needing attention. He quoted the work needed at at least $12,000.

I was aware of the state of the art dentist offices in Tijuana, Mexico where is is much cheaper to have dental work done. But since I already had a plane ticket to Lima in a few months, I decided to investigate potential dentists there.

The dentist that looked the most trustworthy, in terms of quality, that I found by searching the internet is called Travel and Smile. I sent my recently taken x-rays to their office and they gave me a quote substantially less than the $12,000 quote. So I decided to go there.

 

Dr. Enrique Yuen works on a patient.
Travel and Smile is a family-owned practice. The father still sees clients but his two sons, Enrique and Daniel, handle most of them. They both speak decent English. However, since they so many clients that are foreigners, they have an English native named Lloyd who acts as a liaison for the tourists. He even helps with setting up travel plans or excursions which you can go on in between dental visits.

The office is located on two floors of a modern 11-story building in the commercial district of Lima called Chacarilla. All of the restorations, replacement fillings, are made without any toxic heavy metals. These ceramic restorations are made on site within 15 minutes. The dentist who did most of the work on me is Dr. Gosha. I found her to be incredibly sensitive and caring, with a perfectionist’s meticulousness. Dr. Gosha is actually from Poland, and she doesn’t speak much English. I was really impressed by er Spanish speaking.

Dr. Enrique was always around overseeing the work being done on me. He would do some of the touch up work. He works quickly and passionately. I felt the whole time that I was in the most capable hands and care.

As professional the environment was, and as much attention given to my comfort, it was still a grueling experience to go through. The work required five sessions. I’m glad I wasn’t rushed and could pace it out over 4 weeks. In total, I had one root canal, one extraction, seven restorations (mercury fillings replaced with ceramic ones), and 9 smaller cavities. As a bonus surprise, they even gave me a new front tooth. When I was in 2nd grade I fell off a bike and chipped off a big chunk of my front tooth. The filling had become discolored and there was an unsightly brown spot on it that always looked like I had a piece of food stuck in it. But now it looks nice and white!

So the total for all that came to $3700. That’s with the cash discount. You can also pay in credit card of course. I’m not sure if insurance policies would cover this. I don’t have insurance of any kind.

 

Posing in the lobby with the friendly staff at Travel and Smile
I’m sure in Lima you can find dentists to do the same work for even less. But I am happy to pay a little more for the sense that I am being well cared for and getting the best possible service. So it is without hesitation that I recommend Travel and Smile.

 

Unfortunately there is no flash on my video camera. Being in Peru makes me feel taller sometimes than I really am!
OTHER ARTICLES OF INTEREST
Women’s Rights And Gender Equality In Latin America

Shopping In The Markets in Peru

Posted by Rachel Shell in Articles of Interest, 0 comments

7 Tips for Spanish Immersion

7 Tips for Spanish Immersion

You often hear that the best way to learn a language is by immersion. This means going to a country for several weeks where they speak the language you are learning, hopefully exclusively. The idea is that by doing so, you will absorb way more, and your brain will be focused 24/7 on communicating, hearing and speaking in a different tongue.

This article addresses 7 things to consider before jumping into an immersion experience. Tips 2 and 3 are specific to Latin America and Spanish, but the rest of the tips can be applied to any language you are learning.

1. Know as much grammar and vocabulary as possible beforehand.

This will make your experience so much better. In Peru, I met a man from Canada who was traveling by himself. He didn’t know a word of Spanish. He said he was miserable, sorry he had gone to Peru, and sorry he didn’t know any Spanish. You don’t have to be fluent to enjoy yourself and meet great people, but knowing more than the bare minimum will enhance your experience exponentially. Be sure to focus on practical vocabulary. Learning the words for “Plum” or “Stick Shift” may not be the best use of your memory.

2. Go to a language school.

While you are in Latin America, why not attend an immersion language school. There are plenty to choose from in most countries. They usually all follow a similar schedule from 8am – Noon, Monday through Friday. Some of the poorer countries, like Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Ecuador, specialize in one-on-one classes. It’s like having your own private tutor and they are very affordable. Other countries are a little cheaper in group settings but will still offer individual sessions. Some countries, like Argentina, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico, tend to be a little pricier.

These schools offer a variety of excursions, or trips to local areas of interest. These could be environmental in nature, like to a nature reserve, or historical like a trip to some indigenous ruins. Some are more adventure oriented and include surfing, climbing or other outdoors activities. And some offer volunteer opportunities with local schools or community centers.

The great thing is you’ll have some structure to your visit, and you’ll be able to work with a teacher who is dedicated to your improvement of Spanish. You will still have plenty of time to do personal exploration as well.

3. Stay with a local family

Many of the language schools arrange for home-stays with local families. This is highly recommended as it allows you to practice Spanish in real life situations. These arrangements usually include 3 homemade meals each day with the family. And they are affordable. The families are well chosen by the schools and they usually have plenty of experience hosting foreigners.

This may not be the best option if you are going to be out partying at night. There are usually plenty of cheap hostels available with connections to the language schools. I recommend at least trying a family home-stay for a week and seeing how it goes. You can always switch to a hostel later.

4. Strike up a conversation.

Don’t be afraid! You’ve spoken to countless people who speak English as a second language. Their accent doesn’t bother you, and you don’t judge them (hopefully) by the way they speak. It’s the same thing when you speak your adopted 2nd language. Most people will be happy to talk to you, and will understand that you are learning.

Many people who have never been to the United States have an inaccurate perception of Americans due to how they are often portrayed on television and movies. Now’s your chance to be an ambassador for the real people. Show them a different side that they may not know exists. Help change their perception by speaking their language, and respecting their culture and beliefs.

On one overnight bus trip in Peru (from Trujillo to Huaraz), I talked with the person sitting next to me for about an hour. He turned out to be a police officer. Since they have a national police, he can live in another part of the country and commute. He travels to work and stays in Huaraz for a couple of weeks. Then he returns home (an 8 hour bus ride) to be with his family for a few days. The police don’t make much money, but his wife is a school teacher and combined they do o.k. Looking back, I’m not sure how I managed to stretch out a long conversation like that because my Spanish wasn’t that great at the time. But at the end of our conversation, he said if I need anything or if I have any problems, he would be able to help and he gave me his number. Not bad having a friend in the police force.

5. Intercambios

Let’s say you aren’t great at starting conversations with strangers, or you are a little timid still. Intercambios are a great way to build your confidence and meet new people. Basically, you try to find somebody interested in practicing English and you spend one hour speaking in English, then one hour in Spanish. It is best to try to incorporate some type of activity in your time together, as that will help stimulate dialogue. You can find intercambio partners in the bigger cities, through a language school (that teaches English) or by word of mouth with the hostel workers. In some communities, you can even post a sign with your number on a bulletin board. With an intercambio partner, you may not get the best education, but you will pick up many new slang words and phrases, and hopefully get an insider’s tour of the area.

6. Have a romantic friendship

Meeting a special someone is always exciting. Meeting a special someone who doesn’t speak any English, and who only speaks Spanish is quite possible the best thing you can do for your Spanish immersion. There is something about the intimacy that inspires you to live in the moment, to let what you’ve learned flow out effortlessly. And of course you’ll learn the special vocabulary that lovers use. I could mention personal anecdotes here, but I’ll let you imagine the details. Being single is a great advantage when traveling abroad and learning a language!

7. Relax!!

Most important of all, when immersing yourself in a foreign country with unusual cultural differences, it is important to learn to go with the flow of it all. You can’t control most situations and make them ideal to suit your needs. Try to remember that you are a visitor, a guest, and you aren’t there to change or improve anything. There are going to be discomforts and challenges to your patience. Lack of sleep from overnight bus rides may lead to irritability. But if you come prepared, you’re time will be much more enjoyable.

Besides having some of the language already learned, you are going to want to bring earplugs. Earplugs are the most important thing to remember. You can get a box of 20 foamy cheap earplugs at the local drug store. You will definitely be glad you brought these with you.

Another little tip: If you are staying in a hotel, consider requesting a room as far away from street level as possible, or in the center of the hotel with no window. Do this if having a good night’s sleep is important to you.

And one final tip: Smile as much as possible!

Posted by Rachel Shell in Articles of Interest, Travel Notes, 0 comments

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:

HOW TO LEARN SPANISH

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!

Spanish-only.com 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.


Zambombazo

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