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.

OTHER ARTICLES OF INTEREST

WHAT IS THE SPANISH SUBJUNCTIVE AND HOW TO USE IT

HOW TO BECOME FLUENT IN SPANISH


CONJUGATING SPANISH VERBS FLUENTLY

Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive Free Lessons

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