Category Archives: Spanish Blog

Follow Jessica as she tries to learn Spanish!

La Confianza (Confidence & trust)

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‘La confianza’ means both ‘confidence’ and ‘trust’ in Spanish – both of which I found myself in great need of on my ‘viaje reciente’ (recent trip) to Barcelona.  It isn’t easy running a language business and finding out ‘soy un desastre para aprender’ (I am rubbish at learning) a new ‘idioma’ (language).   ‘Mi problema’ (my problem) is partly that I expect it to be ‘fácil’ (easy) and partly that there are no Spanish for Fun classes in my ’pueblo pequeño en las colinas’ (tiny village in the foothills) of the French Alps.  But armed with the ‘curso para principiantes’ (Beginner’s course) that I did ‘hace tres años’ (3 years ago) and a quick look at the revision videos, I was determined to ‘intentar hablar cuanto más español mejor’ (try to speak as much Spanish as I could) ‘para salirme con la mía’ (to get away with).

My interesting ‘combinación’ (mixture) of sheer bravado, ‘una noción superficial’ (a smattering of) several European languages and the odd glass of rioja, enabled me to get by in most situations without ‘ofender a’ (offending) too many people – although there was an incident with a chicken which is far too rude for me to explain here – but if you are not good at remembering the gender of nouns, I would advise you to order ‘el pollo’ (the chicken) in English or you could get more than you bargained for.

I learned two really useful things on this trip about being a beginner in a foreign language.  The first is to start every conversation with ‘¿Hablas inglés?’ (Do you speak English?).  If they answer ’No hablo inglés, lo siento!’ (I don’t speak English, sorry) you can get away with Tarzan Spanish, miming skills and even whipping out ‘el traductor de Google’ (google translate), safe in the knowledge that they are unlikely to sneer at you and may even ‘disfrutar del espectáculo’ (enjoy the performance).  If they answer ‘un poco’ (a little), the best tactic is to say ‘¡Voy a intentar hablar español, aunque no es fácil!’ which normally results in them making the odd sugerencia útil (helpful suggestion) but generally showing respect to the ‘fenómeno raro’ (rare phenomenon) of a British person making funny noises.  If they answer ‘Sure – how can I help?’ a menudo con el fastidioso  acento americano (often in an annoying American accent) I suggest that you allow them to show off and just relax and ‘disfruta del paisaje’ (enjoy the scenery).

As your confidence improves, another ‘frase importante’ (important phrase) to master is ‘Lo siento, no entiendo, sólo hablo un poco de español’ (Sorry, I don’t understand, I only speak a little Spanish) which will generally guarantee you ‘elogios’ (compliments) on your amazing ‘acento español’ (Spanish accent) which is nice and stops them from speaking real Spanish back to you, none of which you understand.

I am pleased to report that I managed to ‘pedir algo para comer’ (order food), ‘comprar entradas para un museo’ (buy museum tickets), ‘encontrar un aseo’ (find the toilets), ‘comprar un billete de tren de ida y vuelta’ (buy a return train ticket), ‘pedir algo para beber’ (order a drink), and generally be a convincing Spanish speaking British tourist.  However, I also noticed that there are several shortcomings to the course – the most important being how to order an ice-cream, to differentiate between dry and medium white wine and how to identify ‘callos’ (tripe) so as not to order it by accident again.

Find out why I needed ‘la confianza’ (trust) in my next blog.  The photo is a hint.

Excelente trabajo!!!!

Learning at home alone is simply not for me. It’s not just the lack of motivation, or social interaction – it’s above all the fact that I can’t ask questions or get feedback that finally send me searching in desperation for a teacher.

Two problems; being on a sabbatical in France I have no spare cash and there are no Spanish groups nearby anyway. So I get creative, call up one of my Spanish teachers who is trying to learn French and a few days later we have our first Skype exchange lesson and I’m back on track, loving learning and feeling really chuffed with my homework feedback which I’ve modestly posted as the title of this blog.

Then I wonder how other people in my situation could find someone to help them. A quick search on ‘language learning exchanges’ comes up with 375 million results!!!!! I decide to join a free language learning community – will anyone get in touch with me? I’ll keep you posted. Can anyone recommend any good sites?

So this week I followed a proper Language for Fun lesson, – 10 new words – a conversation – translation and the verb ‘to have’ – tener. My teacher asked me to put the verb in to meaningful sentences so I decided to write about our cars and our children. I’ll spare you sentimental videos of little people, but thought you might like this one of my car…/renault-kangoo-wallace-gromit/

Tengo un Renault Kangoo
Tienes un Ford Fiesta – ¿es verdad? No, tengo un Volkswagen Touran smile emoticon
Mi marido tiene un VW.
Tenemos una hija.
Tenéis una hija y un hijo – ¿es verdad? Sí!!! smile emoticon
Los Waltons tienen muchos hijos

What about you? ¿Tienes coche?

The girl, the boy and the dog. The story of ‘AR’!

This week I decided to learn 10 regular AR verbs. I felt about as excited and motivated as if facing my tax return on 30th January. I reluctantly searched for a list of regular AR verbs on the net, and decided to look for really easy ones. The web site that I found had a list of 70 verbs beginning with the letter ‘A’. To my great delight, I knew about half of them already because they are basically the same as the English words – with the odd consonant chopped off and ‘AR’ added on to the end.

Words that are the same in both languages are called COGNATES – and words that are similar are called NEAR COGNATES. The more of these there the language you want to learn and your mother tongue share, the easier it will be to learn.

It was a piece of cake to translate them from Spanish in to English, but the next day, without a list to look at, I could only remember one or two of them and I wouldn’t have been able to use them in a conversation. So I did a bit of story-telling. This is a great way to memorise new vocabulary. Please note that the verbs are not in the correct tense as I haven’t learned how to do the past yet – but it makes sense to me and gives meaning to the words. I need to learn verbs in a meaningful context.

An old man abondona his dog which he abusa. The dog acelera to escape and met a girl. The dog aclama a steak but acepta a bone. The dog acompana the girl. They acumulan strawberries. The girl acusa the dog of eating the strawberries and asked him to adaptar his behaviour. He did, so she administra a strawberry as a treat. The girl admira the dog so much that she adopta him. They adoran each other. The dog afecta not to need the girl but she afirma her love for him every day. Her devotion agita his heart and it agranda. But it also agrava his sorrow for the years of abuse at the hands of his master. One day the girl met a boy. They aprecian each other very much, decided to agrupan and carry on their adventure together. Their love alarma the dog. It is hard to alimentar all three of them and it altera their mood. Soon, they don’t aman each other anymore, and they anulan their relationship and anuncian that it’s over. They argumentan over who should keep the dog. The girl and the boy arman themselves and the police arrestan them. The judge articula his judgement very carefully. He aparta the couple from the dog and asigna separate cells for the boy and the girl so that they can’t asocian with each other. They aspiran their last breath of freedom and atrapan the bars of their cell windows and watch the dog run away – back to its master?

My verbs (just in case you didn’t understand the story)

1. abandonar to abandon, leave, forsake, give up
2. abusar to abuse, misuse
3. acelerar to accelerate, hasten, hurry, speed
4. aceptar to accept
5. aclamar to acclaim, applaud, shout, hail
6. acompañar to accompany, go along
7. acumular to accumulate
8. acusar to accuse
9. adaptar to adapt
10. administrar to administer
11. admirar to admire
12. adoptar to adopt
13. adorar to adore, worship
14. adornar to adorn, decorate
15. afectar to affect, feign, pretend
16. afirmar to affirm
17. agitar to agitate, stir up, wave, shake up,
18. agravar to aggravate, make worse, burden
19. alarmar to alarm
20. alterar to alter, change, disturb, upset
21. anular to annul
22. anunciar to announce, foretell, proclaim
23. apartar to separate, divide, part
24. apreciar to appreciate
25. argumentar to reason, dispute
26. armar to arm
27. arrestar to arrest
28. articular to articulate, pronounce clearly
29. asignar to assign, allot
30. asociar to associate

And remember the endings …

O (vino)
AS (manzanas)
A (playa)
AMOS (huevos)
AÍS (kiwis)
AN (pan)

Language for Fun's photo.

Spanish Blog – Sticky Verbs – When learning gets messy …


Don’t like verbs, can’t learn verbs, fingers in my ears I’m not listening la la la… goes my subconscious when asked to learn the endings of regular AR verbs in Spanish.. It’s a bit like mastering fractions, breathing during the front crawl, or remembering capital cities – I have a deeply ingrained awareness that I will never master them and life is far more comfortable pretending that they simply don’t exist. But under cyber-scrutiny, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I sit down at the computer and start playing around with different ways of getting verb endings to stick.

Did you know that there are supposedly 4 learning styles? My problem is that I need all 4 to get anything more challenging than a jingle to embed in my long-term memory. So we’re talking visual (seeing the endings) aural (hearing the endings) kinaesthetic (making the endings) and oral (speaking the endings). I decide to make a rhyming poem (aural) with picture prompts (visual) cut and paste it in to a document (kinaesthetic) and learn to recite it (oral)! Having taken almost an hour to decide what to do, it took me another one to find words that rhymed with the verb endings and cut and paste suitable pictures, but I finally did it and the best thing is that I know that I will never forget it! I have TOTAL verb confidence thanks to my picture poem below!

I know lots of people who quite happily learn things like this by simply copying them out 10 or 20 times, but that just doesn’t work for me. I need to make new information MINE by experiencing it on quite a deep level. The best way for me to learn the endings AMOS and AIS was by visiting about ten websites trying to find words that rhymed and getting increasingly frustrated. Frustration is good. Any kind of emotion when learning is good and is likely to make the learning stick that bit longer. So if you’re finding something hard, see how many of the learning styles you can use. Pull out all the stops; get your prittstick out and your Blue Peter hat on and get creative.

AMO el vino
AMAS las manzanas
AMA la playa
AMAMOS los huevos
AMÁIS los kiwis
AMAN el pan

My next task is to learn at least 10 of the most common regular AR verbs so I’m back on comfortable vocabulary learning ground. Pheww! Hasta luego!

I’ve forgotten everything!

I haven’t been to my Spanish class for over a month, but I’ve got a good excuse. I’ve moved to France for a sabbatical to improve my French and (hopefully) to write a grammar book! Surrounded by ‘le French’, I haven’t even opened my Spanish folder since I last wrote. Well I promised to share my language learning adventure, warts and all, so there you have it – I have done nada, nothing, not a sausage – apart from annoying people with my favourite new word ¡Caramba! whenever I can slip it in to the conversation. But tonight I’ve looked on my web site and seen that my blog is getting quite a few hits so I feel incredibly guilty and I’ve decided I better make an effort. Would I have gone back to my studies if your virtual eyes weren’t on me? Possibly not. I miss the motivation that my class gave me and if I’m honest I’d probably have put off any kind of attempt to reopen my dictionary until I started booking my next flight to Spain. So thank you for reading.
I pick out 30 of the 60 words that I learned in class and I get 25 out of 30 correct. Two mistakes are because my brain wants to put French words instead (La gendarmeria instead of la comisaría (police station), l’hopital instead of el hospital (the hospital). Not bad! Filled with confidence I read the lessons that I did in class out loud and I’m fairly pleased with my accent – a little rusty but intact. I finally attack the two lessons that I missed this term and I’m delighted to say that I understand everything. The lessons are to do with eating out and eating in. I decide to do an internet search on the topic to see what I can find and I spend the next hour or so gliding through interesting videos and word exercises on the Internet. ¡Caramba! I’m back on form and raring to go. So what shall I do next? I won’t be able to rejoin a class until the summer, so I set myself the challenge of learning the 20 words from my 2 outstanding lessons and promise to report back at the same time next week with my score!
If you don’t have your own language learning blog, do you have your own ‘stick’ or ‘carrot’ to keep you going? How do you motivate yourself? Do share any tips or ideas.

As easy as ABC!

In my last Spanish class, we started to learn the alphabet. I was somewhat perturbed by the fact that there were so many letters to learn (26 is quite enough thank you!) but in fact it was actually fairly painless to remember the letters – especially when we recited them in order, as a class.

But as soon as the teacher asked us to spell our names to each other, my brain went to mush and I pretended to be very busy correcting a previous exercise. As we were ‘in a three’ instead of a pair, I managed to continue with this avoidance strategy until the exercise was over. Pheww!

It’s the same with numbers. I can recite 0 to 100 no problem – but give me a random number or ask me to give you my telephone number and I just can’t do it. Or can’t I? Back in the safety of my own home, I had a go at spelling my name and saying my telephone number and actually, the issue isn’t that I can’t do it– but that it takes a lot longer than I think it should and I make mistakes! Ha! Caught myself out there! How childish of me!

I’m sure that if I’d actually done the exercise in class, I’d have managed to string something together – particularly with the help of my partner. Determined to ‘try harder’ next week, I turned to the internet to see if there were any programmes that could help me learn. The internet abounds with games, songs, videos and tutorials but my personal favourite after searching for about AN HOUR (I actually had a good excuse for surfing the internet…) was this song from the album En Espanol Basho & Friends by Bashe Mosko.…!

Not everyone likes listening to kids songs to learn new things and there are plenty of more ‘serious’ free resources on the net. Do share your favourite learning resource below – they don’t have to be Spanish!

Ah – day – ee- oh- esse!

I don’t want to go to school today!

I pride myself on being a good student and a mature grown-up with 45 years of perspective to bring to my learning experience, but it would appear that I haven’t changed an awful lot since I was about fourteen years old and almost decided to ‘bunk off’ my language class today!

Things started to go wrong when I missed the last class. I had a water-tight excuse and my lovely teacher dropped the missing lesson off at my house, but I began to feel (much like when one eats a chocolate bar half way through a diet – well on the second day of the diet – the second chocolate bar that is …) that I would never be able to catch up and that I would sound like an idiot in the next lesson. The logical approach would be to work harder on the material from the lesson that I missed, but the pages and the new vocabulary looked alien and ‘cold’ to me and despite a quick glance at it the night before, I didn’t touch it.

Then I managed to arrive late for the class this morning. The others had good-naturedly kept me a seat at the front, but I hadn’t managed to buy my morning coffee and without my caffeine fix I was a woman undone! I wasn’t in my usual seat (by the lovely warm radiator) and spent the first ten minutes shivering and feeling utterly miserable!

Thank goodness for the class! Within minutes, my ambivalence had turned to guffaws of bawdy laughter as we came up with (no it wasn’t just me) some particularly naughty ways of remembering our ordinal numbers “Think of multiple births = quinto/a – then think of what comes before = sexto/a … and so on! I began to warm up, got a cup of coffee during the break and ended up having a really enjoyable morning.

I’ve chosen to write about this, because I find it such an odd reaction – particularly after my excitement when I started just a few weeks ago. I’m really not sure that I wanted to go to my lesson today and I believe that despite being a confident linguist and advocate of just ‘having a go’, I was scared of getting things wrong in front of the others. Also, the fact that I was unable to satisfy my primordial needs of sitting as close to a source of heat as is humanly possible and having coffee on drip meant that I felt literally out of place and out of sorts. Many teachers will be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but I wonder if most learners are aware that unless you’ve satisfied your basic needs (warmth, shelter, food etc) before your class, you won’t be learning your vocabulary any time soon.

So what can you do if you find yourself in the same situation? 100% attendance isn’t realistic, so I’m going to ask one of the learners if she’ll swap email addresses and phone numbers and help me catch up if I miss another class. Now that I’m aware it can get chilly in the class room I’ll make sure I bring an extra jumper and even if I am late, I’ll come via the coffee counter and blame my tardiness on the atrocious service wink emoticon!

Spanish Blog – All together now!

I had my first Spanish class this week! As I put my books and pens in my bag, I realised that I was feeling ridiculously excited! For the first time in about two years, I was putting time and money to one side to do something regularly just for me – and it felt fantastic! The class was lovely – a nice small group, coffee on tap and a glorious 90 minutes to enjoy ourselves!

As the lesson progressed, I realised that over and above the Spanish vocabulary that I was learning, my mind was ticking overtime, trying to make sense of the grammar and the pronunciation. That was where the teacher really came in handy! “Are all nouns that end in ‘a’ feminine?” I asked. “Unfortunately not!” he answered, and went on to explain that nearly all of them did, but … (For a complete answer go to ). Throughout the lesson, he included little snippets of pronunciation, anecdotes about mistakes people make and generally kept us engaged and entertained so that the time flew by!

But I think that the main benefit for me was how we all related to each other. We laughed. We felt sorry for each other when we made mistakes (it’s so much easier to hear other peoples’ mistakes …). We felt happy for each other when we got it right. We came up with learning strategies together to remember vocabulary (cerca = near/close- we came up with the English expression ‘the church was built circa 1821’. And we had lots and lots of laughs.

Giddy with success, I left the lesson and called up a Spanish friend and greeted her with my new expressions! After a few minutes she went off to look for her diary and her mum got on the phone. I understood ‘¡Holá! Soy la madre de Francesca’ (I’m Francesca’s Mum!) and replied ‘Encantada’ (Pleased to meet you!) but then she started chatting merrily away at top speed. No entiendo! Inglesa, Inglesa! I screeched. But she just kept on going until my friend came back and rescued me. It was a bizarre feeling to be in a situation that I had initiated and yet couldn’t deal with. That’ll teach me to show off!

We can’t all manage to get to a class regularly, but you don’t need to go it alone! There are other options. Get together with a couple of friends, use a CD and book or follow an online tutorial like the outstanding – free – BBC productions BBC You can also join a virtual class or book a tutor on a less frequent basis to ‘top up’ what you do at home. I suppose that another solution would be to call up a random Spanish friend and ask if you can speak to their mother …

I did it my way!

How did you get on with learning your first 20 words? Haven’t tested yourself yet? Don’t panic! Get a blank piece of paper and try and picture them and just go for it. Who knows? You might even come up with some new words that you’d forgotten you knew!

When I tried to write my words out from memory today, my head hurt! I’m no neurosurgeon, but I can guarantee that I was flexing a brain muscle that hadn’t been used for a while. They say that learning a new language can delay the onset of conditions such as Alzheimer’s by several years and today I could actually feel why. I also felt a small thrill as I checked each word in the dictionary; a little frisson of fear of getting it wrong, but as I ticked off each word, a sense of achievement grew. And then I had it – a perfect 20 out of 20. It isn’t often that we can get something perfect as an adult and it felt rather fantastic!

As I checked each word in the dictionary, I tried something new. Nearly every language method that I have come across teaches topic based vocabulary (including my own). But I decided to unleash my curiosity instead. For every original word, I looked one up that caught my interest; either because it started with similar letters, or for its usefulness, or that I was simply curious about. So when I looked up ‘drink’=la bebida I decided that ‘to drink’=beber would be useful. When I looked up ‘knife’, I must confess my eyes were drawn to ‘knickers’ =las bragas.

Original vocabulary Wild Vocabulary I looked up
1. La bebida=the drink beber=to drink
2. La taza=the cup
3. El tenedor=the fork tener = to hold
4. El cuchilla=the knife la cucharilla = spoon
las bragas
5. La leche=the milk
6. El café=the coffee
7. El zumo=the juice la manzana=the apple
8. La cerveza=the beer la botella=the bottle
9. La mantequilla=the butter
10. La mermelada=the jam el embotellamiento=the traffic jam
11. El azúcar=the sugar azucaro/a=sugary
12. El vino=the wine
13. El vaso=glass
14. El aeropuerto=the airport el avión=the plane
15. El coche=the car
16. El autobús=the bus la parada de autobús=bus stop
17. La casa=the house casar=to marry
18. La piscina=the swimming pool nadar=to swim
19. El perro=the dog
20. El gato=the cat

Challenge: Go wild with your dictionary. Look ‘around’ your original words and come up with 10 that you are interested in. You are far more likely to remember words that you have learned in an active way like this, than those that are chosen for you. You might also want to start sticking your post-its on the thing that they describe

Spanish – Where do I start?


So we’re off on our language adventure! Are you ready? Have you got your shelf or box with all of your resources?
Every morning I have looked at my different coloured post-its with growing excitement and today I am actually going to make a start! I’ve also told a few people about my project and frankly I think that they’re so relieved that my New Year’s resolution isn’t to go on a diet (again) that they’re almost as excited as I am!
I really need to know where I am at the start to see how much I have to learn, so I’ve given myself 20 minutes to write down all of the Spanish words that I could think of. Some of these are words that I have picked up on holiday, some I’ve learned on a Beginners course that I took years ago and others came from songs that I’ve heard – but don’t necessarily figure on my Ipod – such as Vamos a la playa! (bet you know it too…). It took me about 20 minutes to get them down on paper and the list is disappointingly short – but at least I know what I know now.
The first thing that struck me was that although I had come up with about 20 nouns, I had no idea whether they were masculine or feminine! In Spanish, as in French and many other languages, all nouns are either feminine or masculine and you have to learn the gender when you learn the word.
If I’m honest, I couldn’t even remember the different words for ‘a’ (un/una) or the (el/la). I looked each word up and wrote my masculine words on one colour post=it and feminine words on another and stuck them on different sides of my cupboard doors. As I was sticking them up, I also started to group them together – all the transport words in one section, all the breakfast words in another.
I then tested myself immediately and got out of 16 out of 20 genders correct! I remembered the gender by picturing where they were on the cupboard – particularly if they were part of a group like the breakfast stuff.
Challenge: Whatever your level, write down the first twenty nouns (naming words like cat, beach etc) that come to mind in the language that you want to learn, check the spelling in your dictionary or on Remember to put the gender if appropriate and stick them in a place where you will see them every day. You might also want to add to them. I’m curious to know what a spoon is to complete my cutlery group ….
My 20 nouns….
1. El café
2. El tenedor
3. El autobus
4. El cucilla
5. El vino
6. El coche
7. El perro
8. El gato
9. El aeropuerto
10. El vaso
11. El azucar
12. El zumo
13. La mantequilla
14. La leche
15. La mermelada
16. La piscina
17. La casa
18. La taza
19. La bebida
20. La cerveza