Category Archives: Spanish Blog

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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 tohttp://spanish.about.com/cs/grammar/a/genderreversal.htm ). 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 http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages. 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?

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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 http://www.wordreference.com. 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

Spanish – Before you start.

If you have been thinking of learning a language but keep putting it off, join me as we overcome our fears ! Week by week, I will share my experiences as I join a class, find suitable resources and start to learn. It doesn’t matter which language you’ve decided to learn or improve, the process is the same, so let’s start our adventure.

Now, you would think that as a language teacher, the idea of learning a new language would fill me with excitement! Think again! I’ve been wanting to learn Spanish for the last five years, but I’ve never really managed to get going.

I have at least three good reasons to learn;
1 Family – We have family in Spain that we visit at least once a year.
2 Business – My business teaches Spanish and I feel a twit saying “Actually, I only speak French…”!
3 School work – I want to be able to help my daughter as she does her Spanish GCSE.

So what am I worried about?
1 Failure! What if I can’t remember the vocabulary or understand the grammar?
2 Time! How can I can schedule in the 2 hours a week I tell my students they need to learn French?
3 Confusion! What if I get my French and Spanish muddled up?

Solutions…
1 I’m going to set myself an achievable goal. Instead of worrying about becoming fluent, I want to be able to order a meal and a drink, pay for it and ask for directions from a stranger next time I go to Spain.
2 I can carve out time to go to a class. I have a real giggle when I’m teaching so I will probably enjoy it as a learner too. I know that if I have to report on my progress to you, I’ll also manage to do a bit extra during the week.
3 I speak Dutch and never mix up French and Dutch, so why should I mix up French and Spanish? And if I do, does it matter? So long as someone understands me…

So there you go. Perhaps you share some of my fears about learning, or have your own, like speaking in front of a class and getting it wrong, a bad experience at school, saying something rude in the language by accident and everyone laughing! Perhaps if you join me, you might feel braver. Do tell me about your fears and what you’re going to do to get over them. But let’s do it and let’s start now!

Challenge: Go through your bookshelves and find any resources that you may have picked up over the years to help you learn your chosen language then find a box, a basket or a shelf for them. It took me five minutes to do mine – here is the photo! I’ve included different coloured post-its, a dictionary, my computer (the best resource there is) and some books I’ve picked up but never opened…