Monday, 27 June 2011

A short break

I'm away from home for a week or so and finding Internet access a bit harder to come by than I expected, so I'm going to apologise now and have a week long break from the Blog. Normal service will resume Monday 4th July (or earlier if the appartment I'm staying in gets its long overdue phone and internet connection).

Hasta lunes (until Monday)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Homophones (sound alikes)

There is another common but false belief amongst Spanish speakers about their language. They say that unlike English, Spanish contains no homophones (words that sound the same but are spelt differently and have different meanings). Admittedly there are many times more homophones in English than Spanish, due to Spanish being a phonetic language, but I have still managed to find a few examples:-

hecho (done, fact) vs. echo (1st person of echar - to throw, cast, put)
ha (2nd person sing. of haber – to have) vs. a (to, at)
hola (hello, hi) vs. ola (wave)

These examples rely on the silent ‘h’, there are others which might depend on the regional accent, as in most places ‘v’ and ‘b’ sound alike, and in some places ‘ll’ and ‘y’ do as well. In Latin America the ‘z’ and soft ‘c’ both sound like ‘s’ rather than being lisped like in Spain, so there are words like ‘la olla’ and ‘la hoya’ (the pan and the river bed), tubo and tuvo (tube and 3rd person past tense of tener – to have), or ‘la casa’ and ‘la caza’ (the house and the hunt) which might sound identical or merely similar depending where you are.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

El murcielago – the bat

Image: luigi diamanti /
Murcielago is a Spanish word that has appeared in English speaking culture more than once. It was the name of a Lamborghini supercar, which was in turn named after a famous fighting bull of the 19th century. Since the word actually means 'bat' it must have been a confusing name for the bull in question – a bit like having a dog (perro) named 'cat' (gato).

Murcielago is also a well known word in the Spanish language because of a popular myth that it is the only Spanish word containing all five vowels. In fact, those who think that are equivocado (mistaken, wrong), and should perhaps blame their education (education). Other examples of words containing all the vowels include 'equitation' (horse riding) and 'arquitecto' (architect).

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Useful website - About Spanish have sections on hundreds of topics – some good and some bad. The Spanish section, run by Gerald Erichson is a site I visit fairly regularly. There is a lesson section, with new articles posted regularly, and an active forum. Lessons are pitched at a variety of levels, and often aim to clear up areas of confusion such as multiple meanings in English for a Spanish word or vice versa. There are also good lessons explaining many of the finer points of Spanish grammar.

There are also some useful email lists to subscribe to, such as the Spanish Word of the Day list and a list to advise when new lessons are available (which is ofter).

There are some quirks to the site, such as the way example sentences seem to be taken from literature or newspapers – this gives an accurate usage, but taken out of context the phrases can sound a little strange. For example, to illustrate the verb 'nadar' (to swim) he uses a sentence about the discovery of a boy’s body who disappeared swimming in a river.

If the site has a downside, it is that it can feel a little dry and classroom like compared to the real everyday Spanish of Ben and Marina for example. Having said that, the nitty-gritty details of grammar and vocabulary are important if you want to master a language.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Conditional tense examples

The conditional tense shows how Spanish often changes the endings to verbs to form a phrase which would use extra words instead in English. In this case the conditional tense ending is equivalent to putting 'would' before a word in English.

me gustaría = I would like
nos hablarían = they would speak to us
lo haríamos pero... = we would do it but...
iría allí = he would go there

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Conjugation of the week - conditional tense of hablar

Having covered the regular verbs in the present tense, as well as some of the most useful irregular verbs, this week we are going to look at the conditional tense. This can be recognised by the endings which contain -ría, and is equivalent to putting 'would' before a verb in English. Hablar is a regular verb, so all other regular -ar verbs form the conditional tense in the same way. See previous posts in this series for more about conjugations.

Hablar - to speak

hablaría - I would speak
hablarías - you would speak (sing. fam.)
hablaría - he/she/it/you (sing. pol.) would speak
hablaríamos - we would speak
hablaríais - you would speak (pl. fam.)
hablarían - they/you (pl. pol) would speak

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Unusual (English word) - defenestrate

Sometimes learning Spanish can teach you new words in your own language. Yesterday I saw a Spanish Facebook post using the word 'defenestrando' from 'defenestrar. The dictionary translation of 'defenestrar' is 'defenestrate' which is not a word I have ever come across and certainly not one I would use on Facebook. I am sure it is a pretty rare word in English, but it doesn't appear to be so uncommon in Spanish.

For those who are wondering, the literal meaning is to throw somebody through a window. It can also be used figuratively as a swift dismissal (from a political party for example).

Friday, 17 June 2011

Interesting word - postre

Well, after 74 daily posts I finally slipped up and missed a couple of days posting. Apologies to regular readers wherever you are.

I have come across a couple of interesting Spanish words recently. Today's was 'postre' - a fairly familiar word meaning 'dessert' or 'pudding'. What I hadn't realised until today was that

el postre = desssert/pudding

but that

a la postre = in the end

So changing the gender of the noun from masculine (el) to femenine (la) changes its meaning. I'm sure there are a few other words like this, but I can't think of any off the top of my head so they can wait until a future post.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Keep trying

Learning a language can be hard. It is all too easy to watch someone speaking Spanish well, and assume it is as effortless as it sounds. In some cases it might be, but most people who have learnt Spanish as an adult will have struggled at some stage, will have worked hard and persevered. People say "I wish I could speak Spanish like you," as if Spanish is something you just pick up by accident. Now I don't speak Spanish perfectly, far from it, but unlike a lot of English speakers in Spain I try. For most of us it is hard, but it is well worth the effort. Some days it can feel effortless to chat to people for hours, but more often it will feel like there is a mountain to climb. The only trick really is not to give up.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Useful website -

I have just stumbled across the site whilst doing some research for this blog. At first glance it looks like it is a site dedicated to residential Spanish courses in various Spanish speaking countries. As this was not what I was looking for at the time (although I am sure they are well worth doing), I almost dismissed the site. However, as well as the courses, there is a wealth of learning material, online lessons and Spanish learning community. I plan to spend some time getting to know the site and seeing what it has to offer, but my first impression is that there is lots there to keep me coming back.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Regular -er verbs

Following yesterday's conjugation, here are a few of the many regular -er verbs which follow the same pattern.

aprender = to learn
beber = to drink
comer = to eat
comprender = to understand
correr = to run
deber = to owe, to have to (do something)
esconder = to hide
meter = to put in
prometer = to promise
romper = to break
vender = to sell

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Conjugation of the Week - 10. Aprender - to learn

This week we have the third and final series of regular verbs - the -er verbs. Again this means that all regular verbs ending in -er are conjugated the same way, and most irregular -er verbs will also follow a similar pattern with some variations. Notice that in the present tense, only the nosotros and vosotros forms are different from regular -ir verbs. See previous posts in this series for more about conjugations.

Aprender - to learn

aprendo = I learn
aprendes = you learn (sing. fam.)
aprende = he/she/it learns, you learn (sing. pol.)
aprendemos = we learn
aprendeís = you learn (pl. fam.)
aprenden = they learn, you learn (pl. pol.)

Friday, 10 June 2011

Shakira - Grandes Exitos

Yesterday I mentioned that listening to music can be a good way to learn Spanish. I have been listening to Shakira's first greatest hits album (which came out before a lot of the hits she is currently known for). To be honest, this isn't the type of music I would normally listen to, but Shakira has a great voice, the music is full of latin passion and I get to learn some Spanish as well. Some of the songs are Spanish versions of hits you will have heard in English, others are in a more latin dancing style that you might here in clubs across South America.

The album is pretty cheap these days, as it has been around for a while. You can find it on Amazon UK, Amazon US or your usual download store. Where else would you learn a phrase like -

Suerte que mis pechos sean pequeños, y no los confundas con montañas
(Lucky that my breasts are small and humble, so you don't confuse them with mountains)

Okay, that isn't quite an exact translation, but it's close enough and it's how it was translated for the English version of the song.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Learn from music

Songs can be a great way to learn Spanish. If you translate the chorus from a familiar song from Spanish into English the chances are that those words will stick in your head for a long time. For example the verb 'bailar' - 'to dance' has been with me since I learnt the meaning of the opening line of 'La Bamba'

Para bailar la Bamba - To dance the Bamba

I also will always remember 'marinero' (sailor) and 'capitan' (captain) from the line

Yo no soy marinero, soy capitan, soy capitan - I am not a sailor, I am a captain, I am a captain

Of course there are many more Spanish songs out there, or songs with Spanish parts. Pick your favourites, or search some out on You Tube. If you are stuck for ideas I plan to post the occasional Spanish album review on this blog in the future.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Notes in Spanish - new release

I have mentioned the fantastic site Notes In Spanish before. It is one of my favourite sites for learning Spanish on the web, and Ben and Marina really are inspiring teachers. They have just released Season Two of Notes in Spanish Gold, so it is a good time to go and visit their site if you haven't already. As usual there is a special price for a limited period (click on Store on their menu when you get to their site). As well as the new material there is still a wealth of older resources on the site, both for free and to buy.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Present Participles

If you start to learn Spanish grammar it isn't long before  you come across participles, past and present. Whilst using big grammar terms like past participle and present participle can be daunting, they are not really that difficult to understand. Hopefully if I keep using the words enough times they will get less intimidating through repetition. They are words you will generally find at the top of verb tables in the dictionary.

The present participle is the one I find simpler. In English it always ends in 'ing'. In Spanish it usually ends in 'ando' for -ar verbs and 'iendo' for -ir or -er verbs. Here are a few examples (with the full Spanish verb in brackets).

talking = hablando (hablar)
eating = comiendo (comer)
running = corriendo (correr)
going = yendo (ir)
walking = andando (andar)
raining = lloviendo (llover)

These verb forms can often be used in the same way as in English.

estoy comiendo = I am eating
estaba hablando = I was talking
está lloviendo = it is raining

In English, 'ing' words are also used as adjectives and nouns, but these uses don't generally use the present participle in Spanish.

the walking man = el hombre que anda (literally 'the man that walks')
I like skiing = me gusta esqíar (lit. 'I like to ski')
all the living things = todas las cosas vivientes

Watch out for past participles in a future post.

Monday, 6 June 2011


The biggest stories in the Spanish press today, apart from Nadal's victory over Federer in the French open, are the results of elections in Portugal and Peru yesterday. Here is a little background to help you read the stories in the Spanish press.

In Peru the Nationalist candidate, Ollanta Humala defeated the Populist party's Keiko Fujimori by a very tight margin in the country's presidential elections. Humala is a left-wing ex-army commander who led an unsuccessful coup attempt supported in the 1990s. The right wing Fujimori is the daughter of ex-president Alberto Fujimori who is currently serving a 25 year jail sentence for corruption and human rights violations during his time in power. If you want to follow this story in Spanish you can read more in El País.

In Portugal, the political landscape has taken a turn to the right, as Pedro Passos Coelho's Social Democrats defeated the current prime minister, Jose Sócrates' Socialists. Again, you can read more, in Spanish, in El País.

Regular -ir verbs

Just a quick post today to give a few examples of regular -ir verbs which are all conjugated the same way as 'insistir' in yesterday's post.

abrir = to open
admitir = to admit
añadir = to add, join, increase
asistir = to attend
confundir = to confuse
cumplir = to complete, achieve, to have a birthday
decidir = to decide
escribir = to write
insistir = to insist
ocurrir = to occur
permitir = to permit, allow
recibir = to receive
subir = to go up, ascend
vivir = to live

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Conjugation of the Week - 9. Insistir - to insist

After a few weeks of the most common irregular verbs, this week we have another regular verb. The second of the three families of regular verbs are the -ir verbs. This means that all regular -ir verbs are conjugated the same, and most irregular -ir verbs are conjugated in a similar manner. See previous posts in this series for more about conjugations.

insistir - to insist

insisto = I insist
insistes = you insist (sing. fam.)
insiste = he/she/it insists, you insist (sing. pol.)
insistimos = we insist
insistís = you insist (pl. fam.)
insisten = they insist, you insist (pl. pol.)
Following on from recent posts on 'ser' and 'estar', I thought I would add to the confusion by throwing in an example which completely threw me when I first heard it. I was standing at the bottom of a ski slope (a common place for me to be as readers of my other blog will know) talking to a Spanish friend who was trying to explain to me when to use 'ser' and when to use 'estar'.

He explained that 'ser' is for permanent things, and gave an example -

la nieve es blanca = the snow is white

He then explained that 'estar' is for more temporary things. The example was -

la nieve está fria = the snow is cold

Now this just added to my confusion, because I have seen snow that is pink from the sunset, red or orange with sand blown from the Sahara to Europe, brown from mud close to the surface, blue on a cold shady morning or grey on cloudy days. But I have never once come across snow that is not cold. I still don't understand why the above examples are correct, other than colours generally use 'ser' and temperatures 'estar'.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Using Chat

Image: Michal Marcol /

Conversing in Spanish can be difficult - you have to think fast both to phrase your own thoughts and to understand the other person, and it can be harder to work out new words without seeing how they are spelt. Writing to somebody in Spanish gives you time to think, but it can be tedious. There is less leeway to make gramatical errors, and the lack of interaction and feedback can be discouraging.

Halfway in between the two is chat. Whether it is Facebook, MSN or any other instant messaging service it doesn't matter. If you get the chance to chat to a Spanish speaking friend then take it. It really is the best of both worlds. You get interaction, feedback and corrections for your mistakes. The grammar is less critical than in a letter. You don't have to think as quickly as when speaking, and you can see what the words look like. There are still a couple of downsides though - one is that it can be hard to enter special characters - ¿ ¡ ñ á é ú í ó. There are ways around this which I plan to cover in a future post. Other downsides are that you might have to get used to the Spanish version of text speak - q for que etc. and that it won't help much with your pronunciation.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Regional diferences - be careful

Most of the time regional differences do not cause huge problems. A person from one region might sound a little odd, or overly formal to the ears of somebody from a different region, occasionally they might have to repeat themselves to be understood. Occasionally however, a perfectly inoccuous and common word in one region can be very offensive in another.

The most obvious example is the verb 'coger'. As a European who learnt the Spanish of Spain first, this is a common word meaning 'to take'. As such I shouldn't feel in the slightest bit uncomfortable writing it here. Phrases such as:-

coger el autobus = to catch the bus
¡cogelo! = take it!
cojo el tren = I take the train

are all perfectly common in Spain. In Argentina though, Spanish people quickly discover that 'coger' has quite a different meaning - one that I am not so comfortable discussing in a blog for a general audience. Because of this, the phrases above sound ridiculous or offensive in Argentina, and Argentinians have a perception that Spaniards are oversexed as they want to c***r everything - busses, trains, etc.