Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Useful website for Spanish and recipes

I am always on the look out for Spanish and Latin American recipes to try, and I have just seen a great one for Cuban Arroz con Pollo (Chicken with rice) at Learning Spanish is Fun which is a great Spanish blog and resource. I think cooking dishes and learning the words for different foods and ingredients is a great way to learn about a culture. The recipe is well written and illustrated with a really mouth watering photograph - you can tell that the blog's author, Sabrina, really has a passion for her subject matter. I'm really looking forward to trying out the recipe if I can track down some of the ingredients.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The weather

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sitting and watching torrents of rain beating against the windows, it seems a good time to get out the dictionary and revise some weather words. Like in English there are nouns (the rain) and verbs (to rain / it is raining). In English we also use a lot of adjectives to describe the weather - 'it is cold / hot / windy', whereas in Spanish nouns are also used for these. It is like saying 'there is wind' or 'it makes heat today'.


la lluvia = the rain
llover = to rain
llueva = it rains / it is raining
está lloviendo = it is raining (right now)
va a llover = it is going to rain
lloverá = it will rain
llovió = it rained
ha llovido = it has rained
llovía = it was raining


la nieve = the snow
nevar = to snow
nieva = it snows
esta nevando = it is snowing (right now)
va a neva = it is going to snow


el viento = the wind
hace viento = it is windy (lit. it makes wind)


hace calor = it is hot (it makes heat)
hace frío = it is cold (it makes cold)


el sol = the sun
hace sol = it is sunny (it makes sun)
soleado =sunny


los nubes = the clouds
nublado = cloudy
la niebla = the mist

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Spanish Civil War - Guerra Civil Española

75 years ago this week, on the 18th July 1936, the Spanish Civil War began, entering Spain into four years of war and forty of facist rule under General Franco. Although in Europe and worldwide, World War II still casts a long shadow, the Spanish Civil war probably cast an even longer shadow over that country. The Spanish had to wait until the mid 1970s before they had a vote again. Their war was particularly nasty in that it pitted neighbour against neighbour, and even family members against each other. The depth of feeling the war and the Franco era still evoke can be seen by the number of comments on this newspaper article - http://www.publico.es/espana/387587/una-sombra-larga-que-se-proyecta-hasta-el-presente.

It is easy in hindsight to paint one side as the bad guys, but the truth is that both groups did some pretty bad stuff before and during the war, and that either side could probably have averted the war if they had wanted to pursue a diplomatic solution. Wikipedia has a good article covering the causes and events of the war in a lot of detail - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Civil_War

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Notes on the simple past

Yesterday's conjugation of the simple past gives a way to express the past. Harder than learning the verb forms though, is learning when to use it. The good news is that if you use the wrong past tense you will nearly always be understood, in the same way that a foreign person speaking English will often make mistakes but still be understood. The simple past is used to represent a single event, a point in the past, never for something that is ongoing.

Therefore 'tiré' can translate 'I threw', but never 'I was throwing' or 'I used to throw'  which would be translated using the imperfect tense - more on that in future posts. However, 'I threw' is not necesarily translated as 'tiré'. 'I threw a ball every day' would also be translated using the imperfect tense because it refers to a repeating, ongoing event. Practise of reading and listening is the best way to learn when Spanish people would use each tense.

There are another couple of points which are important to note. Firstly the pronuncuation - it is important to stress the accented sylable, otherwise the words will be heard as the present tense. The stress in the simple past falls nearer to the end of the word in most cases.

Secondly, the first person plural ('tiramos' / 'we throw') is the same in the present and simple past tenses, so the context has to be relied on to indicate which is meant.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Conjugation of the week - 13. Tirar - to throw, simple past

This week it is back to the regular -ar verbs with the simplest of the many past tenses in Spanish. The simple past tense is also known as the past historic tense or the preterite tense. It is similar to the simple past tense in English, but is perhaps used less. It refers to a specific event in the past, that is now finished. See previous posts in this series for more about conjugations.

Tirar - to throw, simple past tense

tiré = I threw
tiraste = you threw (sing. fam.)
tiró = he/she/it/ you (sing. pol.) threw
tiramos = we threw
tirasteis = you threw (pl. fam.)
tiraron = they/you (pl. pol.) threw

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Telediario en 4 minutos

I have mentioned RTVE's four minute online news bulletin before. I find it is a great way to keep my Spanish from getting too rusty if I am not using it, as well as keeping up with events in the Spanish speaking world. I thought it was worth mentioning again here as I have just discovered that I can now watch it on my Android phone. I don't know whether it is down to a change on the site, or an Android browser update, but when I tried previously I could not view the video.

I have no idea if it works with other phones. The site uses Flash to show video, so I suspect iPhone users will be out of luck. I should mention that this is not a mobile site and is therefore quite bandwidth intensive. You will need to use wifi to view it unless you have a really good data plan. I guess you need an up-to-date version of Android with Flash enabled as well. Even so, I find it is great to watch over breakfast without having to drag a laptop to the table.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Pedido - order/ordered

I was halfway through a sentence on the phone today when I realised that I didn't know the word for an order. I knew the verb 'to order' ('pedir') and hence how to say 'I have ordered' ('he pedido') but the noun escaped me. It turns out, after a quick check on Word Reference, that it is 'pedido' - a word I could perhaps have guessed at but didn't. I am not sure if there is any advice to avoid that situation when it happens, although usually it will be possible to think of another way to say something. When asking a more complicated question it is often worth mentally rehearsing it in your head, but it is impossible to do this in a conversation if you want to sound fluent.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Despedirse - to dismiss oneself

Reading the Spanish news coverage (above on www.rtve.es) of the recent demise of the News Of The World, an interesting phrase I came across was 'News Of The World se despide'. This is a good opportunity to mention reflexive verbs, as well as the verb 'despedir', which has a few related meanings.

Basically 'despedir' means 'to dismiss'. Depending on the context this can mean anything from 'to say goodbye' to 'to sack/fire somebody'. A 'fiesta de despedido' is a leaving party for example. Used reflexively (when the verb refers to itself - me despido, se despide etc.) it means to dismiss oneself. Usually this means to quit, leave or resign. In this case of course it means the newspaper is closing itself down.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Ojalá - Hopefully

Yesterday I mentioned the simlilarity between Spanish and other Latin based languages. In addition though, Spanish has been influenced by Arabic over the years. This is not surprising given that Spain was occupied by the Moors (los Moros) from northern Africa for over 700 years.

One of the commonest examples is 'ojalá', meaning 'hopefully' or 'God willing'. This is derived from the commonly used Arabic phrase 'insha Allah' meaning 'God willing'.

A few other examples of Spanish words with Arabic roots are -

aceite - oil
azucar - sugar
rincón - corner
barrio - neighbourhood
sofá - sofa
naranja - orange

Saturday, 9 July 2011

French words in Spanish

I mentioned a few days ago the similarities between Spanish and other Latin based languages. French is not as close to Spanish as Italian or Portuguese. but is is the language I learnt at school (a long time ago) so I have often found it useful in guessing Spanish words. Here are a few examples that have helped me.

From the French word 'plein' (full)  I guessed 'pleno' at a petrol station and was understood, even though 'lleno' is probably more common. 'Pleno' would be used more often in a phrase like 'full speed'.

Reading the Spanish newspaper I could deduce the meaning of 'pais' (country) and 'rey' (king), from the French words 'pays' and 'roi'.

On TV, 'canal' means 'channel' in both languages.

Knowing the difference between 'conaitre' and 'savoir' (both meaning 'to know') helped understand the difference between 'conocer' and 'saber' (the equivalent words in Spanish). In both languages the former is to know a person or place ('to be aquainted with') whilst the latter is to know a fact.

Of course there are hundreds of other examples, and even more in other languages.

Useful Website - InstaSpanish.com

I have just revisited one site I used a lot when I began to learn Spanish, and it has been revamped and updated so that I barely recognised it. InstaSpanish.com is a site with a lot of information that has clearly been accumulated over a good period of time. There are 100 news letters, 11 podcasts, a forum, and a few recipes. In the past, the site was useful but looked a little dated, but now it has a clean modern look.

The biggest new addition is the Flash based eLearning programme. The sample lessons show the characteristic features of the newsletters - use of songs and lyrics, games and quizes to teach vocabulary. There is also quite a lot of emphasis on pronunciation and listening comprehension. All in all the programme seems similar in subject to the newsletters on the site but taking advantage of the interaction that a Flash application can provide to give a fun and rounded learning experience. The full package is available on a subscription basis, but there is plenty of free material to look at before deciding whether you want to subscribe.

If I were...

I promised to share some examples of the complicated sounding imperfect subjunctive. One common, and not particularly difficult usage is in sentences of the type 'if I were ... I would ...'.

In Spanish, the imperfect subjunctive is used for the first verb (were) and the conditional tense is used for the second verb (after the 'would').

A few examples to clarify:-

Si yo fuera tu, hablaría con ellos. - If I were you I would speak with them.
Si fuera un hombre rico, lo compraría. - If I were a rich man I would buy it.
Si fuéramos mas joven, iríamos a la fiesta. - If we were younger we would go to the party.
Si fueras mas listo, ya sabría - if you were smarter you would already know

The first verb does not have to be 'were'. 'If I had...' phrases are also common, such as this example from Mario Benedetti's 'Esta Mañana'

Si yo hubiera tenido padre et madre, todo habría sido diferente. - If I had had a father and mother, everything would have been different.

Notice that the two 'hads' in the English translation represent diferent verbs in Spanish - 'haber' to indicate the past (perfect) tense and 'tener' to show posession.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Ir and Ser

Yesterday's post covered the complicated sounding 'imperfect subjunctive' form of the verb 'ser' ('to be'). In fact this is also the imperfect subjunctive tense of 'ir' ('to go'). The verbs 'ser' and 'ir' share two other tenses as well - the preterite, or simple past, and the less commonly used future subjunctive. I like to think of this being similar to 'been' in English. 'I have been eating' or 'I have been a waiter' express the past tense of 'to be' but 'I have been to Spain' expresses the past tense of 'to go'.

More on imperfect subjunctives tomorrow. I just wanted to share that idiosyncracy of the language which I rediscovered whilst writing yesterday's post.

Conjugation of the week - 12. Imperfect subjunctive of 'ser' - 'to be'

Having covered a few of the more straightforward conjugations over the last few weeks, I think it is time to throw in a more advanced verb tense. Don't be put off by the name though, the imperfect subjunctive form is not uncommon, nor that difficult. Although it takes a long time to perfect exactly when to use it, knowing the form makes it easy to recognise in written text or conversation. In the next post I will give an easier example of when to use it. It can often be translated into English as 'was' or 'were'. See previous posts in this series for more about conjugations.

Ser - to be, imperfect subjunctive

yo fuera/fuese
tu fueras/fueses
el/ella/usted fuera/fuese
nosotros fuéramos/fuésemos
vosotros fuerais/fueseis
ellos/ellas/ustedes fueran/fuesen

Notice that there are two versions, with -ra and -se endings. The two versions are identical as far as I can tell (and I have asked a few Spanish speakers and teachers). Some dictionaries only show the first, which is probably more common, but you will find both used frequently in books, sometimes together e.g. 'fuera lo que fuese' (loosely - 'being whatever it was' or 'whatever it may have been').

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Using other languages to help with Spanish

If you speak another foreign language already, especially a Latin based one, it can really help with learning Spanish. Like most people who grew up in the UK, I was taught French at school, and whilst at first listen it sounds nothing like Spanish, it is quite similar both in grammar and in the roots of a lot of words. The accent and pronunciation is very different, as are the spelling rules, but there are many words which are basically the same, just following the pronunciation rules of each language. Some words are spelt identically, but pronounced very differently - 'jardin' (garden) for example. This means that it is often possible to guess the meaning of an unfamiliar word from a similar word in another language. It is also quite often possible to guess how to say something, although this will probably work less of the time.

More on this, plus a few examples, in the next few days

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What to wear

I have just spent a fortnight in Les Deux Alpes, in France, hence the sporadic posting and break from the blog recently. One thing I learnt is that it is still possible to practice Spanish in a French speaking country. As I was ski training, I was usually wearing either an Andorran ski club jacket, or an Andorran ski school soft shell. Because of this I found myself being spoken to in Spanish by the Spanish skiers in town who recognised the name 'Andorra'. This made it a lot easier to start conversations in Spanish, and I met a few Spanish skiers over the course of my visit.

Whilst on this occasion my choice of clothing was a complete accident, it made me realise that deliberately wearing something Spanish, particularly with the name of a Spanish speaking place on it, can be a great way to meet Spanish speakers who happen to be in the same part of the world. This obviously won't be a lot of use in Spain itself, but it might be quite useful in places where a lot of Spanish people go on holiday.