Monday, 15 July 2013


Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut /
This summer we are experiencing a bit of a heatwave in the UK. It isn't much compared to what people are used to in Spain or other hot countries but it is unusual for a British summer. I was explaining this in a chat with a Chilean friend today, and realised I didn't know the Spanish word for heatwave. Fortunately it is one of those words where my first guess was the right one. I just put together the words for heat (calor) and wave (ola) to get 'ola de calor'. This turned out to be the right word, but I could also have used canícula. This is similar to the French word for heatwave - canicule - which I always remember since it sounds a bit like saying 'I cannae cool down'.

heat - calor
wave (in the sea) - ola
heatwave - ola de calor, canícula
heatwave - ola de calor

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Useful website: Fun Learning Spanish

I have just come across a great looking site called Fun Learnin Spanish. I will post a more detailed review when I have explored it more thoroughly but  I wanted to give it a mention straight away. My first impression is that it is a big, fun site that caters to all levels of learners. There are lessons, dual language articles and games. I'm finding the Spanish Verb Space Invaders strangely addictive at the moment. There is clearly a lot to look at on the site and I'm looking forward to doing just that.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

¿Que pasa?

This is a Spanish phrase I hear a lot, so is great for sounding more Spanish.

¿Que pasa? means 'What's happening?' and can be used literally or in a casual greeting

¡Eh, tio! ¿que pasa? - Hey man, what's up?

It also works in the past tense

¿Que pasó? - What happened?

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Conjugation of the week - 14. Irse - to leave

Having mentioned 'irse' in yesterday's post I thought perhaps it would be a good time to revive the 'Conjugation of the week' posts. This is the first one using the reflexive form which changes the meaning of 'ir' from 'to go' to 'to leave'. By the way, 'irse' is pronounced roughly like 'ear-say'.

irse - to leave

me voy - I leave
te vas - you leave (sing. fam.)
se va - he/she/it leaves, you leave (sing. pol.)
nos vamos - we leave
os vais - you leave (pl. fam.)
se van they leave, you leave (pl. pol.)

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Me voy

On Monday I'm leaving Chamonix (in France) and heading back to the UK for a while. Hopefully I'll manage a trip to Spain in the next couple of months. It seems appropriate then to introduce the reflexive form of 'ir' (to go), i.e. 'irse' = to leave. It is similar in use to 'salir' (to go out, to leave) but is more common for leaving and not used in the going for a night out sense.

Hasta luego, ahora me voy - See you later, I'm leaving now.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Pause words

When speaking a language, one way to sound more natural is putting in those little linking words that give you time to think. Words like 'er' and 'um' are often used by English speakers, but there are others like 'well', 'then', 'so', 'okay', 'good' which have meanings but can also be used to some extent to fill a gap.

The same is true in Spanish, and learning these can give you the moment you need to choose the next word, letting you sound that bit more fluent. I've learnt a lot of these from listening to real people but also from podcasts, dialogue in books and TV programmes. Some of these are region specific so try to find out what people say in the version of Spanish you want to learn.

Some examples:-

bueno - good
pues - well
pues nada - well, nothing (used for a longer pause)
bien - well
a ver - let's see
entonces - then
vale - okay (in Spain)
dale - okay (in Argentina)
de acuerdo - okay (everywhere, as far as I know)
venga - come, come on
perfecto - perfect
vale, perfecto - okay, perfect

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Translating Headlines - Answers

These are my translations for the headlines I gave in yesterday's post. Obviously there are many ways to translate these, and in some cases I used a knowledge of the context to choose the most appropriate word - e.g. songwriter rather than composer in the last example.

From El Pais -

The British police had records on the perpetrators of the assault in London
The perpetrators of the attacks in  London had police records

Un bebé se salva con una prótesis creada con una impresora 3D
A baby was saved with a prosthesis created with a 3D printer

Los disturbios se extienden en Suecia por cuarto día consecutivo
 The disturbances in Sweden have continued for a fourth successive day

David Cameron: "It is a betrayal of the United Kingdom and of Islam"
 The French singer and songwriter Georges Moustaki has died at the age of 79

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Translating Headlines - Translation Practice

One of the best ways to improve your Spanish is obviously to practise it, and that goes for reading as well as speaking. Reading whole books, magazine articles or newspaper columns can be daunting to start with, so a good place to start is with bite-sized chunks of text like newspaper headlines. Here are a few examples to try and translate. I'll post the English version tomorrow so you can check your answers against mine. The headlines link back to the original websites if you want to see them in context.

From El Pais -

La policía británica tenía fichados a los autores del atentado de Londres

Un bebé se salva con una prótesis creada con una impresora 3D

Los disturbios se extienden en Suecia por cuarto día consecutivo




David Cameron: "Es una traición al Reino Unido y al Islam"

Muere a los 79 años el cantante y compositor francés Georges Moustaki


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Relax - It's okay to make mistakes

I find that when reading or speaking in a foreign language it is easy to get hung up on the meaning of every word and end up going far to slowly. When speaking this might mean speaking more correctly but it also might make you sound unnaturally slow. It can often be better to just let your tongue run away with you and make the odd mistake in grammar or pronunciation. The person you are speaking to can always ask you to repeat something if they did not understand first time. This might depend a little bit on the circumstances and you probably do not want to talk to friends in the same way you might speak at a business meeting.

Similarly, when reading it can be slow and tedious if you pause to consider the meaning of every word. This is even more true if you overuse the dictionary. If you can learn to 'gist read' the text to get the meaning of it without every single word you will find that books become much more enjoyable.

Compund words

Sometimes Spanish words are similar enough to English words that they can be guessed at. Others bear little resemblance to their English equivalents. One class of words I like is those (in either language) that can be broken into shorter words that are direct translations, for example:

honeymoon = luna de miel
honey = miel
moon = luna

abrebotellas = bottle opener
abre = he/she/it opens
botellas = bottles

I like these words where the meaning of a longer word can be deduced from the meaning of simpler words.

Other examples include bookmark = marcalibros; deathbed = lecho de muerte or treehouse = casa del arbol.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Some Free Short Stories in Spanish - Website Review

My Favourite writer (in any language) is Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of La Sombra del Viento, or The Shadow of the Wind amongst other novels. His website, is a great resource with plenty of free stuff to download in the 'Descargas' section, including first chapters of all his novels. My favourite part is 'Relatos' where you can download a selection of unpublished short stories featuring the trademarks of Zafón's longer works - dark plots and Gothic settings in his native Barcelona.

Also available to download are wallpapers, videos and music. As expected the site also hosts a lot of information about the author and his books, including a mini site for each of his novels.