Category Archives: #español

Spanish Lite

I’d like to share with you a series of Spanish language shows that I recently stumbled upon. Extr@ was an educational TV series that ran from 2002 to 2004 in four language versions: English, French, German and Spanish. Unfortunately, only 13 episodes of the Spanish language version were produced, and links to all 13 episodes are below. It is similar to Destinos in that it is a series of episodes that are designed to teach language, however admittedly the Extr@ series is a little more juvenile and cornball in humor. Having said that, however, I have watched the first 3 episodes and found them very entertaining, including some laugh-out-loud scenes. So, if you feel like enjoying a little Spanish Lite, check them out.

Hasta la próxima, Amigos.

La llegada de Sam, Episode 1,
Sam va de compras, Episode 2,
Sam aprende a ligar, Episode 3,
Sam busca un trabajo, Episode 4,
Ha nacido una estrella, Episode 5,
El día de la Primitiva, Episode 6,
La gemala, Episode 7,
La prima de la dueña, Episode 8,
Trabajos para los chicos, Episode 9,
Ana protesta, Episode 10,
Tiempo de vacaciones, Episode 11,
Fanáticos del fútbol, Episode 12,
Boda en el aire, Episode 13,

Also posted in #learnspanish, #Spanish

Spanish Subjunctive Mood

Somewhere along the line I developed a fear of the Spanish subjunctive, and I don’t know where it came from. Maybe it was a well-meaning teacher who indicated that the subjunctive would be too difficult for me to learn (at least at that point), or perhaps it was fellow Spanish learners who had ventured into the subjunctive mood and came away feeling bloodied and confused, or it could be that I developed this fear through a combination of factors. After that my fear morphed into rejection, and I rationalized my rejection of the subjunctive by believing that I could get along fine without it, and besides, I still had a long way to go before I mastered the tenses in the indicative mood so why should I muddy up the waters with the subjunctive mood?

However, while studying the subjunctive mood recently I experienced a revelation. It occurred to me that one of the main reasons I was resisting this aspect of Spanish is because I considered it an aberration, that the real world is the world of the indicative mood, and that somebody, somewhere, at sometime bastardized the Spanish language by adding the subjunctive in order to confuse us Spanish language learners. Moreover, instead of really thinking through how this new subjunctive mood could be properly represented in the language, these unknown Spanish language creators took a bad shortcut and just flipped around the verb endings … thus the ER/IR verbs would be given AR verb endings in the subjunctive mood, and the AR verbs would be given ER/IR verb endings in the subjunctive mood. As a result, it’s a miracle that anyone continued speaking Spanish, for surely the Spanish language should have died through its penchant for creating confusion.

But then I thought … what if the subjunctive mood came first? I mean, how much certainty (indicative mood) is there really in this transitory world (subjunctive mood)? In fact, the older I get, the less I make definitive statements about what is (indicative mood) … and instead I find myself talking more about hopes and feelings and possibilities (subjunctive mood). So, I no longer think of the subjunctive mood as an aberration, as an afterthought, as something I HAVE to force myself to learn, but instead I think of it as an integral and genius dimension of the language, as something that will allow me to better express myself and to better color the world. How’s that for a change of attitude?

Think of the subjunctive as the last frontier, and the best way to learn the subjunctive mood is to begin by believing that it is the richest part of the language, and then endeavor to spend as much time as possible living in this rich subjunctive world. No more indicative!!! The indicative is bland, elementary, limited, factual … I am richer than that! I AM the subjunctive!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, enough hyperbole for today … below are some things to consider when wading into the subjunctive.

Most Spanish teachers and resources lead you into the subjunctive by teaching you the command forms of the imperative mood, and I agree with this approach because you learn the subjunctive endings without having to worry about tenses and the element of time. The only time frame in a command is NOW, as in “Run!” or “Sit down!” or “Tell us!” right now. However, this is where the sense of overwhelm can begin that discourages Spanish learners from moving on to the subjunctive, and what I am referring to is the challenge of learning ALL of the command forms. It’s a lot to have to learn that verb endings in the command forms are the opposite of what you learned up to this point in the tenses of the indicative mood, for example the statement “él habla” (he speaks) becomes the command “¡Hable!” when you are telling him to “¡Speak!” An AR verb such as hablar takes the ER/IR verb endings in the imperative mood — how confusing! As a result, I have some suggestions for limiting the confusion and reducing the amount of new endings to learn — you can always go back later and learn what you skipped — and here are my suggestions:

Skip the affirmative tú commands (which don’t follow the pattern of the other commands) but learn the negative tú commands. Thus … ¡No hables! … ¡No comas! … ¡No escribas! … ¡No abras la puerta!

Skip both the affirmative and negative vosotros commands since you probably won’t be issuing any commands to close friends of yours from Spain any time soon, and because these commands also don’t follow the pattern of the other commands.

Okay, here is another suggestion I have for learning the subjunctive. Don’t try to memorize the 8 categories that Spanish grammarians use to describe situations where the subjunctive is used, but instead focus on the verbs and words that trigger the use of the subjunctive. (I remember trying like hell to learn the accent rules for Spanish, but they never stuck in my head, and eventually I realized that I learned how to say Spanish words simply by hearing them and saying them). Thus, the arbitrary categories of Desire, Ignorance, Emotional Statement, Impersonal Opinion, Uncompleted Action, Indefinite Antecedent (whatever the hell that means), etc., never stuck in my head and don’t do me any good. Instead, learn the verbs and words and feelings that trigger the subjunctive, such as:

I hope that … He prefers that … You think that … We suggest that … They doubt that … I don’t suppose that … María is not sure that … It doesn’t seem possible that … It’s fantastic that … It is better that … It may be that … It’s ridiculous that … Unless that (a menos que) … So that (para que) … Before (antes de que) … After (despues de que) … In case (en caso de que) … While (mientras que) … Even if (aunque) … and any way you say Perhaps and Maybe (tal vez, quizás, etc.).

Que is King in the subjunctive. Notice that the word “that” is that which appears throughout that paragraph that is just above the one that I am writing now. Often times you can leave the word “that” out of an English sentence and still say the same thing, for example “I hope that you speak Spanish” can just as easily be said “I hope you speak Spanish.” However, the Spanish word Que as “that” is not optional in Spanish … it must be used when expressing the subjunctive mood. Thus, in Spanish when you have a main clause in the indicative mood which expresses uncertainly followed by Que (e.g., Espero que, Él prefiere que, María no está segura de que, Es preferible que, etc.), you should immediately expect to see a verb in the subjunctive. Espero que ellos hablen español. Es fantástico que usted coma vegetales. Ella quiere que vivamos en una isla. Remember, Que is King in the subjunctive … and THAT is no bull.

This email message is not intended to be a thorough review of the subjunctive, but instead I simply want to share with you a few things I have distilled thus far in the hope that they are helpful. “Distilled” is the key word here since just about every Spanish resource you will find will necessarily be compelled to cover the entire topic. With that in mind, I have one last tip I will share related to the Spanish subjunctive … and that is, memorize the following 3 “if” scenarios:

Present tense, future tense.
Past tense, conditional tense.
Past perfect tense, conditional perfect tense.

Now I will give you some examples of these … and I am giving you these in English to keep it as simple as possible, and because when you are starting to learn the subjunctive it is essential that you are clear on which tenses you should use in these 3 scenarios. These are combinations of tenses that we use all the time while speaking English without even thinking about it, and the great news is that the Spanish subjunctive is identical grammatically to English in this regard. Just trust me on this and memorize these 3 combinations of tenses.

If John comes, she will tell him the truth.
If John came, she would tell him the truth.
If John had come, she would have told him the truth.

If you make cakes, my friends will eat them.
If you made cakes, my friends would eat them.
If you had made cakes, my friends would have eaten them.

If she sees a fish, she will scream.
If she saw a fish, she would scream.
If she had seen a fish, she would have screamed.

The first scenario is a present tense clause followed by a future tense clause. (Note – there is no subjunctive in this first scenario, but it sets up the next two scenarios which do contain the subjunctive).

The second scenario is a past tense clause followed by a conditional tense clause. I got confused on this one because often we don’t speak proper English (and who would have thunk that?) … so just remember that the first part is indeed a PAST tense clause. Thus, in English we should say “If she saw a fish (past tense), she would scream (conditional tense).”

The third scenario is a past perfect clause followed by a conditional perfect clause. The past perfect is action that starts in the past AND ends in the past, and it is formed with the helping verb “to have” followed by the past participle, for example: I had studied. We had eaten. They had washed. So, it is common for us to talk about if something had happened (past perfect) then what we would have done (conditional perfect).

If you are still reading this message — congratulations! — and if so, I expect that you are (1) a serious Spanish student, (2) a good friend of mine, or (3) someone that doesn’t have much else to do. I sure hope I am keeping this grammar straight. In any case, I would like to conclude this message by sharing a video with you.

This video is probably the MOST PITIFUL DISPLAY OF THE SPANISH SUBJUNCTIVE YOU WILL EVER SEE. One way to improve your Spanish is to record a video of yourself speaking Spanish at your current level, and then announce a specific language goal to be achieved by a certain date. Then you record another video on the target date to show the world that you achieved your goal. This is a great exercise in transparency and accountability. Currently I am at level B1 or B2 on the widely used CEFR scale, which means that I have reached the intermediate level in my understanding of Spanish. My goal for 2013 is to reach the C1 level, which will mean that I will be considered an advanced learner of Spanish. (The scale tops out at C2, and when you master the C2 level you can be considered “fluent,” whatever that means). In order to reach the C1 level, I have to master the Spanish subjunctive. This is an area of Spanish that intimidates many Spanish learners, and many give up on progressing into the subjunctive mood because they think it is too hard, or they reason that they have learned enough Spanish to get by … and it’s true, as an intermediate Spanish speaker you can go into a Spanish speaking country and do all sorts of things and have lots of wonderful conversations in Spanish, however you will never experience the richest and most profound aspects of the language and culture if you are content to stay at intermediate level. Besides, there is nothing about the Spanish subjunctive mood that is too gnarly or scary or whatever, for it is just one more thing that can be learned with study and practice. So, I have recorded this video to make myself accountable to you, to me, and to the world. Dr. Tom Regele, excelente Spanish professor at Montana State University (Billings), kindly sat with me to do this video and test me on my current ability to use the Spanish subjunctive. I am almost too embarrassed to show you this … I was busy with other things and did not prepare properly … I got on camera and my mind froze … I was hesitant and confused and grasping for the correct Spanish to say, and with nowhere to hide I kept repeating myself and losing track of what Dr. Tom had asked me … I think I may have used the subjunctive mood correctly only one time during the video, that being at the very end. BITCH. MOAN. COMPLAIN. EXCUSES. The nice thing about this video is that my Spanish performance is so bad that you will be AMAZED when you see the follow-up video that we record sometime in 2014. So here I am, naked and confused for all the world to see … but I’ll be BACK!

Also posted in #Spain, #Spanish

Hear and Speak Spanish

Did you know that MOST of the languages that ever existed were never written down? As a result, it is clear that language is by nature a means of communication that is spoken, heard, and felt. Writing systems that include letters, marks, and symbols which transcribe human communication are a relatively recent development in the history of humankind.

So why are you spending the majority of your time learning Spanish by studying grammar, reading, and writing? I have nothing against grammar study, and in fact I am starting a 12-week Spanish verb study group here in Flagstafftonight. However, the MAJORITY of our time should be spent hearing and speaking Spanish if we really want to accelerate our progress. And besides, aren’t we really learning Spanish so that we can talk with others in Spanish?

On that note, one web site that I have found helpful in tuning my ear to hear Spanish is Yabla. You will get access to hundreds of videos in Spanish, organized by level of difficulty as well as by the type of Spanish accent, and the service only costs $15 a month (and even less if you sign up for more months). Below the videos you can see the subtitles in both Spanish and English if you like, and you can use the pause button on the videos if necessary. And, you can cancel the service at any time. If you are interested, follow this link to sign up:

¡Que le vaya bien!


Also posted in #learnspanish, #Spanish

Native and Fluent Speakers May Read Silently

You can write an email message in only a few of the languages.

Why?  Because most of the languages that have ever existed are spoken languages, and they have never taken on written form.  Humankind was communicating verbally for thousands of years, and in hundreds of different languages, long before anyone figured out how to use written symbols and letters to communicate.

Indeed, I expect that the majority of languages in existence today are verbal languages and have never been written down.  (Not sure about that because anthropologists have for many years been working furiously to document and code in written form the world’s remaining languages to prevent any more from disappearing).

The point is that language, our means of communication, has always been first and foremost nonverbal (womb, warm, hugs, kisses, milk) and verbal (hear sounds, make sounds, hear words, make what sounds like words, hear words, say words, and so on and so forth).  I was participating in conversation just fine for about the first 4 years of my life before someone stuck a pencil in my hand.  (I remember those early pencils, it seems that I was made to write for days, and those pencils would wear a groove in my middle finger between the first and second knuckles).

That brings me back to the title of this blog article:  Native and Fluent Speakers May Read Silently.  That is, they are the only ones who are permitted to read silently.  For the rest of us schmucks that are learning another language and are not yet fluent, we should not be reading silently.  Wherever and whenever possible, we should be reading ALOUD the language we are learning, and we should be saying ALOUD the language we are learning.

Say it ALOUD, and hear yourself saying it ALOUD, in order to accelerate your progress at learning a new language.  And when you’re tired of talking to yourself, or when you think you’ve been talking with yourself too much, or when society is concerned that you’ve been talking with yourself too much, get out there and talk with someone else in your new language.  You need to hear it and speak it, ALOUD, to best train your ear to hear it, and to best train your tongue to speak it.

Remember!  If you are a native or fluent speaker, you may read silently.  If not, let’s hear you!

Also posted in #learnspanish, #Spanish

Strengthen the Weakest Link

I had a revelation this week.  I learned something this week that might just be the answer to how each of us can dramatically improve our Spanish and accelerate our progress toward becoming fluent.
I learned that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
If you are reading this posting, you may have received my poll asking you to identify which of the 4 Spanish skills is the easiest for you to develop, and in contrast identify which of the 4 skills is the hardest for you to develop.  The 4 Spanish skills are reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Almost everyone said that reading is the easiest, and that listening is the hardest. 
It is now clear to me that for the majority of native English speakers who are learning Spanish, listening is the weakest link … and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
So, what shall we do?  Obviously, we must strengthen the weakest link … we must strengthen our ability to listen while Spanish is being spoken, and strengthen our ability to understand what is being said.
All our time spent studying more grammar, reading more Spanish, memorizing more vocabulary, and other similar exercises will be wasted if we neglect to develop the skill of listening with understanding.
Listening is the weakest link, and if we improve our ability to understand spoken Spanish, we will improve the other 3 learning skills as well.
Here are some strategies for improving our ability to listen with understanding:
Strategy #1:  Move to a country where Spanish is spoken.  Not possible for most of us at this moment, so let’s move on to the next strategy.
Strategy #2: Pay a Spanish speaker to speak to you.  Some private tutors can be expensive, and I have found that since I already have strategies for learning Spanish grammar and for reading Spanish text, the real value in having a tutor is not so much the language instruction as it is the opportunity to tune my ear to understand spoken Spanish.  So instead of looking for a tutor, you can probably find any number of Spanish speakers who would accept much less money than a tutor to simply speak with you in their native language.  This might sound strange, but I am simply looking for solutions for resolving our weakest link.  For you women out there, go and befriend a native Spanish speaking mother who would like to work outside the home but cannot because she stays at home with her small children, and then shock her by offering her money if she will let you hang out with her and the kids in her home so that you can hear them speak Spanish.  That might seem strange at first, but wouldn’t that benefit both you and the family?  And for you men out there, go over to Home Depot on 21st South later in the day and find one of the Latinos who has waited in vain for work all day, and offer him a free meal at McDonald’s across the parking lot in exchange for speaking with you in Spanish while you eat together.  Once again this might sound strange, but I am simply grasping for solutions.  As for me, right now I am paying a friend in Guatemala (who has no training as a tutor) $5 an hour to speak with me via Skype, which is more than double what most Spanish tutors make in Guatemala.  He is especially grateful for the income since he has been out of work for over 2 years, and he would love to have some more business, so let me know if you want in on this deal and I will introduce you to him and give you his Skype address.
Okay, you are ready to hear about listening strategies that are not so strange and outgoing, right?
Strategy #3: Signup for LoMásTv at Admittedly, I have not even done this yet myself, but I am going to be signing up soon since it became clear to me that listening with understanding is my weakest link.  This program only costs $9.95 a month, and it gives you access to 660 Spanish videos (over 38 hours) that include the Spanish text AND English translation, as well as other useful tools.
Strategy #4: Watch the videos at, these are the FREE Spanish Proficiency Exercises developed by the University of Austin at Texas.  I have watched all of these videos one time, but I must confess that the energy I invested in this exercise was half-ass at best because at the time I did not know that listening is my weakest link, and that my Spanish chain is only as strong as my weakest link.  It was hard for me to understand everything that was being said (especially the videos beyond intermediate), so I did not give it my best effort.  I will go back through these videos again.
Strategy #5: Watch the Destinos series for FREE at  This series might seem a little dated since it was produced several years ago, but it was developed by a team of second language learning specialists, and it will help you develop your listening skills.
Strategy #6: Watch the videos at  I just found this site the other day, and have only watched a few videos, but this is right in line with what will help us most.  This site was created by a consortium of five colleges, and is dedicated to enhancing cultural awareness and language learning.  Check it out. 
They are many other options out there for strengthening our weakest link, but these are some of the ones I plan to pursue.  For the foreseeable future, I am going to make listening my mantra, and skew heavily in this direction all of my efforts to learn Spanish.
Please let me know if there are other listening exercises or helpful web sites and programs that you know about, and I will share them with other Spanish language learners. 
Also posted in #learnspanish, #Spanish