Category Archives: #español

Crowd Source a Spanish English Vocab Builder

Linguists are the really smart people that study human language, and many of them believe that the 3000 most common words in a language make up 90% of the content we experience on a daily basis.

Moreover, once we understand those 3000 most common words, we can understand the general context of whatever we might read or hear on a daily basis.

Obviously, this is a pretty significant achievement for us second language learners.

There’s more! A 3000 word vocabulary enables us to express everything that we could possibly want to say in our new language, with the understanding that at only 3000 words we would often have to express ourselves in a roundabout way. (I was going to use the word circumlocution, but I’m not sure that I know what that means).

In any case, I really dig the idea of being able to say everything that I want to say in Spanish (assuming that someone would be willing to listen to me), so I am working to ensure that my Spanish vocabulary far exceeds 3000 palabras.

Unfortunately, I have looked high and low for a 3000 word vocabulary builder that is effective and easy-to-use, and I have yet to find one. Notice that I said “effective” and “easy-to-use,” and I probably should have included “inexpensive.”

So if I had a couple million dollars on hand at this moment, I would probably go ahead and build that super-duper software app right now and deliver it to the world just as soon as I could. But short of having dos millones de dolares en mi mano ahorita, I am happy to resort to “crowd sourcing.”

I have already compiled a list of the 3000 most common words (with some expressions) used by native Spanish speakers. This list was compiled from various sources, and admittedly skews toward Spanish America (since that is where the majority of Spanish speakers originated from and/or live). Obviously, a list such is this is open to debate, so please don’t think any less of me if I missed your favorite Spanish word; moreover, please email me any additions or corrections you might have).

I am imagining an application that has an image, a sound recording, and written letters associated with each of the 3000 words (which could be tricky for words such as LES, SUERTE, DIOS, TAL, IMPRESIONANTE, MEMORIA, etc.). And at this point what I need most are an image/picture for each word, and down the road I can work on getting a native Spanish speaker (or several speakers) to record the sound of each word. (I am familiar with, but I don’t expect that they just give away their audio files).

This is where you come in. I will send you a link to this list of 3000 words, which include a bonus 145 words since the list is actually 3145 words, if you will agree to send me a picture (i.e. jpg file) of 5 separate words. That’s all you have to do – send me 5 jpg files. And to avoid getting several pictures of an abeja (bee), please pick 5 words that you think would not be commonly chosen (such as HUELGA).

I have spent probably at least 40 hours of my time compiling this list and I am happy to share it with you, and all that I ask is that you send me 5 jpg files in return.

And if you have a couple million dollars that you would like to put toward this project, or you can get me on the Shark Tank, please let me know.

Gracias, Keith

P.S. God willing, I will be in Peru teaching English during the months of September and October.

Also posted in #learnspanish, #Spanish

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