Yearly Archives: 2015


Learning Spanish with TV shows: Tips and ideas

What can be a better way to learn Spanish than doing it while watching one of your favorite TV shows?

Many of my students keep asking me suggestions about TV shows in Spanish that they could watch to improve their learning and also, and if watching a TV show really helps to improve.

Well, watching a TV show in the target language (that is, the language you are learning) can be really helpful, but can also be fruitless.

Let me explain.

No passive activity is going to give you many results. TV shows, podcasts, music… all these resources give amazing results when used as an addition to your learning routine, besides making the experience a lot more fun!

  1. What’s the purpose?
    1. Serious study approach to this material
    2. Just to spice things up and increase your motivation

Both approaches are valid and very positive, but just have in mind that minimal input brings less results than doing a conscious effort. So if you want to make your Spanish learning more fun and keep your motivations up,  watch a Spanish movie with English subtitles, but if you want to see a big improvement in your Spanish skills, then watch a short TV show adapted to your level while reading the transcripts. And, hey, you can do both!

2. Find a TV show or podcast adapted to your level. Some suggestions:

Yabla has got loads of content for languages learners, includes subtitles and you can even modify the speed!

This series is designed specifically to language learners. It’s similar to “Friends” in that the story revolves around a group of friends living in Barcelona. An American guy, Sam, comes to stay with the two girls, Ana and Lola, and the series is about the group and Sam’s attempts to learn Spanish. His mistakes often lead to pretty ridiculous misunderstandings, as anyone learning a language will surely understand… 😉

The Spanish characters correct Sam as he makes mistakes and there are recaps every now and then that go over the language Sam is learning. The series is very entertaining and perfect for elementary to intermediate level students, as it has Spanish subtitles and the characters speak slowly and clearly.

Web series are a new and interesting option to watch independent series. Normally, episodes last around 10 minutes. “Malviviendo” is good for learning Spanish slang related to drugs and relationships (which is some of the most popularly-used slang). The characters talk pretty quickly, so this show is suitable for more advanced learners.

This show is about five Spaniards trying to start a new life in the UK. The episodes are focused on their experiences learning English and finding housing, jobs and new friends, while while trying to keep in touch with their loved ones back in Spain.

This TV show is perfect for beginners, since it will help you to develop your comprehension skills. It is particularly useful because each episode has dialogues in Spanish and English. The show also has English subtitles when the characters are speaking in Spanish and vice versa.

Les Luthiers (French for musical instrument makers) are a very well-known Latin American music and comedy group. These guys are a class act, and their numerous Spanish TV shows are full of refined humor and musical skits. Hence their name, they play a homemade instrument each episode, in homage to their fictional character, Johann Sebastian Mastropiero. Sadly, Mastropiero lacks any real musical talent.

These shows are best for intermediate and advanced learners. The comedians speak slowly and very clearly. They’re perfect for learning vocabulary related to music, history and social aspects of modern and older times.

So, now you can pick and choose the show suitable to your level.

The next step is watching it… with a pen and a notebook in hand to note the new words and expressions that might appear.
Don’t hesitate in stopping the video and taking notes, listening again and again until you catch the words. However, I don’t advice trying to get everything all the time as it will make you frustrated and tired. Getting the general idea is the main goal.

 

Let me know in the comments what is your experience watching TV shows, or if you have any other suggestions to add to the list. Looking forward to your comments!


Impersonal Constructions with Ser and Estar

This two verbs are a big cause of headaches. When to use one? When to use the other? We have already tackled this topic in two previous posts:

Ser or Estar? The Answer

Ser Bueno / Estar Bueno. Not the same thing

In this post, we will learn about the impersonal constructions with these two verbs.

  • Used to express opinion or emotion or to judge or appraise in an impersonal or general way.

1. Es + adjetivo (masc sg) + infinitivo
Es estupendo, es difícil, es inútil, es interesante

Es estupendo poder ir a la fiesta.
– It’s wonderful to be able to go to the party.

2. Es un / una + noun (to express assessment) + infinitive
Es una pena / un error / una suerte / una tontería

Es una pena llegar tarde.
– It’s a pity to arrive late.

Es una suerte saber hacerlo.
– It’s fortunate to know how to do it.

3. Está bien / Está mal + infinitive.

Está bien hacer ejercicio.
– It’s good to do exercise.

Está mal tomar demasiado azúcar.
– It’s wrong to have too much sugar.

  • Remember that in a previous post we said that we use “ser” to talk about the profession. Yes. But we use “estar” to talk about a job or profession with an eventual or temporary nature.

– Yo soy profesora de español.
– I am a Spanish teacher.

– Pedro es médico pero está de socorrista durante el verano.
– Pedro is a doctor but he works as a life guard during the summer.

  • Lo que + ser / estar + es + adjective. Used to rectify or clarify something mentioned previously. It’s always emphatic.

– ¿No estás cansada?
– ¿Cansada? Lo que estoy es cansadísima.

– Are you not tired?
– ¿Tired? What I am is exhausted.

 

 


Indicative or subjonctive with Verbs of Perception and Understanding

Subjunctive is one of the three moods in the Spanish conjugation of verbs, along with Indicative (used for objective facts) and Imperative (this is the one we use for the commands and orders).

The moods in the conjugations refers at how the speaker feels about an action while the tense talks about the time, when the action happen.

Indicative is the mood we use to talk about facts, about things that we consider true and concrete, while Subjunctive is the mood we choose to talk about subjective things, emotions, desires, doubts, abstract.

Having this in mind, the general rule to use Indicative and Subjunctive is as follows:

Indicative: used to talk about actions, events and states believed to be true, to make statements and objective descriptions.

Subjunctive: used to talk about emotions, doubts, wishes and everything that is not considered a fact. So it’s used to express opinion, give recommendations and commands.

Now, let’s see what happens with some verbs:

Verbs of Knowledge and Understanding

  • Creer: means ‘to think’ but also ‘to believe’ as ‘to have a faith or a believe’.

– Pedro tiene mala cara, creo que está enfermo.
– Pedro doesn’t look so good, I think he’s ill.

– Yo creo en la bondad de gente, ¿tú?
– I believe in people’s kindness, you?

  • Pensar: also has a couple of meanings, the first is ‘to think‘ but it also means ‘to intend‘. Let’s see the differences in the structures:

– Pienso que la película es una bobada.
– I think the movie is silly.

– ¿Qué piensas del matrimonio gay? Pienso que todos deberíamos tener los mismo derechos.
– What do you think about gay marriage? I think that we all should have same rights.

– Pienso ir a Cuba este verano.
– I intend to go to Cuba this summer.

– Patricia no piensa volver a verlo.
– Patricia doesn’t intend to see him again.

Note that “pensar que” means ‘to think’, whereas, “pensar + verb in the infinitive” means ‘to intend‘.

  • Opinar: ‘to think‘, ‘ to give one’s opinion

– Opinamos que los chicos deberían venir a la fiesta.
– We think the guys should come to the party.

  • Considerar: this one appears in more formal contexts and it means ‘to consider’, ‘to think’ but also ‘to be considerate of’.

– Estamos considerando los pros y contras antes de tomar una decisión.
– We are considering the pros and cons before making any decision. 

– Glen y Mark son muy considerados con sus fans.
– Glen and Mark are very considerate of their fans.

Verbs of Perception

  •  Ver: ‘to see‘ as a physical perception, and ‘to see’ in the sense of ‘to understand‘.

– Veo el cartel, pero no puedo ver lo que pone.
– I see the poster, but I can’t see what is written.

– Ya veo que nadie quiere mojarse, así que me voy.
– I see that nobody wants to stick their necks out, so I split.

  • Sentir: we can use it with the meaning of ‘to feel sorry about’ but also with the meaning of ‘to feel’ as in a mental perception.

– Siento que todo haya salido mal.
– I am sorry everything went wrong.

– Siento que todos estáis contra mí por alguna razón que desconozco.
– I feel that you are all against me for a reason I ignore.

  • Notar: ‘to feel‘ as a physical sensation, but also ‘to notice‘, ‘to perceive‘ as a mental perception.

– He perdido la sensibilidad en los brazos, me has tocado y no he notado nada.
– I have lost sensibility in my arms, you touched me and I haven’t feel anything.

– He notado que no os lleváis bien, ¿ha pasado algo?
– I’ve noticed that you are not getting along, something happened?

Mood selection: Indicative or Subjunctive?

As you might have noticed in the examples, we use indicative and subjunctive with these verbs. Now the question is, when to use one or the other?

The answer is easy. We you negate the main verb (one of the verbs in this list) you will use the subjunctive, and when you use it in affirmative sentences, you use the indicative.

So, the structure you need to remember is:

Negation + verb of knowledge and understanding + que + subjunctive

For example:

– No creo que Pedro tenga esos libros.
– I don’t think Pedro has got those books.

But:

– Creo que Pedro no tiene esos libros.
– I think that Pedro hasn’t got those books.

As you see, the negation here goes in the subordinate verb, the verb after “que”. In those cases, we use the Indicative. We only use the subjunctive when the negation goes at the beginning.

Remember that the negation is not only the word “no”, we can also express a negative idea with words as “nunca”or “nadie” for example. With these words we use the subjunctive as well.

– Nunca piensas que puedas ganar la lotería.
– You never think that you can win the lottery.

 

 


Verbs of transformation (Verbos de cambio)

Spanish has many verbs that are used for specific types of change or transformation, and if the change is sudden or involuntary. Many of those verbs mean “to become” in English but in Spanish they are not interchangeable because they have very specific meanings for particular situations.

The next four verbs can be translated with “to become, to get”: Hacerse, Volverse, Quedarse and Ponerse but they are used in very different situations to express different things.

Hacerse: Change of age, changes in the ideology, profession and other “external” aspects. It can be used with professions, ideologies and a change of degree in personal attributes (ie. rich – poor, strong – weak, young – old…). They express a voluntary change caused by an effort or a gradual process.

– Mi madre se está haciendo vieja.
– My mum is getting older.

– La niña se está haciendo mayor.
– The girl is growing up.

– Pepe se ha hecho profesor.
– Pepe has become a teacher.

– Isabel se ha hecho musulmana.
Isabel has become a muslim.

Ponerse: Express a momentary change of situation, in health, physical appearance, color, mood or behavior, without indicating if it is permanent or not.

– Me he puesto nerviosa cuando he visto a mi jefe.
– I got nervous when I saw my boss.

– Ana se ha puesto enferma.
– Ana has become ill.

– María se ha puesto roja cuando Danny la ha mirado.
– Maria blushed when Danny looked at her.

– Me he puesto muy gorda después de las Navidades.
– I have put on lots of weight after Christmas.

– Petra se ha puesto triste cuando Luis se ha ido.
– Petra got sad when Luis left.

Volverse: Change of character or behavior as permanent. It is normally used to express an involuntary change referred to negative changes (but not always).

– Jose se ha vuelto muy tacaño.
– Jose has become very stingy.

– Desde que es jefe se ha vuelto insoportable.
– Since he’s a boss, he has become insufferable.

– Ana se ha vuelto más amable desde que es madre.
– Ana has become nicer since she’s a mother.

Quedarse: Change as a result of another circumstance. Normally is about negative changes and the most common cases are the permanent body changes (ie. blind, deaf, bold, pregnant…) or a family situation (ie. widow or orphan). It can also be used to express an emotional change caused by another situation, although in those cases we can choose between “ponerse” and “quedarse”.

– Bea se ha quedado coja tras el accidente.
– Bea became lame after the accident.

– Antonio se quedó viudo a los 50 años.
– Antonio widowed when he was 50.

– Me he quedado preocupada después de hablar con ella por teléfono.
– I got worried since I talked to her on the phone.

These are only four of the most common verbs of change, but there are more than we will go through in the next post. As you can see, these four verbs are reflexive, they end in “se“: hacerse, ponerse, volverse and quedarse. Remember to use the corresponding personal pronoun (me, te, se, nos, os, se) before the verb when you conjugate them, because those verbs without “se” mean a completely different thing: poner: ‘to put’, quedar: ‘to have an appointment’, hacer: ‘to make / to do’, volver: ‘to return’.

Now I will leave you with a short story that will help you to remember this four verbs of transformation in Spanish in the video below.

Story [Translation]

Hi, I am María and I’m a very normal person, but throughout my life I have changed a lot.
I am very a very shy person, so when I am with strangers I “get very nervous” and sometimes I “blushed” as well.
Since I am a little girl I always knew what I wanted to do when I was an adult. When I “grew up” I “became a teacher”.
The first time that I was offered a teaching job in a school in France, “I got very happy”, in those nine months I learned a lot, but I “was very sad” when the school year was over and I had to go back to Spain.
It has been four years since I work remotely, teaching Spanish via Skype, that’s why I can travel very often. Since I travel, I’ve “become more open minded and understanding” and also “I’ve become a little bit more adventurous”. 


Talk about wine in Spanish

I like wine. Yes, I can`t deny it. I also know I am not the only one. So, if you are a bit like me, you will enjoy this post very much.

In every country I have traveled, what I want to do is to soak in their culture, talk to locals, visit museums, walk around and see how the people are dressed, go inside a bookshop and see what are the bestsellers and top 5 book advices, watch national cinema and read the newspapers, watch television (that’s a great way to learn about the culture of that particular country!), eat in local restaurants (not this McDonalds kind of place) and learn about their gastronomy (or lack of it), drink coffee or tea and learn about how the people prefer to enjoy their warm drinks, seating, on the go, straight or with many different options… Also alcoholic drinks, beers, wines and spirits are also part of the culture.

These are just examples about how to learn about culture. Wine is just one of them, but for me, it’s a very enjoyable one.

As a Spaniard from the north of Spain, from a medium sized city called Burgos from the region Castille y Leon, roasted lamb (‘cordero asado’) , black pudding (‘morcilla’) and wine from the wine region of Ribera del Duero are the things I grew up with.

As I said, I love wine, red (tinto) and white (blanco) are my favourites, not so keen in the rosé (rosado) and sparkling wine (vino espumoso).

There are so many wine regions and appellations (‘denominación de origen’) in Spain! From the extremely well known Rioja in the north, with their best known Tempranillo grape (‘uva’) used in the tintos. Valdepeñas in the south, Jumilla, Toro or Jerez (Sherry) to mention just a few. And what about the white wines like Verdejo or Albariño!

And then, once you have your glass of vino in hand, there is the smell, the colour, the texture, the taste…

Enology (‘enología’) is a science, the science of wine making, a sommelier (‘sumiller’) is the wine waiter and a wine taster (‘catador’) is the professional taster. They know everything there is to know about wine. But we, common people, wine drinkers (always with moderation!) also have some practical knowledge about wine, sometimes we just need the words to say that the smell of our wine is fruity (‘afrutado’) or spicy (‘especiado’), or the flavour is thick (‘espeso’)… And what about the defects? When our vino is acidic (‘acido’) or plonk (‘peleón’).

Words, and more words… the language.

The wine, so important for certain cultures that we have proverbs about it: Con pan y con vino se anda el camino (With bread and wine, one walks the path) or Al pan pan, y al vino vino (to call a spade a spade).

Spanish wine intertwined with Spanish culture, culture and wine through language.

Spanish language.

And this is just an aperitif. If you enjoyed reading this, you will probably enjoy much more what is going to happen in some cities around Europe, Glasgow being the first one of the list.

So make a note in your appointment book: Glasgow, the 20th of February. Three hours of learning about Spanish wine and vocabulary to talk about it, appellations, including a tasting (‘cata’) of different Spanish wines, and we will also talk about different options of wine vacations since there are many wineries (‘bodegas’) offering really good plans for all of you lovers of all things Spanish! The workshop will be carried out in English mainly but there will be chances to practice some Spanish speaking and listening as well.

You can get more information here: http://spanishworkshops.net or go ahead and book the tickets here:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/spanish-wine-workshop-tickets-15011053465

If you are into this way of learning Spanish culture and language, I suggest you subscribe in the newsletter below or in the workshops page to get updates about the cities where these workshops will be hold.

Hope to see you there! 🙂