Spanish Blog


Uses of the 4 Past Tenses in Spanish 3

In previous posts you have learned about how to talk about the past, and you learned how to form and use the Pretérito Perfecto (Present Perfect), the Pretérito Imperfecto (Past Continuous), the Pretérito Indefinido (Past Simple) and Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto (Past Perfect).

Now you have all the tenses required to talk about the past, but you might be wondering when to use one or the other, aren’t you? I hear you, it seems tricky but it is not that much.

Let me explain.

  • Pretérito Perfecto: Is used for past actions that have a feeling of continuing into the present, or continuing to affect the present, or without mention of when.

– Esta tarde he tomado un café con Sara.
– This afternoon I have had a coffee with Sara.

  • Pretérito Indefinido: Is used for past actions that are seen as completed at a definite time in the past.

– El año pasado fuimos de vacaciones a Portugal.
– Last summer we went on holiday to Portugal.

It is also used for actions in the past that have no relation with the present, such as single events that contain a date or a specific period of time.

– Viví en Paris desde 1997 a 2001.
– I lived in Paris from 1997 to 2001.

– Trabajamos en el proyecto la semana pasada.
– We worked in the project last week.

– Ayer no fui a trabajar.
– Yesterday I didn’t go to work.

The Indefinido is used for a series of actions in the past, to talk about past actions that happen one after the other.

– Ella se levantó, se vistió, tomó un café y fue al trabajo.
– She got up, got dressed, had a coffee, and went to work.

  • Pretérito Imperfecto: This tense Is used for actions in the past that are not seen as completed. It’s use implies that the past action did not have a definite beginning or a definite end.

– Cuando vivía en Londres, todavía no conocía a Peter.
– When I was living in London, I still didn’t know Peter.

The Imperfecto is also used for habitual actions (used to…).

– Hacía yoga todas las mañanas.
– I used to do yoga every morning.

The Imperfecto is the tense of the description, so it is used to describe things, people, animals, situations in the past. Also for telling time and stating one’s age.

– Mi padre era alto, moreno y llevaba un bigote muy gracioso.
– My father was tall, dark and he had a funny moustache.

– Hacía mucho frío y no tenía un abrigo.
– It was very cold and I didn’t have a coat.

– Cuando tenía 12 años jugaba en el parque.
– When I was 12 years old I played in the park.

– Eran las 10 de la noche.
– It was 10 o’clock at nigh.

We combine the imperfecto with the indefinido to tell a story.

– Hacía mucho frío cuando él llegó a casa y preparó una taza de té.
– It was very cold when he arrived home and prepared a cup of tea.

  • Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto: Used to talk about an action that happened in the past, previous to another action also in the past.

– Cuando llegué a casa, él ya se había ido.
– When I arrived home, he had already gone.

And now all in combination! Woohoo!

– Pedro estaba (description) muy cansado porque se había acostado    (action 1º) muy tarde la noche anterior por lo que no oyó (action 2º) el despertador a la mañana siguiente.

– Pedro was very tired because he had gone to sleep very late the previous night, and that’s why he didn’t hear the alarm the following morning.

 

Finally, you can download a printable version of this lesson in the link below. You will also find a second link to a pdf with some exercises to practice and reinforce the knowledge. Remember that you can get a personalized correction for free by sending your answers to learn@mariaortegagarcia.com and I will get back to you with the corrections as soon as my busy teaching schedule allows me to.


Talking about the past (IV): Pluscuamperfecto de Indicativo (Past Perfect) 1

In previous posts we have learnt about the “Pretérito Perfecto”, the “Imperfecto” and the “Indefinido”. In this post we are going to learn how to form and use the “Pluscuamperfecto”, the last of the past tenses in Spanish. In a next post we will learn how to use all the four in combination.

Form

The Pluscuamperfecto is a compound tense, which means that is formed with the auxiliary verb, “haber” in the imperfect tense and followed the participe of the verb.

Pluscuamperfecto

Pluscuamperfecto

Use

We use this tense to talk about a past and finished action previous to another finished action or moment also in the past. Note: It is equivalent to the Past Perfect in English.

– La película ya había terminado cuando llegamos a casa.
– The movie had already finished when we arrived home.

Habíamos estudiado mucho para el examen, pero suspendimos.
– We had studied a lot for the exam but we failed.

As you can see, in both examples, the sentences talked about two past situations, and there are two actions in each sentence: the one in pluscuamperfecto (past perfect) is previous in time to the one in the indefinido (past simple).

Finally, you can download a printable version of this lesson in the link below. You will also find a second link to a pdf with some exercises to practice and reinforce the knowledge. Remember that you can get a personalized correction for free by sending your answers to learn@mariaortegagarcia.com and I will get back to you with the corrections as soon as my busy teaching schedule allow me.

Note: 

Much of the above type and style of clarifications, grammar, and other tricky elements are now covered in Compass Spanish (a new course comprised of daily mini-lessons delivered straight to your inbox). If you struggle to find the time or have a busy schedule, try out a free week (no strings attached and no credit card required!).


Duolingo, Rosetta Stone or teacher based training: What’s the best approach?

Probably the majority of you, blog readers and language learners, already know, heard of, or even used one or both of the language learning platforms: Duolingo and Rosetta Stone.

The motivation of this post is personal experience and a recurrent flow of students coming to my arms, back to “traditional” learning methods in search of results.

I know both platforms and tried both. The software Rosetta Stone was probably the ,one I explored less time, mainly for the reason that I didn’t find much value. As a language teacher and independent learner I know that there are better ways of learning a language than learning words and sentences by heart.

Reagarding Duolingo I feel different because is free, entertaining and a great way of getting familiar with a language. However, after few weeks trying to learn German, I stopped and started to look for books and a regular teacher.

Here are the pros and cons about Duolingo for me:

  • Pros:

– Is free.
– It’s catching because you can compete with friends and we all know how motivating is to beat our friends and acquaintances.
– It’s fun, I particularly loved the part when I got that first email telling me that the owl was sad and missed me, as a reminder to continue with the practice…
– It’s very interactive so it’s good to learn words and sentences.

  • Cons:

– The pronunciation part is not great… sometimes I had to repeat the sentences because my pronunciation wasn’t correct…ahem, I mean, I was testing the Spanish training!
– It doesn’t give you many grammar explanations, which like it or not, is sadly necessary in order to understand how the language works.
– It doesn’t have any contexts and tasks.
– There is no communication or interaction whatsoever.

What's the best approach?

It’s all about independence.

To be able to reproduce a few sentences like a parrot doesn’t mean you are able to have a conversation.

These methods reminded me of the old school ways of learning languages. I even suffered myself at school where we learned all the grammar, to translate by writing and the speaking training consisted in learning conversations by heart… After all my school years learning English that way I went to England for a month and I wasn’t able to articulate a sentence, but mind you, I knew the list of all irregular verbs perfectly and  could write very good essays…

In real life there is no script one can follow. So, what’s the point of learning by heart whole dialogues about the weather, the hobbies, work, cooking… whatever, if, in real life you won’t likely have the opportunity of sneaking in those sentences?

An evolution of methods and approaches

By old school methods I mean the audio lingual (created by the USA Army to teach English to the non english speakers in WWII) and the audio-visual (created in the 60’s). Both methods work but to a certain extent: They require more time for the student to deduct the grammar rules behind the sentences and therefore the results, unless you spend hours and hours every day for a long period of time, will take longer, if they ever manifest at all… because if you have never learnt a second language as a foreign language previously, or didn’t learnt grammar at school, you won’t have the background, previous experience and structures necessaries to deduct them.

There is no magic method to learn a language. All require effort and constancy. All require real interaction, with either a native teacher (looking after number one… 😉 ), a native friend or a visit to the country of the language you aim to learn. The more real the situation, the better.

I don’t know if the communicative and task based approach are the best ones but they are the ones that works for me and for my students. I have received few new students lately that started learning Spanish with Duolingo and Rosetta Stone and had a good amount of vocabulary but weren’t able to speak, which is the goal of the majority of the language learners: communicate and being able to react in certain situations. They highlighted the fact that they felt they hadn’t got much results, they knew words but they didn’t know what to do with them, how to make sentences on their own…

I hate to say that, but sometimes a little grammar “pain” can help you a lot in the long run. If you understand how the structure of a sentence works, you will be able to make sentences yourself when needed, and you will learn the words as you need them. A 3 minutes explanation and few examples are all what the aforementioned grammar ordeal is. Besides, in a regular class based in the communicative and task based approach, it’s about talking, expressing your immediate needs and solve real life task in the target language. It’s not about learning sentences without a context but learning how to make yourself understood and understand others in a conversation or interaction.

It’s about communication not repetition.

 


False Friends (II): “to advise” in Spanish

False Friends (II)In today’s post, you will learn how to translate the verb “to advise” in Spanish. This is a false friend in Spanish because the meaning of “to advise” has nothing to do with “avisar”.

To advise: ‘aconsejar, asesorar’

Avisar: ‘to notify, to warn, to call’

Not the same, are they? Let’s see some examples:

– I advised him to eat before the flight.

How would you translate it into Spanish?

– Le aconsejé que comiera antes del vuelo. —–> Right! 🙂
– Le avisé que comiera antes del vuelo. —–> Wrong! 🙁

So remember, “to advise” means ‘aconsejar, asesorar’, whereas “avisar” means ‘to notify, to warn or to call’


Uneven couples in Spanish

As you all know, all nouns in Spanish have a genre, they are masculine or feminine. The main trait to distinguish if a word is masculine or female is by the ending. If the word ends by -o is masculine and if it ends by -a is feminine, although there are quite a few exceptions to this rule and other possible endings.

What I am going to focus in this post is about the regular pair of words that end in “o” and “a”, and the big change that “o” and an “a” make in terms of meaning.

Foco ≠ FocaUneven Couples I

El foco” is a ‘spotlight’ or a ‘torch’ which has nothing to do with “la foca“, that cute marine mammal, a ‘seal’.

Cigarra ≠ Cigarro

La cigarra” is the lazy insect of the Aesop fable called ‘cicada’, whereas “el cigarro” is a cigarette.

Cartera ≠ CarteroUneven Couples II

La cartera” is a wallet and “el cartero” is the profession of that man that always calls twice, the postman.

Puerta ≠ Puerto

La puerta” means the ‘door’, whereas que “el puerto” is a ‘port’, a ‘harbour’.

Caña ≠ Caño

La caña” has multiple meanings, from a ‘cane’, to a ‘rod’ (caña de pescar) and the very important ‘small draft beer’ that this teacher loves so much: “¡Una caña, por favor!“. These meanings have no connection whatsoever with “el caño“, that means a ‘pipe’, or ‘waterpipe’.

Tinta ≠ TintoUneven Couples III

Ok, here both are liquids but not of the same kind. “La tinta” means ‘ink’ and “el tinto” is that wonderful red beverage, red wine, that is.

Marca ≠ Marco

La marca” means a ‘brand’, whereas “el marco” is a ‘frame’.

Palo ≠ PalaUneven Couples IV

El palo” is a stick and “la pala” is a ‘shovel’.

Bala ≠ Bolo

“La bala” is a ‘bullet’ whereas que “el bolo” is a ‘bowling pin’.

There are other “uneven couple” of Spanish words that means completely different things depending on whether they are masculine or feminine. So, don’t forget to check out the gender!