Category Archives: hints

The twit who tweeted

I just started a little Twitter account: @SpDilettante. Mostly I just use it to follow twittering news feeds and whatnot, but occasionally I’ll post or retweet something of interest about Spanish, Spain, Latin America, copyright information, dumb stuff, etc.

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Information wants to be free

I’ve been doing English- and Spanish-language proofreading for Project Gutenberg for a little while now, so I figured it was well past time to put in a plug for the site…because it’s awesome.

PG is the largest collection of free ebooks anywhere. Currently their catalog contains over 36,000 titles, and it grows every day. What’s better is that PG titles are usually available in multiple formats: everything from plain, simple-text ASCII code that can be read by even the most ancient computers to files for portable devices like Kindles, iPads, iPhones, and Android OS toys. And again, it’s all free! The catalog even includes audiobooks.

But more importantly, there are a tons of free Spanish-language ebooks. Here’s a highlight of some titles:

Cervantes’ Don QuixoteZorrilla’s Don Juan Tenorio (bilingual); translations of Voltaire’s Candide and the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; Valera’s Pepita Jiménez; Alarcón’s Novelas Cortas (good intermediate text with vocab help); Colección de viages y expediciónes à los campos de Buenos Aires y a las costas de Patagonia (edited by Pedro de Angelis).

Mis Cositas

A friend of mine who is pursuing an education degree recently told me about MisCositas.com. The site was created by a New York educator named Lori Langer de Ramirez for bilingual teachers and parents in need of extra resources for the classroom or home: workbooks, vocabulary lists, videos, etc. But there are some great things to tool around with on the site for learners of all ages—especially beginning Spanish students—, such as the digital collection of realia (bus tickets, shop receipts, stamps, bank notes, etc.).

Although Spanish is the main target language on the site (I mean it’s called “Mis Cositas”), there are also ESL, French, and Chinese language resources. Of it all, I particularly love the site’s videos, which can be awfully entertaining for even advanced-level language students.

RNE Spanish Radio App is…awesome!

If you’ve spent any time cruising through the Spanish-language media apps for an iPad, iPod, smart phone, etc., you’ve probably noticed that most are connected to either Mexican or Puerto Rican media outlets—and that’s great! But if you’re looking to expand your language horizons a little bit and want more European perspectives in your media diet, I highly recommend RNE‘s radio app (available from iTunes here). How amazing is it? Well, it’s frickin’ free for one thing, so even if you end up hating it you should at least check it out.

Simple user interface!

The app streams six different channels live on your device, and programming includes news, sports, music, and Catalan language (!) treats on Radio 4. I haven’t been using it all that long myself, but I’m already in love.

SpanishDict iPod/iPhone App

I’ve always had hand-me-down computers, so with the school year starting I took advantage of Mac’s educational discount to buy myself my first brand new laptop. The sweet part of the deal is that I got a free iPod touch with the purchase (offer ends September 7), so I’ve been having a grand time going through all the various apps that are available for the little gadget. And in a quest to find good ones for Spanish learners like me, I landed at SpanishDict’s offering.

Now I’ve already been using SpanishDict’s website for quite a while. Though the dictionary part of the website can be a bit buggy at times, it generally gives good and quick definitions that often include examples of the word in context. (A good example is the page for hablar.) But the site goes beyond being just a dictionary, it also has active message boards and a pretty well structured self-study course that allows learners to interact with fellow travelers, as well as native speakers. So checking out their app was a no-brainer for me.

There are basically four components to it: a dictionary (see picture above), a word game (see picture below), a phrase book, and a daily word calendar. The dictionary is, not surprisingly, more basic than their web version, but it’s still handy. The word game is interesting because it assesses your skill level as you play and adjusts its questioning based on its findings. (I’ve enjoyed playing it during short breaks.) The phrase book is concise and generally covers travel situations: getting directions, emergencies, finding transportation and accommodations, food, clothing, colors, etc. Each phrase also includes audio, so beginners can work on their listening skills, too.

The great thing about the app is that it’s free. So there’s no need to throw down a couple of bucks just to take it for a drive. Just pull it up, and if it’s not for you, get rid of it. But even better than that, it doesn’t require an internet connection to work. So once you have the app running on your iPhone or iPod, you basically have a dictionary and phrase book with you wherever you go—WiFi coverage or not. And you can’t beat that!

El Ramadán : Arabic words in Spanish

If you’ve spent any amount of time studying Spanish, you probably know that a lot of Spanish words actually come from Arabic…and I mean a lot. It’s estimated that perhaps as much as 8% of Spanish vocabulary is of Arabic origin. That puts it right up there with English as either the second or third largest linguistic contributor to Spanish next to Latin. So with Ramadan–the Islamic holiday of fasting and purification–having started this week, I had the brilliant idea to put together a list of Spanish words from Arabic that I particularly like. (I just discovered that Wikipedia is putting together a much more exhaustive list here.)

The exact linguistical nooks and crannies of how these words became part of the Spanish language is above my pay grade. But generally speaking, most of them came into common use because of the conquest of the Iberian peninsula in 711 AD by the Moors and the hundreds of years of scientific, artistic, and general cultural influence Islam had in Spain because of it. Anyone who has been to Córdoba, for instance, knows what I’m talking about.

la zanahoria : carrot :: la naranja : orange
el aceite : oil ::  el arroz : rice
el azúcar : sugar :: el zumo : juice (peninsular Spanish)
la toronja : grapefruit :: el limón : lemon
la espinaca : spinach :: el café : coffee
la calabaza : pumpkin :: la albóndiga : meatball

la álgebra : algebra :: el cero : zero
la jirafa : giraffe :: el alcatraz : pelican
la almohada : pillow :: el algodón : cotton
el ajedrez : chess

el almacén : store :: el jarabe : syrup
el alcalde : mayor :: el baño : bathroom
el asesino : assassin :: la tarea : task

ojalá : I hope that… :: almorzar : to have lunch

News in Slow Spanish

I’ve been taking some time recently to investigate a few Spanish resources I’ve had written down on the backs of napkins, bubblegum wrappers, and random scraps of paper. This morning I finally looked into the podcast News in Slow Spanish, and I transferred a couple of episodes onto my mp3 player and took a walk with them in the park. Boy, I’ve been missing out on something good.

The title of the program pretty much tells you what it is: world news read in relatively slow, well-enunciated Spanish. Each program lasts about 45 minutes and usually includes a couple of main stories, some chitchat between the hosts, a review of an essential point of grammar, and a discussion of at least one idiom in the language. The podcast is free, whether you listen to it directly on their website or download it from iTunes or a similar service. There are also a few pay elements on the site if you’re interested in some extras like quizzes, transcripts, bonus lessons, and access to their entire archives.

The program assumes a decent grasp of basic Spanish grammar, as well as a pretty good vocabulary. So it’s generally aimed at the intermediate learner. But there are some parts of each episode that would even be understandable to higher-level beginning students of the language—especially because the words are so clearly said and at such a moderate pace. The one drawback for some folks—especially those learning standard Latin American Spanish—is that the dialect spoken in the podcast is castellano, so expect to hear the vosotros form, a few unusual vocabulary words, and the Spanish “th.” But that’s no big deal, right? All of us Spanish learners should at least be familiar with the way the language is spoken in its mother country, no?