Category Archives: sitio web

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.

What’s in My Bag?

There are a million and one ways of wasting time on the internet, but I find few as enjoyable and enlightening as watching Amoeba Records’ series “What’s in My Bag?”

(Venezuela’s Los Amigos Invisibles on a recent episode.)

Amoeba is, of course, the infamous California indy music store with locations in Berkley, San Francisco, and Hollywood. Each is gigantic (the SF store is in an old bowling alley) and filled to the gills with CDs, cassettes, records, DVDs, VHS tapes, and even laser discs. The selection is always deep and exotic—anyone could find at least one thing there that they’d like but have never heard before. That even goes for M.I.S.‘s Camilo Lara.

“What’s in My Bag?” is simply someone from Amoeba with a camera grabbing a famous patron and having him or her show off what they’re buying. Baggists include everyone: cartoonist Joe MattElviraElijah WoodDuran Duran, Robb Reiner from Anvil, the Roots’ Questlove, and on and on. I’ve never learned as much about music history and celebrity taste as I have from watching this fabulous series. And speaking of fabulous, here’s Argentina’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs (¡en español!)…

La Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio

Latin Jazz percussionist Poncho Sanchez

Pat Hoed…er, I mean Fantasma from the metal band Brujeria

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!

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?

¡Conjuguemos!

It’s been a full couple of weeks in the life of this Spanish language dilettante. Our teacher has used them to pour as much grammar as possible into our little brains. A typical day has gone something like this: 90 minutes covering/practicing the pluperfect indicative tense, followed by a break, 90 minutes on the pluperfect subjunctive, another break, an hour of computer work, and then for homework…maybe ten workbook activities, an essay, and an oral recording submitted over email. Yikes! But because of that pace, we’ve finished all the major grammar points of the Spanish language as of today. Next week is just review and a series of short readings. Oh, and then we have a little old final exam to finish things off. Bring it on, profesor!

One of the sources I’ve been using to try to digest all the various verb forms that we’ve been going over in class the last six weeks is the website Conjuguemos. While it is not fancy and is by no means comprehensive, the site allows you to take timed (or untimed if you want) quizzes that are all about conjugating verb forms correctly and nothing else. You can choose to work in any tense in any of the four moods, or you can use the “comprehensive conjugator” to work in all the forms of the subjunctive and indicative moods simultaneously. You can also select to work specifically on one pronoun, or add/eliminate vosotros from the quizzes.

The site also has quiz work for vocabulary and other parts of grammar, in addition to verbs, but I’ve mostly stuck to the conjugation tests so far. Taking a five-minute quiz just before doing homework or heading off to class has been a good warm-up for me and can help anyone get into that Spanish frame of mind.