Tag Archives: beginners

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!

Sol y viento episodio 9 : Endings, beginnings, and the messy stuff in the middle

Prólogo, Episodio 1, Episodio 2, Episodio 3, Episodio 4, Episodio 5, Episodio 6, Episodio 7, Episodio 8.

And it all comes down to this…

At a meeting of the Toastmasters International—Chilean Wine Division—, doña Isabel welcomes her guests and shows off her friend don Paco, as well as Sol y viento’s nueva cosecha, which receives a resounding chorus of ums and ahs. A nosy guest interrupts the good feelings with a question. “What about the rumors that you’re selling the place?”

Isabel: Not in my lifetime, sister!

María brings the party back to life after that exchange by toasting the bright future of Sol y viento. This gets a big thumbs up from Mario, even though he has been put at the working-class version of the kid’s table—along with Traimaqueo and some drifter-looking hippie—, and he appears to be the only person at the tasting who doesn’t have a glass of wine?!?!

Then don Paco announces that he’s helped put together a distribution deal for Sol y viento in the United States. He also whispers to doña Isabel that the vineyard will be able to say adiós a las deudas because of it. And everyone is happy…except for María, who notices that her ex-boyfriend Jaime is standing across the table from her making faces. Um, creepy stalker?

The next morning the gals are going over the vineyards’ debts when don Paco shows up to reassure them that his business deal with the US distributor will get their family business out of debt. But he stresses to María that she’ll have to get more involved in the future.

María: But I don’t know jack about business.

Isabel: What about that norteamericano? Jaime?

Paco: Good idea. He quit his job recently and he has a deep background in wines and vineyards. I looked over his resume, and it’s pretty sweet.  Besides, it’s not like he tried to steal the land away from you through a shady business deal involving your now disappeared son and some monolithic power company in the US just a couple of days ago, right?

María: I’m out of here.

Jaime stalks tracks down María at her job site and asks for a chitchat. After beginning to piece together an “I’m sorry,” he gets flustered by María’s description of the situation (“So if I hadn’t been in the middle of all this, you would have continued the deal with Carlos?”) and the fact that they aren’t using anymore. When she relents on the pronoun, he also convinces her to take back the necklace he first bought for her back in episode 4. Mario really enjoys that. Hey, where did Mario come from?

Now that he’s buttered her up, Jaime confesses his affection for María. She denies knowing that he was hot for her, so he proves it with a kiss. But enough about love…let’s get down to business.

María: Mom and Paco think you should help run the place, at least until I’m up to speed with the business.

Jaime: What do you think?

María: I think they’re crazy…but probably right. You still have a lot to prove though, buster!

And the last words of Sol y viento are left for the Machi: “And that, kids, is how the earth—as well as a cheeky hombre who lost his connection to the land—was saved. But don’t forget the dumb-dumb who rejected Mother Earth! (Bad, Carlos. Bad.)”

Roll credits and let the feelings of accomplishment sink in.

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?

Sol y viento episodio 8 : ¿Qué dice el corazón?

PrólogoEpisodio 1Episodio 2Episodio 3Episodio 4Episodio 5Episodio 6,Episodio 7Episodio 9

Junior Detective María Sánchez is sifting through piles of Carlos’ forged documents, shaky business deals, and sales offers when the man of the hour steps in. While María assumes that all these documents track Carlos’ trickery, he’s pretty sure that he was just doing what he had to do. And besides, “Since when did you become so interested in the inner workings of Sol y viento, sis? I’ve always had to deal with this stuff by myself.”

María: “Hey, I trusted you, bro. I wouldn’t have dreamed that you were into dirty dealings with filthy, lying capitalist pigs like that…that slightly dreamy Señor Talavera…er…anyway…you aren’t the only one tied to these lands. So yes, while I agree that you’ve had a lot of responsibility as the admistrador of the winery…you’ve been a bad one. I say good day to you, sir.”

Carlos: “Slow down there, girl. Let’s not be too hasty. You know, you and I can still make some cash money on this deal.”

María: “Esta tierra no está a la venta…¡ni yo tampoco! Unless it involves a remolino.”

Meanwhile, don Paco takes an oddly involved interest in Jaime’s resume. But after reading it over thoroughly, all he can say is “University of California.” But that’s okay, he doesn’t really have any power to hire Jaime anyway. But the now jobless American isn’t so much concerned with that at that moment, rather he wants to get to that awesome wine-testing festival that Sol y viento is hosting. Apparently he was left off the guest list. Don Paco remedies the situation.

Speaking of the big event, María decides to celebrate it by telling her mother that Carlos is double-crossing, lawbreaking filth. “See, Mom, here are the documents to prove it.” Deudas, deudas y más deudas. Though she made sure to find out that mom has no ill feelings towards her for not going into the wine business first, before exploding the fraternal bomb. Happy wine festival, mamacita!

Mom has Yolanda track down Carlos and she hashes it out with him at pop’s grave.

Mamacita: “I know everything…except where all the money went.”

Carlos: “I invested it in a bunch of tech companies that went bad. Gosh, what do you think I am? Stupid? So I was just going to sell off the winery to pay the debts. Was that wrong?”

Mamacita: “Carlos, your dead father and I agree. Either I’m going to call the police on you or you’re going to have to renounce all ties with Sol y viento and disappear.”

Carlos: “I guess I’ll go…but first I’ll shed some unconvincing tears at Papá’s grave.” (Carlos sobs.)

End scene.

At the party, don Paco tries to put in a good word for Jaime with María. “I think he’s genuinely sorry and he could really help around this place. I mean…he went to the University of California! And hey, I know that you’re normally a cold, brainy booksmart girl who can’t think for herself…but at times we have to listen to our heart. ¿Qué dice el tuyo?

Only one episode left. The suspense is killing me.

Easy Spanish Reader/¡Así leemos!

A nice break in homework this week allowed me to finally finish ¡Así leemos!, which I first wrote about back in November (!). By the way, McGraw-Hill has updated the book since my copy was purchased, and it is now called Easy Spanish Reader—not really a title that inspires much passion from this dilettante, but as I said recently, publishers don’t always make the most interesting choices in life.

Whatever name you want to call it by, the book is a three-part graded Spanish reader that is pretty good for exercising your reading skills. Though I should probably say again that the first section of the book, “Enrique y María,” is rather dreadful unless you’re a preteen, a very low-level beginner, or someone with a preternatural interest in teenagers and high-school Spanish clubs. The second section, which is a short history of Mexico, and the third section, an abridged version of Lazarillo de Tormes, are much more worth your time.

One of the nice things about the book for a self-learner or someone using the text as a compliment to coursework is that it is broken up into very digestible chunks of text—usually only one page with a large font—and each chunk has a series of questions that do a decent job of testing comprehension. While the ¡Así leemos! version of the book that I have doesn’t contain any kind of answer key, McGraw-Hill promises that Easy Spanish Reader does. I also see that the edition sold on Amazon contains some kind of CD-ROM. Either way, it’s a nice addition to your language library if you fall somewhere between beginning Spanish speaker and lower intermediate learner. It gets you reading and introduces some good vocabulary into your lexicon. But if you have a decent grasp of core Spanish grammar, the book will probably bore you a bit.

Best Pocoyo Ever?

My wife and I spent an unusually quiet Saturday night last night watching a whole bunch of Pocoyo episodes. We became instant fans of this one in particular. Pato and Pocoyo come across Elly, who has set up a DJ table and una pista de baile. Pato immediately gets his groove on, and from there he and the blue boy engage in a dance off that includes some surf, electronica, and Michael Jackson-esque moves. Pure sweetness!

¡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.

Destinos : The Prehistory of Sol y viento

Well before author and teacher Bill VanPatten helped to develop the Sol y viento series, he was the major force behind a much larger Spanish-language-learning project known as Destinos.

Destinos was a language program that, like Sol y viento, combined traditional textbook work with a film—or rather a telenovela in this case—that was broken down into episodes corresponding with the work done in the text. The filmed segments of the course were produced by Boston’s PBS station WGBH, and the series was first broadcast on PBS in 1992. It initially ran for two years, but you can still catch it on some public television stations today (usually late at night) and many high schools and colleges used the course well into the last decade. As you can guess, the film segments of Destinos combine to form a much longer story than Sol y viento‘s. In fact, there are 52 segments in the series, and they each last about half an hour. Thankfully, you can watch all the episodes of Destinos at your leisure if you go to Annenberg Media’s website.

Destinos follows the quest of a Latina lawyer from California, Raquel Rodríguez. Rodríguez has been hired by a family in Mexico whose patriarch, don Fernando Castillo, has recently received a mysterious letter from Spain. It says that Rosario, don Fernando’s first wife, didn’t perish during the Spanish Civil War as he had always thought, and that she bore him a child after the war. This is all a bit much for the Spanish ex-patriot, who left Spain to make a life for himself in Mexico with a new wife and family after the war. So Rodríguez is sent to investigate the claims. That mission takes her to Spain, Argentina, and Puerto Rico in an attempt to put together the real story behind Rosario and the life she may or may not have led after the Civil War.

So why am I bringing all of this up? Well, I started to work episodes of Destinos into my weekly routine recently, and I have to say that it is really, really enjoyable. Now yes, it is dated. But if you can get over the hair, clothing, electronics, and film techniques of the late 80s/early 90s, there is a lot of good Spanish practice to be had by working your way through the episodes. And although the storyline can be a bit cheesy at times, it’s certainly captivating enough to keep you going.

The show hits the ground running. The characters speak to each other in real Spanish, and the Spanish spoken by each character exposes the viewer to very different versions of the language. In Spain Rodríguez interacts with characters who speak castellano, in Argentina she hears vos, and in Puerto Rico she gets a taste for Caribbean Spanish. The idea of the whole thing is that the viewer should understand pretty much everything the narrator says (he speaks in a clear, relatively slow Spanish with simple vocabulary) while trying to get the gist of what the characters are saying in conversation. After episode one, English is mostly dropped from the series.

I’m over a quarter of the way through it, and I’ve enjoyed watching the program so far. There’s even a closed caption option for each episode, which is a nice addition. So check it out.

Sol y viento episodio 7 : Sunstroke Epiphany

PrólogoEpisodio 1Episodio 2Episodio 3Episodio 4Episodio 5Episodio 6Episodio 8Episodio 9

Mario: Now the lady who’s pissed at you is the same one I saw you snuggy with the other day, right? Why’s she mad? Did she see you with another woman?

Jaime: Shut up and drive.

But grumpy Jaime is in for another treat. His Mapuche spirit guide blows some kind of magical air bubble at Mario’s car and Mario finds that ¡Se me pinchó una rueda! And the poor man doesn’t have a spare at the moment. Help is about 45 minutes away by foot. Of course … there’s un atajo right over there. Jaime likes that idea. ¡Me voy! But Mario warns Jamie that he’ll get sunstroke.

As Jaime sweats in the sun while traipsing through the vineyards, he appears to start to hallucinate, and we’re treated to a series of voice overs that amount to a greatest hits of dialogue from Sol y viento … in case we weren’t paying attention. Then the old boy falls over. Guess the emotions of the trip finally got the best of him.

When we see Jaime again, he’s recuperating in the care of doña Isabel and don Paco, who both seem to be wondering what Mr. Slick is doing back at the vineyard anyway.

Jaime: It was urgent that I speak with doña Isabel.

Isabel: Hello, broken record. You’re one porfiado guy. We’re not selling the vineyard.

Jaime: It’s just that I was thinking about my campesina mother, and …

Isabel: … and didn’t you learn anything from her? Why do you work for a company that wants to change our life?

Paco: Here’s the thing, boyo … I’ve looked into your company and it’s up to no good. They want to build una represa. Do you know the ecological and cultural damage that’ll cause? What they did over in Bolivia is inexcusable. [Bolivia? When did Bolivia come up?]

Jaime: I know I screwed up, but I want forgiveness … especially from your smoking daughter, doña Isabel. I think I’m falling in love with her.

Paco: Actually, I think she’s taken with you, too.

Isbael: But it’ll be hard work to earn her forgiveness, don Jaime.

Jaime: Advice?

Isbael: Hechos y no palabras.

Jaime: Hechos eh? Here’s my first hecho. I know how to stop the sale of these lands.

So Jaime goes back to his hotel room and has it out with Andy at corporate—who’s more than confused about what’s going on. He knows this is going to make money …

Andy: So what’s the problem, Buster?

Jaime (impassioned): I’m talking about people’s lives!

Andy: Rassner’s going to have your butt, James.

Jaime: Tell him to go jump in the reservoir that the company built in Bolivia that has destroyed people’s lives and is a perfect example of what the damage we might do in Chile will be if we keep up with this plan to buy Sol y viento vineyard from the Sánchez family, who don’t really want to sell, except for the greedy son Carlos, who has been stringing us along for months now. I quit!