Tag Archives: españa

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.

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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?

The tie that sometimes binds

One of the more interesting things about the Spanish team that fought hard for its 1-0 victory over the Netherlands yesterday in a gritty, and at times violent, World Cup final is its apparent unity.

Xavi Alonso of Spain is kicked in the chest by Nigel de Jong. And it should have been a red card!

Now some people might say, “Well, why wouldn’t they be unified? They’re all Spaniards.” But anyone who knows a bit about Spanish history or has traveled around areas like Catalonia knows differently. Spain has several regions that speak their own language and have their own separate identity—most famously Catalonia and Basque Country—, and that’s a fact that has caused more than one political flare-up in España. A lot of animosity was particularly fostered between these areas and the country as a whole during the Franco dictatorship in the 20th century. Franco outlawed languages other than Spanish in most official situations and his government generally suppressed the cultural heritage of their associated regions. While these areas did gain semi-autonomous status in the late 70s after democracy was established, tensions over how much autonomy is enough continues—many Catalans, for instance, would like their region to become its own country.

Map of Spain. Catalonia is in red.

On the soccer field this has played out for decades through the great rivalry between Barça, the club team based in the Catalan capital Barcelona, and Real Madrid, based of course in the capital city of Spain. Barça elicits particularly strong feelings from the Catalans because it was the one cultural element they were able to publicly hold onto during the Franco regime, though the Catalan flag had to be removed from the team’s shield during that period. Even today the club’s motto is (in Catalan) “més que un club” (more than a club). The tension between Madrid and Barcelona was felt by the players as well, and squabbling between Barça and Real Madrid representatives on the National Team has often been cited as the reason Spain has routinely underperformed in the World Cup.

So it is to the great delight of many Catalans that the current National Team fields a smorgasbord of Catalan players, including several of the stars of the tournament: Xavi Hernández, Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, and Sergio Busquets. Those four also happen to play for Barça, as do four other players on the roster, including goal-scoring phenom David Villa. And it is to the great delight of the country as a whole that they get along with their teammates from Real Madrid. So while Catalans generally have had mixed feelings about the National Team, La Furia Roja (The Red Fury—the team’s nickname) got strong support from that region during this World Cup run. An estimated crowd of 75,000 even packed the streets of Barcelona yesterday in order to celebrate their victory, and most of them were carrying…gasp…the national flag of Spain. The image of Catalans jubilantly marching through the streets of Barcelona with Spanish flags makes it seem that Spain is perhaps finally politically united.

But can a little soccer match really bring lasting unity, especially during a time when that country is experiencing massive debt problems and high unemployment? I’m certainly too much of a dilettante when it comes to Spanish culture and history to even begin to answer that question. One thing is for certain though, any lasting political unity will have to include harmony between Spain’s various languages—cause they’re not going away. The Catalan parliament, for instance, recently passed a law requiring film distributors to dub or subtitle at least half of the foreign films they release in Catalonia into the Catalan language. As Vonnegut would say…so it goes.

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.

Muerte de un ciclista (Death of a Cyclist) : a film by Juan Antonio Bardem

Recently I saw a classic of Spanish cinema, Juan Antonio Bardem‘s 1955 film Muerte de un ciclista, and I was engrossed. Bardem, uncle of the actor Javier Bardem, used cinema to tell stories—either directly or indirectly—about the repressions brought on by the Franco government in Spain, and Muerte is no exception. On the face of it, the film is the story of a murder. A university professor is riding along a rural roadway with his mistress—a well-connected, upper-class glamor girl—when their car strikes a working-class man on a bicycle. The cyclist survives the impact, but the couple leaves him to die, fearing that their tryst will be exposed if they help him.

After returning to their “normal lives,” the couple quickly falls into individual feelings of guilt and paranoia over the incident. The mistress becomes convinced that a manipulative art critic knows the truth about their affair, as well as the accident. She fears that he’ll either expose the couple to her rich husband or bleed them financially through blackmail. Either way, she’ll be out of what she seems to love best … money. The professor, on the other hand, loses his composure because of his feelings of guilt, and he takes his frustrations out on a young co-ed math student one day during class. (The incident has some interesting repercussions, by the way.) Tension builds between the professor, the art critic, and mistress, and it comes to the attention of her husband, which is brilliantly shown in the following sequence from the film.

(left screen to right: professor, mistress, critic, husband)

But beyond the story of a murder, Bardem investigates the dynamic of social class in this movie. During one scene, for example, the professor ventures into the poor, bombed out section of Madrid in which the cyclist lived. Posing as a journalist, he asks around for the dead’s man wife—he wants to make sure that neither she nor anyone else knows a thing about what really happened on the road that day. But the wife is gone. She went looking into the possibilities of an insurance payout for her husband’s life. We assume it’s a necessity to keep her family going. Does the professor have any concern for her needs or the repercussions of the couple’s actions on her life? Maybe. You’ll just have to see the film yourself to find out. As for the mistress, if the bicyclist’s wife doesn’t know anything she might be willing to make an anonymous donation to the poor woman’s family. But for now, she’s got a bigger problem—that pesky art critic. Oh, the follies of the upper class.

Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos) : a film by Pedro Almodóvar

I finally got my wish the other day and saw Los abrazos rotos. While it’s not the perfect success of Almodóvar’s last film with Penélope Cruz—the Cannes darling Volver—, it delighted this viewer just as everything else produced by the Spanish director has.

Almodóvar draws inspiration from Hitchcock with the film. Los abrazos rotos is a stylish thriller with a story that unravels as the viewer travels back and forth in time. We start in the present with a blind Spanish screenwriter named “Harry Caine,” who is cared for meticulously by his agent Judit and her son Diego. But a visit from the son of an old business associate of Caine’s sends the film tumbling back into the sordid events of the 1990s. Caine was still Mateo Blanco then, an up-and-coming film director working on Chicas y maletas (Women and Suitcases), which happens to be remarkably similar to Almodóvar’s own film Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown)—a movie everyone should see. In fact, the same set is used for Chicas y maletas as Almodóvar used in Mujeres.

Blanco’s film consumes him, particularly because of its star Lena Rivas (Cruz). On film, she’s a plucky Audrey Hepburn look-a-like. In real life, she’s a woman trapped by the repercussions of her difficult decisions in life. Rivas is the mistress of Ernesto Martel, a businessman who produces Blanco’s movie and who’s son shows up at Harry Caine’s apartment years later. Blanco is infatuated with Rivas. And the tensions between Blanco and Martel, a jealous and controlling lover, quickly escalate and are heightened by the presence of Martel’s son, a burgeoning director himself who is filming a documentary about the making of Chicas y maletas. Martel Jr.’s raw footage is viewed daily by the paranoid and manipulative Martel Sr., who goes as far as to hire a lipreader to decipher the conversations between Rivas and Blanco that happen behind the camera.

How does Blanco go blind? Why does he call himself Harry Caine? What becomes of Rivas? Why does Junior come calling on Caine/Blanco years later? Well, you’re just going to have to watch the film and follow the circuitous route to those answers yourself.