Tag Archives: spanish vocabulary

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.

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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?

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.

¡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.

Spanish adverbial clause practice

It’s not surprising to find out that as grammar gets more difficult, it becomes harder to find free web resources on the topic. Such is the case with my new favorite point of grammar…the dreaded adverbial clause. Now if I had heard about this nasty little animal from the grammatical zoo before last week, I sure as heck didn’t remember it. I suppose one of my high school English teachers covered it while I was doodling pictures of skulls and snakes in the back row of class (I was lamentably a heavy metal kid who aspired to be a album cover artist in those days).

Boringly stated, they’re clauses with a subject and predicate that act like an adverb by modifying the verb in a sentence. Thus they answer why, when, where, and how. Examples: I cried when I saw Bambi’s mother die. We all went to the tapas bar to celebrate after we finished our Spanish test. But like seemingly everything else in Spanish (preterite vs. imperfect, conocer vs. saber, estar vs. ser, etc.), you often have a choice to make when you use adverbial clauses: subjunctive or indicative mood. As native St. Louisan Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” Here are some resources to help you with that decision.

*A quick breakdown of the subjunctive in adverbial clauses by Fred F. Jehle. But don’t forget though that some adverbial clauses (desde que, porque, ya que, ahora que) always take the indicative mood!

*Barbara Kuczun Nelson’s two-part quiz with explanations: part 1, part 2.

*Bowdoin College’s quiz designed by Enrique Yepes.

*Trinity’s two-parter: part 1, part 2.

But that’s about it for decent practice quizzes on the topic. ¡Buena suerte!

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.