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The Witchcraft Of Spanish Vocabulary

The very first step to conquering a language is to tame its vocabulary. And sadly, that's the part that puts off most novice learners because memorizing strange-sounding words is too darn boring! A never-ending chant of rote rehearsal and a nervous prayer can see you through an upcoming test, but the process just won't cut it if your goal is to actually use the language in the street. It's a mystery how this incredibly inefficient method has survived this long and still continues to be perpetuated by schools and educators around the world. So is there any nirvana around this assault of monotony in our miserable lives? Anything that could make learning foreign words less painful?

So Many Ways "To Pull" In Spanish!

Languages don't always work in predictable ways. They have rules and they break their own rules. They have more than one word for the same thing and the same word for more than one thing. This makes them frustratingly complex and it is this complexity that makes them beautiful. This complexity is the very hallmark of an organic language setting them apart from the likes of Klingon and Dothraki. One such fun aspect of Spanish is its translation for the English verb "to pull." If you've just started out with the language, it's a no-brainer: halar. But there's more than meets the eye. Turns out, Mexicans and their neighbors don't even like the word!

Comprender Vs. Entender: Do You Understand?

These are words that get mixed up by even native speakers, let alone noobs like us. Going by the dictionary, both are synonymous and have the same translation in English. However, the two have quite dissimilar connotations. Now the good news here is that mixing up comprender and entender is not a exactly deal-breaker like mixing up, say, ser and estar or por and para. So depending on how far ahead you are in your Spanish learning program, this might be a non-issue. However, if you're like me and suffer from an itch for perfection, knowing where to use one instead of the other is surely the difference between a rookie and a native.

Decode Mexican Place Names Like A Native

When the Spaniards first arrived in Mexico, they asked the indigenous locals for directions and that's where this story begins. The Indians, you see, didn't speak Spanish (duh) and named their cities in ways only they could pronounce. First line of defense, maybe? Who knows. But the Spaniards did their best to learn. And in the process, wound up thoroughly messing up those names. This is what happens when you try to write a word that not only doesn't exist in your language but is also nearly impossible for you to pronounce. The mistakes, however, stuck and with time gave Mexican place names their unique tongue-twisting character.

Cool Trick For The Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive

Subjunctive, let alone imperfect subjunctive, has been terrifying rookie Spanish learners ever since the beginning of time. Why do we even need to deal with those cryptic conjugations anyway? Do they even matter in regular conversations? Well, you’ll be surprised to know that they not only do but do so way more than their English counterparts. Much has been written before on this subject and the grammar of Spanish subjunctive is as plenty easy to access. This article is not about reinventing the wheel. Instead, what we’ll do here is learn some super-cool tricks to nail the conjugation without a single minute wasted toward rote rehearsal.

Let Juanes Help You Learn The Spanish Subjunctive

All too often, the Spanish subjunctive is made to appear way more intimidating to those learning the language than it needs to. Grammar books say it is not a tense but a mood. We’d rather choose to keep things simple and for the sake of staying away from unnecessarily complicated grammatical nomenclature, will call it a form of the verb. Quite simply put, this form is used for any verb in Spanish when we are not being objective or certain about the action being performed. Today, we’ll use a wonderful Spanish language chartbuster from a world-famous Colombian musician to reinforce this concept permanently and painlessly!

What the heck is subjunctive?

The only reason subjunctive appears so alien to us learners is that English rarely uses verbs in this form while Spanish does widely. Here’s an example of subjunctive being used in English to help you grasp the idea:

I recommend that she be there when her friends arrive.

The verb, “be” in the sentence above is actually in its subjunctive avatar. In Spanish, whenever you talk of actions that are either uncertain or subjective, you bring in the subjunctive form. Here’s an illustration:

El profe quiere que aprendamos el subjunctivo. (“The professor wants us to learn the subjunctive.” / “the professor wants that we learn the subjunctive.”)

Here, since the act of learning is just a wish and not being carried out in reality at the time of speech, the Spanish verb aprender (to study) has been conjugated to its subjunctive form. There are many websites and books dedicated to helping you learn the various rules of usage when it comes to subjunctives but like we always harp, there’s no better teacher than music! Today, we will be discussing one such song that can be immensely helpful in reinforcing this piece of grammar into your head and facilitate easy recall.

Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez

Juanes must figure in every Spanish learner’s music collection
Juanes must figure in every Spanish learner’s music collection
Photo credit: Julio Enriquez licensed CC BY 2.0
Better known by his stage name, Juanes, this Colombian solo artist must be familiar to most of you if you have ever heard La Camisa Negra (The Black Shirt). Like many of his kind, Juanes is a child prodigy who started playing guitar when he was just seven and floated his first band (heavy metal), Ekhymosis, when fifteen. His solo debut, Fíjate Bien brought him three Latin Grammies in 2000 and the next, Un Día Normal, went on to hit platinum in several countries in Latin America. This is the lead single from this album, A Dios Le Pido (I ask God), that will help us learn Spanish today.

As of today, Juanes has to his credit a rare and impressive collection of 19 Latin Grammy Awards, one Grammy Award, 9 MTV Awards, 2 NRJ Music Awards, 9 Our Land Awards, and a string of many more awards and recognitions from all over the world! Though a major name on the Latin pop scene today, his initial act, Ekhymosis was inspired by Metallica and was entirely into heavy metal, Juanes’ favorite genre back then. This band produced five studio albums in all and collaborated with legends like Alejandro Sanz and Ricky Martin, among others.

What makes Juanes every Spanish learner’s favorite act is his love for his mother tongue. He patronizes the language with exceptional passion and is an activist for this cause close to his heart. He has vowed to never sing in English and has often been heard that he will continue to work in Spanish because it is this language in which he could express himself best. What more can a Latino-lover ask for!

A Dios Le Pido

This is the track that earned Juanes his Best Rock Song Latin Grammy for 2002. The lead single from his much celebrated studio album, Un Día Normal, charted in top 5 in almost every European country and hit #1 in twelve countries across three continents.

The song is essentially an ode to God seeking blessings and protection for the singer’s loved ones. Due to its peace invoking lyrics, the song soon became an anthem for peace throughout Latin America and garnered immense popularity.

Accolades apart and coming back to our subjunctive, this song is lyrically rich and a great source of Spanish verbs in this form which is what makes it extremely useful for us learners who are struggling to remember the subjunctive conjugations and usage. Since the entire song is essentially in the form of a wish being relayed to God and wishes are expressed using the subjunctive in Spanish, potentially every line is an illustration of this otherwise difficult-to-grasp verb-form.

As always, we am giving out a portion of the lyrics here for your review along with a rough English translation. This should give you a good jump-start. We could give you dozens of example sentences illustrating how the subjunctive is used but we are sure you do realize that you’ll retain none of them as effectively as the lyrics to a tappy, hum-worthy song by your favorite artist!

Que mis ojos se despierten (That my eyes wake up)
Con la luz de tu mirada, (With the light of your sight,)
Yo a Dios le pido. (I ask of God.)
Que mi madre no se muera (That my mother doesn’t die)
Y que mi padre me recuerde, (And that my father remembers me,)
A Dios le pido. (I ask of God.)

Que te quedes a mi lado (That you stay by my side)
Y que más nunca te me vayas mi vida, (And that you never leave me, my love,)
A Dios le pido. (I ask of God.)
Que mi alma no descanse (That my soul does not rest)
Cuando de amarte se trate mi cielo, (When it concerns loving you, my love,)
A Dios le pido. (I ask of God.)

Por los días que me quedan (For the days that for me remain)
Y las noches que aun no llegan, (And the nights that yet haven’t come,)
Yo a Dios le pido. (I ask of God.)
Por los hijos de mis hijos (For the children of my children)
Y los hijos de tus hijos, (And the children of your children,)
A Dios le pido. (I ask of God.)

There is no easier way to tame the scary subjunctive verb-form than having this song on the tip of your tongue. And there is no easier way of having this song on the tip of your tongue than listening to it over and over again until you catch yourself humming away the lyrics in your bathroom subconsciously. Go on, we promise the music won’t disappoint you either.

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1 comment

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