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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?

The Essential Black Friday Spanish Vocabulary

Thanksgiving is over and so is the charade of thanking the almighty for all you have. With that bit out of the way, now's the time to ammo-up for the big loot, better known as the Black Friday. I mean when does one have just enough? That's ridiculous. When the discounts are this big, enough is never enough. So if you're planning to survive the soul-churning stampede, here's a quick lesson on words that could come in handy should you find yourself plundering a store in one of those Latin quarters in town. You never know the store management might just be impressed with your vocabulary enough to offer you a welcome freebie, right?

Show Off Your Spanish Skills This Thanksgiving

This post is for our American friends learning Spanish. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and we just can't wait for the big turkey dinner with friends and family. Now, although the occasion isn't exactly observed by the Spanish-speaking world, a fiesta is a fiesta. Let's face it, Thanksgiving is all about food and so are the Latinos! So, now would be as awesome a time as any to brag about your Spanish before an audience of clueless folks. The millions of Spanish-speakers who call America home enjoy the day as much as you do if not more. And why not! A day off is a day off, after all. And the turkey dinner. So let's dive in and get it over with.

Este, Ese, Aquel – One Trick To Nail'em All

It might sound extremely simplistic at first glance but the demonstratives in Spanish often stump learners well into their programs. The problem is they sound too similar and there's usually no memory hook offered for one to remember them by. Oh and in case you're wondering, demonstratives are words like this, that, those, these, etc. Spanish has three of them – Ese, este, and aquel. English has just two – This and that. That's another problem with Spanish demonstratives – Why three when you can make do with just two? It's like teaching a fourth dimension to non-physicists who can only comprehend three. So what's going on here?

Life After Destinos: Sol Y Viento

Through with Destinos and Extr@ Spanish and raring to step up your Spanish comprehension game? Here's something crafted just for you. It's called Sol y Viento. Sol y Viento is a Spanish learning program seamlessly guised as a feature-length movie. If you liked Destinos for its simplicity and focus on Spanish comprehension, you'll love this one all the more because of how smoothly it challenges you to upgrade your comprehension skills while at the same time doing away with the often redundant recaps and summarization, the only aspects of Destinos that made it a tad too slow to chug along with. Sol y Viento is Destinos on steroids.

One sentence, Three Learnings

We have often used sentences, phrases, and expressions from real-life Spanish conversations to learn and teach some of the most annoying and hard-to-grasp aspects of the Spanish grammar and drive home new vocabulary in the process. The philosophy behind this methodology is that you’re more likely (and strongly urged) to use these sentences in your own day-to-day conversations and help yourself get comfortably fluent in the Spanish language without actively memorizing any grammar rules. For this purpose, it’s reasonably important that you include these sentences in your flashcard decks and review them thoroughly and often.

Today’s sentence will help us understand and absorb a new slang word from Mexico, the annoyingly memory-resistant preterit form of an irregular verb, and the word-order for a typical exclamatory sentence in Spanish. All of this and more in a single sentence! This one is definitely going into your flashcard deck if you are any bit serious about learning Spanish! So, here’s the sentence:

¡Qué bajón!
¡Qué bajón!
Photo credit: Shawn Carpenter licensed CC BY-SA 2.0
¡Qué bajón que todos tuvimos gripa durante las vacaciones! (It was such a bummer that we all had the flu during our vacation!)

Do remember that the translation provided is not necessarily a word-for-word literal translation.

The nuts and bolts

As always, we will start by breaking down the entire string of words and expressions into individual, more manageable components and analyze what color they add to the overall meaning.

Qué – Word for word, qué means “what” in English. Because of the accent mark, this word would normally take on an interrogative or, as in this context, an exclamatory sense. Here, the word means “what” as in, “What a bad day!”

bajón – This is a common Mexican slang that roughly translates into “bummer” in English. Other principal translations also include “fall”, “sharp drop”, “slump”, or “depression”. The word probably draws from the Spanish adjective, bajo which means “low”. Interestingly, bajo comes from the Latin word with the same meaning, bassus which, in turn, morphed into “base” in English. And we all know that a base is the lowest portion of any structure.

que – Without any accent mark, this word just acts as a conjunction, something that connects two clauses of a bigger sentence. And in this sense, it translates into “that” in English as in, “I have always known that life is vulnerable.”

todos – This word, simply put, means “all”. Now, the correlation is an easy one because it comes from the Latin word, tōtus, which gave English its “total”. There is, however, a slight difference between its singular and plural forms. While the plural form, as in this case, includes all things in a collection of several countable things, the singular form carries the sense of entirety while talking about a single object, thing, or entity. So, todos los días means “all days” or roughly “every day” while todo el día means “all day” involving a single day in its entirety.

tuvimos – This is the preterite form of the verb, tener (to have), to be used with the first person plural, the nosotros form. Now, don’t worry about memorizing the meaning of the term, preterite. Instead, just remember that you use this form when you are talking about something that occurred once and for all in the past. In English, “I had,” can often be interpreted as “I used to have” or “I was having” or even “I had once”. Only the context dictates the best interpretation here. But in Spanish, you have different conjugations to tell which one you meant. If you “were having” or “used to have” something, you use teníamos. Otherwise, tuvimos. By the way, tuvimos reduces to tuve if its used with the singular first person, i.e., yo. Since the third person plural pronoun is implied (but omitted) here, the phrase, todos tuvimos comes to stand for “we all had”.

gripaGripe is the usual Spanish for “flu” and the word has Germanic origins and is thus related with the Old English word, “gripe” that means “complaint” or “problem”. And this gripe becomes gripa in the streets of Colombia and Mexico.

durante – This translates into “during” in English.

las vacaciones – Without a fuss, this one means, “the vacation” or “the holidays”. Just note that while “vacation” is a singular noun, its Spanish counterpart is almost always used in plural.

String’em all together

The sentence literally translates into, “What a pity that we all had the flu during the vacation!” The word-order followed is simple but first lets break this sentence into its clauses. The first clause is Que bajón que... (What a bummer that...) following an extremely simple word-order: Exclamatory (here, “what”) - noun or adjective of quality (here, a noun, “bummer”) - conjunction (here, “that”).

The first clause introduces the next clause that goes, ...todos tuvimos gripa durante las vacaciones (...all of us got the flu during the vacation). This piece follows this pattern: Subject (here, “all of us”) - verb (here, preterite conjugation of “to have” in the plural third person) - preposition (here, “during”) - object (here, “the vacation”).

As you would have noticed, this sentence doesn’t deviate from the regular word order followed in Spanish, i.e., Subject-verb-object. Most of us would be familiar with this pattern as this is what English follows more often than not.

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