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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.

Pedro Teaches Conjugation – The Simple Present Tense Of Spanish

For most Spanish leaners, the present indicative tense, or simple present, is invariably the first step into the utterly confusing and demotivating world of Spanish verb conjugations. While conjugations eventually come naturally once you have acquired even a basic level of proficiency with the language, you are often left with no choice but to memorize them painfully until that stage comes. And memorization using traditional rote method, as we all know, is far from efficient, inspiring, or even interesting. So, is there any trick to commit these conjugations to memory without any repetition whatsoever? Of course there is!

Why start with present indicative?

Grammatical labels aside, present is the time around which which most of our day-to-day conversations revolve. In any language. Not only is it the most heavily used tense, it’s also an extremely versatile one to boot. Apart from the present, you could use this tense to express events well in the future or even the past. Let’s see some examples:

  • I want to buy a new cell phone (the plain vanilla present form)
  • We are visiting Cancún this summer (future tense expressed using the present tense)
  • The train leaves in another five minutes (again, a future event expressed using the present tense)
  • By the time the movie ends, the hero is revealed to be the bad guy (a past event expressed using the present tense)
  • He struggles for a few minutes and then he is dead (a past event being recounted using the present tense)

Thus, we see how versatile this tense can be. Another benefit of mastering the conjugations for this tense, specific to Spanish, is that many other tenses conjugate in patterns similar to that of the present tense to varying extent. One notable example is the Spanish imperfect tense which closely follows the pattern of present tense conjugations. All these reasons make the present indicative tense the best candidate to start with when you are starting out with Spanish tenses.

The conjugation

The present indicative conjugation is perhaps the simplest of all and my experience shows that people find it quite easy to memorize this tense in comparison to the others such as the preterit or the imperfect. Technically, each of the three verb classes (-ar, -er, and -ir) conjugate differently but the difference is extremely small. Learning just the -ar conjugations, in most cases, automatically takes care of the other two without any real effort.

Here’s how -ar verbs conjugate using cantar (to sing) for illustration:

-o (canto I sing)

-as (cantas you sing)

-a (cantas he/she/it sings)

-amos (cantamos we sing)

-an (cantan they sing)

Using beber (to drink) as example, here’s how the -er verbs conjugate:

-o (bebo I drink)

-es (bebes you drink)

-e (bebe he/she/it drinks)

-emos (bebemos we drink)

-en (beben they drink)

The -ir verbs conjugate in exactly the same way as above with the only exception being the “we” form where -emos becomes -imos, e.g., vivir (to live) becomes vivimos (we live). What a relief!

Now for the trick

Pedro Almodóvar
Pedro Almodóvar
Photo credit: Roberto Gordo Saez licensed CC BY 3.0
This is the best part. If you are not too beat up with all the grammar jazz above already, that is. So what’s the deal with remembering the present tense conjugations? Well, it’s a simple sentence acting as a memory hook to remind you of the -ar conjugation pattern with ease – a mnemonic device if you will.

Before we get to the magic sentence, do consider the -ar conjugation once again; note the pattern. It all boils down to a sequence of endings which you need to remember in exactly the right order: -o, -as, -a, -amos, and -an. This is what the mnemonic is going to facilitate:

Pedro is a famous man

Now, it doesn’t matter if you even know any famous Pedros out there; though there are more than a few indeed. You have one Pedro on the FC Barcelona team for the soccer fans in you and then you have a Pedro Almodóvar for the Spanish movie buffs. And there are many, many more.

Anyways, regardless of whether you know any famous Pedro, it’s not too hard to imagine someone who goes by the name Pedro and happens to be famous. So, what’s this Pedro got to do with my present tense -ar conjugation? Read the sentence once again and notice the portions in bold. List them out in exactly the order they appear in. You’ll easily see how easily they rhyme with the five verb endings of our conjugations!

Pedro – -o

is – -as

a – -a

famous – -amos

man – -an

Is life any bit easier now? As for the -er verbs, all you need to do is replace the a’s from the conjugated -ar endings with “e”. Thus, -as becomes -es, -a becomes -e, -amos becomes -emos, and -an becomes -en. No mnemonic needed for this one. And we have already seen how -ir conjugations follow the same pattern with just one exception.

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  1. Some very sound advice! Here are some great resources for Spanish verb conjugation learning:

    1. Thanks for sharing the link, seems like a really interesting idea to learn those pesky conjugations using audio resources. Anything that can be used as a replacement for the traditional repetitive memorization is a welcome resource for us learners! :)

  2. Thanks for sharing the link, seems like a really interesting idea to learn those pesky conjugations using audio resources. Anything that can be used as a replacement for the traditional repetitive memorization is a welcome resource for us learners! :)

  3. Thanks Vero, a little creative thinking can go a long way in language learning. Salud :)


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