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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.




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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5 comments

  1. Some very sound advice! Here are some great resources for Spanish verb conjugation learning: http://www.succeed-at-spanish.com/spanish-conjugation.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing the link, Emma...it 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! :)

      Delete
  2. Thanks for sharing the link, Emma...it 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! :)

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

    ReplyDelete

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