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Spanish Verb Conjugator Book Reviews

"Conjugal Bliss. A trusted friend on the route to Spanish." –Nathalia Madera for Language Magazine, languagemagazine.com

"The Little Spanish Verb Book That Could"
–Steven Roll, t
ravelojos.com

"A 'safe haven' for the panicked student and a resource for teachers." –Jerry Curtis, Helium.com

"A ready instructional reference; thoroughly 'user friendly'" The Midwest Book Review

Read more reviews

Thursday
Nov112010

Why are Spanish Verbs in the Preterit Tense so Hard to Learn?

Learning how to conjugate Spanish verbs in the present tense alone is quite an accomplishment. Just when beginners start gaining confidence, irregular Spanish verbs spoil all the fun. Then, the necessity becomes obvious to break out of the present tense and start talking about the past. It’s understandable that beginners will get discouraged when they study Spanish verbs in the preterit past tense. 

Typically, the preterit past tense is introduced before the imperfect past tense. Learning how to conjugate Spanish verbs in the imperfect is a piece of cake compared to the preterit. There is the issue of choosing between them, though, which isn’t exactly easy. To see the big picture, consider reviewing a previous post, "Dual Past Tenses, How Do I Choose Between Them?" or download: “The Preterit and The Imperfect: A Love Story.”

Not all Spanish verb tenses are created equal

If you can make it through learning how to conjugate Spanish verbs in the preterit tense, you can make it through any other Spanish verb tense. No other Spanish verb tense is as difficult to learn as the preterit, and here are some reasons why:

  • ALL the stem changers you learned in the present tense don’t apply to the preterit tense, BUT don’t forget the group of stem changers that only change in the third person singular and plural forms of the preterit tense, for example: divertirse, dormir, and preferir to name a few.
  • Don't forget the group of spell changers that only change in the first person singular form (yo) in the preterit tense, for example: buscar, jugar, comenzar, etc.
  • There is a multitude of irregular Spanish verb stems that are unique to the preterit tense only, for example: ser, estar, ir, tener, poder, poner, etc.
  • Verb endings remain the same from one tense to another, whether regular or irregular, except for a small group within the unique irregular Spanish verbs (mentioned above) in the first and third person singular forms only of the preterit tense, for example: poder, poner, querer, and saber

To put it into perspective, the imperfect past tense has only 3 irregular Spanish verbs: ser, ir, and ver. To help you learn how to conjugate Spanish verbs in the preterit past tense, check out the strategies some teachers and students from the University of Minnesota utilize (videos included):

Strategies to learn how to conjugate Spanish verbs in the preterit tense
from the
 Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)

Good news: The present and past tenses build a bridge to the advanced tenses

Most of the irregular Spanish verb stems in the present and preterit tenses are found in the subjunctive tenses and the commands, so the groundwork will be assembled should you decide to continue on or dabble in the advanced tenses. Ironically, once you reach the advanced level, conjugating verbs really isn’t an issue anymore, it starts to become second nature. The challenge is applying the subjunctive tenses and using more sophisticated grammatical sentence structures (the perfect tenses).

My platform has been to promote the present and past tenses of Spanish verbs as a bridge to the advanced verb tenses, should you decide to continue on with your studies. But in reality, not all of us will make it to the advanced level. Instead of looking at it in black and white terms, consider using the present and past verb tenses of Spanish verbs as your goal. Significant communication can take place while utilizing the primary verb tenses. The seeds will be planted for future growth.

Tuesday
Oct262010

Spanish 'Verbs Like Gustar': What's Not to Like?

When learning basic vocabulary, beginners study the Spanish verb “gustar” to communicate what they like, or what they like to do. It may come as a surprise that the English verb conjugation “I like” is actually translated in Spanish to “it pleases me,” or “it is pleasing to me.”  The idea is the same, but the sentence construction is very different.

If it weren’t for the Spanish verb “gustar,” beginners would probably skip over learning about indirect objects and pronouns. Remember that a direct object answers the question “What?”, while an indirect object answers the question “To whom?” or “For whom?”. 

Understanding object pronouns brings to light the difference between the subject of a verb, (the person or thing performing the action) and the object of the verb, (the receiver of the action).

While communicating the same idea, note the difference between the subjects and objects below:

                  1.  “I like Pizza”: “I” am the subject; “Pizza is the (direct) object

                         (What do I like?   Pizza = the direct object)

                  2.  “Pizza is pleasing to me”: “Pizza” is the subject; “to me” is the (indirect) object

                        (To whom is pizza pleasing?   Me = the indirect object)

The second example illustrates a literal translation of the Spanish verb “gustar” in the first person and how indirect objects enter the grammatical equation. This comparison also explains why we don’t use the Spanish verb conjugation “gusto” for “I like”: where “I” is the subject of the verb “gustar,” a regular -ar ending verb.

Beginners usually memorize the third person verb conjugations of “gustar” without understanding the reasons why they are used with indirect object pronouns. In any case, it encourages beginners to use indirect object pronouns (me, te, le, etc.), and it provides the pattern for other common Spanish verbs that take on indirect object pronouns. 

There are other Spanish verbs that fall into the same verb group as “gustar”; they are commonly referred to as “verbs like gustar.” The most common Spanish “verbs like gustar” are: encantar, faltar, importar, molestar, and parecer.

I don't know why, but I always remember the first time I heard the Spanish verb "importar" in context, and the concept of using "verbs like gustar" finally sunk in. I heard someone respond, "A mí no me importa" which meant, "It doesn't matter to me" with me emphasized through "a mí."

The following excerpt from The Spanish Verb Conjugator’s ‘Basics’ section illustrates how to use “verbs like gustar”:  

Verbs Like Gustar (VLG):

The verb gustar is a regular -ar ending verb, but other regular and irregular verbs are used like gustar. Only the third person singular or plural forms are used because the person, place, or thing that is pleasing/liked (the object), will be either singular or plural: “it” or “they.” The object pronoun that comes before it (me, te, le, les, nos, os) communicates “to whom the object is pleasing.”

The indirect object pronouns precede ONLY the third person singular or plural forms:

            me  -  before gusta/gustan    it is/they are pleasing to me: I like

            te -  before gusta/gustan       it is/they are pleasing to you: you (inf.)* like

            le -  before gusta/gustan        it is/they are pleasing to him, her, you: he/she likes, you (f.)* like

            les -  before gusta/gustan      it is/they are pleasing to them, you all: they, you all (f. & inf.)* like

            nos -  before gusta/gustan     it is/they are pleasing to us: we like

            os before gusta/gustan      it is/they are pleasing to you all: you all (inf.)* like

Please note, if the object is a verb, “to dance” for example, use only the singular third person form (gusta,without an “n”) with the infinitive of the verb (bailar): “I like to dance.” (Me gusta bailar.)

Here is the irregular verb “parecer” (to seem) in the present tense as a Verb Like Gustar:

            me parece  (it seems to me).................... me parecen (they seem to me)

            te parece (it seems to you)...................... te parecen (they seem to you)

            le parece (it seems to him, her, you (f.)*...le parecen (they seem to him, her, you (f.)*

            les parece (it seems to them, you all)......les parecen (they seem to them, you all)

            nos parece (it seems to us)..................... nos parecen (they seem to us)

            os parece (it seems to you all).................os parecen (they seem to you all)

*you (inf.)=tú; you (f.)=Ud.; you all (f. and inf.)=Uds.; you all (inf.)=vosotros/as

About.com has a comprehensive database of Spanish Grammar topics. Here is a link to a lesson on the Spanish Verb Gustar and other Verbs like gustar.

Sunday
Sep122010

When Learning Spanish: "Always Be A Beginner"

I recently came across sage advice from the Buddha: “Always be a beginner.” Applying this peaceful concept to learning Spanish means embracing the uncertainty and the mystery of learning a new language–instead of fighting it. It’s not easy to learn Spanish, it’s uncomfortable in the beginning, but the more you focus on your frustration, the more frustration you get. You must trust that your efforts are adding up to progress instead of falling victim to the discouragement caused by your high expectations. 

So often we get caught in the “perfection-or-nothing” trap when learning Spanish. We feel like we have to speak Spanish effortlessly from the beginning. It doesn’t help that some advanced students and teachers choose a pretentious or elitist position once they have mastered Spanish. It’s one thing correcting for the sake of being supportive, but it’s another thing correcting just to be right about something. Be aware of that, it’s just one of those times where the ego is involved. It's human nature.

We all start learning Spanish tongue-twisted, stumbling all over the place. Like my classroom motto, “You have to make mistakes to learn from them.” “Always be a beginner” also means that you maintain the humility to constantly strive to improve, no matter how far you go. You can delight in your progress because of your commitment, not just because you may (or may not) be better at it than others.

Some aren’t prepared for the commitment, they just like the idea of learning Spanish–minus the effort. That’s perfectly fine, maybe it will happen later. I think some students start Spanish and decide it’s really not what they imagined it would be, or they don’t have the time available. At least they tried, and they can pick it up when it fits into their lifestyle. (“Always be a beginner”)

You will discover if you have the drive and inspiration. Do you feel the hunger pains to learn Spanish? Just like hunger pains for food, your thoughts always come back around to learning Spanish, and the only thing that will satisfy your hunger is knowledge. So start a diet of daily practice in whatever way it finds you, try your best and it is inevitable that you will begin to grow and develop your Spanish skills. Learning Spanish is a journey, not a destination.

Monday
Aug232010

Learn Spanish through Pop Culture: a phenomenal web resource by Zachary Jones

I found an extraordinary web site featuring popular Latin culture as a vehicle for learning Spanish. It is produced by a Spanish teacher named Zachary Jones. It's written in Spanish, so it is also an excellent resource to develop your reading skills as you learn Spanish.

As a resource for teachers and students alike, it's a virtual gold mine of all things related to current events in popular Latin culture. If you reviewed the topics on this site, you would raise your cultural intelligence level ten fold or more. I consider it to be one of the most valuable resources I've come across on the web, and I've put in hours of research in my networking efforts to promote my site and verb guide. 

If I were still teaching, I would rely on his web site constantly to incorporate popular Latin culture into my classes. It was always a challenge to find good resources and the time to search for them. Awesome job Profesor Jones! The link below will bring you to his blog:

Actualidades: Learn Spanish through pop culture

You can find the following topics in Profesor Jones' phenomenal web site:

  • Pop Culture blog written in Spanish
  • Top 40 Latin Music Player
  • Virtual Art Gallery of Classic Latin American masterpieces
  • Online puzzles of the paintings by Latin American Artists
  • Comic Strips in Spanish-print them and fill them in as a writing activity (for teachers/students)
  • Crosswords in Spanish
  • Vocabulary including high frequency words and idiomatic expressions (super helpful!)

There are plenty more activities and resources not listed above. It is really fantastic....phenomenal is the word that I keep coming back to. I highly recommend this site to learn Spanish through popular Latin culture.

Please note that if the reading level is above your current level, that's okay. Pick out the words you can, I guarantee you will get the gist of what you need. It is actually a good thing to read above your level, because then you are challenged to improve.

Remember when you were learning to read in English? I know you came across material that was above your reading level. Remember how hard it was to read the newspaper when you were in grade school or high school? So hang in there! To gain some perspective, here's a link to my blog post explaining how reading in Spanish enhances all of your developing language skills, and how it can accelerate your overall rate of learning Spanish:

When Learning Spanish: Don't forget reading is the glue that makes it all stick together 


Monday
Aug022010

Latin American Travel: My Unforgettable Trip to Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica

 

Latin American Travel within Central America involves traveling through some raw terrain by car, bus, ferry, or boat. I think that is the fascinating part about traveling in Costa Rica–getting there is one journey, but you will travel subsequent journeys to see the ocean, rainforests, and volcanoes. It's the kind of travel for adventure seekers.

In order to get from the main international airport in the capital city of San José–down to the coastal areas, you have to scale the mountain range surrounding the central valley. Alternatively, there are two coastal airports: one in Limón which is on the Atlantic Coast; and another in Libería which is on the Pacific Coast. Even though the country of Costa Rica is one-fourth the size of Minnesota, its biological diversity includes both Pacific and Atlantic coastlines.

I have never felt so alive in all my life during my travels in Costa Rica. I am so grateful for these experiences. It’s easy for me now to settle into family life having once experienced such adventures in a rich coastal land (Rich Coast=Costa Rica). My travel lust is more than satisfied. It still seems a little like a dream.

My trip to Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica in 2005 has to be the most profound travel experience of my life. This was a trip my daughter Andrea and I took with her Costa Rican family (her father, her grandparents, and her aunt) during a visit to see them when she was 11 years old. (See maps below)

I was lucky to have her family as travel companions on many occasions before and after Andrea’s birth in San José. Andrea’s dad is responsible for 90% of my travels in Costa Rica over the years. If he wasn’t able to go, he borrowed a vehicle to me, or family members and friends for various trips. Costa Ricans are very proud of their country and want to share it with foreigners. Tourism does account for a large share of their economy.

We had just arrived in San Jose, where the family lives, the day before when they declared our departure to Tortuguero the next day. Like all the times they announced a spur of the moment trip, I had no idea what was in store. It’s always an exercise for me in turning over control, and it’s always uncomfortable along with “culture shock” until I am able to go with the flow. It usually takes me about a week to totally acclimate, so ideally our trips there are for 2-3 weeks or more.

Culture shock is when the senses get overloaded with so much stimulation from being in a different country, communicating in a different language, eating different food, the inevitable altered sleep patterns, and experiencing new weather/altitude. It all kind of peaks around the third to fifth day and then evens out. Sometimes it comes with a severe case of homesickness.

The best treatment during the peak of culture shock is just a simple time-out for a few hours, a nap or time alone. I’ve learned some people are more sensitive to culture shock than others. I am definitely one of the more sensitive as are children and older folks.

Tortuguero (which means "turtle catcher") was the most profound trip because it required the most elaborate journey to get there. A four-hour twisting river boat ride after a two-hour car ride through the mountains from San José to Limón. We rented a boat in the Bay of Moín, which is the beginning of a canal that leads into Tortuguero National Park. It wasn’t a fancy boat either.

I would recommend reserving a spot on the larger more comfortable boats (shown below) that are also available for the ride down the river, even if they are more expensive. Four hours in a cramped boat with only a rain cape for protection makes it seem like a lot longer, especially with kids. Unfortunately, when we were loading the small boat, our camera fell in the river. It was a crappy way to start the trip, so I don’t have any photographs to share our experience (these photographs were available online).

The village of Tortuguero is like nothing else in the world, quite literally, because it is removed from civilization. An automobile has never touched its sandy soil, and one never will. Tortuguero National Park is a protected reserve of 51,870 acres of one of the last remaining areas of tropical rain forest in Central America. The only way to get there is by river boat or by small plane.

Its rich biological diversity is home to 11 identified habitats within the park, over 300 species of birds as well as monkeys, otters, and sloths, to name a few species. But the most famous of all is the sea turtle. It is one of the only creatures that exists today in the same physical form that it had during the prehistoric era. The family described it as a surviving dinosaur.

Tortuguero is a nesting area for sea turtles, and since 1970 it has been protected to preserve a 22 km stretch of shoreline that serves as the main nesting site for the western half of the Caribbean Sea. Archie Carr, a biologist known as the "father of turtle research," was the leader of conservation efforts that begain in the 1950's.

The dark sands provide the ideal environment for the sea turtles to lay their eggs. The huge reptiles emerge from the sea to haul their heavy bodies ashore to dig holes in the sand and deposit their eggs at night, under the cover of darkness.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle nests on the beaches of the southern portion of the park, far from the village of Tortuguero, from February to April. The Atlantic Green Sea Turtle nests on the shores closer to the village from July to October. There are night tours available to view the Green Sea Turtles coming ashore onto the beach, but they have to be arranged in the company of an authorized local guide.

Once we arrived there the first night, it was suppertime and then straight to bed to rest from the long trip. But the following day we explored the island-like atmosphere. Residents traveled by bicycle on the sandy paths through the narrow village. Instead of car engines and horns, there was only the whisper of the occasional bicycle tire meeting sand.

Shops and restaurants with yummy food and fun souvenirs lined the pathways through the village. I was enchanted while sitting in a small cafe sipping my favorite coffee, café con leche, absorbing the mellow atmosphere. I watched the not-so-hustle and bustle of people walking by and listened to the rain forest sounds blending into the background. It seemed surreal to be so far from home, having taken multiple modes of transportation to arrive at such a remote and tranquil place.

I met some shop owners who were once foreigners that relocated to Tortuguero. They must have embraced the radical simplicity of its unique atmosphere, and I could see why. Like the tropical river ways that define it, the essence of Tortuguero is s-l-o-w. Maybe it also has some special energy that attracts the sea turtles to return year after year after year. What keeps them coming back to the same spot? It’s a mystery.

After the long journey from Minnesota shortly before we embarked on our trip to Tortuguero, culture shock hit hard the second night we stayed there. It happened to be the night the family arranged to go on a night tour to see the turtles. Looking back on it now seems hard to justify, but my daughter and I had to rest in our hotel room. I was also under the impression that we would have the following night to go on a tour to see the turtles. But the following day the family made the decision to return to San José. I really didn’t want to leave, and I really didn’t want to get on that small boat again for four hours.

I have promised myself to return one day to see what I missed the first time. If everything happens for a reason, I’m supposed to go back. Tortuguero has since developed even more, so it would be great to see the new developments. Lessons learned: I will give myself at least 2-3 days after arriving in San José to acclimate and rest before embarking on the significant journey to Tortuguero, and I will take a larger boat down the river with more comfortable seats and shelter from the frequent rains. There’s also the possibility now of flying in on a small plane to eliminate all the transportation, but I don’t really care for traveling by small plane unless it’s the only way. One of the newer hotels that has won awards for being eco-friendly is shown below. (tortugalodge.com check out the cool panoramic view they have on their home page)

I believe there must be a wonderful energy of Tortuguero that keeps the sea turtles coming back. It’s interesting to note that when I returned home from this trip, I had a renewed determination for my life that carried me through several personal trials the following year.

If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend a trip to the third most visited national park in Costa Rica. I would also suggest that you book a tour to Tortuguero through a hotel or travel agency instead of arranging all the details yourself. A travel package would include a bus from San José to the boat launch, the river boat launch (in comfort), hotel accommodations in Tortuguero, park entrance fees, and a guided night tour to see the turtles.

During the day you can visit one of three park stations in order to hike on nature trails with scenic overlooks. Another way to get an inside view of the park is by renting a boat to travel through the network of streams and lagoons behind the beaches. I would rent a boat with a driver that is familiar with the canals.

For some more background information about Tortuguero National Park, here are some helpful links:

Costa Rica Guide to Tortuguero National Park

Wayfaring Information on Tortuguero National Park

And below is a beautiful video I found on YouTube, a very nice piece on the Tortuguero Community. And it's in Spanish with English subtitles!