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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

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Entries in Beginning Spanish students (6)

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.

Tuesday
Jun292010

When Learning Spanish: Don't Forget Reading is The Glue That Makes it All Stick Together

Do you remember how you learned to read in English?

There are four skill areas of learning Spanish or any language: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. When we learn our native language, the order these skills are acquired is first through listening to our family speak the language, and then we learn to speak by modeling their speech patterns. We then go to school where we learn to read and write.

We enter kindergarten with basic communication skills in our native language, but we still need to learn the alphabet, the calendar, colors, and of course the social skills involved in communication (sharing information with others). By first grade, we learn how to spell words and read short sentences which then leads to developing our reading skills. These are the basics. Once the foundation is built, it's just a matter of time as our natural abilities and instincts grow and develop through elementary school.

I like to compare learning Spanish to how we learn our native language, but it isn't a typical experience to have our family model Spanish for us unless we grow up in a bilingual home. The sequence of acquiring the four skill areas in Spanish will be different, but if we want to master the Spanish language we can’t forget to leave any of them out. Reading tends to be the forgotten language skill in our race to learn to speak Spanish.

Are you learning how to read in Spanish?

You should ask yourself how you are incorporating each of the four skill areas in your current program for learning Spanish. Your advancement in any language depends on expanding your vocabulary through reading and writing. As a result, your listening comprehension skills and speaking abilities in Spanish will improve also. The four language skills are interdependent.

In a beginning level Spanish class there's a lot of basic vocabulary building going on with nouns, adjectives, and the kindergarten basics (numbers, letters, colors). And of course there is the complicated system of verb conjugation in Spanish. It’s all rather overwhelming.

The best way to put it all together and see how the puzzle pieces fit is through reading. And just like the elementary readers we started with in English (“See Dick and Jane run”), we need to start with elementary Spanish readers.

I know this important piece was missing in my Spanish education and I suffered for it. And I also know that it was very challenging to find resources for my high school Spanish classes that guided reading in Spanish for my students, and they suffered for it. It is a missing link in secondary foreign language classes as we push students through to meet their “2-year” college entrance requirement.

If you do continue with a foreign language in college, that‘s where you will feel the absence of your reading skills. Besides slowing down the process of learning Spanish, writing papers and reading literature in Spanish will be double the challenge.

How can you start learning to read in Spanish?

I remember trying to use children’s books in Spanish as a way to get started with reading, both for myself and my students, but they were often difficult to understand also. This was exactly the case when my daughters were starting to learn to read in English. I couldn’t just give them one of our children’s books and say, “Here, let’s read this.” They needed to start with books specifically written to help the first-time reader.

Readers will have basic vocabulary and use minimal verb tenses. The level of difficulty will gradually increase to build reading skills. And then the important reading comprehension questions develop writing skills. Once we acquire reading skills, reading material then serves to teach us about culture, history, and literature. What you’re reading becomes just as important as learning how to read it.

My recommendation for you: an ‘Easy Spanish Reader’

Recently I found a recommendation for a Spanish reader and I wanted to pass it along so you can get started reading in Spanish. It’s called “Easy Spanish Reader: A Three-Part Text for Beginning Students” by William T. Tardy, published by McGraw-Hill. It’s designed for beginners, and it starts out with very basic Spanish. By the end of the book it incorporates the past tenses.

There are three sections with activities and reading comprehension questions. The first section is about two high school students in the U.S. that are in a Spanish club. It helps to build confidence in reading. The second section is an overview of the history of Mexico featuring famous historical personalities. The third section is an adaptation of a well-known piece of Spanish literature.

This ‘Easy Spanish Reader’ accomplishes in one book what reading is meant to provide: culture, history, and literature. After I first heard of this reader on Facebook, I went to Amazon.com to learn more about it. There are a lot of wonderful reviews that endorse the book. I was impressed with one in particular that said this reader helped launch her skills in Spanish which eventually lead to a degree in Spanish and Portuguese.

To make it super easy for you, here is a direct link to Amazon.com and the 'Easy Spanish Reader':

I must say that The Spanish Verb Conjugator would be an excellent companion to the ‘Easy Spanish Reader’ especially for referencing the past tenses in the third section. As I remember in college, I needed a dictionary and verb reference when I came upon words I didn’t know. Like my verb guide, the ‘Easy Spanish Reader’ is designed to bridge the learning gap for beginners.

As you increase your reading skills in Spanish, which is inevitable if you continue to read, you will then be able to read newspapers, magazines, blogs, as well as important literature in Spanish. Reading ultimately takes us beyond our intellectual boundaries and contributes to the collective intelligence of all human beings. It’s pretty important stuff. That’s why you see promotional material encouraging young people to read more, our evolution depends on it.

Monday
Mar292010

10 High Frequency Irregular Spanish Verbs: I Call Them "Yo-Go's"

What are “Yo-Go’s”?
I coined a name for this group of irregular Spanish verbs to help my students remember them, and it is a term used by other teachers and students. “Yo-go’s” are commonly used irregular Spanish verbs that have the
“-go” ending only in the yo form when conjugated in the present tense. The “yo” form is the first person singular form: when “I” is the subject of the verb.

The letter “g” seems to come out of nowhere because it is not a letter found in the verb’s stem. When conjugating these verbs, you have to remember to add it only to the “yo” form. I don’t include verbs that already have the letter “g” in the verb stem in the “yo-go” group (verbs like: jugar, llegar, and seguir) because the letter “g” is already part of the verb stem for all the conjugations of the verb. 

One of the first “yo-go’s” that you learn in beginning Spanish is “tengo.” It comes from the verb “tener” which means “to have” and in certain expressions it means “to be”: tengo hambre (I’m hungry), tengo sed (I’m thirsty), tengo frio (I’m cold), tengo calor (I’m warm), etc. Below is a list of all seven “yo-go” verbs.

 

 Why are “Yo-Go’s” important?

Besides sharing the “-go” ending in the yo form in the present tense, the letter “g” will show up again in the conjugations of these verbs when you learn the commands (the imperative mood) and the subjunctive tense. If you make the distinction when learning the present tense, it will be easier for you to remember it when you are studying the commands and the subjunctive later. 

The subjunctive is a tense that is typically studied at the advanced level; however, it is more frequently used in Spanish than English. The subjunctive tense is considered more formal in English, but it is very common in Spanish. You will even hear small children use this tense frequently because their parents model it for them. As children learning our native language, our listening skills develop before our speaking skills, so it’s a good idea to be aware of the subjunctive even if you don’t use it yet.

How can “Yo-Go’s” help me?
I identified this irregular verb group to make it easier for beginners to remember the “sneaky-g” when conjugating these verbs in the present tense and when you are learning the commands and the subjunctive later. You will typically study the commands before the subjunctive, so make a mental note to remember (to recycle) the conjugations when appropriate. A nit-picky note: the letter “g”, however, will be followed by the letter “a” (not “o”) in the commands (all but two conjugations–tú and vosotros) and all of the conjugations of the subjunctive. 

“Yo-Go’s” are a perfect example of my teaching philosophy and the basis to my verb guide, The Spanish Verb Conjugator, The Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Spanish Verbs: use the present and past tenses as a bridge to the advanced tenses. The groundwork will already be assembled should you decide to continue on with your Spanish studies. It’s a built-in feature to prepare you for the future, but it can feel like a burden in the beginning.

My hope is that you can tackle the challenges with awareness instead of giving up in frustration. Hang in there! Everything worthwhile comes with challenges that may test your convictions. Otherwise it would be, well...easy. Don’t get me wrong, I love “easy,” but I do believe that some things, like learning Spanish, wouldn’t be as satisfying to accomplish if they weren’t a little tricky.   

As part of my philosophy also: if you don't make it to the advanced level that's okay too. You can still accomplish a lot of living in the Spanish language with basic skills. I know this for a fact. And guess what happens if you lower your expectations and maintain your basic Spanish skills? They only get better.

Saturday
Mar272010

Dual Past Tenses of Spanish Verbs: How do I Choose Between Them?

Build basic verb conjugation skills in the present tense first
One of the most challenging tasks of learning how to conjugate Spanish verbs is choosing between the past tenses of Spanish: the preterit and the imperfect. Perhaps because this challenge follows a rigorous sequence of verb conjugation milestones: 

1.  Learning the subject pronouns

2.  Learning how to conjugate verbs in the present tense:

  • regular -ar, -er, and -ir ending verbs
  • irregular verb patterns in the most common Spanish verbs 

3.  Learning how to conjugate verbs in the preterit past tense:

  • regular -ar, -er, and -ir ending verbs
  • irregular verbs in the preterit (there’s a lot)  

4.  Learning how to conjugate verbs in the imperfect past tense:

  • regular -ar, -er, and -ir ending verbs
  • irregular verbs in the imperfect (there are only three!) 

Getting to this point is a huge accomplishment! Once you get used to using Spanish subject pronouns and conjugating regular verbs, you’ve laid the foundation of verb conjugation in Spanish. Next in line is learning the irregular verb patterns found in high frequency Spanish verbs, and finally applying all of these new concepts to dual past tenses in Spanish.  

From my own experience as a student and as a teacher, if you can make it through the past tenses of Spanish verbs, the following verb conjugation work doesn’t seem nearly as difficult. If you should decide not to continue to study the advanced tenses (or just dabble a little in some of them), the skills you’ve acquired this far will still allow you to navigate in Spanish very well. It’s a win-win situation.

Practice when to use each past tense
I’ve strived to motivate and support the beginner through these initial challenges with my verb guide, The Spanish Verb Conjugator, The Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Spanish Verbs. You can use it as your ‘training wheels’ until your verb conjugation skills improve. Reflexive verbs and “Verbs Like Gustar,” which are commonly used in the present and past tenses, are also included in my verb guide as well. All of the basics are covered to get you rolling. The following book exerpt summarizes when to use each past tense.

The preterit and the imperfect are constantly joined at the hip when dealing with the past in Spanish. Choosing between them is not easy. Just like balancing on your own without training wheels, learning to balance between the preterit and imperfect is a skill to develop with practice. 

The preterit past tense in Spanish is used when events in the past are completed with reference to the beginning or end of the action. It is also used for a series of completed events in the past.

I washed the dishes.” Lavé los platos; or 
I washed the dishes, I swept the floor, and I cleaned the bathroom.” 
Lavé los platos, barrí el piso y limpié el baño.

The imperfect past tense in Spanish is used to describe action in progress or for habitual, repeated actions in the past.   

I was washing the dishes.”; or “I used to wash the dishes.”
Lavaba los platos.

The imperfect describes the background as other actions occur simultaneously or interrupt the action. The interrupting actions are often in the preterit tense.  

“I was washing the dishes and I was sweeping the floor when you called me.” 
Lavaba (imperfect) los platos y barría (imperfect) el piso cuando me llamaste (preterit). 

Remember that you are describing the past in the way that you want to paint the picture of what happened. Is the point in time that you are referring to completed? Is there focus on the beginning or end of the action? Was it already in progress? Was it habitual, something you used to do?

Create strategies to help you decide which past tense to use
Not only will it save you time, but it is essential to rely on strategies or techniques that help you choose between the past tenses on-the-spot. The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) through the University of Minnesota, developed the "Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project." It is designed to enhance the learning and use of Spanish grammar. 

Here is a direct link to the web page that illustrates some excellent examples of strategies that students and teachers have used to help them make the decision between the preterit and the imperfect. There are video tutorials included. Use these strategies yourself, or maybe they will inspire you to create your own personal strategies.

University of Minnesota/CARLA: Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project/
Preterite vs. Imperfect

 

 

Monday
Feb222010

10,000 Hours To Mastery: How Does That Translate Into Learning Spanish?

In his popular book, "Outliers: The Story of Success," Malcom Gladwell proposes that 10,000 hours of practice are required to achieve mastery of any skill. How does that translate into learning Spanish?

Gladwell's work clarifies the concept of “mastery”: it requires time, practice, and patience as much as intelligence. But mastery doesn’t mean the learning ends. Thank God it doesn’t end because that would mean the adventure is over. If mastery is the destination, there’s more to do once you arrive. It’s knowing how to navigate a skill in uncharted territory. I really like the way Mattison Grey of “The Performer's Paradox,” a webinar I attended, interprets mastery:

 “You know enough to know–that you don’t need to know enough.”

Being able to navigate the unknown, to deal with what shows up. Instead of thinking of mastery as “completion,” it’s more like riding a wave of acquired knowledge that has its own momentum. It truly is an adventure.

There’s no way around it, 10,000 hours is a long time. It doesn’t mean that the time in between is worthless or without merit. That would be like believing the language development of a five-year-old means nothing. Observe the native language skills of a five year old, they’re not too shabby actually, and they have a pretty good time from what I can tell. They haven’t been shackled by the limitations of the ego yet. A five year old has the perfect attitude for learning a language.

One way or another you will have to make an investment of time to learn Spanish. The amount is up to you, but it's never a waste of time. The following scenarios describe different roads that will point you in the direction to mastery.

Scenario A: The Classroom Investment Plan
While I was studying Spanish in college, I remember hearing that it would take seven years to become proficient by attending classes in high school and/or college, without any extracurricular practice whatsoever. On a typical class schedule of almost an hour class period every weekday for 30 weeks (52 weeks per year, less a 12 week summer vacation): 5 hours of class a week, multiplied by 30 weeks a year equals 150 hours total per school year, not counting any practice outside of class. 150 hours, multiplied by 7 years equals 1,050 hours total class time invested in 7 years. (See “Scenario A” in the chart below.) In this equation, it becomes clear that practicing Spanish outside of class is essential, and it also states the case for integrating foreign language at the elementary school level instead of the high school level, but that is a topic for another article.

Scenario B: The Passive Mastery Plan
I like this equation better: on a schedule of 10 years to mastery of a language, or any skill, divide 10,000 hours of practice by 10 years, which equals 1,000 hours per year. Divide 1,000 by 365 days in a year, which equals 2.74 hours per day of practice. (See “Scenario B” in the chart below.) As we age, 10 years passes whether we like it or not. After the age of 20, it seems to happen at an exponential rate. You will turn 25, 30, 35, etc. anyway, why not do it speaking two languages? Think of the things you’ve been doing passively for around 2.74 hours a day for 10 years, or close to it. Driving is a good example, there’s also cooking, navigating the internet, housekeeping, reading, etc., the list goes on. You’ve already mastered skills and you didn’t even know it! 

Scenario C: The Travel Abroad Plan
Now, if 10 years is not on your schedule to gradually acquire a second language, there are ways to speed it up. If you were to live in a Spanish speaking country for a year: 16 hours of immersion a day (24 hours minus 8 hours of sleep), multiplied by 365 days in a year equals 5,840 hours total. In this case, you’re over halfway to mastery. Obviously, after two years you would have invested over 10,000 hours. (See “Scenario C” in the chart below.) This is also true for immigrants to the United States, keep that in mind.

If living in a Spanish speaking country isn’t a viable option for you, focus your efforts on proficiency as a more realistic goal. It doesn’t have to be black and white; different shades of proficiency exist within mastery. Mastery is the ultimate destination, but proficiency is the way there, the road we must travel. Proficiency still allows you to:

  • communicate with native Spanish speakers while traveling
  • build relationships with native Spanish speakers
  • work in a bilingual capacity to serve multicultural communities 

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