Incorporating Grammar into Spanish Speaking Practice: The Balance of Natural and Purposeful

One of the ways that I’ve been able to both improve my Spanish and put it to use in a meaningful way is communicating with Bernardo, the man who works on our family’s ranch. He is from Mexico and only speaks Spanish. My dad knows some Spanish and can often communicate with him on his own, but when he needs to communicate something more complicated or wants to be certain of something, he often calls me to translate. I am happy to help, especially because it is such great Spanish speaking practice.

rules flexibility versatility

 

I have essentially known Bernardo my whole life. Though I don’t see him all the time, he has been like an extended family member because of the longevity of his relationship with our family. He works very hard to provide for his family, and I respect him a lot. This combination of familiarity and respect sometimes trips me up when speaking to him in Spanish because of the differing “tú” and “usted” verb forms. The tú form is more casual while the usted form is more formal. I have always felt slightly torn between the two when it comes to speaking with Bernardo because I never want to be disrespectful, but I also don’t want to be cold or distant.

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Spanish Listening Comprehension Stronger than Your Speaking Ability? You’re Right on Track

My younger brother recently moved to Colorado to start a Ph.D. program (such a smarty) so we have to call, text, or Skype when we want to talk. I got to chat with him on my way home from work last week. He told me about the lab he is a TA for, how he is enjoying his classes, and how great the mountains are (so jealous). I was catching him up on my life, including writing this blog, and he said that he had gotten to read a few of my posts and enjoyed them (woo!). He said they made him think about how he needs to brush up on his language skills and how his Spanish listening comprehension is much better than his speaking ability. The next day, the tip that popped up when I opened my Pars Omni Spanish Voices software was about that very thing. Isn’t it great when that happens? Listen to speakContinue reading

Levels of Language Acquisition: The Powerful Combination of Authentic Speech and Structured Learning

The distinction between language acquisition and language learning may seem subtle, but I think it is important to consider when trying to improve Spanish fluency. With language acquisition, the idea is that you acquire the language naturally by being exposed to it. With language learning, you are making a conscious effort to learn the parts of the language in order to put them together into the whole. There are lots of opinions about which way is faster or better or more effective, etc. I am probably more in the language acquisition camp, but also know that at least some explicit instruction is necessary to fully grasp a new language. Recently, I opened the Pars Omni Spanish Voices software to use it and the tip of the day spoke to just this idea: “Did you know… That Voices is both a language acquisition tool and a language learning tool?”

language acquisition language learning

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Learning Spanish Grammar Rules: Language Learning Expands Your Horizon

Grammarly is a Facebook page that I like (in both senses of the word) a lot. I enjoy their clever posts, especially when it is clever language about language (so meta). I recently saw a question they posted that, while about the English language, made me think about Spanish grammar rules.

I wish I were

Image source: Grammarly Facebook page

 

After a moment of consideration, I realized that the sentence should technically be “I wish I were traveling in Europe”, using the subjunctive tense. This distinction is not a commonly recognized or utilized one in average English usage. The subjunctive often gets overlooked because the subjunctive forms of most verbs are identical to the other forms, or they’re used in contexts where the forms are not essential. For example, “I wish I was traveling in Europe” and “I wish I were traveling in Europe” mean essentially the same thing, while “I was traveling in Europe” and “I am traveling in Europe” (past tense vs present tense) have clearly different meanings.

I have always loved to read, and English was by far my favorite subject growing up. I even studied English literature in college, and one would think in the course of all that education I would have become familiar with most, if not all, of the aspects of our language. And yet, I don’t think I really grasped the impotence of the subjunctive tense until I learned Spanish. That makes sense, however. The subjunctive is not used as much in English and thus is not as important to learn about as it is in Spanish. I understand the lack of emphasis on it.

Because I’m not used to distinguishing the subjunctive from other forms in my native language, I have to work hard to remember to do so in Spanish. I like that learning Spanish has taught me something about my native language and helped me appreciation some of the nuances of it more. I find this give and take to be very common when it comes to the experiences of language teachers and language learners. Language and cross-cultural exchange empower people to not only learn about the culture associated with that language, but also to reflect on and gain insight into their own experience, giving them distance to do so by nudging them to step out of it.

I love that Spanish has enabled me to view my language and culture in a different way. Of course, studying it has also allowed me to appreciate Spanish language content and culture, whether I encounter it in its original form or an English adaptation. When learning a new language, it is important to acknowledge that while things like vocabulary and grammar may seem relatively unimportant, they are  integral parts of an important and exciting whole. They are the building blocks of real Spanish fluency and can thus have a meaningful impact on your life.

To learn grammar and vocabulary while listening to authentic native spoken Spanish and improving your fluency, download Pars Omni Spanish Voices for free today. You can even search the library for stories that include specific grammar points you’d like to practice, like the subjunctive!

The Challenge of Spanish Verb Translation: Do vs. Hacer

While we might wish otherwise, grammar is a necessary part of language. While a lot of language can be absorbed and produced without worrying too much about the rules, nuances, and irregularities of grammar, you do have to learn at least some grammar in order to be able to communicate. The grammar of a language includes its syntax (sentence structure and word order) as well as verb structures (present tense, past tense, future tense, subjunctive, etc.). Through learning Spanish and teaching English as a second language, one English verb that I have found to be tricky in Spanish verb translation is “do.” language is arbitrary

“Do” is sometimes an action in English. For example, “Do the dishes,” means “Clean, dry, and put away the dishes.” Other times it’s just a helping unit of language, which doesn’t have its own meaning. For example, if I asked, “Do you want to go to a movie?”, the “do” part of the sentence wouldn’t represent any content, it’d just part of the grammar. If I said instead, “You want to go to a movie?”, I would sound a bit like Tarzan, but all the essential information would still be there and the idea would still get communicated. Thus, in situations like this, “do” functions differently than a regular verb.

When “do” is acting like a verb, it will have a corresponding verb in Spanish. If I say “He does his homework.”, there are also four words in the Spanish translation: “Él hace su tarea.” But, if I want to ask, “Do you want to go to a movie?”, which has eight words, in Spanish, I say, “¿Quieres ir al cine?”, which has only four. What happened to the other four words? Where is the “do”?

“Do” and other words like it that are part of the grammar of English, but not part of the grammar of Spanish, which can make translation difficult. When a phrase or sentence doesn’t translate word for word, we can’t just rely on Google translate. We have to take the time to think about the meaning behind the words, and how to best communicate that idea in our target language, which often means using a different sentence structure.

Language is an amazing tool that we as humans have developed, and because it is such an interwoven part of our minds and lives, we may think of our native language as intrinsically tied to our experience. While language is a profound part of our human experience, the reality is that language is arbitrary. There is no essential tie between the action of working out math problems and the phrase “doing homework.” “Do you want to go to the movies?” is not a better or worse way to communicate the desire to go watch images on a screen with another person than “¿Quieres ir al cine?”, they are just different.

Mastering the grammar of a new language takes time but don’t worry too much about it. Instead, focus on getting lots of exposure to authentic language and sprinkle in some grammar study here and there. A great way to do just that is to use the Pars Omni Spanish Voices software. You can download it for free right now and get access to a library of stories told by native Spanish speakers, right from your computer!