Archive for January, 2009

Spanish Adverbs

Image source: rocketlanguages.com

Well, I managed to learn my numbers for my Spanish conversation class last night. We went around our circle counting to 200 by 5s and then backwards from 200 by 2s. It was a lot of fun and more to come next week as we make our way to 2000. Then we did another round of the table reviewing our weekend for each other. I had prepared my notes last night, reviewed the verb tenses I was using, studied the new vocabulary involved and then completely hid the paper from my view while in class. I did manage to communicate coherently (remember perfectly is not a goal!). I still felt that if questioned at length I would struggle to elaborate further. But time, and growth of my vocabulary and ability to conjugate verbs, will take care of this.

As I was preparing for my class I discovered that a lot of what I wanted to relate about my weekend involved adverbs (words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs). So, this became a timely opportunity to hit the adverb aspect of grammar. I found a nice little adverb table (here) that I have already started to work on. Interestingly, while we were chatting in class, I noticed some of my classmates using English adverbs dotted in their Spanish conversation. It reminded me how important the adverbs are to improving flow of conversation and fluency. Here are some adverbs that came up for me this week:

casi almost
de vez en cuando occasionally
menos de less than
más de more than
así so
entonces then
anoche last night

The challenge now is to see if I can retain these and slip them into future conversations at will!


Note: For related posts and more about my interest in languages you can check out my language page here.


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Aquí hablamos español
As I mentioned last week, there was no Spanish conversation class last night because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I am pleased to relate that I did not allow this to be an excuse to slack off, which it can certainly be tempting to do. I’ve been actively learning my numbers from 1 to 2000 for next Monday’s class. Also, over the weekend, I  finally made time to arrange a binder into categories that will assist my learning. I’ve wanted to break down Spanish into sections that in the past I have found useful to focus on with French and Japanese. My binder currently has sections covering the following categories:

In any language, it’s always a good idea to start with some basic essential expressions and just learn them off by heart. I used the following link as a guide:
Useful Spanish Phrases (this site has a phrase list in many languages)

These are best to learn just right off the bat. Otherwise flow of converstation halts as you struggle to remember the words for numbers, days, months, seasons, and time.

Lots of people struggle with the verbs when learning a language. Fortunately I love them. It helps to a have a systematic approach to learning them. Find a list of essential verbs to learn in the target language and start from there. Learn to conjugate the present tense, past tense and future tense to start with, because even if you end up sound very simplistic in conversation you get your gist across, which is the whole point of language anyway, to communicate.

Every time you learn a new word add it to your list. Organize the list into useful categories to make finding the word easier. Then you can move on to various techniques for learning the vocabulary, such as flashcards. This time round I’ve created an excel document to facilitate editing. So far it’s working well. I’ll see how it goes as my vocabulary list grows.

Question Forms
This is another essential category for conversation in any language. Just knowing how to pose a question will help increase your confidence and comprehension in the listener, even if your tenses are off, or your vocabulary is a bit muddled. So long as you and your listener know what kind of question is being presented (who, what, when, how, etc) a lot can be done with patience, guesswork and tons of facial and hand gestures!

Now we get more technical with the grammar of the language and learn how to say you, me, he, she, us, we and them, along with mine, yours, their, etc. There are many categories of pronouns (personal, prepositional, demonstrative, possessive, relative, interrogative, indefinite and negative). I find the personal and possessive to be a good start and then build from there.

These help us to describe nouns or pronouns in some way. Again we usually start simple with colors and size and then move to more complex like superlatives (e.g. good, better, best).

These words modify (alter) verbs, adjectives or another adverb. In English it usually means adding ‘ly’ to an adjective (e.g. slow becomes slowly). There are a bunch of categories under this category, which build up with study, time and need.

The importance of this category, and conjunctions, stands out in my mind from my time in Japan. I’m not sure if I just picked them up quickly in French over my years of study at school and didn’t realize just how important they were until I was a beginner in Japanese living in the culture. Prepositions connect words together and indicate the relationship between words. In English there are about 150 prepositions, of, to and in being three of the top ten most used words in English. Find the prepositions in the language you are learning and start to incorporate them as soon as possible. It will help greatly with the flow of speech and ideas.

A conjunction is a word that connects words, phrases, clauses (parts of sentences), or sentences. When I was learning Japanese, I found myself constantly searching for words such as yet, while, unless, however, since, meanwhile, therefore. It hindered my ability to speak a great deal until I realized that the category of grammar I needed to work on was the conjunctions. Again, get a list of them in the target language you are learning and start adding them to your conversation. Using prepositions and conjunctions will be a sign to me that my language production is become more fluent.

Ah, often the whole reason we are drawn to a language to start with. At least this used to be the case for me. I decided to learn Spanish for more practical reasons this time. I know very little about the Spanish speaking world, whether it be Spain or Latin America.

My culture section started when I did some research last year and discovered a publication called, Think Spanish (Piensa en español). It is a magazine with about a dozen articles per issue, all in Spanish regarding some aspect of Spanish speaking culture. There is a column at the side of each page that lists vocabulary with translation from the article. The vocabulary is highlighted in bold in the text so that you know you can glance at the side column for translation if needed. The magazine comes with a CD with native speakers reading the articles. I read the reviews of this magazine on Amazon before subscribing and they were mixed. I decided to try it out and I love it. It know that it helps that I speak French. I can guess a lot from word similarity and then check vocabulary in the column as needed. I use the CDs periodically, to familiarize myself with the sound of the language, because my brain often wants to impose French pronunciation on what I’m reading.

As well as this magazine I have the words to some Shakira songs, with translations. I bought her album from iTunes and listen to them on my iPod or in the car. Working through the lyrics and translations is helping we to recognize individual words as they whiz out of a native speaker/singer’s mouth. I will add to this category as I continue studying the language. I’m thinking the poetry of Pablo Neruda will be next.

Image source: vivirlatino.com

Note: For related posts and more about my interest in languages you can check out my language page here.

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Irish Flag French Flag

Japanese Flag Mexican Flag

I went to my second Spanish conversation class last night. A few of the same faces as last week but a whole bunch of new ones too.

The format for the first half of the class involved asking any questions we might have about the instructor (Ritha from Ecquador). I really like her. She conducts the conversation class predominantly in Spanish and has a very open, jovial manner about her. My question to her was why she has been teaching these practically free conversation classes for the last 5 years? (She teaches for two hours, one beginner, and one intermediate, conversation class.) Her response was that she really wants to encourage people in the US to learn her language.

The second half of the class involved each person sharing something they did over the weekend. On Sunday night I sat down to review our weekend. I made some notes in English and then set out to translate into Spanish. I realized pretty fast that in the 8 week course I attended last year (it finished in December) we didn’t study the past tense! I had to figure out which past tense I needed. It was the Pretérito tense, which is used to express actions that were completed at some time in the past. So I spent Sunday night learning a new verb tense. Not a bad night’s work!

Using it on Monday night was a different story. I’m still feeling tongue tied and relying on my written notes quite a bit. I’m going to try to do that less next time. Apparently each week we do some review of weekend activities so there looks like a lot of opportunities ahead to practice Pretérito tense.

As next week is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, there will be no class. For the week following we have been set the task of knowing our numbers from 1-2000. We will go around our circle counting by 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s and whatever other multiples Ritha throws at us to keep us on out toes. It brings back memories of me leading a similar game when I taught English in Junior High School in Japan. I would have all the students stand up to play the game and if a student made a mistake they sat down until one student was left standing. The kids loved this game and got better and better at it over time leading to variations where they had to count backwards or forwards whenever I suddenly indicated. We also played the game for Days of the Week and Months of the Year. Lots of fun. We’ll see if I find it as enjoyable when I’m the beginner on the other end of the game!

During my drive home after class I was thinking about Japan some more. I thought about the dream I had last week that was entirely in Japanese. I remember at some point during the dream being conscious I was dreaming in Japanese again. It has been such a long time since that happened. I also remembered the very first time I dreamt in French while I au paired in France at age 17. I don’t remember the contents of either of the dreams I mention, just that each dream left me with a sense of amazement at my sleeping brain’s ability.

My waking brain is bit befuddled at the moment. During the same drive home I recalled how:
When I was first learning French my brain would call up the Irish language instead of whatever French word or phrase I was trying to produce.
When I was learning Japanese, my brain regurgitated French.
During my Spanish conversation class, again I tend to retrieve French when searching for the Spanish.

As I sat in the car trying to practice some Japanese in my head, guess what my little grey cells threw at me: Spanish. Well, at least I know the language center of my brain is active again. Now if I can only get it to behave and produce the language I want it to produce in the moment I want it then I’ll know I’ve moved beyond the babbling beginner mode of language learning 🙂

Btw, teanga is the Irish word for ‘language’. I do like alliteration in the titles of my posts!!!

Note: I used the image of the Mexican flag to denote the Spanish language because it just didn’t feel right to use the Spanish flag. I’m learning Latin American Spanish and it’s hard to come up with an image to reperesent that-so many flags! I decided on the Mexican flag because Mexico is the closest Latin American Spanish speaking country to where I live. Simple as that.

Also note: For related posts and more about my interest in languages you can check out my language page here.

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We had a sudden snowfall last night, which left some doubt about the girls returning to school this morning after the holidays. I woke up early, checked online and confirmed they would be going after all.



Then I decided to finally dive into the New Year “Slow Down” that I have planned for myself. Over the next three months I want to become more mellow with my/our days. I want to get in the habit of making some peaceful, down time in the day for both myself and our family. With the baby due at the start of April, this is a good time to prepare for those early months when most things won’t get done (or at least not when I want them too). So practicing by reading while having a foot spa at home at 6am this morning, and not diving into laundry or some other chore I could do before the girls woke up, was an excellent start.


I had my prenatal checkup this morning while the girls were at school and all is going very well. I did get confirmation that the little lumps on the balls of my feet that have been irritating and a little painful these last few weeks are in fact plantar warts. My doctor reckons that it’s because my immune system is more vulnerable during pregnancy and if I can just hang in there for the next three months, she would expect them to ease after the baby is born. In keeping with my morning’s pampering, it turns out regular hot foot spas can ease the ache.


This evening Ashley and Caitlin were delighted to receive their first allowance payment. We have explained to them that the allowance is not tied to carrying out specific task or chores. As members of the family, they are responsible for sharing the work and also for sharing the finances.


Despite this however, Cailtin was very keen that she have a job to do tonight and decided herself that she wanted to scrub the floor. She retrieved a baby wipe and set to it, much to our amusement.


Ashley then decided that she wanted to sing for her allowance. So she provided the music while Caitlin contributed the muscle.

Image credit: meetup.com

It was this fun little scene that I left for my first night at a drop-in Beginning Spanish Conversation class that I plan to attend regularly to actually start using and learning the language. It’s at a neighborhood center close to my house and turned out to be a lot of fun. There were about a dozen of us gathered around a circular table in a small room, stumbling through questions and answers as we circled the table getting to know each other. I’m so glad I took the plunge and just went tonight. It had crossed my mind to skip it because I was tired and a little apprehensive of the initial weeks of bumbling, tongue-tied efforts that I will have to endure before any smoothness occurs in my production of Spanish. Even though I’ve been down this road several times with other languages, it is hard at the start and just accepting that I will feel foolish and inept takes some courage. I just need to remember that it’s a sequence: courage, comprehension and then production.

Buenas Noches!

Note: For related posts and more about my interest in languages you can check out my language page here.

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