Archive for February, 2009

How to Learn Any Language
Due to President’s Day, there was no Spanish conversation class this week. Two weeks in a row that I have not attended. A little frustrating but couldn’t be helped. I have been motoring along with my learning. This week I thought I’d outline how I’ve been approaching learning Spanish. Last year when I was planning what language to study I came across an excellent book called, ‘How to Learn Any Language’ by Barry Faber, who speaks 25 languages.

He basically contends that a lot of language learning is ineffective, classes are not very helpful because they are inefficient and a waste of money. He has four simple concepts for learning a language “quickly, easily, inexpensively, enjoyably and on your own.”

These four concepts are:

The Multi-Track Attack: Learning your target language with a lot of tools to attack on several fronts at once. These tools are:
a basic grammar text,
a dictionary,
a phrase book (such as those for tourists),
a magazine or paper or simple book written in the target language,
language tapes,
blank tapes (to record yourself speaking, though I’m not really interested in this), and
flash cards, including homemade ones (for new vocabulary).

Barron's Spanish Grammar Barron's 501 Spanish Verbs

I love Barron’s Spanish Grammar and Barron’s 501 Spanish Verbs. These are excellent for clearly explaining aspects of grammar and usage of verbs. I particularly like that the verb book lists 55 essential verbs for beginners to learn. There is also an excellent (and clear) explanation of verb tenses (past, present, future, etc).

          Dover Easy Spanish Phrase Book          The New World English Spanish Dictionary

I also bought the Dover Easy Spanish Phrase Book and The New World English Spanish Dictionary (the latter published by Signet). I read through the Phrase Book and used the Dictionary a few times when I took a Spanish class last year but these are not so necessary now given that the internet is an amazing resource for the language learner. I have found a great dictionary/translation site that I use to look up words or translate sentences. It even has a feature that allows you to create flashcards from the vocabulary that you look up in the dictionary. You can find the site here. I’ve also found lists of essential Spanish phrases to learn perfectly. Omniglot.com has a great list here.

I’ve mentioned before that I have been reading Think Spanish, which I subscribed to and have also been listening to (and translating and studying the lyrics of) the music of Shakira.

     Pimsleur Spanish

I have also been listening to the Pimsleur Latin American Spanish Course, which is considered one of the best language courses out there and comes in many languages. I love it. It’s an expensive course but progresses up several levels so there’s lots of mileage in the course. The local library has Pimsleur so I have been borrowing it from the library and listening to it on my iPod.

Harnessing Hidden Moments: Turn free time into personal “mini-lessons” (for example when waiting in line, waiting for an elevator, or on hold on the phone). These are good times to use your flashcards to reinforce new vocabulary. I haven’t been using flashcards much but I do love using my iPod to listen to my Pimsleur language course when I have these hidden moments.

The Magic Memory System: Using mnemonics to effectively learn vocabulary. Again I don’t actively use the mnemonics system though I am familiar with it from both my years as a psychology student and previous language learning. I do have a strong visual memory already and sometimes use mnemonics. I’ll see if this becomes a bigger part in my language learning with Spanish.

Starting at the Top: Basically this means plunging into language learning, just like children do, by joining conversation groups, reading publications, watching movies and listening to music in the language you are learning. This is one of my favorite ways to learn language and plays to my strengths. I am a social person and enjoy learning languages as a way to engage with new people from different cultures. I love learning from context and I’m willing to struggle with the incomprehension that initially comes from throwing myself in at the deep end. I also love observing how my understanding of the language improves over time. I really enjoy the feeling of listening to a group speaking in the language I’m learning and starting to notice that I understand more and more of what is being said.

I really connect to Faber’s system for learning and plan to implement it when reviewing my French and Japanese, which I’d like to do in the near future (but not this year because my focus is establishing a good foundation in Spanish). I have also started to use this system for Ashley and Caitlin so they can enjoy learning some Spanish too. Ashley started Spanish class one morning a week at her school. To supplement her class, and to include Caitlin, I have borrowed some materials from the library that we’ve all been working through together.


Muzzy Yo Soy Muzzy

The BBC’s Muzzy Spanish Language Course for Children

We have watched the Muzzy Spanish course in the past and also the Japanese course. It contains 6 episodes set in Gondoland, where a king and queen live with their daughter Princess Sylvia. The gardener Juan is in love with Sylvia and she with him. However, there is a mean scientist (?) called Corvax, who works for the King and lives in the palace, who loves the Princess too. He attempts to keep Juan and Sylvia apart. Juan is sent to jail where he meets Muzzy, a monster from out of space who was arrested for eating parking meters. Juan and Muzzy become friends and work together to help Juan with Sylvia. The course also has a vocabulary builder DVD, which just presents vocabulary with the characters from the episodes. (Note that the Japanese version only has the vocabulary builder, which was still good but disappointing not to have the episodes in Japanese. Fortunately the girls were only 2 and 3 when we watched these, so they loved the vocabulary presentation.) There is a Level 2 that we will move onto soon. I have to admit, I’m enjoying this DVD course too.


Teach Me...Spanish

Teach Me…Spanish

Lots of familiar children’s songs, with simple Spanish spoken by a child in between. We’ve used this series in the past for Japanese songs and the girls still know several of the songs in Japanese. We’ll see how they take to the Spanish versions.

We’ve borrowed a few bilingual books from the library that have the text in both Spanish and English.

Perro Grande

Perro Grande…Perro Pequeño : un cuento de las buenas noches (Big dog, Little dog : A Bedtime Story) by P.D. Eastman; translated into Spanish by Pilar de Cuenca and Inés Alvarez.

Lola by Loufane; translated into Spanish by Gladys Rosa-Mendoza

Buenas Noches, Luna

Buenas Noches, Luna (Goodnight Moon) by Margaret Wise Brown; pictures by Clement Hurd; translated into Spanish by Teresa Mlewar

Buenas Noches, Luna 123
Buenas Noches, Luna 123 : un libro para contar Goodnight Moon 123 : A Counting Book,based on the book by Margaret Wise Brown; pictures by Clement Hurd.

I’ve been enjoying involving Ashley and Caitlin in my language learning. They know I speak a few languages and that I love learning and speaking languages other than just English. They loved when we worked on Japanese together, had fun learning some French before, and during, our trip to Paris and are keen to learn Spanish just like me. We also love that for the three of us, all the Spanish we knew before I started more formal studies of Spanish, came from watching and reading Dora, the Explorer. I must check of there are episodes of Dora in just Spanish. I’m confident there must be because, when we were back in Ireland a couple of years ago, we saw an episode where Dora had been translated into Irish! If it’s available in Irish it has to be out there in Spanish.

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


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la bruja

Image Source: Vivian Estalella at artlunamiami.com

I was unable to attend my Spanish conversation class last night. James had a meeting that came up in work and, although he tried very hard to reschedule it so I wouldn’t miss my class, it wasn’t to be. Even knowing on Sunday that I may not make it to class, I did my homework. I reveiewed my weeked, translated it into Spanish, studied the verb tenses I needed to use and the new vocabulary and made a note of some questions I have for my teacher for the next class.

I’ve also been slowly studying Spanish adjectives. Most recently it’s the demonstrative adjectives, which are used to point out someone or something. In English these are:
this (here)
these (here)
that (there)
those (there)
that (farther away or out of sight)
those (farther away or out of sight)

I was having some difficulty remembering when to use este (this) and ese (that). Then I discovered a lovely tip in my trusty little grammar bible Spanish Grammar by Barron’s.

To distinguish between este libro (this book) and ese libro (that book), remember that the t in este libro (this book near me) falls off on its way to ese libro (that book near you).

As a result I have a lovely little image in my head of the t falling off of este (here) as it makes its way to ese (there). Now when I listen to my Spanish CDs I find it a lot easier to produce the correct demonstrative adjective when prompted. Ah, little steps of progress!

Oh, and I had my first dream in Spanish on Sunday night. Well I had a dream where I used a Spanish word, but it counts! I had been reading Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya about the coming-of-age of a young mexican boy in the 1940s and his relationship to a curandera (healer). Some people think she is a witch, which in Spanish is la bruja. There are three evil witches in the story too. This must have all been percolating in my brain because I dreamt that I had to cut down a tree that was transforming into a bruja. I cut most of the roots except for one large one when the bruja started to move and pursue me, stretching this one root the whole time as she did so. All the while, I was repeating to myself, “La bruja is coming.” I was semi-conscious as I dreamt and kept trying to end the dream, without success. At some point as I dreamt I realized that this is my first “Spanish” dream. I’m using the language in my sleeping brain. The dream eventually changed where I was in France, about the engage in some sightseeing of Paris with a group of people I didn’t feel attached to. Then the lovely Colin Firth appeared and invited me (in French) to take a drive with himself and some friends to the town of Rouen in Normandy. I delightedly accepted and as we started our road trip I woke up.

Two dreams in different languages in one night. I take it as a sign that the linguistic centers of my brain are getting organized to accommodate the newest language neighbor moving. My brain is welcoming Spanish.


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

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Spanish Questions Spanish Questions Spanish Questions Spanish Questions

Image Source: kara.allthingsd.com

We had a very full weekend followed by a very full Monday. I didn’t have an opportunity to prepare the full blown translation of my weekend activities so I made two decisions: firstly, to still go to class even though I was tired and didn’t have my complete translation in text as a crutch (remember the first step is always courage in trying to speak a new language :)), and two, to use this opportunity to practice some of those essential expressions I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I figured this was a good time to become more proficient at asking: “How do you say…in Spanish?”, “How do you spell it?” and “Can you write it down please?” (Practically the same in Spanish.) I fumbled and I stumbled but I made myself understood.

We had a few new people again in class and did the usual get-to-know-you exercise where we take turns going around the table to ask questions of the new person. It meant that last night we went around the table three times, so three turns each to ask a question. It’s a challenge to come up with new questions when lots of people take their turn before you. I have been relying on a few stock questions (I particularly like to ask if the person speaks any other languages). By the end of this exercise I felt the need to brush up on the various question forms (what, where, when, how , who and beyond). So this week I’m focusing on questions. I found a couple of nice links for beginners.

Enchanted Learning (a site for children that I’ve used before for craft and activity ideas) has a list of questions here.

I also found a nice explanation around formulating questions here.

We also continued working on our numbers by going around the circle, this time counting to 102 by 3s and then backwards from 300 by 5s. I really enjoy these fun mental exercises for recalling numbers quickly. I love that there is a lot of laughter in my beginner’s conversation class. It certainly helps take some of the sting out of the initial beginner struggles 🙂


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

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