Friday, June 13, 2008

Closing of

...and the opening of!

I'm a bit tired because of the way Blogger works, so therefore I decided to move everything to a new blog running on Wordpress (the system I always liked). The address will be (already working).

Unfortunately I was not able to move the comments (I'll continue trying this), so at the moment only the posts are on the new blog. In a few days I'll add some redirects to the new site, if everything works out. Otherwise this blog will continue to exist as an archive, but comments will be closed. Of course, a brand new comment system comes with the new blog.

Also, in a few days the feedburner feed will be updated, so there is no need to do it yourself.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rapping all day long

I'm still here, happily doing my daily SRS reps, watching telenovelas (no, they're not just for chicas or mujeres) and listening music. Listening A LOT of music, each and every day, for hours and hours. To be honest: I just can't listen to audiobooks or podcasts while commuting. I like reading newspapers, or just staring out of the window while sitting in the train or bus. Not thinking about anything.

So, podcasts are no real option, nor are audiobooks. I have to think too much, and I just want to relax. And music simply helps me to relax, especially Spanish music. I've written more regarding this a while ago, and in the meanwhile I've listened hours and hours to reggaeton, bachata, rock, (latin)rap and more. The last few weeks I've been discovering Spanish rap. At first I was just enjoying the beats and lyrics, so far I could understand them. But then something cool happened.

I have the weird ability to listen to a CD for weeks and weeks, hours and hours per day. And the cool thing is that even after three weeks a CD doesn't bore me. It takes at least 4 - 5 weeks before a CD really starts to bore me. This way I can absorb the lyrics, giving me some new neat vocab to work with, but it also helps me understanding something said at 500 miles per minute. For example: there are quite some natives in the classes I attend, and after school we often continue to speak Spanish, but mostly they speak at 500 miles per minute which was quite difficult for me. Was difficult for me, because now I can understand them without a problem. Sure, sometimes I need a second or two before I fully understand what they've just said, but I can understand it. All because of rap and reggaeton.

Another neat thing that happened is that is influenced my pronounciation. So far I developed an Iberian accent which I really like. I had to work hard to get this accent, but eventually I developed one. It's a pity I didn't find out earlier how music can help to build your accent. For example: I got a CD with some cool reggaeton. As common in parts of Latin-America some singers pronounced the jota as a 'h' - hota. After a while I began saying things like muher, hente, caha, etc., etc. Now, this is something I didn't want to happen because of my Iberian accent.

It took some effort not using it anymore, but it proves that music strongly influences your pronounciation. Instead, I'm listening rap now, from Spain. And it really helps with my pronounciation, both maintaining and building it to perfection.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Learning materials provided by the Spanish state

Well, not exactly. But they ARE offering their television programs over the internet from now on. For free, gratis, gratuito. Some days ago I was reading the web edition of El País, like I do once in a while, when I came across this article. I appears that RTVE changed their website and added a feature which ables people from all over the world (yes, not only Spain, like a lot of Spanish television stations tend to do) to watch the programs broadcast the last 7 days.

In the past they only offered a 24 hour news service (which they still offer, but frankly: it's dull as ****), where you now can watch telenovelas and more. Fullscreen, good quality, YouTube-like (you MUST love YouTube. So get your *** over to, now!

Oh, besides, I'm still terribly busy with school. I'm still here, checking comments and answering them when possible or needed. Just give me some time and stick around.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why rolling your R

As you probably noticed, there have been less posts the last few weeks. It's not because I don't want to write, it's simply that I don't have time. Unfortunately, this will continue to be for about a month, but I'll try to publish at least one post per week.

Studies are going really well and I'm getting more and more fluent in Spanish which really feels good. I'm a bit of a perfecionist and this works both ways; I'm getting fluent faster and I'm getting better than I could've imagined. For example, last week someone asked me why I spent so much time perfecting my accent and pronounciation. "Isn't getting understood most important?" Well, of course getting understood it most important, but I want to get beyond that. Mainly because I want to move to Spain one day, I'm perfecting my Iberian Spanish pronounciation (I know, there isn't one pronounciation, but there are some standards). Although some people don't seem to find this very important, I do find it important and I'm willing to invest some serious time in this.

Similar to this my uncle also asked me this week why a rolled R is so important in Spanish. My first reaction was: 'A non-rolled R just sounds weird', and this includes not using a 'flap' for non-rolled R's. Again, I spent some serious hours tackling the rolled R and as soon as I mastered it, it gave a boost to my learning progress. Also, when you eventually 'master' Spanish - but have a poor pronounciation - people will almost always listen to that instead of what you're actually saying, some might even hate it so much that they don't like to talk with you (happened to me).

So, is pronounciation important? YES! I would say. And why wouldn't you concentrate on your R's (both rolled and flapped), c/s/z, uve's, etc., etc.? It only takes a little bit of extra energy when starting with Spanish, but the advantages are HUGE.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Preparing for tests

Doing your daily Anki sentences, listening music, watching Spanish television, etc., etc. It's great to do that every day, but frankly: it's only for your general studying, to get better in Spanish in general. But what if you have to prepare for Spanish tests, either in high school or in college? How do you prepare for, let's say, the vocabulary part? This can be rough, especially if you don't know where to start.

On an average, people try to jam vocabulary lists in their head using brute-force learning. Reading words over and over again, saying them out loud. Some people in my class do this, and even I did it. With no success. But now I pass the vocabulary tests with almost straight A's. And it's quite easy AND fun because I know I'll pass the next test.

So what do I do? It's simple: I use Anki for my vocabulary training. The book we use in school is called Gente 2, and the vocabulary in the tests comes from the stories in that book. Every test we need to know the vocabulary in 4 of the 11 chapters bij heart. Therefore I read the chapters, and each and every word I encouter that I don't know, I write down. Actually, I add it to Anki, something like this.

noun/verb (infinitive)

Sentence where the word is in

[Show answer]

translation of noun/verb in this context

So I write down the noun (in the gender it appeared in the sentence, but that's actually not that important overall) or the verb (the infinitive, to make things clear). Then I put the sentence in which I found the unknown word under. The other side of the card only contains the translation of the unknown word as I know what the rest of the sentence means.

Where my daily sentences give me the opportunity to practice grammar, this method helps me concentrating more on the unknown word. Because the use of a word differs, I put the sentence under it which also helps remembering the word better. It works great like this, and it's also a relaxed way of learning as the most work is reading the stories and looking up the definitions. After that you can reach your goal with 20 - 30 minutes of studying every day, beginning two weeks in advance.

But what if you have to learn word lists for school? Only adding the words doesn't help much, because the words won't stick that good. Try finding sentences where the word is used in. The Wordreference website is a great source for sentences like that, although a good dictionary can help aswell.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Studying grammar CAN help

At first, I was all for the 'input before output', 'output will come automatically', etc., etc. And I must say it has worked for me, it has worked wonderfully. BUT! As soon as I had to study the verb endings for class and the irregular verb forms, my study progress went even faster. At first I thought this was only because I was getting more input, but in Spain I noticed that my grammar studies were actually VERY fruitful.

Although at times I didn't know what tense to use, I eventually became more familiar with 'when to use what' and because of my grammar studies earlier I knew the correct verb form. Later on, it became part of my intuition and I knew exactly what to use when, something very exciting. Also, everytime I read a book, and I see a certain verb, I know exactly in what tense it is and therefore knowing the endings helps me understanding more and adding more and more to my natural intuition.

A while ago I was reading some articles regarding language acquisition. One article was about the theories of Stephen Krashen (the man who 'came up' with the input = out method) and it stated that students who had a massive amount of input with some grammar study were eventually on a higher level than students who only got input without grammar study. Unfortunately the article is in Dutch, otherwise I'd posted it here. But the main thought is that studying grammar is not a waste of time, as long as you don't spend too much time on it. Studying grammar won't learn you Spanish, input does. That doesn't take away that studying grammar can boost your progress.

So what to do? I suggest buying a good grammar book, especially one which explains the verbs. Don't rush the use of a grammar book, I suggest plain beginners to stick to easy input, even courses (FSI, SpanishPod), to get familiar with the Spanish language. Read children's books, even better; use bilingual texts (if audio is available: USE IT!). It will help you getting a good foundation, after which you can start studying grammar (concentrate on the verbs first). Believe me, it will boost your progress.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Back home

As you might have seen (did a small comment yesterday) I'm back. I went to Málaga last week for a small intensive course (way too short, but it was something arranged by my college) and a stay with a family. Staying with the family was great, the people were nice and the mother was a teacher herself. So not only I learned a lot from her, we also discussed learning methods (in Spanish, of course). The language intitute was just great. Normally I think classes suck in general, especially my college classes (I still attend my college classes, but at times I hate them), but the way the people at the institute were able to explain things... WOW!

The trip showed me some things that'll be valuable to you (and me, of course), especially regarding grammar. So expect some posts on that.

In the meanwhile I urge you to stick to your sentences. This trip was the first trip to Spain after I started doing my sentences on a daily basis, and the results were stunning. The family I stayed with were impressed by how well I could express myself (the correct use of different words, the vocabulary range, etc., etc.) and that my grammar was correct most of the time (I know I'm arrogant, hehe). And although I did some serious grammar studying next to the sentences, most of my speaking abilities (yes, speaking abilities from reading) came from the sentences.

Now I first need to switch back from Spanish-mode to Dutch/English-mode.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cuentos en Español

Stories in Spanish. This is something I wanted to share with you earlier, but simple didn't have the chance to do so. Remember me writing about children's books, and how important they're for beginners? Right, I gave some tips for books, but unfortunately it's quite difficult to get them if you're not a member of Instituto Cervantes. Luckily enough there are some neat resources, of which I'd like to discuss one in this post.

Eleena of Voices en Español came up with the great idea of posting Spanish [translations of] children's stories on the web, with the exact audio done by a native speaker. The accent of the speaker may vary, as the speakers vary. Nonetheless it's a great source of reading-listening, next to the nice and simple (although real enough) language. Copying the audio to your mp3-player and printing out the text is a great way to learn while commuting. I'm actually planning to do so and just bring a marker with me so I can colour the unknown words and add the sentences to Anki.

The plan is to add one story per week, so there should be plenty of materials soon enough!

Click here for Cody's Cuentos.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Busy, busy, busy

The coming up week I'm quite busy. I've got a psychology paper to finish and have a Spanish exam on Tuesday. So new posts have to wait after that. Besides, the week after, I'll be in Málaga for about one week.

So sorry for not updating much, but I promise I'll post at least one more thing before I leave for Spain.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Reasons why NOT stop studying Spanish

People think of a lot of reasons before they start studying a language. How useful is it to be able to speak the language? (in the case of Spanish; VERY!) Is it possible for me to use it in the near future? (in the case of Spanish; probably, yes) Can I get enough materials to learn the language? (Spanish; YES!) Do I really want to learn this language? (that depends on you, hehe) Etc. Etc.

But when they eventually start studying a language and stop after a while, they don't even consider why they should stop. Has the language suddenly become less useful (this is possible, depends on your situation) or has your source of material suddenly dried up (don't give this as a reason regarding Spanish, because there's ALWAYS material for Spanish)? It doesn't matter actually, because most 'reasons' are no actual reasons, most people simply don't have a reason to stop studying Spanish (or any other language). It's simply lazyness. So here are a few reasons why you shouldn't stop studying Spanish.

1. Think about your reason to start studying Spanish
Is it because that cute Spanish girl you met last summer? Do you love the mentality of people in Bolivia? Do you like Mexican food and want to move to Mexico because of this (yes, Mexican food is good, so it's not that weird to move for this)? Whatever your reason is/was, it still counts in most cases. Just think about it every day to motivate yourself. Personally, my first reason to start studying Spanish was because I liked the sound of the language. It still like the sound, but also got some great Spanish friends who only speak Spanish and no other languages. Currently that's even a bigger reason to become better.

2. The time you've invested so far
How many hours have you spent studying Spanish? 10 hours? 100 hours? 200 hours? Again, it doesn't matter. Every 10 minutes well-spent counts. You don't want to be that person that invested a lot of effort in something to forget everything later on, don't you? Why would you start running 10 km to quit after 4 km and return? It's a waste of energy, even if just started studying. Every minute learning (and then I mean learning in a correct way) is spent well, no doubt about it.

3. Look back
This connects with the point above. You look back and see what you've achieved so far. What were your successes? How did you feel when you achieved these things? When I look a year back, I see this bilingual guy, who couldn't roll his R's and could only say hola ¿cómo estás?. Now, I see this guy who has several Spanish(-speaking) friends, can roll his R's, can fake accents and can simply have fun going out with Spanish friends and speaking nothing else than Spanish. I couldn't imagine what I know now, and I'm still not even near where I want to be (at times, I still suck. Actually, most of the time. But that doesn't matter). But I'm happy what I've reached so far, and eager to continue.

4. Think of the joy
Image yourself being in a Spanish-speaking country, hanging out with cool people, going to cool clubs and bars, and meeting cool new people. That's what can happen if you succeed in being fluent in Spanish. You just made it possible for you to get connected with over 400 milion people, on the same level of communication. IF you succeed. Don't be the person dreaming about being in a Spanish-speaking country and doing cool things with natives. Be the person who DOES these things.

5. Money
Although money shouldn't be your first reason to study Spanish, it's perfectly possible to make a nice amount of money every month if you're good at it. Moving to a Spanish-speaking country might get you a well-paid job (for that country, most likely) and living like a god in France (Dutch saying, hehe). Even if you don't move to a Spanish-speaking country, Spanish might get you the job you truly enjoy (teacher? translator?).

6. Integrate in other cultures
Although going to clubs and bars is fun, learning another language also involves learning another culture and customs. When I was studying Russian I was able to integrate in a completely other culture. Studying Spanish involves learning a slightly less extreme way of integrating, but it's still different to what you're used to in most ways. Especially in Latin-America there are countries with some cool, pre-Hispanic, customs. Getting to know these opens a totally different world for you.

7. ...
I can mention a lot of other reasons why NOT top stop studying Spanish, but I think the point is clear and that you should convince yourself. Just don't quit when you're having a hard time getting the hang of the language, just continue.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Andalucía Televisión

Just a quick post from my side. In the last post I talked about getting native materials and that getting a satellite dish might be a nice solution. For the people who can't afford one and depend on the internet for their Spanish materials I found Andalucía Televisión. As you probably know, Andalucians have a quite heavy Iberian accent (at least the majority, there are quite come ceceos), but it's great television nevertheless.

From here you can watch a live stream in a Youtube-like player (unfortunately it's not available in full-screen, I think). You can also watch previous episodes of their programmes by searching for them in the right frame. On top of this, there are some radio stations which are actually quite good (both the music and the DJ's).

I suggest you check it out (especially if you're learning an Iberian accent) and try to make watching/listening it a daily routine.

TeleMadrid got a similair service, but the quality of the stream is pretty bad in my opinion.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gathering your materials

I've given quite some tips on how to begin, how to keep momentum, etc., etc. The thing I haven't discussed is what I think are the best materials. Sure, sentences are a important part of my learning routine (and should be important for you aswell), but it's not the only thing. I use some very handy (and often cheap or free) resources to get exposure from. That's what I want to do today; some resources I think are necesarry for you all or which will boost your learning progress.

Get exposure/input
Language learning is all about getting yourself enough exposure. Textbooks want to let you believe this can only be done by artificial dialogues and stupid work lists. Bull**** I say, that's not how natives learned Spanish. Spaniards learned Spanish from hearing and seeing a lot of Spanish, that's why they're so good at it. So the tip I want to give you, is this: Get. Native. Materials. NOW! It's that simple. Buy Spanish books from or get them from a Cervantes library near your place. Although Amazon doesn't have much DVD's for Spaniards, there are plenty other good (Spanish) companies around which sell them at good prices (again, if there's a Instituto Cervantes near your house, you might get them there aswell).

Me for example: I love watching Friends. And although I used to hate dubbed series and movies (which is not good if you want to learn Spanish, so you'd better get over it), I got muself two seasons of it on DVD and searched the internet for transcripts in Spanish. Although I only use the audio for understanding (yes, I don't use the subtitles), I can use the transcripts if I misunderstand something or for acquiring more sentences.

Another thing you should consider, is getting yourself a satellite dish. Yeah, be like a foreigner in your own country, but if you don't live in a country where there are a lot of Spanish channels on cable tv (like in the U.S.) you might want to buy a satellite dish. They can be a bit expensive, but if you can tune in on hundreds of Spanish channels, it's work every dime. You could also try WWITV of course, but there are only a few good channels and buffering a channel can take ages.

If you were going to spend money on Spanish learning materials (other than native materials), you'd better spend it on SpanishPod. The first 7 days of your account you have access to all the premium materials, which are really good. Not only you have a nice podcast to listen to, you also have a PDF file with the dialogue transcript, a vocabulary list (brrrr, word list), expansion (THIS is what you need. Ready-to-copy sentences. Personally I translate the English part to Dutch, but it's still good) and some good exercises to train and measure the learned language. After the 7 days it can get ugly, because a premium membership is $30 a month. If you can't miss that amount of money, consider the basic membership, which gives you the dialogue PDF and mp3 in CD quality. But better get the premium content, because it's a great source of sentences (the first 90+ lessons will give you over 1500 sentences).

So what's the best way to use SpanishPod? Of course to listen to the podcasts, but try to listen to the ones you like (subjects you like, of course) and things you think you may need in the near future, and listen to them often. The podcasts aren't linked together liked normal lessons, so you can pick out the ones you want to do first. Also, find out what's the highest level you can take at the moment. The first few levels are in English, but later on (the higher levels) they're entirely in Spanish (which is good, because you want to have a lot exposure. Believe me, you want to get to it quickly). Listen every podcast a few times and read along with the dialogue. Also try to mine sentences from the dialogue to add to Anki.

Next thing to do is (if you have a premium account, or when you're still in the trial period) to copy the sentences from the expansion part to Anki. This won't take much time, and you're even learning from quickly seeing the sentences. As Anki supports audio, it might be a nice idea to download and edit the fix (this comes with every podcast, but is premium content) to add the audio of the sentence to the written sentence. The fix contains the loose vocabulary, but it also has each and every example sentence from the expansion tab as audio.

So not a member? Sign up NOW! (Yeah, some blatant advertising from my side, but I mean each and every word of it).

Stay tuned for more b*d-*ss material tips!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

How difficult is it to study Spanish?

People often ask me if it's hard to study Spanish, or they simply say it is a tricky language to learn. However, the biggest problem for them is that they see this 'wall' (an unknown language) and think it's almost impossible for them to get around it, or that only smart people can learn Spanish or another language. The truth is, however, that Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn, if your native tongue is a European language. But even if it isn't; you already know English (otherwise you wouldn't understand this post) and English and Spanish share the same alphabet and other nice things (the spelling of Spanish is nothing compared to English; they came up with a 'concept' where you spell the things how you say them. [sarcasm]WOW![/sarcasm]). According to Khatzumoto (yeah, sorry, I like the way he thinks. And he is just right regarding a lot of things) it's possible for everyone to learn Japanese, so why wouldn't you be able to learn Spanish?

So how is it possible that people study Spanish for years and years, and that they're still not able to have even the simplest conversations? It's just a matter of choosing the wrong approach. A lot of people use textbooks with artificial conversations, old words, boring content, etc., etc. Textbooks are expecting someone to know a rule by heart by just seeing three examples, or force people to learn out-of-context words. So it's not that Spanish is difficult, that's what some people want you to believe. Just look to some of the advantages you have as a speaker of the English language:

It has the same alphabet, is spelled phonetically, has some of the easiest sounds to produce, has a clear grammar, not many hard-to-pronounce words, etc., etc. So far I can see it's pretty easy to study Spanish. The only thing that lacks most of the time, is that people believe they can't do it. Why would say if it's impossible if you didn't even try?

So, the biggest hurdle to take is to say to yourself: I. Can. Do. It. NOW! And instead of just saying it and then doing nothing, start acting like you can do it. Gather materials, USE them and you'll see Spanish really is one of the easlier languages to master. "Ahhhhh, sure Ramses. I can start studying Spanish, but my accent will suck anyway, I will never master the grammar or idioms and I will NEVER have a big vocabulary" you might say. Nonsense, I will say. Just go, study, enjoy the language. Enjoy your progress, enjoy hanging out with Spanish people. Enjoy each and every thing you do in Spanish, enjoy using Spanish. Just say to yourself: I can do it, and I WILL succeed and master Spanish to the point where I can say it's my second (or third) native language. It's not that hard, it's perfectly possible.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Colour your words

Previously I wrote about word lists and that I believe they don't work. Don't worry, I still think they don't work, but I had some discussions the last few days about it with some people. They find sentences way too confusing to learn the most important words. Also, I've noticed something in my own learning method which should boost your learning progress aswell. But first I'll tell you how I used to create my sentences in Anki.

When I first began to use sentences I was worried about the fact that I wouldn't learn individual words. So instead of just adding sentences I'd first add the infinitive or noun and then the example sentence. Something like this:

La gasolina es más cara que el gasóleo

Petrol is more expensive than diesel

First I thought this was perfect. But I soon found out that adding the infinitive is just useless. I don't want to use Spanish like it's a programmed language. I don't like to think too much about grammar which causes me to be less fluent. I want to be able to get an intuition, just get the flow of the language and understand most of what I hear in a small amount of time. So I decided to get rid of the infinitive and make sentences like this:

La gasolina es más cara que el gasóleo

Petrol is more expensive than diesel

Ever since I've been using this format. And it works, it simply works. After a few months practicing my few hundred sentences like this I was able to have nice conversations and even pull off more complex presentations. But after a update of Anki, which enables people to add colours to their words and sentences, I've come up with the idea to colour the hard words to help them stick better. So instead of just making a word bold, you can simply add a colour to it, which (according to some studies) boosts the learning progress. And again, everything is much more clear right now, because of the extra attention to difficult words and parts. This is how my sentences look like right now:

La gasolina es más cara que el gasóleo

Petrol is more expensive than diesel

Of course this is just a simple example, most of my sentences are more complex than this. Besides, it's possible that I have only one coloured word in a sentence, or none. But the thing is that you need to analyze your sentences, read them aloud (if you're alone, of course), write them down (if that's possible, I don't do it normally), etc., etc. Giving colour to the words not only helps you with remembering them in the future, it also helps you with analyzing them because you can distinguish the coloured words easier and see their translations faster aswell.

So bring colour to your sentences and let your learning be more fruitful!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spanish natives are just cooler

Why are Spanish people cooler than the people from your own country? I don't know, just because they are! Ok, the truth is that you can simply learn a lot from them. Not only language-wise, but you will also learn a lot about the country where they're from. My class counts about 7 nationalities, of which 5 are from a Spanish-speaking country. Every day they teach me 'official' Spanish words, slang words and give me a better view on their culture. Not for the sake of learning, but just because they seem to be cooler I 'hang' with them.

My last stay in Spain I had the chance to spend time with some very cool people, from other countries than Spain (nor they were speaking Spanish like a native). Instead I choose to get myself some new friends, Spanish friends. In the beginning this was kinda hard, because where do you get a pack of new friends? Luckily I was visiting some Dutch friends who know a lot of Spanish people, so I was soon going out with Spanish people aswell. It simply boosted my knowledge of the language and increased my feeling for it. Besides, I also gained a bigger liking for Spanish.

Of course it can be tiresome for natives to always correct you or to learn you new things. You should be aware of that and not want to learn new things language-wise all the time. What you can do is spend some time talking about the differences between your culture and their culture. Often you will see that Spanish speaking people are really interested in completely other cultures. Even the fact that Dutch people have their supper at 6PM amazed a lot of Spaniards. This way you'll pick up some serious new vocabulary, understanding of the grammar AND get a better understanding of the customs of your new friends.

A lot of people say that the best way to learn a language is to go to the country where it's spoken. This can be true is some cases, but it's not fool proof. What will work is to get know some very cool, new, people where you go out with. They'll be happy to help you with your learning and you will pick up an understanding of a new culture aswell. The nice thing about this is that you can find natives in your own country. Go to parties where Spanish speaking people go to. For example; a few months ago there was a big salsa festival in the Netherlands. Some classmates of mine went and met some very cool Spanish speaking people. So don't say it's impossible, just look for the right opportunity. You will find your pack of Spanish speaking friends.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Word lists don't work (and why they don't work)

When beginning with Spanish, your first goal is probably to get a big basic vocabulary. That's a logical step, as you want to understand at least bits of the Spanish you read or hear. You probably learn a nice amount of chunks to survive in a simple Spanish conversation. That's all fine and good, but how are acquiring a new vocabulary? Word lists? Alphabetical word lists? Thematic word lists? Frequency word lists? It doesn't matter and I don't care. As long it's a word list without example sentences (sentences are gooood, because you can add them to your Spaced Repetition System) they're worthless and mostly work contra-productive.

When I started majoring Spanish in college I knew almost nothing. Ok, I knew how to say hello and ask people how they're doing. But that's nothing. So I first started with reading a lot, which I still like. I even made a word list for my tests, just to survive. The first word list was also the last one, and I used it for about 20 minutes. It just didn't like it, it was dull and gave me the feeling I wasn't learning anything. However, I've had many discussions with classmates who think word lists are the one true learning method. They learn a few hundred words before an important test, know them for about three days and then forget 95% of what they've learned. It's no surprise they've only made little progress or at least not as much as I did. The only reason I've learned so much in the past few months is because I started to learn everything in context. I got myself a thematic dictionary, but not to learn the words but to add the example sentences each word has to my SRS.

So what's the reason word lists don't work? "I'll get myself a big word list and add it to my Spaced Repetition System" you might say. Good luck... with failing, I would say. The weakness of word lists isn't just the way you use to tackle them. It's the concept itself. Loose words are useless, especially in a language like Spanish. Unless the language you're learning is Esperanto (where word order isn't that important and words stay the same most of the time - but not always) I wouldn't even consider learning loose words, it's a waste of time and energy. Almost every word in a Spanish sentence depends on a noun, subject or a specific tense. Learning words in one particular form is just useless, and again a waste of energy. You want to see everything in context, using sentences for your plain learning moments or simply watch tv or listen to the radio. It doesn't matter, as long as the words are in context.

The power of context is not only that you get a better understanding of the Spanish grammar or that you get an intuition. Every sentence tells you something, and the words you don't know will stick better if you understand what the sentence is trying to say to you. Analyze your SRS sentences, look for the unknown words and special forms of verbs and nouns. Look for the awkward things in Spanish, it'll be even funny. Each and every sentence which contains a hard to remember word will help you to remember that particular word. It will also help you with remembering most of the other words in the sentence AND the grammatical structure. So throw your word lists away, get yourself a (thematic) dictionary word LOTS of example sentences and start adding them to Anki. Don't have a computer at hand? Doesn't matter, just listen an audiobook or a podcast. Don't want to use the computer but just being plain lazy? Doesn't matter, fire up a DVD with Spanish audio (even a lot of dubbed ones are fun to watch. Me for example always enjoy Bad Boys 2, it's just funny as ****) - better not turn on the subtitles (not even the Spanish ones), they make you lazy.

It doesn't matter how you acquire vocabulary. It doesn't matter how long it takes before you feel confident (but hopefully it won't take too long either). Just do a little bit every day, in context, and you WILL build an impressive vocabulary.

Monday, March 3, 2008

How to roll your R

Check the post on the new blog!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Reading children's books

Every serious language learner encouters it soon enough; a too small vocabulary. Vocabulary is one of the most important things, because you can get fairly far without a strong grammar base. That's why you want to build your vocabulary FAST. "Ahhh, that's easy! I just use a list with the 3,000 most common Spanish words" you might say. Well mate, loose words suck. You want to use sentences instead. But sentences will mostly help you in the long run, instead of in the very beginning.

So what's the best way then? It's hard to say what's the best way, because it's probably as case of combining several methods and investing a lot of time, especially in the beginning (not that I'm saying you should invest less when you're further on your way to fluency). However, reading children's books can and will help your progress significantly. I've discussed "children's books" for adults in the past, but just too short to be useful. What you want are books which are most useful to adult learning and which use a limited lexicon. Books as de ones of the University of Salamanca and esparaleer are probably the best ones around. They don't really contain dull children's stories, but rather short stories which are enjoyable for adults. The downside is that most of the books are quite short, so you want to get yourself at least 3 or 4 to do some serious reading.

So, you have been reading the books and you like them. Starting at level 1, which uses about 400 words, and working you way to level 6, which uses about 2,500 words - taking the books of the University of Salamanca as example (getting to level 6 will take, of course, a lot of work besides reading these books). But what is the best way to use them?

A good friend of mine who speaks several languages at near-native level, says he just takes a book he really likes and start reading, a dictionary at his side to look up unfamiliar words. Normally he won't look up every word he doesn't know, but rather take the words which he stumbles upon more than a few times. This is a method he generally uses for longer books, such as novels. But it can be used for short books aswell. Applying this method to the espareleer books, for example, will result in building up a basic vocabulary fast. An extra feature these books have, is an explanation (in Spanish) for difficult words, just at the bottom of the page the word is on.

But beware, don't read a book just once. Ok, most esparaleer and Santillana (the ones of the University of Salamanca) books are written in the same style, but it's possible that another book relies on another basic vocabulary. The thing you want in this case, is to know each and every book you're going to 'tackle' very well. Add sentences to your Anki database, add words you like or find difficult to your personal notebook (and write one or two example under the word) or mark the words in your book (if it's yours). Do anything you want, as long as you learn from it. The strength of this is that you see everything is context, which is the most important thing in gaining vocabulary. You want to learn these words NOW, and you will. You in the end you will also want to know the structure of Spanish, gain an intuition. You will, but be sure to do everything in context. Even analyze the sentences in the easiesier books, you will find out this can be fun. Read, look up, write down, analyze. Do this with children's books or the simple books mentioned before, and you will get a bigger basic vocabulary soon.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Building and maintaining your accent

When it comes to learning a language, it's a pity that a lot of people neglect the custom to use a proper accent. Ok, in the very beginning it can be difficult to have a proper accent, but you shouldn't worry too much about output in the beginning anyway. Using a proper accent from the beginning is the only way to fluency. It doesn't matter if you choose to use a Mexican, Argentinan or Spain-Spanish accent, as long as you stick with the accent you choose to use. This will be easier for you in the end, and will boost your learning progress because you'll be confident speaking Spanish.

In once met a woman who has been living in Spain for over 20 years. Her Spanish was just perfect, vocabluary and grammar wise. Her pronounciation, however, was just terrible. You could clearly hear she was from England as her r was exactly the same as an English r. Her rolling r was simpy non-existent. Of course people were able to understand her, but they would often make fun of her accent or just wouldn't listen because it was such a drag to do so.

This shows how important an accent can be. You want to be taken seriously, don't you? "Ahhh, as long as they understand me it's ok. It's just impossible to sound like a native". WRONG! I've had some serious 'rolling r' problems myself. I just couldn't roll my r with the tip of my tongue. So what did I do? I've been practicing like a madman for weeks. My roommates got crazy because I was trying to produce rolling sounds all day, but I didn't care. Eventually I was able to produce a rolling sound, but wasn't able to put it into words. So I've been practicing again, for weeks and weeks. Now I can finally put a nice, smooth, rolling r into every word I want. With ease. Why? Simply because I want to have a perfect accent and I don't want to give up this beautiful language just because I can't roll my r.

I liked reading Barry Farber's book "How To Learn Any Language". He said something like: Why would you invest a lot of time and energy in gaining a proper accent afterwards if you can get a proper accent from the beginning with juuuuuuuust a little bit of extra energy? I think is right on this one. I've been practicing a lot of Spanish speaking with a bad accent, and it cost me quite some energy and time to abandon this accent and get myself a proper one. It even set me back a little bit. First, because I was spending so much time practicing my accent. Second, because I felt bad because of my accent and 'why I couldn't do that r sound'. This shouldn't happen to you, if you take up the challenge to make your accent perfect.

I like to visit the How-to-learn-any-language forum, as a lot of great people with great ideas regarding language learning visit it every day. There I've read something about shadowing (another link, with some useful threads). It's quite difficult to exactly explain, but it works like this: you listen-read a text, or a part of a text (for this you need a piece of text - better take a long book you REALLY like - with the matching audio, obviously), and then COPY the spoken text yourself. That's not the trickiest part, but it will get tricky as you need to speak out every word at the same time as the audio. I know, it's hard to do, but it will get easier. I've done it myself, and I actually like it. It enables me to copy the proper accent of the speaker of the audiobook, which will stick and will be there outside the shadowing exercises.

To put it together; acquiring a correct accent isn't hard and won't take much time, if you begin acquiring it at an early stage. However, it can be a pain in the *** if you start too late with it, so you better start early (preferably in the first month of your studies, maybe even the first two weeks). I might take a bilingual book/text to shadow with, so you can pick up some new vocabulary aswell.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The importance of liking your music

I know a lot of people who tend to say that music has really helped their language learning experience in a positive way or is helping them to get a grip on their target language. I agree with them, although I must say that you must not rely too much on songs for language learning. Usually words are changed in a way that they sound nice, but they're not necessary correct when used in the songs. However, songs can be really good to get used to the sound of the language and to boost your love for the language.

I've been struggling with finding music that I really like for long. The Spanish language comes with a list of music genres which are typical for the language. The truth is however, that merengue and bachata music can be nice, but they're not really my type of music. I really like rock music and punk rock in particular. That said, it has been a real drag for me to find some bands I really like. "It doesn't matter if you like the music or not, just listen to Spanish music for the sake of listening" lots of people tend to say. This is not true, you will find out when time passes and you study more and more. You WANT to like the music, otherwise it will just negatively affect your progress.

My search for music that I really like led me to situations I prefer not be in anymore. Because of the lack of music I like, I started listening to some pop music and bachata music. Instead of helping me learning Spanish and increasing my love for the language, it began to break down the love I already had for Spanish. Every minute I listened to music I didn't really like, the more I began to hate the sounds of Spanish itself. I know, maybe I was overreacting, but that was how I felt.

That changed when I found music that I DO like. I started to love the language again, and the sound of Spanish now sound cooler than ever. This shows how important it is that you like the music of the target language you listen to. Maybe the music you like doesn't help you with building vocabulary or getting a better understanding of the grammar, but it can help you gaining a bigger 'liking factor'. On the other hand; listening to music you don't like can seriously damage your progress. In the end you will start studying less and less because you start hating some parts of the language, and the things you want to happen is that you start loving almost every part of it.

Another fun thing to do is to learn the lyrics by heart. This can look dull, but if you're really into a song it can be a really good thing to do. You will get used to the sound, maybe even the particular accent of the singer (if that's an accent you want to learn). Lots of sites which prove lyrics often give the translation of Spanish songs, so you can get a gist of the meaning of the words and sentences (remember: you don't want to translate word-by-word, simply because it doesn't work).

Friday, February 22, 2008

Why sentences are so damn important

If you have been reading Khatzumoto's blog, you probably have read enough about sentences. But it doesn't hurt to just talk about it again. To be honest; I've been really sceptic about this method for a long time, until I decided to just pick up the idea and put it in practice myself. And I have to say, it just skyrocketed my progress in Spanish.

I'm surrounded by native speakers of Spanish in college, and we all just prefer to discuss our daily things in Spanish instead of in Dutch or English. In the beginning this was kinda hard because my vocabulary sucked in Spanish and my feeling for the structure of the language was just dramatic. This resulted in some pretty funny situations. Funny for the native speakers. I just felt depressed at some times and had a headache every day the first three or four weeks. Now I can discuss a lot of subjects with a fairly high level of confidence, just after five months or so. Still, my vocabulary isn't even near that of a native speaker, but I've grown an intuition for the structure of Spanish.

So what has helped me to get this? Simple; sentences. Adding new sentences every day, saying them out loud and decipher the meaning of the words and the structure of the sentence. Instead of learning I just read them, and it worked. It has been working since the first week I began to use my growing sentence database and it still works months after. I don't have the feeling that I'm actually learning something (which will be awkward for you and can result in a minor depression in the beginning), but I am learning something. A few weeks ago I had a presentation about a subject I never talked about before. But I was able to pull it off with just a few minutes of time to prepare, and the words flew out of my mouth. Afterwards I got some compliments about how my Spanish has grown in such a short time. It's not that I'm looking for compliments, but they're always nice.

My sentence database isn't that big at the moment, but I'm always looking for things I might need in the near future. It's handy to have a thematic dictionary because you can pick things you want to learn at that moment. I've been in Spain for almost a month last December. I knew that I'd go to bars and clubs with friends who are native speakers, so the things I wanted to learn involved names of drinks, youth slang and so on. That's why I've been looking for sentences which covered that particular subjects and added them to Anki. The people I went out with were suprised I knew some neat slang words and I was able to understand them when they used sub-culture words themselves. It certainly boosted my 'liking factor' of Spanish, and thinking back about it just makes me happy (something you'll need, because you want to remember yourself why you are learning Spanish - to communicate with cool people).

So start building you own personal sentence database NOW. Don't do excercises now and then but do them every day. It doesn't matter if you do 10 sentences of 100 per day, as long as you keep you Spanish alive and growing. Remember; this isn't time I've come up myself. I've just read a lot of posts of Khatzumoto who got his ideas from the great guys of If it has worked for them, and if it's working for me. Why wouldn't it work for YOU?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The difficulty of beginning

Almost every language learner has difficulties with it; starting with the target language. Where does someone need to start? What is needed to start? I found beginning with Spanish just a pain in the ass. The market is flooded by learning materials for Spanish, but most are just rubbish and no-good at all. So where do you want to start?

(Real) materials
I'm not saying learning materials aren't good in general, the case is that just most aren't useful. "Learn Spanish in 2 weeks" Suuuure, if you only want to be able to order cervezas and tapas. If you REALLY want to learn Spanish, you want to have a lot exposure to the language. In fact, the best learning materials are available for free. Take the FSI Spanish course for example, or it's money costing (and slightly better, in my opinion) Platiquemos course.

Of course that's nice and all, to begin with. And the beginning is the most difficult part, next to halfway the way to fluency. As soon as you have a certain rythm it gets easier, until the 'depressing period' (something I'll get back to later) starts. But the thing you want are LOTS and LOTS of natural materials. One way to get these is to watch a lot of television and listening many hours to radio stations in your target language. The problem with this is that you need a fairly high level in the target level to understand much, so you want to have a part in your language learning you can actually understand.

This is where another neat method kicks in.

This is something I didn't come up with (just as most things I use for my language learning), but a guy called 'Khatzumoto' used this to get fluent in Japanese in about 18 months. The whole system works like this: use a computer flashcard program like Anki (don't use paper flashcards for this method as you'll deny de Spaced Repetition philosophy), add cards to it (and I mean A LOT of cards) in this way: target language - native language (or a language you know really well). That's it. Khatzumoto gives the advice to add about 10,000 cards over time, which is possible. As Dutch is my native language I used a Dutch bookThematische woordenschat Spaans (Thematic vocabulary for Spanish) which contains about 5700 example sentences. Other sentences can be get from language learning meterials, like the FSI textbooks or dictionary (especially English - Spanish and Spanish - English dictionaries tend to have heaps of example sentences). Personally I use my college textbooks to mine sentences from. This way I prepare for my exams and learn in a VERY effective way.

It the beginning this may look ineffective, but in the long run everything that's essential in a language (from patterns to the weird irregular verbs in Spanish to the idioms), will be in your brain. Khatzumoto has some very nice thoughts on this subject, so I urge you to check his blog now and then. He also has heaps of reading material regarding the sentence method.

How to get materials
Getting languages courses for Spanish is quite easy, but also expensive. You might consider just buying one course (or legally download the FSI course for free) to begin with and soon switch to real materials, sources Spanish speaking people use for their daily entertainment. This may incluse getting a satellite dish, comics (I actually have all the Tintín comics in Spanish, simply because I LOVE them), books (to begin with, the esparaleer series or the beginners books of the University of Salamanca are with their money) and radio stations.

I'm lucky to study in Utrecht, which has an Instituto Cervantes. Many big cities in the world have an Instituto Cervantes aswell, you can get heaps of reading material and DVD's to borrow at a low price (contribution is only €20 for me, for example). If you're not that lucky, both the internet and Amazon can be your friends.


Welcome to the brand new weblog called "Spanish Only". To be honest; this is not my first weblog about learning Spanish. It's actually my second one, but I just started over because I didn't like my previous host.

As the title states this weblog is about learning Spanish. I'm currently in my fifth month majoring Spanish in college and I must say I love the culture and the language! I've been struggling with beginning with the language in the past, that's why I decided to just go for it and choose it as my major. My goal is to become a Spanish teacher, either in the Netherlands (where I currently live) or in Spain.

This weblog is, of course, not only about learning Spanish. In the past twelve months I tried a lot of methods more or less with success. Even now I'm majoring Spanish I keep studying on my own with methods I found useful to me. The methods I found useful are easy to use for other languages aswell.

The languages I've studied so far are: English, German, French (without any success due to the high level of suckage of high school classes), Russian and a bit of Chinese. However, my current goal is to just spend as much time as possible on Spanish.

Welcome again! Just relax and have a nice time reading and discussing language learning.