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Speaking a foreign language is most frustrating when you know exactly what you want to say in your first language, but you either don't know how to say anything similar in the foreign language or anything that captures the exact nuance.   The process if less frustrating if you accept that you should not think in your first language and that you may never be able to capture the exact subtlety. It's absolutely okay that you cannot express yourself as eloquently and exactly at times. There are certain times when you need the exact word or exact phrase because of a nuance, but there are other situations where a generic phrase will do.   This post is focusing on idioms and phrases that are useful to know and that can be used in many situations: they will be adequate, even if you could have picked a more colorful phrase in your native language.   Think of learning Spanish phrases this way: every time you learn a phrase, you add it to your bank of... read more

Jokes are a fun way to learn vocabulary, practice phrases in context, and review grammar. Some of the information I provide below just skims the surface, so please stay tuned for more details on topics (such as verbs like gustar, possessive pronouns, and reflexive pronouns) or use other references for more information.   1.¿Por qué está triste el cuaderno de matemáticas?   Porque tiene muchos problemas.   Why is the math book sad?   Because it has a lot of problems. Por qué means why and porque means because. All words that are at least 3 syllables and end in ico/s or ica/s have an accent mark on the vowel that is 3 syllables back. The rule would apply to the words chico/s and chica/s because they only have two syllables. Problema ends in a, but it is masculine. A trick: many common words that end in ‘ma’ are masculine (el sistema,el tema, el programa, el idioma, el clima) and all words that end in ‘dad’ are feminine... read more

Some students confuse adjectives and their corresponding adverbs.   Adjectives describe a noun and the adjective must agree in gender and number. In certain cases, such as mejor and peor, an adjective will only agree in number. An adverb, such as bien or mal, does not agree in gender or number; it is neutral.   Mal vs Malo/s and Mala/s   Mal is an adverb that means poorly or badly. Malo/malos and mala/malas are adjectives that mean bad, and they describe a noun.   Los chicos son malos. - The boys are bad. Los chicos se portan mal.- The boys are behaving badly.  Me queda mal el suéter- The sweater fits me poorly.   The conjugation of the verb ser in the first sentence indicates that you are describing the boys' personalities and that you need to use an adjective to agree with "boys." Mal is describing the boys' behavior(verb) in the second sentence. There is no need to use "malos"... read more

The conjugations and accent mark placements in the preterite are the most difficult of all tenses because there are many spelling changes and irregulars. One tip is to remember that the rules you learned in the present tense apply to the present tense only: you have to learn a whole new set of rules! A key to memorizing and applying these rules is to categorize the verbs into either regular or irregulars. There are several subcategories for both regular and irregular verbs.   I.Regular Verbs A. Regular Verb Endings -ar*                     é                           aste                       ó amos     aron                -ir/er** í iste ió  imos  isteis ieron   *... read more

Students learn early on that phrases do not literally translate from one language to another. In English, the prepositional phrase is “to think about,” but the prepositional phrase is “pensar en” in Spanish. While this takes time to memorize and get used to, students are often able to accept it. There is another aspect of language that does not translate exactly and it can be harder to grasp; I am referring to using tenses. Students learn how to conjugate the tenses and their equivalent in English, but students also need to learn to be flexible and understand how to use the tenses.   Present Tense and Present Progressive In English, the present tense (“I read the book”) and the present progressive tense (“I am reading the book”) are used in very specific situations. It is very clear to native speakers when to use the present and when the present progressive absolutely must be used. In Spanish, the present tense (I read/Yo leo) can also be interpreted as the... read more

My favorite "tense" in Spanish is the subjunctive. The subjunctive is truly more of a mood than it is a tense. According to, the definition of subjunctive is a "mood employed to denote an action or state as conceived and not as a fact," English barely uses the subjunctive, so it is difficult for English speakers to grasp. The subjunctive is fairly easy to conjugate compared with, for example, the preterite. The subjunctive is formed by going to the “yo” in the present tense, dropping the “o” and adding the opposite ending (and nosotros and vosotros don’t stem-change, which learners already know as a rule from the present tense). The six main irregulars are the same as some of the main irregulars in the negative “tú” commands, and some of the same rules from the preterite apply with regards to “car, gar, zar” verbs. The actual conjugation mostly builds on knowledge that the learner already has, so review of already learned tenses gives... read more

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