Spain

More Tips for Learning Spanish

One person said “You, Steve, said that learning Spanish is easy. It is consistent and regular, but not easy.” I think that’s an important point. Learning languages is not easy; every language has its difficulties. Spanish is consistent in spelling. I think it has fewer exceptions than English. In many ways, it’s a more regular, more consistent language and it’s certainly easier, in my mind, for a native speaker of English, for example, to learn than Russian. The grammar is easier and there is a lot of common vocabulary, but it’s not easy. Let’s make no mistake here.

If people speak slowly enough you understand some of the things they’re saying and you can actually say some things. That takes a few months. However, to get to where you can read and enjoy, watch movies, fully partake of the culture and converse with people is a long road and it’s not easy. So I wanted to make that point. Commit yourself to doing things that you’re going to enjoy doing because it’s a long road, but it’s a rewarding road for any language and, in this case, for Spanish.

The second comment I received was from a Spanish speaker. He sort of took exception to the fact or claimed that he was very disappointed that my presentation of the reasons for learning Spanish were so superficial. You know, why does Spain, or other Latin-American countries for that matter, have to be identified with music and color and holidays when really the Hispanic culture is much more profound than that and that I should made reference to Picasso or the pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela. Then he implied well, you probably aren’t aware of those, or words to that effect.

One shouldn’t make assumptions about people. I referred to those things that I remembered very vividly. I remembered hitchhiking into Valencia and seeing the colors in the fields, green and orange. 

I could have mentioned those things, but I talked about a meal that I had in Marbella because it was a wonderful occasion, eating this fish that was wrapped in salt under a starlit sky. I mean that’s a very vivid memory. It was also my 50th birthday. These are things that I remember. I don’t think it’s to denigrate Spanish culture to talk about those things that left a very vivid impression with me. I have been to San Sebastian. I was at the Fiesta de San Fermin in Pamplona in 1964-65. I didn’t run with the bulls because I didn’t want to get gored, but I was partying at the bars with all the friendly people. I have been through Galicia. I have been, obviously, to Barcelona, Burgos, Segovia, Leon. I mean countless places, little town. I can’t even remember all the places I’ve been to and eaten the food.

He said why didn’t you talk about this or that? Yeah, I mean there are things that I like in Spanish food and things that I like less. I like the lighter tapas, more of the seafood tapas that you get in Barcelona or in San Sebastian. Whereas down south I’ve found very often the tapas are into the potato mayonnaise, breaded deep-fried stuff, which I don’t quite enjoy as much. But, yeah, it’s fun and some of the best meals are at the simple roadside restaurants where for ten Euros you can get the nice soup and a glass of wine. I could have talked about those things, too, so I don’t have a superficial attitude towards Spanish.

Steve Kaufmann

In fact, I give this assumption that I know nothing about Spain. I decided to trot out all the books I have. I’ve got a number of books about history because I like history and because history is a big issue in Spain, history and nationalism because that’s a big issue there.

Again, when I read books there’s a lot of words that I don’t know. I prefer to read them on LingQ. We have a number of historical novels on LingQ. I can’t remember. Several of them are audio like LibriVox, plus the text so that I can actually save the words that I don’t know. If I read a book on history I know all the words, mostly, but if I read a novel there’s more words that I don’t know and I like to study them on LingQ. Anyway, I’m not going to go through all of these. 

By the way, someone complained that Spanish literature isn’t appreciated or Hispanic literature isn’t appreciated, but there have been a number of Nobel Prize winners from Latin America and Spain and popular writers who aren’t considered Nobel Prize category writers.

Empire House, when Spain became a world power and then three books about this wonderful period. These are books in English about the wonderful period when the culture, certainly in the southern part of Spain, was more advanced than the culture of Europe in the Dark Ages and have read a lot about how the learning of ancient Greece and even of the Middle East and India and so forth were preserved by these Arabs and Jews and that even the Visigoths would go to Toledo to learn from the Jews, primarily, who were transcribing all of these works of philosophy and medicine and so forth and so on.

So, yeah, I’ve forgotten a lot, but I have read and I enjoy reading about Spain, Spanish culture, Latin-American culture, mostly in Spanish when I can cope, and in English. This is perhaps a small example of the world that awaits those of you who want to get into Spanish and who enjoy reading. I also wanted to do another video about learning Spanish because one thing that I’ve heard people say is Hispanic culture is flowered all over the world in Oceania, Asia, Africa and so forth, which is not really true anymore. Today, I don’t think many people in the Philippines speak Spanish. The Filipinos that I have met don’t speak Spanish. They might know three words, they might have a Spanish-sounding name, but they can’t speak Spanish. In Africa I think there’s one, Equatorial Guinea or somewhere, that speak Spanish. However, Portuguese and French are big in Africa.

So if you look at Spanish as sort of a flagship, the door into the romance languages, then I think Spanish could become sort of a second lingua franca alongside English as a language that people would use to communicate, like non-Spanish speakers communicating with non-Spanish speakers. If you count the significant number of people in Africa who speak Portuguese and French, there are about 800 million speakers of romance languages in the world. So rather than try to do something like Esperanto, which might be a little easier to learn but has very few speakers which is still very much influenced by Latin and certainly by European languages, maybe Spanish could be an international language if we want to get away from this sort of cultural dominance of English.

There are other candidates, Arabic perhaps, but my understanding is that the different forms of Arabic are almost as different from each other as Italian is from Portuguese or French and, of course, therefore it’s a smaller number of people who speak Arabic. Turkish is the same way. I don’t know, but I’m wondering between the Uyghurs and the Uzbeks and the Turks whether there isn’t, in fact, just as much of a difference as there is in the different romance languages.

In terms of the Slovak languages, Russian is used by non-Russian speakers as a means of communication as a lingua franca. But if I look at my experience with Czech, the grammatical structure is very similar. In fact, only about 50% of the vocabulary is identifiable as similar to Russian words, whereas with the romance languages we’re looking at 80% similarity between all of the main romance languages.

So Spanish is this wonderfully rich world and I don’t know if I’ve convinced my friend to be a little more indulgent of me when I make a 10-minute superficial video trying to cover a lot of ground. Not only is the Hispanic cultural world rewarding of itself, but I think that there is a possibility that Spanish could become a genuine lingua franca. I see that as a bigger possibility than Chinese because Chinese, typically, is only spoken by people who are communicating with Chinese speakers.

Okay, there you go. Two in a row about learning Spanish and now I will get off the subject. Thank you for listening, bye for now.

Bonus: Learning Spanish Verbs

Looking around at what I have in my room here I see a book called Portuguese Verbs. In it I can read about commands, imperatives, affirmative, imperative verbs ending in this, that and the other, pages and pages of irregular verbs, conjunctions, verbs expressing desire, doubt and volition. It’s very intimidating, all those different endings. In fact, when studying the romance languages, I think verbs are the biggest bugbear.

Having spent a lot of time trying to learn verb tables, I’m convinced that it can’t be done. At the very best, you can have a book like this on Spanish verbs and keep it in your bathroom to leaf through while you’re on the john, but it’s impossible to memorize, in my opinion. What should you do? I poked into LingQ, because I haven’t been studying Spanish recently. I saved a few verbs and, low and behold, amongst the dictionaries we have access to is one called SpanishDict.com and it’s amazing. Click on any verb and you will see the conjugation, you will see examples, you’ll see a little video and, of course, you’ll see the meaning.

If you do enough reading and listening in Spanish, you’re attentive to the language and you occasionally review this kind of explanation, (but rely largely on repeated exposure in different contexts), you will eventually be able to get that natural sense for Spanish verbs and you can master them. I shouldn’t use the word ‘master’ because I don’t believe that’s a word that applies in language learning, but the more familiar you become with Spanish verbs, the better your Spanish will become. You won’t have to worry what the form of the third-person singular past tense is and so forth when you use the verb; it will start to come out naturally.

So my advice on Spanish verbs is lots of reading and listening, and if you happen to be at LingQ, select SpanishDict as your dictionary of choice. Even if you get a quick explanation of the verb via our User Hints or via Google Translate, open up SpanishDict and every time you come across a verb quickly review the different conjugation endings. Don’t try to memorize them, just go back to enjoying whatever content you’re reading and, of course, listen to it.

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1 comment on “More Tips for Learning Spanish

Julia Brown

Hi – I love SpanishDict that you recommend and was wondering if you know of an equivalently good online dictionary for French? I have SpanishDict on my iPhone and computer and use it all the time as I read or listen and it is fabulous! I would love to have as good a dictionary for French. Thanks! and thanks for your posts. They are really interesting and helpful. –Julia

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