Usted versus Tu

Usted versus Tu (and don’t forget the accent on the subject word, as without it means “your”)  Understand that there are many variables in the subject words for “you” in Spanish.  It’s handy to think of “tu” as the first name, informal version of you.  Then think of usted as a shortened form of Your Grace, which is what you used in speaking to the king.  Also, thinking of it this way makes it easy to remember that usted is third person singular.  Think of…are you happy, good buddy? as opposed to…IS your grace happy today?  In Latin America the ustedes form is used for the plural (think you all) form of both tu and usted.  In Spain, however, the vosotros form is used for the plural you.  Those are the basics, but you should know that there are many cultural and geographical nuances.

Some countries (Spain) move quickly to tu (using the verb “tutear” or the idiom “romper el turron” (a kind of nougat candy), while in Costa Rica even good friends and family are addressed as usted.  It’s best to keep your ears wide open on this one and follow the local lead.  But in general, use usted with strangers, in public situations (clerks, taxi drivers…women can be seen as flirtatious if they address a man in such a situation as tu), people for whom you wish to show respect (a good friend’s grandmother, an important position in a company), or to keep a professional distance.  Use tu when speaking to a child, when speaking to family members, when praying (supreme beings are addressed as tu to show closeness), when you and the other person have agreed to use tu or when someone insists you address them as tu.  However, it’s always better to err on the side of being too formal than too familiar.

Also pay close attention to learning all the irregular positive command forms for tu.  Most of them are short, one syllable words – hacer: haz, decir: di, dar: da, poner: pon, salir: sal, tener: ten  One possible theory for this is that it makes them very convenient to yell at your children when they are “sacandole las canas verdes”, literally pulling out your green gray hair, but figuratively, driving you crazy.

Sing, sing a song

A great deal of language learning is knowing how to “sing the song”. After all, language is sound, just as is music. How do to take a romantic song and turn it into a grammar lesson and why? Memorizing words to songs definitely helps your Spanish. Not only does it help pronunciation, but it provides a wealth of effortless grammar examples. You receive the repetitive examples stuck in your head so that they reach that realm of “it just sounds right”, which is often your guide in your native language.


Bésame, bésame mucho, (perfect example of a Tú affirmative command of an ar verb. You can extend this to dame, cómprame, pásame la sal, salúdame a tu novio – say hello to your boyfriend for me)
Como si fuera esta noche la última vez (example of a contrary to fact past subjunctive with the irregular form of fuera from the verb ser, as if it were/ also a reminder that vez is feminine)
Bésame, bésame mucho, que tengo miedo perderte, perderte después. (example of when there’s no change of subject, you don’t use the subjunctive after tener miedo, as opposed to saying Tengo miedo que él venga a la fiesta.)
Quiero tenerte muy cerca, mirarme en tus ojos, verte junto a mí. (example of a mí, a ti after a preposition)
Piensa que tal vez mañana yo ya estaré lejos, muy lejos de ti. (Another good tú AR command, good reminder that lejos is followed by de)


Reloj, no marques las horas porque voy a enloquecer (example of a negative tú command as opposed to positive marca las horas, – no marques las horas)
Ella se irá para siempre cuando amanezca otra vez. (para siempre – para in front of a time word when it is in the future, after cuando when it means whenever, requires the subjunctive of amanecer, requiring the addition of the z.)
No más nos queda esta noche para vivir nuestro amor y tu tic-tac (tick tock in English!) me recuerda mi irremediable dolor. (Quedar is used like quedan diez pesos, nos queda mucho tiempo/ to remind of…me recuerda with no word in Spanish for the “of”)
Reloj, deten tu camino porque mi vida se apaga, ella es la estrella que alumbra mi ser, yo sin su amor no soy nada. (Great reminder of an irregular tú command as in tener and ten, detener and deten/ no soy nada, a good example of the double negative.)
General comment – the best thing about learning examples this way is that they become automatically set in your brain. For instance, if you’re ever stuck on using vez in a new way and you can’t remember if it’s masculine or feminine, just start singing the song. Como si fuera esta vez la última vez – will come in your head without thought, as the sound and rhythm carries your mind along.




The sound of silence

Uh-h-h-h-h-h-h An important thing to learn in another language is what to say to fill in the silences.  This is particularly important while your mind is scrambling for an illusive word, as it keeps the language flowing.  Some of these expressions are slang or quite idiomatic, and some are country specific.  Many are just varied expressions of agreement with what the other person has said.  Try to incorporate some of these phrases to fill in some perhaps awkward silences.

Vamos a ver – Let’s see.

Entonces – Then, uh-h-h-h

Pues (often said in a long, drawn out way) – well, then…..

Vale (Spain) – okay

Sale (Mexico) – okay

Sale y vale (combination of both, used in Mexican slang) – really okay

Está bien – It’s okay.  It’s good.

Claro – of course

De acuerdo – agreed

Este……..este….este….when fumbling in your head to come out with a name or a specific word.

Fíjate (fíjese) – just imagine (notice)

Me imagino – I can imagine, uh-huh

¡Qué padre! (Mexico)  – How cool!

Dicho y hecho – Said and done.

Sitting at the cool kids’ table

All The Cool Words Your Spanish Teacher Never Taught You

águas! look out!
agringarse to be gringofied
andar de volada to flirt
andar lurias to be crazy
arre move it
arrecho horny
beso kiss
bobos lazy
borlo a party
cállate shut up
carajo! I swear!
chale no way
chones underwear
chulo/chula a really cool person
cuates good friends
ebrio drunk
el gordo the fat man
el mono the movies
frajo a cigarette
Gabardinos Americans
gorrón a moocher
hijole holy cow
la flaca the skinny girl
loro a friend
metiche nosy
nam nam yum yum
nel nah/nope
nena girl/young lady
no hay piri don’t worry
panzó pot-bellied
peló bald
pichón a hot chick, babe
pielas beers
qué onda? what’s up?
qué padre how cool
rocanrolero a rock and roller

How to keep your Spanish skills fresh

      Recently we asked our past students what they are doing to keep up with their Spanish.  We all know how hard we work to build it in the first place, and we also know that it can be a fragile skill unless nourished for a long time.  These are some of the best suggestions reported, and they may give you some ideas.  Of course, you can always plan another study  with Language Link, but if it’s not possible right now…. consider this compilation of ideas.  Kudos to those of you who wrote in:
     1. Take a few 4-5 week conversation classes that your local school or college may offer.  Usually these are fairly basic, but they allow you to keep up your skills.  You won’t have the type of speedy progress you made in your Language Link program, but you are reinforcing what you learned and maybe getting a few new bits of knowledge. 
      2. Look for weekend immersion programs which your local community college may do.  You can often do this as a non regular student. 
      3. Try to find and attend a local Spanish “meet-up group” that you can find on the internet or the public library. These usually meet once a month for a few hours. Three of our past students started meeting once a month to speak Spanish at dinner.  They have included others in the dinner group who want to speak Spanish and luckily for them, they found a native speaker from Madrid and his wife (a Spanish teacher) who join them and help with vocabulary and grammar. 
     4. When you meet people in public that are obviously Hispanic, always try to speak their language with them. They will be honored by your attempts to speak their native language. Speaking Spanish with native speakers requires a lot of courage, but the rewards are tremendous for you and for them.  A wonderful exchange occurs when you offer to help with English and they help with Spanish.
      5.  Enroll in an advanced Spanish class at a local university. Maybe the only prior formal coursework you have is attending a LL immersion program. Since you won’t have had the prerequisites, the professor may insist that you take the CLEP test to prove you can do the work. When some of our past students have done this, they have received up to 15 hours of college credit in Spanish!
     6. After doing a LL program in Ecuador, a current med student at the University of Minnesota, volunteered at a local clinic where about 1/3 of the patients were Spanish speaking.  She is now doing a nine-month rotation program in a rural town in Minnesota with a large Spanish-speaking population, so gets to use her Spanish in clinic on almost a daily basis and absolutely loves it!
      Another medical professional, a clinical psychologist, keeps up her Spanish by conducting short psychiatric evaluations in one of her jobs in NYC.  She also keeps up her skills by speaking Spanish with her child’s nanny from Ecuador.  
      7.  Ask a few people, learners like you and some with excellent Spanish (even native speakers), to form a book group. Read novels in Spanish and meet once a month.
      8.  One student feels the Kindle can be the single best tool for language learning once you reach an intermediate level. With a Spanish language dictionary installed, you can read Spanish language books and periodicals. When you encounter an unknown word, it is very easy to cursor over and instantly receive the definition. Then highlight the word for future reference. Once you finish the book, it is very easy to log on to in order to download the list of highlighted words in order to drill yourself on their meanings.
      9.  Offer to help as a basic interpreter.  We had one student whose wife is an elementary school teacher and asked her husband to school one day to interpret for a Hispanic parent.  Was he nervous?  Of course!  He says he sweated profusely during the short interpretation, but he loved it!  The Hispanic parent thought he was a saint!–p.s. so did his wife!  He floated out of her classroom. 
      One of our past students expressed it very well… Thanks, Steve Barrymore!
      The bottom line is that you have to work at it–all the time. Because of my desire to speak Spanish, I have been able to help non-English speaking people with communication many times here in the U.S. That in itself has been worth all the study. I have so much more confidence now, and my friends are in awe of my confidence speaking another language, even though I know in my own mind, I am not always speaking it correctly. It has opened up a huge part of the world for me – a part to which I never would have traveled had it not been for my ability to wade through the language-albeit at times, pretty roughly! Thanks for getting me started.  I will always be appreciative of the top quality schools you offer.  

Decoding abbreviations

You’re reading along in Spanish, seeing a name and address.  So what the heck is Ma. at C. Garza no. 10?  It helps a lot to learn some of the most common abbreviations.  Unlike English, where most abbreviations are capitalized, many Spanish abbreviations are not.  But, of course, it wouldn’t be a living language if there were no exceptions.

a.C.,— antes de Cristo,— B.C. (before Christ), BCE (before Common Era)

am and pm.– rarely used, as most often time is stated in 24 hour time, 17:00h (5:00 pm), 8:00h (8:00 am)

apdo. — apartado postal — P.O. Box

aprox. — aproximadamente — approximately

Arq. – arquitecto (architect)

Av., Avda. — avenida — Ave. (avenue, in addresses)

C. – calle – St.(street)

c.c. — centímetros cúbicos — c.c. (cubic centimeters)

Cía — compañia —

Co. (company)

cm — centímetros — cm. (centimeters)

Col. – colonia (area of the city, a neighborhood used in addresses)

c/u — cada uno — apiece

D. — don — Sir

Da. — doña — Madam

d.C. — después de Cristo,— A.D. (anno domini), CE (Common Era)

dna. — docena — dozen

Dr., Dra. — doctor, doctora —

Dr.  E — este (punto cardinal) —

E (east)  EE. UU. — Estados Unidos —

U.S.  h. — hora — hour

Ing. — ingeniero — engineer

kg — kilogramos — kg (kilograms)

km/h — kilómetros por hora — kilometers per hour

l — litros — liters

Lic. — licenciado — attorney or professional degree

Ma. – María

m — metros — meters

mm — milímetros — millimeters

m.n. — moneda nacional —to distinguish the national coin  from others

N — norte — N (north)

no., núm. — número — No. (number)

O — oeste — west  pág. — página — page

P.D. — postdata — P.S.

p.ej. — por ejemplo — e.g. (for example)

Prof, Profa. — profesor, profesora — Professor

q.e.p.d. — que en paz descanse — R.I.P. (rest in peace)

S — sur — S (south)

S.A. — Sociedad Anónima — Inc.

Sr. — señor — Mr.

Sra. — señora — Mrs., Ms.

Srta. — señorita — Miss, Ms.

s.s.s. — su seguro servidor — your faithful servant (used as a closing in letters)

Ud., Vd., Uds., Vds. — usted, ustedes — you

v. — véase —  see

W.C. — water closet — lavatory

The intricacy of numbers


Numbers! This is perhaps one of the first things you learned in Spanish, but let’s take a little more advanced look at these.

Be certain that you never say “un mil” if you want to say one thousand. This is expressed simply by mil. It’s a common error of non-native speakers, and you’ll want to avoid it. And remember that twelve hundred will be mil doscientos, more like one thousand two hundred.

Ordinal numbers (such as first, second, third) are very seldom used after 10, unlike the common English usage. Think of terms such as the sixteenth century. In Spanish you would simply say el siglo diez y seis. However, you would say el segundo siglo (that one falls in the first 10 category). Also remember that primero and tercero become primer and tercer before a singular masculine noun, such as el primer piso and el tercer piso. These also become feminine in front of a feminine noun, la primera silla, la tercera invitación.

1. Be on the alert for the abbreviation of N with a very small O off to its corner. N° This is the symbol used in Spanish for número.

2. Longer numbers are not usually said in the abbreviated form often said with numbers in English. The year 1492 would not be said as catorce-noventa y dos, but rather as mil cuatrocientos noventa y dos. For longer telephone numbers, it’s common to group them into units of two such as 692.2922, seis, noventa y dos, veintinueve, veintidos.

3. Fractions – un medio, un tercio, un cuarto, un quinto. If not used in a mathematical sense, you can say un kilo y medio, media naranja (a romantic term also used to describe your “better half”!).

Mathematical calculations: To add – Dos más tres son cinco. To subtract – Siete menos tres son cuatro. To multiply – Dos por diez son veinte. To divide – Veinte dividido por cinco son cuatro.

On percentages you must use a definite or indefinite article, el veinte por ciento de la población or un diez por ciento.