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.  

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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.

“For” in Spanish Depends Upon What It’s For! 

It sounds so simple. You once see that para is the equivalent of the English for. So you start using it as an exact translation every time you want to say for. Sorry…it just doesn’t work that way. I’ve many times had to squelch the teacher in me and not correct someone who is saying Gracias para todo (it should be Gracias por todo) or when in a restaurant someone orders and says por mí (it should be para mí).  Para and por cannot simply be thought of as the English “for”, as they are both very rich in meaning. To use them successfully you must think beyond the surface word of for and think of the meaning. Para is the easier, more limited one. Think of it as handing something to someone, as destination of an object. Este regalo es para ti.

Other uses are:

1. For the purpose of or in order to

2. Directed to (here’s the dinner order – las enchiladas para mí, por favor).

3. In the direction of when talking about a place. Voy para México este fin de semana.

4. Meaning by when it’s a time in the future. Necesito las camisas para el viernes.

In a very broad sense you can think of por as being more inward and para with an arrow pointing outward. A really frequent thing to say is Gracias por todo. In this sense, it means in exchange for. Other uses with this exchange idea are in buying things. ¿Cuánto por el libro? Pagué 10 dólares por el regalo.      Think of por as having these extended meanings: Movement along, through, around, by or about: Caminé por toda la ciudad. Háblame por teléfono. Time or duration when something occurs. Estudié por 2 horas. Cause (not the purpose) of an action: La compañía fracasó por la economía. Per: Diez por ciento. 10%  Supporting or in favor of: Voté por él como presidente. For the sake of: Se sacrificó por el honor. Agent of an action meaning by. Fué escrito por Shakespeare.

Means of transportation: Me gusta viajar por tren.

There are many idioms with por: por cierto – certainly, por primera vez – for the first time, por todas partes – everywhere, por fin – at last, por eso – therefore, por lo general – generally, as a rule, por dentro – inside, palabra por palabra – word for word, por supuesto – of course, por casualidad – by chance, por mi parte – as for me, por lo menos – at least, por allí– around there, that way, por adelantado – in advance

And don’t forget to distinguish between Por qué, meaning why and Para qué, meaning for what purpose.

The importance of gender

No, this lesson has nothing to do with women’s rights or “boys will be boys”. It all deals with that element of Spanish which learners find perplexing at the beginning. Every noun under the sun in Spanish is either masculine or feminine, and it has nothing to do with sexual roles.

No, this lesson has nothing to do with women’s rights or “boys will be boys”.  It all deals with that element of Spanish which learners find perplexing at the beginning.  Every noun under the sun in Spanish is either masculine or feminine, and it has nothing to do with sexual roles.

It originated from older languages from which Spanish evolved.  So, you have to learn which is which for every noun you learn, but is it important?  Indubitably so!  Let me share a recent personal story with you.  Having broken my leg in September, I was moving slowly and in a fog of aching.  While going at a snail’s pace to enter a taxi, and with that ache fog kicking in, I said to the taxi driver, “Disculpe, es que tengo un pato malo.”  The minute it slipped my mouth I knew I had the gender wrong (blame it on the ache!), and this was confirmed by the driver’s puzzled look.  While trying to say that I had a bad “paw”, casual for foot or leg, I had actually said that I had a bad duck.  I didn’t even try to backtrack with what I said, and the driver is probably still wondering about that strange lady who talks about her misbehaving bird.

So learn from my distressing and confusing mistake, and take the time to learn the correct gender.  Here are a few general rules –

  • If it ends in ión (and there are lots of these!) – it’s always feminine.  If a noun ends in ia, it’s feminine.  La panadería, la existencia
  • Many words which end in ma, pa, ta originated from Greek and despite ending in A, are feminine.  El mapa, el sistema, el cometa (an actual comet, as la cometa is a toy kite), One of these often used is problema, which is always masculine.  No hay problema, used without an el or un is the correct way to say, “no problem”.  But consider, El problema es una falta de dinero.  La falta de dinero es un problema grave. And here I have to throw in my favorite chiste – Problems are always masculine, and solutions are always feminine (see Rule 1, la solución).A word which ends in ma is an exception to this rule – the alarm (as in an alarm system) is La alarma.
  • Words which end in ón are always masculine.  This is often added to a word to make it bigger.  La silla is the chair, but el sillón is a big armchair.
  • One of the trickiest and widely used word is agua.  It is in essence a feminine word and when used plurally or modified it is said as las aguas, agua purificada.  But watch out when it comes to being said with a singular the or one.  It’s correct to say el agua, or un agua.  Why, you ask?  It all has to do with pronunciation.  If the natural emphasis of the word falls on the first syllable where the a occurs, if you said la agua, it would morph into laaaaagua and not be intelligible.  So there’s really a good reason for making this singular form masculine.
  • Just as in my duck/paw story above, many words change completely when you change the gender.  Watch out for the following: El Papa – the Pope, la papa – potato, el papá – the dad (here it’s just the accent that makes it different) / El cero – zero, la cera – wax / La mora – berry , el moro – the Moorish man / El mango – the fruit, la manga – sleeve, as in mangas largas o cortas / El caso – the case, matter, la casa – the house / La manguera – the hose, el manguero – the hoseman or fireman
  • Common exceptions to watch out for: La mano – hand, as in las manos sucias, las manos limpias


Please develop the practice of always learning the gender when you learn a new noun, and avoid embarrassment, grief, and misunderstanding!


Short and sweet

Spanish, when it is casually spoken, is like all languages in that people commonly use many shortcuts.  Words are shortened; words become contractions, and this often affects the pronunciation.

For instance:  Para – in this sense meaning toward. Note how it’s casually said in many Spanish speaking countries –Pa’allá – meaning over there.  Note that this combines into what sounds like one wordpallá, but you are meaning para allá. What happens with the sounds in the above is linguistically called elision.  It’s just a fancy word for words sliding together, such as the two vowels in pallá. A good example of this  elision is mi hija.  Your ear will perceive this as mija, as the h is silent, and the two I’s slide into each other.

Pa’cá – meaning over here.  Para acá.  Acá is a common substitute foraquí. You will hear it often in the command, Ven acá.  Come here.

No tengo dinero pa’ comer.  I don’t have money to eat. No sirve pa’ na’.  This is short for no sirve para nada.  It’s (or he/she is) not good (of any use) for anything        These shortened forms are commonly heard (particularly in Mexico)

Feliz cumple – short for Feliz cumpleaños, Porfa – short for Por favor, La compu – short for la computadora

The key component in learning these shortened forms is to listen, listen, listen.

Yes, you need to actually speak and practice to improve your Spanish,but it’s equally as important to listen carefully and “sing back the song” you’re hearing around you. And just to remember why you’re doing all this and working so hard at your Spanish.Top-10-Laid-Back-Cats-10-510x424

Which comes first?


Which Comes First?

The Chicken or The Egg?

The Adjective or the Noun in Spanish?

One of the earliest rules you learn in Spanish is that adjectives go after the noun.  If you’re more advanced in your study, you know that this one, like many Spanish “rules”, is often broken.  Most of them will come after the noun, but there are also exceptions.  Some different types of adjectives and an indication of where they go…before or after.

Colors – After

Nationality, membership or classification – After      El restaurante mexicano

Adjectives modified by an adverb or phrase – After

La clase muy interesante, la casa llena de muebles

Multiple adjectives – When they’re of similar importance in description – After     La maleta grande y pesada

Adjectives of appreciation – Before, when you want to emphasize.    Es un buen escritor. (meaning he’s really good)

Reinforcing adjectives: Before, adjectives that “go with” the accompanying noun often are placed before the noun. It gives them a more emotional meaning.  El horrible bruto, la alta montaña, la blanca nieve

Adjectives of quantity or possession – Before.  Muchos libros, pocos libros, su casa

Meaning-changing adjectives: Before or After (but the meaning changes) Tengo un viejo amigo.(I have a longtime friend)  Tengo un amigo viejo. (I have a friend who is old (in age)

Some other common ones include: antiguo: el antiguo libro, the old book; la silla antigua, the valuable old chair  grande: un gran hombre, a great man; un hombre grande, a big man  pobre: esa pobre mujer, that poor woman (in the sense of being pitiful); esa mujer pobre, that woman who is poor  solo: un solo hombre, only one man; un hombre solo, a lonely man  triste: un triste viaje, a terrible one; un viaje triste, a sad one  único: la única estudiante, the only student; una estudiante única, a unique student

Listen up!


A frequent comment is about difficulty in Spanish listening comprehension.  These are a few tips which you may find helpful.

Stop talking and start listening…a lot!  It’s really helpful to find something to listen to, spoken at normal speed, which you can pause and repeat.  The telenovelas offered on Netflix, Hulu and other services are terrific for this.  If you want to see the acting career of the first lady of Mexico, watch one called Destilando Amor.  You’ll also learn something about the production of Mexico’s national drink.  Sometimes you can listen to the same sentence 10 times before the light dawns, and then it will be completely clear.  Practice writing in your head what you are hearing.  If you can visualize the writing of the sounds, you can often see the logic of those vowels sliding together.

Learn to listen in what I call clumps.  You don’t have to hear every little word to understand a phrase.  Just listen for the key words and let your mind slide over the little ones.  There’s really no time to have every syllable register in the speed of normal conversation.  If you’ve ever filled in words you assume are a part of an English conversation in a noisy bar, you’ll know what I mean.  Educate your mind to listen for the main concepts, not the details.

When you’re listening to Spanish, put on your “Spanish hat” and don’t allow your mind to think or interpret in English.  I was reminded of this recently when some intermediate speakers were following a dinner conversation.  The key word in the Spanish situation was caos.  In writing it’s clear that this word is chaos in English.  But the intermediates were hearing the sound of CA – OS and thinking that the conversation was about bovine animals or cows.  It was amusing, and a good example of letting English interfere, instead of visualizing a word pronounced with your “Spanish hat”.  Laughter reigned at the table when we all figured out what had happened.

It’s the little things (prepositions 101)

When you’re polishing your Spanish and refining it, you need to pay special attention to the little things such as prepositions which follow certain verbs.  Here are examples of some of the most high frequency ones.  When you are trying to imprint something in your linguistic brain, read the example given here.  Then make up your own sentence using the same verb, but this time stating something which you frequently say.  Get those patterns stuck in your head, but make them your own patterns!

Make a game of seeing how often you can speak them or think them in a day.  When you’re learning a language you are laying tracks in your brain on which your Spanish cars can run, but you must keep those tracks well oiled by frequent repetitions.

  • asistir a = to attend    No quiero asistir a la reunión porque estoy muy cansada, y mi novio va a asistir a una fiesta en la casa de Guillermo.
  • tratar de = to try in the sense of to make an effort (probar – to try out, on)  Voy a tratar de hacerlo bien.  Ellos van a tratar de no gastar mucho dinero en Acapulco.  Mi hijo está tratando de leer.
  • empezar (ie) a = to start   In a phrase such as ¿A qué hora empieza la fiesta?   The beginning A is the at in at what time, but when you have something following this verb, note:  Mi amiga empezó a estudiar el español la semana pasada.
  • olvidarse de = to forget   Siempre me olvido de la cantidad (how much) que necesito.
  • acordarse (ue) de = to remember  Me acuerdo de la primera vez que fui a México.  ¿Te acuerdas de la primera vez?
  • salir de = to leave (from)   ¿A qué hora sale la profesora de la escuela?
  • saber de = to know about    No sé nada de la historia de Costa Rica, pero sé mucho del café.
  • entrar a = to enter   No quiero entrar a la tienda sin mi bolsa.
  • hablar de = to talk about    ¿De qué habla Tita? ¿ Habla del novio de Cristina o del novio de Alma?
  • enamorarse de = to fall in love with    Quiero enamorarme de un príncipe muy pronto.  Ella se enamoró de un español de San Sebastián.
  • soñar con = to dream about      Anoche soñé contigo.  ¿Soñaste conmigo?
  • alegrarse de = to be happy about   Me alegro mucho de la invitación a la boda.

Use of the word Por



Para and por cannot simply be thought of as the English “for”, as they are both very rich in meaning.  To use them successfully you must think beyond the surface words.  Para is the easier, more limited one.  Think of it as handing something to someone, as destination of an object.  Este regalo es para ti.

Another use is for the purpose of – Este ejercicio es para aumentar (increase) el vocabulario.   In a very broad sense you can think of por as being more inward and para with an arrow pointing outward.  A really frequent thing to say is Gracias por todo.  In this sense, it means in exchange for.  (Using para here is never correct, but it’s a common mistake we see frequently here in the office when people write us.)

Other uses with this exchange idea are in buying things.  ¿Cuánto por el libro?  Pagué 10 dólares por el regalo. Think of por as having these extended meanings:             By (times), per:  Dos por cuatro son ocho.  Voy a la clase dos veces por semana.  Prefiero viajar por tren.  Necesito hablar por teléfono con mi amigo.  El libro fue escrito por Carlos Fuentes.              Through (along), throughout, during   Caminamos por el parque.  Voy a hacerlo por la mañana (an unspecified time).

For the sake of, in favor of, on behalf of     Lo hice por el amor.  Voté por el mejor candidato.

Contrast the following: Compré el regalo para ti.  (It’s going outward to you as a recipient.)  Compré el regalo por ti.  (I bought it on your behalf or for your sake.)

Trabajo para la compania, y trabajo por mi familia.  I work for the company, and I work for the sake of my family.

For a period of time – Leí el libro por dos horas anoche.  But here be careful.  Para is used for a time deadline or specific time in the future.  Necesito el taxi para el lunes.  Te amo para siempre.

There are many idioms with por:  por cierto – certainly, por primera vez  – for the first time, por todas partes – everywhere, por fin – at last, por eso – therefore, por lo general – generally, as a rule, por dentro – inside, palabra por palabra – word for word, por supuesto – of course, por casualidad – by chance, por mi parte – as for me, por lo menos – at least, por allí– around there, that way, por adelantado – in advance

And don’t forget to distinguish between Por qué, meaning why and Para qué, meaning for what purpose.