Why Am I Learning Spanish?

Language learning gurus are united on the first thing a new language learner needs to have straight in their minds:  Why am I learning the language I’ve decided to learn? Might be an upcoming trip…perhaps a new boyfriend/girlfriend…may a new business opportunity…or perhaps it’s always been part of your culture, and you want to formalize what you already know.

The latter is the case for Spanish and me. I was born in Southern California, grew up in Texas, and lived almost all my adult life in the southwestern United States – where Spanish has been spoken continuously for nearly 500 years. Even the most gringo of gringos who lives in the Southwest knows a little bit of Spanish because it permeates all layers of life from Texas to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Growing up in Texas, I grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood, went to a racially mixed set of schools, and my first real playmates were the Latino (we called them Mexicans, as did they, but that’s not PC anymore) kids two doors down. I could cuss in Spanish before I could cuss in English (not an exaggeration), and Spanish was the cut-down language of choice among all athletes in the locker room. I actually spoke Spanglish quite well.

As an adult, my respect for Latino culture and heritage grew and became more sophisticated. So, did my desire to learn the Spanish language. 400 million people speak Spanish worldwide, making it the second most spoken language in the world behind Mandarin Chinese. Vast part of two continents speak Spanish, not to mention the country of origin – Spain. I did my Masters thesis on the importance of businesses having Spanish speaking capabilities relative to their proximity to US-Mexico border. Some of my favorite movies of the last 20 years were originally in Spanish, and I no longer want to watch them with subtitles or in dubbed format.

So, that is why I have committed myself to being able to carry on a 30-minute conversation in Spanish by the end of this year. Will I make it?  I don’t know.  I know a lot of words, but stringing them together in sentences remains a challenge.  But, I am working on it daily. I read pretty well, but now I must figure out how to talk the talk.

At least, I know the why.


Español de la Mariposa


Ana is the lady from Mexico who teaches Butterfly Spanish. She is cute, charming, and utterly effective in communicating the Spanish language to her students.

Each online class concentrates on a single subject, and most are timed around 10 to 15 minutes.  Some are shorter, and some are much longer.  All are in-depth, and most are very entertaining.

When should you use por?  When should you use para?  What is the difference between tan and tanto? What form of “to be” should you use if it is only a temporary situation?  What form of “to be” should you use if it is a permanent condition? These are the bread and butter of the Butterfly Spanish videos.

One of my favorites was when she spent over twenty minutes talking about how to talk in Spanish about drinking and being drunk. Quite funny, and I learned that not only does the agave plant produce tequila and mezcal (not the same thing, despite what you might have believed), but also pulque – a liquor made from the sap of the plant.

While her antics might get on the nerves of some folks, I find her utterly charming, and she knows her subject better than the vast majority of mentors online. Not to mention that it is all free. She’ll occasionally ask folks to contribute so that she can spend more time away from her job as a document translator and devote herself to making even more videos (and she has a LOT of them already).

If you are serious about learning Spanish, Butterfly Spanish is an outstanding resource.  Highly recommended.

¡Buena Suerte!

Language Learning on YouTube

There are so many opportunities to learn Spanish on YouTube. Any language, really.  But, since I am learning Spanish, that’s been my focus.  With my next couple of posts, I want to tell you about a couple of channels that really do it for me.  Today, let’s start with The Spanish Dude.

The Spanish Dude is a guy in Florida named Jordan. I have to be honest and tell you that he was an acquired taste for me. His style is intense and in your face, bordering on the obnoxious. But, once you realize that he’s putting out a crap-ton of very practical, very useful, very intelligent information, it’s much easier to get past his choice of showmanship and embrace the pragmatism that is his video blog channel. At this point, I’ll tell you that I really like his stuff, and I look forward to watching his videos.

Why?  Because I know I will learn something.  Jordan puts out a  lot of real information.  Yeah, he’s got a “premium” set of videos where he delivers expanded versions of the free videos he makes available to the public.  And, yeah, he shills them in some of his videos, though not all.  And, yeah, he shills them on his website and in his newsletter. But, that really is beside the point.  It’s not all the time, and it’s pretty innocuous. The stuff he puts out to the public is quality, useful, and pragmatic. So, I really can’t fault the guy for trying to make a buck by tutoring a subject he knows very well. The Spanish Dude is for real, and he really is an excellent place to start if you’re interested in learning Spanish.  In fact, if you’re having trouble in a Spanish class in school – whatever the level – I’d highly recommend him.

A good place to start comes with his two videos on How to Learn Spanish.  They are a no BS outline on what it really takes to learn Spanish. He won’t tell you that you can learn it in three months, without trying, just by eating tacos and listening to Latin music, while ogling Salma Hayek or Ricky Martin. No, he tells you the truth: it takes work.  But, he gives you a direction to go, or a Battle Plan, as he calls it. He is the first and only online mentor I’ve come across that gives you a real, honest-to-goodness map to point you in the right direction.

Here are the links to those two videos. I highly recommend them. The points he makes are transferable to learning any language.

How to Learn Spanish, Part #1

How to Learn Spanish, Part#2

¡Buena suerte!


Waking Up…Again!

Okay…after another long vacation, I am once again waking up from my blogging slumber. I haven’t abandoned language learning.  In fact, the pace has picked up, and I’ve got a lot more things say as a result.

Just have to return to the same consistency I had in Saudi Arabia…oh so long ago.


More Spanish Learning Tools

So many tools exist to learn Spanish. Such a beautiful language – spoken is so many parts of the world.

I’ve covered several so far, but let’s take a look at two more: SpanishDict.com and Conjugate.org. I use these tools on a daily basis as I work to learn more and more vocabulary.

Let’s be up front:  SpanishDict.com is a front for Fluencia, a Spanish learning web site that allows you to learn several levels of Spanish for free, then asks students to pay a monthly fee in order to move on to more advanced material.

In reality, however, it doesn’t matter.  SpanishDict.com is free and extremely useful on several fronts. First, the translation is excellent, presented to the student in an extremely pleasant manner, providing not only the primary definition – but secondary definitions, word-by-word translation, as well as sentences containing the word used in several different ways. How useful is that?! Not to mention that the web page graphics are excellent and very modern.

Additionally, it is possible to subscribe to a daily newsletter, which provides the subscriber with a word-of-the day. I keep these words on a list, which I review each day prior to adding the new word to the group. This allows me to review the older words and reinforce the definitions in my mind. I’ve found this quite handy when watch telenovelas on Netflix, having already picked out many of these words from the script’s dialog.

I highly recommend SpanishDict.com as an exceptionally useful web-based tool for Spanish language learners.

One of the most difficult learning activities for anyone learning a new language comes when they have to begin conjugating verbs. There’s no way to get around it. And, the best web-based tool I have found for Spanish conjugation is a website that uses the most basic, old-school graphics possible. I mean, truly basic HTML.  Did I mention basic?  Like 1990s basic?

The thing is, though, the web site proves that a simple interface is all that’s needed when offering up a powerful tool on the par of Conjugation.org. I love this site.

  1. Enter the infinitive form of the verb.
  2. Decide whether to view the results in a box or a list.
  3. Determine if personal pronouns are needed or not.
  4. Select what verb forms to view.
  5. Then, click Conjugate.

In mere seconds, the results will display on screen. Since I am learning the -ar, -er, and -ir (regular form), and I want to learn the Present, Preterite (past), and Future forms, that’s what I select. I keep one tab up for each verb ending in a browser that I can reference throughout my day.

While there are some other conjugation tools that allow reverse conjugation, it’s pretty difficult to beat the effectiveness of the very simple Conjugation.org. Again, I highly recommend this site.

¡Hasta pronto!

Memrise – Language Learning App #2

Duolingo is probably the first app new language learners encounter, but Memrise is not far behind (https://www.memrise.com/). And, for some folks, it may be a better choice, mostly because it offers a huge variety of languages…some very obscure to Western ears, like Telegu (from southern India). I have Indonesian (supposedly the easiest language of all to learn) as one of my choices, as well as Spanish.

The interface is similar to that of Duolingo, but significantly different at the same time. Hard to explain, but you know you are definitely in a different tool. For one thing, it’s less cartoonish than Duolingo, which will appeal to some who are put off by Duolingo’s approach. At the same time, Memrise uses spaced repetition and aims to help you learn five new words per day in your target language. There is an icon of a tree branch on the right-hand side of the screen, which gets a new leaf every time you successfully learn a new word. Additionally, there is an audio icon, which allows you to hear the word, or phrase, as many times as you desire – and, you are also expected to be able to read the word before you are considered to have learned it.

I use Memrise in conjunction with Duolingo because it exposes me to different words. As I indicated before, there will be those who prefer one over the other.  But, in my mind they are basically the same app, with minimal interface changes. I suppose some will consider Memrise to have a more “adult” approach. Personally, that is not particularly important to me.

Memrise is free, and it is available on iOS, Android, and on the web

(https://www.memrise.com/). I could not find it in the Windows store.

Easy Vocabulary

A lot of folks think the only way to pick up new vocabulary in a language is to memorize long lists of words or to run through flashcard after flashcard. Both have their merit, but there are easier sources from which you can draw new vocabulary.

  1. Advertisements – Ads are written so that kids can comprehend them. Whether radio, television, or print, the vocabulary level is likely never to rise above what the average fourteen-year-old could easily understand. This is a good thing because it allows us to develop a foundational vocabulary upon which we can build a more sophisticated well of words. Print ads, in particular, are an exceptional source of material. They are almost always very short – rarely more than one or two sentences. Often, you can discern the meaning of the phrase by looking up a single word. This will strengthen your ability to read the language. Additionally, when you listen to radio or television ads, you’ll begin to recognize the words you’ve been reading (unless the presenter is talking at a 10,000 word/second rate – then, you’re kinda screwed – luckily that is the exception).
  2. Kids shows – There is a Spanish language television show called Reino Animal, which is just an outstanding place to pick up some pretty solid vocabulary and phrasing. The show is geared toward pre-teens, and is a factual show highlighting various facts about the animal kingdom. It’s got both written and spoken material, and the presenter almost always reads what is written on the screen. Although there are many other examples, I am highlighting this particular because it truly is interesting, and some of the episodes are available on YouTube.
  3. Sports shows – No offense to sports fans (I am one), but sports shows – in any language – are not written with the intelligencia in mind. Like ads, they are written so any teenager can comprehend what is being said. The Latino world loves sports. Spanish language shows in the U.S. cover just about any sport that could interest you: American football, basketball (men’s & women’s), hockey, and international football, just to name a few. This is one of the times I’d recommend you run the Spanish language subtitles. You cannot possibly catch every word, unless you are already fluent. And, you should not try to catch every word. They just move too fast.  So, just look for phrases and words that will give a you insight into what a specific sentence says.  This is a great place to hear the cadence of the language.
  4. Infomercials – Infomercials suck. Unless you’re trying to learn a new language. Then, the simplicity and repetition provide powerful learning tools. The spoken words are often slow, and it’s relatively easy to pick up the phrasing and cadence. You should not concentrate on trying to catch everything said. Instead, focus on repeated phrases, which will be pounded into your brain. Some of these phrases are used in other venues, and will be useful. Just don’t llame ahora!

Going to stop here. More to come.

¡Hasta pronto!