Speak Spanish Today: At the Restaurant/En el Restaurante, Part 1

Skill Level: Basic

¿Tienes hambre? Are you hungry? Well, maybe for knowledge you are at least. One thing I find very important about learning Spanish is not getting bored. So let’s try our best to learn things you can use. And what better thing  is there to learn than to know how to actually speak in sentences? Anyone? That’s right! How to speak in full sentences about food.  🙂

As you may have seen in another one of my posts about advancing Spanish fluency we talk about the learning process. Just glancing over some random grammar point is not enough to retain what you’ve learned. You have to repeat, practice then use the material before it sticks in your brain. Imagine talking about playing the piano, perhaps even tapping on a few keys then expecting yourself to play a whole song in front of an audience. Not gonna happen! It’s also why just taking classes alone isn’t going to make you fluent or even hold much of even a basic conversation.

The same thing goes for languages except in you also have to think on the run too.  Until you are forced to think about what you want to say you will have a tough time memorizing words, sentence order and so on. So briefly here is the learning system again:

Learn (be introduced to new grammar, vocabulary,etc)-Repeat (write or speak out loud sample sentences)-Practice (at home, classroom)-Use (in real world situations)

Dining is a fun atmosphere in which to use your Spanish and no matter where you live there seems to be at least some restaurants where the whole staff speaks Spanish.

So first step…

I. Learn

Here are some phrases we will start with. We are not going to recreate a whole skit of being at a restaurant rather the parts you speak. So take a peek at the list below.

Phrases:

-Tengo hambre. = I’m hungry.
-Tengo sed. = I’m thirsty.

Verbs:
-querer = to want
-comer = to eat
-tomar/beber = to drink

-dar = to give
-traer = to bring/to come with (side dish with meal)

Nouns:
-entremés(appetizer): sopa de vegetales (vegetable soup), ensalada (salad)
-plato principal(main dish): carne (meat), pescado (fish), pollo (chicken), arroz (rice), platanos maduros (fried sweet plantains), tostones (fried plantains)
-bebida(drink): cerveza (beer), agua (water), refresco/soda (soda), jugo de naranja (orange juice), leche (milk)
-postre(dessert): tres leches (tres leches), flan (flan), helado (de vainilla, chocolate, fresa)= vanilla, chocolate or strawberry ice cream

Repeat + Practice

Now we are going to combine the next steps in the learning process. We are going to make flashcards out of notebook/index cards. Go back over the list and…

Create Flashcards

1. On one side write the Spanish word in big letters in the middle of the card.  In the bottom right corner write the type of word, for example, “verbo”, “sustantivo”, etc…

2. On the other side of the card write the English word in small letters in the middle of the card and in the lower right corner the type of word, verb, noun and so on.

*Note: The purpose of the Spanish being in big letters and the English in small letters is to make the Spanish stand out in your mind. In fact, you could even use two different colors: Spanish in RED and English in BLACK.

**Note: I would recommend drawing the images on the back or finding some pics online to cut and tape to the back of the cards instead of using the English translations. Image association is more powerful than using the English translations. You will need some help from your first language, but the less the better.

Flashcard Drill Instructions

1. Put all flashcards in one pile Spanish side facing up.
2. Guess word in English by saying it out loud. Turn over to check for answer.
3.  If correct place in “correct pile”. If not, put in “retry pile”.
4.  Go through all flashcards one time. Review “retry pile” cards for correct answers before attempting the answers a second time.
5.  Go through flashcards in “retry pile” again.
6.  The drill is finished when you no longer have anymore “retry pile” cards left.
7.  Restart drill but reversing the language facing up. Now do the same exercise but starting from the other language.

Drill to Perfection

Do the drill enough times to where you can think of the word in either language without any effort.

Complete Sentences/Putting It All Together

At the risk of information overload I decided to place the last step in another post. Please click the link below to finish the exercise.

Speak Spanish Today: at the Restaurant, Part 2

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Top 10 Free Ways to Improve Listening Comprehension in Spanish

group conversation

If there’s one area I wish I could go back in time and work on more it would be listening comprehension. I would place a bigger emphasis on listening comprehension. It’s easy to learn new words if you practice and study enough, it’s easy to learn to read and write if you practice enough, but understanding the spoken word is more difficult. You do not have as much control over what is being said or how it’s pronounced. Native speakers of any language take short cuts to speak faster.  They slur words or partially pronounce them. We do the same in English. With all that being said there are many different ways to invest your time to improve your ear’s ability to pick up spoken Spanish. It does not matter what skill or experience level you are, any of these can either help you create a good base of knowledge of pronunciation or assist you in understanding the overall message when someone is speaking. Or if you have spoken Spanish for years this list can help you continue to improve.  I still do many of these myself to get better or to maintain my skills.  Here are my current top 10.

10. Radio DJs: I’m referring specifically to when there are at least two of them talking to each other between the songs. This is a great way to hear random conversations. Random is good because you cannot predict what will be said, this forces you to rely on your ear.

9.   Radio Talk Shows: when broadcasters or DJs invite a special guest onto their show who in turn answer calls from listeners this is a great way to hear more interactions. You can learn more Spanish vocabulary related to specific topics. This is another simple and easily-accessible way to invest your time into improving your listening comprehension.

8. Spanish Songs with Lyrics: Youtube has a treasure chest full of songs that show the lyrics. Many fans upload the song and create their own slide show presentation. First watch the video and read the words many times until you get familiar with all the words. Then listen to the song over and over without the help of the lyrics. This way you do not rely on reading the words, eliminate the visual aid. Check on reggaeton, Spanish pop, salsa or bachata songs.

7. Radio Commercials: Humorous, serious, jingles, real-life situations and more. Spanish commercials on the radio are fun to listen to and will help you to understand the overall message. Even if you just understand a few words you will probably understand what the product or service is that is being promoted. Just turn on your radio while you are driving, listen to the music and to the commercials in between.

6. TV Commercials: The combination of visual aids and audio provide a complete way of learning new words, phrases and above all another way to force you to try to understand what the message is. You will have a much easier time understanding TV commercials versus radio commercials, but I do recommend both.

5. Children’s TV Shows/ DVDs: The simpler, less deep content is easier to follow and refreshing. Many shows use many visual aids and display words with the intention of teaching Latin children how to learn Spanish. For anyone starting out learning Spanish this would the number one way to improve Spanish listening comprehension. This method also serves as a way to learn new vocabulary and how to construct sentences.

4. Comedy Shows: There’s a slew of them. I admit I haven’t watched any in a long while, but they are another less intense, laid back way to practice. Many jokes will go right over your head, but you will pick up more than you think. It’s a great way to learn a bit about the Latin culture to get a little glimpse on their sense of humor. Just be aware some of the humor is a little over the top.

3. Game Shows: I give an edge to game shows over comedy shows because there is more dialogue and less staged situations. Real life, everyday people participate in the show and share many random comments. The shows typically mix in commercials and sales pitches which adds to the variety of topics appearing on the shows.

2. Science and Nature Shows: I place this second simply as a preference. I enjoy watching them. There is a lot of dialogue which enhances your vocabulary. The game shows and comedy shows are great but they can be so goofy that I can only watch for a little bit. Nature shows on the other hand are more interesting to me and I don’t tend to get distracted like I do with the other types of shows.

1. The News: Local news, international or national news. Hands down the best way that tops this list. These are the best types of shows to improve Spanish listening comprehension, vocabulary and grammar. You get it all, visual aids, dialogue, current events for cultural orientation and many different types of accents. Tune into different channels to mix up the stories and accents. You will find that some accents are easier to understand do to their clarity of speech.

Spanish Pronunciation Guide: Vowels and Vowel Combinations

Level: All Levels

The most asked question in learning Spanish is, “How do you pronounce the words?”  The great thing for learners of Spanish is the words are pronounced just like they are written for the most part. This should be music to your ears since English is nothing like that.  It is much more complicated. Take the words “pear” and “beard” for example. The “ea” in both these words sound different. In Spanish this doesn’t happen. There are only a few tricky things to remember but they are easy and most sounds that exist in Spanish you can already pronounce. Sound good so far?

I have decided to break down pronunciation into categories so you can focus at it one piece at a time. So for this post we focus on vowels. Just like in English there are single vowel sounds and vowel combinations. In Spanish there are many less combinations though. A couple notes before we begin, this post is meant as a reference. Come back to it to help you pronounce words, but the guide alone will not teach you to pronounce Spanish words without actually speaking the words to someone. This is a starting point the only way me or any other English speaker learned to pronounce Spanish was by speaking and speaking a lot.

The other thing to note is if you wish to speak with as little accent as possible then realize there are slight differences between English and Spanish. The way you use your tongue, roof of your mouth and lips is different. Native Spanish speakers touch the tip of their tongues to the roof of their mouths (el taladar) often. In English we form many words with our lips and nasal passages. We also tend to unconsciously blow while pronouncing many of our words for example when we say Tom or even the word “pronounce” there is a quick, soft blow between the “T-o” and “p-r”. To eliminate your English accent in Spanish you do not blow.

The Basic Vowels

These vowel sounds are always the same.

a              Sounds like the  short “o” in the English words October,  robot, socks.  Here’s how to pronounce some Spanish words with “a”:                            tanto /TAN-toe/, basta /BA-sta/, Pablo /PAH-bloe/

e             Sounds like the short “e” in the English words bent, deck, rest. In Spanish you will see the letter “e” in the words momento /mo-                        MEN-to/, evento /e-VEN-to/, episodio /e-pee-SO-dyo/

i               Sounds like the “ea” vowel combination like in the English words each, rear, seat. You will find this in the Spanish words iglesia /ee-                   GLAY-see-ah/, siglo /SEE-glo/, comida /ko-MEE-dah/

o             Sounds similar to the long “o” like in the English words born, for, bone. In Spanish you will find it in the words sonido /so-NEE-do/,                     fondo /PHONE-do/, Jose /HOAS-ay/. Please note that this “o” sound is cut short at the end of words. The word “go” ends with a                         long “o” sound that gets pronounced a split second longer than the final “o” as in the words above sonido and fondo.

u             Sounds like the sound you make if you got punched in the stomach “oo” or as in the double “o” as in food or boot. In Spanish you                   will find this letter in the words mudo /MOO-do/, ruta /ROO-tah/, fruta /FROO-tah/.  Please note it does not sound like the double                   “o” as in the word good. In “good” the sound is too short.

Vowel Combinations

Two Syllable Vowel Combinations

There are two kinds of vowel combinations: 1) with accent mark; 2) no accent. Grammar books with break them down more into more categories, but I do not think it’s a good idea for students to read too much about pronunciation. Pronunciation is best learned from listening and speaking.

  1. With Accent

The accent mark over a vowel means you stress that vowel sound.  In other words, that’s where your intonation goes up.

Vowel Combinations with Accent Marks

a              pronounced /ah-EE/,   /ah-OO/ as in “food”

e             /eh-EE/,   /eh-OO/ as in “food”

i               ía /EE-ah/,  íe /EE-eh/

o             /oh-EE/

u             úa /OO-ah/ as in food and the same for the rest of the double “o” sound here,  úe /OO-eh/, úi /OO-ee/, úo /OO-oh/

Vowel Combinations without Accent Marks

These combinations do not have any stressed syllables. They are just run together to make one sound. These pronunciations are close but not exact.

a              ai /ya/   au /ow/

e             ei /ay/ like in the word “day”,  eu /ayoo/  “ay” as in “say” and “oo” as in “food”

i               ia /eeya/,  ie /yeh/,  io /ee-oh/,  iu /yu/

o             oi /oy/

u             ua /wa/,  ue /weh/,  ui /we/, uo /wo/

More Vowel Combinations without Accent Marks

These combinations have two syllables but do not have accent marks written above them; therefore, no stressed syllables.

a              ae /ah-ay/,   ao /ah-oh/

e             ea /eh-ah/,  ee /eh-eh/,  eo /eh-oh/

o             oa /oh-ah/,  oe /oh-eh/,  oo /oh-oh/