Thursday, 9 February 2012

Un poco de gramática...


I said back in January that I wasn't quite sure how the whole teaching thing was going and I admit I still have the odd moment wondering what the hell I am doing trying to explain grammar to a bunch of teenagers. Happily, though, I'm feeling a lot more comfortable in the classroom these days and an experienced teacher told me that she liked the way I taught, which really boosted my confidence! She also said something very interesting though, which was that it really shows that I've studied a language before.  A lot of assistants arrive into her class with no idea of how grammar works, nor what the main problems with language learning are, which is a real shame.  In my humble opinion, you can't really teach a language very effectively if you've never tried learning another one.

In fact, I often really wish I could speak better Spanish to understand why some of my students make the mistakes that they do. Sometimes the only way you can explain something well is by making reference to your pupil's mother tongue and I don't know about anyone else, but I get frustrated when I can't do it!

That said, there are some things that I'm beginning to understand better as I learn more about good old Castellano and I'm noticing some mistakes that seem to recur across all age groups and levels. So here, for the benefit of teachers, Spaniards and anyone who can be arsed reading it, I've compiled a list of the 10 most common, and thankfully really easily fixable, English errors.

Top 10 Really Easily Fixable English Errors en España

1)  Pronunciation of 'u' in the Spanish way instead of the English way ('oo' instead of 'uh'). Remember   you're not having a Boorger King after a game of roogby. You're having a B-uh-rger King after a game of r-uh-gby.

2)  Using prepositions lifted directly from Spanish. One that could cause some quite unfortunate misunderstandings is saying 'to dream with someone' (soñar con alguién) rather than 'to dream of/about someone.'

3)  Forgetting prepositions altogether. If I had a penny for every time I have heard a student saying 'I listen music', I'd be a millionaire. 'Escuchar música' in Spanish; 'listen TO music' in English. (See below for a further list of examples)

4)  This is a strange one and I don't know why it happens, but ALL of my students used to mix up 'trip' and 'travel' (not any more, of course, because they've been constantly reminded of the difference!) 'Trip' is the noun and 'to travel' is the verb. Simples.

5)  Making sentences with the verb 'to like.' Again, it's also very simple. The rule is that there are three things you can put after the verb – a noun, an infinitive and a gerund. So I like music (noun), I like singing (gerund) and I like to play guitar (infinitive). [Note here you play the guitar and don't touch it!!]

6)  Describing the purpose of something. Many of my students used to say 'a pen for write' rather than 'a pen for writing' or 'a pen to write.' Again, the gerund and the infinitive are your friends.

7)  Mixing up (one of those awful phrasal verbs which means 'to confuse') 'for', 'since' and 'during.' 'For' and 'during' describe how long something happens/happened for, the former with a period of time and the latter with a noun. So I have been writing this for 10 minutes (time period) during my lunch break (noun). 'Since' tells you the point in time at which the action started and can be used with either a noun or a verb. I have been here since the morning (noun)/ I have been here since you arrived (verb).

8)  Pronunciation of the letter 'z'. This is perfectly understandable because there is no equivalent sound to the English 'z' in the Spanish language, but to speak like a native, you must perfect the sound that LL Cool J makes in the 'Control Myself' video. Skip to 3.12 and repeat after Mr. Cool J - Z, Z, Z, Z, Z, Z, Z...

9)  Superfluous 'thes' in sentences. For example, saying 'the last week' instead of 'last week' or going to 'the bed' instead of simply 'going to bed.' Remember you can usually omit the article in English unless you want to really emphasise the noun.

10)  Putting 's's on the end of irregular plurals. Children, not childrens. Sheep, not sheeps. Women, not womens. Et cetera, et cetera...

Verbs where preposition is used in English and not in Spanish

indicar – to point out                              quitarse – to take off
huir – to flee from                                   poner – to put, to place, to turn on
saber – to know, to know how to         yacer – to lie down
mirar – to look at                                     platicar – to chat, to talk over
llevar – to take away                              esperar – to hope, to wait for
pagar – to pay for                                   sacar – to take out
pedir – to ask for                                    entregar – to hand over
criar – to raise, to bring up                    averiguar – to find out
destacar – to stand out                         apagar – to turn off
caerse – to fall down                             encender – to turn on

Wednesday, 8 February 2012



Friday, 3 February 2012

España y Francia


I was having a conversation the other day about the differences between living in Spain and France and it got me thinking about my experiences in both countries. So for anyone who's interested in finding out if France really is as chic as it seems and whether in Spain, 'la gente está muy loca' (as someone once said to their mate Johnny), read on...

Stereotypical as it is, I had to sum up France in one word, I think it'd probably be 'sophisticated.'  France is, after all, the land of haute couture, expensive perfume, champagne and fine dining. It's also a land of intellectuals, poets and philosophers, where you can go to the opera or strike up a conversation about existentialism in many circles without being thought of as pretentious.

Michelle Obama perfectly captures the sentiments of
any woman who finds herself in the company of a super-chic

The problem, however, is that all the classiness and intellectualism surrounding France results in an almost rigid formality, bordering on unfriendliness. Try smiling at someone on the metro in the land of the frogs and you'll see what I mean. The person in question will either quickly avert their eyes or glare at you suspiciously like you want something from them. Ne vous inquiétez pas, mon ami, la suele chose que je veux est que vous me souriez...

Spain, in comparison, is a much more laid back place to live. In my experience, Spanish people are much more open than the French and their motto really is 'viva la fiesta!'  Smile at someone at the bus stop in Spain (Logroño is too small for a metro!) and they're ten times more likely to strike up a conversation than to simply ignore you.

A good example of the differences between French and Spanish culture can also be shown through the language and eating habits in each country. Firstly, I was initially quite shocked at the informality of language here. The formal, 'usted' form of the verb is very rarely used in Spain, in comparison with the frequent use of the 'vous' form in France. Spaniards answer the phone with a simple 'sí?' ('yes?') or a 'dime' ('tell me') and in comparison to when I lived in France, I have yet to find myself in a situation in which I'd feel uncomfortable swearing.

Whereas France has a reputation for fancy, Michelin starred restaurants and haute cuisine, Spain's famous pinchos/tapas are made from simple recipes and ingredients. The food, and the people, don't themselves too seriously and that's where all the charm lies. Indeed, it's true that sometimes, 'simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.'

And whilst we're on the subject of food (sorry, it's impossible for this not to be a recurring theme!), Logroño was voted as the gastronomic capital of Spain today, so now I'm enjoying the best food AND the best wine in the country :) See:

All the Spanish need to do now is learn how to make a decent croissant...