Tips for Working with ¿Cómo se dice?

While taking Spanish classes in Latin America, ¿Cómo se dice? began as an exercise to better understand Spanish (which was often taught in Spanish).  The lesson assignment:  1) Select an English word, expression or phrase and translate it to Spanish; 2) Identify the Spanish words as noun, adjective, adverb, etcetera; and 3) A lesson my not exceed one page.


What began as a personal homework assignment is now this book.  Each volume of ihablo Spanish is a colorful collection of 122 new lessons styled ¿Cómo se dice?, Spanish for How does one say?  Lesson topics vary from a single word to an expression to a short sentence in Spanish, which is defined and demonstrated by examples.


The skill level of ¿Cómo se dice? ranges from entry level to intermediate, with a touch of advanced.  Don't let any one lesson hold you back due to difficulty; rather, take from each ¿Cómo se dice? what you can (there is always something, even if just a new word) and continue to the next lesson.  Regular exposure to Spanish is more important than total comprehension.


Each ¿Cómo se dice? is also a quiz!  The first line of each lesson asks how one says an English word, expression or phrase in Spanish.  Like a flash quiz, you then have the chance to solve the lesson in Spanish before proceeding to the answer in Spanish.  It does not matter that you answer correctly, but rather that you engage in this exercise.


Following the quiz, each lesson is broken into its component parts, which are defined and identified as noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, and so on.  This detail accomplishes several things:  1) You don't have to constantly look up words; 2) A working knowledge of the building blocks of Spanish and English (noun, pronoun, verb, etcetera) will help you immensely when constructing your own sentences in Spanish; 3) As each lesson is essentially complete, you may vary the lesson order if you wish; and 4) Because definitions are included in each lesson, there is a natural repetition to help you internalize and remember vocabulary.  At the same time, as you become more and more proficient in Spanish, you may skim the lesson details you already know.


¿Cómo se dice? also targets your English brain as a learning resource.  For example, English words ending in al are often the same as their Spanish counterparts (save for pronunciation), such as normal, formal, informal, and sensual, sexual, as well as literal, liberal and original.  Whenever possible, ¿Cómo se dice? will show you connections such as this so that you may leverage your own knowledge of English into a knowledge of Spanish.  Accordingly, be on the lookout for these lessons which are identified in ¿Cómo se dice? as vocabulary builders.


Differences between English and Spanish are also noted.  For example, the English consonant h almost always has a sound, the familiar h sound you already know.  In Spanish, however, the h is always silent.  Awareness of this difference allows you to appreciate how the sound of the English h in hello compares to the Spanish h of hola, which has no sound at all.  Seeing English and Spanish in this comparative format will help you remember such things as the Spanish h is always silent!


The translation of each lesson from Spanish English is intentionally literal.  That is to say, if you learn to think like a Spanish speaker, you will find it that much easier to communicate in Spanish.  However, when English uses different words than Spanish, a more natural translation to English will follow the literal.


For example, in Spanish one describes the location of one thing alongside another as al lado de, literally to the side of.  In English, however, one describes this very same thing as next to.  Accordingly, in the full translation path of each lesson topic, any differences in English will be underlined.  ¿Cómo se dice the bank is next to the school en español?


El banco está al lado de la escuela The bank is to the side of the school/The bank is next to the school.


While al lado de/to the side of is a perfectly understandable way of expressing next to, you will not find the word next in al lado de.  Knowing this will allow you to properly use lado/side in other contexts:  Vivo en este lado de la calle I live on this side of the street.


The imperative and subjunctive moods of Spanish are usually left to advanced Spanish courses.  The problem with this approach is that the imperative and subjunctive are used often in Spanish, from basic Spanish on up.  Accordingly, these moods are included in ¿Cómo se dice?, and when they are, their peculiar verb conjugations are identified as imperative or subjunctive.


The following abbreviations appear in ¿Cómo se dice?:  adj/adjective; adv/adverb; prep/preposition; conj/conjunction; pron/pronoun; masc/masculine; and fem/feminine.


English has just you for both the singular and the plural, whereas Spanish has the singular usted/tú/vos and the plural ustedes (the familiar plural vosotros/as, used only in Spain, is not covered here).  For clarity, the singular forms usted/tú/vos are translated as you, and the plural ustedes is translated as the neutral y'all (short for you all), rather than you guys.


La Perla (noun/fem) means The Pearl.  When appearing in ¿Cómo se dice?, La Perla highlights something notable about the lesson.


Important points are also called to your attention by ¡OJO!


¡OJO! = ¡Atención!/Attention!

Speaking as a fellow Spanish student, one who is still learning Spanish, it must be said that Spanish can be frustrating, often very frustrating.  Frustration, in turn, is probably the single biggest obstacle to sticking with Spanish.  Accordingly, if you remember just one thing from this list of tips, remember to set the bar low and enjoy every single delight that comes your way, no matter how small, and then continue to the next ¿Cómo se dice?


Welcome/Bienvenido to ihablo® Spanish ¿Cómo se dice?, Spanish, 1 Lesson a Day...

A Note on Immersion Classes:  If you venture to Latin America to study Spanish, you will find that classes are often offered as an immersion experience (meaning Spanish taught in Spanish).  It is suggested, however, that you begin your Spanish studies with English instruction to take full advantage of the language you do know, English, in order to best learn and understand the language you do not know, Spanish.  When you progress to a basic ability to speak and understand spoken Spanish, you may then transition to learning Spanish-in-Spanish.  Immersion is not where you want to start, but rather where you want to end up!

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