Starting to learn Spanish has been an amazing journey. So far, the language and the people are really interesting, and it’s nice to know that a large population of Americans can speak the language. After long hours of practice, I am sitting here writing a post, while listening to my favorite Spanish rap songs.
Spanish class helped me in some ways and has hurt my interest in others. This was due to the grammar, and also we weren’t actually speaking. As much as I love doing grammar workbooks and vocabulary quizzes, I was more interested in sounding like Don Juan seducing girls.
Spanish is a great language and it has so many benefits, the first being that by speaking the language you can talk to a much larger portion of the world. Spain, Colombia, and Buenos Aires are filled with a lot of activities and people to talk to. Something that most people might not know is that, by speaking Spanish, you can also talk to older generation Filipinos and people from Israel, Greece, Turkey, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. On top of this, after Spanish, Portuguese can be acquired with half of the work already done.
I love the pronunciation for Spanish. You can be fairly understood without going through the work that a French student would go through. Of course, the hardest thing is rolling your ‘r’s, but don’t worry. It isn’t too serious and Spanish speakers can understand you without it. The pronunciation won’t take very long to master compared to other languages. That’s one of the benefits of Spanish.
After pronunciation comes vocabulary. This is easier than other languages due to the similarity of Spanish and English. We have a lot of cognates, like la sofa becomes ‘sofa’, or los pantalones becomes ‘pants’.
Spanish grammar isn’t really that bad, people make it seem a lot harder than it is. I’ve heard that Arabic, Hungarian, and Latin have intense grammar that makes Spanish look easy. That’s because Spanish is so similar to English. It only has a couple of additions, and most of the sentences can translate back to English and still sound comprehensible. One hard step is learning how to conjugate verbs. Past, Present, Future, Conditional, Imperfect, and the dreaded Subjunctive. All verbs have different forms that you must learn, but thankfully, most follow the same pattern. In a sense, it’s just more vocabulary disguised as grammar.
The hardest rule is differentiating between Subjunctive and Indicative forms. For example it stresses the ability to know the difference between the following sentences: We always eat after the class ends, and We are going to eat after the class ends. In Spanish, those sentences are different and it is up to you to memorize the difference along with the verb conjugations. Fun, right? Well it actually isn’t that hard. It just takes time to get the hang of it.
Spanish is an easy language for English speakers, however there is one harsh reality. Learning a language isn’t easy. It takes hours of work and practice, and sometimes we overestimate how hard it actually is. We create excuses for not learning the language. That is why it is important that you have the right motivation for learning a language. Knowing about the steps above will give you a heads up for Spanish, but if you don’t have the right motivation, you will set yourself up for failure. I have faith in your language learning experience. Use it wisely, young Padawan.
Read more from Ray on his blog at themodernlingo.com.
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Happy New Year! Whether you’re already there, or have a few more hours to wait, we hope that 2015 will be a fantastic year and bring you everything you hope for.
As the celebrations get underway, here are a few interesting New Year traditions from around the world…
In Spain, eat a grape for each strike of the clock at midnight; if you manage to eat all twelve during the chimes, you’ll have twelve months of good luck.
This is the tradition of being first into a house after midnight, in Scotland and Northern England. The first-foot should bring gifts of a coin, bread, salt, coal, or whisky, which represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth and good cheer. The best kind of first-foot is believed to be a tall, dark-haired man.
A tradition from German and English folklore says that you must kiss someone at midnight, and that that person will be significant in your future. If you don’t kiss anyone, it means you’re doomed to a year of loneliness. Apparently.
In Chile, if you want good luck and prosperity in the new year, wear yellow underwear – inside out – and then turn it the right way after midnight.
Making a lot of noise
In the Phillippines, the New Year’s custom is to make a lot of noise at midnight, to frighten away evil spirits. People buy small horns called torotots and also use paputok (firecrackers) as well as banging pots and pans and revving their vehicle engines.
Burning ‘Mr Old Year’
In Colombia, the previous year is seen out by families as they build large stuffed male dolls filled with different materials, and items that they no longer want or that have sad memories attached to them. Then they burn the doll at midnight, which represents burning the past and looking to the future.
The first thing you should eat after midnight in Hungary is lentil soup, because it’s believed that lentils will bring you riches in the new year – and the more lentils you eat, the richer you’ll be.
New Year Dip
In various towns on the Welsh coast, brave swimmers take a dip in the freezing sea on New Year’s Day. Some people do it in fancy dress – and no, we don’t know why.
How will you be celebrating the New Year? Whatever you’re doing we hope you have a great time!
A couple of months ago, I visited Barcelona in north-east Spain. The city has something for everyone – history, architecture, beach and mountains. We were only there a few days – and on a bit of a budget – but we had great weather, and managed to explore the majority of this amazing city on foot. Here are my top ten reasons to visit Barcelona.
Barcelona loves its fountains; they’re everywhere. My favourite of these was the stunning display stretching from the Plaça d’Espanya to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. It’s quite a steep climb, to the point that they’ve actually installed outdoor escalators to help you out, but well worth the effort for the view from the top.
The work of architect Antoni Gaudí is everywhere in Barcelona – from the imposing (and still as yet unfinished) Sagrada Família to the popular tourist attraction, Parc Guëll. But you can also find examples of his work in the centre of the city, in houses like Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. If you like your architecture traditional, it may not be your cup of tea, but I loved the modernist designs; there’s so much to look at. And I think the Sagrada Família may be one of my favourite places of all time.
3. The metro
I’ll be honest, Barcelona airport is pretty confusing. When we arrived, I confidently assumed we’d be able to just jump on the metro and find our hotel. It turned out to be not that easy at all, as we had to first get a bus to another terminal, then pick up the overground train, before finally arriving at the Sants Estació, which turned out to be the main railway station in the city. But from there it was dead easy – like the London Underground, as long as you’ve got a map of the network, you can’t really go far wrong. Unlike the London Underground, the trains are air-conditioned, which was lovely after hauling our bags halfway across the city. And the 10-trip tickets, which you can use on any form of transport, were perfect for our three-day stay.
Ah, churros. We took a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter and La Rambla, during which our guide pointed out a café, which she said did the best churros in Barcelona. Afterwards, it seemed rude not to take her advice, so we retraced our steps to the café she recommended – Granja La Pallaresa in Carrer Petritxol, just off La Rambla – and asked for the churros y chocolate. I don’t know if they were the best in Barcelona, but they were pretty amazing.
5. La Rambla
Barcelona’s famous tree-lined shopping street, stretching from the city centre down to the sea. It’s a pity that it’s become known more as a place where you’re likely to get robbed, but it’s still well worth a visit – just remember to hold on to your handbag. And don’t feel you have to stick to the main street; some of the little back streets have more choice and are a bit cheaper too, and you’re more likely to be offered free samples of turrón (if you’re offered, take it – it’s yummy). Check out La Boqueria too – it’s a huge food market selling just about everything you can imagine: fruit, fish, meat, sweets, tapas, paella, sangria… You could easily get lost in there, but at least you wouldn’t starve 😉
6. The seaside
My friend and I had been to Barcelona on a school trip years ago, and pretty much the only bit we remembered was the sea front. Cross the bridge to Port Vell, where you’ll find restaurants and a very modern shopping centre (I had to be physically dragged out of Desigual), an aquarium and an IMAX cinema, or keep walking along the shore to get to the funfair and, just beyond that, the lovely sandy beach. Once you’re there, be prepared to say ‘no, gracias’ repeatedly to the guys trying to sell you overpriced sangria; they’re not at all pushy but there are a lot of them.
7. Olympic Stadium and Montjuïc
The Olympics were held in Barcelona in 1992, and you can now visit the stadium for free (well, I say ‘visit’ – you can walk in, have a look and leave again). It’s looking a bit old and tired these days, but it was easy to imagine it filled with a cheering crowd just over twenty years ago. While you’re there, head around the corner from the stadium to check out the impressive Torre de Comunicacions de Montjuïc, and – you guessed it – more fountains. On a clear day, the views from up there are incredible.
8. La Sagrada Família
Possibly one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen, and it’s not even finished yet. Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece, the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, is one of Barcelona’s biggest tourist attractions – we had to queue for 45 minutes just to get our tickets, and then we had to come back two hours later to actually get in. But it was so worth the wait. From the astonishing detail on the outside to the breathtaking stained glass inside, I honestly can’t recommend it enough. It somehow manages to be both modern and timeless at once, and the sheer size of the place is enough to leave you speechless. I can’t wait to see it when it’s finished; I think it’s going be pretty spectacular.
9. Current affairs
This might not sound like a very interesting reason to visit a city, but there’s a lot going on in Barcelona just now. My friend and I got chatting to two stallholders in La Boqueria, who, on discovering we were English, were keen to know what we thought about the Scottish independence referendum, which had taken place the week before. Catalonia’s currently engaged in a debate about this issue for themselves, with a recent poll showing 80% of people are in favour of independence, but the vote itself being ruled unconstitutional by the Spanish government. It’s hard to know what will happen, but it’s definitely an interesting time for the region and the country.
10. The weather
Well, sort of. On our first three days in Barcelona we had amazing weather – despite being late September, it was well over 20 degrees and we enjoyed gorgeous sunshine. And then on our last day, it rained. And not just a little bit of rain; it poured, all day, to the point where we eventually gave up trying to sightsee from under our umbrella and set off for the airport early. Where our flight was delayed, because of the rain. I guess you can’t win them all.
One word of advice – although Barcelona is in Spain, and everyone speaks Spanish, you’ll find on arrival that many of the signs are in Catalan, and you may be greeted in Catalan too. So even if you speak Spanish, I’d recommend picking up a little of the regional language before you go as well. Or if you really want to impress the locals, take uTalk with you and greet them in both languages.
I had an amazing few days in Barcelona, and would love to go back soon, if only to eat more churros and visit the Sagrada Família again (seriously, I can’t shut up about it).
Have you been to Barcelona? Any tips for my next trip? And most importantly, have I really had the best churros in the city, or is there somewhere better?
Here in the UK, this weekend is Easter weekend. Many people will be marking the occasion by attending church services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, while a more commercial tradition is to exchange chocolate eggs as gifts. Easter is a religious holiday, marking for many people around the world the death and resurrection of Jesus, but it also represents new life, falling as it does in spring time, and is often symbolised by young animals, like lambs and chicks.
We decided to have a look at some Easter traditions around the world, to see how other countries mark this holiday. Here are just a few:
Mardi Gras (which means ‘Fat Tuesday’) takes place in Rio de Janeiro on Shrove Tuesday and marks the start of Lent. The streets are filled with large processions of people in brightly coloured, exotic costumes, marching, singing and dancing.
Another Brazilian tradition is to create straw dolls to represent Judas Iscariot, then destroy them in the street.
Church bells are silent as a sign of mourning from Maundy Thursday until Easter Sunday. Sometimes children are told the bells (known as ‘cloches volants’ or ‘flying bells’) have gone to see the Pope and will return with Easter eggs.
In parts of southwest France, a giant omelette is made on Easter Monday. The dish can feed 1,000 people.
During Lent in Ethiopia, Christians don’t eat or buy any animal products like meat, eggs, butter, milk, yogurt, cream and cheese.
The first Easter day service starts at 8 p.m. on Easter Saturday and lasts until 3 a.m. on Easter Sunday.
After the service, people will return to their homes and have a breakfast of ‘dabo’ sourdough bread to celebrate the end of Lent. Traditionally, the bread is cut by a priest or the head man in the family.
Czech Republic and Slovakia
As part of an Easter tradition, women and girls are beaten with decorated hand made whips on Easter Sunday. But despite what you might think, this is actually a good thing; the whipping is thought to make women more healthy and beautiful, and girls who don’t get whipped are often quite offended!
Chios (Greek Island)
In the village of Vrondados, the annual ‘war of rockets’ is staged between two churches, Agios Marcos and Erithiani. Residents spend all year preparing thousands of firework rockets and on the evening of Easter Saturday, the rockets are fired between the two churches for hours.
The custom goes back many years, and although there are plenty of stories, no one is quite sure how the tradition began.
Many towns and cities in Spain celebrate Semana Santa (Holy Week) with processions through the streets at night. Floats called ‘tronos’ are carried through the streets. Each float bears huge decorated figures representing part of the Easter story. It takes 40-50 people to carry each trono on their shoulders and processions can last between 4-5 hours.
In Murcia, a trono telling the story of the Last Supper has real food on the table. On Easter Sunday, the 26 men who have carried the table in the procession sit down and eat the food.
Please share your own Easter traditions in the comments. And whether you celebrate Easter or not, we hope you have a great weekend.
We hope that you enjoyed our first couple of posts from the series ’10 reasons to visit…’ Here’s our latest post, about a magical, warm, sunny place named Spain. We tried to get the opinion of locals or people who’ve lived there so that we can give authentic reasons why Spain is a wonderful country that should be on your ‘to go’ list.
We’re going to make this city a standalone reason because it is simply magic. From a walk on the seashore at La Barceloneta, to pubs and terraces along La Rambla, to shopping, to walking in the narrow streets filled with beautiful old buildings that have hanging flowers on their balcony, this is a city where anyone can find happiness. Don’t forget to visit Gaudí’s great work: La Sagrada Familia, El Capricho, Casa Calvet, Park Güell, Casa Milà and Casa Batlló.
‘Fiesta’ means ‘celebration’ or ‘carnival’ and the Spanish people have a lot of them because, well, they like to party. One worth mentioning is the Las Fallas Festival in Valencia, one of the biggest national festivals in Spain, which takes place every March. Huge papier maché figures are burnt during the course of the week; there are also many fireworks and plenty of partying. La Tomatina is another well-known festival – basically it’s a huge tomato fight and it takes place on the last Wednesday of August at Buñol near Valencia. And the annual celebration of Carnival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife is second only to the ‘Carnival’ in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on the world party stage.
3. Delicious drinks and free snacks
Nothing more to say here! We recommend sangria, and a lot of it. Well, if you must know what’s in it: wine, chopped fruit, a sweetener, and a small amount of added brandy. But what’s even better is that most bars will also give you a small snack or tapa to go with your drink: olives, peanuts, crisps or ‘pipas’ (seeds in their shells) are common, as are small pieces of bread topped with jamón or cheese.
4. Spanish cuisine
Oh, yes, the food. The most popular dishes are ‘tapas’ and ‘paella’, which is basically white rice, green vegetables, meat (rabbit, chicken, duck), beans and seasoning. Tapas is actually a wide variety of appetisers – cold (such as manchego cheese, gazpacho and cured jamón) or hot (such as chopitos, which are battered, fried cuttlefish, patatas bravas and chorizo). In the cities along the coast they serve the best seafood and fish.
5. The weather
In most areas of Spain there are 300 days of sunshine yearly. The sunny days and sandy beaches, along with palm trees and, in some areas, parrots flying around freely, make Spain a paradise for tourists. I visited Barcelona in March and there were people on the beach already, so don’t pack too many jumpers…
Ibiza is an island off the eastern coast of Spain, which has become famous for its nightlife and the electronic music that originated on the island. Its summer club scene attracts many tourists in the summer, though it is said that the island’s government and the Spanish Tourist Office have controversially been working to promote more family-oriented tourism on the island.
Tarifa is the most southern point of Spain and off its coast is the Strait of Gibraltar, which is 14.3 km/8.9 miles of ocean at the strait’s narrowest point – this means that from here you can see Africa. The view is amazing; if you go to southern Spain this is a location you shouldn’t miss.
8. The people
Spanish people are pretty laid back – they enjoy their free time as well as lunch breaks, and you can often see them savouring their coffee on terraces and lounges. You can’t really blame them, with all the sunshine and holiday vibe. If you actually need to get something done, this relaxed attitude can be a bit frustrating, but it certainly makes a change from the frantic pace of life at home.
9. Architecture and sights
We’ve already mentioned some of the iconic buildings you can see in Barcelona, like the famous Sagrada Familia, but there’s a lot more to see in Spain. Islamic influences spread most of the way across Spain between 711 and 1492, and you can see this all the way up to Zaragoza in the north, where the central Muslim-influenced Basilica contrasts with the other Roman influences in the city. The Mezquita (mosque) in Cordoba is absolutely worth a visit, as is the Alhambra in Granada; both are really breathtaking inside and out. There are also some amazing palaces to visit, such as the Palacio Real in Madrid, and the monasterio de El Escorial, a little way outside Madrid.
10. Practise your Spanish
Of course! Spanish is generally considered one of the easier languages in which to pick up the basics, and people there really appreciate you trying out a couple of phrases. If you head to Madrid or Barcelona, you can probably make yourself understood in English, but in many other places, people don’t really speak much English, so no-one will laugh at you if you try out asking a few directions or ordering tapas in Spanish.
Please share your own favourite things about this great country – we know there are a lot more than ten reasons to visit!
Ioana and Alex