Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Free Online Courses to Prepare for the AP* Spanish Language and Culture Exam

What is EdX?

Long story short, EdX is an online website that hosts courses from colleges around the world. Any one can take these classes online for free. You won't get actual college credit for them, but you will get the knowledge, and they can be shown on your LinkedIn profile or gain you certificates.

From the EdX website:
Founded by Harvard University and MIT in 2012, edX is an online learning destination and MOOC provider, offering high-quality courses from the world’s best universities and institutions to learners everywhere.
With more than 85 global partners, we are proud to count the world’s leading universities, nonprofits, and institutions as our members. EdX university members top the QS World University Rankings® with our founders receiving the top honors, and edX partner institutions ranking highly on the full list.

 EdX Spanish Courses

Courses change depending on the date, however if these courses are no longer available, search through the EdX catalog.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Gender of Nouns in the Spanish Language

For native English speakers, the notion that nouns have specific genders is confusing, however there are plenty of languages around the world that use this practice.

In general, the gender of Spanish nouns can be broke down to the masculine nouns end with -o, and the feminine nouns end with an -a.

 The idea of gender in Spanish is a presence to be reckoned with. One of the neo-Latin languages, Spanish inherits the concept of M. gender (i.e. el=the) and F. gender (i.e. la=the) just like French, Italian, Romanian and Portuguese. One may understand M. and F. nouns in the context of humans (male and female) and some animals (again male and female). But that a mesa (table) in Spanish should be F. (=la mesa), like the Italian la tavola, and la table in French, while el cuchillo in Spanish, il coltello in Italian and le couteau in French (all three=knife) are M., defies rational explanation. Spanish torments us even more sharply with a F. form for big, butcher’s knife, la cuchilla, and Italians sing loud and clear that tavolo is M.

Linguists agree that no rules may be established in this duality of gender to justify their arbitrary application to nouns, save for those pointing to persons and some animals. And even here, gender seems to go a bit transvestite. That a male should be F. as in Spanish víctima, French victime, or Italian vittima, or a female should be M. as in Spanish miembro, French membre or Italian membro merely perplexes the foreigner even more.

Moreover, in many European languages, from Greek and Latin, through to Czech, German, Polish and Russian and the Scandinavian languages, for example, one has to confront a further gender applied to nouns: neuter. In Romance languages, fortunately this is not the case, although in Spanish, there exists the vigorous use of adjectives with a neuter value (=lo). However, for our purposes, we may safely concentrate on Spanish M. and F. nouns which have repercussions throughout the sentence since they require agreement of adjectives and past participles. Oddest of anomalies, here we come.

The gender of numerous Spanish nouns has never been stable over the centuries, which explains serious hesitation felt, at one time or another, by practically all Spanish speakers. The same comment applies to other Romance languages. This variability is partly due to the diverse origins of words, changes based on analogy with other words in the same language, and the constant requirements of adapting to new circumstances, as with the accession of females to what was once an exclusive male precinct. How do we feminize el piloto (the pilot), el soldado (the soldier), el médico (physician/doctor)? The present author leads his Spanish friends/colleagues a veritable merry-go-round with this question. F. forms, “pilota/soldada/médica” would send the Real Academia Española into a paroxysm of linguistic rage.

Three simple examples of the variability of genders over the centuries are the Spanish F. noun la miel (honey) which is M. both in Italian (il miele) and French (le miel); flor (flower) is F. in Spanish and French (la fleur) but M. in Italian (il fiore); ópera (opera) is F. in Spanish and Italian (l’opera) but M. in French (l’opéra). Singing the gender changes with opera is clearly determined by the Latin neuter opus/operis. Avoiding gender changes in opera must have had something to do with the castrati.

As most beginners learn very quickly, the most distinctive feature of Spanish M. nouns appears with the ending o: barco (boat), libro (book), caso (case). They also soon recognize Spanish F. nouns, ending in a: casa (house), puerta (door), ventana (window). Exceptions abound: dínamo (dynamo), radio (radio) are F., as is mano (hand). But cross the Atlantic pond from Spain and the fun begins: in Argentina, Colombia and Mexico, radio and dínamo are M. Confused? How about further confusion then? Radio in the sense of radius is M., wherever you are.

The ending o for M. nouns contrasts with the ending a for F. nouns. Knowing this is the easy part. Remembering the difference in meaning between the same root of many nouns but differing in endings o and a is the complicated feature. Three examples, among innumerable “doublets” of this kind, must suffice: acera (sidewalk/pavement)/acero (steel); banda (music band, gang)/bando (faction, group, very often the opposing side); cera (wax), cero (zero). Our Mexican friends do not make this distinction any easier. For instance, bolso (lady’s handbag), in Peninsular Spanish ends up as their bolsa which is any bag in the Peninsula, witness bolsa de plástico/de compras (plastic/shoppng bag). You are warned!

A fascinating digression: a striking point related to the vowel a marking the F. noun is characteristic of numerous European languages. Latin-derived languages fall into this category, although the a is modified in French to e, in many cases: porte (door), dame (lady: compare with Spanish dama). Slav languages mark the F. form with a: compare žena (woman) in Czech, Martina Navratilova (Czech tennis player), Sharapova (Russian tennis player), Dostoevskii’s mother, Mariya Fyodorovna, and Marya Sklodowska=Marie Curie (of Polish origin). Contrast these female names with that of the Polish novelist Korzeniowski, later Joseph Conrad.

There do exist some concessions to foreign learners of Spanish. You would expect names and designations of human males, and the males of large well-known animals to be M., whatever their ending, and you would be right: amigo (friend), chico (boy), cura (priest), monarca (monarch), cardenal (cardinal), tigre (tiger), gato (cat), caballo (horse). And you would expect the female counterparts of this type of noun to be F. Right again: amiga, chica, monarca, gata. Yet, let’s not get carried away with these assumptions. Caballa is not a female horse (i.e. a mare=yegua in Spanish). It means mackerel, an edible fish.

Spanish radio, at the end of four paragraphs above, provides a clue to a testing area of Spanish gender. You’ve guessed it: many Spanish nouns have two genders, according to their significance. High flyers in Spanish will know that M. cometa is the object streaking across the sky=comet. Much lower down in the sky is the F. counterpart I used to fly as a child=kite.

You’ll soon get heated over these double genders. Calor=heat, is a good case in point. Most Spanish speakers use the M. form, to be recommended, and this fits the Italian (il calore). This M. gender has its root in the Latin calor. However, parts of southern Spain, doubtless influenced by Catalan (calor) and French (chaleur) favor the F. form.

You’ll probably get even more heated over the oddity of gender of pornografía which is F. but the abbreviated form porno is M. Temperatures still stay high with desnudo (nude) which is M. for both females and males.

Unlike pornografía/porno, motocicleta/fotografía are F., as are the shortened forms=moto/foto. Things stay hot, even to the point of sizzling, with the noun sartén=fry(ing) pan. F. in Peninsular Spanish but M. in the Americas. Now a sigh of relief. Some nouns are both M. and F. with no difference in meaning. Thus, among a goodly number: armazón (structure of a frame, e.g. for a tent), interrogante (question), linde (boundary), maratón (but usually F.).

Towns are often F. but there is no true, reliable guide. As against LA Ávila de la Edad Media (medieval Avila), en la Roma antigua (in ancient Rome), Guanajuato es bella (Guanajuato is beautiful), we come across: todo Chihuahua (all Chihuahua), el Buenos Aires de la Avenida Corrientes (Buenos Aires of the Corrientes Av.). Baffled? You will be even more baffled with the following. In the same paragraph in Argentina’s newspaper Mundo, 15 August, 2007, we read: nuestrA Buenos Aires and todO Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires really does some cross-dressing here.

Intractable problems arise with certain professions: el físico (physicist) practises la física (physics). El policía (policeman) forms part of la policía (police force). El informático (computing expert) is skilled in informática. The latter F. forms are not the female equivalents of the male practicioner. Some promote the use of la policía as a policewoman, but room for confusion here.

Gender of compound nouns is a minefield, since they are often of modern creation with unestablished forms. Yet, logic determines the following: 1. Two M. nouns give rise to a M. compound noun: buque fantasma (ghost ship), piso piloto (show apartment), tiempo récord (record time). 2. Two F. nouns lead to a F. compound noun: bomba trampa (booby trap), barra brava (soccer fans in Argentina), madre patria (mother country). 3. With two nouns of different gender, the first decides the gender: EL camión cisterna (tanker, with liquid), LA cama nido (trundle/bunk bed).

Compound nouns with other parts of speech, often verbs, are usually M.: abrelatas (can opener), marcapasos (pacemaker), lavavajillas (dishwasher). Mexico, always keen to muddy the waters of dishwashing, uses the F. form here. Argument: it is a machine (la máquina).

This short analysis of Spanish gender cannot be concluded without reference to the noun azúcar. True linguistic, probably unique, conundrum here, to be savoured. Quite exciting. M. in Spain and Colombia, it is F. in Argentina and Mexico. One would expect therefore in Spain el azúcar blanquillO (white sugar), but NO, we read and hear el azúcar blanquillA (i.e. M. definite article+F. adjective). Since azúcar is F. in Argentina and Mexico we would anticipate LA azúcar blanca/morena BUT NO: we read and hear EL azúcar blancA/morenA (i.e. M. definite article+F. adjective). A linguistic contortion to be enjoyed.

One further comment to be emphasized: sex and gender are not the same thing in Romance languages You could be very male with a F. gender (see víctima above, and pareja=partner) and very female with a M. gender (see miembro above).

The study of Spanish gender is riddled with countless traps, and falling into them, as with F. hoya (very large depression in ground), and M. hoyo (relatively small hole in ground/hole in golf) could get you bogged down. Yet, help is at hand. Our Reference Grammar of Spanish devotes some twenty pages to the subject of Spanish gender in the light of current Peninsular and American usage. Above all: ¡Viva la diferencia!

El corazón delator - Edgar All Poe - Spanish Short Stories

We all know that the fastest way to improve your language skills is to practice, practice, practice. A great option is to read a story that you're already familiar with, but in Spanish. This gives you a chance to use educated guesses and context clues to understand complex vocabulary and grammar patterns that you may not be familiar with.

Feel free watch the video below to hear the audio, or read the story below. Keep in mind that since the text is translated, I couldn't find an audio and a text version that used the exact same translation throughout. So there are differences between  the video and the text below.

Without further ado, here is the Tell-Tale Heart translated in to Spanish, El corazón delator.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Free Online Places to Learn Spanish

Learning a new language doesn't have to be an expensive activity. There are plenty of free options to learn Spanish that you can use so long as you have a device that can reach the internet.

Free online interactive websites

There are a ton of free online websites that can help you learn Spanish (or any language). Don't believe me? Google "learn Spanish online free". Go ahead, I'll wait.

See? There's a ton. Thankfully, I've already used...well way too many of them. Joining a new website is sometimes my way of procrastinating. The downside to a lot of free websites, is that a lot of the content is free, but there's also a lot that is only for "premium" users. 

That being said, here my favorites include:
  • DuoLingo - Completely free-no content locked behind a pay wall.
  • Busuu
  • LiveMocha (I use to like LiveMocha more. It's recently been bought out by Rosetta Stone)
Ask a librarian! Seriously, most libraries have a ton of resources available.

Local Library

Most local libraries will have some sort of language learning section. It can vary from one or two books, to entire sections. Now days a lot of libraries also offer items digitally, so you can check out books on your phone and computer. There are also high quality language learning software and websites that are available for free through libraries. Just ask a librarian!


The modern library! Using Youtube you can learn Spanish from native speakers all over the world. Of course, you do need to be careful. Just because someone can make a video about Spanish, doesn't mean that they should be teaching it. So if something sounds suspicious, double check it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Best Spanish Language Spotify Playlists

Here are a five of the best Spotify lists to find music in Spanish (that doesn't sound like it should be played in a chain Tex-Mex restaurant).

  1. Viva Latino - Updated weekly - hot current music
  2. Exitos Mexico - Mexican hits - not everything on this list is Spanish language (it currently includes Missy Elliot and CeeLo Green) but it does show what is currently trending on Mexican Top 40 stations.
  3. Spain Top 50 - Chart toppers from Spain.
  4. Musica Folklorico - Ok, so these are older, but they're still worth listening to. They'll give you a chance to listen to Spanish in a different accent, and tend to have a slower tempo, so they make for great listening practice.
  5. Calle 13 - I just really like Calle 13. 
What's your preference when you listen to Hispanic music?