Category Archives: Learning Spanish – Tips and Resources

Great Spanish Learning Tips and Resources!

Good Morning! Here are four great ways to start your week with a huge boost to your Spanish!

1. Watch Our First Ever Videoblog – on our Facebook page

Spanish video blog

Five Years ago we made our first ever video blog – see how nervous we were! I’ve posted it to the Notes in Spanish Facebook page, if you are a Facebook user, please ‘like’ the page, then you’ll know when we post more goodies there from time to time.

(If you are a non-facebook person, then you can watch the video on youtube too!)

2. Listen to one of our Q and A’s!

Can you answer these questions?

Q — ¿Qué significa “tener una chinita en el zapato”?

Q — What does the expression “aquí hay gato encerrado” mean and when do you use it?

Q — How do we move on from thinking in our own language first and translating in our head before speaking, to being able to listen, decipher and answer in Spanish smoothly?

We answer all these questions and more in a great Q and A audio we made just over a year ago, before we launched our Gold Two series. It’s a very enjoyable way to spend 25 minutes! Listen/download it here now.

3. Dar x 34!

Nos encanta daros cosas interesantes! – We love giving you interesting things!

…like our “34 Uses of Dar!” Special Report – have you got it yet, do you know them all?

4. Keep Listening to our Audio!

Without doubt, the very best thing you can do for your Spanish is to keep listening to our real Spanish conversations!

Have a great Spanish learning week and please feel free to share these Spanish learning resources with your friends!

Saludos desde Madrid,

Ben y Marina

Your Spanish Learning in 2011 – Our Best Advice!

Welcome to 2011 at! Feliz año nuevo!

Many of you will have made improving your Spanish a New Year’s Resolution, and we aim to do our best to help you.

Hopefully you have already started to explore all the free Spanish learning audio and Spanish videos on these pages, and signed up for our newsletter – as usual we’ll be sending out frequent updates this year with our best Spanish learning language tips and advice.

Plus we’ll be making new audio and videos (starting with a great new video this week hopefully! Stay tuned!)

In the meantime, if I had to pick one free report from our archives to really encourage your big New Year’s Spanish-Learning Push, it would be our ‘Zero to Fluent in 9 months’ report.

Please download it here, and have a look at the ideas inside. Even if you do just one thing mentioned in the report, it could make a big difference to your Spanish.

Zero to Fluent in Spanish in 9 Months: PDF Download Link

Please note though, the report refers to my (Ben’s) learning experiences when I was young, free and single – I now know that things are very different when you are trying to fit learning in around a busy family and working life!

My biggest, best piece of advice today is to try and find consistency in your learning – try and do just 10 to 20 minutes a day if you like, but make sure those 10 to 20 minutes make you happy! Whatever learning method makes you feel comfortable, interested and relaxed – go with that!

What are you planning to do for your Spanish this year? Have you got any tips to share with us? Please leave us a comment, and once again, Happy New Year, and good luck with your Spanish!

Ben y Marina, 10 de enero, 2011

When Can I Say I’m Fluent in Spanish?

In one of our Notes in Spanish Gold Q and A sessions, we were asked the following common question:

When can I say that I am “fluent” in Spanish?

Our listener went on to clarify: When people hear that I travel to Spain or Mexico to study Spanish, they often say “so, are you fluent in Spanish?” My eyes glaze over as I contemplate the question and try to formulate an honest answer.

Here’s the problem: While I can converse with almost anyone, anywhere, I still make tons of mistakes. And while I can understand most of what I hear on the news, I understand very little of the morning radio show (mostly comedy) on my way to work. Even if I follow a joke, I often miss the punch line! So it seems misleading to say I am “fluent” when I have so many gaps, even though I can communicate in Spanish all day long.

Interestingly enough, I’ve heard many people at levels much lower than mine declare confidently that they are “fluent.” Obviously, they have different criteria than I do. When did the two of you start answering “yes!” to that question? What should be my criteria for knowing I’ve crossed the line into “fluency?”

The Answer…

First of all, it is common to make mistakes when it’s not your mother tongue, no matter what your level. We (Ben and Marina) make mistakes, but can communicate fine and consider ourselves fluent in each other’s languages. When you hear someone with a difficult accent, or if you still find it difficult to listen to the radio, don’t worry! You just have to keep working at it.

And if you communicate in Spanish all day long, you’re definitely fluent! With reference to the jokes on the radio, Ben and Marina have the same problem. The phone and radio are two of the trickiest places for comprehension.

So, what can you do to increase your chances of getting fluent fast?

Make sure you have a copy of our free PDF report:

Zero to Fluent in 9 Months (PDF) (Just click on the link to automatically start the download of the pdf document.)

And make sure you keep filling your life with real Spanish! Listen to our real Spanish audio conversations, and if you need help with getting every bit of language-goodness from them, pick up the worksheets in our store to follow along with the transcripts and drive it all home with the vocab analysis and exercises included.

– Ben y Marina

Anatomical Spanish Simultaneous Translation Nightmare!


I (Ben) had a great ‘in at the deep end’ Spanish learning experience this weekend! I offered to help translate for a friend who was running a deep relaxation course here in Spain.

He spoke in English, and I had to simultaneously translate into Spanish for the Spanish people who had come to the course.

All went well as I translated to the 70+ people present that they had to first lie down, relax their breathing, put their arms by their side… but things got tricky after that.

‘Put your hands on your cranium…’ OK, craneum is ‘craneo‘, I knew that one, feel your brain, ‘cerebro‘, relax, and on down the body he went, talking them (via me) through the face (cara), the lungs (pulmones), the heart (corazón)…

Then the first major problem arrived. ‘Put your hands over your liver’… said my friend.

Now, I always get this word wrong. Is it ‘hígado’, or ‘hidalgo’… One means liver, the other means nobleman… when I usually get this one mixed up, Marina always laughs at me (e.g. when I describe how alcohol is bad for your nobleman!) so I had to get this right!

And I had a split second to decide which one it was before I announced the Spanish instruction to 75 already-very-relaxed people! I went for Hígado, and luckily no-one made a squeak as they carefully lowered their hands to their livers…

Then, the final nightmare, with the instruction ‘Put your hands under your armpits’.

I know two words/phrases about armpits, one is ‘te canta la ala‘, which is a very very informal way of telling someone you know very very well that they didn’t use enough deodorant this morning, and the other word is ‘sobaco‘.

I knew it sounded a little informal, but it’s all I had, so I went for it: ‘Manos debajo de los sobacos‘… at which point 15% of the assembled relaxed people started giggling!

Someone lying on the floor near to where I was sitting opened their eyes, looked at me, and hissed ‘¡Axilas!’ That was the word I was looking for!!

Sobaco was way too informal still for the setting, whereas Axila was the correct ‘anatomical’ version.

In the end it didn’t matter at all. After 2 hours of simultaneous translation into anatomical Spanish, I felt like my Spanish had leapt to another level, and a lot of the now-very-relaxed Spanish people said I’d done a great job!

It was a great reminder of how it pays HUGE dividends to challenge yourself beyond your pre-conceived limits. Often you are ready to make the jump up to another level with just a tiny bit of help, just a tiny bit more effort (and it’s often when you think you are most ready to throw it all in and give up on Spanish for good!)

So forget about worrying about Spanish being too hard, or about making mistakes in public – forget all your worries, and jump in with both feet as I did this weekend!

Check out more of our audio, get the higher level worksheet pack you’ve been thinking about in our store, and amaze yourself with what you can do with your Spanish!

“Top Ten Dead-Giveaways That You’re a Foreigner Speaking Spanish, Even if You Speak Well …!”

We recently received an email asking for a list of the biggest ‘dead-giveaway’ mistakes a Spanish learner typically makes. We put a call out on the forum at our sister site asking for help, and this is the list you helped us come up with:

Dead-Giveaway 1: Past Tense Confusion

Getting confused by the difference between the pretérito indefinido (canté/estuve/escribi) and the pretérito imperfecto (cantaba/estaba/escribía).

Solution: Check out our Inspired Beginners Podcast number 19 (great no matter what your level!), where we look at how these two key past tenses, the Pretérito Imperfecto and the Pretérito Indefinido, can be used together to tell a great story in Spanish.

Dead-Giveaway 2: Por/Para

No getting away from these two – you have to knuckle down and learn the differences, but fear not, soon it becomes second nature, and we have the perfect…

Solution: Listen to our Inspired Beginners Podcasts 27 (Por) and 28 (Para) (again, our Inspired Beginners reviews are great for all levels!)

Dead-Giveaway 3: The Rolling ‘R’

There is a subtle difference between the pronunciation of ‘r’ and ‘rr’, for example in pero/perro, caro/carro, and many Spanish learners are convinced they will never be able to pronounce a proper rrrrrolling ‘r’.

Solution: Practice! Ben was convinced he couldn’t do it either, but endless attempts have led to a half-decent ‘perro’ – so don’t give up, just rrrrrr all day long, and pay careful attention to how Spanish speakers differentiate between the two.

Dead-Giveaway 4: Ser/Estar

Just as with Por and Para, the Ser y Estar ‘problem’ drives many Spanish learners mad, but worry not! We have a a very good bit of audio to sort these two out as well!

Solution: Listen to Inspired Beginners 23, Ser y Estar

Dead-Giveaway 5: ¡Doy Propinas Demasiado Grandes!

Giving excessive tips (propinas) is a sure sign of being a foreigner on holiday in Spain. Spaniards tend to leave somewhere between no tip at all (when drinking in bars, or for a menu del día at lunchtime), to around 5% (if service is really good, usually at dinner in the evening or for a smart lunch).

Solution: Do as they do and don’t feel guilty about it! Spanish waiters receive a fixed wage, but tips make a nice extra.

Dead-Giveaway 6: Using “El Subjuntivo”

It’s not such a nightmare as you think to start using the subjunctive! You have to start eventually, and if you are at a comfortable intermediate level, nows the time to get going!

Solution: Have you downloaded our mega subjunctive report yet? We also cover a lot of subjunctive usage in the analysis section of many of our special Gold Audios.

Dead-Giveaway 7: Word Order and More…

Failing to make adjectives and verbs agree with the gender and number of objects/people… word order in sentences… using the right prepositions… This covers an awful lot, but the solution to all of these problems is the same…

Solution: It helps a lot to find someone to correct your mistakes as they happen. Marina constantly corrects Ben’s mistakes in our audio (and these are genuine mistakes!) Find an online or real-life intercambio and ask them not to worry about correcting your mistakes – making mistakes and having them corrected is the best way to learn!

Dead-Giveaway 8: Falsos Amigos

Why does Actualmente mean Currently (and not actually, which is de hecho), and how can Sanidad mean health system (and not sanity, which is juicio or cordura)?

Solution: We have a special report for this too available here, with a complete list of false friend pairs and more!

Dead-Giveaway 9: Saying Please and Thank You Too Much!

The British, to name but one nationality, use please and thank you quite a bit more than the Spanish use ‘por favor’ and ‘gracias’.

Solution: Don’t worry about it, we don’t think there can be too many ‘por favor’s and ‘gracias’ in the world, so keep throwing them in whenever you would in your own language, and save your efforts for bigger challenges like Por/Para and the Subjunctive!

Dead-Giveaway 10: The Gender of Words

How annoying that the Spanish language has to decide if things are Masculine or Feminine! What’s more, there are ‘trick’ ones that really look like they should be the other way round, like ‘la mano’, ‘el sofa’, ‘el problema’, and ‘el tema’.

Solution: You’ve just got to learn them! But don’t worry, the exceptions to the obvious, like those above, are few! There is further discussion (with more examples) of this in the second Q and A recording in Notes in Spanish Gold Season One.

Spanish False Friends Report – How To Avoid Major Embarrassment!

False Friends: Don’t get your marmalades mixed up!

To celebrate the public launch of Notes in Spanish Gold (our best audio ever!) we’ve got another great free report for you, with a huge list of over 50 crucial Spanish false friend pairs.

You can download the report below, but do read this classic Spanish-confusion-nightmare tale first:

Why are False Friends important? Some of you may have heard this story before, but it’s worth repeating as a bit of a warning!

NIS listener Courtney sent us this great confession recently, about a somewhat embarrassing experience during the very first day with her host-family in Spain:

“Nunca lo olvidaré: Yo desayunaba con mi nueva “familia” española el primer día que yo llegué a su apartamento en Salamanca. Yo comía un pan dulce con una mermelada bien sabrosa. Les dije a mis “padres”: “¡Ay, que rico! Me encantan estos preservativos….”

At which point the whole family fell about laughing! Courtney, trying to be nice about their preservative jam, had just told them how much she loved their condoms!

The word she was looking for was “mermelada”, of course!

The special false friends report we’re giving away here to celebrate the launch of Notes in Spanish Gold this Monday, has a list of over 50 of these tricky false friend pairs, to make sure you never make an error like that one!

Download it here now:

Download: Notes in Spanish Falsos Amigos Special Report PDF

Important Extra News:

1. If you haven’t got our Spanish Subjunctive 21 page report yet (that basically demystifies it forever!), then get it here right now.

2. Did you see this weeks videos yet? If not, do check out the latest, ‘Our Big Vice’, with the brand-new analysis section in the second half (a winning concept taken straight from our new Gold audio). Watch it here.

2. Notes in Spanish Gold has previously only been for a handful of private members. This is our best work yet! We can’t wait until everyone gets a chance to find out…

Update: Notes in Spanish Gold is available now in our store!

New! Our Real Spanish Phrase Book and Audio Guide!

When I started learning Spanish here in Spain over 10 years ago, one of the things that most motivated and inspired me was picking up and trying out the real Spanish phrases and expressions used by Spanish people in their everyday conversations. With Marina’s help I’ve been collecting these colloquial expressions for years, and at last we have finished a really exciting project that means we can share them with you.

Our Real Spanish Phrase Book and Audio Guide contains over 100 of these wonderful, typical Spanish phrases, with over 1 hour and 20 minutes of exclusive audio that won’t be released in any of the usual podcast feeds. We really think this is going to be tremendously useful and exciting for anyone learning Spanish, no matter what your level.

Check it out here for full details:

The Real Spanish Phrase Book and Audio Guide

Advanced Spanish Podcast 91 – El Móvil

[Download MP3]

Mobile phone madness in the Metro, golfing in bed, and those infernal ring tones… Click the Play button above to listen now!

Did you know… You can learn so much more when you use our special worksheets with this audio… Having the full transcript and Advanced Vocab List on hand for this episode will make a huge difference to the speed with which you reach Real Spanish Fluency. Get immediate access to the whole set in The Advanced Super Pack – Click Here Now!

DONATE! Your donations and purchases help us to keep going! If you just feel like supporting these free audios, donations are welcome via the form on our Donate page. ¡Mil gracias!🙂

Ask any question about learning Spanish!

It’s ‘promote the forums’ time here at! Why? Because they are the best place we know to clear up any doubts you may have connected to absolutely anything to do with learning Spanish! Got a question about verb tenses, learning techniques, or language courses? Head over to our forums, register, and ask away!

There are loads of nice people in there waiting to help, and the Learning Spanish section is full of useful information! (Ever wondered how to compliment men in Spanish for example!?)

Find our forums here!

More resources… Beginner’s widget and Latino sounds

Alexander Atallah has updated his excellent Notes in Spanish Mac widgets to include our new beginner’s Spanish podcast – you can download all the widgets from his site. Thanks again Alexander!

For those of you that love Spanish and Latino tunes, then don’t forget to check out the Ritmo Latino podcast – lots of great music there!

Siempre M antes de P

Echando la vista atrás a mis años en el colegio, y a los problemas que tuve para escribir sin faltas de ortografí­a, me vienen a la cabeza dos reglas muy fáciles pero muy útiles:

m siempre antes de p – es decir delante de una p nunca escribiremos una n siempre será una m.




Incluso en palabras compuestas donde originalmente usamos una n, transforman su escritura a m si van seguidos de una p


    Cien+pies = Cie-mp-iés

    Cien+pozuelos = Cie-mp-ozuelos

m siempre antes de b – en este caso usaremos una m antes de una b y nunca una n. En caso de que se use una n está irá seguida de v en vez de b.




Spanish Music

Listening to music is a great way to learn a language, especially with all the lyrics sites on the net these days. There is a huge discussion in the forum about great Spanish bands, but at the moment I am really enjoying the catchy tunes from Julieta Venegas, a Mexican singer who is doing well in the charts over here with hits like Me Voy.

Here’s the video for her latest song, Limon y Sal (direct youtube link, and lyrics here):

Un idioma sin fronteras

Muchos de vosotros ya habréis leí­do en el foro que Ben y yo fuimos a Radio Nacional de España a grabar una edición del programa “Un idioma sin fronteras” dedicada a Notes In Spanish. Podéis escuchar la entrevista completa aquí­.

Un idioma sin fronteras es una fuente de audio dedicada por completo a la lengua española y literatura hispánica. Me gustarí­a recomendaros alguna de sus secciones, como el cuento de la semana y poesí­a en la calle.

Foto: Ben y Marina con Isabel Cavanillas y Rubén Vidal.

Improving your Spanish by choosing a Primary Focus

As I progressed from a beginner, to an intermediate learner, and finally an advanced user of Spanish, I found that different areas of my Spanish ‘skill set’ (reading, writing, listening, speaking) developed at different rates. One month I was speaking really well but having real trouble listening, three months later I suddenly felt that my listening comprehension had overtaken my speaking skills!

Once or twice a year it pays to identify where your Spanish is weakest, and concentrate hard on that area for a while, to choose a ‘Primary Focus’ for a month or two. Feel like your reading comprehension is a little behind your listening? Focus on that for a month by reading as many web pages, news articles and books in Spanish as you can get your hands on. Feel your spoken Spanish is falling behind? Get an intercambio, join a group, talk to yourself in Spanish in the car, take some classes with Marina

By occasionally choosing to work extra hard on one piece of the puzzle, you should make progress in giant leaps. Try focusing on one area of your Spanish for the next month, and why not let us know if you notice a big difference at the end of that time. Then you can go back to an all round approach until, a few months down the line, you notice that your grammar for example, or writing, need a month at the top of the agenda again!

Sharpening up your Spanish in the New Year – 5 Ideas

Is your New Year’s Resolution to improve your Spanish this year?

Here are a few ideas to get you going:

1. Join, or create, a local Spanish enthusiasts meet up, with – read more about this here, in the forum.

2. Make a list of three or four grammar points you feel you have never got the hang of and resolve to clear them up once and for all. has great explanations for this sort of thing. Still annoyed by saber and conocer for example? I finally managed to clear up the four ‘porques’ last week!

3. Plan a trip to Spain or South America. But steer clear of touristy areas, and you will have much more chance to use your Spanish. Just knowing you will have to test your Spanish later in the year can provide a big motivation boost.

4. This one is really random: make a video diary in Spanish and publish it on youtube! Just make sure you tell us about it afterwards!

5. Share your favourite words, ask questions, look for interesting resources in the Learning Spanish section of the Notes in Spanish Forum!

Over to you: more ideas in the comments below please! – another source of interesting Spanish news

spoke before about Spanish social news sites Fresqui and Meneame. The latest to hit the scene is Wikio. Users vote a good range of stories to the front page (not too much tech, as tends to happen with these sites), hopefully meaning that others do all the hard work in finding us interesting things on the Spanish side of the net.

Curiosidades del castellano – Gentilicios

Gentilicio es un adjetivo que nos indica la procedencia geográfica de las personas o su nacionalidad.

En algunos casos son muy parecidos al nombre de la ciudad o paí­s.

– Persona de Valencia – valenciano / valenciana

– Persona de Sevilla – sevillano / sevillana

– Persona de España – español / española

Sin embargo otros gentilicios cambian mucho respecto al nombre del lugar.

– Persona de Buenos Aires – bonaerense

– Persona de Huesca – oscense

– Persona de Valladolid – vallisoletano / vallisoletana

– Persona de Salamanca – salmantino / salmantina

Si tienes dudas sobre algún gentilicio en concreto puedes encontrar una lista muy completa en la wikipedia

¡Ah!… y no te olvides de que los gentilicios siempre se escriben con minúscula.

Curiosidades del castellano – Dí­as de la semana y meses del año

A diferencia del inglés, en castellano los dí­as de la semana y los meses del año no empiezan por mayúscula.


– En España, el dí­a de la madre es el primer domingo de mayo.

Ocurre lo mismo con las lenguas, en inglés escribirí­amos English or Spanish. Sin embargo en castellano escribiriamos: inglés o español.


– Ahora que tengo tanto tiempo libre me he apuntado a clases de inglés y de francés.

Mas Jerga – Spanish Slang on the Web

Jerga, argot, or Spanish slang, may change year by year, but there are a few core phrases that always hit the mark. I was surprised by the BBC Cool Spanish link mentioned in comments below, some of it is quite, well, racey for the BBC! (Although the delivery of some terms, like the wonderful ¡Hostia! is rather tame).

Meanwhile Jergas de Habla Hispana is an interesting project, trying to bring together all the slang from all the Spanish speaking countries around the world. The interface is slightly confusing, but there’s a lot in there, just check out all the ‘C’ words in Spanish!

How to go from zero to fluent Spanish in 9 months

Hopefully there will be some useful ideas in here for everyone, even if you are just studying Spanish in Spain for a week or two, or swatting up at home. The following is based on my personal experience of going from zero to fairly fluent in 9 months:

1. Not at all essential, but…
If you can spend 9 months in a Spanish speaking country, you’re half way there! Once you get here, the following tips should really help you to speak fluent Spanish within 9 months or less…, but they will still really help if you stay at home too! Continue reading

Learning Spanish Grammar: Tim Gambrill’s website

If only all of us took notes like Tim Gambrill’s while we were studying Spanish… Tim G (who you may have come across in our forum) has been studying Spanish since 1998, and has taken his level all the way to the top. Luckily for the rest of us, Tim has put his incredibly detailed notes on the Internet, creating a fantastic Spanish grammar website that we really recommend checking out.

We asked Tim how he came to put this great resource on the web, and for a couple of tips for anyone keen to learn Spanish: Continue reading

Learning Spanish – Tip of the week!

This is another new feature that we hope to run once a week here at Notes in Spanish. And we’d love your help! If you have a great tip for learning spanish, send us details via an email and we’ll publish it here (send us a photo along with your idea and we’ll publish that too, so everyone knows who had the great idea!)

To get started, we have two top tips this week:

1. Use a new word 6 times!

A linguistics expert once told us that in order to commit a new word to memory we have to use it 6 times. So, next time you hear a great new Spanish word and want to commit it to memory, find 6 ways to use it as soon as possible – speaking in class, thinking random sentences, writing a post using the word in the Spanish part of our forum… it really does work!

2. Speaking of the forums… The ‘El Pais’ test.

The number of tips you can pick up in the Learnin Spanish section of the forum is incredible. Here’s one of our favourites, from Steve W.:

When I’m learning anything I like lots and lots of examples, and sometimes the textbooks are a bit sparse. When I’ve learned a new word or especially a phrase, I type it into google and follow it with (or another grammatically correct site).

e.g. “al menos de”

…this will return a list of articles using that phrase, from the El Pais website. Pick one and search for the phrase on the page and there is your example. Guaranteed to be used correctly.

Thanks Steve! Don’t forget to send us any top tips, and if you haven’t yet, why not register in the forum and join us for a chat?