Spanish for Beginners: Level 2

Did you take Spanish in high school but struggle to use it in real life? We’ve all been there. Even though I took 2 years of Spanish in college, I struggled to tell my host mother that I wanted to eat dinner on the first night of my semester abroad in Costa Rica.

Fortunately, I was able to get past that hurdle and now I’m fluent in Spanish. I know that Spanish classes can actually be useful for real life. I’m planning a series of classes that will help to simplify all of those grammar rules and verb tenses that you learned in high school while allowing you opportunities to practice your speaking skills with other Spanish learners. Plus, you’ll learn tips and shortcuts for communicating and understanding the most important messages in Spanish without wasting time dissecting whether “el” or “la” is correct.

For this class, we are using a great text called “Spanish Demystified”. In Level 1, we studied the first 3 chapters which included pronunciation, basic conversations and introduction to verbs. In Spanish 2, we will continue to learn more about verbs and putting words together to form sentences. 

Who: Adults who want to learn Spanish for work or travel. This class is for students who’ve taken at least 1 Spanish class and want to improve their speaking skills.

What: Small group Spanish classes. 4-6 students in total.

When: Monday nights at 6. Starts March 12 and goes for 6 weeks.

Where: Upstairs cafe of Whole Foods. 870 S. Colorado Blvd., Glendale, CO 80246

Why: To practice Spanish, have fun, and become better communicators.

Space in the class is limited! Contact me to reserve your spot! 


Listen to Music and Learn Spanish: Bachata

I remember the first time I heard a Bachata song. I was in the Dominican Republic for my cousin’s wedding. We went out to a night club and a Bachata song came on. I thought I knew how to do all the dances because I knew salsa, meringue and cha cha. Since my cousin has always been infinitely cooler than me, I was ready to impress him with my dancing skills. I got my chance toward the end of the night when my cousin grabbed my hand for a dance…but then I realized that I had no idea how to dance to song that was playing! He tried to teach me, “Step to the right 3 times and then do a little hop, step to the left 3 times and do a little hop.” I almost got it by the end of the song, but I definitely did not impress anyone! Check out a proper Bachata dance.

Despite my rough beginnings with Bachata, I really love this music and the dance. When I go out Latin dancing and I hear a Bachata song come on, I grab the first available partner and proceed to the dance floor.

A Quick History of Bachata

Similar to my rough first experience with Bachata, the genre itself had rough beginnings. Bachata began in the rural parts of the Dominican Republic during the early part of the 20th century. According to Wikipedia,

During much of its history Bachata music was denigrated by Latino/Caribbean society and associated with rural backwardness and delinquency. As recently as 1988 Bachata was considered too vulgar, crude and musically rustic to enter mainstream music. In the 1990s, bachata’s instrumentation changed from acoustic guitar to electric steel string. The new electric bachata soon became an international phenomenon, and today bachata is as popular as salsa and merengue in some Latin American dance-halls.


Listening to Bachata to Learn Spanish

I also like this style of music for Spanish-learners. The sound of the music is less intimidating than some other styles of Latin music. Last weekend I had some Bachata playing in my apartment when guests came over and they commented about how nice the music was. This music is also great for learning Spanish because the tempo is slower and students can understand the song lyrics  more easily than a lot of other styles. I suggest checking out “Dile El Amor” by Aventura which is a great song for listening, dancing or practicing Spanish.

Aventura is one of the most famous groups. Others to look for are Xtreme, Prince Royce and Moncha y Alexandra. One of the easiest ways to get started listening to Bachata is to make an account with Pandora Radio and create your own radio station based on one of these artists.


Savvy Spanish Fiesta de Navidad

I’m planning a fiesta! It’s for Spanish-speakers, so if you can’t read and understand the following, then you’re not invited! 😉 Lo siento!

¿Quién?: Mis amigos y estudiantes quienes hablan español

¿Dónde? Mi casa. (Me puedes mandar un mensaje para mi dirección)

¿Cuándo? El 17 de diciembre, 2011 a las 7 de la noche

¿Qué? ¡Una fiesta de Navidad! Hablamos totalmente en español y disfrutamos comida y bebida de paises que hablan español. Lleva una cosita para compartir. Por ejemplo, vino de España, empanadas, tamales, café de Costa Rica, etc.

Mándame un mensaje si quieres asistir.

Si quieres venir pero estás ocupado con un viaje o cosas de las fiestas de Navidad, no te preocupes porque voy a tener otras fiestas en mi casa para juntar todos mis amigos que hablan español.


Calle Cultura: A Denver Street Fair

Yesterday, I attended the 2nd annual Calle Cultura event, which was hosted by Intercambio Denver. The flyers for this event mentioned a salsa tasting competition, games, and a raffle. I invited all of my facebook friends to the event and had some new business cards printed up so that I would be ready to hand them out to anyone who might be interested in Spanish tutoring.

On my way to the event, I was feeling a little nervous because I wasn’t sure what to expect. The nerves didn’t get any better as I arrived at Barnum Park, which was supposed to be the location of the event. I didn’t see any signs of tents, salsa tasting or any type of gathering. I remembered seeing on the map that there are several sections of Barnum Park and I realized that I was at the wrong one. My friend Zac was having the same problem and we found each other in the parking lot of the wrong park. He had no clue where to go so I set out to lead us to our destination. After 10 more minutes of driving on back streets and making U-turns in the part of Federal that is under construction, I was relieved to finally find the Calle Cultura street fair.

Zac and I walked up to the registration table and gave a donation to Intercambio Denver. Then we received 3 tickets to vote on our favorite salsas in the tasting competition and a raffle ticket for door prizes. I immediately went to the salsa section to begin tasting. I do love hot, spicy food, so I wasn’t worried about any of the salsas being too picante. However, by the time my friend Matthew arrived, I was feeling embarrassed to greet him because my eyes were watering and my nose was running after trying the hottest salsa in the competition. The hot salsa tasted delicious and I ended up voting for it despite the water works that it caused. I also got to try a few different green salsas and some guacamole. Yum!

In between tasting salsa and crying because of the heat, I chatted with friends and met some of the volunteer English teachers who work for Intercambio. The organizers stopped the party to do a raffle drawing and I won a stainless steel water bottle with the Intercambio logo! I felt like my luck was finally changing!

Then, I participated in a language exchange event that was organized by Speakeasy Spanglish. The idea was for one native Spanish speaker and one native English speaker to sit on each side of a table. First, both of them would speak Spanish for 5 minutes and then both of them would speak English for 5 minutes. There weren’t enough native Spanish speakers who wanted to participate, so I ended up filling the Spanish-speaking role. I got a little nervous being on the Spanish-speaking side of things, even though it was just a casual event. I felt like I was tripping over a few easy phrases and I couldn’t remember the Spanish word for “courage”…it’s coraje, which is almost the same as the English word! At least I’ll never forget that one again.

To wrap up the afternoon, the organizers announced the winners of the salsa competition. The hot salsa that made me cry won in the “Red Salsa” category. I found out that Tarasco’s, a restaurant on Federal that serves Latin food, had made that salsa. I’m going to have to stop by there the next time that I’m in the mood to eat salsa that clears out my sinuses.

Overall, the Calle Cultura street fair was a fun event. Despite getting lost, feeling nervous, forgetting my Spanish vocabulary and the spicy salsa fiasco, I managed to meet some new people, win a prize and enjoy my afternoon at the park.

How to Improve Your Spanish Skills in 5 Hours or Less

Hire a tutor! Could it be that simple? ¡Si! ¡Es la verdad! Yes! It’s the truth!

I see all of my 1-on-1 students make remarkable progress in their Spanish abilities after 4 or 5 lessons one-hour lessons. The progress is even faster if we get all of these lessons done within a couple of weeks. But even if we just get together once a week for 5 weeks, I see a lot of improvements in that short time. Studying with a good tutor who can spot your weaknesses with the language and give you some explanations and exercises to help you straighten out the problem areas can really give you a boost. Plus, with a tutor, you get the chance to practice your speaking skills. In a traditional Spanish class, the teacher does most of the talking and you only get to listen.

How do you find a good Spanish tutor? Well, if you’re in Denver, you can hire me, of course! If you’re out of town, try searching Yelp for a tutor that is highly rated or look on Craigslist for your city.

You can also look on to find tutors in your area. Thumbtack isn’t as famous as some of the other sites, but I’ve gotten a lot of my students by using the auto-post to Craigslist feature. If you are looking for a tutor, you can submit a request and you’ll get bids back from several tutors in your area. Definitely beware of choosing the lowest bidder! If you want to improve your Spanish in 5 hours or less, you need to make sure you hire a great tutor, not the cheapest one that you can find. Check out my Thumbtack profile for Savvy Spanish and see how things work.

Miércoles Musical (Musical Wednesday): “Es por ti“ by Juanes

Juanes is one of the most famous and successful Latin artists around. He’s originally from Colombia and grew up playing guitar and making music. It seems that he’s always enjoyed great success because his first album won him a Grammy award for Best New Artist in 2000. He’s still going strong and rocking it today. He even came through Denver this year, but I missed it! Next time!

I chose this song “Es por ti” from his second album called Un Día Normal. Can you guess what the title of his album means in English? A Normal Day. That one is pretty easy to translate, right? The good news is that this whole album is pretty easy to translate. I bought this album back in 2004 right after I got home from my semester abroad in Costa Rica. I was so excited because I could easily understand a lot of the words to the songs.

Es por ti” is a really sweet love song. The title means “Because of you” in English. The chorus goes:

Y es por ti… And it’s because of you
Que late mi corazón…..That my heart beats
Y es por ti…  And it’s because of you
Que brillan mis ojos hoy…. That my eyes shine today
Y es por ti… And it’s because of you
Que he vuelto a hablar de amor.   That I’ve spoken of love again
Y es por ti… And it’s because of you
Que calma mi dolor… That calms my pain

Grammar Alert!

Yes, I’m going to go into the grammar of these lyrics, just a little bit. If you don’t want to know, then skip it and just listen to the song!

First, let’s review a grammar term. Pronoun: a word that stands in place of a noun. Examples: he, she, you, they Ejemplos: él, ella, tú, ellos

Now, look at the first line: Es por ti…It’s because of you. Some students might wonder why the word ti is used here instead of tú. Usually, we translate the English word “you” as “tú”, right? No, not always. When we say “It’s because of you”, “you” is a direct object pronoun. Don’t freak out. That just means that it is the word that receives the action of the sentence, not the word that causes the action. In English, we use the pronoun “you” as both the subject pronoun and object pronoun. For example:

You are beautiful.

I want to kiss you.

Can you see the difference between the “you” that is the subject and the “you” that is the object? In Spanish, the pronoun changes like this:

Tú eres bonita.

Quiero besar a ti.

See the difference between tú and ti? They are essentially the same word when translated into English, but they are different in Spanish. There are lots of complicated structures like this that involve pronouns in Spanish. Those pronouns can get pretty tricky in Spanish, but don’t blame Spanish! Part of the problem is that they are complicated in English too! Don’t worry, plenty of the Spanish lessons here will involve pronouns, so you will soon become an expert!

On Your Own

You can find complete lyrics here as well as a great English translation of the entire song. Try listening to the song and reading the lyrics before you scroll down and read the English. See how much you understand correctly!

What do you do at those Spanish meetups?

I am a big fan of Spanish meetups in Denver. Before I decided to become a Spanish tutor and make Spanish a big part of my life, I wanted to keep practicing my Spanish so that I didn’t lose my skills. I started attending Spanish meetups in 2007 when I first moved to Denver. Almost five years later, I can still pinpoint two of my closest friends in Denver who I met through attending Spanish meetups. Not to mention lots of acquaintances, clients and even a couple of dates! 😉

Lots of people ask me, “What do you do at the Spanish meetups?….Just talk?” I answer, “Yes, we talk in Spanish.” Then, I usually get a confused look. Whoever has asked me the question usually seems confused at the notion that I would go to an event just to talk with people in another language. Isn’t that boring? Then, I attempt to explain why this is awesome.

  • Meet other people like you. This is probably the reason that I’ve made so many friends through Spanish meetup. I have a lot in common with many of the other attendees to these events. I learned Spanish through studying in college and traveling/living in another country. Lots of other people at Spanish meetups have had similar experiences in studying Spanish and traveling or living abroad. Or they just have a dream to take a big trip in the near future and want to practice their Spanish skills before they go.
  • Practice your speaking skills. In traditional Spanish classes, you don’t often get the chance to speak. Mostly, you sit and listen while the teacher talks and you have to concentrate to follow along. At Spanish meetup, you finally get the chance to speak. Plus, you don’t have a teacher looking over your shoulder and correcting your grammar.
  • Interact with native Spanish speakers.The events have a full range of Spanish skill levels from beginners to native speakers. Native speakers are really great to speak with if your Spanish ability is at least intermediate level. You can find out a lot about different parts of the world, distinct cultures, and you have an expert to ask any questions that you may have about Spanish.
  • Get Spanish tips. Have you been wondering how to say something in Spanish? This is your chance to ask people who are more knowledgeable than you. People at Spanish meetups are really happy to help you as you learn the language and can always offer answers to your questions.
  • Share travel stories. Another reason why I enjoy Spanish meetups so much is that I get to hear about new places and countries from people who have been there and experienced them. Also, I get the opportunity to talk about traveling to the end of the world and seeing penguins in the wild. ¡Fascinante!
  • Challenge yourself to get out and use your Spanish. You know the saying, “Use it or lose it.” It doesn’t rhyme quite so nicely in Spanish, but it still applies! If you’ve worked hard and studied Spanish, don’t let yourself lose your skills! You have to get out and practice speaking so that you can continue to improve rather than letting your efforts slip away.

Even after I lay out all the benefits of Spanish meetup, few people are inspired to go with me. Why? Because they are scared. Attending an event with a bunch of people who you don’t know is scary in and of itself. Attending an event with a bunch of people who you don’t know who are speaking a foreign language is even scarier! I can understand being scared, but don’t let that stop you. If we never do anything slightly scary, how do we know that we’re alive? The high that you’ll feel after leaving a Spanish meetup where you were able to hold your own with a group of Spanish-speakers will make your earlier apprehension a distant memory. ¡Si se puede! You can do it!