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Better Stories in Spanish: The Upcoming Future

Better Stories in Spanish: The Upcoming Future

Welcome to the final part in our 3-part series on Telling Better Stories In Spanish. Today we tackle the upcoming, but here are links to the other two for your clicking pleasure:

The upcoming

In English, we typically tell stories about the future in two ways:

  • Using the future: I‘ll text you the name of the restaurant in a bit.
  • Using the present continuous (with or without going to): I‘m picking you up (or I‘m going to pick you up) in five minutes, so hurry up.

In Spanish, instead of the future we tend to use the present (with or without ir a):

  • Te mando un mensaje con el nombre del restaurante dentro de un rato.
  • Te voy a recoger en cinco minutos, así que date prisa.

The future tense in Spanish is rarely used to talk about the future. Instead, it’s relegated to making predictions and expressing doubt about upcoming events:

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Better Stories in Spanish: The Recent Past

Better Stories in Spanish: The Recent Past

This is part 2 of a 3-part series about telling better stories in Spanish:

The recent

Although technically part of the past, the recent feels philosophically different. Consider the question you’re most likely to get asked on a Monday morning in any of the Spanish-speaking regions of the planet: ¿Qué tal el finde? (How was the weekend?)

You have two options:

  1. Using the preterite. This is a way of talking about your weekend with a sense of finality: the weekend is over, it’s part of the past, this is what happened.
  2. Using the present perfect. This lets your conversation partner know that you still consider the weekend a recent event: it maybe over, but in your mind it still feels relevant and current, it’s like you’re still living there.
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The Ultimate Guide to Telling Better Stories in Spanish: The Past

The Ultimate Guide to Telling Better Stories in Spanish: The Past

“Every time I try to have a conversation in Spanish, I freeze”

That’s the number one complaint I hear from intermediate Spanish speakers. You have no problem understanding what the other person is saying, but when it’s your time to speak, you draw a blank. Why does that happen?

The answer is that the part of your brain that gets activated when you’re consuming Spanish is very different from the part responsible for producing Spanish. It’s perfectly possible to not know how to say something, and have no problem understanding it once you hear it.

The single most effective thing you can do to overcome this communication gap is to practice telling stories in Spanish. Or rather, practice writing stories in Spanish. You might say that you prefer speaking to writing, but that’s like saying you prefer playing live concerts to rehearsing in your basement. Improvisation is undeniably sexy, but without deliberate practice it can be painful to watch. If you want to get out of Intermediate Purgatory, you have to get good at writing.

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The Ironic Difference Between Igual and Mismo

The Ironic Difference Between Igual and Mismo

Throughout your Spanish journey, many things will be the same.

You’ll be wearing the same t-shirt as somebody else.

The person you’re exchanging glances with on the bus will get off at the same stop you do.

You’ll be at a convenience store, reaching for the last tub of chocolate fudge brownie ice cream while somebody else will try to do the same.

What’s the best way to remark about the sameness of these moments in Spanish?

You have two handy tools at your disposal: {artículo} mismo and igual.

It’s easy to get them mixed up, so let’s see what makes them tick.

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The Secret to Understanding Fast-Speaking Spanish

The Secret to Understanding Fast-Speaking Spanish

Speed is relative.

The less familiar you are with the words in a sentence, the faster it seems. Knowing a sentence backwards and forwards means that no amount of slurring or speed can prevent your brain from filling in the blanks.

It might seem counterintuitive, but to get better at understanding fast Spanish, you should focus on internalizing slow Spanish. What makes this challenging is mastering the subtle connections between each word, and training your brain to accept more complicated structures than the ones you’re used to.

Here are four key principles you can use to internalize challenging sentences and gain acceptance into the fast-paced native Spanish club.

  • Taking inventory
  • Deciphering the meaning
  • Building a mental scaffold
  • Collecting key sentences
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Use Deliberate Reading to Internalize Difficult Spanish

Use Deliberate Reading to Internalize Difficult Spanish

Reading books and articles in Spanish is a great way to increase your vocabulary and get an intuitive feel for the language. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to get overwhelmed by long lists of new words and unfamiliar expressions and quit reading altogether.

How can you get the benefits of reading without the frustration of looking up every other word in the dictionary?

When reading challenging texts in Spanish, alternate between casual reading and deliberate reading.

The main goal of casual reading is to get a good-enough understanding of the text so you can infer the meaning of new words through their context.

You are better at this than you might think. If you can get over the mental barrier of not always knowing exactly what you’re reading, you’ll be surprised by your brain’s ability to identify patterns and fill in the blanks.

As a quick exercise, try reading the following paragraph in casual-reading mode. There will probably be words that you’re not familiar with, but see if you can figure out the situation it’s describing:


El primero que nos dimos no fue especialmente romántico. Fue en el Patrick, un bar de Ventura Rodríguez. Yo había ido con mi amiga Lucía para celebrar que por fin habíamos terminado el maldito máster de mercados financieros. Él iba allí todos los viernes por la noche con un grupo de compañeros del trabajo. No recuerdo cómo empezamos a hablar. Probablemente fue él el que se acercó diciéndome alguna tontería que me hizo gracia. Lo único que recuerdo es que olía muy bien y que me gustaba cómo se reía. Una hora después nos estábamos besando.

If you’re in intermediate purgatory, you have enough of a base to understand the gist of most of what you read (the paragraph above, for example, is talking about the first kiss between two people), the problem is finding ways to go deeper.

Casual reading is a great mindset to cover a lot of ground, but if you want to go from kind-of-understand to completely-understand, you need deliberate reading. This is the kind of reading that happens when you’re actively engaged with the text. As you read, you ask yourself “is this something I’d be comfortable using on a conversation? If not, it’s time to do the detective work of figuring out where the difficulties are.

In this article, I want to show you three ways to apply deliberate reading:

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Bridging the Spanish Gap Challenge #009

Bridging the Spanish Gap Challenge #009

E1: Whoever wrote this recipe book taught me everything I know about Asian cuisine.

E2: At the beginning, he didn’t want to (accept / be happy with) such a low salary, but now he says that he’s very satisfied with his job.

E3: Let’s hope this is the correct number. Here is a shoehorn in case you need it.

E4: I think that you would be much more calm if you didn’t think (about) things so much.

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Learn Spanish Faster by Translating Native Sentences

Learn Spanish Faster by Translating Native Sentences

This past Thursday I posted an English-to-Spanish translation challenge made up of native sentences. Here is an excerpt:

I got the photography bug a few months ago, when my friend Carmen (who is a real photographer) asked me to hold her camera for a second while she rummaged through her bag trying to find one of her telephoto lenses.

Native sentences are typically longer than 20 words, they combine multiple ideas, and they’re full of idiomatic expressions and other descriptive words.

Classroom sentences on the other hand, are short, simple and unconnected:

I like photography. Carmen is a professional photographer. I hold her camera. She looks for something in her bag.

One of the reasons you might be stuck in intermediate purgatory is that you’re spending too much time working with classroom sentences instead of focusing all your energy on mastering native sentences.

When you’re a total beginner it makes sense to work with simplified sentences because they make it easier to grasp the core concepts of the language, but once you reach an intermediate level, you should be spending the lion’s share of your time playing at the advanced level. It’s the only way to become really fluent.

This article is a guide for how you might go about translating a native sentence like the one above. I hope it motivates to take on last week’s challenge in full force.

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Bridging the Spanish Gap Challenge #008

Bridging the Spanish Gap Challenge #008

Can you translate this story?

I’ve been feeling guilty these past few days because my parents bought me a digital camera with a telephoto lens more than a week ago and so far I haven’t taken one stinking picture. It’s not that I don’t like photography—I love it—, the problem is that I have no idea about lenses, exposures or shutters. After flipping through the manual a bit and binge-watching twenty online tutorials, I decided to take action and go out into the street to take pictures. Like a real photographer.
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The Difference Between Llevar and Traer: an Annotated Text Conversation

The Difference Between Llevar and Traer: an Annotated Text Conversation

The best way to internalize complicated bits of Spanish is by noticing the context in which they’re used and using them yourself until they become second nature.

Take llevar and traer. Trying to understand them by thinking of them as “to bring” is as frustrating as chopping wood with a blunt axe. To sharpen your Spanish axe, you have to place them in a web of interconnected ideas that elicit an emotional response. Or more simply:

Embed confusing Spanish words inside memorable stories.

Think about what happens when you hear the words “get up.” Your brain has accumulated so many stories throughout your life that the meaning seems obvious (Get up, it’s time for school. Let’s get up that tree. I want you to get up from the floor). Those stories look nothing like the ones you have for, say, “take up” (You’re taking up too much space. The plan takes up nutrients. I want to take up Spanish), but someone who hasn’t collected enough stories for those words will have a hard time telling them apart.

If this is your problem with llevar and traer (or with their equally misunderstood cousins ir and venir), let’s build some stories for them using the conversation below, where Bea and Diego are texting each other a few hours before they head out to Rafa’s party.

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