I thought I was smart, but…

One of my Russian teaching tactics has been to use stories from the newspaper as the base for embedded readings. With beginners, that means we can read pieces of an authentic text almost from day one.

Now that I’m acquiring Spanish, however, there’s an easier way: use Bryce Hedstrom’s book, Conexiones. I read the piece about eating cuy (hamsters), and went to the source for the article. I could understand it! Wow. Bryce had set me up to understand not only the main ideas, but I even understood the verbs in some tense that I can’t name. (Passive voice?) Bryce is very smart to write a whole book that acts as embedded readings for beginning learners. Someone, please do this for Russian!

This acquisition thing has me absolutely obsessing over reading Spanish. Lately I’ve been mildly frustrated by not getting verbs right. I made myself a little cheat sheet of Preterite and Imperfect forms, and I like someone’s explanation that era goes with an era. But that means I’m getting a monitor in my head, and I am trying to avoid that, even while giving myself little pop-up grammar explanations on the second reading of anything.


Now that I have a wonderful crop of editors to correct my fast writes, I have another request. Please give me suggestions about what I could read (online, ideally) to get big doses of subjunctive.

I just took this little quiz, and aced it.


Unfortunately … that doesn’t mean I can use all the forms. I can choose perfectly when a limited number is offered with correct spelling.


12 responses to “I thought I was smart, but…

  1. It is so interesting to read about your experiences acquiring Spanish. Please keep them coming! It makes me want to spend more time on Thai, which I know some.

    Your posts demonstrate to me (as a Chinese teacher and acquirer) differences between beginning to read a language with a more familiar written system and one that is radically different. I also am interested in the way the changes to verbs in Spanish affects your comprehension and output. I do not think one could be so far along already in Chinese reading, but there would be almost no issues with verbs. Languages are fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Diane, I’ve thought about that too! I am pretty sure that the guy who offered me this post wouldn’t have done so if I hadn’t been spitting out some Spanish phrases as translations from Russian. No one would have thought I could teach Chinese, for example. And I am pretty sure that I couldn’t have started acquiring Chinese without a regular teacher to guide me. (Though maybe that will be my next experiment.) What is the Thai writing system?

      Back to the topic…Nowadays when I’m doing a demo lesson in Russian, I always teach the structures with transliteration, and then when people have heard the words often enough to recognize them, I have read aloud and encouraged them to join in, as TTWaltz taught me to do. Then, if I have a new adult class, I supply them with a structure list, the reading, and a sound recording of the text. That would not be so easy to do as an individual. Spanish has some very clear pronunciation rules that help a lot. The fact that a lot of vocabulary includes cognates is also helpful, even with a lot of false cognates. Some that I can think of (but my spelling will be off) are ejercito (army) and exito (success). Still, that’s a lot easier than армия (army) for a first-day reader.

      What was weird for me is coming to understand how my Russian students always hold “gavarit” (says) and “skazal” (said) in separate places in their brains, whereas I had to memorize them as linked infinitive pairs when I learned. But now…I run into “fui,” “era” and “sea” in the reading, and have never had any trouble understanding what version of “to be” they mean. Yesterday, I was talking with one of my guinea pig students, and she wanted to say “I was an English teacher.” I told her I didn’t know how to say “I was” in this situation (I knew how to say “he/she/they/you were”), but guessed it was “era.” Turns out I was right. I haven’t felt the other two versions pop out of my brain yet in any situation. Maybe they will when the situation is right. I’m trying to trust.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think beginning-level Chinese would be tough entirely on one’s own!

        Thai has its own alphabet, no spaces between words, vowels that can appear before, after, above, below, or not written at all, and tone marks (5 tones). It’s phonetic-ish but not so obvious to me. I want to read it from a CCR way rather than memorizing rules for which consonant takes which tone with which tone mark… I want to read words I already know, that make sense to me, and let those rules come much later (if I find them needful to refine things later on).

        Liked by 1 person

    • Diane, hope you see this. Have you seen the info on ALG lately? Here’s a link to the first Thai lesson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIqIrEG6_y0&feature=youtu.be&list=PL5CA2A5587541DCF1

      Liked by 2 people

      • Diane Neubauer 杜雁子

        Yes, thank you! I know about those videos and need to watch more. I’ve heard about ALG for quite some time b/c of this Thai language school. I can follow some of it well enough — but not all. (Ex: I think it’d help if I could see some of their visuals better, and if I knew what date they filmed, since part of the opening refers to date and day of the week — I can tell that much but can’t understand precisely enough to know which.)

        There’s another highly CI-based Thai language school in southern Thailand, too — with a series of videos: https://youtu.be/RyHgg4DACjk?list=PLXGysOzx7YQsRgzQdeIxFITf9-uqIFLdW

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think you can find big doses of subjunctive delivered in a natural setting. I’ve tried looking at personal ads, letters kids write to the three kings, etc. — things we as grammar-oriented language teachers might have devised to force subjunctive output from our students — but it turns out that native speakers and writers find all sorts of ways to express wishes, feelings, and opinions without using subjunctive! Just read what interests you, notice it when you see it, and know that it’ll feel natural eventually. The amazing Kate Hunt has her students do the Twilight Zone theme music every time they see or hear subjunctive. You could do that in your head for a while:

    ¡No quiero que te vayas!
    doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo!

    Occasionally Kate would stop and ask, “Why?” and her students would give a three word explanation and they would move on. She did this in a multi-level class (3-5) where she’d say in an aside to the level 3s: “You don’t have to worry about this for now, you’ll get it next year”, and of course by the next year, they had already gotten it.

    As for preterite-imperfect, you do realize you are expecting much more output from yourself than is appropriate, don’t you? 🙂

    Another talented teacher friend, Irene Blough, taught me a fun mini-brain-break: Stand up and do these karate-like moves:

    Sweep left arm to the left and say “ía”
    Sweep right arm to the right and say “aba”
    Chop one hand abruptly directly in front of your chest and say “ó”
    Put hands together in Namaste and bow, saying “Past tense”
    Sit down.

    The sweeping motion, of course, indicates ongoing action, and the abrupt chop implies discrete action. And the little burst of activity invigorates and gets your ready for the next period of concentrated acquisition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOVE THIS! I just shared it with my daughter, who was hugely confused until a look passed over her face, and she said, “Oh. Spanish verbs, right?” I’d said only that Anny had a great idea before I demonstrated. I did come up with a rule for myself that if “aba” is there, it’s like “blah, blah,” going on long enough that it annoys dogs and small children seeking attention.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bryce´s book is a little bit of genius because he is also addressing a kind of reader that is not often addressed in our TPRS/limited vocab novels: the kind of kid who aches for non-fiction trivia. As a kid I often read encyclopedias, Ranger Rick, National Geographic… that is the target audience for Bryce´s book. Not every kid appreciates it, but it is gold for those that do.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. piedad gutierrez

    Songs!!!! Lyrics! the best source of subjunctive. Let me find some for you.

    Piedad Gutierrez Educational and Bilingual Consultant http://TPRSofNJ.com ??



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