Free thoughts on language learning

Discussions on learning Spanish, English and other language issues. Occasionally, we may stray from language learning topics if there is something that catches my interest.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Free Spanish & French Courses - Sept. '06

It's that time again folks! Time for's free language course giveaway. For September 2006 we are going to make our Basic Business English and Interactive Spanish 2 available at no charge. That's free language audio, free grammar free vocabulary. All gratis! If you can put in an hour a day you can finish the course in a month. If you do not finish it we're convinced you will want to buy it so you can finish it at your own pace. Here's how to use your free Spanish or free French course. Go to

Basic Business English
Password: parlo

Interactive Spanish 2
Password: parlo


Monday, June 26, 2006

Translating Instant Messaging Acronyms

Here's a window that looks into the mind of English speaking teenagers. Make sure you are securely tied to something in case you lean in too far and need to pull yourself back out. Having once had the mind of a teenager and now being father to one I subscribe to the sound advice, "Don't go there!" Following are the keys to the code that makes up some of the communications between teenagers and hard core IM-ers. (users of Instant Messaging) I'm sure there are many more but here's a sampling.

A3 is ''anytime, anywhere, anyplace.''

ASLP is ''age, sex, location, picture.''

BD is ''big deal.''

CMI is ''call me.''

CTN is ''can't talk now.''

F2T is ''free to talk.''

FYEO is ''for your eyes only.''

IAD8 is ''it's a date.''

LDR is ''long-distance relationship.''

LYN is ''lying.''

MMAMP is ''meet me at my place.''

P911 is ''my parents are coming.''

PRW is ''parents are watching.''

RUMF? is ''are you male or female?''

STATS is ''your sex and age.''

YIWTGO is ''yes, i want to go private.''

Monday, June 19, 2006

I'm here! What do I say? (Think World Cup)

So, you've been planning this trip overseas for months, you are burning some hard earned cash and vacation days, coordinated with your mate, and you are finally going to that country where you get to practice your improving language skills. You want to get to know the people there and not just as a tourist who spends money in their economy. (We're sure you'll do that anyway) What do you talk about or ask the locals that will get them engaged in a real conversation? Here's an idea. Talk about soccer. What?!! I don't know a darned thing about it. Well, it's time you start and here's a few links to help.

Learning about Soccer
So You Wann Learn the Basics of Soccer This site has different sections describing how the game works.
Mom's Guide to SoccerThis site has a concise set of terms and definitions. This is a great place to make a vocabulary list that you can then translate and memorize before you get there.
Click for More Spanish / English Soccer Terms
away game - partido que se juega fuera de casa
away team - equipo visitante
beat - derrotar / vencer
bench - banquillo
centre circle - círculo central
championship - campeonato
changing rooms - vestuarios
corner kick - saque de esquina. corner
click for more French / English Soccer Terms
Pitch / Terrain
penalty box = surface de reparation, les 16 metres
goal = but, cage
goal area = les 6 metres (ou surface de but)
penalty spot = point de penalty, de reparation
pitch = terrain (de foot)
pitch conditions = etat du terrain
ground = terrain

Click for more Italian / English Soccer Terms This list has pronunciation as well as translation (Great for beginners!)
La Partita: The game. Plural form is Le Partite. Pronounced "Lah Pahr-tee-tah or Leh Pahr-tee-tay."

Il Modulo: The module or system that a coach employs. In the Serie A, most teams use a variation of the 4-4-2 or a 4-3-2-1. Some play a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3, which is more attack-oriented. A few play with 5 midfielders. Pronounced "Eel Moe-duh-loh."

Il Tridente: This is when the coach uses three attackers, or a "trident." Pronounced "Eel Tree-dayn-tay." As in the 4-3-3 referenced in il modulo.

Il Derby: A game between two teams from the same city or region. Pronounced "Eel Dair-bee." For example, AC Milan and Inter Milan. AS Roma and Lazio. Juventus and Torino. When Inter plays Juventus, it is called "Il Derby D'Italia." Because only these two teams have always played in the Serie A.

Fuorigioco: Offsides. Pronounced "Fwour-ree-joe-coh."

Finally, here's a link to a fun article on how soccer players communicate in this international sport. Some of them have to work a little to effectively curse out a referee. Does the World Cup have a lingua franca?

For instant free translations Download Babylon 6

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Theme Song in French - Beauty and the Beast

Here's a very sweet version of this song in French along with the English lyrics. (all rights reserved by the copyright holder) 2 weeks left of free access to's French 1 course. See details on the Home page.

Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends
Just a little change
Small to say the least
Both a little scared
Neither one prepared
Beauty and the Beast

Ever just the same
Ever a surprise
Ever as before
Ever just as sure
As the sun will rise

Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song
Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong
Certain as the sun
Rising in the east
Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the Beast

Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the Beast

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Secrets of Human Language Acquisition

The sleuths at have uncovered exciting research looking into how people learn language naturally as infants. Let's be honest, it's tough even with books, tapes, grammar and vocabulary lessons! But babies can't read and even get themselves to a computer to study with parlo or berlitz. How do the little critters do it? If you think about it this is truly amazing. This is precisely the question being addressed by Associate Professor Deb Roy, head of the MIT Media Lab's Cognitive Machines research group. His "volunteer research subject" is his 9 month old son and, not coincidentally his wife and himself. They have mounted 11 omni-directional fisheye video cameras and 14 ceiling mounted microphones throughout his home in an attempt to determine the environmental factors, both physical and social, within which his son will learn vocabulary and grammatical strucutre. Whew! Talk about a reality show. We'll try to keep an eye (not a fisheye) on the progress and results of this research to see what, if any, light this might shed on adult language acquisition. (I suspect it's the pureed carrots that enable language acquisition but so far no one will join me in this belief) In the meantime I urge you to read this article from MIT's site.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Spanish Language Joke - Beginner level

Here's a cute one that's an example of a cross language pun.

¿Cómo se dice veterinario en inglés?

Short but sweet!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Why Learn Foreign Language Proverbs?

*Use our French 1 course free until June 28!* Go to

Once again we'd like to thank the fine folks at www.lingo24 for allowing us to reuse some of their interesting articles. In addition to providing excellent translation services they have lots of interesting resources on their site.

Why Learn Proverbs?

by Dan Mac Dougall, 21st October, 2004

Dan Mac Dougall tries to shed light on the importance of Spanish proverbs and why it is beneficial to every translator to know their source text proverbs.

This article seeks to define the word proverb, offer examples for the usage of proverbs over time, and to provide some of their typical characteristics in Spanish. In addition, the benefits of learning these special sayings will be highlighted.

The following is a dictionary definition (1991:1087): “a proverb is . . . a saying popularly known and repeated, usually expressing simply and concretely, though often metaphorically, a truth based on common sense or practical human experience. A stitch in time saves nine.”

It is worth noting that Taylor (1996:14) states: . . . “the man who says ‘So help me God’ uses a proverbial formula already current in Roman speech.” Foulet: (1927:301-24). And the following proverb, from Sephardic folklore, offers a view of the mores of fifteenth-century Spain (Alatorre:211): “’Café sin tutún, hamam sin sapún’” (‘café sin cigarrillo es como baño sin jabón’: hamam es el baño turco). . .… Sayings such as these provide contemporary readers an authentic insider’s view of a culture. In the age of the sound byte with instant media coverage of world events, finding sources for sayings that might have taken centuries to develop can be an onerous task.

Readers of contemporary literature in the original language and in translation can be assisted immeasurably by accessing sources that provide examples for usage. While it may be true that the Chilean equivalent of the Spanish refrán “Más vale pájaro en mano que buitre volando” is “Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando”, as Orellana (1998:248) states, an English equivalent of “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” hardly does justice to the original. That being said, each of these sayings provides a mental picture that is readily comprehensible to educated readers of both Spanish and English. Furthermore, it highlights a characteristic of proverbs in any language, namely that of linguistic synergy: the meaning provided by the saying ‘in toto’ is greater than that provided by the words individually.

Sources which provide readers not only a written equivalent of proverbs or idioms in another language, but also a visual cue in the form of drawings or sketches can greatly assist in furthering understanding. The idea that the more senses one employs in the learning process the greater are the possibilities of retention of information is a truism. In an age of instant information interactive media which engage learners are more likely to be of more lasting value than those which do not. In order to make maximum use of a computer one must be able to draw upon a variety of skills, not just visual. It should come as no surprise that an advertising consulting firm recently stated that advertising banners that flow across computer monitors on web pages are gaining a foothold in the advertising market. The key to their effectiveness could very well be their interactive nature.

The learning of proverbs can be a key element in the language acquisition process. ‘Refranes’, ‘frases hechas’, idioms, and proverbs can provide a snapshot of other cultures that allows for a more thorough understanding of both language and culture. Without grasping the meaning of these types of sayings we are limited to a unilateral understanding, providing fertile ground toward the development of cultural and linguistic ethnocentrism. We can become enriched as individuals and societies when we understand the viewpoints of others. This dovetails the management principle of the doublewin: both, individuals or groups, are able to benefit when each is vitally concerned with equanimity not only for themselves, but also others. This forces us to broaden our frame of reference, deepen our understanding, and improve our individual and group effectiveness.

As in translating from one language to another, a literal, word- for-word rendering pales in comparison to its natural counterpart. Its sound is stilted to the ear of a native speaker. For example, in Quintans (1999:1) the refrán: “La cara es el espejo del alma,” when translated literally does not sound natural to speakers of English. The English equivalent would be “The eyes are the window of the soul.” Those who commit to a thorough study and usage of proverbs will further their own understanding. Since no one collection is all-inclusive in its scope, keeping updated regarding new source material is essential.

Another feature prevalent in many proverbs in Spanish is that of rhyming, an excellent mnemonic device for students. The rhyme scheme often used is that of assonance (1991:83): “… rhyme in which the same vowel sounds are used with different consonants in the stressed syllables of the rhyming words, as in penitent and reticence. For example: “En tiempos de guerra, cualquier hoyo es trinchera,” “A rey muerto, rey puesto,” and “Lo que pienses en comprar, no lo has de alabar,” all examples provided in Chen (1999: 1-2).

Fatalism is another characteristic of Spanish and Spanish- American proverbs, as evinced by Arora’s (1998:1) analysis of 125 el que nace proverbs. For example: “El que nace para AHORCADO, de arriba le cae la soga” (1998:3) A Cuban equivalent of this attitude is found in Montes (7): “El que nace para burro del cielo le cae el aparejo” and Chen’s (1999:10) examples impart a similar view of life in these sayings: “El que nace para mulo del cielo le cae el arnés/policía del cielo le cae el bolillo. He that is born to be hanged shall never be drowned. * You can’t escape your destiny.”

It is worth noting that within the U.S. language-specific standards have been developed for grades K-16 for nine distinct foreign language groups. This fact underscores the seriousness with which the intellectual community is dealing with the study of foreign languages. The study of proverbs, idioms, and ‘refranes’ fulfills at least three of the U.S. Standards for Foreign Language Learning (1996:9), namely: within the framework of Connections, “Standard 3.2: Students acquire information and recognize the distinctive viewpoints that are only available through the foreign language and its cultures.” Under the heading of Comparisons, “Standard 4.1: Students demonstrate understanding of the nature of language through comparisons of the language studied and their own,” and “Standard 4.2: Students demonstrate understanding of the concept of culture through comparisons of the culture studied and their own.” As stated in the Introduction to the Standards (1996:11): “To study another language and culture gives one the powerful key to successful communication: knowing how, when, and why to say what to whom.”


The wisdom inherent in proverbs has demonstrated its value over an extended period of time. The valuable insights gleaned from their study and application will help students to better understand their own language and culture when analyzed comparatively. Translators, interpreters, and linguists also will benefit from constantly updating their understanding and use of these gems of wisdom, since they can offer culturally-specific insights. Rhyming, synergy, and fatalism are some of the characteristics of proverbs in Spanish. The most beneficial source materials couple a listing of sayings with explanations of their usage, in addition to drawings or sketches. The latter can further elucidate the meaning, thereby increasing the likelihood of comprehension.


Alatorre, Antonio. (1998) Los 1,001 años de la lengua española. Sexta reimpresión. México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica.

Arora, Shirley L. (1998). The EL QUE NACE PROVERBS: A Supplement, ISSN 1323-4633. Vol. 4-No. 2: 1-13.

Chen, Berta Alicia. 1999. Dictionary of Proverbs and Sayings/ Diccionario de Proverbios y Refranes, Complementary Sample / Muestra Gratis: 1-14. Website:

© Dan Mac Dougall,

Friday, June 02, 2006

Free French 1 Course - How to use

Hi all,

When using the free French 1 Course please do not change the password because that will lock out everyone else from being able to use the course. We will change the password back to "french1" anyway so please don't inconvenience others. Let the password remain as it is. Thanks and enjoy!