Not drowning, waving. 

I can swim ( nadar).

I’m not a champion swimmer.  I’m not even a particularly good swimmer.  But I’m a competent swimmer.  If I am at a social situation which involves swimming, I can join in if I want to.

If I should ever be on a boat that sinks, hopefully I can swim to shore or stay afloat long enough to be rescued.

If someone asks me if I can swim, I say yes.

In a similar vein, I can play tennis.  I’ll never win Wimbledon, and I’m okay with that.  But I can play.

And so on.

For some reason, many people do not apply the same standard to learning a language.  They think that they can only say “Yes, I can speak Spanish (or whatever)” if they understand every single word and never make a mistake.

Now, never making a mistake playing tennis worked for Björn Borg, but I bet he didn’t wait until he had won Wimbledon before he said he could play tennis.

If you can understand every single word and never make a mistake in your second language, then I consider you ready to translate in the United Nations Security Council – the translating equivalent of playing in a Grand Slam final.

I don’t feel the need to quite  reach that level, so if I can learn enough to earn the DELE diploma at B1 level, I’ll say Si, hablo español.

Progress report 

I successfully learnt another 70 phrases this week, which brings my grand total to 420.  Today I’ll learn some phrases containing the verbs hacer (to do) and disfrutar (to enjoy oneself).

A most vexatious matter (i.e. a problem)

This week I finished the “Spanish Phrases” (about 300 of them) section of my phrasebook, and got to the Verbs section.  But instead of the verbs being presented as part of a phrase or sentence, as I’d expected, they’re simply listed in their various conjugations.

One of the good things about learning 10 phrases each day is that it makes the maths that much easier.  25 irregular verbs X 10 different cases, with at least 5 forms for each case = 1250 words to memorise, which will take me 125 days, or 4 months.  And we haven’t even got to the regular verbs yet.

Now, as I will have plenty of time in the seventh circle of hell to conjugate Spanish verbs, I’d rather spend as little time as possible doing it here on Earth.  One of the reasons I am memorising a phrasebook after all is that I only want to memorise stuff that I might actually use one day.

This is where Mr Collins comes in.

Mr Collins!

Mr Collins C

No, not Mr Collins from Pride and Prejudice.  This Mr Collins.

Collins easy learning

This dictionary (Collins Easy Learning Spanish Dictionary, ISBN 9780007253500)  is especially useful because it has lots of helpful phrases to illustrate how words are used in context.  I will look up the verbs that my phrasebook contains in this dictionary, and then memorise the phrases in the dictionary.  I will trust Mr Collins to show me which conjugations are more frequently used by the number of example phrases he has provided for me.  I assume that the more frequently used conjugations will have more examples.

Speaking of Pride and Prejudice, one of the phrases that the dictionary contains is Me dio mucha alegría verla.  Which means “I was very pleased to see her”.  But I think the literal translation is something like “It gave me much happiness to see her.”

Which sounds exactly like something Elizabeth Bennet would say.

Elizabeth BennetA

Progress Report

I successfully learned another 70 phrases this week, which brings my grand total to 350.

Today I will learn some conjugations of the verbs dar (to give) and decir (to say).

How will I know (if I can speak Spanish)?

Yo hipsters,

I mentioned last week that I consider Toxic by Britney Spears to be a perfect pop song.

I’m currently working on an eight-hour bio-pic of Whitney Houston called I Will Always Love You but I Wanna Dance with Somebody Who Loves Me and I was amazed to discover that the original lyrics to How Will I Know? were;

How will I know if I can speak Spanish?

I talk to strangers but no one understands me.

They look at me just like I’m a freak.

How could I know the “h”s are silent?

No wonder Janet Jackson passed on that song.

But it occurred to me that in order to see if my experiment of learning Spanish by using Anki to memorize a phrasebook is successful, I need some form of external, unbiased, standardized testing.

And there are such tests.  They’re called the Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera (DELE – Diplomas of Spanish as foreign language).


It turns out that there will be an exam on November 22, about a week after I’m due to finish memorizing my phrasebook.

At this stage, I’m considering sitting for the B1-level diploma.

The B1-level test accredits language users’ capacity to:[9]

  • Understand the main ideas of clear texts, in standard language, if they involve well-known topics related to work, studies or leisure.
  • Handle most of the situations in a trip
  • Produce simple texts about common topics or interested subject matters.
  • Describe experiences, events, wishes and hopes, as well as briefly justify opinions or explain plans.

I will reassess whether this is an achievable goal closer to the exam date.

Progress Report

I successfully learned another 70 phrases this week, which brings my total to 280.

I didn’t learn any on Sunday, but made up for it by learning 20 phrases on Monday.

As a reward for reading this post all the way to the end, why not treat yourself to Whitney’s perfect pop song (with the revised lyrics)?

In defence of Britney Spears


Not that she needs me to defend her.

She’s one of the very few people known worldwide by her first name only. I only added her surname to the title of this post in case someone reads this 500 years from now, during which time it is probable that some other person called Britney will have achieved fame in some field.

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to hear a radio announcer say, in a very patronising way, how he thought it was wonderful that one of his listeners was not embarrassed to admit that she liked Britney. And she was so not embarrassed that she rang in to request that he play Toxic.

Estuvo de veras molesto (It was really annoying).

I consider Toxic to be the song of the decade 2000-2010 (the noughties? the andies?). In my opinion it is a perfect pop song.
It didn’t even make Rolling Stone’s top 40 for song of the decade – which goes to show how much they know.

I dare you to have a listen, look me in the eye and tell me I’m wrong.

Progress Report
Success! I managed to learn 10 new phrases every day this week, which brings my grand total to 210. The ten phrases I will learn today are…

Spanish day22



Before I found out about Anki, I would have thought it would have been nigh on impossible to memorise 1500 phrases in a foreign language, or 1500 of anything for that matter.

Anki  uses a spaced repetition system to help you memorise anything you like.  It is incredibly easy to use, it is versatile and it’s free.  Most importantly, it seems to work!

My eternal thanks go to the guy who developed Anki and then put it on the web for anyone to download.

You can find out more about Anki here.  And you can download it here.

Progress Report

Success! I managed to learn 10 phrases each day this week.  So far I’ve learned 140 phrases.

¡Puedo reservar una habitación con una cama doble! (I can reserve a room with a double bed!)