How learning a language is like learning to drive. Get your ‘L’ plates now.

 

We all know learning to drive takes time.

You have to be realistic…

You’re not going to learn to drive in one or two days.

 

 

l_plate_in_singapore

Learner Driver = Learner speaker?           Photo Credit

 

When I learned to drive, a long time ago, I had to sign up for a package of 12 lessons. The lady in the office told me that 12 lessons was the average number of lessons it took a ‘normal person’ (What on earth is a ‘normal person’?) to pass their driving test.

“What if it takes me longer?” I asked. She gave me that look that only  older ladies on front desks  can give when they’re thinking, “Ah! Here’s a smart Alec.”

(My name’s Marie, but I know she thought I was going to turn out to be smart Alec.)

“No problem.” she replied, with a sort of twisted grin. “When you FAIL the test, you just sign up for another 12 lessons.”

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Receptionist at driving school? No, but something like that. PhotoCredit

“That wasn’t very encouraging”, I thought.

I was about to enter into the fact that I thought it was slightly unfair, because if I failed the driving test, I may not need another 12 lessons and maybe 3 or even 6 would do the job. But when I remembered Alec, I readjusted my speech pattern, thanked her politely and dutifully signed up for my first 12 lessons.

I sailed through on 12, by the way, much to her annoyance!


 

Ah yes, the point being…

Language learning could be compared to learning to drive.

 

  • a) Walking is a skill we learn in order to get around and survive.

b) Driving is a skill we learn in order to get around faster and more efficiently.

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Learning to walk …Photo credit

 

  • a) Language is a skill we learn in order to communicate with others more efficiently.

b) Second language learning is a skill we learn in order to communicate with more people and get around more efficiently.

 

 

 

5 ways learning another language could be compared to learning to drive

 

  1. You have to really want/need to learn a language /drive

 

  1. You have to make an important time commitment to learn a language or drive.

 

  1. You have to make use of as many resources as you have at your disposal to expedite the process of learning a language or driving.

 

  1. You have to have as many lessons or practice in a consecutive time frame in order to maximise learning process to learn a language or drive

 

  1. You have to invest some finance, even to a small degree, to achieve your goal of learning to communicate in a language or driving.

 

I’m not suggesting you could ‘speak a second language’ after 12 lessons, in the same way you might be able to pass a driving test after 12 driving lessons.  I’m pointing out some of similarities in the mental process of learning a language to learning how to drive a car. 

 

Looking back at those bullet points we could take each one and see the reasoning behind each one.

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MOTORvation? Photo Credit

 

First point: MOTIVATION 

You have to really want or really need to learn a language  or drive a car.

 This point is all about MOTIVATION .  Motivation is the key to our learning capacity. There is nothing stronger than motivation. As the word suggests, it’s what makes us MOVE and TAKE ACTION, all rolled into one! Easy to see, right?

MO-T-A-TION’

Tell me it’s easy to see this sentence  is the very essence of MOTIVATION?

There is no doubt that the more highly you are motivated to learn ANY skill, the more likely the success rate in terms of achievement will be.

Make your motivation tangible and real by answering the following questions.

 

  • Do you really want to learn a second language? Then WHY?

Answer here………..

  • Do you really need to learn a second language? Then WHY?

Answer here……….

 

The Clock face on the Tower at the Palace of Westminster.

Parliament Clock at Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London.        Photo Credit

Second point: TIME COMMITMENT

You have to make an important time commitment to learn a language or drive a car.

 You sign up for a certain amount of time to learn to drive a car. Then the same thing should happen for learning a language. The going will get tough and you will get discouraged, but the fact you’ve paid up-front and turn into a great motivator!

Just as in learning to drive and you made a commitment, you should take the same attitude with learning another skill: learning a second language.

 

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My first Spanish -English Dictionary

Third point: RESOURCES

 

You have to make use of as many resources as you have at your disposal to expedite the process of learning a language or driving.

 Just as in learning to drive you would make use of all resources available such as, The Highway Code in the UK, on-line simulated driving tests, outings with family members (in fact anything and everything at your disposal) so you should too, and in a similar way, in order to reach your goals for your language learning.

Internet is heaving with on-line resources for language learning. (This will be the subject of another post, in the near future.)

But if you’re not an Internet nerd, you can always find a way to; find classes run by your local authority, watch DVDs switched to your target language, find newspapers or  books at your local library, listen to music in your target language on CDs or cassettes, etc., etc., etc.

 

Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

 

 

It’s the same for learning to drive and so, so true for language learning.

 

 

atalante_1_lepautre_louvre_mr_1804No time to waste…Get as much input into your language learning s fast as possible.   Photo credit

 

Fourth point: CONSECUTIVE (RAPID) INPUT 

 

You have to have as many lessons and practice in a consecutive time frame in order to maximise learning process to learn a language or drive

 

Unfortunately, all important things take time and time commitment is crucial in learning a language as it also is in learning to drive.

When I was signing up for driving lessons, I wanted a lesson every Saturday morning for 12 Saturdays, for a total of three months. But the lady at the desk, yes, that old battle axe, advised me that I should sign up for the ‘Intensive Course’ which was one session every day for 12 days, Sundays included.

She said it had been proven to be the most time-efficient formula to learn to drive. She added  that from one Saturday to te next Saturday there was so much time, I would forget the skills I was learning and it would be like starting the first lesson every time.

Perhaps this was a slight exaggeration, but I sort of got what she meant.

Oh, and guess what?

SURPRISE, SURPRISE! The same goes for language learning.

If you take one lesson a week, or look at a Spanish book once or twice a week, it will take FOREVER to reach the targets you dream of.

Your brain needs extra reminders at the beginning of any learning process to assimilate the connections being made, just as in learning to drive.

10 lessons of language learning over 10 days will have double/ triple/ quadruple the effect of 10 lessons over 10 weeks. Much the same as learning to drive a car, I’m sure.

 

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Tasty Euro / Dollar / Pound signs in PRETZELS! Photo Credit

     Fifth point: COST FACTOR

 You have to invest some finance, even to a small degree, to achieve your goal of learning to communicate in a language or driving.

 

It may be painful but it’s true. You might have to invest some modicum sum into your language learning goal, the same way you may have had to do so in order to learn how to drive a car.

This may come in the form of:

  • classes in your area that requires a fee;
  • a trip to the country where your target language is spoken naturally;
  • text books, phrase books and dictionaries;
  • language ‘applications’ or ‘Apps’ for smart phones;
  • On-line courses, etc., etc.

 

Does the end justify the means? Certainly!

It’s not as if you would give up learning to drive after your statutory 12 lessons, right?

 

People can be so ‘driven’ (sorry for that painful pun) to learn to drive that they take many lessons, as many lessons as it takes in fact, to achieve their goal.  Yet many people give up on their language learning before they give themselves a chance to make any progress.

 

I hope this helps with your learning a new language motivation.

Which of those points above resonates with your language learning experience?

Let me know what trouble you’re having with those 5 points for language learning above.

 

                     Two previous posts

In Never too old! I discussed the fact that it’s never too late to start learning another language and it it can be so extremely rewarding and beneficial.

Another popular post in my motivational series entitled Is it easy to learn to speak Spanish? also underlines the benefits of learning another language; in this case Spanish.

 

Language learning is my passion and I would love to help you do that, if you are intersted in learning Spanish.

More next time…

 

 

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Useless at languages? No, just good at languages!

 

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Isn’t it lovely? This is what language learners used before Internet  Photo credit

I can hear some of you even from here saying “Yes…that’s me…I’m useless at languages!”(I’m on the south coast of Spain at the moment!)

I’m useless at languages so I’ll never learn Spanish!

Throughout my time teaching Spanish to English people, the one consistent lament I hear , as I take on a new student, is “I’m useless at languages so you’ll have your work cut out with me!” Or “I’m useless at languages so I’ll never be able to really learn Spanish.”

 

You seriously would not believe how many of my first-time students start out with that first sentence when I meet them.

And I get it. I really do.

 

I was labelled “useless at languages” too.

At Secondary School in the UK, many years ago I remember, perhaps it was after my first Spanish lesson, feeling that I was ‘useless at languages’. (The same way some of us have been labelled ‘useless at Maths’ or ‘useless at History’; labels encouraged by the education system to exonerate itself of any obligation or duty to provide efficient teaching resources.)

 

I have to admit that it took several years before I managed to shake off that label of being ‘useless at languages’. But I finally began to realise that I had been tagged with that label unfairly. And I can bet you that the chances are that you have been unfairly tagged too.

 

So you are ‘useless at languages’?  There maybe several reasons why you feel that way, so let’s analyse them.

 

Perhaps:

  1. Your first Foreign Language class made you feel that way, so gave up.
  2. You have since signed up for language lessons at the local community hall but made little progress, so gave up.
  3. You paid a lot of money to a private tutor once a week and learned very little in 2 months, so gave up.

 

Feel free to add your own reasons as to why you feel you are ‘useless at languages’. There may be many more.

Add your reason here…………………………………………………….

 

                                      But  this is MY story

 

I was labelled, as perhaps you were, at a young age, as being ‘useless at languages’. But I still dreamt of being able to speak another language. I couldn’t shake the bug. I had loved my first foreign language lessons at school and desperately wanted to succeed…in Spanish. But I felt useless.

My Spanish teacher insisted on  giving out a very clear signal which was: “You are useless at languages.” I tried so hard to overcome that with extra homework but kept failing miserably every time. I still had the dream of speaking Spanish, and in my first ever post here I talked  about falling in love with Spanish

 

Remember we are talking a long time ago here. With that I mean ….NO INTERNET! But we had something in the UK called “The Teach Yourself” series. They were little yellow and blue hardback books and there was one for every subject under the sun (at the time).

My elder sister Angela bought me one. I remember it to this day: “Teach Yourself…Spanish”, in a desperate attempt to get me, useless at languages, through a Spanish exam.

 

I even hid this book from my teacher. I didn’t want her to see I was looking at something different. Something SHE hadn’t given me to study…..

It was a different approach. I remember it had a few humorous touches. I don’t know why, but for some reason it worked for me.

The extra dedication worked. Unfortunately something had to be sacrificed and that was dedication to Maths. (But that’s another story.) The point was that I became a bit obsessed with the Spanish. It wasn’t just another subject for me on the timetable. It sort of turned into the ONLY subject on the timetable, for at least a while.

                              Then it got pathological!

 

 

 

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Identity crisis!

I  changed my name from ‘Marie’ to ‘María’., and wouldn’t answer to anything else, not even at home.

I named all my work ‘María’ to such an extent that all my school certificates show the name ‘María’ on them. Remember I was only about 13 at the time so I was allowed to do strange stuff like that!  I turned into ‘María’ . NOT RECCOMMENDED.

(What I didn’t realise was that this caused a tremendous amount of confusion later on in life when I had to convalidate these qualifications before the Spanish authorities. I paid a couple of hundred  pounds to have the certificates verified as belonging to me…but that’s another story, too)

Only after concentrating all my efforts on Spanish did I slowly I begin to realise I wasn’t particularly “useless” at languages. I began to view Spanish as an equivalent to English, which I already knew very well…. but just with funny words.

Now this is the part where I’m going to surprise you!

One major fact is that generally we all speak a language and have gone through the ‘language acquisition’ process.

I’m hearing you think “No, not me. I haven’t gone through a language acquisition process.”

But you speak a language, don’t you? Your own native language!

You may be even quite fluent in that language?  I would even go so far as to say that you believe you speak that language very well.

Well there you have it. You are a linguist and you weren’t even aware of the fact!

Now you know you are great at languages, you have to remember the next stage is to realise that you are Never too old!

 

           We are all linguists…you are a linguist!

We are all linguists in as much as we all (or mostly all) have been able to ‘acquire’ a native language. This in itself constitutes language acquisition.

Now is the time to harness in the linguist in you and be determined to reach some of your linguistic goals,,,,,

because after all, you ARE a linguist, aren’t you?

COMMENTS:

Do you believe you’re a linguist and  that you are …great at languages?

Tell me in the comments below how you feel about your language journey.

Would you consider yourself useless at languages? If so, why?

 

Have you got a….bicycle?

We all love having things. You have things…your friends and family have things. Now’s the time to really let them know that you know what they’ve got…

It’s time to tell your son: “But you already HAVE a bicycle!”

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19th Century bicycle, known as the ‘penny-farthing’ (The big wheel likened to a ‘penny’ and the smaller wheel to a ‘farthing’ = a quarter of a penny)

 

It’s time to tell your friend she is so lucky because she has a bag: “You HAVE a bag!”

It’s time to tell your daughter that she has a skirt, even if she wants a new one:”You HAVE a skirt.”

It’s time to tell your friend that she indeed has a bag: “You HAVE a bag.”

 

Grammatically speaking, this is the ‘second person singular’ of the verb: TENER (to have)

 

Tienes una bicicleta  You have/ You’ve got a bicycle

Tienes una amiga   You have/ You’ve got …a  friend (who is a girl) / one friend

Tienes una casa       You have/ You’ve got…a house / one house

Tienes una flor        You have/ You’ve got…a flower / one flower  

Tienes una falda      You have/ You’ve got…a skirt / one skirt

Tienes una mesa      You have/ You’ve got…a table / one table

Tienes una bolsa       You have/ You’ve got…bag / one bag

Tienes una nieta        You have/ You’ve got…a grand-daughter / one grand-daughter 

Pronunciation, for English speakers: 3 syllables:  TEE-AY-NESS. Once you have mastered   the separate syllables, start rolling them together a bit  faster.

Commit them to memory and then make up your own sentences, imagining you are speaking to a friend or family member.

Use an on-line  dictionary to find more vocabulary of items that make sense in your sentences. (I love Spanishdict.com as it is free and easy to use.)

But what if you want to ASK if your friend or family member has something? In English we have to do all sorts of acrobatics and turn stuff around in our heads just to ask a simple question.

How easy in Spanish, when all you have to do is put on a little bit of a questioning voice???

So when speaking, there is absolutely no difference between the affirmation (saying it affirmatively, positively and a question (or interrogative). Just a questioning lilt is required. In written Spanish, however, you can’t hear the questioning tone, so a clue is given so the reader knows there’s a question coming up. ¿ . An up-side-down question mark! It looks a bit weird, right ¿ . You’ll have to get used to it because it pops up (or down) a lot of the time.  72px-vraagteken-svg72px-vraagteken-svg

¿Tienes una bicicleta?  Do you have/ have you got …a bicycle?

¿Tienes una amiga?   ..Do you have/ have you got ….a  friend (who is a girl) / one friend?

¿Tienes una casa?     .Do you have/ have you got …..a house / one house?

¿Tienes una flor?       .Do you have/ have you got ….a flower / one flower?  

¿Tienes una falda?      …Do you have/ have you got …a skirt / one skirt?

¿Tienes una mesa?      .Do you have/ have you got …..a table / one table?

¿Tienes una bolsa?      .Do you have/ have you got …..bag / one bag?

¿Tienes una nieta?        Do you have/ have you got ……a grand-daughter / one grand-                                                                                                                                             daughter?

 

Ask  aloud all the questions. Commit them to memory and then make up your own questions, imagining you are asking a friend or family member.

Use an on-line  dictionary to find more vocabulary of items that make sense in your questions.

 

DON’T BE SO NEGATIVE!

We spend our lives trying to be more positive, but there area few occasions when we have to succoumb to a bit of negativity!

No tienes una bicicleta   You don’t have/ You haven’t got …a bicycle

No tienes una amiga     You don’t have/ You haven’t got…a  friend (a girl) / one friend

No tienes una casa        You don’t have/ You haven’t got…a house / one house

No tienes una flor        You don’t have/ You haven’t got…a flower / one flower  

No tienes una falda      You don’t have/ You haven’t got…a skirt / one skirt

No tienes una mesa      You don’t have/ You haven’t got…a table / one table

No tienes una bolsa       You don’t have/ You haven’t got..bag / one bag

No tienes una nieta    You don’t have/ You haven’t got..a grand-daughter /one grand-                                                                                                                                                 daughter 

Now you are equipped with a great set of sentences, questions and answers, positive or negative!  Commit them to memory and then make up your own questions, imagining you are talking to a friend or family member.

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Asking and answering lots of questions about life!

Now you can invent your own conversations. For example:                                                       Conversation 1:  Have you got a skirt? Yes, I ‘ve got a skirt.                                                     Conversation 2:  Have you got a skirt? No, I haven’t got a skirt, but I’ve got a bicycle.

You can replace words in italics with your own vocabulary to make a conversation.

Use an on-line  dictionary to find more vocabulary of items that make sense in your conversations.

I hope this helps…

Please ask me about any doubts you have about Spanish grammar in comments below.

More next time…

 

Las Uvas de la suerte or Midnight Grapes.

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Photo by jacinta Lluch 

I love Spanish traditions, and one of my favourites is eating UVAS at MEDIANOCHE  on NOCHE VIEJA  (GRAPES at MIDNIGHT on NEW YEAR’S EVE. )

I’m so excited.

Tonight I’ll be going to the PLAZA together with most of the people of my town to hear the town clock (RELOJ) strike twelve midnight (MEDIANOCHE). On each CAMPANADA (stroke of the bell) everybody in the PLAZA (town square) will pop an UVA (grape) into their BOCA (mouth) with such seriousness and ceremony that it is hilarious! 

 By the time there have been five or six CAMPANADAS (strokes of the bell), everyones BOCA (mouth) is brimming with UVAS (grapes), but the idea is to continue stuffing until all twelve UVAS (grapes) are eaten, synchronising with the CAMPANADAS  (strokes of the bell). Only then will you have BUENA SUERTE  (Good Luck) for the New Year (AÑO NUEVO) [Pronunciation: ANYO NOOAYBO]

I’ll be meeting up with lots of AMIGOS (friends) and people we know, we’ll open some ‘cava’ (Spanish sparkling wine typically used in celebrations and enjoy a toast (BRINDIS)  for AÑO NUEVO (New Year). 

 Then there will be fireworks  (FUEGOS ARTIFICIALES) [literally : fires artificials]  and a FIESTA (party) with MÚSICA (music) for everyone. 

I know it will be great fun, as I have been following this tradition for many years now!

Would you like to join me?

 We are meeting in the PLAZA at 11.30, so get your UVAS ready and peeled to make it easier to guzzle them all.  ¡BUENA SUERTE!  Good Luck !

Please let me know if you enjoyed reading about my plans like this.

More next time…

Some reminders:

UVA   [Pronunciation: ooba]  Grape 

UVAS    [Pronunciation: oobas] Grapes 

MEDIANOCHE Midnight

NOCHE VIEJA New Year’s Eve. (Literally: Night Old)

PLAZA  Town Square

RELOJ   Clock

 PLAZA DEL RELOJ  Clock Square  (Literally: Square of the Clock)

CAMPANADA     Stroke of the bell 

BOCA     Mouth

BUENA SUERTE Good Luck

AÑO NUEVO (Pronunciation: ANYO NOOAYBO) New Year

AMIGOS   Friends

BRINDIS   A toast ( e.g. raising a glass of wine in celebration) 

FUEGOS ARTIFICIALES  Fireworks (literally : fires artificial)  

FIESTA  Party

MÚSICA  Music

 

Gender issues?

gendersignGender issues are very important. There is a growing  awareness of the debate on gender in society nowadays. This is all good.

Now I’d like to consider the vital importance of gender in language learning!

Especially in Spanish language learning.

Spanish is very concerned with gender. All nouns (the NAMES of things) have a given gender. This means that some THINGS are considered FEMININE  while others are considered MASCULINE. This may not seem important but depending on the ‘gender’ of each thing, there are certain patterns to follow.

In my experience over the years teaching Spanish, most textbooks and learning programmes present the MASCULINE form of nouns and pronouns first, and expect the FEMININE form to be understood by osmosis! Well I am revolutionising Spanish language learning here and now, by presenting the FEMININE  form first.

Girl power!

In the following, I’d like to begin showing first the FEMININE form of nouns and how to use the ‘indefinite article’ ( ‘a’ or ‘an’ as in ‘a table’ or ‘an orange’ = UNA [Pronunciation: OONA]  

Note: UNA also means ONE, as in the number one. 

 

Una amiga   A friend (who is a girl) / one friend

Una casa      A house / one house

Una flor        A flower / one flower  

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ByLucy Roberts

 

Una falda      A skirt / one skirt

Una mesa      A table / one table

Una bolsa       A bag / one bag

Una nieta    A grand-daughter / one grand-daughter 

 

Some important words are a little tricky to pronounce without hearing them first.

Una hija   [pronunciation: EEHA]    A daughter / one daughter

Una botella   [pronunciation: BOTEYA]   A bottle / one bottle

Una manzana  [pronunciation: MANTHANA] An apple / one apple 

 

Try and memorise these few nouns with the indefinite article  (UNA) which goes with them. I am so excited because in my next post you will be able to start using them in important sentences!  

I really hope this helps. 

Please ask any questions if I haven’t been clear. 

 

 

Little Red Riding Hood and how she can help

 

You probably know at this stage of your Spanish language learning, you aren’t going to launch into reading the first chapter of “Don Quijote” by Miguel de Cervantes just yet. (Cervantes was/is to Spanish literature as  William Shakespeare was/is to English literature.)

 

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Isabel Naftel (Wikimedia Commons)

In fact your literary level may be more akin to Little Red Riding Hood.  And that would be great. There are so many language learning resources available now that it only makes sense to tap into as many of these as possible.

You have to swallow all that pride and go back to basics. The thing is that ‘basics’ in language learning can mean really basic.

Would you not be thrilled if you could speak Spanish as well as a 3 year-old Spanish child? Your ultimate goal may be to speak a little better than that in the future, but at the moment that would be a fine goal.

Children’s fairy-tales in bilingual texts are a great learning resource. A bilingual text usually means that the story or text is written in a target language, (in this example Spanish) and on the next page, usually visible, is the parallel text in (this case) English.

An example of this could be this bilingual text of Little Red Riding Hood, which I found on Amazon, very cheaply.

(Disclaimer: I have no connection with Amazon but simply want to provide an example of a bilingual text which could prove useful and fun.)

The key would be to choose stories you are familiar with (we all know Little Red Riding Hood) and so half the battle of understanding is already won.

The best way to use a story like this would be:

 

  • Read the text in both English and Spanish
  • Look up words you don’t know.
  • Notice the verbs of SER and ESTAR and when they are used.
  • Enjoy understanding the story, like a three-year-old would.

 

Please let me know if this has helped.

More next time…

Making it easy!

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image copyright Moyan Brenn

You know when you have been waiting and waiting for something but you don’t know what it is exactly? You have been waiting for something that would help you clarify confusion and consolidate true understanding.

You never know, this could be it.

This might be exactly what you’ve been waiting for. This is a short, sharp, quick, summarised version of patterns with SER and ESTAR we have seen so far.

How more exciting could things get?

 

When to use SER …(SOY / ERES / ES)

 

Soy / eres/ es        inglesa                   I’m/ you’re / she’s   English

Soy / eres/ es        española               I’m/ you’re / she’s    Spanish

Soy/ eres/ es         inteligente           I’m/ you’re / she’s      intelligent

Soy / eres/ es        tonta                      I’m/ you’re / she’s    silly

Soy/ eres/ es         baja                        I’m/ you’re / she’s    short

Soy/ eres/ es         alta                        I’m/ you’re / she’s      tall

Conclusion: Choose SER (SOY = I’m /ERES = you’re /ES = she’s) if you are going to use adjectives which describe inherent personality traits or characteristics of people or things. i.e. English, Spanish, intelligent, silly, short , tall, etc.

 

When to use ESTAR  (ESTOY / ESTÁS / ESTÁ )

 

Estoy / estás / está     cansada                 I’m/ you’re / she’s     tired

Estoy / estás / está     enfadada               I’m/ you’re / she’s    angry

Estoy / estás / está     tranquila              I’m/ you’re / she’s    calm

Estoy/ estás / está      casada                  I’m/ you’re / she’s     married

Estoy / estás / está     divorciada            I’m/ you’re / she’s    divorced

Estoy / estás / está     enferma                I’m/ you’re / she’s    ill

Estoy /estás / está     borracha                I’m/ you’re / she’s   drunk

Conclusion : Choose ESTAR   (ESTOY = I’m / ESTÁS = you’re / ESTÁ =  she’s) if you are going to use adjectives which refer to the temporary state  of people or things. I.e. tired, angry, calm, married, divorced,  ill, drunk, etc…..

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SER or ESTAR…Which way to go?

SUMMARY

Spanish people must have quick-thinking minds (but then so have you!) First, they think about the describing word (adjective) they are going to use AFTER the verb TO BE when they describe someone or something. Depending on which type of characteristic they are referring to, they choose to use SER; (SOY/ERES/ES) or ESTAR;  (ESTOY /ESTÁS / ESTÁS).

Please let me know if this helps.

More next time…..