Retrain your brain

Retrain your brain: Object pronouns and Word Order

In general, when learning another language it’s important to develop new pathways for thinking about and understanding language because your brain has a lot of new processes that it needs to develop. Remember that even in our own native language there are many ways for us to communicate the same message. Different languages sometimes use different ways to communicate the same message. For example, in Spanish not only is word order more flexible, but object pronouns (him, her, it etc.) are generally found BEFORE the verb.

Me dicen – They say to me

This word order causes our English trained brains to think that ME (pronounced – may) is the subject of the verb and think this phrase means: I say, or I say to them. This, of course, is the natural way for your brain to process this information, but, it’s incorrect!

So, in order to do some retraining:

Use what I like to call Funny English to translate this phrase as:

Me dicen – To me they say

By doing this you allow your brain to map the Spanish words one to one with the English words. When we first start out, it’s unrealistic to believe that we will immediately start thinking in the foreign language, despite this being the ultimate goal! So, to give ourselves a little crutch on that path, use the Funny English method. I’ve found Funny English to be very helpful for me in my learning process. I find it easier to remember because:

  1. it sounds funny and
  2. it helps me learn and retain NEW word orders

Therefore helping me – RETRAIN MY BRAIN :).

See episodios- Episodio 1


Retrain your Brain: Reflexive verbs

When learning languages and going for accuracy, noticing seemingly tiny details is a very important skill to develop. As you read you should hunt down these tiny details. Looking for parts of speech and different verb conjugations as you build your foreign grammar muscles.

One detail you might notice here is the difference between object pronouns (him, her, it etc.) and reflexive pronouns (myself, herself, himself- not something we use a lot in English but very necessary in Spanish).

Examine these two phrases:

me acostumbro and me saluda

What details do you notice?

Ideally you see the verb ending is different

(Yo) me acostumbro and (ella) me saluda

I (myself) become accustomed and she greets me (to me she greets F.E.)

Looking for these kinds of details and getting curious about them is a very important tool for retraining your brain to pick up on seemingly subtle differences.

In Spanish we have a whole series of reflexive verbs or verbs that reflect back on themselves. Many of them include daily routine verbs (levantarse -to get up, despertarse – to wake up, bañarse – to bathe or to shower etc.) or change of state verbs (sentarse – to sit down, levantarse – to get up, enojarse – to get angry, acostumbrarse – to become accustomed etc.). These verbs can be translated with myself, yourself, him/herself, ourselves, and their selves in a Funny English (see Tip 1) style to remember that the me, te, se, nos, se refer BACK to themselves.

Me acustumbro – I myself become accustomed

If you’d like more information on Reflexive Verbs or other specific grammar topics check out: Study Spanish.

Remember that the detail to catch is that when the pronoun (me) and the verb ending (acostumbro) MATCH or have the SAME subject, this means you’re looking at a REFLEXIVE VERB.

If the pronoun (me) and the verb ending (saluda) do NOT match, there are DIFFERENT subjects and therefore something is being done to someone else, there is NOT just one subject. (I’m not greeting myself :).

By spending time explicitly noticing these details you can increase the value of your reading as you work towards your language learning goals. Focusing on these details will help RETRAIN YOUR BRAIN to become wired to understand and use Spanish more accurately.

See Episodios: Episodio 2

Retrain your brain: Verbs and implications

What are you implying?

When we speak we don’t actually use every word we can to communicate our message. We often use implication and context to express ourselves.

* In Spanish there is a whole system of implication through verb endings that “implies” who is doing the action. While you may have learned the subject pronouns in Spanish class:

yo (I), tú (you), ud (you formal), él (he), ella (she), nosotros/as (we), uds (you all), ellos/ellas (they)

Many times these subject pronouns are unnecessary and can sound kind of clunky or repetitive in Spanish. That’s why you infrequently see them used in my blog posts. You have to know that when the verb ends in “o” that already tells you that “yo” is the subject of the verb.

Aprendo, tomo, hablo, entiendo etc… I learn, I take, I speak, I understand etc…

The “yo” is implied, it’s not necessary to say Yo aprendo. Overuse of “yo” is one of the ways that you’ll give yourself away as a non-native speaker!

We always have to look beyond just the words to truly decipher the meaning of what someone else is saying.

By noticing this implication and others you can RETRAIN YOUR BRAIN to not need subject pronouns to know that YOU are the one learning (estás aprendiendo).

See Episodios: Episodio 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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