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May 13, 2017

I enjoy your articles very much and would be grateful for your help on two points:
1. Do Spanish people really know all the conjugations of all the verbs (I hope you will say they don’t!)?
2. I have been reading your articles for some time and I make a go of expressing myself in Spanish, but I have great difficulty in understanding when a Spanish person speaks to me and it’s very frustrating. How do your students deal with this problem?

Thank you
Charles Brady

Dear Charles,
Thank you very much for your letter. It’s always good to know that someone reads what I write! In answer to your questions:
Firstly, I’m afraid the answer is, on the whole, ‘yes’! Most reasonably educated Spaniards use verbs correctly. Bear in mind that most irregular verbs are quite common and familiar to everyone, and therefore if someone is using a more unusual verb they will just follow regular verb patterns. What most Spanish people don´t know are the names of the tenses, and neither could they explain all the differences to you, but in general they will use the right one at the right moment – sorry about that! It’s probably also important to bear in mind that most everyday situations don’t require the same range of verbs as you would find in a novel or grammar book!
Your second question is rather more difficult as understanding what you hear is probably the biggest challenge of all. There are a number of reasons for this, including the transitory nature of the spoken word, background noise, your own feeling of insecurity, use of words or expressions you’re not familiar with, and of course the person’s accent, local or otherwise. The other difficulty is that spoken Spanish is very reliant on vowel sounds with consonant being much lighter to the point of non-existence, whilst English works in the opposite way, so we’re often listening out for the wrong things. Also, a strongly vowel-based language means that a lot of the sounds merge from one word to the next. As for the solution, well, one exercise I use quite successfully is to send my students audio files with dictations for homework (I also have a listening course which uses the same method). I also recommend listening to as much Spanish as possible, such as radio and television, even when you don’t understand it, to get familiar with the sounds and cadences of the language.
Good luck with your continued efforts!

With kind regards
Jane

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