Reading List: A Journey Through The Spanish Speaking World

If you’re interested in world literature and Spanish culture specifically, this reading list is for you.  As every reader knows, reading is to travel far and wide where we cannot physically go.  I hope this list guides you on a wonderful journey through the Spanish speaking world.

Since the Spanish speaking world includes so many countries, I’ve decided not to organise this list by country but by publication date.  This list includes some of the best of Spanish literature in English translation with entries from the majority of Spanish speaking countries.

Miguel de Cervantes > Don Quixote < 1605

“Don Quixote has become so entranced by reading chivalric romances, that he determines to become a knight-errant himself. In the company of his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, his exploits blossom in all sorts of wonderful ways. While Quixote’s fancy often leads him astray – he tilts at windmills, imagining them to be giants – Sancho acquires cunning and a certain sagacity. Sane madman and wise fool, they roam the world together, and together they have haunted readers’ imaginations for nearly four hundred years.
With its experimental form and literary playfulness, Don Quixote generally has been recognized as the first modern novel. The book has had enormous influence on a host of writers, from Fielding and Sterne to Flaubert, Dickens, Melville, and Faulkner, who reread it once a year, “just as some people read the Bible.””  (GoodReads)

Jorge Luis Borges > Ficciones < 1944

“The seventeen pieces in Ficciones demonstrate the whirlwind of Borges’s genius and mirror the precision and potency of his intellect and inventiveness, his piercing irony, his scepticism, and his obsession with fantasy. Borges sends us on a journey into a compelling, bizarre, and profoundly resonant realm; we enter the fearful sphere of Pascal’s abyss, the surreal and literal labyrinth of books, and the iconography of eternal return. To enter the worlds in Ficciones is to enter the mind of Jorge Luis Borges, wherein lies Heaven, Hell, and everything in between.”  (GoodReads)

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Reading List: A Journey Through The Portuguese Speaking World

If you’re interested in world literature and Portuguese culture specifically, this reading list is for you.  As every reader knows, reading is to travel far and wide where we cannot physically go.  I hope this list guides you on a wonderful journey into the lusophone world.

While selecting titles for this list, I had the English reader in mind so you’ll only find the English translation titles listed.  The Portuguese speaking world includes countries around the world but I’ve decided to organise them not by country but by publication date.  There are a few works from prior centuries but I’ve tried to focus on 20th century literature.

Luís de Camões > The Lusiads < 1572

“First published in 1572, The Lusiads is one of the greatest epic poems of the Renaissance, immortalizing Portugal’s voyages of discovery with an unrivalled freshness of observation.  At the centre of The Lusiads is Vasco da Gama’s pioneer voyage via southern Africa to India in 1497-98. The first European artist to cross the equator, Camoes’s narrative reflects the novelty and fascination of that original encounter with Africa, India and the Far East. The poem’s twin symbols are the Cross and the Astrolabe, and its celebration of a turning point in mankind’s knowledge of the world unites the old map of the heavens with the newly discovered terrain on earth. Yet it speaks powerfully, too, of the precariousness of power, and of the rise and decline of nationhood, threatened not only from without by enemies, but from within by loss of integrity and vision.”  (GoodReads)

Camilo Castelo Branco > Love of Perdition < 1862

Perhaps the height of Portuguese romanticism, Amor de Perdição (Love of Perdition) is a Portuguese Romeo and Juliet. Simão Botelho and Teresa are hopelessly in love, but their families are rivals in Viseu. When Teresa’s father, Tadeu, discovers their love, he shuts her in a convent. But, while trying to see his beloved, Simão kills Baltasar, and eventually condemned to death. The sentence is commuted to 10 years of service in India, but before the sentence is executed, both Teresa and Simão die of broken hearts.” (GoodReads)

Machado de Assis > The Alienist < 1881

“A classic work of literature by “the greatest author ever produced in Latin America.” (Susan Sontag)
Brilliant physician Simão Bacamarte sacrifices a prestigious career to return home and dedicate himself to the budding field of psychology. Bacamarte opens the first asylum in Brazil hoping to crown himself and his hometown with “imperishable laurels.” But the doctor begins to see signs of insanity in more and more of his neighbors. . . .
With dark humor and sparse prose, The Alienist lets the reader ponder who is really crazy.”  (GoodReads)

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Tips To Keep You Learning That New Language

You’ve decided to learn a new language. You’ve bought a book. After the initial excitement of exploring this new world begins to fade, page by page, you may begin to wonder what you’ve got yourself into.

Fear not, it always starts that way. It’s new, it’s foreign, and it’s confusing.

I’m from a country that has 11 national languages. Being bilingual is not an option but a requirement. After learning three additional languages, I can tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can get to the point of actually understanding and speaking a new language. You just have to set yourself up for success.

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Learning a Romance Language? 6 Tips on Where to Focus First

There has never been a better time to learn languages.  The world has become much smaller with the internet connecting us to eachother and so we are coming into closer contact with content in other languages.  There are a number of reasons people choose to learn another language; whether for business or for personal growth the challenge remains the same.  It can be daunting trying to figure out where to start especially if you are learning mostly on your own.  I’ve taught at a well known English language school and I’ve also attended language courses for my own language studies.  From my experience both teaching and learning I know that a huge part of becoming proficient in a language DSC_0077web compresshas to do with the work you put into it personally on your own.  It can be the make or break factor. After Chinese and English, the romance languages, particularly Spanish, Portuguese, and French are popular languages to learn.  Not only is a lot of business conducted in these languages but there is also a wealth of literature that can be enjoyed if we are able to read in them.  Once we’ve made the decision to dedicate time to learning one of the romance languages you may wonder where to start or, if you’ve attended a beginner course, where to focus for improvement.

Here are my 6 tips for moving beyond beginner level in the romance languages:

  • Get used to the idea of all nouns being either feminine or masculine
  • Know your definite & indefinite articles (the, a , an)
  • Master a few common nouns to build your vocabulary
  • Study the verbs like a demon
  • Keep a vocabulary notebook
  • Love your dictionary

All nouns in the romance languages are either feminine or masculine so they will generally end in either an ‘a’ for feminine or ‘o’ for masculine.  There are exceptions to the rule but there really aren’t that many.

Next you’ll want to get to know your articles (the, a, an).  Because of the gender of nouns you’ll have noticed that there are also both feminine and masculine versions of the definite and indefinite articles to match the nouns.  I have found it a good idea to learn new words together with their definite article to help you remember gender.  For example: la casa, el gato in Spanish or a casa, o gato in Portuguese.crop 1 webcompress

An incredibly valuable resource for your learning journey is your vocabulary notebook.  Be vigilant about writing down every new word you come across and writing its English equivalent next to it.  This notebook will become your bible.  The process of writing down the new word and looking up its translation is in itself helping you to solidify this new information in your mind.  Later, it is the place you return to to recap your vocabulary and also serves as a fantastic reminder of how far you’ve come.  I highly recommend studying using a vocabulary notebook.

You will obviously need to look up the meanings of all these new words so a good dictionary is essential.  While I was teaching there was debate about how much or how little beginner students should use dictionaries.  My opinion is that you should get one and use it regularly.  I say this simply because when I was a beginner my dictionary was my best friend.  I’m all for immersion but you won’t get anywhere in the beginning without being able to look up the words you are hearing and seeing around you.

The next big hurdle that must be overcome are the verbs.  They look scary to English speakers because of their many forms but fear not!  To begin let’s talk about why each verb in each tense has so many forms compared to English.  For this let’s take a look at our personal pronouns to see all the different perspectives crop2web compressfrom which action takes place.  There is ‘I’ 1st person singular, ‘You’ 2nd person singular, ‘He, She, It’ 3rd person singular, ‘We’ 1st person plural, ‘You’ 2nd person plural, and ‘They’ 3rd person plural.  In English the form of our verb only changes in the 3rd person singular:  I walk, you walk, she walks, they walk. Easy.  The only difference in the romance languages is that for every person the verb changes.  It does initially seem like a lot to remember but look closely and you’ll see there is a pattern to those changes that you can learn by heart.  And herein lies the important advice I give to beginners who truly want to be proficient.  Don’t shy away from learning those verbs.  Take the bull by the horns and write them out, study the endings for the pattern of change, and keep doing it until you know those verbs inside out.  Start with the present simple tense and when you know those by heart move on to the past tenses.  The most important verbs to learn to conjugate at first are: ser, estar, tener, and ir which are your ‘to be’, ‘to have’, and ‘to go’ verbs in Spanish.  All stem verbs in Spanish and Portuguese end in ‘-ar’, ‘-er’, or ‘-ir’.  Each one of these stem verb endings has its own pattern which dictates how the verb will change to match the personal pronouns I mentioned above.  So choose one verb for each of the endings (hablarto speak, comerto eat, salirto go out) and learn the pattern of the verb changes for each and then apply those to other verbs with the same ending.  In addition to dictionaries you can also buy dedicated verb books which take verb by verb and give you all the changes in all the tenses.  A super reference tool! What has been your experience with beginning language learning?