Learning Spanish

Have DirecTV? Supercharge your Spanish learning

My normal DirecTV satellite TV package included a couple of Spanish language channels, Univision and Galavision.  However, I found that only a handful of shows on those two networks were interesting to me.  On a whim, I decided to head over to the DirecTV website and see what else I might could get.  They have a package called En Español, which adds 26 additional Spanish language networks to my choices.  (They say 33, but that includes some music channels and other items.)  At $19.95 extra per month, it’s not cheap, but I think I’ll keep it for a while.
Now I can actually find something interesting to watch while improving my language abilities.  Many shows are subtitled as well, so don’t forget that option.  My favorites so far are HITN, which shows a number of interesting shows, and EcuaVisa from Ecuador.  I’ve heard that Ecuadorian Spanish is among the easiest for non-native speakers to understand, and so far I’d have to agree.  They seem to speak a bit slower, and drop fewer letters from their words than other speakers.

CNN en Español is always a good choice, as is Discovery Channel Español.  Now my ReplayTV is chock full of Spanish language shows.  HITN also runs 2 episodes each Sunday of Destinos, a Spanish language instructional show.  The best part of all this Spanish TV is that I can really see the difference in my comprehension.  In my last exposure to Destinos, I was able to understand only bits and pieces, while now I can follow along with much of the dialogue.


Saturn and Venus in the same eyepiece

Tomorrow night I’m hoping the skys will be clear, so I can pull out the scope for a rare treat. On Saturday and Sunday nights, just after dark, the planets Venus and Saturn will be close enough together in the sky (2/3 of a degree apart) to view them both at the same time through a telescope. Nice!

See more at the site:
The Evening Star Greets the Ringed Planet

Learning Spanish

Two interesting shows for practicing Spanish comprehension

In recent weeks, I’ve been watching a lot of Spanish language TV, and I’ve found the process to be very helpful in my efforts to improve my Spanish comprehension. On History Channel International, they run a show called “El Canal de Historia” at 7 AM Eastern Monday-Friday. The shows are documentaries dubbed into Spanish. For example, this week I watched a biography of Cristobal Colón (Cristopher Columbus), and an episode of America’s Castles.

The shows feature a mix of Spanish only commentary with closed captions, and English language segments that feature Spanish subtitles. Both types of content are helpful to reading and listening comprehension. I’m also pausing the shows when I sense that an unknown word is common or particularly useful. At that point, I look up the word in my Spanish-English dictionary, and if I think the word is a useful addition to my vocabulary I make a quick flashcard for it and resume watching the show.

For flashcards, I’m using a tip I learned from the Learning Spanish podcasts I mentioned here recently. I went to Kinko’s and had them cut business card stock into blank business cards. They’re the perfect size and paper weight for homemade flashcards. I keep a stack of the resulting flashcards handy to use whenever I have a few minutes to spare.

The second show I want to mention comes from the Spanish language network Galavision. Check your schedule for “Fuera de Serie”, a half-hour show focusing on various travel destinations. Unfortunately, the show does not offer closed captioning, so it’s quite a challenge for me to understand much of what is being said. Still, the shows feature interesting destinations and it’s enjoyable to try to keep up. The title of the show, Fuera de Serie, translates roughly to “Out of the Ordinary”, though I’ve seen it translated elsewhere “Out of this World” or “Something Outrageous”.


Fabulous San Miguel Photos

I happened across some very nice San Miguel de Allende photos posted today over at TravelBlog. Click on the “more” caption under the first photo to open a window for easy navigation through the shots. For more photos, you can visit our travelogue from a 2004 trip to Guanajuato and San Miguel.

The bloggers, Carlos y Amber, also have posted photos and stories from several other parts of Mexico.

Learning Spanish

Spanish language newspapers

Students of Spanish may be interested in the these sites that I use for practicing my reading comprehension. I generally read at least one major news story from a Spanish language newspaper site each day. I visit each and try to pick a story I will find interesting.

  • Mexico City’s largest newspaper: El Universal
  • A newpaper from Guanajuato, in central Mexico: Correo
  • A newspaper from Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, TX: El Diario
Learning Spanish

“Dictionary-enable” any web page from Spanish to English, for free

Here’s another useful resource for students of Spanish.

The UltraLingua Online Dictionary will let you look up English translations of Spanish words of course, but it also has a neat useful feature for helping you read entire webpages in Spanish. The site provides a “dictionary enabling” feature, where you provide a web address and the page loads with every word of the text as a clickable link which pops up the translation. This way, you can read as usual, but if you see an unfamiliar word, you can click on it for an immediate translation.

Existing hyperlinks are undisturbed, while the rest of the page gets transformed as described. My only complaint so far is that it appears to mangle non-English characters, such as letters with an accent over them in Spanish.

According to their terms, usage is free for light, casual use, but free use has a limit on the number of lookups per day, after which a subscription would be required.

Learning Spanish

The Best $12 You’ll Ever Spend as a Spanish Student

Update: Apparently, the publishers decided this book was too much of a bargain at $12. When I looked at the price as I’m writing this update (2021), it’s almost double that price now! But here’s my original recommendation, and it still stands:

In my daily exercise of reading the top news story in a Spanish language newspaper, I find myself referring to two books time and time again. One is quite obvious. Every student of Spanish certainly has purchased a general purpose Spanish to English dictionary. However, I find myself referring to a second book just as often.

501 Spanish Verbs by Christopher Kendris is a must-have resource. Kendris’ book, now in the 6th edition and published in conjunction with Barron’s, is decidely utilitarian. It’s a list of 501 of the most useful Spanish verbs, organized in an easy-to-use one-per-page layout. Every verb is defined, and then conjugated in 14 different tenses. An additional 1000 verbs are supplied in an appendix, with a pointer to a verb that is similarly conjugated.

When I first read the description of this book, I didn’t understand why I would want a list of verbs when I already have a dictionary for that purpose. The key difference is the complete list of conjugations, and the easy access. Once I added this book to my study tools, I don’t know how I got along without it.

By the way, that’s my affiliate link… As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Learning Spanish

Learning Spanish with the help of Mexican telenovelas

If you’ve followed the advice in my last post of using Mexican telenovelas to help study Spanish, you might be interested in this find.

English language recaps of telenovelas

I’m trying different approaches with the closed captioning. For example, you might want to watch through once without captions on and see how much you can pick up. Then again with captions on.

Learning Spanish

Estoy Aprendiendo (I’m learning)

My attempts to learn Spanish have been going on for a long time now, yet my comprehension abilities are still very limited. In recent months, I’ve been back at it, and in the process I searched the net for useful resources.

  • A new podcast series of free Spanish lessons at is well worth checking out. The material is aimed at beginning students.
  • For an interesting discussion about the process of learning a language, check out this email list Language-Learning Yahoo Group. The published articles stop abruptly at #34, back in 2001. Still useful info though.
  • Another podcast series, this time not lessons but instead a discussion of the methods and resources useful for learning Spanish. Check out
  • One of the more useful tips I got from the Trying To Learn Spanish podcasts is to use Mexican “telenovelas” to improve my listening comprehension. Use your DVR to record these Spanish language soap operas from cable or satellite, and be sure to turn on the closed captioning feature of your TV during playback.

Waiting for the Great Red Spot

It takes a confluence of events to make a good evening for the telescope and last night delivered just that. By mid-afternoon, I had noticed the clear blue sky outside my window as I worked, and, just to be sure, I consulted the Clear Sky Clock for my area.

The Clear Sky Clock predicts viewing quality using four separate forecasts. Of great importance of course is the lack of Cloud Cover. You want to be out on a night where the moon isn’t visible for optimal Darkness. Those two criteria are fairly easy to predict, with the latter being merely mathematical and the other covered on your local weather report. The last two parts of the Clear Sky forecast are more unusual. Transparency in the atmosphere depends on the amount of water vapor in the air. Even clear skies can contain a high amount of water vapor and lead to a less than satisfactory viewing night. Rounding out the forecast is Seeing, a factor affected by turbulence and temperature differences in the atmosphere. You’re seen how things viewed through the turbulent air above hot pavement seem to shimmer? The same effect causes objects viewed through a telescope to be unclear.

Last night, all four factors were favorable in my area, which created a good night for astronomical viewing. In my yard, I have another issue to contend with. I only have a clear view of about a third of the sky, with the rest being obscured by trees. Fortunately, one of the premium astronomical targets currently spends much of the evening in a prime viewing location from my yard. That target is the planet Jupiter.

With good viewing conditions forecast, I was hoping for a chance to observe Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. The GRS is a huge storm visible in the cloud patterns on Jupiter. Since Jupiter rotates around its axis in just under 10 hours, it’s important to know the times when the spot will be in view. In particular, the best times to view the spot are around the times when it transits across the ‘central meridian’, which is the midpoint of the face of Jupiter that we see.

I used an online tool to check the time for the next transit of the Great Red Spot, and I was pleased to find that a transit would occur around 12:40 AM. I set the scope up in early evening and enjoyed viewing a variety of objects in the sky while waiting for a chance to get my first glimpse of the GRS. My favorites for the early evening were the globular star clusters Messier 3 and Messier 5. At low power, these look like hazy round areas of light, but with a higher power eyepiece, you can distinguish some of the individual stars around the edges of these clusters which are thought to contain half a million stars.

As midnight approached, I started trying out various combinations of eyepieces and filters to see which gave the best view of Jupiter’s cloud bands. Since Jupiter is a very bright object in the sky, I found it easier to view through a filter that blocks much of the light. Once I got accustomed to the view and started looking, I was able to see the Great Red Spot and watch it move across the face of Jupiter for about an hour. Very cool!

All in all, it was a great night. My only complaint was the attack of the mosquitoes, who decided they wanted to participate as well. Jupiter and my first view of its Great Red Spot are well worth a few mosquito bites though.