POR & PARA
We can all agree that prepositions are hard! No matter what language you want to learn, these little words always trip us up. Today, I will be talking about two Spanish prepositions that tend to confuse most learners of Español: por and para. If you want to understand these two better, keep reading!
For native speakers of English, por and para are confusing because technically, the only equivalent preposition in English is for. I can say in Spanish: ¡Gracias por venir! Or ¿Eso es para mí?; however, in English the exact same preposition, for, is used for both sentences: Thank you for coming! Or Is that for me? So, what is the difference between por & para? Do they only mean for? I would suggest keeping your minds open as we explore these two prepositions! Spanish is simply different from English, and sometimes, a little more complex. But with patience, consistency and practice, you’ll be able to understand them and use them properly. Since there are several meanings for each, I will focus on the most common uses of both prepositions. This doesn’t mean that there can’t be exceptions, but I am sure these examples will help you understand and use these two prepositions in a better way.
- There are different ways Spanish speakers think about por. One of the most common meanings is cause: ¡Gracias por venir! In English, it would be: Thank you for coming! In this specific sentence, both Spanish and English attach a cause or a reason to be thankful for. In this case, the reason is that someone came. However, in most cases, English expresses cause through the use of because of. Consider this Spanish sentence and its English translation: él murió por tu culpa (He died because of you). This means that, if there is a context in Spanish in which you need to express cause or reason for something, you need to ask yourself: “If I had to express the exact same thing in English, could I use the term because of? If so, then in the Spanish context, you can be very confident it will be por and not para. Let’s have a look at another example: I love you for who you are (i.e: the reason why I love you is because of who you are). Since we can use because of in the English sentence, we can be sure that in Spanish, it will most certainly be “te quiero por quien eres”.
- Another meaning Spanish attaches to por is the same that the English language attaches to the preposition through. Consider this example: He pasado por muchas cosas en la vida (=I have been through many things in life). Or: Tuve que salir por la ventana (=I had to get out through the window). It is important to bear in mind that, in English, through also has slight differences in meaning. In Spanish, the use of por as through is attached to the meanings “by means of”, “from one side to the other”.
- Por is also used to express approximate location. In English, this meaning refers to “around”, meaning approximate location as well. For instance: “He estado viajando por Europa este mes” (“I’ve been traveling around Europe this month“).
- To express time duration: for instance: Estuve escribiendo esa carta por dos horas (I was writing that letter for two hours). In this case, por and for coincide in meaning!
- To talk about the agent who performs an action in passive forms: Este libro fue escrito por Cervantes (This book was written by Cervantes).
- To talk about rates, prices or measurements that mean “for each“. In English, this is the equivalent to the word per (meaning “for each”). E.g: ese coche alcanza los 300 kilómetros por hora (That car reaches 300 kilometres per hour).
- To ask for something in exchange for something else. For instance: Te cambio mis libros por tus zapatillas. (I will give you my books for your tennis shoes). As you can see, in this case, por in Spanish and for in English also coincide in meaning.
- The most common use of para in Spanish is to express an aim or purpose. In English, this is generally expressed through “to or in order to“. I.e.: Estoy estudiando español para poder ir a España (I am studying Spanish to/in order to go to Spain).
- To indicate a beneficiary of something: Estoy haciendo café para ti. (I am making coffee for you). As we can see, in this case, para and for coincide in meaning!
- To express something that you see or seems to you: Para mí, eso no tiene sentido (To me, that doesn’t make sense).
- To talk about a time limit or deadline: El ensayo es para el lunes (the essay is for Monday). Once again, para and for coincide in meaning.
- To talk about direction or movement toward a place: voy para tu casa (I’m on my way to/towards your house).
- When considering how a situation should be due to its difficulty, but it’s not: ella es muy alta para lo joven que es (she is very tall considering how young she is). In English, the preposition for also applies to this example (She is very tall for her age).
These are the most common expressions of por and para in Spanish! As you’ve been able to see, sometimes para and por coincide with the English meanings of for, which is why it seems tricky. However, as you’ve also been able to notice, for has different meanings as well. The key is to think about por and para as words that have different meanings and not just one. This will certainly help you set your mind to understand the meanings better. And of course, make sure you get lots of practice!
To download this article as a PDF, click on Por & para
Ustedes or vosotros?
When talking about the 2nd person plural in Spanish, there tends to be some confusion. I’ve heard people say that they only learn ustedes in their Spanish lessons because they were told they would never have to use vosotros. The problem comes when those people decide to travel to Spain and they realize that the majority of Spaniards use vosotros. Why is it? Well, this is our blog entry for today!
To start with, I’d like to say that both personal pronouns, ustedes and vosotros, are absolutely correct. No matter which one you decide to use, you won’t be making a mistake! Your preference will most likely show WHERE you learned Spanish. Since both refer to the same person, 2nd person plural, the difference lies not so much in what they mean, but in what parts of the world they are used and in what context.
This pronoun is only used in Spain. It is regarded as the plural form of tú. For instance: tú eres mi amigo; vosotros sois mis amigos (you are my friend; you guys are my friends). It has its unique verbal conjugation to indicate reference to the 2nd person plural. In Spain, the use of this pronoun is employed in familiar and informal contexts (just as tú in singular). You would use this pronoun with your family, friends or other peers: vosotros tenéis hambre? (Are you guys hungry?) In the rest of the Spanish-speaking population, this pronoun is simply not used. They actually employ the pronoun ustedes.
This pronoun is the plural form of usted. Unlike vosotros, ustedes uses the verbal conjugation of the 3rd person plural, although it refers to 2nd person plural contexts. The reason for this is due to its etymology (*). The general use of this pronoun is in more formal and unfamiliar contexts, (just as usted in singular) both in Spain and the rest of the Spanish-speaking countries. It implies courtesy and a certain distance, because you are talking to people you don’t know (or don’t know very well) or that deserve a certain kind of respect. If you were the CEO of a company, you would use this pronoun if you were talking to potential clients, for example. Or you would use it to talk to elderly people. For instance: quiere usted sentarse? (Would you like to sit down?) As I said, this is true for both Spain and the rest of the Spanish-speaking countries.
However, in Latin American countries as well as in some parts of Spain (Canary Islands and Western Andalucía) the term ustedes is also used to refer to informal contexts. This means that, in those geographical areas, ustedes is used as the only way to refer to formal and informal 2nd person plural contexts. For example, if I invite some friends over to my house and I want to offer them some coffee, I can say either: vosotros queréis tomar un café? or ustedes quieren tomar un café? The meaning is the same. The only difference is that the former is only used in Spain. The latter is used in the rest of the Spanish-speaking countries and a few areas of Spain.
If I decide to use ustedes, how can I know when it’s formal or informal? Well, the only way to know it is through the context you are in!
So, which one is better to use? If we refer to informal contexts, you can use whichever term you are more comfortable with! What I do recommend is knowing both terms, so that it doesn’t take you by surprise if you go to Spain! If, on the contrary, we refer to informal contexts, you will never go wrong with ustedes.
(*) Etymology of usted: it is the short form of vuestra merced, (3rd person), which used to be very commonly used back in the XV century to refer to very important people, such as a king or an emperor.
To download this entry as a pdf, click on Ustedes or Vosotros_
HOW TO BOOST YOUR LANGUAGE LEARNING!
Our first post dealt with how to learn a language successfully. What was said specifically was that the way you mentally approach the process of learning is almost essential to learn a language successfully. If you haven’t read it, please scroll down!
Today’s post will be all about two important steps to take to ensure a fast progress in your learning process! Now, I am fully aware that each person has their own pace and their own time. I completely understand that some tips work for some people and some don’t for others. However, in my experience as both a language learner and a private tutor, I have seen how some methods certainly help to ensure progress as we dive into our target language!
Before getting into it, I wanted to highlight two important aspects of language. One is competence, and the other is performance. Competence refers to our inner knowledge of a language, whereas performance refers to the actual production of language (For more information about this topic, please check this article! https://sites.educ.ualberta.ca/staff/olenka.bilash/Best%20of%20Bilash/competencyperformance.html) I have found that in order to boost your language learning, we need to invest in both aspects. One is reinforced by the other. Please keep reading!
Step #1 (competence) : Dedicate time to understanding the grammar or vocabulary of the language you are trying to learn.
I believe this is a very helpful step! If we don’t, it is the same as trying to solve a math problem without the formula. For instance, if you want to learn Spanish or are already in the process, dedicating time to understanding its grammar will help you to know when to use what or in what context. You will certainly gain the main tools by doing this. Although jumping directly into trying to use the language without the knowledge would eventually lead you to being able to use the language by trial and error, dedicating time to understanding it will make that journey shorter and much more effective. Again, if you have a hammer and try to use it without knowing what it is and how to use it, it will take you more time to figure it out!
There are multiple ways to learn grammar, although if you don’t know anything about the target language, I recommend going to the basics and finding some clear and short theory that helps you understand it better.
And then… put it into practice! That is what our step #2 is about!
Step # 2 (performance): Put your new knowledge into practice immediately!
This step is equally as important and useful as the previous one! Knowledge is highly reinforced by practice. There are different ways to put your new knowledge into practice, and if you don’t know people who speak that language with whom you can practice, being creative is key! So, how can you do this? Be intentional about looking for contexts where you can practice. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve finding a group of people who can speak that language, although that would be great to! But for instance, if you learned the word coche (car), go outside and count how many coches pass by your house; if you learned the gerund form of the verb caminar, which would be caminando (to walk= walking), tell yourself you are doing that when you’re actually walking: estoy caminando. In any situation you are in, try to always make an effort to practice what you learn!
If you practice these two steps regularly, you will see great results in your language learning! Investing in competence and performance is a great method to establish knowledge and being able to use that knowledge effectively. In my experience as a tutor, I have seen that the majority of students of any language invest either in competence only or performance only. Although that is good and it helps you, investing in both will absolutely boost your learning process. Many people fall into the belief that in order to practice a language you need to actually go to another country where that language is spoken to be able to practice. Nothing further from the truth! You can find those contexts in your surroundings, as long as you are intentional. Now, I am not saying that you shouldn’t do your best to be exposed to people who speak the language you’re trying to become fluent in. That is certainly amazing and I encourage that! But if you don’t have those connections yet, there are a lot of contexts around you where you can practice what you learn immediately. If you want to ensure a fast and effective progress, practice should be immediate and also constant.
* To download as a PDF, click on How to boost your language learning!
How to learn a language successfully
We can all agree that languages are an incredible tool to communicate with people. More so, they can even reshape our perspective on life (*).
However, it is true that learning a new language is not always easy. Many times, it can lead to frustration or even giving up on it. Although all of this is true, I would like to share the other side of the story with you all: it is possible!
So, what does it mean to learn a language successfully? I believe it doesn’t mean reaching a native level of the language you are trying to learn. Many times we give up on learning a language because we have the expectation in our minds that we have to become fluent, and if we are not there yet, we believe that we are actually not in the process of learning. This could not be further from the truth. In my opinion, learning a language successfully has to do with our mindset and our attitude. Here are a few things to take into account to have the right mindset:
- Our brains are wired to learn.
If we understand that our brains are wired to learn, then we will be able to have a different perspective. Some people learn faster, some slower, and we shouldn’t compare ourselves to other people. But we all have the capacity to incorporate new information. In fact, we do so from a very young age until we die. Our brains are able to do that and much more, so if we have this as the foundation of our approach to language learning, it will be a great start!
- Learning: it is a journey
As I mentioned before, some people learn faster, some slower. In any case, it is a process, and I would even say that you only know when it starts, but you don’t know when the process ends. I don’t say this to discourage anybody. On the contrary, I say it to help you see that Rome was not built in a day, so you can actually be nice to yourself and accept your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning a language. It is a journey, which means that it will take you through different stages, even those which seem stagnant. It is necessary to go through all of the stages, and accept them as part of the learning process. The issue comes when we are not able to identify the stages as part of it. What I mean by that is, even if it seems that we are not learning, or that even though we are working hard, it seems we are getting worse, we don’t need to worry: it is only a stage, we are actually on the right path! If you understand this, you will be able to assimilate what you study successfully; that is, you will be able to see great results and enjoy them!
- Consistency and perseverance will be your best friends
In this world where we can have all we want in less than a click, we are becoming more and more surprised that certain things simply require work. Some people can have an amazing gift of languages, but if they don’t put that gift to work, it will certainly be very difficult for them to see good results. The truth is, when we make the decision to start learning a new language, we have to take into account that consistency and perseverance are essential. If we are not consistent, our progress will be hindered. If we get stuck in some part of the learning process and we give up, we won’t be giving ourselves the opportunity to overcome that obstacle and get to the next level of our language adventure. If we go to class, but we don’t put in consistent work, then we can be sure that it will take us more time or we will simply not learn a language successfully.
I believe success in language learning is related to our capacity to understand the above before we get to the point of giving up. I have been a student of English since a was little. I am now a teacher of English and Spanish for foreigners. I know how frustrating it can be to put in a lot of work, and see very few results. When those things would happen, I had to go back to my foundation: “My brain is made to learn” ; “It is okay, learning is a journey” and “Only because I don’t understand this specific thing today, it doesn’t mean I won’t be able to learn it eventually. Therefore, I will keep working at it!” I can say from experience that learning a language is a race, and I continue to navigate its stages every single day. And I can also say that it is so satisfying when you see results! If you feel discouraged because you desire to learn a language but you can’t see results at the moment, don’t worry: be patient with yourself and don’t give up! You will get there eventually. It is important to be able to discern our pace to be able to set realistic goals for ourselves. If we have this mindset, we will be able to assimilate a new language successfully: smoothly and with a great outcome!
(*) Check this Ted Talk on how language shapes our thinking!
** To download as a PDF, click on How to learn a language successfully