Me he quedado en blanco – Colours and idioms

Me he quedado en blanco – Colours and idioms

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I know mine has, on multiple occasions and almost to the point that I worry I might have some memory problems! As you can see, this phrase in Spanish includes the word blanco (white) and there’re lots and lots of refranes (idioms) and frases hechas (expressions) about colours in Spanish. Before we get into those, let’s take a look at how we say all the colores (colours) in Spanish.

English Spanish
Red Rojo
Orange Naranja
Yellow Amarillo
Green Verde
Blue Azul
Purple Morado
Black Negro
White Blanco
Grey Gris
Brown Marrón
Pink Rosa

However, as you’ve probably already learned if you’re studying Spanish, we also need to make sure that the colours agree with the gender of the word they describe. Here’s a quick reminder of the different forms for the colours above.

English Spanish Masculine/Feminine Spanish Plural Masculine/Feminine
Red Rojo/Roja Rojos/Rojas
Orange Naranja Naranjas
Yellow Amarillo/Amarilla Amarillos/Amarillas
Green Verde Verdes
Blue Azul Azules
Purple Morado/Morada Morados/Moradas
Black Negro/Negra Negros/Negras
White Blanco/Blanca Blancos/Blancas
Grey Gris Grises
Brown Marrón Marrones
Pink Rosa Rosas

As you can see, some colours do not have a separate masculine and feminine form. The reason for this is due to the spelling rules in Spanish, which you can learn more about in our blog on adjectives on this site. Even if you say the wrong form when speaking Spanish, people will generally understand you so don’t worry and try to just learn from your mistakes. Everyone gets it wrong sometimes when learning Spanish – it’s part of the process of language learning!

Now that we have an idea of what the colours are in Spanish, let’s take a look at some refranes (idioms) and frases hechas (expressions). Obviously, most of the significados (meanings) have little to do with the colour itself, but that’s like in any language! Here at Hablamos we love idioms, so we want to give you some great examples to be able to use when you’re out and about practising Spanish.

Ponerse rojo como un tomate

You can probably work this first one out – it means “to go bright red” just like a tomato! If you’ve ever felt embarrassed or very nervous you’ve probably turned this colour!

Me puse rojo como un tomate en la cita ya que estaba muy nervioso – I was so nervous on the date that I turned bright red

La media naranja

Here’s a romantic one! Whereas in English we would say “my other/better half” to refer to your partner, in Spanish we use mi media naranja. Personally, I think it sounds much more poetic in Spanish, don’t you?

Julia es mi media naranja y nos conocimos en un sitio web – Julia is my other/better half and we met online

La prensa amarilla

A bit more literal this time, as now we are talking about the press and journalism. This little phrase means, in the US at least, “the yellow press”, but for a lot of you that doesn’t mean anything either! Another way of saying it in English is “tabloid journalism”, as in sensationalist media that is normally about celebrities or which exaggerate the truth just to sell copies. Do you ever read la prensa amarilla?

En la prensa amarilla siempre hay artículos sobre las relaciones amorosas de los famosos, que no me interesan nada – In the yellow press/the tabloids, they always talk about celebrities’ love lives, which don’t interest me at all

Poner verde a alguien

Now we’re getting a little bit mean with this one, as if you do this it’s that you’re talking badly about someone behind their back. Come on, you know you’ve done it at some point even though we all know we shouldn’t!

A Pablo le pusieron verde cuando salió de la reunión – They all talked about Pablo behind his back when he left the meeting

El príncipe azul

Another more romantic phrase – or possibly an unrealistic ideal depending on how you look at it. If you talk about someone as your príncipe azul then you’re calling them your “prince charming” – the person you want to be with as they’re your perfect partner.

Lucía considera que Alex es su príncipe azul porque es guapo, inteligente y muy romántico – Lucia thinks of Alex as her prince charming as he’s handsome, clever and very romantic

Ponerse morado

I always do this at Christmas – it’s so easy to ponerse morado when you’re surrounded by all sorts of tasty snacks and treats! Can you guess what it means yet? That’s right, it’s similar to “to stuff yourself” with food or drink (or both!). 

Ponerse morado en casa de mis padres en navidad es muy fácil porque mi madre compra una cantidad ingente de comida y bebida – It’s so easy to stuff yourself at my parents’ house at Christmas as my mum buys a ridiculous amount of food and drink

Ponerse negro

As you’ve spotted by now, there are quite a few of these expressions with the verb poner (to put)! This one means “to get very angry” – sometimes I guess it’s inevitable!

Me pongo negro con mis hermanos cuando rompen mis cosas – I get extremely angry with my siblings when they break my things

Quedarse en blanco

You’ve seen this one already – do you remember what it means? That’s right – it’s the same as “my mind’s gone blank”. Hopefully this doesn’t happen too often!

Me quedé en blanco cuando tuve que contestar a la pregunta en la entrevista – My mind went blank when I had to answer the question in the interview

Comerse un marrón

Well, things get a bit ugly with this one. A marrón in this phrase means “a disagreeable situation”. So the whole phrase means “to get stuck with/be lumbered with an unpleasant situation”. You don’t want to have to deal with things at times, but unfortunately you don’t always have a choice!

No me voy a comer el marrón de decir al jefe que no vamos a terminar a tiempo. ¡Hazlo tú! – I’m not getting lumbered with telling the boss we won’t finish on time. You do it!

Verlo todo de color rosa

In a lot of languages there’s a saying pretty similar to this one. It means “to see things through rose-tinted glasses”, that’s to say to look at things very positively even when it’s not the case. Maybe it isn’t such a bad way to view life?

Miriam lo ve todo de color rosa y no quiere ver que su situación podría ser mejor – Miriam looks at everything through rose-tinted glasses and doesn’t see that she could be in a better situation

And there you have a whole arcoiris (rainbow) of expressions you can use when speaking Spanish with your friends! As you learn Spanish you’ll come across a huge number of similar phrases which you can start incorporating into your own speech. Why not try using one next time in your Spanish class and impress your teacher?

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How to order typical dishes in Madrid

How to order typical dishes in Madrid

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Tomando el aperitivo un domingo

One of the most long-standing traditions in Madrid is to meet with friends on a Sunday morning for an aperitivo round about 12 o’clock.  You’ll see groups of friends of all ages, with prams and kids too standing outside a bar and having a drink and snacks before their big late lunches at 3 o’clock. (The tradition has also been known to extend over lunchtime and just stay there to eat with the tapas too) The typical thing to have is either a caña (small beer) or a vermut (a red martini) – this latter drink is often served on tap (de grifo) and is not the usual bottle-bought variety. It is served with a lot of ice and slice of orange and in summer, to make it a long drink (as it is usually high in alcohol content!) with gaseosa (a Spanish, no-calorie, sugar-free type of lemonade). ¡Delicioso! And don’t forget that the best thing of having a drink in a bar in Spain is that they’ll always give you a free small snack (tapa) with it too! Depending on the generosity of the bar, this could be a small dish of paella, or stew (guiso) or olives (aceitunas) or crisps (patatas fritas).

NB: Do you know why they call these bar snacks tapas? The most accepted version of the origin of the tapa is because the bartender would cover (tapar) the customer´s drink with a small plate to keep the flies out of it and on the plate they’d put a bit of food. 

“Un vermut, por favor (con gaseosa).”

“Una caña y dos dobles, por favor.”   (A small beer and two large ones please)

Ir de tapas / tapear

If anyone suggests the above – they mean to do a bit of bar-hopping and go to different places to have a drink and the accompanying bar snack. If you want something a little more substantial, you can order raciones (a bigger plate of something that isn’t free) that you can all share. You order a media ración (half ration) as well. This could be cheese (queso manchego), ham (jamón serrano), or some fish dishes like  chopitos (tiny fried cuttlefish), bienmesabe/cazón (dogfish), calamares (squid rings), pulpo (octopus), sepia (cuttlefish), gambas (prawns), ensaladilla rusa (vegetables in cubes in mayonnaise sauce), torreznos (pork scratchings/rind) or tortilla española (Spanish omelette, made with eggs, potatoes and onion), bravas (so called because the roasted potato cubes come with a sauce of spicy tomato), croquetas (croquettes made of béchamel sauce with ham, mushroom etc. and covered in breadcrumbs. 

“Vamos a compartir todo.”  (We’re going to share it all.)

“Un poco más de pan, por favor.”     (A bit more bread please)

NB: IN the north of Spain, in the Basque country, the bars are famous for their tapas but there they call them pinxtos. They are usually of very good quality but you have to pay for them – often around 1 or 2€ each. With a few of these you will have eaten enough for a full meal!

Desayunar fuera

The Spanish are not generally fond of big breakfasts at home, many prefer to have a quick coffee at home before leaving and then around 11am, they’ll go out to a bar and have another coffee and a tostada, croisan o pincho de tortilla, probably with workmates. It is also a great way to check whether you’ve done your homework correctly with your Hablamos classmates 🙂

It’s a sociable time to have a break and bite to eat. This will see them through until lunchtime, normally around 2.30pm.

Comer un menú del día

The Spanish tend to eat their main meal of the day at lunchtime, a tradition which comes from when everything used to close down at lunchtime between 2 and 5pm and people used to sleep a siesta at home. Those times have now virtually disappeared but the tradition remains to eat a more substantial meal in the middle of the day. If you are working, many people will go for a menu of the day at a local bar or restaurant. They are very good value for money (around 12€) and will include un primer plato (first course), un plato principal (main course), postre (dessert) o café (coffee or tea) y una bebida (a drink) of water, wine, beer or fizzy drink. For one person, it really isn’t worth shopping for and cooking all that for that price, is it? ha ha! The menú del día is normally served from Monday to Friday between 1:30-3:30pm.

Typical first courses:  

Ensalada, sopa, pasta, pescado frito (fried fish), verduras (vegetables).

Main courses:

Cocido madrileño, a local dish of a first course of soup (sopa) with pasta, followed by a main course of chickpeas (garbanzos), potatoes, meat, carrots and cabbage (repollo). Very tasty! ¡Riquísimo!

Guisos (stews), pescado (fish), filete (steak)

Salir a cenar

A typical pastime on Spain is to go out for dinner, usually at the weekend. This can take the form of anything from a light meal of raciones or a more elegant meal and is usually eaten between 8:30-10:30pm.

“Me gustaría reservar una mesa para dos a las 9.”  (I’d like to book a table for two at 9)

“Tengo una reserva para dos personas a las 10.”  (I have a reservation for two at 10pm.)

“¿Nos puede dar una mesa en la terraza?”  (Can we have a table on the terrace?)

Salir de copas

If anyone asks you to do this, you know it will be a late night! The Spanish tend to go out after dinner around 11pm. Copas are normally considered to be spirits like un gin-tonic, un ron con coca-cola, etc. and often taken in a pub (they pronounce it paf!) or a bar or in a club. It is quite normal to either pay an entrance fee to a club but this will often include a drink (una consumición).

So, now you know how to eat and drink and order the typical things in Madrid – take advantage and go and try out your new knowledge! All this talk is making me feel hungry – I might just pop out now! ha ha! 

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Madrid and Literature!

Madrid and Literature!

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I don’t know about you, but when I travel there is nothing I like better than losing myself in a book set in the place I am currently getting lost in! Right?  ☺ There is something magical about actually being in the place you are reading about. It takes the experience and immersion to a whole other level. So, while you are studying English with Hablamos, why don’t you pick up one of these great books set in or around Madrid to immerse yourself in the city and its history?

Here are some of suggestions for books to read. They are written in English (because a long book all in Spanish may be a little daunting in the early stages of your Spanish studies!), but they are full of Spanish expressions which help you  both learn the language and also get to know the culture of Madrid.

Winter in Madrid by C. J. Sansom

If you are a fan of historical fiction like me, you could do a lot worse than pick up this gem. Sansom is perhaps more famous for his depictions of Tudor England but in this novel he crafts a truly gripping and emotional experience set in Madrid. Unlike most of his other books, Winter in Madrid is set in a post-civil war Spain suffering from the aftermath of years of brutal conflict. Sansom has an amazing ability to create characters and stories that are fictional but expertly woven into real-world events of the time. The story is about an English spy during the Spanish civil war and his exploits in Madrid after the war ends. Sansom masterfully describes worlds that are so vivid and real that you can almost smell what he is describing. It is a must-read for history lovers and for people who want to learn more about Spain’s tragic past.

Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett

Though not strictly confined to Madrid, Ghosts of Spain is an excellent book for those hoping to gain an insight into what makes Spain tick and what makes Spaniards so…..Spanish, ha ha!  Giles Tremlett is the Spanish  correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian and has spent more than 30 years living in Spain, including being married to a Spaniard and raising a family here. This means that he is perfectly placed to shine a light on Spain as someone who knows it intimately but also is able to remain neutral and objective about its history and indeed present. Ghosts of Spain is well worth a look for those of you who want to know why Spain is the way it is – warts and all! It is funny in moments and profound in others and is a great introduction into understanding the geopolitical drama for which Spain is famous.

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

Whether you are staying in Madrid temporarily or for the long haul, Leaving the Atocha station will speak to anyone who has lived abroad and away from the home comforts and things they are used to. 

The novel follows a young poet who has recently been awarded a fellowship in Madrid and explores his experience of the city and its people. With some genuinely funny moments and equally dramatic and literally explosive passages this book is ideal for those who want to read about, and identify with, the very experience they are living themselves.

Errant in Iberia by Ben Curtis

Our next book continues along the familiar theme of the expat living abroad in Spain and the trials and tribulations that accompany it. It is a biographical tale of a young man who moves to Madrid (in particular Lavapies one of Madrid’s most vibrant neighbourhoods, where he must navigate love, family, vecinos and whatever else Spain throws at him. It is a great pick up for anyone wanting to read about expat life in this wonderful city. 

House of the Deaf by Lamar Herrin

While we all like a smile and laugh when thumbing through our current best seller, sometimes we want to have something deeper and altogether more poignant. If that is your case House of the Deaf is for anyone who wants a darker look at Spanish culture. Set in the aftermath of an ETA (Spanish separatist movement) bombing in which a father must come to terms with the death of his child and his search for answers lead him to some very dark places and asks some big questions of the underlying tensions in Spanish society both then and now. 

So, Happy Reading! ☺

I am sure that there are many other great options that have not been included here, so why not ask your classmates or teacher in Hablamos for their recommendations and find out what some of their favourite books are to learn a little more about this great city you’ve decide to call home for a while.  

Useful Vocabulary:

La lectura (reading)
Comprensión de lectura (reading comprehension)
Un libro que no se puede dejar (a book you can’t put down)
El autor / autora / escritor (author / writer)
Publicado por (published by)
Un libro de tapa dura / blanda (a hardback / softback book)
Se lleva a cabo / Tiene lugar en .. (it takes place in…)
Tiene un estilo informal (an informal style)
El libro tiene muy buena crítica (the book has very good reviews)
¿Me puedes recomendar algún libro sobre..? (could you recommend me a book about ..)
Te lo recomiendo (I can recommend it)
Tengo que acabarlo, no puedo parar ahora (I have to finish it, I can’t stop now)
Se trata de / habla de .. (it’s about ..)
Un ratón de biblioteca (a bookworm)

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Nightlife in Madrid

Nightlife in Madrid

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It’s certainly true that the madrileños (people from Madrid) love a good night out. According to official statistics, there are almost 18000 bars, restaurants and clubs in the city! When you’re learning Spanish, one of the best ways to improve is to get out and about and interact with the locals, so we thought we’d run through where to go and what to in la capital española (the Spanish capital).

When to go out in Madrid

This is muy importante (very important) as Spanish timetables can differ hugely from other countries. Most Spaniards don’t usually eat dinner before at least 9pm so make sure you reservar una mesa (book a table) at this time or after to get a more authentic experience. If you go any earlier, you’ll probably find most restaurants are full of tourists and you won’t get a lot of chance to practise speaking Spanish to anyone!

After you’ve finished your cena (dinner), it’ll probably be around 10 or 1030pm. Now you might be thinking it’s time to salir de fiesta (go partying) – but you’d be very wrong! This is when the gatos y gatas (cats – a nickname for madrileños) will find a table in a bar to have some cañas (small beers), dobles (large beers) or some vino (wine). Don’t bother going to any clubs yet as they’ll be almost entirely empty.

Once the clock strikes medianoche (midnight) then you’re ready to go to one of the huge number of clubs all over Madrid. These almost invariably remain open until 6am – so make sure you wear zapatos cómodos (comfy shoes)!

Where to party in Madrid

But ¿dónde están los mejores bares y clubs? (where are the best bars and clubs?). There are several areas of the city which are focos (hotspots) for Madrid nightlife. Let’s look at a few of them.


This central barrio (neighbourhood) has always been de moda (trendy). Just behind the famous Gran Vía in the city centre, it is filled with hip bars and clubs for you to enjoy a copa (spirit and mixer) or bailar toda la noche (dance all night). Some of the establishments in this area have been around for deacdes and were famous during la movida madrileña – a period in the 80s of huge cultural change. Any self-respecting Spanish student should go and pasar el rato (hang out) in any of the bars in this area to get in some practice listening to Spanish and you’ll probably make a friend or two while you’re at it!


A little to the south of the central Puerta del Sol, this part of Madrid has a great mix of new and traditional bars, restaurants and clubs. Certain streets can be a little bit touristy, but given that you’ll be here to learn Spanish you’ll quickly be able to identify the sitios para turistas (tourist traps) – and anyway, you can speak to the locals when you’re studying Spanish at Hablamos and get some tips off them too. The streets around Plaza de Santa Ana are particularly full of great places to try.

La Latina

This is, by far, one of our zonas favoritas (favourite areas) because of the sheer quantity of places to eat, drink and party. The most famous street in this area just a short walk from Plaza Mayor is the Calle de la Cava Baja. In just 300 metres, there’s a total of 53 locales (bars/restaurants/clubs)! On weekends, La Latina is lleno de madrileños (full of Madrid residents) who want to party all night so check it out!


These areas are just south of Sol and Huertas and contain some of los clubs más grandes (the biggest clubs) in the city. Lavapiés is also home to a huge number of bars and restaurants in its own right in which you can taste both sabores auténticos (authentic flavours) from Spain, but also it’s famous for the huge range of international cuisine on offer. You can easily walk from one neighbourhood to the other, so you can start in the heart of Lavapiés and then visit one of the megaclubs on the border between one area and the other.

Clearly our short guide is just to get you started thinking about your aventura española (Spanish adventure) that you’ll embark upon if you come and join one of our range of Spanish courses here at Hablamos. We’ll help you con cada paso (every step of the way) and make your you get to enjoy Madrid’s nighttime culture to its fullest.

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Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns – What’s the score?

Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns – What’s the score?

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Direct objects, indirect objects, pronouns – there’s a lot of terminology in the title today but it’s a certainty that you’ll have always used these grammatical items in your own language and it’s essential when learning Spanish to understand how they work. Why you might ask? Well, if you don’t want to sound like a loro (parrot), you need pronouns to replace nouns when speaking and writing to avoid repetition. Let’s have a look at what these terms mean and when, and how, to use them.

Direct object pronouns

These pronouns replace the direct object in a sentence. The direct object is the receiver of the action of the verb. For example, 

  • Leo el libro cada mañana > Lo leo cada mañana
  • I read the book every morning > I read it every morning

In the above case, el libro is the direct object because that is the thing I’m reading. See what we mean? We’ve then replaced el libro with lo which is the direct object pronoun equivalent of it in Spanish. Here are all the other direct object pronouns:

Personal Pronoun Direct Object Pronoun English
Yo (I) Me Me
(You informal) Te You
Él/Ella/Usted (You formal) Lo/La Him/Her/It/You
Nosotros (We) Nos Us
Vosotros (You informal group) Os You
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes (Them/You formal group) Los/Las Them/You

OK, so now we have a reference point, let’s check out some ejemplos (examples) of how to use all of these.

  • He hit me > Me golpeó
  • She loves you > Te ama
  • I’m waiting for her > La estoy esperando
  • The teacher helps us with our homework > El profe nos ayuda con los deberes
  • My mum shouted at you all > Mi madre os gritó
  • Juan doesn’t want them > Juan no los quiere

Indirect Object Pronouns

As you can probably guess from the name, these pronouns replace the indirect object in a sentence. Here is an example:

  • Di el bolígrafo a Pablo > Le di el bolígrafo
  • I gave the pen to Pablo > I gave the pen to him

From this we can see that the indirect object is the person or the thing which receives the direct object or the result of the action done to it. So this means it is one more step removed from the verb than the direct object. Now let’s see the indirect object pronouns in Spanish and their English equivalents.

Personal Pronoun Indirect Object Pronoun English
Yo (I) Me Me
(You informal) Te You
Él/Ella/Usted (You formal) Le Him/Her/It/You
Nosotros (We) Nos Us
Vosotros (You informal group) Os You
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes (Them/You formal group) Les Them/You

Do some of those look familiar? That’s because a lot of them are the same as the direct pronouns. Let’s see them being used in some different sentences.

  • Can you give me a pencil? > ¿Me puedes dar un lápiz?
  • Laura washed the car for you > Laura te lavó el coche
  • She always buys him expensive gifts > Siempre le compra regalos caros
  • My friends will bring us some wine > Mis amigos nos traerá vino
  • He gave you some sweets yesterday > Os dio unos chuches ayer
  • We will send them a letter > Les vamos a mandar una carta

So far, so good, right? When learning Spanish you will always need to use both sets of pronouns to make your speaking and writing sound more natural. You’ll also probably need to use both direct and indirect object pronouns together. Let’s look at how this works as there are a few changes to what we’ve seen so far.

Sentences with both Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns

Clearly, there’ll be many occasions where you want to use both types of pronouns together. This is simply a case of following some reglas (rules) and being careful with a couple of cambios (changes) which you need to make.

Firstly, you must always put the indirect object pronoun before the direct object pronoun. This is different to English and so you really need to remember this pattern. For instance,

English word order Spanish word order
We gave it to you Te lo dimos
She bought it for us Nos lo compró
They said it to you Os lo dijeron

Secondly, there’s a bit of a problem with the pronouns le/les and lo/la/los/las being used together. Because it’s a bit of a trabalenguas (tongue twister) to say Le lo dije (I said it to him/her), for example, we always change le/les to se when we are using both direct and indirect object pronouns together. Look at the following table of examples to get a clearer idea of how this rule works.

English word order Spanish word order
I gave it to her Se lo di – NOT Le lo di
She bought them for him Se los compró – NOT Le los compró
They said it to them Se lo dijeron – NOT Les lo dijeron

Thankfully, that’s all the rules you’ll need! It’s simply a case of practice, practice, practice. And where better place to get studying Spanish and having lots of chances to speak and write than by joining us at Hablamos! We have a full range of courses to suit all your needs and you’ll be slipping those pronouns into your speech like a native in no time

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Common mistakes in Spanish

Common mistakes in Spanish

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Everyone makes mistakes, and that’s part of the fun of learning a language too! But why fun? Well, given that the only way to improve in any language is by speaking as much as possible, you’re bound to get things wrong and sometimes these mistakes can give rise to some hilarious situations. Native Spanish speakers will always valorar (appreciate) your efforts to talk to them in their language, and will help you to get better. However, if we can evitar (avoid) some of these typical mistakes, then you’ll be able to make yourself understood much more quickly. 

1. “Estoy embarazada” doesn’t mean “I’m embarrassed

This is a very common error and one that we need to sort out right away! In Spanish, estar embarazada means to be pregnant, so if you’re a woman and say this then you’ll probably get a response of “felicidades” or “enhorabuena” which mean “congratulations”. A man making this mistake will probably get some very confused looks! The right way to say “I’m embarrassed” in Spanish is “Me da vergüenza”. 

2. Lots of phrases that use to be in English use a different verb in Spanish

When you’re trying to learn Spanish, it’s important to remember that you can’t simply traducer (translate) everything word for word from English. This can get you into all sorts of problems, such as the one in our first common mistake! Let’s look at some examples with their correct translations and a literal version in English so you can see the differences.

English Incorrect Spanish Correct Spanish Literal translation
I am 20 Soy 20 (this doesn’t mean anything) Tengo 20 años I have 20 years
I’m too hot! Estoy demasiado caliente (which means ready for some loving!) Tengo demasiado calor I have too much heat
Let’s have a drink Tenemos una bebida (which means we have a drink in our possession) Tomamos algo Let’s take something

There are plenty more of these so try to learn these as expressions so that you can get your message across more clearly.

3. Using the verb “gustar” incorrectly

“Gustar” means “to like” but in Spanish we need to say that something is likeable to you, not that you like it. Normally, an –ar verb in the present is conjugated as verb without ar + o (i.e Hablo – I speak). However, this verb is reflexive and works differently. Let me show you an example:

  • Me gusta la nueva serie I like the new series (The series is likeable to me) – Don’t say Gusto la nueva serie.
  • Me gustan las manzanas – I like apples (Apples are likeable to me) – Don’t say Gusto las manzanas.

Another issue with this verb is when you’re talking about liking people. If you follow the rule above, you’d probably say Me gusta Pablo to mean I like Pablo. This, however, means you find Pablo romantically attractive! Now, that might be the case, but if you mean I like Pablo as he’s a nice person then we have to say Pablo me cae bien. It’s funny that a lot of these mistakes revolve around unintended romantic encounters, right?

4. Some words in English which are plural or countable are not in Spanish, and vice versa

Although we do have other blogposts about the topic of singular and plurals, it’s a good idea to remind you again about some common differences with plurals and countable/uncountable nouns from English to Spanish. Here are just a few examples:

English to wrong Spanish Correct Spanish and literal translation
People are – Las gentes son La gente es – People is
The news is depressing – Las noticias es deprimente Las noticias son deprimentes – The news are depressing
A piece of furniture – Una pieza de mueble Un mueble – a furniture
Some advice – Algunos consejo Un consejo – an advice

See what we mean? When listening to and reading Spanish, try to apuntar (make a note) of examples like these so you can avoid them when speaking and writing.

5. Articles a/the are used differently in Spanish

This is a big area, and one which you’ll need time to get used to. In Spanish, it’s much more common to use the articles for the, and sometimes they don’t use a/an where you would in English. Again, it’s probably easier just to show you a few times when this is the case.

English Spanish
I’m a teacher Soy un profesor
Marta loves chocolate A Marta le encanta el chocolate
They climbed Mount Everest Escalaron el Monte Everest OR el Everest
Cats are more intelligent than dogs Los gatos son más intelligentes que los perros

Hopefully, now you’re more consciente (aware) of these typical errors, you’ll be better able to correct yourself when speaking Spanish. Having said that, even if you do say something wrongly, it’s simply a chance to be corrected and learn the right way to say things. You should never tener miedo (be afraid) of mistakes!

Here at Hablamos, we’re waiting to help you lose your fear of speaking and correct your mistakes so you can feel more confident when out and about in the Spanish-speaking world. Hablamos - full-on Spanish!

Using “gustar” and other similar structures

Using Gustar and other similar structures

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If someone said to you “Chocolate is pleasing to me” you might be forgiven for thinking they’d just stepped off the set of a period drama! However, when speaking Spanish that’s exactly what you need to say when you want to express that you like chocolate. We would say me gusta el chocolate using the verb gustar which literally means to be pleasing to.

Firstly, let’s look at some basic patterns. When we are talking about singular nouns, we’d use me gusta for I like and with plural nouns we need to say me gustan to mean the same thing. This is because gustar has to agree with the sustantivo (noun) we are talking about. Look at the following table to see how this works in practice and with people other than “I”.

Singular English Plural English
Me gusta el chocolate I like chocolate Me gustan los perros I like dogs
Te gusta el chocolate You (informal) like chocolate Te gustan los perros You (informal) like dogs
Le gusta el chocolate He/She/You (formal) like(s) chocolate Le gustan los perros He/She/You (formal) like(s) dogs
Nos gusta el chocolate We like chocolate Nos gustan los perros We like dogs
Nos gusta el chocolate We like chocolate Nos gustan los perros We like dogs
Os gusta el chocolate You (plural) like chocolate Os gustan los perros You (plural) like dogs
Les gusta el chocolate You (formal plural)/They like chocolate Les gustan los perros You (formal plural)/They like dogs

Can you spot the pattern? You simply add an “n” to gusta when we are talking about plural nouns, and the person changes using the indirect object pronouns in the table. The translations we’ve given in English are the meaning of the Spanish phrases, but not a literal translation.

However, if you’ve already started learning Spanish, or you’ve read some of our other grammar blogs, you might be wondering why the verb gustar doesn’t change its ending depending on the person who you’re talking about. That’s because, as mentioned before, the subject of the verb is the thing which is liked and not the person saying the phrase. 

How can we say “I like you”

So far, we’ve just seen how to use gustar to talk about liking objects or things like animals. But how can we say “I like you” for example? Here’s where we need to tener cuidado (be careful) as you could end up saying you fancy someone, rather than liking them as a friend! For, “I like you in a romantic way” you’d follow the normal verb patterns and say Me gustas (You are pleasing to me). To say “I like you in a platonic way” you need to use the verb caer bien and say Me caes bien (You sit well with me). This verb caer bien/mal also works in a similar way to gustar and you can follow the same rules as in the table above to use it to talk about liking people (or not!) as friends. Here are a couple of examples:

  • A José le cae bien Roberto – José likes Roberto
  • A mí me caen bien mis suegros – I like my mother- and father-in-law
  • Nos cae mal el nuevo compañero de piso – We don’t like our new flatmate
  • Les cae mal el jefe – They don’t like their boss

Easy! Now you’ve learnt how to use both gustar and caer bien/mal to be able to talk about liking people and things. This same structure is also used with a range of other verbs in Spanish. Let’s take a look at some.

Other verbs, same structure

Verb Example English
Aburrir (to bore) Nos aburre el profesor We find the teacher boring
Doler (to hurt) Me duelen los pies My feet hurt
Encantar (to love) A Juana le encanta esquiar Juana loves skiing
Fascinar (to fascinate) Os fascinan las películas de terror You’re fascinated by horror films/You love horror films
Interesar (to interest) A los niños no les interesa ir a museos The children aren’t interested in going to museums
Preocupar (to worry) Les preocupa la salud de su madre They are worried about their mum’s health

In order to get better at using this sort of verb structure, you need to be speaking Spanish as much as possible so in the end you’ll naturally use these different types of verbs. By practising your Spanish with native speakers, you’ll get plenty of chances to be corrected and listen to more examples of accurate usage of this grammar point. As with everything when learning Spanish, you need to be exposed to as much of the language as possible.

Why not come and join one of our online or face-to-face Spanish courses so you can learn how to use the verb “gustar” more accurately and with greater confidence?

You’ll soon be chatting away talking about your likes and dislikes in no time!
Hablamos - full-on Spanish!

Driving in Madrid

Driving in Madrid

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Many people believe that how somebody drives not only tells us a lot about them, but also about the culture they come from: “Show me how you drive and I’ll tell you who you are.” Now I don’t know how true that is because I know people who are sweet and mild mannered only to transform into a rage-filled, profanity spluttering demons the moment someone overtakes them on the road. Ha ha!

However, there is some truth to the stereotypes of driving in different countries and Spain and Madrid is no exception. So, what is it like driving round the Spanish capital? Penned in on all sides by commuters and tourists vying for a spot on the road and making quite a racket whilst doing it, Madrid is a definite driving experience, to say the least. 

But what sets a Spanish driver apart from other nationalities?

What makes them tick? And how can you blend seamlessly into their busy roads without receiving a barrage of swearwords and curses and looking like a guiri (foreigner)? Contrary to what you might hear from certain tourists and expats, the Spanish are, in fact, not the worst drivers in Europe and actually far from it (this writer would personally like to give that award to the Italians ☺). But,  in my experience what really defines a Spanish driver is the noise they make! 

Spanish roads are a cacophony of horns, shouts, bangs and crashes. In fact, a recent European union survey of bad driving habits in Europe stated that 60% of Spaniards use their horn every day in the car compared to just 5% of British drivers. Now as a conservative and polite driver, you may well be wondering “what on earth could they be using the horn for so often?” Well the short answer is ……everything. The Spanish will use the horn to tell other drivers that the light has changed and they have taken 3 seconds longer than they should before moving. It can be used as a warning, as a greeting, as a friendly reminder that you left your lights on. The point is, if you are going to be driving in Spain and Madrid you need to become accustomed to that sound above all else. In the UK for example the horn is a seldom heard sound that is usually used in extreme circumstances, which can in turn lead to a sensation of PTSD when driving in Spain.

While manners don’t necessarily make someone a good driver, it is fair to say that good manners make driving a more pleasant experience. Manners in Madrid however, are not very easily found. If you are used to a kind wave of thanks or a flash of lights when you let someone merge or join your lane in traffic, you may find it sorely missing here. Likewise, a pedestrian won’t give you a second glance after you let them cross the street. On the contrary, be ready for someone to double park in front of your car and then abandon their own vehicle for as long as it takes them to buy something or run their errand. The flip side of this is that if they block in another Spaniard, that person won’t hesitate to return to their old friend the horn and blast it repeatedly for as long as it takes for the other person to come and move their car (often without embarrassment or shame). No matter what is around them a hospital, a school or sleeping children, the noise will carry on at all times of day until they are freed from their parking prison. 

Other differences about driving in Spain

Another big difference between Spain and many other countries is how Spanish drivers park their cars. In the UK, it is drilled into you by your driving instructor that to touch another car is the ultimate sin and of course will result in immediate failure in your test. This means that the art of parking is honed to the point where you can do it blindfolded and still leave a respectable amount of space for other drivers to easily manoeuvre out. The Spanish, on the other hand, appear to have no such care for the cars of others. In fact, they have perfected an art of parking that they call “parking with kisses” where they wantonly hit the bumper of the cars in front and behind to help them navigate the parking process. If someone has parked too close, which they always do, no problem! Just reverse into the car and gently hit their bumper and then pull away, guilt free.

 I have to admit that I always disliked the British worship of their cars. It is an odd thing to love and give so much reverence to. The Spanish on the other hand will happily sit on other peoples bonnets, drink a beer, have a smoke, and catch up with old friends. 

Driving in the city itself shows Madrid to be a network of one way streets and narrow old roads mixed elegantly with sprawling 6 lane rotondas (roundabouts) and like most capitals the residents dart in and out of lane incredibly close and with very little indication. Also, with the new Madrid Central restrictions, you can easily be fined for driving in a restricted area without even being aware of it! So, perhaps on reflection, we would recommend leaving your car in your overpriced rented garage spot and just walking or taking the very good and economical public Madrid transport when you come to your Spanish class at Hablamos Spanish School. 

Useful Driving Vocabulary

En la calle:

Rotonda/Glorieta – roundabout
Carril – traffic lane
Semáforos – traffic lights
Paso de cebra – zebra crossing
Parquímetro – parking meter
Línea continua – solid line
Peatón – pedestrian

Partes del coche:

Intermitente – indicator
Claxon – horn
Volante – steering wheel
Freno – brake
Espejo – mirror
Marchas – gears
Maletero – boot /trunk
Motor – engine
Cinturón de seguridad – seat belt
Parabrisas – windscreen

Tener carnet de conducir – have a driving licence
Aprobar el examen de conducir – pass your driving test
Clase de conducir – driving lessons

Hablamos - full-on Spanish! ☺

Tener or Haber – Which one should you use?

Tener or Haber – Which one should you use?

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Once you start learning Spanish, you’ll soon come across both of these important verbs – tener and haber. Both of them, more or less, equate to the verb to have in English, but they aren’t interchangeable and have different uses. Let’s dive in and have a look at why and when we need to use these two words.

What’s the difference?

So, the answer to this question is fairly simple but you might need some examples to fully pillarlo (get it). In simple terms, tener is the verb to have when used as the main verb in a sentence and means possession or owning. On the other hand, haber is an auxiliary verb which we have to use when forming various verb tenses in Spanish. Have a look at these sentences to see if you can spot the difference.

Haber Tener
He comido una manzana esta mañana – I have eaten an apple this morning Tengo dos perros y un gato – I have two dogs and a cat
Habían practicado mucho para presentar una obra perfecta – They had practised a lot to be able to put on a great show Me dijeron que tienen mucho trabajo que hacer estos días – They told me they have a lot of work to do at the moment

In the table above you have an example of haber in the present perfect and the past perfect where it simply acts as the auxiliary for the main verb. The two examples of tener show you that the animals and the work are owned/possessed by someone.

Other uses of tener

Apart from the basics we’ve spoken about already, there are specific things which we need to use tener for in Spanish.

  • To talk about someone’s age
    • Tengo 16 años – I am 16
  • To express “have to + verb” as in obligation
    • Tenemos que estudiar para el examen – We have to study for the exam
    • Tiene que ser más comprensivo – He has to be more understanding
    • Tienen que limpiar la casa – They have to clean the house
  • To talk about emotions, feelings and certain states
    • Tenemos demasiado frío – We are too cold
    • Tenías razón – You were right
    • ¿Tenéis sed?Are you thirsty?
    • Tenía sueño – He was tired
  • In some idiomatic expressions
    • Tener lugar – To take place
    • Tener ganas de – To want to do something
    • Tener cariño – To be fond of
    • Tener cuidado – To be careful

As you can see in the English translations, a lot of these phrases are expressed with the verb to be in English. This is often confusing for learners of Spanish so try to start learning expressions rather than translating everything word-for-word.

Other uses of haber

Just like with our other verb, haber has a particular set of uses which we’ll look at below.

  • To translate the structure “there is/are”
    • Hay tres personas en la sala – There are three people in the room
    • Había unos soldados en la calle – There were some soldiers in the Street
    • No hay tiempo para ir al parque – There’s no time to go to the park
    • ¿Hay algún museo por aquí? – Is there a museum around here?
  • To talk about things you need to do with “haber + que + verb”
    • Hay que comprar papel higiénico – It’s necessary to buy toilet paper/We need to buy toilet paper
    • Mañana hay que terminar el proyecto – It’s necessary to finish the project tomorrow/We need to finish the project tomorrow
  • To talk about events which occurred in the past or future
    • Hubo un accidente en la autopista – There was an accident on the motorway
    • Va a haber un festival en el pueblo el fin de semana que viene – There’s going to be a festival in the town next weekend

Hopefully this quick guide to tener and haber will help you when speaking Spanish to be able to select the right verb to use. A good way to learn the differences is to read and listen to as much Spanish as possible so you see lots of ejemplos (examples).

Your profe (teacher) here at Hablamos will help you better understand all of the points above and you’ll be able to practise with people from all around the world. Hablamos - full-on Spanish!

How to order a coffee in Madrid

How to order a coffee in Spanish

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I don’t know about you, but when I think of having a drink in Spain, I think about a nice refreshing caña (small beer) or an even more refreshing doble (bigger beer) and of course the copious amounts of excellent cheap wine which flows like water. At a stretch, I would also say I think of large copas (spirit mixers) and chupitos (shots). 

However, it is fair to say I do not associate Spain with warm beverages. Far from it!. But how wrong I was! For you see café (coffee) in Spain is just as important as any of the drinks mentioned above. So I thought to myself, maybe our students studying Spanish here at Hablamos Spanish Schools in Madrid need an inside look at the right mezcla (blend) of language to help navigate the varieties of coffee on offer in the cafeterías (cafes) and bars. 

So, let’s start with the basics, the most common coffee that you can pick up in Spain and the one that most locals drink. It was uniquely described by the former mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella, in Madrid’s Olympic bid as “a relaxing cup of café con leche (coffee with milk)” Café con leche is a staple of Spain life and by far the most popular choice all over the country. It is as simple as it sounds but you will be asked how you want your leche (milk), caliente (hot) or templada (warm). What you will get is a no-nonsense shot of espresso with some milk no foam, no chocolate on top, just the basics! Even in places like Starbucks where café con leche isn’t on the menu, you can go in and ask for it and everyone knows what it is. 

Cómo pedir un café

There are of course some variations on the basic café con leche. You are also able to order a café cortado (literally a cut coffee) which is the same but with far less milk. Think of an espresso with just a dash of milk. Not to be confused with a manchado (stained) which is milk with just a drop of café.

Of course, if you like a black watery coffee you can just ask for un Americano. It is typically a weaker option and maybe good if you are concerned about being up toda la noche (all night). Generally in Madrid, you can pick up other typical favourites like a Cappuccino or Latte with varying levels of quality. 

Another variation could be a descafeinado – a decaf. And this could also bring a question from the waiter (camarero)  of: “¿De máquina o de sobre?, meaning, a packet of Nescafé or coffee from the coffee pot. 

They may also ask how you would like your coffee to be served: ¿en vaso o taza? and what size: ¿en taza grande de desayuno o mediano? (in a biger breakfast style cup or a medium one). 

If you are feeling more adventurous and want something to cool off on a hot summer’s day, why not try ordering a typical Spanish café con hielo (coffee with ice), which is exactly as it is described. Usually, a double espresso is poured over ice to give your caffeine hit a cooler more refreshing appeal. You can even ask for a little milk in this too.

Finally, if you are looking for something a little stronger that might counteract the caffeine you could always try a carajillo (coffee with a shot of liquor). Depending on where you are, the type of liquor could vary. However, here in Spain, the typical thing to have with your coffee is brandy. That being said, you can also ask for a café irlandés (a coffee with whisky).

Much more than coffee

Coffee is ubiquitous in Spain – everybody drinks it, much more than the typical British tea. Spaniards don’t usually drink té negro as they call British tea. They may have una infusión – a herbal tea like camomila o menta poleo (mint tea) if they want a weaker drink or they have a bad stomach but their go-to drink is, without doubt, café. 

And the good thing about it is that it’s really a cheap option to order. An average café would cost you about 1,50 – 2€ and you can usually get a breakfast deal of café con leche con croisán o tostada for about 2,50/3€.  ¡Ganga! (bargain) as they say!

When you buy coffee at a supermarket, you will be faced with two choices – mezcla or natural. Mezcla coffee is quite popular in Spain, heaven knows why as I find it quite bitter and a poorer quality but there’s no accounting for taste! (Or as the Spanish say: Para gustos, colores.)  It is a mix of coffee and torrefacto (a method of roasting the coffee previously with added sugar, which makes it cheaper) The tradition of drinking this type of coffee began in the past when the typical Spaniard had less money and then they simply seemed to have acquired a taste for it. 

So whether you are here for a short course in Spanish or just on your holidays, asking for a coffee is essential and knowing what you want even more so. You may get a little overwhelmed with all the choices available, so read this carefully first and hopefully it will help you at the moment of ordering! Next time you are out with friends or your Hablamos classmates, why not try ordering something from here and be a little more Spanish with your order. ☺

Hablamos - full-on Spanish!