SFN Session 2


Last time we went through utility phrases. These are phrases I will be using when I come across words I don’t know in Spanish. I would be saying them in English anyway, so I figured it would be best to learn these words first.

Say this when you don’t know what something means. ¿Qué significa eso?
Say this when you are curious about a specific word. ¿Qué es esta palabra?
Say this when you want to know how something is said. ¿Cómo se dice?
Say this when you are stumped. No sé.
Say this when you used to know something but you can’t seem to recall it now. Se me olvidó.
Say this when more research is involved to learn a word. La tendré que buscar.

But as I wrote in my last post, I won’t be using the situations like this because it made things more disconnected for me. Instead, I’ll just be using the direct translations for these utility phrases.

What does this mean? ¿Qué significa eso?
What is this word? ¿Qué es esta palabra?
How do you say _______ ? ¿Cómo se dice?
I don’t know. No .
I forgot. Se me olvidó.
I need to look it up. La tendré que buscar.

Interaction Patterns

This will be the first time documenting the interaction pattern creation. I follow the 6 steps to pattern creation:

Step 1 – Find a Phrase

Prefiero comer pollo. I prefer to eat chicken.

Step 2 – Examine the phrase.

Prefiero – I prefer

comer – to eat

pollo – chicken

Step 3 – Choose a pattern type

There are many different pattern types you can use. Here are the top 5 I will mostly be using:

  • Substitution pattern
  • Question/Answer pattern
  • Transformation pattern
  • Combination pattern
  • Translation pattern

For this phrase, I will use a substitution pattern, substituting other food types for ‘chicken.’

Step 4 – Create Variations

Here I will use multiple variations of the same phrase. A variation is a slight change to the phrase that still leaves the main purpose of the phrase in tact. Substituting other food items for ‘chicken’ will give me that slight change I’m looking for.

In order to find food items that are relevant to me, I raided the bowels of my kitchen for more food items! And here’s what I found:

  • Vegetables
  • Bacon
  • Turkey
  • Meat
  • Soup
  • Rice
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Crakers
  • Popcorn

What do I do now? (Remember our utility phrase?)

La tendré que buscar. I need to look it up.

After a Google search, here’s what I found

  • Chicken – pollo
  • Vegetables – vegetales
  • Bacon – tocino
  • Turkey – pavo
  • Meat –  carne
  • Soup – sopa
  • Rice – arroz
  • Tuna – atún
  • Crakers – galletas
  • Popcorn – palomitas

A great website for a Spanish-English translation is called SpanishDict.com. It allows you to look words up in either language, gives you the tranlation, and also provides audio clips of how to pronounce the words. Yay!

After looking up the words, I created flashcards by writing one variation on one side of each card. I now have a complete set of variations for my phrase.

What if I’m Wrong!?

So our current phrase is Prefiero comer pollo (I prefer to eat chicken). However when I was looking up other food items in the online dictionary, I typed “turkey” and the translation was el pavo. Then I typed orange and the tranlsation was la naranja. And I noticed that all the other words as I looked them up included an ‘el’ or ‘la’ before the word.

But wait! Our current phrase does not include the word ‘el’ or ‘la.’ In fact, even when I look up chicken it spits back ‘el pollo.’ How ever do I go forth with my variation creation?? Do I include el/la in my variations? Do I toss them out altogether to match my model phrase? What to do? What to DO! Oh the horror!

If you’re anything like me, your analytical brain can’t take it. It wants to know WHY there isn’t el/la in the initial phrase and WHY it’s in the dictionary and WHY the two don’t match up, and it wants to know NOW!

I think this is because of an underlying fear of being wrong. I want to have all the I’s dotted and all the T’s crossed (You know, as I type the capital forms of those letters, I realize they neither require dots nor crosses) before I proceed any further.

But what I highly recommend for your sanity as a beginner is to stop caring about that so much. You will be wrong and it will be often, especially in the beginning. Who cares? This is the perfect time to be wrong because you’re not actually speaking to anyone yet. This is why we are creating interactions, so you can practice getting familiar with these phrases to gain the confidence you need in order to speak with someone eventually.

So my suggestion is, if you are wrong – only worry about it when you are corrected. What I mean is allow yourself to be wrong for now. If you come across something you’re not sure about, experiment with it anyway. If it says ‘el pavo’ write ‘el pavo.’ If the next phrase you learn just says ‘pavo’ then just write ‘pavo.’ Just go with whatever you come across at the time you come across it.

There are hundreds of thousands of nuances in every language. You won’t get them all right at the very beginning. Don’t waste time worrying about it and paralyzing you from getting started. Practice what you know now. And if what you know now turns out to be wrong, then change it when you find out. You will say things wrong .. and you will be corrected .. and life will go on.

So then … what’s the answer? How do you go forth with creating your variations in the situation you described earlier?

I will tell you. But the answer involves a little grammar.

Grammar Notes and Grammar Fear

Ok. What I’m about to do is going to frighten some of you. I’m going to give you a grammar note. I know you may shudder at the sound of that nasty word. But don’t panic. I will keep it simple and afterwards I will give some thoughts about how to begin to overcome grammarphobia.

First, the grammar note:

In Spanish, the article (the) can be translated two ways el or la. The reason for this is that a Spanish noun can be masculine (el) or femine (la). The article isn’t used in Prefiero comer pollo for the same reason it isn’t used in the English translation I prefer to eat chicken. It’s talking about a general preference. If you were talking about a specific chicken, you could say Prefiero comer el pollo the same way we would say I prefer to eat the chicken.

At this point you may start to feel your stomach knot up, a sense of overwhelm might be setting in, your hands are probably getting clammy, and you might have a strong desire to cry yourself to sleep at night – especially if you are a complete beginner (and very especially if you are complete beginner who is a native English speaker).

Even the mention of the word grammar has people chucking their language learning in the trash. I get it. Trying to explain a grammar rule is like trying to explain a math equation. If you just divide by 6, carry the one, then take the square root of the fourth fraction which you can then multipy by the imaginary number, you get seven. Easy peasy! Yeah .. no.

Even math problems that are ACTUALLY easy I can’t do in my own head, let alone follow someone else’s explanation.

But here’s what we can do. Go back to the fundamentals of language learning: R.U.F.

  • Recognize
  • Understand
  • Familiarize

That’s all you have to do. When you are learning phrases ask yourself, Do I recognize what it looks like and sounds like? Do I understand what it means? Do I have a way of getting used to it?

If the answer to even just the first 2 questions is yes, then you already have what you need to start speaking. You don’t need to know WHY it is the way it is, you just need to know THAT it is.

And remember what you do if you’re wrong about something? Fix it when you find out. So all together it would be: R.U.F.F.

  • Recognize
  • Understand
  • Familiarize
  • Fix

** NOTE: I’m still fleshing this concept out. There is another important element I might later add to this acronym. Either that or just keep the first three. Who knows!

Step 5 – Build an interaction

An interaction has 2 parts:

  1. a prompt
  2. a response

The variations I’ve written on one side of my flashcards here are the target sentences. Those are the phrases I want to get myself to say. So, I can build an interaction by creating a prompt on the other side of the card that propels me to respond a certain way. Substitution patterns are easy, because I just use the substituted word as my prompt and the full sentence as my response:

  1. my prompt = pollo
  2. my response = Prefiero comer pollo.

So now I will write all the substituded words on the other side of the flashcards


I prefer to eat chicken


Prefiero comer tocino.


Prefiero comer galletas.


Prefiero comer atún.


Prefiero comer sopa.


Prefiero comer vegetales.


Prefiero comer arroz.


Prefiero comer pollo.


Prefiero comer palomitas.


Prefiero comer carne.


Prefiero comer pavo.

After I have both the prompt and response written on the flashcards, I am now ready to practice.

Step 6 – Engage the interaction

This is the easiest, yet most important step of the interaction pattern. You have done the grunt work making your cards, and now they are at hand, ready for me to whip them out in a blink of an eye and start engaging them whenever my little heart desires.

But all that hard effort making your cards will go to waste if I don’t engage. This is the part where I familiarize myself with the phrases. I use them. I get used to using them.

What I do is mix the cards up and with the one-word substitution facing me I read the word, speak the response pertaining to that word, then I flip the card over and check my answer. I repeat this for all of the cards.

The nice thing about creating flashcards this way is that you don’t even need to remember the English in order to practice. If you forget what the word means, you can still use the word in the substitution just like you have been using the other words. If you forget a word, you can keep practicing it, then later go back and look at your notebook for the meaning.

These are the 6 steps to pattern creation. I will do the exact same thing for the second phrase

Interaction Patterns – Phrase #2

Step 1 – Find a phrase

Necesito las llaves – I need the keys

Necesito encontrar las llaves – I need to find the keys

Step 2 – Examine the phrase

Necessito – I need

las llaves – the keys

encontrar – to find

Step 3 – Choose a pattern type

Transformation – from I need the keys to I need to find the keys.

Step 4 – Create variations

In order to create variations I need more items (Necesito mas artículos). So I decided to use things around my room that I may need and/or need to find.

  • keys – las llaves
  • wallet – la cartera
  • watch – el reloj
  • bag – la mochila
  • guitar – la guitarra
  • phone charger – el cargador
  • candle – la vela
  • camera – la cámara
  • lamp – el libro
  • coat – el abrigo

**NOTE: As far as pronunciation goes, I’m not spending a lot of time on it. For more information about this go to my first post where I discuss my reasons.

Habitat Language

Again the words I chose above are words from my room. I’m creating variations using my surroundings. This is what I like to call “habitat langauge,” where I’m taking my habitat or my immediate environment and plugging that vocabulary into the Spanish phrases that I’m learning.

Any time I can use my surroundings in what I am learning it will help boost my practice. This is because I can practice phrases as I go about my daily routine. When I get ready for work, I can say I need my keys and I need to find my keys. When I go to the kitchen I can say, I prefer to eat tuna as I’m making myself a tuna sandwich.

Habitat language is vocabulary from wherever you spend most of your time. For each person it will be different. For me, I’m in my house and in my room a lot. So I will use things around my house. But you may spend more of your time at school or work and may want to use things pertaining to those environments instead. I love tuna. If you hate tuna, don’t use tuna in your phrases because you probably don’t have any lying around anyway.

Step 5 – Build an interaction

  1. Prompt – I need the keys.
  2. Response – I need to find the keys.

I need the keys.

I need to find the keys.

Necesito las llaves.

Necesito encontrar las llaves.
Necesito la cartera.

Necesito encontrar la cartera.

Necesito el reloj. Necesito encontrar el reloj.
Necesito la mochila. Necesito encontrar la mochila.
Necesito la guitarra. Necesito encontrar la guitarra.
Necesito el cargador. Necesito encontrar el cargador.
Necesito la vela. Necesito encontrar la vela.
Necesito la cámara. Necesito encontrar la cámara.
Necesito el libro. Necesito encontrar el libro.
Necesito el abrigo. Necesito encontrar el abrigo.

Step 6 – Engage the interaction

If you were paying attention earlier on phrase #1, you know what to do here.

A Note on Reference Material

When you use a dictionary, do a google search, or when you create a notebook with your word lists and translations from your own research, remember that these resources are REFERENCE MATERIAL. Use them for REFERENCE only. Do not try to memorize word lists and conjugation charts! It will just cause headaches, heartaches, and a lot of energy wasted on something that won’t help you very much anyway. I can’t stress this enough.

The way you will remember vocabulary is by using it – so ENGAGE your interactions. If you don’t remember what a word means, go back to your reference material, say ‘Ah HA!’ and get back to your interactions.

All that said I suggest to do 2 or 3 phrases in a single session. You can do as many or as few as you want. But doing 2-3 will help your mind to pick them up, then forget them, then pick them back up again as you move between the phrases. This helps your mind to forget, then remember again, making it stick better.

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