Posted by: janecronin | March 23, 2020

The life and language of Spain, and more …

Having retired from Spanish language teaching, I have created this blog to pull together many of the articles, books and language tips that I have built up over the years.  I have converted many of my teaching products into eBooks that can be accessed easily and cheaply on my Amazon Author page where you can also find out a bit more about me.

With retirement comes the opportunity to branch out into other areas of interest and I hope to complement this material with more general reflections of interest to me, and hopefully to one or two of you as well.  I am a member of two associations Asociación Cultural Jacarilla 2012 and its section Mujeres por Mujeres and the Adapt Theatre Group.

Some time ago, I produced six videos to help with people with their spoken Spanish, entitled Spanish pronunciation for English speakers and you can watch them these links: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six. and here are two videos to help with the uses of Ser and Estar and Por and Para.

For Spanish speakers learning English I have three videos – Las vocales en inglés, Las consonantes en inglés and Como hacerse entender mejor en inglés.

Apart from language teaching I have indulged in some stand-up comedy and if you’d like to see the results, here they are.  Firstly my stand-up comedy show Not Mentioned in the BrochurePart One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four and my forays into Spanish stand-up in the guise of Juana la Loca.  This video Mi arból ginecológico won first prize in a micro-theatre competition, and here are some others:  Mis Secretos para una vida equilibrada, and Juana performing live in the Jacarilla fiestas 2014 and 2019.

Posted by: janecronin | March 8, 2022

A Different Culture

I think I’ve just sat through one too many conversations containing the comments:

“They’ve got no idea how to go round roundabouts have they?”, “They don’t know how to build a wall in a straight line – just look at the floor tiles!” and “That would never be allowed in England.” It’s not that I disagree with these statements. On the contrary, I not only agree but have complained as bitterly as everyone else when they’ve affected me personally. “It’s all mañana over here”, “Why do they have to make so much noise?” “They’ve no idea about electrics”. Yes, yes and yes, it’s all true, and I have long since given up any attempt to defend or justify the Spanish work ethic, road sense or general way of going about things. I suppose I’ve learned to live with a lot of things, although there are still some aspects of life in Spain that are guaranteed to wind me up, most notably small-minded obstructive receptionists and old ladies that barge me out of their way on the pavement.

But sometimes, like today, I just want to say to the moaners – “Yes, but what about all the good things?” “What good things?” say my hard-bitten companions. “Well, there really are plenty…” and that’s when they glaze over, and I decide to take to my computer at the earliest possible moment and relieve myself by writing some of them down.

So here’s what I think is good about the Spanish. I don’t mean that they have a monopoly on these virtues, nor that there can’t be a negative side to them, nor indeed that every single Spaniard that ever walked the face of the earth possesses these qualities to perfection, but they are my personal observation about the things I like, and admire, about the Spanish way of life.

Firstly, the extended family. For the Spanish the family comes first. In fact a lot of the inadequacies of the Spanish state system exist because of the assumption that people have family members to support them. And they do. Anyone who is hospitalised will be accompanied by members of their family day and night. Young people stay on living at their parents’ home much longer than in Britain, and as there is no unemployment benefit for people who haven’t contributed into the system – who will they be supported by? Their family. The negative side of this is the lack of independence that it generates, but on the other hand granny and granpa have a much better chance of being cared for in the bosom of their own family in Spain than in many other parts of the world.

Virtue number two – the ability to be spontaneous. I think the Brits (and I include myself totally in this) are much too dependent on our diaries. We don’t tend to say – “I’ll give you a ring sometime later this week, and we’ll do something”. We need to arrange when, where, what time and exactly what we’re going to do about three weeks in advance. In this respect we are as different from the Spanish as we could possibly be. They hate being tied down to arrangements. I can’t remember what the Spanish did before they had mobile phones but it must have been very difficult. They will have some vague arrangement to meet someone at a named time like “la hora de vermú” vermouth time just before lunch, or “después de cenar” after supper which could be around about 11 p.m. but it would never be any clearer than that, until within about 30 minutes after the approximate time when final arrangements would be made by mobile phone. I know, to us it sounds horrendous, but there’s something very freeing about it. You don’t have to look at the clock all the time and worry about being on time, if you remember you’ve got something else to do first, well, there’s time to do it and if you turn up earlier or later than your friend it doesn’t matter too much as long as you finally get to see each other and enjoy the moment when it comes.

I think enjoying the moment sums up a lot of the Spanish way of thinking, and can make us look awfully stiff and starchy in comparison. This is really the basic philosophy which underlies all the fiestas. All year round a huge amount of money and preparations go into the enjoyment of a few days of wild and extravagant partying, but those few days are often the most important in a Spaniard’s life. If you live in a big city, going back to the “pueblo”, the village where your family originated from, to celebrate the annual fiesta is priority number one for many people. We can object till we’re blue in the face, but the fact is that if the builder stops building because his village is having a fiesta week, there’s precious little you can do about it, and just maybe, he’s the one who’s got the balance right between work and play and is living a happier life as a result.

The next thing I like about the Spanish seems to be in contrast with the above, and that is a strong sense of balance in many of their daily habits, especially their meals. I’ve always found Spaniards somewhat fixed in their ideas about what you should eat, and when you should eat it. The midday meal, for example is sacred, you are very strange indeed if you don’t sit down to a full and prolonged midday banquet. The Spanish are brought up with these ideas from childhood and on the whole they are much stricter with their children about eating a varied diet in a sensible way. No children’s portions for them, they have to eat up their plate of lentils and sit and listen to the adult conversation without complaint, or there’ll be trouble.

This takes me on to the Spanish attitude towards children. Rarely have I come across a Spaniard who does not genuinely like children, or who at least is not prepared to be kind and patient with any infant they come across in almost any circumstance. This adoration of children tends to over-indulgence, but it is rooted in genuine kindness. The Spanish do not suffer from our paranoia about paedophiles and would never even think of objecting to a man picking up and kissing a little girl, watching children play or helping a child in distress, in other words the kind of innocent behaviour that the vast majority of decent men would do naturally if it wasn’t for the suspicious way such things have come to be regarded in the UK. In this respect, Spanish society still has an innocence which we have lost.

One last virtue – the Spanish speak up for themselves. They know that if they don’t no-one else will speak up for them, so whether they are not satisfied with a meal in a restaurant, think that someone’s pushed in front of them in a queue, or don’t agree with the way a meeting is being conducted, they are far less shy than we are about standing up and jolly well saying so. Maybe over bigger and wider issues they tend to be passive, but in the everyday hussle and bustle of life they’re there making sure their voice is heard and their needs are attended to, and frankly I think we could learn a lot from that too.

So, that’s just of few of the things that I think are good about Spanish society. Every culture has its strong points and its failings, and even these virtues have their negative side, but just think next time you moan and groan about the Spanish way of doing whatever it is, there are a lot of other ways in which they have got things right, and maybe they could even teach us a thing or two, even if it isn’t how to wire a house!

Posted by: janecronin | January 12, 2020

Establishing Al-Andalus from A Portrait of Spain

En 716 Córdoba se estableció como la capital del reinado del hijo de Muza, mientras que la lealtad religiosa se le otorgó al Califato Omeya en Damasco. Los moros se mostraron más tolerantes que los gobernantes visigodos, respetando tanto a los cristianos como a los judíos como “gente del libro”. La expansión de los moros hacia el norte de Europa se detuvo en la batalla de Poitiers en 732 y la famosa Batalla de Covadonga en 722 les impidió llegar a la costa atlántica del norte de España.

In 716 Córdoba was established as the capital under the rule of Muza’s son, whilst religious allegiance was given to the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus.  The Moors proved to be more tolerant than the Visigoth rulers, showing respect for both Christians and Jews and “people of the book”.  The northerly spread of the Moors into northern Europe was stopped at the battle of Poitiers in 732 and the famous Battle of Covadonga in 722 stopped them from reaching the northern Atlantic coast of Spain. 

Posted by: janecronin | January 5, 2020

A bit about the Visigoths from A Portrait of Spain

Los visigodos era un pueblo cristianizado a quien se le permitía establecerse en la península a cambio de ayuda militar contra los otros invasores bárbaros. Al principio, su número era pequeño, pero después de la caída de Roma en 476 dC y la desintegración del Imperio Romano occidental, los visigodos tomaron el control político y militar de la región central de forma gradual. Los visigodos tenían una cultura romanizada que proporcionaba de alguna manera la continuidad social al tiempo que perdían los vínculos comerciales y culturales con el mundo exterior.

The Visigoths were a Christianised people who were allowed to settle in the peninsula in exchange for military help against other barbarian invaders.  At first their numbers were small, but after the fall of Rome in 476 AD and the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire, the Visigoths gradually took political and military control of the central region.  The Visigoths had a Romanised culture and provided a kind of social continuity while losing their trading and cultural links with the outside world.


Posted by: janecronin | December 29, 2019

More about the Romans from A Portrait of Spain

Los romanos construyeron ciudades de piedra y cemento con caminos rectos que cruzaron el territorio. Cada ciudad tenía una gran zona pública llamada el foro, así como un anfiteatro donde peleaban los gladiadores, un teatro y un circo para carreras de cuadrigas. También había templos dedicados a numerosos dioses y diosas, arcos triunfales, puentes y acueductos. España hoy está llena de restos arquitectónicos romanos, incluidos los suelos con mosaicos espectaculares.

The Romans built cities made of stone and cement with straight roads crossing the countryside.  Each city had a large open public area called a forum as well as an amphitheatre where gladiators fought, a theatre and a circus for chariot races.  There were also temples to numerous gods and goddesses, triumphal arches, bridges and aqueducts.  Spain today is full of Roman architectural remains including floors with spectacular mosaics. 

Posted by: janecronin | December 22, 2019

Roman presence in Iberia from A Portrait of Spain

Al principio, la presencia romana en Iberia consistía en asentamientos militares que gradualmente se desplazaron hacia el oeste, conquistando a las tribus nativas. El asedio de Numancia, que duró más de ocho meses y terminó con el suicidio colectivo de los numantinos, es un testimonio del coraje y la resistencia de las tribus nativas a la dominación romana.

At first the Roman presence in Iberia was in the form of military outposts which gradually moved westwards, conquering the native tribes.  The siege of Numantia, which lasted over eight months and ended with the mass suicide of the Numantians, is a testimony to the courage and resistance of the native tribes to Roman domination.  

Posted by: janecronin | December 15, 2019

Excerpts from A Portrait of Spain

I am going to start a new series of blogs which take out small excerpts from my eBook “A Portrait of Spain”.  This will consist of a small paragraph of Spanish followed by an English translation.  The hope is that this will be informative, of interest from a language point of view and a taster of the full publication.  So, here’s the first excerpt, I hope you enjoy it –

España está compuesta de diecisiete regiones autónomas, cada una con su propia constitución y acuerdo económico con el gobierno central en Madrid.  Antes de la formación de estas regiones modernas, España estaba dividida en cincuenta provincias, cada una gobernada directamente desde Madrid. Esta organización provincial todavía existe de la manera que algunas regiones constan de 8 o 9 provincias, mientras otras se denominan uniprovinciales, como es el caso de Murcia, Asturias, Cantabria y La Rioja.

Spain is made up of seventeen autonomous regions, each with its own constitution and specific economic relationship with central government in Madrid.  Prior to the establishment of these regions, Spain was divided into fifty provinces, each ruled directly from Madrid.  This provincial organisation still exists, with some regions consisting of 8 or 9 provinces whilst others are referred to as uni-provincial, as is the case of Murcia, Asturias, Cantabria and La Rioja.

Posted by: janecronin | June 16, 2019

Understanding Word Families

This article is the final one of the series “One Verb at a Time” and next week we will be starting on something new.   Consequently, I thought it would be appropriate to summarise some of the things we have learnt in the course of the last two years since the series started.

The aspect that I have found most interesting as I have written these articles, and that I have most wanted to communicate, is the whole subject of “word families”.  These occur in all languages, but I think they are especially noticeable in Spanish where one verb can lead to a huge range of variations, all centred round the same basic meaning.  To give a simple example of what I mean – “cocinar” means “to cook” and from this we can see “cocina” (kitchen) “cocinero/a” (cook – that is the person), “cocinado” (cooked), “precocinado” (precooked).  On the same subject of food, we have “comer” (to eat), “comedor” (dining room), “comida” (meal, lunch, food), “comilón/comilona” (someone who likes eating a lot) and so on.

In some cases, the basic verb itself can be extended to provide us with a new verb, for example “dormir” (to sleep), “dormitar” (to doze); “morir” (to die) “mortificar” (to mortify); “jugar” (to play), “juguetear” (to play around, to toy).  In addition we have prefixes which alter the meaning of the verb.  As in English, the prefix “re-“ means to do something again, so “leer” (to read), “releer” (to reread); “escribir” (to write) “reescribir” (to rewrite).  This “re-“ prefix can sometimes intensify the meaning of a verb, for example “bajar” (to go down) “rebajar” (to reduce); “matar” (to kill) “rematar” (to finish off).  Other prefixes are “con-“(giving the idea of “with” or “joint”) while “des-“ implies the opposite of an original verb, as in “cubrir” (to cover), “descubrir” (to discover or uncover).  One more prefix is “pre-“ which means before, just as it does in English, so while  “ver” is “to see”, “prever” is to “foresee”;  “decir” is to say, so “predecir” is “to predict” (in order words, to say something previous to it happening).  The past participle of a verb can often be turned into an adjective, for example “cansar” (to tire), “cansado” (tired) and from adjectives we can make adverbs – “cansadamente” (tiredly, wearily).

There are multiple examples if these modified meanings, and once you start noticing them, they can open up a whole range of possibilities.  From the point of view of understanding Spanish, once you have identified the root meaning of a word and have some notion of how prefixes and different parts of speech work, you can work out a lot of meanings by guesswork.  Whenever you come across and new word, look at how it is made up and see if you can identify its basic area of meaning.  There are so many more things one could say, but I hope I have at least opened the door to understanding a little bit more about Spanish word families.

Posted by: janecronin | June 9, 2019


“Morir” means “to die” and there is not a great deal more one can say about the meaning.  It is a root-changing verb, so the letter “o” in the root changes to “ue” in certain forms in the present tense.  For obvious reasons, and when used literally, this verb is mostly used on the third person, so “he or she dies” is “muere” and “they die” is “mueren”.  It has a small variation of form in the preterite or past simple tense, also in the third person where the “o” changes to “u” so “he or she died” is “murió” and “they died” is “murieron”.

This verb has a couple more irregularities, firstly the present participle, or gerund, makes the same “o” to “u” change, so that “dying” is “muriendo” and finally the past participle, that is “died” in the context of “has/have died” is “muerto”.  The one phrase that always jumps into my mind regarding this last word is the announcement made on television by the then president of the Spanish government at the death of Franco “Españoles, Franco ha muerto” (Spaniards, or people of Spain, Franco has died).

This past participle is probably very recognisable to you as it has another very common usage, that is as the adjective “dead”.  With this meaning the word is usually accompanied by the verb “estar” “Mi padre está muerto” (My father is dead) and also, being an adjective it’s ending can have four changes to agree with masculine, feminine, singular and plural (muerto, muerta, muertos, muertas).

As in English, we can also use the verb “to die” in a figurative sense, for example “I died of embarrassment” or “I nearly died when he told me that”.  Spanish deals with this by making the verb reflexive “morirse”.  “Morirse de vergüenza” means “to die of embarrassment”  “Cuando vi la foto me morí de vergüenza” (When I saw the photo I died of embarrassment).  Sometimes when someone is laughing a lot they might exclaim “¡Me muero!” (I’m dying!).  Remember in English we talk about “killing ourselves laughing”.  We can also say “nos morimos de hambre” (we’re dying of hunger) or “se muere por ir al concierto” (He’s dying to go to the concert).

Other words that are derivative of “morir” are “moribundo” (moribund, dying or almost dead) and one of the words for mortuary is “mortuorio” although it is more usual in Spain to use the word “morgue” for mortuary and “tanatorio” for what we rather prissily call a “funeral parlour”. It is interesting to note once more that formal vocabulary in English comes from Latin and is therefore more similar to Spanish, whereas “dead” is a straightforward Anglo-Saxon word of Germanic origin.

Finally, on this rather dismal subject, sometimes people want a softer word than “morir” to express their loss, and whilst Spanish is a more direct language in general, there is a synonym “fallecer” which has a slightly gentler sound.  “Mi marido ha fallecido” (My husband has passed away).

Posted by: janecronin | June 2, 2019


The literal meaning of “sonar” is “to sound” although it has quite a few alternative meanings that are expressed differently in English.   First of all we should note that “sonar” is an “o” to ue” root changing verb which means that the present tense conjugation is “sueno, suenas, suena, sonamos, sonáis, suenan”.  In all other tenses – apart from the present subjunctive which also contains the change of root – “sonar” acts like every other regular verb with no peculiarities.

By far the most commonly used form of this verb is the “third-person singular” “suena”.   Apart from “he or she sounds” it also means “it sounds” and is therefore applicable in all sorts of contexts.  For example – “suena el timbre” (the bell rings) “suena la música” (the music plays) “suena la campana” (the bell rings).  In English we have a saying which is “it rings a bell” when we are trying to recall something at the back of our minds.  In Spanish we say “me suena” which literally means something like “it rings to me”, but is used in exactly the same context as “it rings a bell”.

As you know Spanish is a phonetic language, which means that you can pretty well work out how to spell a word from the way it sounds.  Years ago when I had an English academy in the north of Spain I sometimes had to write down some unfamiliar sounding surnames, particularly as it was quite near the Basque country.  When I asked the question: “¿Cómo se escribe tu apellido?” (How do you spell your surname?) I quite often got the reply “como suena” (as it sounds) which was singularly unhelpful to me at the time!  The only way I could cope with that was to ask them to repeat it slowly and then show them what I’d written to make sure!

We can also say that something sounds good – “suena bien”; sounds bad – “suena mal” or sounds interesting – “suena interesante” in all the same ways as we would use these expressions in English. Another use of “sonar” is the reflexive form in the expression “sonarse la nariz” which means “to blow your nose”.  Given that this is often quite a noisy activity, I think it’s a good way of describing it.

We can form a negative adjective from “sonar” which is “malsonante” (rude, vulgar).  The positive equivalent which is used less commonly is “bien sonado” (good sounding).  There are a number of words that contain the syllable “son” which are to do with sound, such as “consonante” (consonant) and “asonante” (assonant) which is a form of rhyme where the vowels coincide but the consonants do not, such as in “meet” and “keep”.

Finally, I think it is important to point out that “sonar” is not the same verb as “soñar” which means “to dream”.  They are completely different verbs with a completely different spelling, since the letter “ñ” is not the same as the letter “n”, a fact which people are inclined to forget!

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