Laughing in Spanish

My name is Muireann, and I am addicted to Buzzfeed.  In case you don’t know what Buzzfeed is, it is a news-pop culture-entertainment-adorable baby animals-sports-music-literature website. It frequently has excellent articles about current affairs (especially during the recent shut down in the U.S.), music and pop culture (I recently read an excellent analysis of Drake’s music career and how different his style of rapping is to more seasoned rappers such as Jay Z and Kanye West, with a focus on the sociological reasons as to why he has been so successful), but most importantly, they have lots and lots of pictures of tiny kittens in teacups and ducks going down waterslides.

Whenever I study using the internet, I have to ban myself from using Facebook, Twitter and Buzzfeed. They are distracting and time consuming when I am supposed to be writing essays or revising themes in French literature, but in addition to this, Buzzfeed frequently makes me laugh until I cry. This is not ideal when I am working in the library, as you can imagine! However, last week I learned that Buzzfeed could actually be beneficial to my education rather than hindering my learning experience.

I study Advanced Spanish, and frequently read many websites in Spanish just to increase my vocabulary and to immerse myself in Spanish for a little while. If I have only a few minutes, it’s easier to read an article in Spanish Vogue online rather than crack open a copy of Don Quijote in the original Castellano. Plus even though Don Quijote might be a classic, the vocabulary I would find in an article about blusher and bronzer is undoubtedly more useful to me at the moment. Last week, I discovered that Buzzfeed is available in Spanish. I was (no joke) overjoyed to see this, and promptly started reading articles about pugs (“26 Disfraces que prueban que los Pugs siempre ganan en Halloween”), Disney princesses (“15 Terribles lecciones de amor que apprendimos de las Princesas de Disney”) and student life (“La Diferencia Entre El Primer Y El Último Año De Universidad”). Buzzfeed in Spanish is as easy and simple to navigate as the other versions of Buzzfeed (it is being launched in Portuguese and French too) and has most of the same articles as in the English-language edition. It’s still as funny, irreverent, as gif-filled and as interesting as the other version. Users can vote on articles being “génial”, “lindo”, and “WTF”, just as they can vote in the English language version on whether articles are “funny”, “cute” and “WTF” (some things don’t change). It’s just as wonderfully time consuming as it is in English and I can’t wait until the French version becomes available!

It makes me very happy to think that now I can procrastinate and study at the same time. 



Grammar and Google

This week I created my profile on Vocabulix, which is a great website helping students to learn English, German and Spanish. It has some really good resources which I have used in the past and will definitely use in the future, such as verb tables and vocabulary drills and self-testing aids. When I am writing an essay or completing homework for a Spanish or German class, I always recheck my work for mistakes. When I need to check my Spanish verbs, Vocabulix has the verb tables laid out for 14 tenses in Spanish. Whatever I need to check, it will almost certainly be there! The obvious problem is that not all verbs are available and there are only three languages on the website. However, there are three language options for the website – Spanish, German and English – which makes it useful for native speakers of all three languages. The website is not brilliantly laid out – it is rather old-fashioned, simple and frill-free. There is a feature in which one can invite friends and communicate one’s progress to others, but I haven’t used it and probably won’t. On the whole, it is a good website and I shall continue to use it.

A Review of A TELL Package – GramEx Français

It was a while before I could get to review GramEx, because it is only available in the languages building. Whenever I tried to use the computer rooms, they were taken by classes. Finally, one morning this week I left my house before 9am and luckily found an empty room.  The amount of trouble it took to actually access this had put me off a little even before I’d started it. 

                However, I found that once I had started GramEx Français (one of my advanced languages) that it was almost worth it.  As it is obvious from the name, the TELL package is specifically aimed towards improving the grammar of languages.  In the labs at U.L., it is available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.  The GramEx Français offers a range of grammar to revise: the pronouns, verbs, indefinite and definite articles, and the passive voice among others.  I didn’t have time to check out all of the different options because it was early morning and I was pressed for time in case a class or a group came into the classroom, so instead I picked three options: les articles, les démonstratifs, and les pronoms relatifs.  The programme starts off by summarising the information which students are about to revise.  Then, the student picks the number of exercises he or she wishes to do.  These exercises take the form of sentences with a blank space, where one of the options (such as qui, qu’ or que) is supposed to go. The student clicks on the correct answer out of these multiple choices.  The answer is corrected (often with a ‘Bravo!’ or ‘Formidable!’ or an explanation of the answer which was selected but happens to be wrong. If the student picks the wrong answer, then there is an opportunity to go back to correct that.  Once the entire selection of exercises is complete, the student must try to complete the ones that he or she made a mistake on earlier. 

There are a lot of really good points to GramEx Français, especially in the pronoms relatifs category. There, students must first test their knowledge of subjects and objects.  I liked the way that I could choose how many exercises I wanted to do, because it suits when one is stuck for time, or perhaps studying for a test and just trying to quickly review grammar.  It’s also easier to click into GramEx than go online and resist the temptation of Twitter and Facebook! However, the sheer hassle that it takes to actually access the TELL programme in the first place is very off-putting. The languages labs are not open late and if a student has class until six or meetings in the evening (as I often do) then it’s not easy to find the time to access them.  During the day, it seems that the labs are occupied just whenever I have an hour to spare! This is not ideal for language learners.  I would recommend GramEx and I’d like to use it again, but it remains to be seen if I’ll get the opportunity!

Learning Without Technology

This week I decided to try what it would be like to learn – or at least to do homework – without the help of the internet.  Usually, if I’m doing some language homework, I open up WordReference or Google Translate as a useful place to look up the odd word or two. This weekend, however, I needed to go to the library to get some work done. I find it hard to concentrate at home and there are more resources in the library, such as bigger dictionaries and grammar books.

I didn’t bring my computer with me in order to avoid procrastination on Twitter or some of my favourite websites (ASOS), so I was left completely with my books. In order to work on my German and Spanish homework, I collected two large dictionaries just in case I needed them and sat near the languages books in the library. It was really helpful to have the dictionaries beside me, and I found that after a few minutes, it was much easier to concentrate than it would be if I were using my computer to look up words.

I had decided to study more grammar once I had finished my homework, so I went to the bookshelves to look for some suitable books there. I used two books, one for each language (Practising Spanish Grammar: A Workbook by Christopher J Pountain, and Essential German Grammar by Guy Stern). It worked well and I got some really good work done. I think it’s a good way to study when I really need to avoid distractions. There are a lot of good languages resources in the library and it is especially helpful for grammar books. However, because there are other people around, and because it is supposed to be a quiet place, it’s not a great place to study a language. When studying a language, one often needs to listen to recordings or practise the pronunciation of words. For this reason, the LRA is better, although it doesn’t stay open as long! :/