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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Spanish Resources On The Web + Typing Spanish -- Bonus

I took a free Spanish class offered at my daughters’ school recently. To supplement what I was learning in the class, I did some research on learning Spanish over the web. My research lead me to several Spanish-related websites and some were better than others at teaching beginners basic Spanish. I put together this review of Spanish-teaching websites and distributed it to other students attending my class. I have decided to post it online so that others can benefit too.


Study Spanish

Need to register at least for a free membership. Free membership provides access to only some of the resources on the site. The free resources include the written lessons, one test and one quiz on each lesson and an oral test. Paid membership unlocks more resources such as a podcast of each lesson, more tests and quizzes, one more oral test and a final test for each lesson. Paid members also get more vocabulary words, but this is not a big advantage since there are lots of Spanish vocabulary websites that have free word lists. The value of this site is in the detailed lessons on Spanish grammar. Seems to be the most complete and full-featured Spanish teaching website around. This site has extensive pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, verb drill and other sections. There is also a separate travel helper section under “features and resources” with audio.


This website also comes up as Learn Spanish on search engines.


David Reilly Spanish

Very basic set of Spanish lessons including some commonly used phrases and small amount of vocabulary. Not very extensive and of limited value except to students taking their very first steps in Spanish.


Business Spanish

Very good site, but oriented mostly towards traveling for business. This may be an advantage though since most people who need Spanish are going to need it during travel. So, the site has extensive sections on hotel check-in and check-out, customs and immigration, money and money exchange, etc. There are at least 41 chapters on the site, but some of them are to specialized to be of much use to a general Spanish learner (such as a chapter devoted to labor issues, labor unions, etc.). The registration link does not work, so I have no idea what registration buys you. Looks like all the chapters are accessible without registration. The exercises at the bottom of each chapter include grammar and vocabulary. There is also audio on the site, but the audio links are all individual mp3 files, making it a little awkward to use.


Jiffy Spanish

This site has an annoying popup that keeps asking you to sign up for the author’s free Spanish lessons, but you can get access to the resources on the website without registering (go to the bottom of this web page and click on “Spanish Lessons” to get to the Spanish course). The lessons are not as extensive as on studyspanish, but seem to cover most of the basics. There is also some audio on the website. The exercises consist mainly of verb drills, but the site is not interactive – you are given material to drill yourself on and it is up to you whether you want to do it using flashcards or some other means. The site’s navigation is a little awkward and there are lots of links to external commercial sites, so be careful.


Online Spanish Help

Somewhat slow site, but the content is quite good. Part of a group of sites that also teach French and Italian in addition to Spanish. Has sections on vocabulary and grammar, but does not have a well-defined lesson structure. The site expects students to follow links from one topic to another based on interest, but this can be somewhat confusing and disorienting. The sections on flashcards and games are interesting and innovative.


Quizlet

Contains a huge number of electronic flashcard sets that allow you to learn Spanish vocabulary and then test you. The tests take a variety of entertaining forms in addition to the standard flashcard format of showing words in one language and evaluating your response. There are matching games, speed games and various other entertainments. The site does not seem to require any registration, but you can get more functionality (such as creating and/or editing your own flashcards, and creating lists of favorite flashcard sets) if you do register. You can also print flash cards from this site, but the format is a little weird.


Spanish Spanish

This is a very ugly and confusing looking site. However, it has a few useful resources and lots of quizzes, tests, practice sheets, etc. It is very difficult to figure out what is available for free and what requires a membership. In fact, it is not even clear how to sign up for a membership, but the free resources may be worth a few visits to this site.


Pro Profs

Another free site that provides flashcard based learning in a variety of subjects. Not as fancy or extensive (very few sets of flashcards as far as I could tell from a quick browsing of the site) as quizlet.com. You have to register for free to create flashcards and sets. But most of the sets already on the site seem to be accessible for free without registration. Flashcard sets are downloadable, but don’t seem to be formatted for standard index cards.


Flashcard Exchange

This is another site with very extensive collections of flashcards on various subjects. The Spanish section seems to be quite large and you don’t need to register to learn the contents of the flashcards. It is not flashy like quizlet, with flashcards just being shown on screen for you to respond to, but if you learn well from flashcards, this site is not bad. If you do register for a free account, you can create and share flashcards and sets.


Typing Spanish -- Bonus!


How to type accented characters on the computer


This is another important part of learning Spanish in the age of computers. There are special Spanish keyboards available at electronics stores, but if you are a touch-typist, getting used to a new keyboard layout can be tricky and lead to lots of spelling errors. This is the same problem that happens when you change your keyboard layout to a Spanish layout. The confusion is a little higher with this option because the letters that appear on the screen don’t even correspond to the letters printed on the keyboard. What I have explained here is a much simpler way to retain your current keyboard and keyboard layout and still be able to type accented characters on a Windows computer.


The accents on letters are part of the spelling of a word in Spanish (and other languages with accented characters). Omitting them would be considered bad spelling at best and at worst, could change the entire meanings of words and sentences. Here is how to type the accents over letters if you are using a Windows XP computer.


The first step is to get the US - International keyboard as an alternative keyboard on the languages toolbar. These instructions seem long and convoluted, but once you do it, you will see that it is actually quite simple.


  1. Click Start, and then click Control Panel.
  2. Under Pick a category, click Date, Time, Language, and Regional Options (or Under pick a Control Panel icon, click Regional and Language Options).
  3. The Regional and Language Options dialog box appears. On the Languages tab, click Details.
  4. The Text Services and Input Languages dialog box appears. Under Installed services, click Add.
  5. The Add Input language dialog box appears. In the Input language list, click the language that you want. For example, English (United States).
  6. In the Keyboard layout/IME list, click United States-International, and then click OK. NOTE: When you use the United States-International keyboard layout, you should also use an English language setting.
  7. In the Select one of the installed input languages to use when you start your computer list, click Language name - United States-International (where Language name is the language that you selected in step 5), and then click OK.
  8. In the Regional and Language Options dialog box, click OK. Notice that the Language bar appears on the taskbar. When you position the mouse pointer over it, a ToolTip appears that describes the active keyboard layout. For example, United States-International.
  9. Click the Language bar, and then click United States-International on the shortcut menu that appears. The United States-International keyboard layout has been selected.


Once you have chosen the US – International keyboard layout, typing accented characters is easy and straightforward. To type à for instance, type in ` (key left of 1, and above the Tab key) followed by an a. You will notice that the ` character does not appear when you type it in, only as an accent on top of the letter you type in after typing in `. The accent will appear on top of any character you type after the `. Similarly, for á, type in ‘ (single quote) followed by an a (note that ‘ followed by c will give you ç, not c with an acute accent on top of it). For ä, type in “ (double quotes) followed by a. For ã, type in ~ (shift + key left of 1) followed by a. For â, type in ^ (shift + 6) followed by a. To get ‘, “, and other characters by themselves, just type the character followed by a space or punctuation mark (note that the character will not appear until you type the space or punctuation mark in).


The following table shows you the full range of accented characters you can create using the method above.


Press This Key

Then Press This Key

And You Get

‘ (apostrophe/single quote)

a, c, e, i, o, u, y

á, ç, é, í, ó, ú, ý

“ (double quote)

a, e, i, o, u, y

ä, ë, ï, ö, ü, ÿ

` (grave accent, above tab key)

a, e, i, o, u

à, è, ì, ò, ù

~ (tilde, above tab key)

a, n, o

ã, ñ, õ

^ (caret, shift 6)

a, e, i, o, u

â, ê, î, ô, û


You can assign the normal keyboard and the US-International keyboard different shortcuts on your keyboard so that you can switch between them without having to go through the languages toolbar.


There are also some specialized punctuation marks in Spanish, such as ¿ and ¡. To get these, press the right-hand side alt key and / simultaneously, and right-hand side alt key and 1 simultaneously, respectively. Note that this will not work with the left-hand side alt key, only the right-hand side alt key.


To get all the codes and learn about the full possibilities of the US – International keyboard layout, visit the international keyboard codes website. This site is amazing as it teaches you not just to type Spanish letters and punctuation, but also various other symbols including various currency symbols (£, ¥, etc.), ¤, ©, ®, °, §, etc. I will leave it as an exercise to you to visit the site and figure out for yourself how I inserted the symbols in the previous sentence. So, even if you have nothing to do with Spanish the rest of your life, learning about this keyboard layout may help you out with other tasks.


Note that Microsoft Word 2003 (and also 2007) already includes dictionaries and grammar definitions for Spanish. In Word 2003, go to Tools->Set Language to change the dictionary and grammar language so that you can spell-check Spanish documents and get Spanish grammar suggestions. Just like in English documents, Word will underline misspelled words in red and ungrammatical words, phrases or sentences in green. So, you can use Word as a Spanish language teaching aid! The language setting is by document, so changing it for your Spanish work in those documents will not wreak havoc with the rest of your documents that are in English.

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