Friday, May 3, 2013

Tips for Learning the Spanish Subjunctive Mood

The Spanish subjunctive tense.  Just whispering the words "Spanish subjunctive tense" is enough to make even the most accomplished Spanish students come to tears.

It's not easy.  In fact, I would dare say the subjunctive tense and reflexive verbs are the most troublesome parts of the Spanish language and I don't think many people would disagree.

If you've been studying Spanish for any significant amount of time, I already know what you're thinking..."Great, tell us something we don't know.   What's your point?".

Well, in this post I don't plan on trying to teach you the subjunctive, there are plenty of people who can do a much better job of that than I can.  What I do hope to accomplish is to pass on to you some of the strategies and resources I used to help me win a few battles against the subjunctive.  I'm still trying to win the war, but when it comes to the Spanish subjunctive, I'll take whatever progress I can get.

Enough chit-chat, it's time to get down to business.  Let's start with that advice I mentioned I wanted to share with you.

First things first.  The grammar natzi's will be quick to point out the subjunctive is a mood and not a tense.  Well la di da. Sue me for making such a horrible mistake by saying tense instead of mood.    

Next, If you don't know, the subjunctive mood has a lot of rules.  And I do mean a lot. So where should you start you ask?  That one is actually easy.

Start with commands and then move on to the present tense conjugations and usage of the subjunctive.  
You may not know it, but anytime you give someone  a command or make a request, quite frequently you're using the same conjugations as the subjunctive.

Por favor, no te sientas en esa silla, está sucia
Please, don't sit in that chair, it's dirty 
¿Qué quieres que te diga?
What do you want me to tell you?
Learning the commands first will help you nail down those subjunctive present tense conjugations.  The rules regarding when to use the present tense subjunctive mood conjugations really aren't all that bad.  Besides, learning how to tell people what to do is kind of fun.

You may have heard of a website called Notes In Spanish ran by a lovely couple named Ben and Maria.  They live in Spain and have put out some great material.  It so happens they put together a fantastic video on the subjunctive.  You can find it on YouTube.  In fact, I've already done that for you, here it is:

Here's the direct link for the video if you can't see it.

You can thank me later, for now just enjoy the video.  Now it's time for my second piece of consejos.  

Don't try to learn all of the subjunctive rules at once.   I tried that and it drove me crazy. And it didn't work. Instead, just select a few rules at a time.   Choose the ones that are easy for you to remember and that make sense without having to put in too much effort. Stick with those rules until you get them down pat.
As you start to get a handle on the easy rules, start adding a few more and slowly progress through them.
Here's the important part. Practice actually using the subjunctive in conversations. Nothing will help you learn the subjunctive more than using it in real life. Start looking for the subjunctive constructions you're learning about in the things you read and hear.

My third and final piece of advice.

I see soooo many people asking the dreaded "W" question -- "Why?".  Why this and why that?  And these questions are always grammar related.  The irony of this is they can't even answer the same questions about English grammar, but yet they just have to know the answer.

My pet peeves aside, in the beginning don't worry so much about the "why", just accept that in Spanish certain things work a certain way and that's that.  Eventually after you get comfortable using the structures things will start to make more sense and the "why" won't be so mysterious or hard to understand anymore.  Using that approach might save you a lot of headaches.

Now it's time for me to share with you some of the tools I used to finally get the upper hand on this monster called the subjunctive tense.

If you've never heard of Learning Spanish Like Crazy, then you've really been missing out on a great course.   In regards to the Spanish Subjunctive tense,  Learning Spanish Like Crazy Level 2 devotes 10 lessons to the subjunctive tense.  If you go the product page there's a course outline that lists the entire course content, and also outlines what each subjunctive lesson covers, things like "Subjunctive mood when expressing desire or preference" and "Subjunctive using phrases such as "es mejor que" and "es necesario que" ".

If you're wondering why I recommend Learning Spanish Like Crazy  Level 2 for learning the subjunctive it's because you learn from listening and repeating sentences and dialogues spoken by native speakers instead of trying to memorize the rules from a book, which is incredibly boring, but I probably don't need to tell you that.  The method of learning they use is much more in line with how we learned our native language.

If you're more of a beginner and not quite ready for the subjunctive but could use something to help you boost your Spanish, then check out Learning Spanish Like Crazy Level 1.  
The subjunctive can be tough, but if you tackle it in bite size pieces it won't be so bad. Remember, learning the subjunctive will be a long term process, it may take months (maybe even years to truly master it) so buckle in for the long haul.  Move forward step-by-step and you'll get the hang of it.  Don't beat yourself up for making mistakes, making mistakes is how we learn.  Instead, pat yourself on the back for the progress you've made.
Remember, the more you use your Spanish, the faster you learn. Speaking, reading and listening are the keys that actually unlock the subjunctive, not trying to memorize the rules from a grammar book.

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