Comentarios: A Podcast for Learning Spanish

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Gender of Nouns I

The subject of this episode is "gender of nouns." We have divided this topic into two parts, and this is part one.

A noun is a word used to denote a person, place, thing, or idea. Unlike English, in Spanish all nouns are either masculine or feminine. If you are an English speaker, the idea of gender makes sense for words like "man" or "woman" but not for words like "table" or "pencil."

In Spanish, the idea of words having gender really has nothing to do with sex, except in the case of living creatures. Instead, this reference to gender is merely a grammatical feature of the language, and is one of the primary differences between Spanish and English.

In Spanish, most nouns that end in the letter "o" are masculine and most nouns that end in the letter "a" are feminine. There are exceptions to this rule, and you will be learning them later. But for this lesson, just think of masculine nouns as ending in "o" and feminine nouns as ending in "a."

Listen as I say a few words in Spanish. As I say each word, respond by saying out loud either "masculine" or "feminine." Remember, masculine nouns frequently end in the letter "o" while feminine nouns frequently end in the letter "a."

OK. Here we go:

el mosquito
_____

la salsa
_____

el burro
_____

la fiesta
_____

I will now repeat the words again. This time, I want you to do something different. Again, listen carefully as I say a word in Spanish. But this time after I say a word, I want you to repeat it out loud in Spanish. As you say the word in Spanish, just be aware of whether it is a masculine word or a feminine word, but put most of your concentration into imitating the way I say the words. OK, here we go again. Remember, repeat the words after me in Spanish, and just be aware of whether the word is masculine or feminine. Again, masculine nouns end in "o" and feminine nouns end in "a." Listen and repeat:

el mosquito
_____

la salsa
_____

el burro
_____

la fiesta
_____

Let's do it again. I'll say the words, and you try to imitate me as closely as possible. Really concentrate on how I say the words, and try to make your words sound just like mine.

el mosquito
_____

la salsa
_____

el burro
_____

la fiesta
_____

Now lets try something a little different. Again, I'm going to say the words, and again I want you to repeat after me, imitating exactly the way I say them. But this time, as you are saying the words, I want you to think about the meaning of the words! OK, here we go. Listen and repeat.

el mosquito
_____

la salsa
_____

el burro
_____

la fiesta
_____

Did you think about the meaning after I said the words? Ha! I tricked you! I never told you the meaning of the words, but you knew them anyway! That was pretty sneaky of me, wasn't it? Words like mosquito, salsa, burro and fiesta are called "loan words" because they are Spanish words that have found their way into the English language. The good news is that there are lots of loan words, and you already know the meaning of most of them.

While this lesson is primarily about the gender of nouns, there's no reason we can't throw in a little discussion and practice on pronunciation. Pronunciation is very important, because unless you develop good pronunciation, no one will be able to understand you! You've probably heard people trying to speak English with such a heavy accent that they were very difficult to understand. Unless you develop good pronunciation, you will be doing the same thing in Spanish.

But, just like the good news regarding loan words, there is good news regarding pronunciation, too! The good news regarding pronunciation is that for English speakers, most of the sounds of Spanish are very easy to make. This means that almost everybody can, with a little practice, develop good enough pronunciation that they will be easily understood.

But did you hear what I just said? I said that most of the sounds of Spanish are very easy to make. I did not say that the sounds of Spanish are identical to the sounds of English. To the contrary, many of the sounds are not exactly the same, and it is important to learn the differences. Loan words present a great opportunity to explore these differences because, while they look the same and have the same meaning, they are pronounced differently -- sometimes, quite differently.

Listen now as I say the words again. This time, I'm going to say them first in English, and then in Spanish. Listen carefully to the differences.

mosquito, mosquito
salsa, salsa
burro, burro
fiesta, fiesta

Could you hear some of the differences between the way the words are pronounced in Spanish and the way they are pronounced in English? Don't worry if you couldn't hear all of the differences. As you progress, your ear for Spanish will improve, and you will be able to hear more of the nuances of pronunciation. For right now, the important thing is that you don't fall into the trap of pronouncing Spanish words the same way you would pronounce them in English. Always listen carefully and try to imitate the native speakers.

I'm going to repeat the words again. After I say each word, I want you to repeat it out loud in Spanish. Make it sound like a Spanish word, not an English word! And, as you are saying the word, be aware of whether it is masculine or feminine, and also be aware of the meaning. Once again, remember that masculine words frequently end in the letter "o" and feminine words frequently end in the letter "a." Listen and repeat.

mosquito
_____

mosquito
_____

salsa
_____

salsa
_____

burro
_____

burro
_____

fiesta
_____

fiesta
_____

¡Muy bien! That wraps up our episode on Gender of Nouns, Part One.

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