El Aula – Bueno, Buen or Bien in Spanish – How to Choose Correctly

call scaleOur New VideoBlogs

This is the first in a range of videoblogs that will cover the most searched for Spanish words on Google. Well, having said that, we will not cover the word Vesícula (normally associated with the gallbladder), which for some bizarre reason appeared in the top twenty listings of Searched for Spanish words.

The first in the range are the words BUENO, BUEN and BIEN. Three words that without doubt cause a great deal of consternation in the head of every student of the Spanish language. I won’t be covering in this written blog the information we cover in the Videoblog. Instead, I will be looking at some interesting aspects of the words.


This word is a tremendously varied and flexible one. It is used in Mexico to answer the phone! Rather than the classic, DÍGAME, (tell me) which is heard throughout Spain when they pick up the phone, a Mexican will say BUENO. In this context it certainly doesn’t mean GOOD.

Greetings don’t often make a lot of sense.  I knew a man from Yorkshire who would say NOW THEN when he greeted me.

The same applies to the word BUENO. In Mexico it means YES in the context of answering the phone.

Certainly in Spain, BUENO can mean WELL. It’s used massively at the start of sentences.

Pregunta: ¿Qué opinas tú? Respuesta : Bueno, no sé exactamente. = What do you think? WELL, I don’t exactly know.

When a Spaniard is shocked by something, or surprised, they will often be heard saying:

¡Bueno, Bueno, Bueno! which roughly translates as: Goodness me! or more literally: Well, Well, Well!


Bien is an interesting word because it lives a double life, sometimes working as a GOOD and sometimes as a WELL.

It’s an ADVERB and so must be understood within the context of what an adverb is. We normally think of adverbs as words that end with LY. Unfortunately, WELL or BIEN isn’t as easily recognised as an adverb. Yet it is.

So we have BIEN and MAL = WELL and BADLY.

This is handy to remember when you want to say WELL DONE! = ¡BIEN HECHO!

and, of course, to say BADLY DONE! = MAL HECHO.

The difference between and adverb and an adjective

The biggest favour you could do yourself in your Spanish studies is to get clear in your head the difference between an ADVERB = BIEN and an ADJECTIVE = BUENO

The reason is that if you don’t understand the difference between the two, you will always mix them up in your Spanish conversation (not a good thing!)

Listen in to the video blog and let us help you get them clear in your mind.

Gordon y Cynthia 🙂

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The Spanish Present Subjunctive 4 – I Want You To…

The Spanish Present Subjunctivewanted scale

Whenever you want to tell someone in Spanish that you want them to do something, then you are moving into the realm of the Spanish present subjunctive.

If you wanted to know why, then I suppose it could be that just because you want them to do it, it doesn’t mean that they are going to do it.

Regardless of the reason why, however, the fact is that this construction normally demands the subjunctive.

One of the things to watch out for with these sentences is that in Spanish they take a different structure to how they are in English.

The QUE in the trigger.

You have probably already realised just how common it is for the QUE to appear in the trigger for the subjunctive. Well, the same applies in the structure of wanting someone to do something.

Let’s look at the two different structures in a typical sentence like:

His parents want him to tidy his room every day.

Firstly, this is not how the sentence is made in Spanish. It’s actually like this:

His parents want THAT he tidies his room every day.

Sus padres QUIEREN QUE (the trigger) recoja su dormitorio cada día.

Now that makes sense. (Or at least it should.)

Wants for your own self. (Querer)

When you are talking about two people and one wants something for the other, then this invariably leads to the use of the Spanish present subjunctive.

However, when an individual or a group of people want something for themselves then this is NOT a subjunctive sentence.


Possibly because there’s an easier way of saying it.


I want to go to Spain this year.

To say this you simply add the infinitive.

Quiero IR a España este año.

It is NOT correct to say:

Quiero QUE VAYA a España este año.

Just as it ISN’T right to say:

Quieren que coman mejor. = They want to eat better.

This would be far more simple:

Quieren comer mejor. = They want to eat better.


Other wants.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you never use the subjunctive on yourself. There are many sentence structures that do demand the subjunctive.

Here are a few:

It’s important that I get good grades. = Es importante que saque buenas notas.

Es posible que vayamos mañana. = It’s posible that we are going tomorrow.

No es que no me guste.= It’s not that I don’t like it.

So, watch on as we cover the way the subjunctive works with Querer and the like. Espero que os guste.

Saludos, Gordon 🙂


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Advanced Speaker 30 – Spanish Jokes and Funny Stories

error scaleFun Stories and Spanish Jokes

Being a Spanish teacher has many fun moments, but none as funny as the ones in which a student makes an error that is simply hilarious.

Why is it, however, that most times the error converts an innocent sentence into something totally vulgar or rude?

This happens nine times out of ten. Perhaps its the fact that so many rude words have an equivalent ‘normal’ with only one letter difference.

Chicken or Cockerel?

Probably the most common mistake is the mix up between POLLO (chicken) and its rather rude sister (or brother for that matter) POLLA (cock/dick).

A student of mine tells the story of when she first started going to Spain with her (then) husband. He knew the difference between the two words but she didn’t and every night in the restaurant he would encourage her to order “polla con patatas fritas”.

Each evening, oblivious to the sniggering coming from both her husband and the waiter, she would proudly ask for her “cock and chips” and, even more surprisingly, receive her chicken and chips without problem.

On the last night of her stay, she once again ordered her usual from a smiling Spanish waiter and waited for her meal to arrive.

Suddenly, all the waiters from the restaurant appeared at the table with a plate of chips with an enormous plastic willy stuck blot upright in the middle of it.

Finally, she realised what had happened and, as you might imagine, was very embarrassed.  The joke was on her!

Later that year, the tables turned and the joke was back on her husband when she divorced him and took half of his money! haha.

The Spanish Jokes work the other way too.

English is no safer than Spanish for the unwary student. Cynthia’s father, José Luis came to England to visit us and whilst here was obliged to use his limit English to ask for things when Cynthia and I weren’t around.

To ensure he had things right, he would say them to us at home and we would make the necessary adjustments. Despite his limited vocabulary and knowledge of English grammar he always seemed to get by. However, there were a couple of times when we were glad that he had told us what he intended to say.

Lonely Coffee.

José and Mercedes were going to the local café and Cynthia wanted to check how he planned to make the order:

“Voy a decir…” he said, “Wan coffee weet meelk and wan coffee ALONE.”

What he had done was to faithfully translate “Un café solo.” which is ‘a black coffee’ or literally ‘a coffee on its own (without milk).

We all laughed about what the waitress would have thought of that strange order.

X Rated alcohol.

Then, one day he wanted to go to the bar and have a ‘cubata’. (Spirit with mixer.)

“¿Qué vas a decirle, papá? asked Cynthia.

“Voy a decirle: ‘I wan a dick with cock.'”

We nearly fell through the floor with laughter. What he meant was that he wanted a Whisky DYK, which is a well known Spanish brand, with a COKE.

Once more we thanked our lucky stars that he never got to order that drink! Goodness knows what kind of reaction he would have gotten from the barman in the small corner pub that he was heading off to.

Listen in to the podcast and hear the other hilarious Spanish jokes and fun stories we tell about what our students have said over the years.

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Advanced Speaker 29 – Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive Conversation

rosescaleThe Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive

Before you watch this podcast-video, we suggest that you watch video 9 and 10 in the range of Subjunctive videos that we have made in which we help you with the structure of this tense.

Scary stuff

The Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive seems to have the ability to strike fear into any serious student of the Spanish language. Why?

The title itself doesn’t help. What does imperfect mean? What about the word ‘subjunctive’? What on earth does that ‘quiere decir’?

The fact is, it really doesn’t matter what the name means. I long since decided that the linguists that chose the names of the tenses, at most, wanted to show off and, at least, completely ignored the fact that normal people were going to have to try and learn all those stupid names.

‘El pluscuamperfecto’ in Spanish or the ‘pluperfect’ in English is a great example of this. Who on earth decided to call it that?

Take that a little farther and put it into the subjunctive tense and you get:

El plusuamperfecto de subjuntivo’

If ever there was something designed to put you off learning a language, then this would be the one.

A rose by any other name

I had a student who, amongst other learning issues, was dyslexic. His dyslexia had led him to have various hang-ups about learning. One of these was when he was faced with the name of a tense. He would start to panic and, according to him, he wasn’t able to hear or imagine the name in his head.

To overcome this issue, he gave all the tenses new names and ones he could relate to.

He called the preterite Betty. The imperfect past was Rose etc., etc.

And the fact was that it really didn’t matter what name they had, as long as he was able to relate the name to the tense, then he was happy.

He would say: “Oh, your talking about Betty.” and I would reply: “Yes.” (I trusted that he knew the difference between Betty and Rose.)

If you know the name, then great, however, it’s far more important for you to know how the tense works and the way the verb is broken down.

The same applies with the Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive. For a start, I would suggest that you change the word ‘Imperfect’ to ‘Past’. Because, in essence, that’s what the Imperfect is referring to. Whatever you do with the present subjunctive in the present, you do with the imperfect subjunctive in the past.

Every trigger in the present triggers the present subjunctive, and those very same triggers in the past, trigger the past or imperfect subjunctive.

Once again, as you listen to this podcast, your job is to identify each time that we use the Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive. More importantly, however, is to listen to what is said beforehand. What do we say that triggers off the need for the subjunctive?

Once you can identify and recognise that, you will have captured the spirit of this tense.


Gordon 🙂

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Advanced Speaker 28 – Present Subjunctive Spanish Language

music scalePresent Subjunctive Spanish.

This podcast is designed to pull together the range of eight videos that I (Gordon) made on the Present Subjunctive Spanish.

Click here to go to the Youtube playlist.

Why so many videos?

The reason I made so many videos (Cynthia thinks that there are too many and that it will stress people out) is that there are numerous parts to the subjunctive. The system I use to help people to learn it is to show them WHEN, not WHY, they should use it.

I didn’t learn it this way. I spent years learning the rules and fighting to try and understand why I was using it. After bombarding Spanish speakers with multiple questions on this tense, I realised that building up a catalogue of rules and reasons was not how they learn to use it. The majority of speakers have no idea why they use the subjunctive. They use it only because that’s what they’ve heard all of their life and IT SOUNDS RIGHT.

The key to learning a language.

This is the real essence of how to really learn a language. Once you have learnt the structural requirements and the mechanics of how the language is bolted together, you then must learn the melody.

It’s like learning the tune and the words to a song. Once you have it in your mind it’s there for life.

Hitting a bum note.

Once you have learnt the melody, you can hear the bum notes when other students are talking. When someone sings the wrong words to your favourite song, or the wrong melody, it jars your sensibilities. The same happens with language.

When someone conjugates the verb incorrectly, or uses the wrong preposition, or pronounces the word incorrectly, it’s like hearing a bum note.

When you know the language this way, you don’t need to run through your list of rules to understand what went wrong, or to check the correctness of what people are saying.

The interesting thing is that you begin to hear your own mistakes. It’s as though a there are different sections in the brain. The speaking and the listening part. Many times, whilst I am talking in Spanish, I hear myself hitting a bum note as though I was an partial observer/listener. It’s a strange experience, but one that you will certainly experience.

The Subjunctive Spanish.

The same thing applies with the subjunctive. If you stick with the system that I suggest, you will reach a point in which you will use it, not because your mind has run through your list of rules and regulations, but just because it sounds right.

How to get there.

I’m not saying for a moment that getting there is easy and requires no work. The videos we have made are your first step in the learning journey. To help you on your way, why not listen to as many people speaking Spanish as you can and identify each time they use the subjunctive.

And THIS IS THE KEY. Once you have identified the use of the subjunctive, go back to the front of the sentence and listen for THE TRIGGER sentence. Ask yourself: “What did they say that created the demand for the Subjunctive Spanish?”

Try this out in this podcast and then in all the others that you listen to. You will see a pattern forming and, although there will be times you won’t know why it’s there, 90% of the time it will make sense to you.

Do this and I guarantee that you will begin to ‘dominar’ the subjunctive Spanish tremendously well.


Gordon 🙂

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