C1 Study Tips

Oh hi there non-existent readers of my blog, after a ridiculously busy couple of months I’m back.

I have about 10 weeks to go until the DELE, and I have so much to improve on. Mainly writing skills and debating skills – the two things that need the most concentration. It’s easy to sit down and study the subjunctive for two hours, but writing and speaking require the use of different parts of my brain.

I’ve had a really busy day at work, and all I want to do is fanny about on the internet, eat some pasta and watch some crap TV, not spend 2 hours writing essays en Español. I find motivating myself in the evening really difficult.

To aid in the re-igniting of my study flame, here’s a rundown of some Spanish study tools that I’ve been enjoying of late.

AVE Global

For a measly €20, you can buy individual study chapters from the Instituto Cervantes’ AVE Global – Aula Virtual Español. If you aren’t attending specialised classes and have the DELE C1 looming, I highly recommend purchasing the C1.4 chapter “DELE que DELE”. I’m only partway through it, but it’s full of writing prompts and practice exercises that mirror those found in the DELE C1. Great if you’re getting in a bit of a rut with self initiated study.


Thanks to my tutor Esperanza for this one – a great site full of various exercises covering all aspects of Spanish language. I especially enjoy the sections that use commercials and news clips as tools. The advert for a special range of Father’s Day Jamón is worth watching on its own:

Gramática Básica del estudiante de español

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 18.54.01

I”m getting tired of the Practice Makes Perfect series. Overly long explanations of grammar points, in English, that drag on for pages and pages, and exercises so easy that someone with a sense of logic who doesn’t speak a word of Spanish could get top marks. “Change the following into questions by adding interrogation marks”. Copy them out word for word and add ¿?. Yawn.

Enter my new favourite. I’ve been told this is a book that lots of Spanish children use in school. You might think, as an advanced learner, that you’ll be wasting your time with a book aimed at A1 – B1 learners, but I’ve been able to demystify the subjunctive and zero in on all the fiddly grammar points I still have trouble with. All explained clearly and with exercises that don’t feel pointless.

Chicote, Buenafuente, Alaska y Segura


When all else fails, like tonight when my brain refuses to kick into action and my eyes are heavy, I turn to streaming TV en Español. Current favourites:

  • New series of Pesadilla en la Cocina– Chicote is back and as exasperated as ever. Perfect for learning a multitude of insults (not very useful in the DELE but useful in life)
  • En El Aire – currently on daily, topical, stupid and funny. I’m a fan of Andreu Buenafuente.
  • Alaska y Segura – despite my love for both Alaska and Santiago Segura, I haven’t been watching this as much as En El Aire. But episode 10 has got me very excited – featuring Alex de la Iglesia and Carlos Areces, and completely themed around horror. I think they made it just for me.

I’m going to admit study defeat tonight & settle down to watch Alaska y Segura. It still counts, right?


DELE check in


Last Friday I had a quiet freak out in which I decided there was absolutely no way that I could take the DELE in May. I’m project managing an office move happening at the start of April, so work has got a whole lot busier, with so much of my brain being sacrificed that there’s not as much space in there for Spanish. I woke up on Sunday thinking about plug sockets. ¡Qué follón!

Last week was not good for study. I was rolling myself out of bed at 7am with the intention to be ready for the day and sitting down to study at 7:30. I managed this once. When it’s only my needs involved, I have the most fantastic ability to procrastinate.

And as for evening studying – forget it. By the time I’ve got through the door, flopped on the sofa with the cats for half an hour, reset myself, decided what to cook for dinner, cooked dinner and caught up with Juan, I’m pretty much ready for bed. And I do want to have something vaguely resembling a social life.

I didn’t want to postpone until November as we’re (hopefully) getting married at the end of October – and I like the idea of having my results back by the time I legally become half-Spanish. That’s how weddings work, right?

After consulting with Juan on Friday evening I decided my only option was going to be digging my heels in, forcing myself to get up even earlier, shutting myself away from the world and sticking to the May date. That is, until I took a look at the Instituto Cervantes site. There’s a JULY exam as well.

This is absolutely perfect. It gives me a much needed extra 8 weeks, meaning when the dust has settled after the office move I will have the energy to truly dedicate every spare moment to studying in the weeks leading up to the exam. New office is only 3 minutes from my house too, so I might get fatter and lazier but I can max out that pre-work study time!

So what am I going to do between now and April?

I’m not going to beat myself up over not getting in the study hours. If I manage a good session once or twice a week, I’m doing well. Secondly – I’m keeping Spanish a part of my daily life. If don’t have the energy to study in the evenings I can read, or watch some Spanish TV. There’s a new series of Pesadilla en la Cocina coming soon, as well as a talk show hosted by Alaska and Santiago Segura. So excited. As excited as Segura in El Día de la Bestia.

Something else that will help – I finally checked out the Radio Ambulante podcasts. A favourite friend of mine recommended this to me months ago and I’d forgotten to follow it up – and am so glad I finally got around to it. They are exactly what I’d been searching for – Spanish language podcasts with the same production quality as Radiolab et al, that last around 20 minutes – perfect for listening to on a quick lunchtime stomp along the seafront to clear my head.

I can do this. And once I’ve got the C1 under my belt, that’s when the fun* really begins!

*slow slide into translation study despair

El amante de fuego

I became so used to listening to K-Pop only understanding three words of Korean, that listening to a song in another language and being able to decipher it is still a novelty to me.

I’ve been a Mecano fan for a while, but they have such a huge back catalogue that every now and then I have the joy of discovering a new song of theirs to obsess over. The other day I came across ‘El Amante de Fuego’ (the fire lover / the lover from the fire)

Not only is is an amazing song that makes me want to dance around the room – it gets even more amazing at the 1:30 mark – the lyrics tell a dark little tale of death and possession that adds an extra depth to the seemingly upbeat song…

Everything burnt
Nobody could escape
I saw him burn, I saw him die
And he saw me too

Since then I know that something’s happening 
All my friends are distancing themselves from me
I can’t laugh anymore

I feel someone inside
He burns me and he scares me
He speaks to me, he screams at me
that I have to be faithful
that my soul belongs to him

I’ve been to lots of doctors in the city
nobody knows what’s wrong with me
I can’t be cured

I’ve developed burns on my skin
I have sores on my hands and my feet
they’re symptoms of him

I feel that life is escaping from me
I no longer have the strength to resist
And what’s going to become of me?

DELE Dolor

DELE C1 idiot

This morning, after a particularly terrible study session, I slammed my book shut and wondered if I’m making a huge mistake by putting myself through the DELE C1 when three years ago I couldn’t even count to 10.

Passing the DELE (Diploma de Español como Lenguaje Extranjera) at this level proves you have ‘more than an advanced’ grasp of Spanish, and is the level that I need in order to be able to use the language in my career and undertake further training to be a freelance Spanish – English translator.

The thing is, C1 is the equivalent in the UK of having a degree-level grasp of a language. That’s three years of dedicated study, or double that of part time. I have been studying part time whilst working full time for less than three years. Eek.

I know I have an advantage from having a Spanish fiancé and Spanish family. And I’ve got to this level so quickly because I work hard, I really work hard. I’m more dedicated to this than I’ve ever been to any learning. The things you do for love!

Every level test I take tells me I’m ready for C1. So why am I still messing up as badly as I did this morning?

See?? C1! And I wasn't even trying!

I’ve learnt it’s because studying for an exam is so different to everyday studying. I need to be able to listen to complex subject matter whilst taking notes and reading questions. As well as brushing up on grammar and vocabulary, I need to practice very specific things such as reading contracts and writing expository articles. Not things I’d thought to study before, where would these come in useful when talking to los suegros?!

I have until the end of May – 5 months. If I follow my study timetable I know that I can do this:

  • Three mornings before work – I can get in an hour and a half which is long enough to focus on one thing properly
  • 2 study lunches a week – reading or listening
  • 1 evening a week after work
  • A Spanish debate on a news story with Juan once a week
  • At least a couple of hours on a Sunday – the whole afternoon if I can spare it
  • Daily vocabulary revision via Anki / Memrise
  • And of course, Spanish every day in one way or another – be that watching the news, talking to Juan or reading

I also have to remember that I need to fail in order to succeed. I’m so used to being top of the class that messing up on these things really stings. I need to suck it up, learn from my mistakes, and improve. And stop trying to think round the questions in a logical / lateral fashion. ‘Oh, that’s three C’s in a row, that can’t be right, I’ll change it’. No. That is not how exams work, dummy.

And finally: anyone who is thinking of taking the C1 DELE, or any level for that matter: You MUST must must buy El Cronómetro. REALLY. If I pass, it will be thanks to this book. As well as model exams, it meticulously takes you through the format of each question and gives you plenty of tips and skills to help you tackle each section. I’m into the second model exam, and may have miserably failed the listening section once again, but my score on the reading section was this time almost perfect. So it is working. Slowly.

If anyone is reading this who is also taking the C1, or has taken the C1, I’d love to hear from you – strength in numbers!

And well, if all else fails, I’ll just take some notes from César and Onofre.

How to make Spanish a part of your daily life

Studying for the C1 DELE whilst living in Brighton and not in Spain can be a challenge. As is generally keeping on top of my study game. Even though I live with my Spanish ‘prometido’, I know I won’t be truly fluent until / unless I live in Spain. However, I can get pretty damn close by keeping Spanish a part of my daily life.

You can keep up with a language even if you’re short of time. Sure, you might not be able to fit in hours of grammar study, but there’s so many other things you can be doing that keep the language in the forefront of your mind without you even noticing.


Javiera te quiero

So important, and so underrated. Find music that you love in the language that you are learning, and listen to it. It’s that simple. If you love music, this is effortless, you find amazing new artists, and you’re constantly expanding your vocabulary. I am a huge music fan, and have found so many spanish language artists I love that I’ve now joined the New Hispanic Music team as a curator. You can check out mine and other curator’s playlists by clicking here – there’s something for all tastes.

Morning News

Some mornings I don’t manage to drag myself out of bed with time to study. I used to beat myself up about this, but now I don’t stress out. I go to rtve.es on my laptop, ipad, or even my smartphone and stream the morning news whilst I’m getting ready for work. I’m in and out of the room, not always listening 100%, but I’m a firm believer that you pick things up even if you’re just using it as background. It helps pronunciation, listening and your vocabulary, as well as keeping you up to date with what’s going on in Spain and the wider world. Check my learning resources page for a rundown of sites.

Films / Streaming TV

Museo Coconut - Ms Coconut y Zeus

Pro-tip: many browsers have plug-ins that you can install that allows you to ‘browse’ from other countries. I use the ‘Hola!’ plug in for chrome. Disclaimer: I’m pretty sure this isn’t illegal. People *cough*Juan*cough* have tutted at me for doing this, but I don’t really see the problem. Anyway, if it’s illegal, sorry, I’ll stop it, promise. This allows me to have access to streaming content from Spanish sites that would otherwise be blocked, and also US Netflix, which has far more Spanish language films available than UK Netflix. Plus: US Netflix has Spanish subtitles on almost every programme. So you can even improve your Spanish whilst slobbing out in front of Freaks and Geeks. Bam. And, as always, there’s my beloved atresplayer, where you have a world of Spanish language content at your fingertips. Pay something like £2 a month to subscribe, and you get access to a whole lot more – like 6 seasons of Aquí no hay quien viva, all 3 seasons of Museo Coconut… well worth it. Oh, and Museo Coconut: Cannot recommend it enough. Only Spanish comedy so far that has made me cry with laughter.


pobre pietro

I always carry a Spanish book around with me. I’m currently – or still, if you read my blog post a few months back – reading ‘Cien años de solitud’ by Gabriel García Márquez. It’s battered and tattered as I am reading it very slowly, but if I don’t have any lunchtime plans I read it at work, still highlighting as I go and expanding my vocabulary hugely. If I have time at home, I’ll read it out loud to myself, which not only helps me practice speaking, it also forces me to concentrate. Sometimes I find my mind wanders whilst I’m reading in Spanish, and I can read an entire page whilst thinking of something else in English.


I’m lucky in that I go to Spain quite a lot due to visiting family, meaning I can often be found sweating from too much choice in a Spanish newsagent, and Juan regularly travels to Spain for work and will sometimes bring me back a Telva. Again, good for culture knowledge, and you can pick any subject that interests you. Go wild in the airport. You can find Spanish language magazines in some newsagents in the UK (you can buy Telva in WHSmiths in London Victoria!), just be prepared to pay a lot of money for them. Read them in the bath, read them on the train, read them on the toilet, whatever you like, just read them.


Yes, that is Berto Romero being a turkey.

As I mentioned above, these are so valuable. If you work full time and the idea of getting up early to study makes you shudder, squeeze a bit of language learning into your lunch. I block out a couple of lunchbreaks a week in my calendar as ‘study lunch’, take a full hour, pick a topic to revise and get down to it. Recently I’ve started using one lunchbreak a week to watch a Spanish language TV programme – I’m a big fan of En El Aire (see above picture. Yes, that is Berto Romero being interviewed as a Turkey). Other days I might read some of a Spanish language book whilst I eat, even if it’s only for 20 minutes. 20 minutes is better than nothing.

Mobile Phone / iPod / GADGETS

Set them to the language you’re learning. This will seem ridiculous and frustrating at first, but soon you’ll stop noticing it and only remember when your friends try to use it. And again, it teaches you some useful words. I would never have learned deslizar, desconectar or twitear otherwise. Clearly very important.

Speak with native speakers

I have this easy, as I live with my Spanish fiancé and we can speak in Spanish whenever we feel like it. But if you don’t have a Spanish partner or Spanish friends, you can easily get out there and join in with intercambios in local pubs, go on gumtree or find local Spanish Facebook groups. There are always people who want to improve their English, who’ll help you improve your Spanish in return.

Also: in a Spanish/Hispanic restaurant? Pretty sure your server is a native Spanish speaker? Order in Spanish! It took me a while to get the guts to do this. I’m funny about speaking Spanish in the UK, I am very self conscious of seeming like a know-it-all twat, but what I’ve been told is true, life is too short to be embarrassed. Ok so you screw up a conjugation, you forget to use the subjunctive – so what? You’re still understood and you’re still communicating. And that’s what matters most. Unless of course you’re in a DELE oral exam in which case you really do need to remember to use that subjunctive… but this will help you get there.

Put all of these tips into practice and Spanish (or any other language, for that matter) will be part of your daily life without you even noticing. For example, whilst writing this I’ve been listening to some of my NHM playlists – I wasn’t really listening, but it all goes in there somewhere.

I’ll do a separate post on online sources for learning and revision – that’s an essay in itself. I’ll leave you with a song I can’t stop playing…

Some thoughts on fluency

Spanish pavement graffiti in Brighton

When asked for my level of Spanish now, I tend to say that I’m working towards fluency. I’ve got past all the niggly little grammatical rules, I know my para from my por (more or less) and I know my decía from my diciera. I’m building my vocabulary every day and immersing myself in the language as much as I can whilst living in the UK. A.K.A being a Spanish bore.

But I fear that I will never reach true fluency. Or at least, a level in the language where I feel comfortable saying that I’m fluent. It has nothing to do with my abilities, but more with how I view fluency itself.

Fluency, for me, is, well, just that – flowing, easy, smooth. To be able to have a long conversation with somebody in Spanish and never find myself struggling for words or making glaring grammatical errors. To understand and be understood in any situation. To have confidence to go out in a Spanish speaking country on my own and talk to people, without Juan as a security blanket. After a whole two years of learning, I pathetically managed this for the first time when in San Sebastián, and I’ve never been so pleased with myself for purchasing some nail polish remover. Before you start thinking I just picked it up off the shelf and said ‘gracias’ -It was kept in a drawer BEHIND the counter and I didn’t know what it was called! It wasn’t so much that I’d managed to ask for it, but more that I’d headed out on my own without a second thought or hesitation. A huge lack of self confidence has always been one of my biggest barriers, and I’ll never reach fluency if I don’t smash through it.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, to be able to argue, debate and express personal opinion. This is the hardest part of learning a second language, and something that you don’t really think about until you’re in the situation – and inevitably, this is always thrown at you in exams. To have the confidence to chime into discussions with the opinions that I do have instead of frustratedly sitting on my hands and feeling like an idiot.

I remember when I used to get confused between este/esto/esta/ese/esa/eso. But now, 90% of the time I use the right one without even thinking about it. Sometimes just because it sounds right in my brain, and it’s correct. Will I know I’ve reached fluency when I’m able to understand how strange it sounds for someone to say ‘tengas’ when they should say ‘tienes’, and vice versa? Will I be able to explain what is wrong with that and why it sounds strange? Probably not, as I can’t explain why someone saying ‘I done that’ sounds bad in comparison to ‘I did that’. All I can say is it’s wrong, it sounds wrong, and is ‘bad’ English. Juan can’t tell me, when I say ‘estemos’ instead of ‘estamos’, what sounds wrong about what I’ve just said, but just that it IS.

This is linked to having a wider understanding of language and how your first language is built, and the rules when it comes to grammar. Studying Spanish has deepened my understanding of grammar in general, as at school the focus was more on English literature than English language. Learning the difference between an indirect object pronoun and a direct object pronoun in English made learning their equivalent in Spanish much easier. I sometimes comment that Juan’s English is better than mine because of his grammar knowledge* – and sometimes he’s not that aware of grammar rules that I’ve learnt for Spanish. He grew up speaking Spanish, and therefore never had to think too hard about it – it just was.

It’s at the forefront of my mind because I think about my potential future of raising bi-lingual children, and exactly how that will work. Will they be able to speak Spanish and English with equal ease, calling whichever language they need up from their brain without a second thought? Or will they find it easier to speak the language of the country they’re living?

If I could go back and redo my university education, I’d love to study linguistics alongside modern foreign languages. Endlessly fascinating. And way more useful in my life than Illustration has proven to be so far…

*so much so that he just corrected me on a tiny grammatical error in this blog that I didn’t even know I’d made

Hidrogenesse & Alan Turing

Hidrogenesse Turing

I first found Hidrogenesse through Spotify when I was just starting out with Spanish, and I can’t believe I haven’t written about them yet. I obsessed over their 2012 album, Un Dígito Binario Dudoso. It drew me in musically at first, synth led and upbeat, but it was only as my Spanish improved and the lyrics opened themselves up to me that I began to love the entirety of the album for what it is – a love letter to the British mathematician and father of computing, Alan Turing.

Until I discovered this album, I knew barely anything about Alan Turing. I’d heard his name mentioned, but I had no idea about his story or his legacy. Thanks to Hidrogenesse, I now know a lot.

Comprised of just two members – Genís (also of Astrud) and Carlos, they are constantly fresh and aren’t tied to one genre, and I hope that one day I’ll be in Spain at the same time as them playing a show. I’d LOVE them to come to the UK, but I don’t have the power to bring them… maybe it’s Kickstarter time? They’d go down so well over here.

If you need further convincing, take a look at their stage outfits from earlier this year:

(alas, just out of shot, Genís’ stilettos)

This is my own love letter to Hidrogenesse and this album as a whole. I want to share the joy of it with non-Spanish speakers. I implore you to take your time with this album, and let it sink in to your brain. If even one person takes the time to listen to a couple of these songs and investigate the lyrics, then my work here is done.

Onwards! Prepare yourself for a nerd-out.

El Beso

‘This song is a kiss to wake up Alan Turing.’

In the fairytale, a kiss wakes up Snow White from her enchanted slumber after eating a poisoned apple, and Hidrogenesse want to wake Alan up to hear the good news. In 2009, in response to a petition, Gordon Brown released a statement on behalf of the British government damning the treatment of Turing as ‘appalling’, but it took a good few years for him to receive an official post-humous pardon.


“My only friend Christopher… you’ve died too young, leaving me alone’ ‘I look at your body, and you’re not there’ ‘Your mental processes, where are they?’ ‘Alan… don’t cry, don’t suffer, I’m hear, continuing to exist in your creation, always with you completely, Turing’

Turing’s close childhood friend Christopher Morcom died from Tuberculosis, shattering Turing’s belief in god and religion and making him an atheist. He became convinced that all phenomena, including the workings of the human brain, had to be materialistic. This song is sung from Alan’s perspective, and the mourning for his lost friend and the response from the departed Christopher makes my heart ache.

Love Letters


M.U.C was a computer programme that formulated love letters, created by Christopher Strachey in Manchester and using the random number generator devised by Turing. They were always signed by M.U.C – Manchester University Computer. I don’t think I need to explain where the lyrics for this one come from. ‘Sweet Darling, you’re my capricious winner’ I’ve chosen a video of Hidrogenesse themselves playing this track in their studio mainly so you can see their lovely faces.

Captcha Cha-Cha

(This video has English subtitles if you click on the icon)

Captcha? Those little things you type into sites where they check you’re a person? ‘Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart’. They stemmed from one of Turing’s most famous brainchildren, the Turing Test, a test devised to, well, tell computers and humans apart. And this song means that I can’t complete a Captcha online without singing ‘Captcha cha-cha-cha!’

Dígito Binario Dudoso

This is actually a reworking of a song from one of their first releases back in 2001. The lyrics come from an automatic (i.e poor) translation into Spanish of a Morrissey interview from an 80’s zine, where he talks about his hometown of Manchester:

‘Hay un mystique determinado sobre él, y pienso que estará ahí por absolutamente un tiempo largo.’: ‘There is a particular mystique about it. I think it’s been there for quite a long time.’

This seems to be the only track on the album with no direct link to Turing’s story – just the link to the time he spent in Manchester.

Fun fact: this song is why Juan and I always sing ‘qué quieres de mi?’ to the cats when they’re meowing for their food. Should you ever find yourself in our house…

If you want to read more, click here for a useful blog that goes into detail about the Morrissey interview.


(Another video with English translation, this time automatic, hooray)

‘I go to bed with men. I believe machines think’

Turing’s rise and fall summed up in two phrases.

This one is focused on the work he carried out at Bletchley Park in WW2, developing techniques to break ciphers such as the German Enigma machine. It also touches on Turing’s questioning about his sexuality and beliefs during his conviction for gross indecency, purely for admitting a sexual relationship with a man whilst reporting a burglary.

Un Mystique Determinado 

Recycling lyrics from Dígito Binario Dudoso / the Morrisey interview.

Turing died by eating an apple poisoned with cyanide. Many believe it was suicide, brought on by losing his career and suffering chemical castration, through charges of ‘gross indecency’ back in the years when homosexuality was considered a criminal offence. Some still say it was accidental. Others say that Apple’s logo is inspired by Turing’s story.

Historia Del Mundo Contada por las Máquinas

‘A world outside of control will need a computer…a society in constant expansion will need a computer’

Epic closing tale. This video comes up with helpful notes (in Spanish) to tell you more about the events that are mentioned. It’s a story of society and innovation and how the need for computers grew as society expanded.