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Using Idioms to Encourage Spontaneity: Spanish Lesson Plan

written by: Eric W. Vogt • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/4/2012

Wouldn't it be a drag to never move beyond being a speaker of textbook Spanish? Encourage spontaneity and speed by using this list and some of the hints for classrooom activities in this lesson plan.

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    Even when a person has acquired a second language and has become socially functional, even if that is limited to classroom usage, it is a complement to say that he or she speaks textbook Spanish. Somehow, though, it stings the desire of many students who are eager to take a bit of a leap and begin to be much more spontaneous, or at least seem so. The first step in even seeming to be spontaneous is to master the usage of a reasonable number of high frequency expressions used in conversation.

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    List and Activities

    The following 150 or so expressions should be given to such aspiring students as you may have in an AP class (if you teach high school) or any group of students in a conversation class. They should be encouraged to incorporate a certain number in any presentations they are to prepare before class. The number of course would depend on the length of the presentation.

    For spontaneous oral work, teachers can create any number of reward systems for using them correctly. I once put small candies in a bowl around Halloween and if I heard someone use a challenging idiomatic expression in a grammatical fashion, I tossed them one. This list can be used for competition as well, for speed composition on the spot. Hand out the list and give then five sentences in English, to translate into Spanish. The winner is the once who first gets all five correct, with no errors. To make them more challenging, use different tenses.

    Está bien/está bueno okay, correct, right, all right

    Dar las gracias to thank

    Pensar en to think about

    Ganarse la vida to earn (make) a living

    De memoria by heart

    Poner la mesa to set the table

    Valer la pena to be worth the trouble, effort

    Tener cuidado to be careful

    Hay que + inf one must…

    Otra vez again, once more, another time or "go" at something

    Ir de compras to go shopping

    Estar de luto to be in mourning

    Dar una vuelta to go for a walk, stroll, go for a spin

    Dar el pésame por to express sympathy, offer condolences

    A carta cabal fully, completely, in every respect

    Tal vez perhaps

    Querer decir to mean

    Por extenso in detail, at great length

    Por casualidad by chance, by the way, incidentally

    Poco a poco little by little

    Estar de moda to be fashionable, in style

    En punto on the dot, sharp

    Desde hace over a period of, for (a period of time), starting from, dating from

    De nuevo once again, once more, anew

    Preocuparse de to worry about

    Preguntar por to inquire after someone, ask about someone

    Por lo menos at least

    Ida y vuelta round trip

    Hacer cola to line up, form a line

    Ocurrírsele a uno to occur to one, cross one's mind

    De todas maneras at any rate, anyway

    Hasta la fecha up to now, to date

    Hacerse tarde to be getting late

    Frente a in front of\

    Equivocarse de to be mistaken or wrong about something

    Decidirse a to decide to do something, make up one's mind, revolve to

    De enfrente across from, directly opposite (such as a street)

    Alegrarse de to be glad about something

    Acabar de + inf to have just (done something)

    Sin querer unintentionally, without meaning or wanting to

    Por lo visto apparently, seemingly, evidently

    Pasar un buen rato to have a good time, enjoy one's self

    Parece mentira to seem hardly possible

    No hay de qué don't mention it, think nothing of it

    Lo de menos of little importance, insignificant

    La mayor parte (de) the majority (of), the bulk (of)

    En /de broma as a joke or in jest

    Hacer caso a to pay attention to, heed, obey or give importance to someone

    Faltar a to be absent from, miss OR show disrespect to someone

    Hacer buenas migas to get along well together (also: llevarse bien con)

    Echar a perder to spoil, ruin, go to waste

    Delante de in the presence of, in front of (someone)

    Dentro de inside (of); in or within a period of time

    Dar que hacer to make or cause (extra) work

    Al revés the contrary, opposite; wrong side of (inside out)

    Tanto como as much as

    Por primera vez for the first time

    Por poco almost, just about, nearly (used with the present to refer to past events)

    Por ahora for now, for the present

    Parecido a like, similar to

    Pagar a plazos to pay on installments

    Oír hablar de to hear about, to hear tell of (compare: Oír decir que to hear it said that)

    Por adelantado beforehand, in advance

    Mientras tanto meanwhile, in the mean time

    Meterse en lo que no le importa to pry into what doesn't concern one

    Estar de acuerdo to agree, be of the same opinion

    En lugar de in place of, instead of

    En cuanto as soon as, the moment that (+ subjunctive if action is anticipated)

    Dejar de + inf to quit…

    De ahora en adelante from now on, in the future

    De más too much, too many

    Con mucho gusto gladly, willingly, with great pleasure

    Tener la culpa to be to blame, be at fault

    Tener ganas de + inf to feel like, desire, wish to…

    Quedarse con to take (as in choosing or buying); remain or stay with

    No poder ver ni en pintura to not be able to stand the sight of (something or someone)

    Por fuera on the outside, on the exterior, superficially

    Ir del brazo to walk arm in arm

    Importarle a uno to matter to one, or be of importance, concern

    Hacer falta to be necessary, to have need of, lack

    Fijarse en to pay attention to, mark one's word

    Estar con to have (an illness or other malady); to be with (something or someone)

    Encargarse de to take charge of, assume responsibility for

    En vano in vain

    En el fondo deep down, at heart, by nature

    Detrás de behind, in back of

    Dentro de poco soon, in a little while, shortly

    De mal en peor from bad to worse

    En el extranjero abroad

    Tener deseos de + inf to want to, be eager to (compare "tener ganas de)

    A propósito by the way (compare "por casualidad")

    Dar lástima to cause pain, grief, pity

    Dar cuerda a to wind (a clock)

    Todavía still, yet (also "aún")

    Darle a uno vergüenza to be shameful to one, cause shame or bashfulness

    Tarde o temprano sooner or later

    Tan pronto como as soon as (also en cuanto, así que; + subjunctive if action is anticipated)

    Sobre todo especially, above all, particularly

    Sin remedio hopelessly, beyond solution

    Por última vez for the last time

    Pedir prestado to borrow

    Ocuparse de to take care of, attend to

    No poder ver a alguien not be able to tolerate someone (also no poder verle ni en pintura)

    Mejor dicho or rather, better yet

    Llamar la atención to attract attention, call attention to; to reprimand, censure, chide

    Poner el grito en el cielo to scream and yell, make a great fuss (complaining, protesting)

    Hacerle daño a uno to harm another; to not agree with one (physically, such a bad food)

    En vez de instead of (also en lugar de)

    Frente a frente face to face

    En cambio on the other hand, but

    Empleársele bien a uno to serve someone right, get one's due

    De aquí (or de hoy) en adelante from now on, from here on in

    Cuando quiera whenever you want, as soon as you're ready

    Al principio at first, initially

    Y pico and some odd (with numbers) NOTE: Do not use in Chile

    Y así sucesivamente and so on, et cetera

    Tomarle el pelo a uno to pull someone's leg

    Tener razón to be right

    Sin falta without fail

    Quedar en + inf to agree on, come to a mutual understanding or decision about something

    Por supuesto of course

    Por aquí cerca around here, nearby

    Ponerse de acuerdo to come to an agreement, be in accord

    Perderse de vista to be lost from sight, vanish, disappear

    Pensar de to think of, have an opinion about someone or something

    Pasar el rato to kill time, pass the time away

    Menos de less than (used with numbers; but note más que)

    Llevarse bien con to get along well with (also hacer buenas migas)

    Hasta cierto punto up to a point

    Estar rendido to be exhausted, worn out

    Estar (or quedar) entendido que to be understood that…

    En la mitad de in the middle of

    En fila in (a) line, row

    El día menos pensado when one least expects (also: cuando menos lo espera)

    Después de after, following

    Desde que since, ever since, from the moment that

    Dejar en paz to leave alone

    A más tardar at the latest

    Por fin at last

    No ser ni la sombra de uno to be barely a shadow of one's former self (as in after an illness)

    Poco después de soon after, a little after

    Limitarse con to be bounded, bordered by; to be held down or back

    Hecho y derecho mature, grown-up, full-fledged

    En resumidas cuentas in short, in a word, in a nutshell

    En representación de as an emissary of, representing

    Desde entonces since then, ever since that time

    De repente suddenly

    De ninguna manera by no means, under no circumstances

    De la noche a la mañana overnight, all at once (also en un abrir y cerrar de ojos)

    Costar mucho trabajo to be difficult, hard


  • Based on the author's more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish

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