Your Simplified Guide to Spanish Structure and its Application

by Armand A. Gagnon

M.A., B.A. in Spanish

'English as  Another Language' certification

Certified Courtroom interpreter, County of Ventura, CA
Bilingüal Examiner, Lane County, Eugene, Oregon

Professor of Spanish

Department of Foreign Languages (LLC)

Lane Community College, Eugene, Oregon

a Conceptual/Structural Approach


Armand A.Gagnon
The Spanish Sampler for Rapid Assimilation of Spanish Grammar and Linguistic Theory

 Language is the most massive and inclusive art we know, a mountainous and unconscious work of anonymous generations.
Edward Sapir, Language (1921)

    The intent of my language method book, The Spanish Sampler, is to cut through a lengthy process of memorizing exhausting vocabulary lists, learning grammatical rules by rote, and delving into a host of dialogued conversations by means of mimicry like a parrot, not knowing exactly how to apply these situations to one's own individual life experience. A clear-cut overview or "blueprint" of the Spanish language is what this book contains, with minimal vocabulary included at this time. This conceptual or structural approach may be likened to learning the major and minor scales in music first, with all of their accompanying sharps and flats, before learning to perform any songs or musical pieces. Learning another language is to be fun and should be "experiential", not so "intellectual" in approach. Visuals, "situationals," and ample transparencies, put into a meaningful context along with other appropriate multi-sensory realia, should replace the sterile, linear vocabulary lists from the "days of olde".  Such is the reason why so many French, Spanish, Italian, and German textbooks from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s failed in their purported mission: They weren't picture friendly and they were without drawings to accompany the corresponding material on the pages.

    Language is habit, coupled with environment. Internalizing the speaking and listening processes, thus establishing communicative competence, is necessary for comprehension of the spoken word and for developing fluency. An analogy might be appropriate here: Seeing a picture of a house and responding with "casa" is much like putting information directly onto the hard drive of your mind's computer. Viewing a picture-less vocabulary list with "casa/house" on it only stores the data onto the floppy disk of the student's mind in factual recall, only to be "popped out" at a later date (after exam time, perhaps?) or erased altogether. One is merely learning about language (metalingüistic knowledge) by not being in the language. In other words, reading a passage in English aloud resides in the realm of the intellect. Telling the listener about what you just read (without looking at the printed material) resides in the realm of intuition and improvisation. And so it is with language, music, and mathematical learning: the approach should be largely intuitional.  

     Learning encompasses both intellectual and intuitional processes. In a "performance"-oriented discipline such as music (a musician plays her violin in class), in mathematics (a pupil does geometry problems on the board), in art (a student draws, paints, or sculpts a colorful creation to display to the class), in drama (an acting student performs on stage), and in foreign language (when students pair off to practice orally a given theme or topic), the student is asked to draw upon his intuition, her subliminal subconscious awareness, and his inductive powers of reasoning. Sociology or History might be considered "intellectually"-oriented disciplines, to illustrate a contrast in pedagogies. Rote memorization of material is intellectual in its approach and indeed does have its place in a second-language classroom. To integrate these two learning processes in an effective and balanced manner represents my general teaching philosophy.

    Second-language acquisition (L2) involves four independent variables on the part of the learner:

            1-  phonetic coding and auditory memory
            2-  grammatical sensitivity
            3-  inductive language learning ability
            4-  rote memory

    Furthermore, a person with learning disabilities who is born and raised in certain regions of Switzerland may (simply by circumstance, habit, and environmental chance) be fully trilingüal in German, French, and Italian with a smattering of Swiss-German too. Even though this person may not have a "knack" or facility for learning foreign languages, s/he nonetheless has assimilated these languages by a mere geographical "luck of the draw". Conversely, a Kansas-born American who is isolated geographically from any language other than English may travel 100 miles in any direction and still only hear his or her native language of English. This person may become so impressed with Europeans and how "smart" they are with languages, yet the American from Wichita may have been far more gifted and "brighter" with language learning than his Swiss counterpart, yet s/he never had the opportunity to test her ability due to the place and locale into which s/he was born and bred.

For all students of Spanish, I recommend the following:

(a) Find a Spanish-speaking channel on TV. First, watch the news on an English-speaking channel for 15 minutes, then follow it up with watching a similar broadcast in the "target" language. Try this maybe two or three times weekly. Be very patient in the initial stages, and....

(b) Find a native Spanish speaker who knows little or no English with whom to practice and "trade" language lessons (i.e. one-half hour in English, one-half hour in Spanish).

    Audio cassette tapes played in the car while one drives to and from work or pleasure is wonderful ear training in the language, but it lacks the visual input as that other necessary ingredient, Braille being the exception. Only in-person, live practice can make you a fluent speaker in another language. Ultimately, the learner of the Spanish language must master the nine sets of suffixes which determine number, person, case, mood, aspect, order, tense, gender, and grammatical function.

    Remember: Spanish is fun, and you may find your English much improved as you tread along. "Success is a journey, not a destination". Good luck and, above all, enjoy.

(found among the papers of The Traveling Enthusiast)


                            For a sample chapter: CLICK HERE:      


    In my web pages that follow, I have attempted to delineate some of our world's holidays historically by means of tracing the etymological evolution of their word roots and their affixes (prefixes and suffixes) through a process known as lingüistic reconstruction. This process combines both historical and comparative lingüistics. I have deliberately chosen to use the traditional B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini) calendar reference in lieu of the more modern B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and its corresponding C. E. (Common Era) time periods for purposes of greater readership familiarity. To reveal the remotest of origins of many world holidays as objectively as possible, without any particular religious affiliation, nationalistic fervor, nor opinion attached to these histories is my main intention. My hope is to keep the joy of our world's major holidays alive, to stimulate interest in world languages, and to be as accurate and informative as possible.

    Because Spanish is basically of pure Latin extraction, let us take for example the root fa. In ancient Latin, fa was a root to which was added -ri creating the infinitive fari (to speak). This eventually became connected with bula: fa + bula = fábula (fable). In fables, animals generally do the talking. A fabulist is one who tells fairy tales or fables. Town criers and street vendors on the cobble stoned streets of Renaissance Spain often sold bulas or prayers (which were spoken aloud) to protect the souls of both living and departed ones. So fa became the root base, ultimately forming "word clusters". Fábula eventually evolved into the infinitive form fabulare (to speak) and, in due diachronic time, its initial f- became an initial h- by ultimately becoming our modern Spanish infinitive hablar (to speak). 

    Once the negative prefix in- (without) was added to the root fa, infante or infant appeared, meaning a "non-speaking" person or child. During Spain's Middle Ages and the writing of el Cantar de Mío Cid, servants who were to remain silent or speechless in the presence of their lord or master became los infantes. So a body of such servants came to be called la infantería or "the speechless ones". In our present-day Spanish and English languages, we have such lingüistic residuals as infantry (soldiers who remain silent while on the battlefield), fama or fame (much talking about), infamia or infamy (so awful it can't be spoken of), infancia or infancy (a speechless stage in life),  fatuo or fatuidad  meaning fatuous (silly or with foolishness). This eventually produced English's infatuation (a foolish, unspeakable crush) coming originally from Latin's ignis fatuus (foolish fire) or the mysterious lights that appear in a Hallowe'en fog caused by decaying matter that releases spontaneous luminary gases. Also in Spanish are fado or hado (a deity or fairy who speaks to the common people). Another derivative is fabuloso or fabulous (to be worthy of much talk). Something considered to be unfathomable is indeed "unspeakable". Even our modern terms fate, fateful, and fatal are linked to this ever-forming, ever-changing word constellation based on the original Latin base root fa, a phoneme (unit of sound) used long ago in ancient Rome well before the time of Cicero or Julius Caesar. 


Read my Dreambook!
Sign my Dreambook!

Please continue to Lingüistic Sources of Hallowe'en.

Hallowe'en poem: Winds of October

Day of the Dead/Día de los muertos

Origins of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving short story of fantasy: The Ghost of Thanksgiving

Origins of Christmas

Origins of St.Valentine's Day

Origins of Easter

Language Families

The Indo-European Family Of Languages

Indigenous Languages of Alaska and Siberia


Tales of B'rer Rabbit, as Spun by Uncle Remus

California Dreamin'

Chilean Eclipse

About the Author

Methodologies in Foreign Language Teaching

The History of the Guitar in Spain w/ YOU TUBE video

Essay: Is Academia Purely 'Academic'?      

Artificiality in Foreign Language Teaching

Anti Semantic: What's in a Word?                              

*                *               *                 *                *                *                *                *             *

"Language is worth a thousand pounds a word!"  
from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, 1862

"The sum of human wisdom is not contained in any one language." Ezra Pound

"Violence is the sign language of the inarticulate."  
            from Otto Preminger's Skidoo, 1968

"The more comprehensible input one receives in low-stress situations, the more language competence that one will have."
Stephen Krashen
(founder of the Natural/Communicative Approach to language-learning)

"The mind, the culture, has two little tools, grammar and lexicon: a decorated sand bucket and a matching shovel."  
         from Anne Dilliard's Teaching a Stone to Talk 

"Grammar is the number one best thing in this world."
            from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, 2004

"People do not think in English or Chinese or Apache; they think in a language of thought."
            from Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, 1994

"For humans, real learning is always associated with pleasure and is ultimately a form of play: a principle almost always dismissed by schools."
            from James Paul Gee, social lingüist, in his Situated Language and Learning: A Critique of Traditional Schooling, 2004

"All phonemes denote nothing but mere otherness."
            from David Shields' Dead Languages, 1986
for Spanish instruction & translations

 Email Armand Gagnon

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"Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." 
Noam Chomsky (1928-        )
MIT Lingüistics professor and pioneer into Universal Grammar, second-language acquisition theory, and "Transformational Grammar".


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