Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Call-to-Arms for Spanish Assistance

Rosetta Stone. My Spanish lifeline, yet also my biggest hurdle.

For the uninitiated, part of the FSO training regimen involves necessary language training. So the government (thanks, taxpayers!) provides intensive language courses that essentially become the forever-studying-for-overseas' (FSO’s) fulltime job.

Kindly enough, the government (thanks again, taxpayers!) also opens the door to us, eagers-for-mastering (EFMs) a foreign language, if space permits. Of course, the other qualification is if the family’s economic situation permits.

But as I have to work 40-hour weeks to pay the bills, the government (really, taxpayers, you are outdoing yourselves!) provides an online version of the Rosetta Stone for spouses unable to give up their jobs and attend classes.

In the early going, I was a big fan. I still remain relatively impressed with the program, but it suffers from a huge drawback. No English. I hope I’m not giving away too many secrets, but the program works by using images and matching the images to the Spanish words. Up until my specific gripe, which is coming shortly, I’ve actually preferred this method because the pictures are more memorable than an English translation.

But the problem arises when the lessons get more complex, and they are trying to describe a verb that doesn’t really provide an action. The first encounter was the verb tener, “to have.” After a few images, I was able to piece that one together, but how do you illustrated someone having something?

Now, I’m only up to the second chapter, and I’ve reached a sticking point. The offending sentence: Yo quiero a mi padre. And several variations with third person subjects like: El nino quiere a su perro. And then the corresponding pictures show either a person hugging his/her father or a boy hugging his dog, etc.

As we all remember from Taco Bell commercials, when a chihuahua says “Yo quiero Taco Bell,” it means it wants Taco Bell. But we’ve never heard that dog utter “Yo quiero a Taco Bell.” What does that “a” mean? How does it affect the verb, querer?

The best of I’ve gathered is that it means “love,” but heaven forbid Rosetta Stone from providing a glossary of terms to address any confusion for their images’ inadequacies. So if anyone speaks Spanish, could you please help me with this translation?


  1. David, I just stared reading your blog as I await the results of my PNQs. I had to dust off some of my high school Spanish to find your answer but here is a decent explanation:


    It is called the Personal "A."

    In this case Querer is being used to mean "to love."

  2. I don't know if you know this or not, but you can also do once-a-week Spanish classes with a Spanish teacher over the phone, and you can work with software that has lots of English (and the teacher would speak English to you, also). Have your wife try to register you for that. It's offered through FSI and I think her CDO gets you registered.

    They send you software... "Spanish Express" and then you make an appointment with the instructor at the same time each week to have a 45 minute phone lesson. You might be able to schedule it during your lunch break at work or something.

    In fact, a new term for Spanish 1 just is starting this week. I don't know if it's too late for you to register or not, but I just finished Spanish 1 this way last semester. We used the "Spanish Express" software and the instructor was phenomenal!

    It would be better to do that AND Rosetta Stone than just Rosetta Stone. Rosetta Stone will only take you so far...

    Good Luck to you!

    ~A Fellow EFM
    A Daring Adventure

  3. David,

    I'm a husband EFM in Matamoros and I love your blog. It's a struggle to remind State that EFMs are people too!

    Rosetta stone is okay, but I had the same complaints you have. Look up the distance-learning Spanish classes through FSI. You get a CD with lessons designed by FSI and a 45-minute phone call with a FSI instructor every week. I worked through the intermediate level and found it super-helpful and targeted exactly to my learning level--a good mix of vocab and grammar. Your wife will have to register you on the intranet through the FSI Registrar, which is a pain, but it's worth it.

    Feel free to write me with any questions about the FS or Mexico.

  4. To be specific, the personal a indicates that the direct object is something to which we'd attribute a personality - ie, a human being, a loved pet, etc. A restaurant doesn't cut it. The same applies to other verbs that take human direct objects - so Yo veo a mi madre, but Yo veo la masa. (Hope I got my genders correct - my Spanish is rusty!)

  5. Thanks to all for answering my question and providing some additional resources. Also thanks for reading; it's nice to know I'm not the only one.

    And toph, good luck with your Please, No more Quizzes (PNQ)!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Hi David, I'm a soon to be EFM. My fiancee is in the A-100 class starting in in March. I had to nod in agreement when I read this post. I'm using Rosetta Stone for French (just for fun) and I have the same problems. I feel that my understanding of the language is too vague because I don't know if a certain phrase means a boy and his dog, a boy with his dog, a boy has a dog and so on.

    Oh Rosetta Stone, why do you hate English?

    Travel Orders