idiomatic expressions (Spanish)

I'm learning Spanish. Have put in the top 3,000 Spanish words from a frequency list and now I'm going through my grammar book filling in gaps. There are tons of idiomatic expressions that I'm trying to learn. I'm ideally trying to study them lexically - that is remember the whole fragment of the expression rather than each word it's comprised of. So far I've followed the FF methodology of including dictionary definitions (in Spanish) in the "extra info" field of the flashcard on almost all my cards. However, when you get to idiomatic expressions there's a dearth of dictionary definitions in the target language or I just haven't found the right resource that contains them. It's easy to google an expression and find the English translation of the expression, but it's near impossible to find a Spanish definition of said expression. E.g., "estar a punto de infinitive" = "to be just about to [do something]" -> "Estoy a punto de acabar" = "I am just about to finish". So far, the way I've tackled this is by using the all-purpose card format and creating an example sentence using the expression, and then blank out "a punto de" or even the whole "estoy a punto de" and through repetition of reviewing the card, eventually get the thing correct, just like I do for the rest of the cards. However, expressions can get tricky and it's good to have a Spanish definition on the card so if I do forget the meaning I don't have to go and look up the English translation. This is the way I've been getting by, and though I think it's sub-optimal, it's the only practical solution I've found. Anyone else figure out a better way to learn idiomatic expressions?

* Originally posted by ipsofacto.

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  • Do you use the Spanish Multi-Search features explained elsewhere? It contains the WordReference(.com) site set to es/en and is really great.
    If you search for punto, you will see a lot of definitions because it's a very common word. If you scroll through the listings you eventually come to this section:

    a punto loc adv (preparado) ready adj
    Sentaos a la mesa porque la comida está a punto.
    a punto de,
    a punto de hacer algo loc adv (preparado para) about to expr
    (formal) poised to expr
    El suicida estaba a punto de saltar cuando lo rescató la policía.
    The man was about to jump when the police officers saved him.
    The sense in which the word is used in the expression is parenthesized, in this case (preparado para). I personally would never have thought of that explanation, but the site is professional.
    Sometimes idiomatic expressions are really bizarre. I'm not good at Spanish but I can give you an example from French. Poser un lapin à quelqu'un means to stand somebody up (idiomatic in English also), but it literally means to set up a rabbit to someone. French people can't explain this, but the dictionary gives a conventional definition (in French) meaning to not go to a meeting with someone. So you can use the parenthesized definitions on your cards!

    Try it, you'll like it...

    * Originally posted by James.
  • Thanks. I do use word reference it's the most comprehensive source I've found. They don't have all the idiomatic expressions but they have more than anywhere else. The problem is sometime they don't have any Spanish definitions and usually when they do it's a one-word definition - just a synonym and not a full-fledged definition. I saw the wordreference definition for the French example you gave and it does have a multiple word definition which would suffice for my purposes but usually that's not the case from what I've found.

    Having a dictionary definition isn't crucial for learning the language and you'll learn it as you practice but it's a nice embellishment to have on the flashcard. If anyone has a good source for idiomatic expressions with good native language definitions I'd be happy to check it out.

    * Originally posted by ipsofacto.
  • When there is a one word synonym, I look up the synonym for a full definition if it's not obvious.

    Another possibility, is to google "idiomatic spanish" and you'll get lots of hits.

    You can even google the expression and might find useful information.

    The Cambridge press has some books by R.E. Batchelor and they might be useful but are rather pricey.So if you live near a university with second hand book shops around, I would look there first.

    * Originally posted by James.
  • James,

    Thanks for the response again. That's something I haven't thought of, to put in the definition of the one-word synonym. Also I found the Big Red Book of Spanish Idioms with 4000 expressions. They generally have nice English definitions that can be translated back into Spanish, although some of the given definitions in English are simply English idioms so it doesn't really help to translate those ones back into Spanish.


    * Originally posted by ipsofacto.
  • @ipsofacto: James is giving you a lot more detailed info than I'd be able to, but in terms of what I generally do for stuff like this is much like what you're describing: I set up example sentences (often in the forms of dialogues for stuff like this), and then blank out chunks of the phrase. I generally break them up into pretty small component pieces (An example sentence for “a punto de” might be three different fill-in-the-blank production cards, probably with a comprehension card for "punto" and another comprehension card for "a punto de"). I find that using a LOT of cards for a single example makes it very likely that I'll memorize the whole phrase in that order with that definition, and it ends up being a lot easier to deal with in my daily reviews than trying to do production cards with a giant phrase in the fill-in-the-blank.


    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
  • there is another website that might be useful (for German, French, Spanish, Italian, probably not other languages). It's and the have some shortcut names for spedific languages. It's a dictionary site, but they have also millions of text examples with English translations.

    I tried punto and got a lot of examples. I also tried "poser un lapin" for the French expression to stand up, and got a few hits that I didn't expect (lawyers thumbing their nose at a court!), so I think this is definitely worth looking into.

    * Originally posted by James.

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