Tom Barry Writes

Author of "Saving Jay" & "When the Siren Calls"

The secret of how to memorize 5000 Spanish words in 5 minutes


Sex, secrets and lies on the dark side of the Mexico border

Anyone can learn 5000 commonly spoken Spanish words quickly and easily. In 5 minutes in fact. And this little post will share the secret. Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world. If, like me, you’ve tried and failed in the past to gain fluency in another language, it may be because you worked using traditional methods. What if there were an easier way?

Don’t get me wrong here. There are no shortcuts to fluency, whatever all those enticing language school promises might say. Learning a language is a lifetime journey, just as we continue to learn our mother tongue every day. But fluency and getting by are different skills, and here I’m talking about getting by.

First, ask yourself how many words in your native language do you actually know? Depending on our education level, it may be as little as 5000. Some know many times that number of course, but rarely come across and seldom use the vast majority of the words they know. Believe me, a vocabulary of 5000 words is more than enough for the average person to get through the average day. In fact we only need to know about 2500 words to communicate effectively in a wide range of social and practical situations. If I spend a day with my wife I may speak less than  100 words from dawn to dusk. “I was wrong” being the three most often spoken words used by me that day. Take a thick quality daily newspaper. How many different words are there in your quality daily newspaper? I’m talking quality newspaper, not trashy tabloid. I’m told a quality newspaper typically contains less than 600 different words. And in this blog I’m promising a secret to learn and memorise 5000 words in 5 minutes!

Enough preamble, let’s get to the meat. But first, trust yourself, you already know or can instantly recognise hundreds of Spanish words, either because they have been incorporated into the English language, like ‘Fiesta,’ or because you’ve been to the movies and seen the ‘gringo’ being shot by a ‘hombre’ in a ‘poncho’, smoking a ‘cigarillo’, under a ‘sombrero.’ In fact, if you’re still with me, you’re well on the way to discovering the secret for yourself. And the secret is that there are over 10,000 English words that are almost identical in their Spanish form, and many that are 100% identical. (I know you can’t have 99% identical, but this is not an English class here).

It’s all about understanding the language patterns. For example, once we know that ‘nation’ is spelt ‘nacion’ in Spanish, and the ‘c’ is pronounced like ‘th’, then we’re cooking with gas. (Don’t you love cliches?). Extrapolate from this knowledge the following: Almost any word you can think of in English – and there’s thousands of them – that ends in ‘ion’, like celebration or imitation, is going to follow the same pattern as ‘nation’ in its Spanish equivalent. There you have it. Now you can already recognise (and pronounce), thousands of Spanish words.

But it gets better. ‘Nation’, is just the tip of the sombrero. There are dozens of other patterns that work the same way. For example, any English words ending in ‘ive’ will usually end ‘ivo’ in Spanish (so now you’ll immediately recognise ‘positivo’ and ‘constructivo’ and ‘incisivo’). We’re on a roll here.  Any English word ending in ‘ic’ is likely to be the same in Spanish but with an ‘ico’ ending. So we can now translate critic and diabetic and frenetic  and hundreds of similar English words into Spanish. Still with me? Fantastico! And once we’ve got the basics, we can go on and work out more tricky customers, such as words in English that end in ‘ty’, like celebrity, that will likely end ‘dad’ in Spanish, which gives us ‘celebridad’. And when you get really good at this, you get to guess words that are variations on the pattern, e.g you’ll guess ‘ciudad’ is ‘city’ because your new language processor will recognise the ‘dad’ as ‘ty’.

I could go on with this, write a book on it, and make lots of money with a chapter for each pattern, but life is too short, or la vida es corta, as they say in Mexico. So the question is, if we can now recognise thousands of Spanish words, why can’t we understand a damn word we hear of spoken Spanish? We struggle even when the word is spelt exactly the same in both languages, like ‘virus’, or almost the same, like ‘terible’ (i’ll trust you to figure that last one out, and when you do you’ll be able to figure out another thousand Spanish words that end in ‘ble” !!!). Think what a diferencia that could make to your abilidad to get by in Spanish.

Well, the understanding problem is about tuning our ear to Spanish pronunciation. And that is something we can learn easily too. Once we know that Spanish typically stresses the syllable before last, and that the “i’ in virus is pronounced more like an ‘e’ in English, we have a good chance of recognising “virus” when the ‘nina’  or ‘nino’ at the bar asks us “tienes virus sexual?” Answer that one with ‘si’ and it will be a short ‘conversacion‘.

Now how do I know all this fascinating stuff or, more to the point, why have I troubled my butt to learn it? Well, in real life from Florida to California and all along  the America-Mexico border native Spanish speakers, and there’s tens of millions of them, speak English often using Spanish speech patterns, and will often either speak ‘Spanglish’ or at least drop Spanish words like ‘delicioso’ into their everyday spoken English. (And once you know that hundreds of everyday Spanish words ending in ‘oso’ typically have an english equivalent ending in  ’ous’ you’ll know ‘delicioso’ is ‘delicious’ !) So when I set my ‘brillante‘ new suspense novel ‘When the Siren Cries’ smack bang on the America-Mexico border and populated it with a number of smouldering senoritas and hunky hombres, then for the dialogue to mirror authentic speech I needed to incorporate Spanglish in the characters’ vocabulary. But to ensure everyday English speakers could follow the dialogue easily, I needed to be selective, and use words and phrases that were either instantly recognisable like  ’hola chica’, or words like ‘bonita” that the English language tuned brain would easily translate using it’s actual or subconscious understanding of Spanish language patterns. So if you’re over 18 and want to read a gripping story of sex, secrets and lies (‘sexo, secretos y mentiras’) on the dark side of the America-Mexico border, while also getting to really appreciate that you already know how to recognise lots of everyday Spanish, check out my new suspense novel. Before you know it you’ll have a whole new ‘vocabulario’.

Hasta luego amigos



How I sold more books than Jeffrey Archer (he’s sold 270 million)

aka3Jeffrey Archer first approached me looking for money. And if I may say so, in quite a bullying way. Yes I’m talking about the Jeffrey Archer, aka Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare. That is not a joke, and I know Jeffrey can afford a good lawyer. (As George Bush once unwisely said about Iraqi insurgents, ‘bring ‘em on’.) I was going through a difficult divorce at the time (has anyone ever been through an easy one?) but, despite my strained circumstances, I was happy to help Jeffrey out. More on that later. But first, let me tell you a little about the writing phenomenon that is Jeffrey Archer. I bear the man no grudge. He is the only author to have had a number-one bestseller in fiction (fifteen times), short stories (four times), and non-fiction (The Prison Diaries). A former politician, close confidant of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, he established himself as a literary force with the publication of his first novel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, in 1975. Since then, his international book sales have passed 270 million copies: he has been published in 97 countries and in more than 37 languages.

Like me, Jeffrey Archer was not always a best selling author, and he’s had his ups and downs. (I think I’m right in saying he was once a knight of the realm.) What may surprise you is that Archer didn’t start writing novels till he was 34 years old. Yet still today, as he will be the first to tell you, there are millions of avid readers out there who have never heard of him. In fact, I’m told, a question he’s often asked is ‘are you still writing?’ Are you still writing? That is not an ‘are you still beating your wife’ question. His last ten books have all been number one best sellers, and he’s still being asked if he’s still writing! Even people who have known Archer since before he wrote his first blockbuster, Kane and Abel, ask him that question.

aka4Now that I’ve shared a little to pique your interest in Baron Archer, I need to tell you that if you’re hoping to see Jeffrey in a bookstore near you anytime soon, you’re likely to be disappointed. Unless, that is, you happen to live near the particular bookstore in Weston-super-Mare where Jeffrey buys his books. A bookstore which in all probability doesn’t exist because, avid reader though he is, I imagine Archer is already drowning in a deluge of unsolicited books sent to his door. And the reason Jeffrey won’t be in your local bookstore any time soon signing his books is that it simply doesn’t make economic sense for him to do so.

Let me explain that. If Archer were to do a book signing in a big city, let’s say a big city blessed with a world famous University (Berkeley), a city with perhaps the world’s most famous bookstore (Moe’s bookstore, featured in the Dustin Hoffman movie The Graduate), how many people do you estimate would turn up in that San Francisco bookstore? Well, based on his own experience, Archer would expect 150-200 people to show up. If everyone that showed up bought his book, let’s call that sales of $2,000, a notional profit of say $1,000 for Jeffrey’s publisher (Macmillan). After Macmillan has paid for Jeffrey’s first class flight from London to San Francisco…. you get where I’m going here.

Which brings me to me and my book sales, relative to Jeffrey Archer. We have already learnt that Archer expects no more than 200 people at a book signing. (Strangely, less than at a Pamela Anderson book signing, and he’s a far better writer than she is.) And, believe it or not, (he told me), at one book signing he sold only 4 books. Four books! Admittedly, at the time he was less famous than he is now. But only four books? Where was the return on investment in that? Let me tell you that at my first book signing, when I was much less famous than I am now, I sold over 50 books, and in less than two hours, (because I needed to get away to watch Chelsea v Manchester United in the late kick-off game.). Whatever about Archer and Macmillan, I have to also tell you that I wouldn’t get out of bed if I thought only 150-200 people were going to show up in the store. I guess my time is more valuable than Jeffrey’s and my budget is less than Macmillan’s.

Chelsea FC Shirt signed by title winning team of 2003

Chelsea FC Shirt signed by title winning team of 2003

I’ve come to the end of my tale about me and Jeffrey Archer, apart from tidying up a few loose ends, just like Jeffrey likes to do on the last page of his absolutely brilliant novels (yes, I’m still thinking about his lawyer.) And I’m going to ask your forgiveness by doing that tidying up with two links. One to a great book by Stephanie J. Hale from which I learnt all the facts in this piece about Jeffrey’s book sales. The other is to an equally brilliant piece of my own where I reveal all the secrets of successful book signings. Oh yes, and with an eye on Jeffrey’s lawyer, there is still the ugly subject of money, and specifically the money he arm-twisted out of me. The explanation for which I draw your attention to the picture of the signed Chelsea football club shirt to the right which, in a moment when I was not of sound mind, I bought for an extortionate sum at a charity auction hosted by Jeffrey. The good cause to which my hard earned book profits went I no longer recall, but I can only hope that, like Jeffrey’s time in prison, it was spent wisely.



Is ‘likeability’ key to happiness, and fiction sales?

Be Nice To Me

Be Nice To Me

Whoever first said ‘nice guys finish last’ didn’t know what he was talking about. When I was in the business of mentoring new team members joining a global organisation of 200,000 employees, one of the tips I was fond of passing on was “just be nice to people”. Many of the new hires I mentored were young graduates who it had been my decision to employ – so in a way my career was linked to theirs’. And the reason I offered them a job in my team was because I liked them. And I typically made that decision within the first two minutes of meeting them. I never particularly warmed to candidates who came into my office bent on demonstrating how smart they were. And you know what? There’s not a single person I employed over a twenty-five year business career that I regretted hiring. Now in any organisation of 200,000 people there’s going to be a few jerks, (though I never hired them!) and some of them are going to be successful. But my theme here is not success, it’s happiness…and book sales!

I hired people who would fit into my team and that the rest of the team would enjoy working with. And just as importantly, that my clients would enjoy having work within their business. I didn’t do technical or ‘competency’ interviews. I’m not saying qualifications and skills are not important, but I figured that by the time a candidate got to my door someone else had already grilled him or her on their resume and skills. To me it really was a question of likeability. So, if you want to be interviewed, work on your resume; if you want to be hired, be likeable. And to you recruiters out there who doubt me, remember this. Skills can be taught, likeability is part of the hard wiring.

Enough of job interviews, let’s look at some possibly life and death decisions where likeability is key. Let’s take the courts of justice. British comedian Ken Dodd was taken to court for tax evasion. To me it looked an open and shut case for the Revenue guys, but loveable Ken was acquitted. He’s probably still laughing. British jockey and horse racing legend Lester Piggott was similarly taken to court for tax evasion, and duly convicted and imprisoned, despite the odd doubt about the evidence. And the key difference? Ken Dodd was enormously likeable whereas Lester Piggott was reputedly one of the meanest of spirits you could wish to meet.

OJ Simpson

OJ Simpson

Another courtroom example, this time from America. Mike Tyson was convicted of rape whereas OJ Simpson was acquitted on a double murder count. In his trial Tyson chose to take the Stand and make his case. Simpson never took the Stand. Now, in my humble opinion, the case against Simpson was compelling whereas that against Tyson left a number of troubling questions. But the public image of Tyson was that he was an untamed brute, and that of Simpson was that he was a national sporting icon and movie star who had overcome adversity to excel on the ballpark. Tyson just wasn’t considered likeable, whereas a whole raft of America was rooting for Simpson.

The moral here? Human beings are simply not programmed to hire people they don’t like or to convict people they do like.

What has this got to do with book sales? Well, for a start, if you’re an author and you’re holding a book signing, be nice to people – you’ll sell more books. But jokes aside, readers typically won’t continue reading a novel unless they find themselves rooting for at least one of the characters. If we don’t like the character we are not likely to care about what happens to them, so why bother continuing to read their story? A caveat here of course is that we don’t want our characters to be one-dimensional goody-goodies. We want them to be flawed – like us. They might be criminals, but they need to be human, to make mistakes that get them into increasingly hot water, before finally triumphing against the odds. And in the case of the bad guys, doing the right thing or dying a heroic death.

aubynI’m sure we can all find exceptions to the above novel writing maxim, but this is often because we find the character fascinating. Was the Oscar Wilde character Dorian Gray, for example, likeable?  Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn is a best seller. It is a book with a cast of the most odious characters its ever been my misfortune to read about, in particular the evil central character, the abusive and controlling pedophile David Melrose. And many people have read all three books in the series. But these best-sellers with dark protagonists are exceptions. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid might have been outlaws, but we liked them. Bridget Jones may have been a basket case, but we loved her for her personality and rooted for her because of her vulnerability. Certainly for mass-market commercial fiction a book has a much greater chance of success with likeable characters. Because in books, as in life, we are drawn to people we like.