How to Discuss Your Life Story and Background in Spanish
Telling stories is part of what makes us human. Knowing how to tell a good story is a great skill. However, telling your life story and talking about your background in Spanish is not so easy. It requires near mastery of the language.
Today, we’ll discuss why telling stories is such an important activity, and what you need to be able to tell your life story and share your background in Spanish. We’ll discover the close relationship between the preterite and imperfect tenses and learn how to best use them to tell a good story.
The Importance of Storytelling
Since the beginnings of humanity, people have told stories. Back then, they used to gather around a fire to tell them; now they do it in books, films, or even advertisements.
This most-human of activities, has been called the “oldest of all the arts,” studied at Harvard Business School, and discussed in TEDTalks. As Vanessa Boris from Harvard puts it, “Storytelling forges connections among people, and between people and ideas.”
Needless to say, it’s important to know how to tell a good story in your native language. And maybe even more in Spanish. Because telling your life story or sharing your background in Spanish will open doors for you in faraway places where all your other connections and accomplishments may not amount to much. A powerful life story will always help you wherever you go.
Sharing Your Life Story and Background in Spanish
One crucial step in your Spanish learning progress is to be able to engage in real-life conversations in the language. However, one thing is to hear and understand in Spanish, while a whole different thing is to be able to speak and actually produce phrases and connect ideas in Spanish.
When you’re just starting out, using some of the most common conversation starters in Spanish can be of great help. Another way to improve is to practice telling stories in Spanish. You can do this orally or on paper. The idea is to let your thoughts flow in Spanish and put you in the position where you need to think of the right way to connect those ideas in this new language.
But first, how do you tell a good story? Think of how you’d do it in English, and now we’ll see how to do it in Spanish.
Preterite vs Imperfect
Usually, when you tell a story, you’re talking about a string of facts and actions that happened in the past. In English, this is a straightforward process using the simple past. However, in Spanish you have two past tenses: preterite and imperfect. The key to telling a good story and sharing your background in Spanish is in mastering these two tenses.
Let’s start with the preterite. Without being completely an exact comparison, you can think of the preterite as the equivalent of the simple past in English. Because it tells you precisely when something happened in the past.
On the other hand, the imperfect doesn’t have a direct equivalent in English, which I find particularly amazing. Think of it, one big chunk of the world needs a whole different tense to express itself, while another part doesn’t need it at all. I guess it’s like the dozens of words Eskimos have for snow, an expression of the culture where that language developed.
The imperfect in Spanish is an expression of a culture where the past plays a bigger role in the way societies are handled. The imperfect expresses when an action took place with no definite ending. It’s a bit like if the past hasn’t actually “passed” just yet. And it’s useful for talking about your background in Spanish.
Using the Preterite and the Imperfect to Tell a Story in Spanish
Once you understand the difference between the preterite and the imperfect, the next step is to learn how to use them. Because when telling a story in Spanish you have to use them both. Sometimes, in a sentence or paragraph you may use only the preterite; other times, you will only need the imperfect, but most times you have to mix them up and that’s when you know you’re ready to discuss your background in Spanish.
Let’s see some examples.
Talking about Multiple Events in a Sequence
Agarré mi bolso, salí de la casa, encendí el auto y me fui directo al hospital. – I grabbed my bag, left the house, started the car, and drove directly to the hospital.
In this case you need to use the preterite, because each action is finished before moving to the next one. If you were to use the imperfect here, it would sound like you didn’t really want to go to the hospital and were looking for an excuse to not leave the house.
Set the Scene and Highlight the Action
Tenían el partido controlado, cuando de pronto cayó el gol del Barcelona. – They had the match under control, when suddenly Barcelona scored a goal.
In this case, the imperfect allows you to talk about something that was happening in the past when something else happened. It’s hard to convey to someone who has no imperfect tense in their native language how important this is. Using it properly, you can talk about events that happened in the past as if they were still happening. It’s the perfect tool for storytelling.
Esa noche llovía mucho y me mojé tanto que me enfermé. – That night it rained a lot, and I got so wet that I got sick.
Once again, using the imperfect gives you the opportunity to set the scene for what’s going to happen next.
Preterite First, Imperfect Second.
You can also use them the other way around, preterite first and imperfect second. In this case, the second part of the sentence is the one that expresses the idea of a continuous past.
Carla se fue mientras yo le explicaba. – Carla left while I was explaining it to her.
When you use this formula, the focus of the story is on the preterite verb. The imperfect is in the background, like an added detail.
Final Thoughts on How To Discuss your Background in Spanish
Combining both tenses in a single sentence is a great sign that your Spanish is reaching an upper intermediate level and that you’re getting ready to tell your life story and talk about your background in Spanish.
Focus on mastering the use of the preterite and the imperfect, but please try not to fall for the temptation of using the imperfect too much. Why? Because its conjugations are way easier than those of the preterite. However, when sharing your background in Spanish, abusing the use of the imperfect is not recommended. It will make your background sound like a corny romantic story.
Always think of the preterite as your first choice when telling a story, just like in English. But keep in the back of your mind the idea that in Spanish you have this great resource to enrich your storytelling: the imperfect.
¿Aprendiste algo nuevo mientras leías?
Did you learn anything new while you were reading? That’s just another example of how you can mix the preterite and the imperfect in Spanish, but it’s also a reminder that you can learn while reading, listening, or having an actual conversation with one of our native Spanish teachers. Book a free trial class today and apply what you just learned by sharing your background in Spanish.
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