Most improvements to your language skills are gained only slowly and painfully: the fruits of hours of careful study and practice.
Yet others can, happily enough, be achieved easily. With just the odd tweak to how you express certain everyday ideas, you can have a big impact on the impression that you make with native speakers.
We already looked at one particularly fruitful area for making such changes in a previous post on interacting in restaurants (see: ordering stuff without sounding like a chump).
Today, we’ll examine how to do the same thing when it comes to discussing time in Spanish. Specifically, we want to revolutionise the way you talk about how long you’ve been doing a particular activity e.g. studying Spanish/living in a given country/travelling (or whatever else you can think of).
Literal translation is tempting…
Meet someone new in a Spanish-speaking country and you can guarantee that within the first few minutes of conversation they’ll ask you how long you’ve been there, how long you’ve been learning Spanish, or something similar.
Nothing wrong with that. These are all perfectly standard topics for some ‘getting-to-know-you’ type chit chat.
In English, we’d answer these questions by saying things like: “I’ve been travelling for three months”, “I’ve been in Mexico for two weeks” or “I’ve been studying Spanish for a year”.
And it’s extremely tempting, we know, to do the same thing when we switch over to the old español. How better to express the idea that you’ve been studying for six weeks, than by saying Yo he estado estudiando español por seis semanas?
Strictly speaking, it might not be exactly wrong to say this. All the words in the sentence are assembled beautifully and the conjugation of verbs is nothing short of impeccable.
But this sentence structure will still mark you out as a language learner — simply because it is not the way a native speaker would usually expression this same idea. And, as far as possible, we want to do anything to avoid being immediately marked out as a Spanish beginner – language students are never the coolest kids at the party.
To ‘bring’ time
So, if it’s so important to avoid the above, what should we use instead? Of the couple of options available to you, we highly recommend an amazing little idiomatic expression that combines the verb llevar (literally “to bring” or “to carry”) with whatever period of time you’re talking about.
We’ll return in a moment to explain further, but for now we’ll get straight into a few examples that’ll illustrate how the phrase works in practice.
Let’s start with the expression “I’ve been in Madrid for five days”. Resisting the urge to say yo he estado en Madrid por cinco días we can instead use this Spanish trick and go for:
Much better, don’t you think?
Another example: you’ve just been asked by a new Argentinean friend how long you’ve been together with your boy/girlfriend. Armed with this idiomatic expression, you respond as follows:
That is to say “we’ve been together for eight months”.
Make your own ‘llevar’ expressions
Slightly modify the Spanish phrasing, and llevar can be used to talk not only about how long you’ve been somewhere (or with someone), but also how long you’ve been doing a particular activity.
Without getting too technical, we’ll briefly stop here to look at the general sentence structure you should use when making your own sentences. Such expressions are made up of the following components:
LLEVAR + [PERIOD OF TIME] + [ACTIVITY]
Remember that for the ‘activity’ part of the above you’ll need to use the Spanish verb in the ‘gerund’ form (which is nothing more than a fancy way to say the “-ing” version of it e.g. “eating”, “crying”, “sleeping”, “believing” etc).
In Spanish, this means those actions which end in -ando, -iendo or –-yendo. So, taking the examples above, the gerund would be comiendo, llorando, durmiendo, or creyendo. (If you’re not yet familiar with these little guys, you might want to first read up on the relevant grammar rules, penned by some more learned types elsewhere.)
Anyway, enough of such dryness. Let’s get back to the examples. To say “I’ve been studying Spanish for four weeks”, you could try out this sentence:
[Incidentally, if your accent is as good as that of the lady in the audio above after just four weeks of study, you’ll have our eternal respect for sure.] Moving on…
A truly tremendous way to express “I’ve been waiting for two hours”.
Finally, and somewhat more aggressively, is the sample sentence:
Which would be “I’ve hated you my whole life” (or “I’ve spent my whole life hating you”). We very much hope you won’t need that last phrase as much as some of the others.
Comments or questions about how to use “llevar” to talk about time? Ask us below and our team will reveal all…