Review: Verbarrator

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Conjugating Spanish verbs with the seemingly endless endings (weak pun intended) is one of the biggest challenges facing learners. Unless you have the sponge like brain of a child you will struggle to absorb the conjugations only from listening. So if you want to be to talk in the various tenses and moods you will need to ‘do the hard yards’ Hours of studying verb tables rarely makes top spot on anyone’s bucket-list. Books like 501 Spanish Verbs are better but not the last word in fun.

The Good

Verbarrator allows you to practice verb conjugation of 567 verbs. You can select just about all of the tenses in all moods up-to and including the Pluperfect Subjunctive!

The purpose of the program is to allow you to create your own customised conjugation drills.
First you choose which verbs to practice, you can make your own custom selection or there are many options including; Most Practical, Irregular verbs, Stem-changers, Reflexives etc.
You then choose which of the 20 tenses to practice from the Present all the way through to the compound tenses in both Indicative and Subjunctive Moods. You can further customise the drill by selecting how much time you get to answer before you hear the Spanish version.

I love the fact that you can change the playback from In Order to Random. If you are a beginner you can for example start off with just a few AR type verbs in the present tense played in order until they have been internalised and then start to mix things up a little. If you struggling with the past tenses you can select the Preterito and the Imperfecto and set the order to random. The permutations are almost limitless.

It’s a pena that you can’t save combinations, but rather you have to go through and select each verb every time you want to vary the combination.

The Bad

Verbarrator is very USA-centric. While echar la bola de béisbol is acceptable, to choose jugar al fútbol americano as the natural translation of ‘to play football’ is downright ridiculous in a football (aka soccer) mad Hispanic world.

Why use ‘drink the orange juice’ which ignores peninsular Spanish zumo in favour of jugo? If they had simply chosen café it would have been more encompassing.

The voice actor who provides the English track lacks any consistency in word stress so the phrases produced sound unnatural and distracting. Fortunately the native Spanish speaker does a much better job.

In the written prompts the Spanish phrases are in BLOCK CAPITALS. Not only is it the visual equivalent of shouting, it also makes them harder to read. (The authors of the program have confused legibility with readability. We don’t read words letter by letter but more often recognise the shape of the word).


Whilst none of the above are too serious, let’s look now at Verbarrators biggest problem:

The VERY Bad

The use of pronouns in Spanish is very different from their use in English. Subject pronouns (Yo, Tú, Nosotros etc.) are usually omitted in conversation unless emphasis or contrast is needed.

You have the option to switch pronouns off but when you do Verbarrator admits not just the partially redundant subject pronouns but also the non-optional object pronouns!

“I have left him downtown” translates as “he dejado en el centro” object pronoun ‘lo’ is missing when ‘omit Spanish pronouns’ is selected. A few random verbs later “He was passing that information to you” translates as “estaba pasando esa información” The essential subject pronoun “te” is missing!

So either you have the laboured and unnatural use of subject pronouns with every phrase or much worse you get incorrect Spanish that omits the required object pronoun.


The Ugly

Anyone who produces content needs to protect their copyright. However genuine purchasers should not be penalised. Verbarrator frequently checks licencing, sometimes it doesn’t work and you can’t use the program without internet connection.


The neglected website used to talk (for several years) of registering for upcoming new version. Now it seems to have been parked on co-creator Patrick Johnson’s ‘Learn Spanish like Crazy’.

Just in case there is ever a version 2.0, I would suggest adding option to save multiple lists because currently you have to go through and manually re-select each verb that you want to practice every time you open the program.

If you are interested in buying Verbarrator they are currently charging $57 (June 2019). I suggest that you wait for one of the fairly regular 50% off sales. You will have to sign up on https://learningspanishlikecrazy.com so be prepared for frequent emails imploring you not to miss out on the latest ‘must end at midnight tonight’ style offer!

Conclusion

Creating Verbarrator was clearly a mammoth task judging by the development time of the first version; 37 months according to the blurb. (actually, about 1½ time the gestation of a mammoth according to scientists). You can see exhausted look on the developer’s face in the Youtube clip above.

Despite the serious pronoun problem Verbarrator does offer something truly unique and is far more engaging than ploughing through verb tables. This is about as close as you are going to get to having fun with verb conjugations!

Recommended (with some reservations)