hello, about your doubts:
“tomo” and “tomó” can be distinguished by their “sílaba tónica” (tonic syllable?), which is the syllable in the word that has the sounds stronger… tomó is a “grave” word because it has it is pronounced more heavily in its last syllable, (to-MO) and tomo is “aguda” because sounds stronger in the penultimate syllable (TO-mo). And also, is used for a different person:
Yo tomo (in present)
El / Ella tomó (in simple past)
just saying “tomo” is (I take) and “tomó” is (he or she took). But basically you can tell them apart by the sound of the words.
the “tomamos” is a little complicated to explain.
I’ve listened over and over my ears just don’t hear a difference. If it’s there it’s so subtle that I’m not getting it. I guess that’s something else I’ll have to work on. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell the difference more with practice.
I’m sure you will eventually, its very important to identify “sílabas tónicas” because they tell you how words have to be written too.
I will give you some examples about the “sílaba tónica”:
Sí - la - ba (sílaba tónica = Sí)
Tó - ni - ca (sílaba tónica = Tó)
Mé - xi - co (sílaba tónica = Mé)
Za - pa - to (sílaba tónica = pa)
Mo - ne - da (sílaba tónica = ne)
Mo - chi - la (sílaba tónica = chi)
To - ma - te (sílaba tónica = ma)
Ta - co (sílaba tónica = Ta)
try to identify, where are you putting the most weight of your voice in the words. When you see an accent (tilde) over a letter, that means that’s the “sílaba tónica” of the word. Is just a matter of practice I guess.
I agree that the first person present verbs vs. third person past verb forms can be confusing at first to the beginner. Of course it’s easy when reading/writing since un accento is used to show which syllable gets the emphasis. But learning to hear it in speech or intone it properly when speaking is another thing altogether. When you are first starting out, it is almost as if your brain cannot hear certain subtleties - as you said you’ve listened to it over and over and nada. But as someone who has been at this for awhile, I can tell you if you stay persistent, your ability to hear and say such subtleties does improve over time. Sometimes you don’t even realize it until suddenly it happens. So don’t get too discouraged if you’re not hearing it right off the bat. Keep trying.
Over and above the intonation, you will also learn how to more easily take context into account. This is something I find frustrating about normal Spanish language learning curricula - whether it is in a class or on a tape/CD or whatever. Often things are presented in an almost contextless fashion - or, at best, you see a sentence with a picture to provide some context. But of course, in real life, we’re not walking around looking at pictures and saying sentences about them. We are having conversations, assembling ideas and sentences and thoughts on the fly, and interpreting similar stream of consciousness responses on the fly as well. THAT is the skill I believe most of us really want, not the ability to match a sentence with a picture or interpret very short snippets of someone else’s taped conversation.
Watching Spanish language TV is somewhat helpful in this regard because at least you are hearing and seeing conversations in context, not just drilling or learning in an artificial type situation. In your example, generally when you are talking with someone, you are not just saying one sentence about a person, you are saying several things. So if you’re talking in general about your shared friend Felix at the moment, and your conversation friend says “tomó la agua”, but you can’t hear the emphasis, you’re still going to be able to pretty easily discern that since you were already talking about Felix and his lack of concern about getting sick in Mexico, your friend is using the word in the third person past tense to talk about how Felix drank the water there (not recommended by the way!).
Another example for me, is words that end in “IL” like dificil or util. To this day I cannot always hear the L sound at the end of the word. I’ve gone so far as to accuse my native Spanish speaking spouse of dropping the L sound in these words. But she hears it and insists she’s saying it. I’ve come to believe that it is there, it’s just pronounced less distinctly in Spanish in that context than it would be in English, kind of like the letter “t” which is often much softer sounding in Spanish than in English - so “como estás” sounds more like “como esdás” to my ear.
Anyway, I guess the bottom line is, keep at it and don’t feel too perplexed if you don’t get it right away. The most encouraging thing I’ve learned in this long, somewhat arduous process is that the brain is an amazing thing, even if you’re well past your youth (like me!). You’ll try, try and try, get frustrated, sort of give up for awhile, and then suddenly one day realize you can almost magically do it, even if you did no additional work on it in the meantime. Cool stuff.