Archive for June, 2013

What Makes a Good Spanish Student?

Friday, June 28th, 2013

There are several factors that add up to create a good Spanish student. Having been a language teacher and language learner for many years I have seen first hand many different learners: I have seen people excel in language learning and for various reasons I have seen people stagnate in their learning. If you want to learn Spanish in the most effective and efficient manner, then follow this advice to become a super student and you will impress your teacher with your Spanish before you know it.

The first thing to remember when you are learning Spanish is that practice makes perfect. You have to get over any inhibitions you have or any fears that you hold about sounding dumb or making a mistake. The first thing I always tell my language students is that I expect them and I want them to make mistakes. If you were perfect at Spanish already, you wouldn’t be studying would you? So forget about your shyness and put your all into communicating in Spanish with your class mates and your teacher.

Another key component to being a good Spanish student is this: you are responsible for your own learning. Unfortunately there is no Spanish chip that your teacher can insert into your brain, nor can they open up your brain and pour a jug of Spanish in there. A teacher is a facilitator and they give you the tools to learn Spanish with, but they cannot force you to learn. You still have to do the hard work yourself and that means coming to class with a great attitude, completing your homework and asking questions.

Following your class you should always review the lesson objectives and your notes while it is fresh in your brain. It normally takes us a couple of goes at something to really have it sink in. If you learn something in class one day and you never revisit it, chances are you are not going to remember it or be able to use it effectively. If you had trouble with the class objective, then find other resources that explain the point in a different way. You can find everything on the Internet and there are generally worksheets or on line exercises to accompany explanations.

A good Spanish student includes Spanish in their daily lives. They do not just go to class one hour a week and forget about their learning for the rest of the time. There are many things you can do to advance your learning everyday. Instead of reading the newspaper in English read a Spanish on line newspaper; switch your Internet search engine to Spanish; change your cell phone to Spanish language; seek out extra worksheets and exercises on the last lesson objective to reinforce your understanding; write a journal in Spanish. There are many, many different things you can do to make Spanish a part of your life.

Making connections outside of the classroom is another trick that good Spanish students employ. Find a Spanish speaker to do a language exchange with either in person or on line. One day you can chat in Spanish and the next in English. Find friends to chat with on Messenger in Spanish, or even start a conversation club with some of your class mates. Chances are there are Spanish clubs close to your home where Spanish speaking people meet to socialize. Don’t be shy, find out when they have events and go along.

If you simply rely on a weekly class to develop your Spanish skills, it is going to be a very slow road to fluency indeed. The key to being a good language student is giving your best in class and then seeking opportunities outside of the class to practice and hone your skills.

Why Study Spanish Grammar?

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

It is true that one of the best ways to learn Spanish is to dive right in and immerse yourself in the language. Throwing off your inhibitions and chatting away to Spanish speakers helps to develop good pronunciation, fluency and a grasp of juicy slang words. This is the way that you and I learned to speak our native languages after all.

But oh, if only it were that simple. As adults we are no longer programmed to absorb new languages the way that infants and young children can. Learning through absorption is fantastic and it will work to turn you into a fluent Spanish speaker, but only accompanied by a solid grammatical foundation.

Developing a solid base understanding of Spanish grammar is essential in order to learn to speak español in a way that native speakers are going to understand. Having an understanding of Spanish grammar acts as the platform from which you can dive into effective communication.

The grammar of any language is a set of norms through which the language acts as a communicative tool. Thousands of years of communicating have brought languages to the point where they have become systemized and formed what we term “grammar”. Without these norms in place it would be very difficult for us to understand clearly what our companions were trying to share with us.

Languages were not created in a vacuum. With the exception of Esperanto, languages were not made by scholars sitting around thinking up grammar rules and writing them down. For this reason very few of the world’s languages can claim to be orderly and always logical. Despite this there are ascertainable grammar rules, which can be learned and applied resulting in effective communication

Imagine you had a good Spanish vocabulary, but did not have an understanding of its grammar structures. You might be able to put together some words, but the time (tense), feeling, person to whom you are referring and many other parts of your intended meaning would be missing. You would probably have to resort to sign language to fill in some of the gaps in your meaning.

In some respects Spanish grammar is more complicated that English grammar, although English grammar can be a minefield for language learners. Try explaining to a non native English speaker why teacher is spelled with an “er”, but doctor ends with “or”. If jumped is the past tense of jump, then why is the past tense of eat not eated?

Spanish conjugates its verbs like crazy, whereas a lot of that was left behind with Middle English. Spanish, like other Romance languages also has gender attached to nouns. For an English speaker, it can be a headache remembering whether the word you want to say is feminine or masculine – la casa or el casa, el problema or la problema? Spanish is also much more of a fan of reflexive verbs than English.

There are many differences between English and Spanish grammar systems, but on the plus side, Spanish grammar tends to be more regular than English. Most of the verbs are regular in the past tense, the same for which cannot be said for English. Prepositions are much easier to master than English prepositions, which prove a major stumbling block for many English language learners.

Once you have grasped some basic Spanish grammar concepts you can begin to experiment and extend your speaking ability by conversing with Spanish speakers. Asking your Spanish speaking friends to help correct you when you say something grammatically incorrect can also be very helpful.

With a good understanding of the norms of Spanish grammar and practice speaking with native Spanish speakers you can become fluent. Without speaking practice you will never become fluent and without an understanding of Spanish grammar you will never make any sense. Go out and grab a Spanish grammar book now!

Learning Spanish – Part 3 – Taking Your First Steps

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

In the last article I talked about mental preparation. If you are thinking about learning Spanish then it makes sense to think carefully about what you hope to achieve and how you hope to achieve it. This is because the learning process is likely to be a long one and full of trials and tribulations. It is wise not to underestimate yourself.

In this article I’m going to talk about what I did when I was first thinking about learning Spanish. That was about four years ago now. At the time I knew nothing of the Spanish language, so for me it was a case of starting right from the very beginning.

My concepts of how other languages worked were really very basic. I thought all I had to do was to take any English word and simply learn what the equivalent word in Spanish was. Therefore I could simply put the words together and hey presto I would have a complete sentence. It didn’t’ take me long to realise that this basic theory rarely works!

For example, “I always buy strong coffee”. In Spanish, “ siempre compro café fuerte”. In this sentence there appears to be no Spanish word for “I” and the word for “coffee (café)” comes before the word for “strong (fuerte)”. This is only a simple example but it shows how my basic theory falls down. The Spanish word for “I” is “yo”, but it is often not used in Spanish sentences because the construction of the verb it is used with already tells us that “I” is being referred to “compro = I buy”. Secondly, in Spanish, adjectives usually come after the nouns that they are used with whereas in English they usually come before them. “strong coffee = café fuerte”.

If you know nothing about Spanish as I didn’t then you might already be a little confused. At this stage it probably isn’t worth thinking too much about how the structure of the English and Spanish languages might differ. You will simply come to realise these differences as you progress through your studies. However, I think it is important to remind yourself right from the very beginning that learning Spanish won’t be as easy as simply matching English and Spanish words!

Of course if you don’t know any Spanish words then you are not going to be able to make any sentences, regardless if they are grammatically correct or not. You need to start learning some words and phrases. Try thinking about some of the most common every day phrases in English.

You could start by learning some common greetings for example – hello (hola) goodbye (adiós), good morning (buenos días), good afternoon (buenas tardes). In these examples you might have noticed that the translation of the English word used for “good” is both “buenos” and “buenas”. This is because one is masculine and the other is feminine!! If you are not sure what I am talking about then don’t worry. I will talk much more about gender in later articles.

The point here is that when learning new Spanish words or phrases you are probably going to notice differences in the way they are used that you don’t fully understand. If you are anything like me you will always be asking yourself “why?” My advice is not to get too bogged down in trying to understand these things too quickly. It will probably just frustrate you!

As well as learning useful words and phrases you of course need to make sure that you can pronounce them correctly! The only way you can do this is by hearing some examples. It is important to make sure you pronounce Spanish words correctly right from the beginning. If you don’t then you will pick up bad habits that will become more difficult to shake off later on.

Spanish pronunciation is something you will probably want to study separately during your studies. It is a good idea to do this early on. The good news is that Spanish pronunciation is far less complicated than English pronunciation. I will be discussing this in more detail in later articles.

So, you need to start learning new Spanish words and phrases whilst making sure that you pronounce them correctly. When I first started learning Spanish I bought a basic level Spanish text book. I had about a six weeks before I was about to embark on a long trip to Central and South America and my goal was to finish the book before the six weeks was up. One of the first things the book taught me was how to introduce myself by saying what my name was and where I was from. It came with CD’s so that I was able to check my pronunciation.

In the next article I will talk more about my early studies and some of the pitfalls I encountered whilst trying to plough through a basic level text book in six weeks. I will also talk about the different ways you might want to think about how learning Spanish best works for you. Buying a text book might not suit you. Maybe you would prefer to study online or entirely from audio CD’s! Whatever you choose get yourself started. Start learning some basics. Hasta luego…..