Archive for July, 2013

How The Internet Can Help You Learn Spanish

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

What would we do without the Internet? It has changed our lives in so many ways, one of which is helping to learn a foreign language. The Internet is flush with millions of Spanish language learning resources that are waiting for you to utilize them. There is no doubt about it, the Internet has drastically changed the way teachers teach languages and how students study.

These days most Spanish classes are more dynamic than in the past, thanks to the Internet. Teachers can get many creative ideas on how to teach a language point in the classroom as well as using fabulous online resources such as Youtube and hardware such as interactive whiteboards. There is no doubt that the Internet has truly changed the face of teaching languages.

In the past it was difficult to find Spanish language resources and they were generally very expensive. To learn a language effectively, one was much more beholden to their Spanish teacher, who stockpiled worksheets and other resources they had either made or found. Students of languages such as Spanish are more autonomous in their language learning nowadays. Thanks to all the Spanish language sites on the Internet, students can really take control of their own learning and complete extra worksheets or grammar points found online to consolidate their learning outside of the classroom.

There are two categories of resources that you can use on the Internet: resources that are designed to teach elements of Spanish and resources that are authentic materials. Both of these can be used effectively by you to further your Spanish study in different ways.

Teaching materials include items like online lessons, grammar tables, online dictionaries, quizzes and worksheets. There are several sites on the Internet where you can get lessons on different aspects of learning Spanish, either for a low price or for free. Generally these lessons will explain a grammar point, give some examples of its usage and then provide some type of study material such as an online quiz or a printable worksheet. Resources such as online dictionaries are also a useful tool when studying at home on the Internet. There are many web newsletters you can sign up for that will send you new phrases or vocabulary everyday into your inbox – a quick and easy way to build your vocabulary.

Authentic materials can also be used to help you learn Spanish. An authentic material is teacher speak for something that a Spanish speaker would actually use in real life. It can be any item that uses Spanish and in a cyber sense would be things like online newspapers, forums, Youtube clips in Spanish, Twitter accounts in Spanish or any other Internet site that uses Spanish as its medium of communication. By engaging with authentic materials you can experience the way that Spanish is used both formally and informally around the world. You can develop a sense for the grammar tenses that are used most frequently and learn slang from informal Spanish sites. On formal sites you can learn how Spanish is used correctly in writing and develop your reading skills.

There is no doubt that the Internet has completely changed the way we learn languages. Teaching of Spanish as a foreign language has become much more interesting and creative and lessons are generally more communicative in their approach. Teachers can find new ideas and resources much more easily than in the past.

For Spanish language learners there are profuse amounts of resources that can aid their learning. There is really no excuse to rest on your laurels when learning Spanish. By utilizing the vast amount of Spanish resources out there in cyber space you can really accelerate your learning and have fun doing it.

Leaning Spanish – Part 6 – Using Text Books

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

In my last article I started to talk about a Spanish textbook called ‘Pasos’. This was the textbook I used when I first started learning Spanish. When I started studying from it I didn’t use it to its full potential. This was really down to time constraints and the fact I was about to embark on a long trip to central and South America. I wanted to finish the book before I set off.

The point of the article was really to warn others against falling into the same trap if possible. This particular Spanish textbook and others like it are full of quizzes and exercises that are designed to test the reader’s ability to retain and understand the information that is being taught. I didn’t spend enough time working through the various chapters or attempting all of the exercises. In hindsight I know it would have been better to spend as much time as I needed in order to cover everything that the book had to offer.

In this article I want to talk some more about the same Spanish textbook, in particular about how it dealt with teaching Spanish verb formations. Learning how to form Spanish verbs can be very frustrating for native speakers of English. This is because they are formed very differently. In Spanish it is often not necessary to use subject personal pronouns (I, you, he, she etc) with verbs like it is in English. Look at this simple example:-

I live in England. = Vivo en Inglaterra.

Notice in Spanish no word for ‘I’ is used. This is because much of the time the way that a Spanish verb is formed will automatically indicate what subject personal pronoun is being referred to (I, you, he, she etc). At first this can seem very confusing and then later on it can still seem very confusing! The difficulty is that there are so many different ways that one single verb might be formed. Not only does the verb change depending on which subject personal pronoun it is used with but it also changes depending on what verb tense is being used (present, past, future etc).

Unfortunately, you will have to learn how Spanish verbs are formed even to have a very basic conversation. There is no escaping it!

Spanish verbs can be split into those that are regular and those that are irregular. The benefit of learning how to form Spanish regular verbs is that once you know how to form one verb in one particular tense you can apply the same formation rules to all regular verbs. You only need to know how to form the verb once!

So, what are the best ways to go about learning how to form Spanish verbs? There are without doubt a lot more regular verbs in Spanish than there are irregular ones so learning the formation rules that apply to regular verbs is probably a good start. Some of the most very common verbs in Spanish are irregular however, so sooner or later you will have to study these too!

The Spanish textbook I was using started to introduce verb formations right from the very beginning but didn’t include any detailed explanations about them until perhaps half way through the book. I was putting sentences together using different verb formations without really knowing why. Of course a sentence without a verb is not much of a sentence so being subjected to them right away was unavoidable.

To begin with it is probably a good idea to start making sentences with verbs by concentrating on remembering what the verb in it’s infinitive form means rather than trying to learn how it is formed in different tenses.

Infinitive verb examples – (to live = vivir / to eat = comer / to talk = hablar)

You are still learning, simply by remembering what lots of different verbs means. Later on at a point, which best suites, you, you can begin to look at different verb tenses and formations. For me, the Spanish textbook I was using didn’t explain in sufficient logical detail how verbs were formed. I was keen to understand this quite early on in my studies. My textbook approached the subject on a piecemeal basis, which seemed a little too disjointed for me. I would have preferred to learn about verbs as a separate topic rather than having them introduced them bit by bit!

Whichever way you decide to learn about verbs, one thing you will almost certainly want in your possession is a verb conjugation (formation) book. This is a book that will tell you how every conceivable verb in the Spanish language should be formed in all tenses. (Some books are more in depth than others!)

Verb conjugation books and more about what my basic level Spanish text book taught me is what I intend to continue talking about in my next article.

Learning Spanish – Part 6 – What’s The Best Way to Learn Spanish Verb Formations?

In this article I start to talk about Spanish verb formations. Verb conjugation forms a significant part of learning Spanish grammar and isn’t really something that can be ignored. It has to be learnt!

Be Realistic, Learning Spanish Takes Longer Than Six Weeks

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

People often sign up for a six week Spanish program and are shocked when they complete the course and cannot communicate with aplomb in Spanish. If this statement sounds like it holds just a grain of truth for you, then you need to be realistic. Learning Spanish takes longer than six weeks. Think about this: I bet it took you longer than six weeks to learn English. Am I right?

Toddlers and young children who are flung into new situations and have to learn a completely different language learn fast and easily. But even these guys with their sponge like brains take longer than six weeks to decipher the ins and outs of Spanish.

Unfortunately adults are much slower at picking up languages. We are no longer producing new brain cells and making connections between neurons is a lot more difficult. We also have many years of using our own language to fight against. Adults sometimes have a tough time accepting that sentence structures may seem backwards to what we are used to, or prepositions don’t always translate across from English to Spanish.

The truth is that different languages structure communication differently to English. Often, as is the case with English too, there is no logical reason why something is the way it is, it just is and you have to accept it. This can be a bitter pill to swallow for people who are accustomed to wanting to know the whys and wherefores of things. Asking questions like “But why is it a regular verb in English and it is irregular in Spanish?” or “Why does mano end in ‘o” but has la as its definite article?” will hinder you in your language learning. There are certain things that you have to accept with childlike credulity when learning a language and then get on with it.

In my experience as a language teacher, there are people in this world who are more pre-disposed to language acquisition than others. Some people find it easy to untangle the web of Spanish grammar and can ram it into their brains with relative ease. Others struggle to remember how to conjugate the present tense. If you belong to the former group, then you are lucky; if you belong to the latter, then you are not alone and with persistence you will make it.

Another reason it takes us English speakers longer than six weeks to pick up a language is that by and large we are not very good at it. I know this is a terrible stereotype, but since English is so widely spoken, there is less motivation and necessity for us to master other languages. It is true than you can generally find an English speaker anywhere on the globe. As such, we do not grow up learning different languages in the way that other cultures do and the languages taught at school are not compulsory into the upper reaches of secondary school, nor are they taught with a communicative focus.

With realistic expectations you will be able to become a great Spanish speaker. It will take you more than six weeks; in fact if you are serious about it you will continue learning for the rest of your life. Just as we learn new words or phrases regularly in our native language you will continue to do so in Spanish too. After six weeks you can reasonably expect to have mastered some of the basics of Spanish that will form the foundation for the rest of the language to flourish in your brain.