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Old 5th October 2006, 12:07 PM   #1
Ben
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Default General Spanish learning tips

This is a list I published a while ago on the NFS blog. I thought it would make a useful stickie post here in the forum, but it is by no means exhaustive, so please do continue the list underneath!


One: Motivation.
To learn any language efficiently, quickly, and well, you need to be very motivated to do so, otherwise it takes forever. And I mean very motivated. If you only have the ‘I might try and learn a bit of Spanish’ kind of motivation, then give up and do something else. You need to be desperately keen to learn Spanish, longing to get out there and speak it fluently. Motivation ‘targets’, or reasons, include: ‘I want to move to Spain a.s.a.p.’, ‘I want to be able to talk to those beautiful Spanish girls/men,’ ‘I’m obsessed with Spain and I want to go as deep into the culture as I can…’ N.B. You don’t have to be fluent in Spanish to move to Spain. In 6 months you can go from zero to conversational, and to fluent in 9, if you move here and surround yourself with it.


Two: Hard work and hunger.
Once the motivation is in place you’ll need to really throw yourself into it, working on the language constantly and consistently, devouring as much Spanish as you can get your hands on at every possible opportunity, which leads me to the next point…


Three: Total Immersion.
Surround yourself with Spanish, bath yourself in Spanish! Watch Spanish films, or Spanish TV via satelite or the net, read Spanish magazines and newspapers, get a decent text book from the local bookshop, buy a decent dictionary (and a pocket one). Get hold of novels or ‘readers’ that match your abilities. A reader is a reduced, graded book with a range of vocab that matches your level. Estimate your level by picking up a reader in the bookshop and reading a page. If you have trouble with around 6 words then this is your level. More than 6 and it is too high, less and it is too low. More or total immersion here.


Four: Prioritise.
Think, ‘do I need to know such a complicated word yet? Have I learned enough useful stuff already?’ For example, if you come across the word for ‘railing’ before you have learned basic shopping vocab, then you may want to let it slip out of your memory for now, concentrating on the basics for the time being. I hope that makes sense, it really worked for me!


Five: Join a class.
Learning with a group isn’t just a social thing, it’s really motivating to be in the same boat as others, and a bit of inter-group competitiveness never does any harm. Plus, teachers structure language learning nicely and pull you up on those recurring mistakes. The bi-weekly classes I took in my first year in Spain made a huge difference. If the teacher is boring, change class ASAP.


Six: Enter yourself into an official exam.
Honestly, it isn’t that terrifying and it really gives your motivation a kick. The Instituto Cervantes offers official diplomas (the ‘DELE’) and has centres all over the world. I did the Intermediate level exam years ago and later the ‘Superior’, the latter really honing those damn subjunctives.


Seven: The Intercambio.
You meet with a Spanish speaking person once a week, in a bar, cafe, wherever, and speak for an hour or more in Spanish, then the same in English. That way both parties benefit. Look or advertise on language school or college (especially Erasmus/ foreign students) noticeboards, and in the ex-pat press and LoQuo in Spain. An Intercambio is invaluable for practicing your speaking, and really is my top tip, the single best thing you can do to improve your Spanish. Be warned (or not): many a lasting relationship, marriages included, have begun with an intercambio - here is one who speaks from experience!


Eight: Some random techniques.
Some people use white stickers to label every object at home in Spanish - worked for my sister. I used to carry a sheet of paper around with all the basic tenses and verb types on, testing myself on the metro… Old fashioned vocab sheets work a treat - English words on one side of the page, Spanish on the other - you cover one side and try to remember the words’ translations. Self-testing whilst walking around -’Do I know the word for that?’ (whilst looking at a lamp post, letter box etc). Carrying the pocket dictionary everywhere is great for that.


Nine: Think in Spanish.
Another old language learning trick, but it works. If you can’t regularly talk to others in Spanish then you can always practice by holding an internal dialogue with yourself!


Ten: Learn on the go.
An obvious one. This really applies when you are actually in Spain (or South America etc). Need to open a bank account? Learn the relevant vocab before you go into the bank. Same goes for shopping at the market, buying bread, getting a haircut, chatting up the ladies/men on a night out, buying a train ticket etc etc….


Eleven: ENJOY IT!
Use the techniques that work for you and aren’t too tiresome. If it’s boring or no fun you’ll soon give up. This is where things like classes and intercambios really help, especially when the latter has an element of the blind date thrown in for good measure (podcast no. 18 goes into this!)

Please continue this list with your top tips below!

Last edited by Ben; 5th October 2006 at 12:15 PM.
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Old 5th October 2006, 06:51 PM   #2
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Twelve: Remember that you learn through mistakes...

You cannot let mistakes get to you. Everyone makes them! Its what makes you human. This is something you have to take on board when learning a language. So what if you said 'polla' when you meant 'pollo'?

People forgive and forget. Mistakes are how we learn. Just laugh about it and move on...
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Old 5th October 2006, 07:12 PM   #3
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How could I forget that! Well done for bringing up a very important point. It is essential to feel happy about making errors or you will never get anywhere. Be bold, get things wrong without worrying about it, and the whole process (especially speaking, obviously) advances so much quicker.
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Old 5th October 2006, 10:47 PM   #4
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Two tips on a variation of the total immersion and reading themes...

If you're lucky enough to already be in a Spanish-speaking country, make use of any of the free newspapers that get handed out in the streets morning and evening. On my way to work in Barcelona, I pass a girl handing out copies of "Qué" which I then read over lunch, and on my way home, I pass a guy with the "ADN" paper. I then call into a cafe and have a well-deserved caña and read it while letting other people's conversations seep through my ears. This way, you also learn about some of the local current affairs that don't normally warrant any attention by the big newspaper websites.

My other tip is to get drunk. No, seriously! After a hard day in work feeling like I'm understanding nothing of what my colleagues are saying and feeling like a complete failure who doesn't deserve to even attempt a foreign language, there's nothing better than heading out for a few drinks and seeing the difference. This isn't a scientific discovery of mine of course, and you'll have to be careful not to get completely plastered!! Obviously, if you're totally wrecked then you'll have no real perception of how your Spanish is coming across and you certainly won't learn much from your conversations, but being mildly drunk de-activates that annoying gland in the back of your brain that makes you subconsciously check every word before you say it. With me, that gland "spoils" my Spanish as I end up thinking too much before each word resulting in a big disjointed mess. Before you know it, you'll find you just let the words come out. Many will be wrong of course, but your conversation will flow like never before. And if nothing else, it gives you a boost to be able to feel like you're communicating freely, and what better way is there to round off a hard day??

Last edited by Pepino; 5th October 2006 at 10:55 PM.
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Old 5th October 2006, 11:02 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pepino View Post
Two tips on a variation of the total immersion and reading themes...(...) but being mildly drunk de-activates that annoying gland in the back of your brain that makes you subconsciously check every word before you say it. With me, that gland "spoils" my Spanish as I end up thinking too much before each word resulting in a big disjointed mess. Before you know it, you'll find you just let the words come out.
LOL, you're right, a bit of alcohol always loosens the tongue, but not too much or you will get incoherent... in vino veritas est!
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Old 10th October 2006, 05:38 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pepino View Post
Two tips on a variation of the total immersion and reading themes...

but being mildly drunk de-activates that annoying gland in the back of your brain that makes you subconsciously check every word before you say it. With me, that gland "spoils" my Spanish as I end up thinking too much before each word resulting in a big disjointed mess.
I totally agree! I have a private tutor for 2 hours at my house every other saturday aft, but invariably I sometimes have to reschedule to Fri evening 7.30 til 9.30. I always have a couple of drinks through the lesson because I like a drink at the end of the week and my tutor agrees that I'm on fire throughout the lesson.

It's not really ideal to be constantly on the verge of intoxication but it works for me at the moment
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Old 7th November 2006, 03:23 PM   #7
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I get really flustered while using the phone. I seem to lose my confidence so quickly. It's actually pathetic when I practise a few times before actually phoning someone. I try to speak clearly but few people understand me. It's frustrating sometimes.
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Old 7th November 2006, 03:25 PM   #8
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I think the phone is the biggest barrier of all, so don't worry, you are not alone! Why is it so much harder to speak to someone on the phone in another language than it is in person?
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Old 7th November 2006, 04:14 PM   #9
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Looking at a person while he speaks helps you a lot; gestures, the movement of his mouth... You loose all of that on a phone call.

For me the phone is by far the most difficult part of learning English
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Old 25th November 2006, 06:01 PM   #10
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Default Well welll

50% of the Spanish speaking technique is in your body languange. And is very important to learn from a native, mainly from Spain.
Remember Spain and their former colonies are two culture seperated by a language in commun. So if you learn Spanish in Mexico. Good luck talking it in Spain!!!
Here to loose your tongue
Pollito-chicken
Gallina- hen
Lapiz-pencil and
pluma- pen
now repeat 100 times and you tongue is loose like a whip.
Paco

Last edited by Paco; 25th November 2006 at 06:04 PM.
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Old 27th November 2006, 12:52 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marina View Post
Looking at a person while he speaks helps you a lot; gestures, the movement of his mouth... You loose all of that on a phone call.

For me the phone is by far the most difficult part of learning English
Absolutely right Marina. One of my collegues here in my office in Barcelona "kindly" donated his direct-line phone number to me so my English calls from the UK wouldn't bother the girl who answers the general calls to the office here. I say "kindly" in quotes, because I now receive lots of his calls from people who have his direct line from the past, so I've now become an expert at asking who's calling and telling them that I'm transferring them, I still can't understand pretty much anything they say to me! The names of the people are usually the hardest to get. I end up just pretending that I've understood who's calling, and then just pass the call over with a "es para ti" and wink/smile at my coleague! jeje

Quote:
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Here to loose your tongue
Pollito-chicken
Gallina- hen
Lapiz-pencil and
pluma- pen
now repeat 100 times and you tongue is loose like a whip.
Paco
I'll try these next time I'm sat on the Metro. It seems like a good way to get some personal space on a busy day, and improve your pronounciation at the same time!
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Old 27th November 2006, 07:32 PM   #12
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I guess my tip is a bit like having a few drinks, but without drinking, and that is to try and get some humor into any Spanish conversations that you are having. When you make people laugh, and they in turn make you laugh, it makes everyone feel good and less under pressure to get everything exactly correct, (this always makes my mind go completely blank) you then relax more and don't mind making mistakes as they make everyone giggle (with you, not at you) so you feel bolder to just go for it and don't get so self critical of every sentence you are saying.
I had a brilliant skype chat this week, when my Spanish speaking friend told us two 'learners' to role play - in and airport and then in a shop, one being a worker, the other a customer. We all got into such a fit of giggles as we were trying to be the most awkward of customers. Who on earth would want to sell or buy a mans yellow waterproof hat made in crocodile skin We made plenty of errors, but the point is that we spoke mostly in Spanish for nearly 2 hours!
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Old 27th November 2006, 10:40 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by landlady View Post
I guess my tip is a bit like having a few drinks, but without drinking, and that is to try and get some humor into any Spanish conversations that you are having. When you make people laugh, and they in turn make you laugh, it makes everyone feel good and less under pressure to get everything exactly correct, (this always makes my mind go completely blank) you then relax more and don't mind making mistakes as they make everyone giggle (with you, not at you) so you feel bolder to just go for it and don't get so self critical of every sentence you are saying.
This is excellent advice! There have even been studies done showing that when you laugh a bit before an exam you will normally do better than when remaining tense. It is certainly a lot cheaper than drinking and safer too. Thinking about this, I wonder what a combination of both will do?
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Old 6th December 2006, 01:03 PM   #14
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Default Learning resource

I found this site WordChamp and was impressed by the "read foreign websites" facility. It allows you to see the meaning of a word simply by rolling the cursor over it. Haven't registered and tried the other facilities yet but it also offers customised flash cards and vocabulary exercises.
May help those who are struggling to read Spanish news items etc.
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Old 17th December 2006, 04:39 PM   #15
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I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to make my point here as it may sound like defeatist nonsense.

First time I've read this thread and I like all the points made by people about a drinking, total immersion, reading, watching the tele, going to the pictures etc. I think I do most of them.

The trouble is I can feel better about progress and then I try to have a conversation and it becomes one huge, disjointed mess. I am reduced to a list of "me Tarzan, you Jane" words in any old order and it can destroy my confidence for days.

I'm having trouble with an insurance claim on my car and I think I may well end up scrapping the car because every phone call to anyone who may be able to help becomes so pathetic that I just daren't try again. The lack of confidence engendered by that and similar situations means I end up being unable to ask for a beer! So it's a viscious downward spiral. Other than not speaking, or doing what most of the Brit community around here do, blame the language and the Spaniards and only speak to other Brits, I just don't know how to get around this. Hypnosis, brain transplant?

It really does drive me potty.
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Old 17th December 2006, 09:52 PM   #16
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Oh we all have days like that!!!!! My learning curve looks like the hind leg of an arthritic donkey. Some days I think I'm doing ok, others, not so well.

But every so often comes a ray of hope. Last time I was in Madrid, and of course it was my last day(!) my amiga introduced me to a friend who spoke very little English. I smiled, shook her hand and completely forgot every one of the few Spanish words I know. We were having lunch and at some point my amiga left the table, as ladies do, and left her friend and myself alone for a few minutes. Well, I couldn't just stare, so I attempted a word or two. Glory be, she replied and realising my plight, she spoke slowly and carefully. I tried a bit more and by the time my amiga rejoined us we were having a (somewhat stilted admittedly) conversation and the friend said, "I thought Richard couldn't speak spanish. He speaks very well." She lied, but boy did I feel proud!

So it comes and it goes. That's natural. And I empathise and just hope that soon there will be more good days than bad.
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Old 17th December 2006, 10:34 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Culebronchris View Post
I'm having trouble with an insurance claim on my car and I think I may well end up scrapping the car because every phone call to anyone who may be able to help becomes so pathetic that I just daren't try again. The lack of confidence engendered by that and similar situations means I end up being unable to ask for a beer! So it's a viscious downward spiral. Other than not speaking, or doing what most of the Brit community around here do, blame the language and the Spaniards and only speak to other Brits, I just don't know how to get around this. Hypnosis, brain transplant?

It really does drive me potty.
Aren't you being hard on yourself? Phone calls discussing insurance claims can be difficult even in one's own mother tongue. Many of us learners go through times like you have described. At first, I was so impatient with myself with Spanish, that I couldn't get anything out. Recently, I have begun to relax and this has truly helped - nowhere near fluent but I have decided to just keep at it. Good luck and don't give up!
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Old 17th December 2006, 11:13 PM   #18
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I have to agree with Diana and Richard: don't be so hard on yourself. Every now and then, we all seem to be hitting a plateau and we may feel we are not progressing at all.

Making phone calls is not everyone's cup of tea. Even though I consider myself fluent in English I do not like making phone calls in this language, let alone in Spanish. When I do have to make a phone call in another language I can feel those butterflies moving around in my stomach and my hands become sweaty! It's called TELEPHONE PHOBIA.
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Old 23rd December 2006, 04:25 PM   #19
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When it comes to convering in Spanish, we Brits are very conscious about making mistakes - often to the point that if we know we won't get it right we won't even bother.

Yet when we observe someone for whom English is not their primary language but who is willing to have a go in order to get their point across or just even practise, we are full of admiration for them despite the mistakes they make.

For years my lot went to the same Menorcan hotel and every year the staff made a fuss of my son (now 12). One year I thanked one of the waitresses for being so nice to him and asked how she had remembered him from the previous year when so many British kids used the hotel. Her answer? He was the only one who tried to speak Spanish to people.

So, have a go, and give others the chance to admire you.
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Old 27th December 2006, 02:57 AM   #20
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Ack! I feel you....really, I do!

I've been taking lessons every week for three years. I'm half-Cuban. I studied in junior high and high school (ok, I'm almost 40, so that was a while ago).

Some days I am blabbering away just fine and other days I can't string a simple sentence together. It's maddening!

For some reason I refuse to speak in front of my mother (who is fluent). I'm sure there's some deep psychological reasoning there....but I don't know what it is.

Some days I go to class and I understand everything. Other days we go back to reviewing some VERY basic stuff and I feel like I haven't learned a flipping thing in all of this time!

Then again, some days (especially after a glass or three of vino tinto), I'm fully understood, can follow conversations, impress myself with vocabulary that I didn't even know I knew (ok, I'm easily impressed....but I knew the word for "fleas" (pulgas) when my mom's cat got them).

I refuse to quit, though! Refuse, I say!
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