Without Ever Entering a Classroom
by Ruth Kunstadter
Yes, it's true. One hour a night with a Spanish soap opera can improve your Spanish!
So you studied Spanish in high school, but you can't speak a word of it. Or maybe you spoke Spanish at home with your family, your vocabulary is limited and you're not sure of your grammar. Now you want to improve your Spanish, but the thought of heading into a Spanish classroom makes you cringe. And besides, who has the time?
Don't worry, the solution is right at your fingertips - literally - as you take hold of your TV remote control, your radio dial, your computer keyboard, and a host of books and magazines that you never even dreamed you could read. With just a little background in the language, a Spanish-English dictionary, and the tips below, you can increase your fluency without ever setting foot in a Spanish class. And all at no cost to you!
Not that there's anything wrong with Spanish classes, of course - on the contrary, if you can find a college evening course or an adult school class that fits your schedule, you will improve your Spanish even faster. But these same tips apply even if you're taking a Spanish class, and they will dramatically increase your learning.
The key to learning any language is to immerse yourself in that language as much as possible. Think about how you learned to speak English as a child. You probably listened to English for at least two full years before you started to speak even a few words. But you understood much more than you could say, and eventually you learned how to speak. You had absorbed so much of the language that it started to come out naturally.
So why not re-create this type of immersion environment in your own home, to learn Spanish? You can do it with the most basic resources, at little or no cost to you. And it's not even a chore; it's fun!
Just follow these five easy tips for improving your Spanish on your own:
1. Get Hooked on a Telenovela.
You might think you should be watching the Spanish news to learn better Spanish. Wrong! When have you ever heard a conversation that sounded like a Dan Rather sentence? And do you want to be able to recite facts or have a conversation? Most of us are learning Spanish so that we can communicate and have conversations with Spanish speakers. Telenovelas are 100% dialogue - pure conversation. The situations are easily understandable (and often funny, either inadvertently or on purpose), and the actors always speak clearly.
Pick a telenovela that is on at a time that's convenient for you and that you can watch every day. And just start watching. Stick with it; eventually you will get to know the characters and their situations. Watching conversations in context will help you understand what's going on, and soon you will be picking up sentences and phrases. Keep a notepad close by to jot down any new words that pique your interest, and look them up later, either online or in your Spanish dictionary.
And don't worry about getting "hooked" forever. Unlike U.S. soap operas, Spanish telenovelas only run about six months, and they actually have an ending.
2. Listen to the Music
Shakira, Shakira ... she makes a man want to speak Spanish .... and women too, actually!
How many songs can you sing in languages that you don't speak? Probably more than you realize. How about Frere Jacques? Guantanamera?
Never underestimate the power of music in language learning. Sing along with a song, and you are speaking that language. It doesn't matter if you don't understand the words; you are picking up the rhythm, phrasing and accent of the language. You can figure out the words and the meaning later.
We are fortunate to live in a country in which every major area has one or more Spanish language radio stations. Keep your car radio tuned to one of them. And if you hear a song or an artist that you particularly like, buy it for your mp3 player so that you can listen to it as much as possible. At the same time, download the lyrics from the internet, and use your Spanish dictionary to help you understand the meaning.
Yes, you can read in Spanish. It doesn't matter how little or how much Spanish you have had. Pick up a Spanish language magazine or newspaper and just look it over. Even better, find a magazine or book that relates to your particular interest. All the major bookstores now have a "Libros en Español" section, as well as People en Español and many other Spanish language magazines and newspapers. Pick out your reading selection, borrow a Spanish-English dictionary if you want, and spend an hour or so in the bookstore's café with your books, a cafecito, and a willingness to explore.
Here is the most important part: don't worry about the words you don't know. Focus on the words you do know, or can figure out. How many words can you recognize because they look like a word in English? Which ones can you figure out from their context? Can you guess the general meaning of the article? Of the words you don't understand, pick four or that you think are really crucial to the article, and look them up. Then read through the article again. If you want, write your new words down on index cards so you can flip through them later during a free moment.
4. Let's go surfin' now...
The internet is your free ticket to limitless language practice! Take a few minutes each day to explore outstanding resources such as online newspapers, videos, and articles on whatever your passion is. Use your Spanish dictionary to help you decide a keyword to search.
You can also find free sites for Spanish instruction. Here's where you can get your grammar practice at your own pace. One excellent and free site is www.Studyspanish.com.
5. Take it to the streets
You will be amazed at the connections that can come from a simple "Hola, Buenos días."
Seek out opportunities to connect with native Spanish speakers - every opportunity you get - every day! Maybe you have a relative who speaks Spanish, or a co-worker, or a neighbor, or maybe you're just sitting next to someone on the bus or subway and you realize that person speaks Spanish. Just smile and say a simple greeting in Spanish. You're likely to end up in a short and pleasant conversation; if not, at the very least, you've made a friendly gesture and will make someone smile.
Don't worry about being fluent. Just be open to communicating! After all, isn't that why you want to learn Spanish? And chances are, you will receive compliments and encouragement for your efforts.
And who knows, you might even end up in a conversation discussing the latest telenovela, Shakira's newest hit song, or an article you just read in Spanish. Bravo! You are on your way!
Ruth Kunstadter makes it easy (and fun!) to teach and learn Spanish by tapping into the incredible resources of U.S. Latino communities. Visit Ruth at www.chispaproductions.com to find more ways to improve your Spanish with Sabor Latino!
©2006 Ruth Kunstadter, Chispa Productions LLC
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