Monday, May 26, 2008

Learning materials provided by the Spanish state

Well, not exactly. But they ARE offering their television programs over the internet from now on. For free, gratis, gratuito. Some days ago I was reading the web edition of El País, like I do once in a while, when I came across this article. I appears that RTVE changed their website and added a feature which ables people from all over the world (yes, not only Spain, like a lot of Spanish television stations tend to do) to watch the programs broadcast the last 7 days.

In the past they only offered a 24 hour news service (which they still offer, but frankly: it's dull as ****), where you now can watch telenovelas and more. Fullscreen, good quality, YouTube-like (you MUST love YouTube. So get your *** over to, now!

Oh, besides, I'm still terribly busy with school. I'm still here, checking comments and answering them when possible or needed. Just give me some time and stick around.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why rolling your R

As you probably noticed, there have been less posts the last few weeks. It's not because I don't want to write, it's simply that I don't have time. Unfortunately, this will continue to be for about a month, but I'll try to publish at least one post per week.

Studies are going really well and I'm getting more and more fluent in Spanish which really feels good. I'm a bit of a perfecionist and this works both ways; I'm getting fluent faster and I'm getting better than I could've imagined. For example, last week someone asked me why I spent so much time perfecting my accent and pronounciation. "Isn't getting understood most important?" Well, of course getting understood it most important, but I want to get beyond that. Mainly because I want to move to Spain one day, I'm perfecting my Iberian Spanish pronounciation (I know, there isn't one pronounciation, but there are some standards). Although some people don't seem to find this very important, I do find it important and I'm willing to invest some serious time in this.

Similar to this my uncle also asked me this week why a rolled R is so important in Spanish. My first reaction was: 'A non-rolled R just sounds weird', and this includes not using a 'flap' for non-rolled R's. Again, I spent some serious hours tackling the rolled R and as soon as I mastered it, it gave a boost to my learning progress. Also, when you eventually 'master' Spanish - but have a poor pronounciation - people will almost always listen to that instead of what you're actually saying, some might even hate it so much that they don't like to talk with you (happened to me).

So, is pronounciation important? YES! I would say. And why wouldn't you concentrate on your R's (both rolled and flapped), c/s/z, uve's, etc., etc.? It only takes a little bit of extra energy when starting with Spanish, but the advantages are HUGE.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Preparing for tests

Doing your daily Anki sentences, listening music, watching Spanish television, etc., etc. It's great to do that every day, but frankly: it's only for your general studying, to get better in Spanish in general. But what if you have to prepare for Spanish tests, either in high school or in college? How do you prepare for, let's say, the vocabulary part? This can be rough, especially if you don't know where to start.

On an average, people try to jam vocabulary lists in their head using brute-force learning. Reading words over and over again, saying them out loud. Some people in my class do this, and even I did it. With no success. But now I pass the vocabulary tests with almost straight A's. And it's quite easy AND fun because I know I'll pass the next test.

So what do I do? It's simple: I use Anki for my vocabulary training. The book we use in school is called Gente 2, and the vocabulary in the tests comes from the stories in that book. Every test we need to know the vocabulary in 4 of the 11 chapters bij heart. Therefore I read the chapters, and each and every word I encouter that I don't know, I write down. Actually, I add it to Anki, something like this.

noun/verb (infinitive)

Sentence where the word is in

[Show answer]

translation of noun/verb in this context

So I write down the noun (in the gender it appeared in the sentence, but that's actually not that important overall) or the verb (the infinitive, to make things clear). Then I put the sentence in which I found the unknown word under. The other side of the card only contains the translation of the unknown word as I know what the rest of the sentence means.

Where my daily sentences give me the opportunity to practice grammar, this method helps me concentrating more on the unknown word. Because the use of a word differs, I put the sentence under it which also helps remembering the word better. It works great like this, and it's also a relaxed way of learning as the most work is reading the stories and looking up the definitions. After that you can reach your goal with 20 - 30 minutes of studying every day, beginning two weeks in advance.

But what if you have to learn word lists for school? Only adding the words doesn't help much, because the words won't stick that good. Try finding sentences where the word is used in. The Wordreference website is a great source for sentences like that, although a good dictionary can help aswell.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Studying grammar CAN help

At first, I was all for the 'input before output', 'output will come automatically', etc., etc. And I must say it has worked for me, it has worked wonderfully. BUT! As soon as I had to study the verb endings for class and the irregular verb forms, my study progress went even faster. At first I thought this was only because I was getting more input, but in Spain I noticed that my grammar studies were actually VERY fruitful.

Although at times I didn't know what tense to use, I eventually became more familiar with 'when to use what' and because of my grammar studies earlier I knew the correct verb form. Later on, it became part of my intuition and I knew exactly what to use when, something very exciting. Also, everytime I read a book, and I see a certain verb, I know exactly in what tense it is and therefore knowing the endings helps me understanding more and adding more and more to my natural intuition.

A while ago I was reading some articles regarding language acquisition. One article was about the theories of Stephen Krashen (the man who 'came up' with the input = out method) and it stated that students who had a massive amount of input with some grammar study were eventually on a higher level than students who only got input without grammar study. Unfortunately the article is in Dutch, otherwise I'd posted it here. But the main thought is that studying grammar is not a waste of time, as long as you don't spend too much time on it. Studying grammar won't learn you Spanish, input does. That doesn't take away that studying grammar can boost your progress.

So what to do? I suggest buying a good grammar book, especially one which explains the verbs. Don't rush the use of a grammar book, I suggest plain beginners to stick to easy input, even courses (FSI, SpanishPod), to get familiar with the Spanish language. Read children's books, even better; use bilingual texts (if audio is available: USE IT!). It will help you getting a good foundation, after which you can start studying grammar (concentrate on the verbs first). Believe me, it will boost your progress.