Learning Spanish –
Part 5 – Using Text Books to Their Full Potential
In this article I talk about some of my experiences during the early stages of my Spanish studies. I talk specifically about a certain Spanish text book that I used. In retrospect I would have used this text book to its full potential!
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In my last article I talked about two different approaches to learning Spanish; ‘parrot fashion’ or by studying Spanish grammar. In this article I want to talk a little about what I learnt from a basic level Spanish text book in 6 weeks before I embarked on a long trip to Central and South America.
Having hindsight is a wonderful thing! It isn’t until now, after spending a number of years really getting to grips with the Spanish language that I can appreciate how learning Spanish might be best achieved. Certainly being aware of your limitations, what you hope to achieve and when you hope to achieve it and being mentally prepared for the ups and downs of the entire experience are certainly worth considering before you get started.
I said before that a good way to get started is to start learning new Spanish words and phrases without worrying too much about Spanish grammar. Well this is true but if you’re serious about learning Spanish then you will eventually have to start studying Spanish grammar.
The text book I used in order to obtain a basic level understanding of Spanish grammar was called ‘Pasos’. I am not necessarily advocating this book over any other as I have seen several other text books that adopt similar approaches to the same teachings. The book didn’t just dive into talking about Spanish grammar right from the beginning either. It eased me into it after a couple of chapters or so. The first couple of chapters taught me some basic greetings and how to introduce myself without getting too technical!
I was learning new words and phrases without necessarily understanding why certain words or sentences were constructed in the way that they were. One of the biggest problems I encountered at the beginning was trying to absorb and remember all the new material I was learning. One reason for this was because I didn’t have the luxury of time and I was trying to take a lot of things in over a short period of time.
An important part of the learning process is finding a way that best allows you to absorb information without becoming board or loosing concentration. The text book I was using gave me time to reflect on each area of study by engaging me in different activities. The activities included multiple choice quizzes, and various word association exercises. A student is far more likely to remain enthused about studying if they can learn via a variety of different types of exercises and quizzes.
Of course quizzes and exercises are not used in the learning process just to keep the student enthused. They are also used to test whether a student has remembered what they have been taught or whether they have correctly understood, and assimilated what the intension of the lesson was. In one respect they give the student the chance to see if they have remembered new Spanish words or phrases for example.
In later chapters in my Spanish text book the exercises and quizzes were more focused on making sure that I could apply the things I was learning to different situations. Often this would involve seeing if I could formulate sentences using correct verb formations. The formation of Spanish verbs is something that I intend to write more about in my next article.
Another very important method of learning that my text book allowed me to engage in was through listening. The book was accompanied by several CD’s. Each CD contained different listening exercises that related to each area of study. These exercises not only made the entire learning experience more varied and therefore more enjoyable but were also vital in making sure I was exposed to the language in a way that was as natural as it could be.
It is important to remember that if you are serious about learning Spanish then you not only want to be able to speak it but you want to be able to speak it so that native Spanish speaking people will understand you. This means you have to work on your pronunciation right from the very beginning. You don’t want to practice saying things in Spanish over and over again if you are pronouncing badly. This will only instil bad habits that will become more difficult to shake of later on.
It is also important to remember that you want to be able to read and understand the Spanish language, not just be able to speak it. This is another reason how attempting a variety of different exercise will benefit you. Don’t just focus on being able to speak well. You will be surprised to find out how difficult it can be to write in Spanish if all you have done is learn how to communicate verbally.
When I first started working through my first Spanish text book I have to admit that I skipped things and I didn’t attempt all the different exercise that were provided. As I said before this was in part due to time constraints, but looking back I can now see how important they all were. If you choose to start your learning experience by working through a Spanish text book like I did or even if you are using this method as part of a bigger strategy my advice would be not to rush things and to make sure you make the most of everything the book is trying to offer you.
In my next article I intend to talk about the sections of my Spanish text book that were more focused on Spanish grammar, in particular on how different verb tense are formed.