Helping students survive Spanish class... and maybe even enjoy it!
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Helpful Tips for Surviving Spanish Class!
The following tips will help you to do well in Spanish!
1. Go to class!... I cannot stress enough how important attendance is in a foreign language class. Missing even one day can be a killer if the material covered on the day you missed is a crucial component of the language. Try to avoid missing class unless you are dealing with an emergency situation.
2. Understand that Spanish is NOT English... Sounds pretty obvious, but many students expect to be able to translate Spanish into English (and vice versa) word for word. And while this is sometimes possible, it is often not. You must remember that the two languages "work" in different ways. The same sentence structure that works in English is often not acceptable in Spanish and vice versa. From day one, insist on seeing English and Spanish as two DIFFERENT languages and be prepared to fully understand the differences between them.
3. Focus on the GIST... Don't fret when you don't understand every word you read or hear because you certainly will not. Simply try to understand the "gist" of what is being said. This will be especially important when you are doing reading or listening exercises on exams because you will not have time to worry about each individual word and you certainly won't be able to look them up. Using context clues will often help you to understand a word's meaning even if you haven't learned it.
4. Read grammar explanations BEFORE going to class... Many teachers refuse to speak ANY English during class and will insist on teaching grammar in Spanish, even in a 100 level course (and many even refuse to teach grammar at all). It is therefore essential that you spend time reading your textbook which will explain, often in English, how each aspect of Spanish grammar works. This will allow you (and your teacher!) to spend class time focusing on communicative activities that will help you to become a more confident, fluent Spanish speaker more quickly.
5. Know your vocabulary... You MUST study the vocabulary sections of each chapter if you want to do well in your Spanish class. You can understand how to conjugate verbs perfectly but if you don't know any verbs to conjugate or any nouns to use them with, all the grammar understanding in the world will be useless. A strong Spanish vocabulary will also be crucial for success in oral interviews, compositions and tests.
6. Beware of false cognates... While Spanish has many words that look like... and even sound like... English words, some of these have very different meanings and can therefore be misleading. Usually when a Spanish word looks like an English word, it will also have the same meaning as the English word... but this is not always the case. Be sure to consult with your teacher, a Spanish-speaking friend or a dictionary if you have any doubts about the meaning of a word.
7. Encounter the language as much as possible Listening to Spanish radio, reading Spanish publications and watching Spanish TV will help you to become fluent much more quickly than simply reading grammar explanations and vocabulary lists. If you are very early in your Spanish studies, it may be difficult to understand much. Still, I recommend trying to figure out what you can. You'll be surprised at how much you already know and how much you can figure out via context clues. Many of the audio and video activities you do in class, especially in the beginning Spanish courses, will seem a bit corny, even silly. It's very rewarding when you discover that you are able to understand what is being said in a REAL Spanish-language TV/radio report or newspaper. Here are some links to Spanish-language Radio and TV. Several of these can be streamed online!
8. Expect... and IGNORE... mistakes... By "ignore mistakes" I do not mean that you shouldn't try to correct them because you should always strive to make your Spanish as perfect as possible. What I AM saying is that when you make an embarrassing mistake (in class, talking with a native speaker, etc.) just laugh it off and keep working on it. You WILL make MANY mistakes in your class. You should expect this. But instead of feeling discouraged by them, just consider them learning opportunities and move on. In my years of teaching I have seen many students who ended up becoming very capable Spanish speakers because of their willingness to TRY to communicate in class, even if those attempts were not always so successful!