SP111 — Spanish I — How to study

How to study for my class… and how to keep learning afterwards


These tips are intended mostly for first year language students, although advanced language students can benefit from them as well. One of the most important factors in successful language learning is motivation. If you want to learn Spanish, you will be interested in studying and using the language and will take pleasure in your progress, even if it is slow. If not, you should study another language or subject which does interest you.


In certain ways, learning Spanish is like being a zoologist. In other ways, however, it is like being a musician, learning to play tennis, or studying math. It is like studying math in that good control of the skills taught at the beginning level is important for success at subsequent levels. Just as you must first master basic operations before starting algebra, and must have a sound basis in algebra and geometry before progressing to trigonometry and then calculus, the skills taught in the first language courses are essential and used daily in the later courses.


Learning Spanish is like playing tennis in that what matters is how well you are able to perform certain tasks, not theoretical knowledge about how those tasks are to be performed. Understanding what topspin is and when it should be applied to the ball will not get you very far unless you can actually apply topspin to the ball, and do so in the right circumstances. Simply knowing a set of guidelines for describing actions in the past in Spanish is useless unless you are able to put those guidelines to work and accurately describe actions in the past. Concentrate on practicing your language skills, not simply learning about them.


A good musician constantly listens to the sounds produced by others and seeks to imitate aspects of those sounds in his or her own playing. In doing so, every characteristic of the sound is considered: pitch, tonal quality, rhythm, changes in dynamic level, etc. Likewise, when learning Spanish you must listen to all aspects of speech and strive to imitate the patterns you hear. This will require the production of sounds you may have never produced before. You will probably not be able to make all these new sounds or patterns of sound the first time you try. Don't worry about your early failure, it is normal; keep practicing.


In learning Spanish, rules and patterns of usage can be seen to emerge. But it would be a mistake to think of the rules and patterns as if they were like those of Euclidean geometry, always holding true in every circumstance. Imagine instead that you are a zoologist observing an animal (the Spanish language) in the field. Its behavior is quite complex, and just when you think you have it figured out it does something unexpected. Its behavior changes over the years and differs from one location to another. Sometimes it seems quite irrational. You must learn to be comfortable with this complexity and contradiction. The Spanish language was not conceived as a rational easy-to-learn system of expressing ideas, but has evolved over centuries and continues to evolve in response to complex circumstances.


Here is some practical advice for your studying



The following acvitities are useful both for learning while taking a class and for maintaining your skills after the end of the term.