otherwise I'll just end up biting my fingernails for eight hours
September 9, 2009 3:37 PM   Subscribe

I've found myself in a Latin American country for a while, but I don't really know any Spanish. On Friday I am going to take a ton of speed and study until my eyes fall out. Using just the internet, what sort of super-intense regimen can we come up with?

English is my first language, but I've learned two others (one academically, one independently through immersion). Unlike those I don't have all the time in the world - this trip was hastily planned and I only have two more weeks here, so I want to pack as much Spanish into my tiny brain as I possibly can. I don't really have any books or anything, just a laptop and the internets.

I sort of get it - I know how the grammar works and some essential vocab. What sorts of things should I spend my time doing on Friday (I wasn't kidding) and in general? So far I've got some basic categories to memorize - body parts, food, utensils, ordinal numbers - but I need some more. I think I'll also pick up a newspaper and power through it with a dictionary.

What else?
posted by borkingchikapa to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm confused - do you want to be able to talk to people, or are you taking a test? Cramming vocabulary for a day will not allow you to have coherent conversations with people.
posted by desjardins at 3:48 PM on September 9, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah, I guess I wasn't very clear on that.

No, I'm not taking a test or anything. You're right that memorizing a lot of vocab isn't the best way to converse with people, but it's pretty hard to even get the point across when you don't know how to say things like "head" and "before" (although I know how after typing that!).
posted by borkingchikapa at 3:55 PM on September 9, 2009

Probably you want to focus on basic phrases- questions like "How much does this cost?", "Where is the x?", etc. etc. If you could find a basic travel phrasebook sort of list, that would be a good place to start. It would be useful if that also included sample conversations with, say, a waiter at a restaurant or a ticket agent so you can have some understanding of people's responses to you and some grasp of how an interaction typically progresses. Parts of the city, including words used in giving directions, would be useful. Common verbs and their conjugations. Can you find anyone who speaks English/another language you speak very well and Spanish, and have a conversation with them (over the phone or Skype, perhaps?) That way you could model conversations with them and have someone to correct your grammar or add to your vocabulary without having to stop for googling or dictionary work.

All of this is purely my opinion, but it's pretty much based on the things frequently taught in the first few chapters of an introductory language textbook. That's pretty much what you want to do in your speed-fueled (??) day.
posted by MadamM at 4:12 PM on September 9, 2009

Don't cram. Get a phrasebook, and then go out and use some phrases — even basic ones — with real people. Buy lunch. (Look up names of foods while you're standing in line.) Get a subway ticket. (Look up the word "ticket" en route to the station.) Ask directions. (Look up "where is?" and "hotel" and "left" and "right" while you're out getting lost.)

Conversation with native speakers is way better than solitary study, and you've got the perfect opportunity now for conversation.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:21 PM on September 9, 2009

You might also look on local websites or travel forums like Lonely Planet to see if there's any Spanish speakers in your area looking for an English conversation partner. Practice English with your new buddy for a while, then ask for some basic Spanish help in return. Again, way better than holing up with a book.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:23 PM on September 9, 2009

Best answer: I would actually focus on vocabulary first and grammar second. Grammar is important, but if you're interested in basic communication, having the past subjunctive forms of haber down pat isn't going to help a bit if you don't have the Spanish vocabulary word for what you're talking about.

Have you made any friends who are bilingual native speakers? If so, I would agree with MadamM and recommend that you practice conversation with them, maybe even roleplay situations that you want to master. That way they understand your situation and can explain to you, in your own language, whatever things there may be that you can't intuit on your own. Immersion helps, but some things just require explanation, especially in a short time frame like the one you have. Monolingual native speakers can help you too, but their ability to help you only extends as far as your ability to understand them (and their teaching skill), naturally.

It's not the kiss of death if the internet is all you have, although you lose the benefits of a structured curriculum, it's still an excellent research tool for language learning. The sites I regularly give to my students for practice are Study Spanish and Barbara Kuczun Nelson's Spanish Language & Culture Exercises. Both of those have self-correcting exercises and quizzes. If you want a regimen to follow, focus on constructing something based on those (maybe by selecting the modules that focus on things you feel you need to work on), because you can get instant feedback that way.

For reference, WordReference is the king. There may be higher quality dictionaries, but WR is more than just a dictionary: it has a verb conjugator as well, and its forums are filled with the kind of bilingual native speakers that I described above who answer usage questions that a dictionary won't always be able to answer for you. For grammar explanations Professor Jason's YouTube videos offer clear, concise treatments of difficult concepts. My students who have used them love them.

Again, I would reiterate that vocab is more important than grammar at this point. If you've got a grasp of basic grammar, great. Keep refining it. Don't stress too much over nuance, because that only comes with time (more than two weeks) and practice. People will understand you if you have the right word down.
posted by Kosh at 7:15 PM on September 9, 2009 [5 favorites]

Also, I should add that you can download software like Anki to make e-flashcards for vocab and phrases. You can supplement any grammar regimen with something like that. It's cross-platform, too.
posted by Kosh at 7:18 PM on September 9, 2009

Another free resource, if you have access to this, would be to try some podcasts on iTunes. There are tons of options that you could look through to see what best suits your wants and needs.

I also know you said "using just the internet," but I am nthing the "get out and talk to a live person" suggestion. Depending on what country you are in, you may be able to get into some conversation classes. I'm also POSITIVE that many countries actually offer week-long homestays where someone in your household would tutor you in the language. A week in that situation would get you much more than cramming ever could.

Que tengas suerte...
posted by GarotaDaCidade at 8:31 PM on September 9, 2009

You can try to learn 100 (or 200, 300, etc.) most common Spanish words.
Wordsgalore (with pronunciation).
posted by leigh1 at 12:21 AM on September 10, 2009

I'm currently trying to do the same thing with Italian. I've been doing Michel Thomas recordings which teach you basic grammar structure but he doesn't really do Vocabulary.

Personally I don't think you can effectively 'cram' for vocab. Learning languages seems to be all about repition. So I'm going to do that cliche'd thing of labelling everything around the house / office with the Italian words and hopefully over the next few weeks that will help it sink in.
posted by mary8nne at 3:57 AM on September 10, 2009

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