¡Mi gramática en español es jodida! ¡Ayudame!
April 4, 2012 9:21 AM   Subscribe

My Spanish grammar is all kinds of effed up. How do I correct this?

Language is not one of my strengths.

I learned the majority of my Spanish at work and in the street. I've worked in various countries and have become familiar with different accents and colloquialisms. I lived in Buenos Aires 2 years. I'm living in Spain currently. (ironically I'm living with Argentines in Madrid). I communicate well, but the grammar and especially my written Spanish is a mess.

I'm attempting formal study. I'm currently taking a online grammar class from The University of Wisconsin. It's fairly intense (3rd year grammar review) and I am beginning to think a bit beyond the level I should be studying. I'm getting pretty mediocre grades, low C's.

I'd like to correct this and I fell like taking the class should be the answer but its really discouraging me. I'm completely immersed and have been for some time. Does anybody have any suggestions or language "hacks"?

posted by Che boludo! to Education (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Read Spanish as much as you can.

Write a blog in Spanish. Even if it's just 100-200 words a day. The constant practice will have a significant impact. It will be difficult at first, but stick with it.
posted by oddman at 9:32 AM on April 4, 2012

Honestly sometimes the ground up approach works best. It's fairly easy to go through a workbook and you fly trough the stuff you know anyway. Since you're in Spain you might find a middle school workbook.
posted by raccoon409 at 9:48 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I got a lot of help from the Practice Makes Perfect series of books.

Have you considered a tutor? I live in Mexico and have found that a tutor is more efficient than classes because the tutor works with my pre-existing knowledge of the language and helps identify what I need to focus on. It also makes it harder for me to slack off, because I know that my tutor is going to ring my doorbell on Thursday and I'd better have my homework done.

I've also become pretty dependent on Flash Cards Deluxe, an iPhone app. I enter phrases or sentences on the cards rather than simple vocabulary words. The phrases are designed to test my grammar as much as my vocabulary.
posted by ceiba at 9:57 AM on April 4, 2012

I've had a tutor and I've found them to be a little lax. They don't seem to be intensive enough at times.

The problem is not so much that I need to improve my grammar is that I have to correct 5 years of bad habits. This would be the real problem.
posted by Che boludo! at 12:23 PM on April 4, 2012

So when you say you have to correct 5 years of bad habits, and improve your written Spanish, are you saying that you feel your Spanish is too informal, and you need to develop/improve a more formal, written Spanish? Develop something more neutral, rather than a collection of colloquialisms from around the world?

The way to improve your writing is to write. Perhaps you need a different online course, or a different tutor.

One way to make your Spanish more formal, more neutral, is to watch/listen to the news. Telenovelas are full of slang, but the news, especially the national news, tends to less slangy. Hang out with people from different countries. Hang out with people who give a shit about proper Spanish: editors, writers, journalists, people who use language in their work. Read a newspaper. Look up the words you don't know.

Put yourself on a slang diet. Make a list of words you want to avoid using (i.e., boludo and/or jodida) and make a conscious effort to find a more formal/neutral replacement.

Then watch this and realize how much company you have. There isn't a simple, no-effort solution, but you can do this.
posted by ambrosia at 2:10 PM on April 4, 2012

I recommend Using Spanish: A Guide to Contemporary Usage by R. E. Batchelor; it's got very helpful charts and explanations.
posted by languagehat at 2:34 PM on April 4, 2012

I'm not a language teacher, but I am a linguist, and I have personal experience too with learning languages through both formal study and immersion.

I think that it is extremely hard to (re)learn grammar once you are already speaking fluently in a second language. The only thing I have seen work is when the speaker forces him/herself to speak extremely slowly. It's hard to do. But when you are first learning a language in a formal setting, you speak slowly naturally because it is hard to retrieve the vocabulary. And so your grammar processing can keep up. You search for the word, you consider the grammatical rules, you stumblingly construct a sentence. You may even have time to correct mistakes on the fly.

Once you are used to speaking conversationally the words are easy to retrieve and you are moving too fast (and achieving things through your conversation that you don't want to disrupt), so you don't have time to figure out the correct grammar at the speed of a new learner (which sounds like what you are, when it comes to grammar).

So you have to force yourself to slow down to a painful pace and figure out the grammar of each sentence before you start it, and of each word or phrase before it comes out of your mouth. After you've been doing this for a few months, you'll find your grammar rule retrieval is closer to your vocabulary retrieval speed and you'll be able to revert to being fluent, but with better grammar.
posted by lollusc at 4:56 PM on April 4, 2012

Oh, and write a lot. Slowly. It's easier to slow down writing speed than speaking speed (because with writing you don't have to worry about your interlocutor being bored or irritated with you.)

Every time you write something, check it yourself for correct grammar (if you KNOW the rules, but are just falling into old bad habits) or have someone else check it (if your grasp of the rules is shaky). Make a habit of rewriting every sentence with the correct grammar, multiple times, so it sticks.

You want to get so that the correct grammar feels right, so that you will use it without thinking. That means getting the habits ingrained, which you can only do by doing it right more often than you do it wrong.
posted by lollusc at 5:00 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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