Recovering language skills
October 3, 2006 10:07 AM   Subscribe

How to best revive my Spanish?

I had 3 years of Spanish in high school, plus a semester each of French and Italian, and I can read short articles in Spanish reasonably, but I want to actually get better at the language. Instructional books usually start from "Hola" and go from there, which bores me, and I stop after a couple of days. At most, I can spare about half an hour a day, and I would prefer to not spend more than $50. My schedule changes a lot, so courses are not really an option.
posted by graymouser to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There are lots of Spanish books that don't start at the "Hola" level, and you can skip lots of chapters for those that do. Short of moving to another country, the best way to improve your skills with a language is to no only do the active learning with instructional materials, but to also do passive or experience learning. Play a Spanish language CD while you drive around; books on tape that you've already read in English work best. Watch Spanish language television or find a Spanish friend who is willing to talk to you in exchange for cooking dinner.
posted by Alison at 10:21 AM on October 3, 2006

Sorry, that should be "Spanish-speaking friend"
posted by Alison at 10:22 AM on October 3, 2006

Half hour a day is enough to flip on the Spanish channel and watch the news, or get hooked on a Mexican soap opera.

If you already have some background, this should help you pick up some vocabulary and conversation...
posted by jozxyqk at 10:24 AM on October 3, 2006

Have you seen this thread? And this one? There are a bunch of threads on this topic, and although they may not meet your criteria 100%, I'm sure you'll find some helpful suggestions therein.
posted by amro at 10:24 AM on October 3, 2006

I'd go with a good grammar outline--Schaum's seems to be the most popular for Spanish. Devote a week or two to studying each element of speech. Get articles and gender really nailed down, then go on to regular verbs, irregular verbs, etc.

Supplement the grammar study by getting a moderately comprehensive Spanish-English dictionary and working through it one letter at a time, memorizing the words.

Put the two together through spontaneous practice. Translate the evening news into Spanish while you watch. Decline irregular verbs while falling asleep at night. Jot down random little stories in Spanish in the margins of scratchpaper.
posted by Iridic at 10:29 AM on October 3, 2006

Nothing beats a spanish-speaking friend, except maybe a spanish-speaking romantic interest.

Your public library might have a Spanish section. You could pick up a copy of Harry Potter Y La Piedra Filosofal or something light and easy to read in English also if you get stuck.
posted by peeedro at 12:04 PM on October 3, 2006

I'd recently started going over my old Spanish textbooks, taking notes again, but I've found that watching movies in Spanish helps much more. Not that different from jozxyqk's suggestion, really. The upside, in comparison to textbooks, is that it takes much less time than going over each chapter. The downside is that you don't have any notes to refer back to and that the coverage might be more slipshod.
posted by Tuwa at 12:15 PM on October 3, 2006

Best answer: I've taught Spanish and Portuguese to every age group from elementary school students to adults, and the methodology that I swear by is that only 20% of your learning should be explicitly about grammatical concepts, i.e. thinking about verb tenses and how prepositions work, etc. The other 80% should be either immersing yourself somewhere, or simulating that immersion through communicative exercises that focus on content, not grammar, like "let's go to the grocery store and talk about the foods we see," where getting your point across is more important than saying what you are saying perfectly.

What you get out of a textbook should be a way to remind yourself of the rules, and to hone your grasp of the structures. It helps with the final layer of editing what you say. The majority of your time would be better spent watching movies (with subtitles on so that you can switch back and forth and take notes of sayings you learn. you could also start with subtitles in english and then move into watching with subtitles in spanish, so that you are reading and listening at the same time), talking to people, tv, books, learning to sing songs, etc. Find a study buddy -- you can't learn a language alone.

Advocates of more traditional approaches may not agree, but through my experience I feel very strongly about this. Spending most of your time simply going over grammar not only won't be much fun, it won't work.

Good luck!
posted by umbĂș at 12:37 PM on October 3, 2006

How's free sound? There's a tutorials section in the Spanish language entry in wikipedia.

In the software arena I've always liked the Rosetta Stone stuff, but it's over your $50 limit. I've seen lower cost stuff at Costco.
posted by phearlez at 3:56 PM on October 3, 2006

I know this is more expensive than you'd like, but I've had a lot of luck with the Italian version of these audiomagazines (Puerta del Sol is the Spanish version) for improving my comprehension from intermediate to advanced. Now I dream in Italian fairly regularly (and it's grammatically correct when I do!), especially if I've recently listened to a CD.
posted by katemonster at 4:13 PM on October 3, 2006

Best answer: You can watch the Destinos instructional videos online for free.
posted by Wet Spot at 6:45 PM on October 3, 2006 has spanish-speaking groups all over the place. And they're free. I highly recommend it.
posted by mynameismandab at 12:39 AM on October 4, 2006

I just wanted to add: don't forget to make use of your local library; it can help you keep under budget if you're looking for books and/or multimedia.
posted by Tuwa at 9:58 AM on October 4, 2006

Best answer: I took a Spanish class and to stay in practice built a web application which gives me Spanish blogs along with translations and lets me click on any word to find out what it means.

I put it online for anyone to use, you can check it out at:

Let me know what you think!
posted by kiwitobes at 8:47 AM on October 5, 2006

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