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Learning Tips


How to Learn a Foreign Language Successfully

In this section I will look at the best methods for language learning. The methods outlined here can be applied to any language. For more details, I recommend a book by Barry Farber called How to Learn Any Language Quickly, Easily, Inexpensively, Enjoyably and on your own.

Gather Your Tools

The first thing that you should do after deciding that you want to learn a new language is gather the tools that you will need.

You should have a good quality notebook, preferably spiral bound so you do not lose any pages.

It's a good idea to have several different coloured pens; blue, black, red and green are good.

You will also need some blank flashcards. These can be used to note down new vocabulary (English on one side and Spanish on the other). Use your coloured pens to distinguish between nouns, verbs, adjectives and everything else (if you are not sure what these are, please refer to the Basic Grammatical Terms section for an easy to understand overview). You can also use flashcards to help you to remember whole phrases and sentences.

A highlighter pen is always a good investment too. You can highlight new words when reading something in Spanish and look them up later on and add them to your flashcards.

Another essential is a good Spanish-English dictionary. These are not cheap, but if you are dedicated to learning Spanish, it will be something that you will get a lot of use out of. Go for a medium-sized one. The pocket dictionaries are good for carrying around, but they can often be inadequate when you are trying to find a lesser-used word. Besides, the bulk of your study of Spanish will probably be done at home.

A phrase book is always useful. You can flick through them and find phrases that can be put into practice right away. They are also a handy size to carry around with you and are usually quite inexpensive.

The next thing you should consider purchasing is a Spanish newspaper or magazine. Just one will be fine. I will explain why in a moment.

If you can get your hands on some Spanish language cassette tapes, that will help you a lot. If you cannot afford to buy some, you should be able to get some from your local library. These are audio course for beginners wanting to learn Spanish.

Last but not least: a grammar book. 'Grammar!' I hear you cry, 'I'd rather burn in Hell'. This is a common reaction. High school language classes are to blame. Grammar is really not the evil demon it is perceived to be. It is the framework on which Spanish (or any other language) is hung. It's the skeleton. If you can obtain a Spanish book which has easy to understand instructions, that's great.

OK, that's everything you will need. Please don't worry if you cannot obtain one or more of these things. Make the most of what you have. None of the above things are essential for this course, they are merely things that will help you with learning Spanish in general. I aim not only to help you to have a good grounding in Spanish by the end of this course, but also to have the skills and knowledge to help you progress after this course, to learn more and become more fluent.

The Method

OK, so now that you have your tools, here is the method.

There are many techniques for learning a new language and different people find different methods work for them. Here I will outline a few of the methods which are, in my experience, amongst the most useful and effective.

The first thing that you should try to do is set aside some time each day for learning. Whether it's half an hour or two hours a day, it doesn't matter. The main thing is to keep ploughing away at the language on a regular basis. Anyone can learn a foreign language as long as they keep at it. Make sure that you never go to bed at night knowing no more Spanish than you did the night before.

Obviously, the best place to study is somewhere quiet with a table or a desk and a comfortable chair. You will need your notebook, flashcards, pens, newspaper or magazine, dictionary and grammar book to hand.

Here is the method that will help you to progress the fastest:

Follow this course lesson by lesson, making flashcards of the new words that you come across. Always have these flashcards with you. Take them with you to work, when you go out to visit someone... wherever. The key is to use all of those spare moments during the day to learn a new word or two. If you are waiting at the bus stop, don't just waste that time, take out your flashcards and learn a few words. If you are put on hold when calling someone, take out your flashcards!

The same idea can be applied to your Spanish cassettes. Use your Walkman to listen to them when you are walking in the park, doing housework etc. Challenge yourself to be able to think of the word or phrase said in English on the tape in Spanish before you reach the next lamppost (if walking), or before you finish washing a plate. Use the pause button a lot! Make a big deal out of trying to remember how to say something and do not release the pause button until you either have said the word(s) in Spanish or are 100% sure that you do not know them.

Every spare minute that you have throughout the day really does add up!

At the same time that you are following my course, start to work your way through your grammar book. This may be exceedingly boring, but force yourself to do it, a little at a time. If you do not understand something, go back and read it again, or try reading it again the next day. If you still don't understand it, don't worry about it too much. You will understand it soon enough. Move on to the next part.

The other thing that you can do is take your Spanish newspaper or magazine and go to the first paragraph of the first article on the first page. Take your highlighter pen and highlight every word which is new to you. This may be every single word in the paragraph. That's fine. The thing to realize is that the language in the newspaper or magazine is REAL Spanish. It doesn't get any harder than that. Although you are only a beginner, the best way to learn a new language quickly is to dive in. Look up all of the highlighted words in your dictionary and make flashcards for them. When you have worked your way through the first paragraph, move on to the next. Do not be tempted to skip to a different article which looks easier or which looks like it might interest you more. If you start that, you will never stick with it.

If you can arrange to make friends with native Spanish speaker, then do it! The more chances you get to practice, the better. Try out your new words and phrases. Ask them to correct you and to teach you new words (which you should make a note of and make flashcards of later!).

Mnemonics

Mnemonics is an ancient technique for memorizing things. It is very useful for remembering new words in Spanish.

The key is to create silly stories around a new word to help it stick in your mind. The sillier and more vivid, the better.

For example, the Spanish word for cake is gato (pronounced ga-toe). To remember this, you could imagine a big fat cat sitting in the middle of a big chocolate gateau.

This type of system helps tremendously when it comes to trying to recall Spanish words.


Another good tip is to use sticky notes. Write the Spanish word for mirror (espejo) on a sticky note and stick it to the bathroom mirror. Put them all over the house so that you see them regularly. on the TV, on the window, on the shelves, on the table etc.

In conclusion, there are many techniques to help you learn a new language. I have outlined just a few of the most well-know and accepted. If you find a why that works well for you, stick with it. Experimentation is the key.


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¡Buena suerte! (Good luck)

M.Cosgrove