In March 2016 I’ll be studying Spanish for four weeks at Escuela Falcon, a language school in Guanajuato, Mexico. I’ve had six weeks to prepare for my trip and brush up my rusty Spanish.
Til now, my formal Spanish studies were limited to five years in middle and high school, during which I probably didn’t pay as much attention as I should have. Later, I devoted many vacations to Latin American travel and practiced conversation whenever possible. Six years ago, I dusted off my grammar a bit with a two-week stint at a language school with campuses in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Uruguay.
Due to the steady diet of Spanish-language películas, novelas, and music I had always consumed, my listening comprehension was good, but my grammar and speaking skills were extremely rusty. My goal was to improve them to get the most out of my immersion experience in Mexico.
Here are the resources I used, in increasing order of enjoyment:
My grammar skills needed a refresher after decades of neglect. After reading Amazon reviews, I purchased The Ultimate Spanish Review and Practice and Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish. The Ultimate Spanish Review and Practice is a dense text for intermediate and advanced learners who need a solid review. I spent about an hour a day working through the exercises, a tedious but much-needed effort. Reviewing grammar was a humbling experience and made me realize how much I had forgotten—or never learned in the first place.
I also read Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish a few times a week. This entertaining read is jam-packed with useful tips for speaking Spanish like a native.
I spent at least half an hour a day listening to Spanish language podcasts to improve listening comprehension. It was interesting that as I reviewed a particular grammatical structure I would start to notice it being used in the podcasts. Check out this list of my favorite podcasts.
Conversation practice was without a doubt the most fun and engaging part of my Spanish studies. Having regular discussions with native speakers also kept me motivated to do grammar drills, since I could see my spoken Spanish improve as my studies progressed.
iTalki is a convenient, affordable way to connect online with teachers and language exchange partners. iTalki’s paid lessons offer the choice of community tutors or professional teachers. Professional teachers have a teaching certification and classroom experience, while community tutors are native speakers (or near-native speakers) who can help you learn a language through informal tutoring or speaking practice.
I decided to work with community tutors rather than professional teachers since I planned to review grammar on my own; it was conversational practice I needed most. Community tutor hourly rates are also cheaper. Due to my short time frame, I decided against doing language exchanges in order to devote my sessions to only Spanish. In the future, I do plan to try language exchanges since it’s a free way to practice conversation, help others with English, and make new friends.
I set up three half-hour trial sessions with iTalki Spanish tutors based in Mexico and continued with the two that impressed me most. I bought a package of five 45-minute lessons from each tutor and met with them once a week over Skype.
Usually, one of us would choose an article in advance for us to discuss during the session. I would read it on my own, look up new vocabulary, and note any questions I had. Spain’s best-selling newspaper El País is an excellent source for stories on international news and culture. Sometimes I read the article out loud during the session so the tutor could correct my pronunciation.
I also used the time to ask about Mexican culture and customs. Our conversations often strayed from there to random topics, which kept things fresh and helped me learn more vocabulary.
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