Aug 26, 2012

10 Low Stress Ways to Improve Spanish Language Skills over the Summer

Spanish is by far the most popular foreign language taken by college-bound students. Once upon a time, French was the preferred language, and many parents still believe it’s best for more “selective” institutions.

Not so. Colleges are perfectly happy with virtually any foreign language. They differ only in the number of years required or recommended for admission.

Regardless of your specific language commitment, it’s important to practice over the summer months. And anyone reaching the Advanced Placement (AP) level would be wise to jumpstart a few lessons before heading back to school.

“…when you are dealing with a foreign language, it is best to keep it ‘fresh’ over the summer months,” explained Lola Quintela, a local Spanish language tutor. “The idea is to make it fun while reinforcing grammar and vocabulary.”

So how hard can this be? Not too, if you think creatively.

"Even some daily activities like going to the grocery store or to the ATM provide opportunities to learn and review,” advises Mrs. Quintela. “Next time you insert your bank card to process a transaction or are ready to check out using the Self-Check line at the grocery store, press the ‘Español’ button. See and hear what happens!”

As it turns out, this simple trick is a great way to review verbs in the command form.

Whether you’re signed up for AP Spanish Language or Spanish 1, there are a number of other no-stress steps you can take to build vocabulary, practice reading comprehension, and improve speaking skills. Here are a few:
  • Work with a tutor. Don’t wait until after you’ve tanked on the first listening quiz of the quarter. Start now and make it your goal to spend at least two hours per week brushing up basic language skills with a native speaker.
  • Go high tech. Check out iTunes University for Spanish courses and apps. Levels range from beginners to a more technical medical Spanish class offered at Yale. The Do It Yourself Scholar recommends Notes in Spanish (free podcasts) or Open Culture’s Free Foreign Language Lessons. And helps you make and share digital flashcards online, while gives you the opportunity to build vocabulary and feed the world!
  • Watch Univisión, Telefutura, or Telemundo. You can replay clips or entire videos to practice listening comprehension. It may be a good idea to start with the news because it’s already familiar or Sesame Street because it’s geared to kids. Be aware—some of the telenovelas are very entertaining.
  • Listen to Spanish language radio stations. While driving back and forth to sports or band practice, you can listen to the news or salsa radio stations. The announcers tend to speak quickly, but with many hours in the car your understanding will increase.
  • Read. Visit your local library and get books in Spanish. Children’s books are fun, easy to read and already familiar to students in their English version. Hint: The Magic Treehouse series is available in Spanish (La casa del árbol) and is perfect for students moving into Spanish 3.
  • Review for the National Spanish Exam. The National Spanish Exam website contains a treasure trove of old exams and practice exercises. You can improve reading comprehension, grammar and vocabulary by logging on and taking a few exams. Keep in mind that AP Spanish students should be working at levels 3 or 4 or higher.
  • Take lessons with the BBC. The BBC offers audio and video language courses in 36 languages—free of charge. You can start with any one of several 12-week beginners’ courses in Spanish, French, German, or Italian. Sign-up and you’ll receive a weekly email offering encouragement and tips to help your language learning. Or if your level of expertise is beyond beginner, test your skills and you will be directed to those parts of the site that will be most useful for you.
  • Visit a museum. The trick is to visit museums offering tours in Spanish. Locally, many of the major tourist sites have self-guided audio and group tours available in numerous foreign languages. This can be a very different way to see a familiar place.
  • Travel.  Not everyone can afford a summer trip to Mexico or Spain, although total immersion in a language is the best way to learn it.  Short of getting on an airplane, attend a church service in Spanish or go shopping in a local mercado.  Who knows?  You might develop a taste for foods only found in ethnic markets.
  • Volunteer.  As a volunteer for local community action programs, you’ll find the opportunities to exercise your Spanish language skills are endless.  Try sitting on the other side of the table and tutor non-English speaking adults or work in a food bank serving Hispanic families.

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