I knew very little Spanish heading into Summer this past year. I knew the words that were ingrained into English speaking and the “fun” ones used in commercials, but outside of that I knew very little. In high school I took German and I took German because I had live in Germany for two and a half years as an Army brat. Had I taken German in college it would have been much easier for me. But I took Spanish because it would be much more useful to me.
My plan of attack was simple: get Rosetta Stone; study all Summer; listen to a ton of baseball broadcasts in Spanish; and with a little luck place out of the 100 Spanish. I was able to place out of two of three courses I needed. It wasn’t easy and I under estimated how much work I would need to put into the course, but I was prepared to do what I needed to to pass the course.
There are five parts to passing SPAN 122 at the University of South Carolina: Get a passing grade in the class. I got a B. Then pass four exit exams in reading, listening, writing and speaking. Reading and listening were the easiest parts for me. I think I got the hang of speaking pretty quickly and used my audio wizardry to help with that. The writing was an entirely different story. Over the Summer, I never once sat down and wrote anything in Spanish, which meant I was behind once the semester started. At the end of October realizing my writing needed some serious work I made a commitment to write at least 120 words in Spanish everyday in the form of a pen pal letter, which was the format for the exit exam. I wrote 35 letters in Spanish from the end of October to the beginning of December. I’ve never been a fan of my own writing in English, so trying to write in Spanish was quite stressful, but I managed to get through it.
My overall impressions of Spanish are that it’s a simple yet complex language, which probably sounds a little cliche. I like that it’s efficient with it’s word count, but got frustrated with the slightly changing verbs based on intention, gender, count, and time. There are slightly different versions of each verb based on how many people there are, who the word is directed towards, and whether it’s in the past, present or future. There is a general pattern in place for all words, however, there are enough irregular verbs that memorization plays a big role in learning the language.
I lucked out, in that the women I married has a mother who is a retired high school Spanish teacher. I leaned on her pretty heavily, especially towards the end of the semester when I needed oral and writing practice. Sitting down with her was invaluable. Not everyone is going to have that kind of resources, however, universities should have tutoring services available and I would highly recommend those. Just sitting down with someone else helps a lot with the learning process. If you’re not in a university and trying to learn on your own, try talking to Spanish speaking friends and co-workers about it.
Rosetta Stone was worth the investment (full disclosure, I bought it when it was half-price), but it’s going to be tough learning the language just by going through the lessons. They have online resources available, but it’s on a trial basis and will require a paid subscription after a couple months. I complemented my Summer studies with a site called DuoLingo. It’s a really great site that will help with the reading, writing and listening part of Spanish. If you get on DuoLingo be sure to look me up
Once I got into the semester I stopped using the Rosetta Stone (which I regret a little), but I kept up with the DuoLingo because they have a mobile app that allows me to continue my progress when I’m on the go. The other website I used pretty extensively was SpanishDict . It was my go to dictionary.
Finally, I found a fantastic podcast that really helped me towards the end of the semester to prepare for the listening and oral part of the exam. Coffee Break Spanish has been around since 2008 and has 168 episodes of Spanish learning to go through, starting with a beginner series. They’re short too so you can easily go through two or three and still have time to eat and surf the internet during lunch.
Learning a language is challenging and I’m actually kind of glad I didn’t place out of Spanish. I’ve learned a lot, particularly on the grammar side of things and how all that works. I plan on continuing to learn Spanish because I think it’s a very useful tool to have and opens up opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have.