Monday, July 12, 2010

Learning Spanish - Success!!!

This is Laura, my first on-line Spanish teacher. She gave me confidence to continue my studies.  She is very positive and motivating. Her blog has many wonderful (free) lessons
And here is Edith - She was a huge part of my success in passing the Praxis.  She is available to do sessions via Skype through Spanish South America.  If you need someone who can explain the ins and outs of Spanish Grammar in an understandable and in-depth manner, and if you want to meet someone with a heart as big as the Pacific Ocean, Edith is for you.  She is now a dear friend of mine - so far away, but so near to my heart. 

My third dear teacher who helped me through pronouncing Spanish well enough to pass the speaking section of the Praxis exam is mi amiga Diana.  She was determined to help me speak well enough to be understood - even to sound like an expert negotiator. No really – in all truth – and that is all I can say about it.  She worked miracles.  I can't share my dear Diana with you, since she already works three jobs and is not officially a language teacher, but I highly recommend finding a person who can help you in real time, face to face.  Diana met with me for an hour or two at a time each week over the course of several months.  She was my tutor and is now my dear friend.  Having her there at my side was a gift I'll never cease to appreciate. 

I felt the need to document my progress and strategies in case there are others out there who would like to prepare for a test, want to communicate better with neighbors, friends, loved ones, or just need to learn Spanish for the enjoyment of it.

I am a veteran language teacher, 27 years of teaching French and Japanese, so I know a trick or two about learning languages, but this was a new situation for me- learning a language mostly on my own, no teachers in classrooms, no homework assignments, nobody to check my pronunciation daily.

I am putting this blog article out there in case others might be interested in my opinions of ways to learn Spanish.  In the end we will have the ability to communicate with people from 21 more countries of the world. Come on along; join in the adventure of learning español conmigo, amigos.

My first strategy was to learn everything in the first-year Spanish textbook borrowed from a teacher of Spanish at the high school where I work. After awhile I decided that I needed more.  Sure I was learning grammar and vocabulary, but I had no idea how to pronounce any of the words. I knew I had to break into the myriad of Spanish-learning possibilities on the Internet.

Let me share with you what I've found.  Here is a great site for pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar: That photo at the top of this article... the one of Laura. She is an angel. Unfortunately she was on vacation when I needed her, so I could not interact with her in real time. I just worked my way through the two hundred and seventy video lessons she is offering for free here on her website.  I am confident she would be a great on-line teacher too.
Starting with the intermediate level lessons, I began putting the vocabulary from Laura's lessons on a site to practice vocabulary...

If you just type my name (jillpalumbo) in the search box on the top right... you will come to a page like this. 
If you click on my name (like the one on the left above) you will find a listing of all the sets I've uploaded.
The big circle on the left shows all the sets I've uploaded so far.  On the right you can see which ones I've studied, and how I studied them.  You can see I like the scatter "game." 

With Quizlet there are many options for learning/practicing, you can use the basic flashcards by clicking on the arrows to the left or right of the part of the screen that looks like old-fashioned flashcards.

 Try them all until you find your favorite way to learn.  I like the "learn" option when I know I will have to know how to spell something (verb conjugations, important vocabulary, etc.).  On the other hand, for long phrases, I think scatter is the way to go since I want to learn so much in so little time. 

Now another very important site that I swear by is Conjuguemos

I think that this name is a play on the words "conjugate" and "let's play" in Spanish.  I've been seeing great results using this site with my students this last year since a wonderful young Spanish teacher at my school made me aware of it.  I'm sure that there is more to this site than I've discovered, but I love it for practicing verb conjugations.  And... WITH VERBS WE CAN DO ANYTHING!!!  There is no arguing with that, right? 
On the photo above I've circled the "lists" at the right because these tell you which verbs you can practice for each tense.  I was getting pretty good at conjugating in the present tense when I realized I had no idea what the verbs meant!  So, I headed over to Quizlet and put together flashcard sets for the verbs used on Conjuguemos. Using both sites gives me confidence that I know how to spell the verbs AND what they mean.  I've made all these sets available to everyone. 

Now, Laura of TheSpanishBlog (see above) is wonderful at teaching me pronunciation and vocabulary and her grammar teaching is very good, but I needed a quick way to reference meanings of words and example sentences for learning more about grammar. 
First, my all-time favorite on-line dictionary is WordReference.  I LOVE THIS DICTIONARY.   If you can't find what you need on the definitions or in the verb charts there is also a forum where you can ask specific questions of native speakers.  How awesome is that?!!!!!   

Now, if I am still confused about a certain grammar point, my latest find is this website...   This site has had just what I needed when I needed anything I didn't find quickly elsewhere.  I have found very few holes in it anywhere. Eventually I paid the extra amount for a year's worth of the extra features, and it did help me tremendously.   Next - I worked my way through all the lessons and highly recommend it, especially for listening comprehension with the added benefit of vocabulary retention, appreciation of culture and for learning grammar in the target language.  It is a great and inexpensive way to learn a language. 
Well, that is it for my everyday sites I just can't live without right now.  OH, and I must mention that I do not like a few programs. My experience learning Spanish for college credits through the University of Georgia was a  painful one at best.  I asked my teacher to explain por and para to me, and she said - get a tutor.  I paid dearly for my three credits, and found very little support considering the considerable price. On that note, I have done research on the highly touted Rosetta Stone program, and it is very expensive for what it possibly delivers. The only part I enjoyed using was a program sponsored by the Rosetta Stone, but for free   
Another negative review… The Pimsleur Spanish series was a real waste of time for me.  I borrowed these from my library and was not at all impressed. Too basic, to scattered, too boring, to antiquated…
On the other hand, I found a gem of a series for free in our library…  I borrowed this Spanish Behind the Wheel from our library and LOVED it.    It was great for my pronunciation practice -Spanish Behind the Wheel.   
Here is a list of several other good places where I've learned something:
A young teacher with a pleasant teaching style and voice -Stick with him awhile and click on his other videos, you are sure to learn some Spanish verbs : 

Gotta love the energy of Señora Griffin and her original songs:

How about these fun students (you can tell they love their teacher :)):

Oh, and if you were wondering how to make those accents on the computer, here are codes that make them appear when you use the "alt" key and your numbers on the key pad.  Here is a link to the "secret" codes...
Here are the ones I have needed so far from that site...

A new amiga, Silvia Ortiz, who shares my love of polymer clay taught me a new word with another accent mark involved... vergüenza.  (ü can be written with alt 0252.)  Vergüenza means embarrassment, and she wanted to tell me to jump in and not worry about making mistakes, the most important part is to understand one another and keep communicaing. Her work was recently featured on Polymer Clay Daily... Go Silvia!!!   About her idea, you might like to look at this site that explains the ten biggest mistakes made when learning Spanish. I think #10 goes along nicely with Silvia's sentiments. 

Here is yet another link...   Professor Jason's Spanish and Portuguese.    While I'm doing Quizlet or Conjuguemos challenges I like to let this teacher's voice run in the background in my ear buds.  He has a way of explaining grammar that is very clear and easy to understand.  I find that his laidback way of presenting things combined with his soothing voice is good for a background lesson while I'm practicing my conjugations and vocabulary.  Also, if you are really just starting out learning Spanish, he takes you from the very, very beginning, the most basic concepts.

Do you have any tricks, tips or warnings for fellow Spanish learners?  Please leave comments for me.  I’m still learning of course… J  Never too old! Oh, and I'm running into more and more people who appreciate that I am trying to speak their language - so many new amigos as blessings in my life.   


  1. Animos, Laura es muy buena profesora, pronuncia muy bién las frases en Español. Ya verás como aprendes pronto y bien...

  2. Querida Carme,
    ¡Hola! Mucho gusto y muchas gracias por tu animo.
    Vi que nosotras queremos la arcilla polimerica :) Voy a leer los blogs que tu segues. Puedo estudiar al mismo tiempo que me divertiré. Que bueno :)

  3. seguro que has aprobado.Un abrazo.Mª Reyes