Feb 142014

The victorious circle of the good reader In my past attempts at learning Spanish I have tried ‘reading’ Spanish but without success. I would get Level 1 Spanish readers from my local library but would struggle though them because the vocabulary was too advanced. It was not until I ran across the idea of “Extensive Reading” to learn a foreign language that I realized the problem.

The “Easy Readers” written for kids in their native language are designed for kids who are learning to read, not for kids who are learning the vocabulary of the language. By the time children are learning to read they already have a large vocabulary. They just don’t know how to decode the letters into the words they already know. It is more like a spy learning to use a magic decoder ring.

A language learner usually already has a good idea of how to decode the target language (unless they are learning Japanese or Russian) but the words they read have no meaning to them. If someone read the book aloud to them it would do them about as much good as reading it themselves, just the opposite as it would for kids in their native language.

The key is to use your ability to read to immerse yourself into a language. Just like in your native language, and as shown in the graphic above, reading leads to understanding which leads to enjoyment and on to more reading. Not a vicious circle but a victorious circle.

If you cannot live in the culture of the language you are trying to learn then you must immerse yourself in the culture’s language through reading and listening. It seems that the key to finding appropriate material. My current criteria is that for a book to be at my current reading level, then there should be no more than 1 unknown word per paragraph. If there are too many unknown words then you will be struggling with the reading rather than enjoying it. You want to be comfortable and enjoy the reading, not feeling like it is work.

I have started looking for Spanish reading materials that are appropriate for a beginning language learner. I will write a follow-up post with my findings.

Below are some links I have found regarding Extensive Reading. I plan to start a page just with Extensive Reading reference material for future reference.

The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of Using Graded Readers
– by Rob Waring
Great summary of Extensive Reading. Here are some quotes from the material:

Teaching does not cause learning. Teachers can only create the environment to develop independent learners.

What is the ideal difficulty level for Extensive Reading?
Since the aim is to build automatic recognition of words, and to get the learner to the reading-with-ideas level, she needs to be reading at or below her current reading ability. Learners can only build automatic recognition of words if the text is easy for them.

Here are some good ‘rules of thumb’ for students to find their reading level:

  • There should be no more than 2 or 3 unknown words per page [1 for childrens books]
  • The learner is reading 8-10 lines or more per minute (80-100 words per minute or better)
  • The learner understands almost all of what she is reading with few pauses

Some learners want to read more difficult texts than their current ability level in the belief that they will learn more if they meet more new language. This is true, but it is unlikely these learners will easily develop into fluent readers. It is important to stress to these learners that they need fluency practice, too.

Extensive Reading: Why? and How?
– by Timothy Bell on The Internet TESL Journal

4. It can increase knowledge of vocabulary Nagy & Herman (1987) claimed that children between grades three and twelve (US grade levels) learn up to 3000 words a year. It is thought that only a small percentage of such learning is due to direct vocabulary instruction, the remainder being due to acquisition of words from reading. This suggests that traditional approaches to the teaching of vocabulary, in which the number of new words taught in each class was carefully controlled (words often being presented in related sets), is much less effective in promoting vocabulary growth than simply getting students to spend time on silent reading of interesting books.

Rob Waring’s Extensive Reading Pages
Even more links!

Can learners use ‘authentic’ books?
– Rob Waring on Graded Readers

’Authentic’ reading materials (for native speakers of English) are usually NOT the best books to teach foreign language learners to read. These are usually written for English-speaking children who already know thousands of words and most of the grammar of English before they start to read. English language learners don’t have this knowledge and usually find authentic books very difficult. Certainly until quite advanced English language learners should use Graded readers.

Feb 122014

Immerse Yourself Lately have had some conversations which left me wondering why I had dropped my attempt to learn Spanish. Well, maybe not “why”, it was because of time constraints and priorities. But I did wonder if I made the right decision.

Plugging new information into my old brain and keeping it there is a challenge. It was while reading up on Anki, the automated flashcard program I use, that I ran across an article at AllJapaneseAllTheTime that led me to another article then to another and ended up getting me excited about learning Spanish again.

To summarize the ideas that I pulled together was to attempt to do an “Immersion Program” right here at home. The AllJapaneseAllTheTime site has quite a bit about immersing yourself in your target language. The key is to live in the target language. Hard to do when you are surrounded by English all day but what are you doing with the time that is yours to control?

Here is the three pronged approach I plan to follow. The summary will give you an idea and I will be writing more on each of these three areas as I flesh them out and come across material I will be using.

  • Extensive Reading
    Read and then read more. But the key is to read at or below your current vocabulary level. You want your reading material to flow through your mind just like it was in your native language, not having to translate words or thoughts but just ‘knowing’ what it means as your read it.
    You might think this means reading ‘kids’ books. It does not. Kids are learning to read a language they know. When learning Spanish, you can already ‘read’ it. It is the understanding that you must work on.
  • Extensive Listening
    Here too it is best to listen to material is on a level that you can understand and follow along. Finding this material is difficult. Sure you can find Spanish vocabulary and Spanish lessons but those are not very interesting after a bit. I have found a few books that come with CDs but that gets spendy.
    Here, I will fall back to how kids learn. They are surrounded by language they don’t understand but they slowly start picking up words as they listen to the world around them. Turn your world into Spanish. Listen to Spanish Radio on the radio or the internet. Just immerse yourself in it and see how many words your can start picking up.
    Also, don’t forget about your TV stations (Telemundo & Univision) and YouTube.
  • Spaced Repetition Flash Cards
    When you read you will come across vocabulary and grammar that you need to learn. The most efficient way to learn is using a spaced repetition system (SRS). Anki is my SRS software of choice for learning new material. It works on Windows, Mac, Web, Android, and iPhone, syncing your material across the various devices so you can create ‘cards’ on your computer and review them on your phone.

¡Buena Suerte!

Aug 012013
Pimsleur Spanish on Facebook

Pimsleur Spanish on Facebook

I have tried to learn Spanish. Many times. As a matter of fact I think I have 6 years of first semester Spanish under my belt. I get started and then other priorities overwhelm my intentions.

When looking at other ‘gringos’ who are fluent in Spanish, I noticed one common factor. They all have significant others who are native speakers. I asked my wife about the possibility of acquiring a Spanish-speaking girlfriend but she says I don’t need to learn Spanish that bad.

Now it appears that Pimsleur agrees with me. This ad on Facebook seems to say the only way to learn Spanish is with the help of a good-looking girlfriend.

My Social Media Links: Facebook; Google+; Twitter;
Oct 132007

::amazonad(“0471134465″,”Practical Spanish Grammar”):: I am using ::amazon(“0471134465″,”Practical Spanish Grammar”):: to study Spanish. As with all textbooks there are mistakes and stuff that just does not make sense without a teacher there to ‘fill in the blanks’ that slip in despite the author’s and publisher’s best efforts. Many thanks must go to those who have answered many of my questions when I run across these things. Most helpful have been the members of the How To Learn Any Language Forum.

I will continue to update this page to collect in one place an ‘errata’ page.

Lesson 1

Practique A, Page 3

  • 16. Spanish cognate for tourist: ______

Unlike the other 17 words in the list, this one is not in the vocabulary list nor is it even in the dictionary at the back of the book

Practique B, Page 3

  • 3. Spanish equivalent for taste: ______

The book has the answer as ‘gusto’ but it should be sabor.

Lesson 6

Vocabulary, Page 90

**el estacionamento (the parking) is missing an ‘i’, should be estacionamiento

Grammar III, Table A, Page 103

Third person ‘su/su/suyo/suyos’ row does not mention formal 2nd person singular or plural ‘your/yours’ .

Lesson 7

Practique C, Page 110

  • U. Cuando hablamos de ocho días queremos decir una (semana)
    see explanation below

Exercise B, Page 114

  • 9. Ocho días es (una semana).

It might appear that Lesson 7 is trying hard to teach that there are 8 days in a week. After thinking this was an error, I found out this is a Spanish idiom.
I still consider this is an errata – No mention is made of this idiom in the ‘Notas’ (as he does do for other idioms). If the author had, it would be acceptable, but to include this as a ‘test’ question in a book designed for ‘self-study’ without explanation is a mistake that an editor should have caught.

Lesson 8

Practice B, Page 129

  • 10. Para (merendar) prefiero fruto o café.

Para merendar = for snacking
Although correct Spanish, the author does not mention being able to use the infinitive in this way. And as an English speaker this sentence seems real awkward. “For a snack I prefer fruit or coffee” sounds much more correct than “For snacking I prefer fruit or coffee”

Exercise B, Page 134

  • 11. Si estás a dieta de vegetales no debes comer ____.
    A. verduras
    B. grasas
    C. más
    D. guisantes

The answer is grasas but why is más is in the list? My thoughts are that for a multiple choice question such as this, 3 of the 4 items should be ‘correct’, ie, foods that vegetarians eat. Possibly maíz (which was in the vocabulary list for this lesson) was meant?

Lesson 9

Vocabulary, Page 145

  • descubrir “to discover” is misspelled “descrubrir”

Exercise D, Page 148

  • 6. Los bancos (aumentar) los intereses con las buenas noticias económicas.

The instructions say to use Preterite tense, but the answer in the book, aumentan, is Present tense. The answer should be ‘aumentaron’.

Exercise B, Page 158

  • 7. ti / caer / dos / billete / de / cinco / dólar

The instructions are to form a present indicative sentence using the words in the order given, adding any necessary words. The answer in the book is: 7. A ti se te cayeron dos billetes de cinco dólares
But, cayeron is the preterite tense not present indicative. The answer should instead be caen.

Exercise A, Page 161

  • 12. A ella le (gustar) hacer ejercicios aeróbicos.

Directions: Use correct imperfect tense form of the verb given.
Book Answer: gustaba
My thoughts are that ‘gustar’ should agree with the plural ‘ejercicios’. Therefore the answer should be ‘gustaban’ but am informed that gustar needs to agree with ‘hacer’ and not ‘ejercicios’.

‘Le gustaban los ejercicios’.
‘Le gustaba hacer (algo)’.

Appears this is another missing grammar lesson that is not ‘taught’ in this self-help book and yet is part of the ‘self check’ exercises.

Nov 192006

Over the years I have used a number of Spanish text books. The reasons for the different text books were various, sometimes because it looked better than what I had been using. Sometimes because I hoped it would move me farther than the last.

::amazonad(“0764175971″,”Mastering Spanish, Level 1 with Audio CDs”)::

The 4 books I still have on my shelves I have used but I do not remember why, exactly, I adopted or abandoned each of them.

The first book I believe I bought was the Foreign Service Institute Spanish Basic Course. It came with a box of cassettes that go through each lesson thoroughly. This course was first printed in 1957. The course is designed specifically to train U.S. government agency staff who are involved in foreign affairs and who need to learn to speak Spanish. Although the text and cassette tapes are not designed for individual self-study, they are sold and used this way extensively. I don’t remember how much I paid for the book and tapes, but I hope it was not anywhere near the $200 I see it advertised online.

Barron’s has published this course as ::amazon(“0764175971″,”Mastering Spanish, Level 1 with Audio CDs”)::. The publisher’s blurb says the new edition “has been updated with new references, and up-to-date vocabulary and idioms.”

The second book that I have is ::amazon(“0877205310″,”Spanish is Fun, Book A”):: that I purchased for a community education class. This book now appears to be out of print. From the writing in the book it looks like I only got to lesson 4. If I remember, I dropped out of the class because it was so basic and most of the people in the class whose only exposure to Spanish was at Taco Bell. I have considered taking another community ed class but am not sure my Spanish is good enough for the intermediate class, yet don’t want to start with a class at ground zero (or negative 3) again.

::amazonad(“0471134465″,”Practical Spanish Grammar”)::

The next book I bought, ::amazon(“0764129333″,”Spanish Now!”)::, I hoped to use to teach two of my teenagers Spanish as I learned along with them. Again, it looks like we made it to lesson 4! Neither of them had any interest and we had a hard time finding a set time we could do the lessons.

The last text book I have is ::amazon(“0471134465″,”Practical Spanish Grammar”):: by Marcial Prado. So far I have made it to Chapter 7 and hope to make it to the end. Afterwards I plan on using the author’s sequel ::amazon(“0471134465″,”Advanced Spanish Grammar”):: which is written entirely in Spanish and has good reviews as an intermediate Spanish grammar.

Of course you cannot learn Spanish just by reading some books but those will be the topic of another post.

Feb 122005

::amazonad(“007141519X”,”Laugh and Learn Spanish”)::

I borrowed ::amazon(“007141519X”,”Laugh and Learn Spanish, Featuring the Number One Comic Strip for Better or for Worse”)::from the Kennewick Library and found it enjoyable. Will have to check it out again as my Spanish gets better and I understand more.

Pictures and humor help readers build their Spanish language skills

To its millions of fans, the Pattersons are just like their own families, facing universal issues among daily concerns. Containing a selection of 100 syndicated Spanish-language versions of the strip that is widely read in Latin America, Laugh ‘n’ Learn Spanish provides an entertaining and effective way to expand and polish conversational skills in Spanish.

Readers learn by understanding and learning natural, everyday verbal interactions at home and about town, following John and Ell Patterson as they attempt to come to terms with middle age; daughter Elizabeth as she spreads her wings and goes off to college; son Michael dating and then marrying his childhood sweetheart, Deanna; daughter April as she rebels against discipline, anther grandpa who finds a second love in the autumn of his life. Each strip is graded by difficulty—Beginning, Moderate, or Challenging—and is accompanied by:

  • Glosses that translate difficult vocabulary
  • Usage notes to build proficiency
  • A summarizing activity that tests comprehension
  • Additional exercises for key idioms and word patterns appear at the end of each section

The most popular, most-read comic strip in North America is now the most fun way to learn Spanish!

Learning a language should be fun! So sit back, laugh, and learn Spanish by following the antics of the Patterson family in Lynn Johnston’s hugely popular comic strip “For Better or For Worse.” Now featured weekly in several Latin American Spanish-language newspapers, these cartoons will have you laughing your way through your lessons as you expand your vocabulary, comprehension, and conversational skills.

To help you focus on the learning level with which you are most comfortable, Laugh ‘n’ Learn Spanish is divided into three sections: beginning, moderate, and challenging Through the comic strips and their universal themes of family values in a modern world, you’ll learn how to talk in Spanish about everyday things: making demands and requests, expressing hope and plans for the future, discussing household chores, going shopping, asking for types of food, exploring relationships, and so on. The engaging storylines offer a strong incentive to keep reading and learning.

Using laughter to break through the language barrier, Laugh ‘n’ Learn Spanish features:

  • Vocabulary notes that translate difficult or new Spanish vocabulary
  • Language notes that provide guidance on correct usage
  • Entertaining, picture-based review questions that test your grasp of vocabulary and commonly used structures
  • Plus the original English text for the cartoon strips, should you need to check your understanding