Spanish 3 Review

Basic Spanish Review


Background

I studied Spanish for two academic years in high school. My teachers were great and the textbooks were all right, but after two years I couldn’t do anything with the language. Before I started studying again, I couldn’t even remember if I was supposed to say buenas días or buenos días. (It’s buenos días, by the way.)

Recently I started studying Spanish seriously, on my own. I’ve been using some free online courses and doing quite a few things, but one of my main studying activities was going through the Pimsleur courses. I’d usually go through the courses in my car, during my commute to and from work. So far I’ve completed all of Pimsleur Spanish Level 1, all of Level 2, and over half of Level 3. (Update: I’ve finished all of Levels 1, 2, and 3. My final verdict remains the same as what I wrote here.)

The Pimsleur Method

Each lesson lasts thirty minutes, and you’re encouraged to complete one a day. Sometimes I’d do two, and sometimes I’d have to skip days altogether.

Basically, with the programs, you start each lesson listening to a short dialogue. Then you’re asked to participate:

  • You’re given a prompt to say something in the target language. For example, a narrator might say something like, “How would you say to a close friend, ‘I would like to go with you’?”
  • You’d say the answer aloud. In this case, you’d say, “Me gustaria ir contigo.
  • After a pause, a native speaker would say the correct answer, and you’d be able to hear whether you got the answer right. You’d also be able to hear if you pronounced everything correctly.

There’s a reading component, but honestly, the meat of the program is the verbal part I described above.

If you think this sounds kind of like flashcard drills, you’re right. Sometimes it feels like you’re going through a phrasebook and drilling the phrases over and over again. To Pimsleur’s credit, though, it’s a little more sophisticated than that. The program becomes harder as you go along and uses spaced repetition to encourage long-term recall.

Usually, I’m able to do the lessons sequentially without any problem, but once in a while I have trouble with a lesson – usually because of tricky grammar constructions – and I have to repeat it.

The Pros

This program has plenty going for it:

  • It’s entirely verbal. What sets languages apart from, say, computer code is their verbal component. Our brains process and internalize languages via auditory cues. In simpler terms, we “hear” a language’s rhythms and intonations, and that helps us learn it. Pimsleur’s verbal-based approach really takes advantage of this. [Update: I explain this in depth in my book Language Master Key: How to Unlock Your Brain’s Ability to Learn Any Language. You can read about it here.]
  • Your pronunciation will improve. The programs are paced in a way that forces you to pay attention to your pronunciation. It’s hard to mess up too bad when you’re hearing yourself against native speakers.
  • You’re encouraged to learn grammar intuitively. Some tricky grammar points are explained, but for the most part, you’re coaxed to figure out the grammar on your own. I really feel that picking up the pattern by yourself (and even subconsciously) is a more effective method than learning via grammar text books. It mimics the way we learned grammar as children.
  • Lots and lots of repetition. You’ll hear the same things over and over again, which is good for retention.
  • Learning in chunks. Rarely will you learn a word by itself. Instead, you’ll usually learn how to say a word as part of a phrase or sentence. If you are in a conversation, you’ll actually be able to use the words you know.
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