Foundations of Spanish/Getting Started

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How to Use this Book[edit]

I'm going to make one big assumption here: your goal is to learn Spanish to some level. That level might be "well enough to pass a class," or you might want to become conversational or truly fluent. None of these will happen just by reading this book—to learn a language, you have to use it—but we will try to nudge you in the right direction. I'm also assuming that you are either a native or fluent English speaker; if you aren't, this book might still help you, but a book meant for your someone with linguistic background might be more useful.

Recommended Cycle[edit]

For each topic:

  1. Preview the word list in Duolingo
  2. Try the lessons or the topic challenge test—you need not finish or pass, just spend some time wrestling with the new words and structures
  3. Read the chapter in this book
  4. Finish the lessons if you have not already done so
  5. Do some or all of the recommended reading and writing assignments from the chapter (some chapters may not have both)
  6. If possible, get feedback on your writing from a native speaker or more advanced learner—but don't stop and wait at this step; go on to the next topic while you wait for feedback (or, find someone to give feedback)

Many people want to know how long each cycle should take. It's difficult to give a one-size-fits-all answer to this question because the answer depends on two things: how fast you can learn, and your goals. There are 64 topics, so if you complete one topic per week, it will take you a little more than a year; on the other hand, if you complete two topics per week, it will take you 32 weeks, which is in the range of a school year (depending on your school system).

If You Already Know Some Spanish[edit]

Duolingo has shortcut tests you can take to get to your level more efficiently; you should use them rather than spend valuable time on lessons that are too easy. You can also test out of individual topics.

Since Duolingo practice and other ways of using Spanish are different, once you have done a shortcut test, you should do a sampling of the reading and writing practice activities rather than skip them all.

Advice for Language Learners[edit]

Practice every day! Duolingo gets this right—keeping your streak going is important.

Keep in mind that there are many different components of language learning. One way to look at it is to divide language into four skills based on whether you are working with speech or text, and whether you are producing or understanding the language.

Speech Text
Producing Talking Writing
Understanding Listening Reading

One limitation of this, though, is that there are many other skills which combine to let you do these four skills:

  • Grammar: the rules of combining words or combining parts to make words
  • Vocabulary: the range of basic things that are possible to say
  • Pronunciation: how words are said
  • Phonics/spelling: how words are spelled, and the connection to pronunciation

Within each of these groups of smaller skills, there is the amount you know (such as a thousand-word vocabulary), how automatically you know what you know (such as the time it takes for a word's meaning to pop into your head), and how well you deal with gaps in your knowledge (such as the ability to describe what you mean in a different way when you don't know an exact word).

In reading, there is the additional category of sight words, words you recognize without needing to apply phonics. These words let you focus on the meaning of the text rather than on the sounds of letters.

In writing, there is also the need to produce the marks that form the written language. Fortunately, most of these marks are the same in English and Spanish, though there are a few accent marks that go with familiar letters, such as the tilde over the n which you may recognize from words like jalapeño and piñata which English has borrowed.

This complex set of skills and varying levels of proficiency explains why you cannot just learn some words, nor even the whole dictionary, and be done with it, if you want to be able to use a language. However, don't despair—you've learned a language once, after all, so it stands to reason you can do it again, and this time you have all your experience at language learning plus your ability to understand explanations in your first language to help you. Just remember that you must do many different kinds of practice to become proficient at the wide variety of skills that tie together to form a language.