Give Yourself a Tune-Up Before you go.

You’ve decided to attend a Spanish language school abroad, but you aren’t leaving for a while, or you have to wait until next year to start because of time or economic constraints.  What can you do in the meantime to help get the most out of the experience?  What can you do now to help out then?  Well, here are some suggestions to get you on the way to making this lifetime experience most fulfilling.

By all means continue in any Spanish language programs you are now in.  If you are not enrolled now in a language course, see if you can register for evening classes at your school.  Many universities or local community colleges have evening courses.

If you’ve had classes in the past and saved your text and work books, take them out, dust them off and review what you’ve learned.  Take a look at your notes and tests if you’ve saved them.  You’ll be surprised at how quickly it all comes back to you.

Get yourself a Spanish/English dictionary.  Try to find one that is comprehensive yet small enough to carry around with you in your back pack.  Keep it handy while you study.  Develop a study habit that includes looking up anything you don’t understand.  Yes, it is a pain to do this, it slows you down, but in the long run, and it will be beneficial.  You’ll always find more than you were looking for with this technique.

Listen to Spanish radio.  If you’re new to the language, you probably won’t understand too much at all.  You’ll be able to pick out a few cognates and with some luck you may be able to decipher the broad meaning or intention of what is said.  The most important aspect here is to educate your ear to the sounds that you don’t hear in English.  Also, you’ll get a feel for the tempo, you’ll hear
different inflections and tones that convey meaning to words.  This is all part of the language and it happens to be things that are difficult at best to teach in books, but things that you’ll be immersed in at your language school.

Watch Spanish TV if it is broadcast in your area.  Again, if you are new to the language you won’t understand too much.  But try to study the differences in tone, body language and expression as the actors speak.   So many times students get wrapped up in the mechanics of syntax and grammar (which are vitally important) but, forget that the reason to learn a new language is to
communicate.  Communication is made up of so many parts, emphasis, facial expressions while speaking add so much to the flavor of a language.

If you are not in an area that broadcasts Spanish TV, rent a Spanish video.  An added benefit will be that it may even have English sub titles.  This is a very good way to add to your vocabulary and learn some idiomatic expressions.

Stay away from “Travelers’ Phrase Tapes”.  Instead, if you wish to hear the spoken words, buy a Spanish primer book that has practice tapes that follow the lessons.  Phrase tapes really limit your ability to understand the things that are said in any way that is different than what you learned on the tape.  If you are not asked a specific question a particular way (as you learned from the tape), you’re just out of luck.

There are some excellent primers and associated cassette tapes available.  You should have no problem locating them at your local book store, or at the library.  If you are not in school or taking Spanish classes, I highly recommend that you do invest some time in this technique.

Join your schools “Spanish Club”.  You’ll encounter others who have a passion for the language and enjoy sharing and helping others with their language acquisition.  That’s the whole idea of the club, don’t be shy.  You’ll find a wealth of information here, from study materials, books, tapes, and videos.  An added benefit is that many clubs have social functions and are great places to meet others with similar interests.

Speak with as many Spanish speaking people as you can.  Practice, practice, and ask to be corrected.  You’ll be amazed at how willing people are to share with you.  Do practice your accent.  

Finally, do some research on the country where you’ll be studying?  This is a good way to start building a passion for what you are doing.  It all won’t seem so unfamiliar.  You’ll have things to talk about with your teachers, host family and the citizens of your host country.