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Get The Most Out Of Your Spanish Study
Trying to learn Spanish on your own? It seems like there is so much to do, especially if you are a beginner or intermediate level student, so how do you decide what you should be concentrating on at any given time?
Probably you are following a structured course of some kind, like Learning Spanish Like Crazy or similar. Even so, you'll probably benefit by putting aside some time to identify what your weaknesses are so you can focus on improving them. To identify your weaknesses if helps to break down the language a bit into four main stages:
Listening and understanding
Listening and understanding are two quite different skills, but are completely entwined.
Listening is largely a question of tuning your ear into the sound of Spanish. If you have no knowledge of Spanish at all then when you hear the language being spoken it sounds like a jumble of sound that has no meaning for you. The sounds are alien, you can't distinguish words or phrases and it is all produced at a speed that seems like its supersonic.
Once you become used to the sounds it doesn't sound quite so busy, although you will still be unable to understand the words, but you may start to notice the sound of phrases.
Understanding Spanish is a different skill to listening. You need to have learned some vocabulary, however simple and be able to reproduce simple phrases. However, you may initially find that you are unable to understand a Spanish speaker because your brain isn't used to decoding information in Spanish so quickly and you may even find that you understand what is being said seconds after they've been spoken.
Thus, you need to improve your listening skills to aid your understanding.
Formulation and performance
Just as in the example of listening to and understanding Spanish, speaking Spanish also combines two distinct skills. The first is finding the words to express an idea; the second is to perform them.
Formulation is a question of finding a phrase to express an idea. You may find that you need to express yourself in a slightly different way when you lack vocabulary and may need to fall back on a phrasebook or dictionary at first. As your vocabulary increases you'll find that many phrases stick and you can use these as a model for producing new phrases. To start with you'll need to spend some time thinking of what you want to say and how to express yourself, but as you become more proficient at Spanish and internalise it you'll be able to speak without thinking hard about it first.
Deciding what you are going to say is great; it's the hardest part of speaking Spanish. However, you also need to know how they should sound and reproduce them accurately; if you know a native Spanish speak them ask them to correct you whenever you make a mistake. You may think that correct pronunciation is optional providing the people you are speaking to understand you, but it has another benefit; you'll be able to understand out words and phrases that you hear better because the model of the word carried in your head is more accurate.
When you pronounce Spanish correctly you also train your mouth muscles to move correctly. Because Spanish sounds are different from English the mouth is used in unfamiliar ways to produce the sounds; it takes a while for your mouth to become used to this, but practice will ensure that your mouth adapts.
When you're learning Spanish it helps to identify what you're weak at to enable you to focus exercises to improve it. By sitting down for a few minutes every couple of weeks or so and planning what you aim to improve and how you are going to improve it you will find that little by little your Spanish improves.
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