Thursday, November 29, 2007

How to Cure Spanish Amnesia

Many Spanish students hate Spanish. You might be one of these students. I have spoken with Spanish students who had previously received A's in all of their classes and now they are failing Spanish. Their confidence has been crushed and because of a bad experience in Spanish class, they will probably live the rest of their life hating the Spanish language. Such an attitude is a travesty especially since the problems with Spanish class could have been avoided had these students decided at the beginning of the semester how they were going to study for the class.
As a Spanish tutor at a university and a Spanish teacher in grade school, I have found that the biggest problem facing Spanish students is how to memorize words and verb conjugations. Developing a good memory is key to doing well in Spanish class. Unfortunately, I do not have a magic to give you, but here are some suggestions that may help you develop better memory techniques.

The best method that I have found to help with memory is the use of flash cards. Do not use just any kind of flashcards, however. You need to buy multi- colored cards. Research shows that the brain responds very well to colors. In fact, your brain may associate colors with words, making it easier for you to retrieve those words on a test. Any variety of colors will do, but I suggest that the brighter the cards, the more you will remember. Neon cards work very well. You might pay a little more for the color, but the results are worth it. Do not use the entire card. Cut the cards in half and you will not have to buy so many.

Another way to help yourself with memorization is to prepare your own sample test. Most Spanish teachers will tell you exactly what is going to be on a test. You should go through the information and write it up as a sample test and then force yourself to take it as many times as you need until you are confident that you have mastered the material. When you take the real test, you will feel more comfortable because you have already been practicing the test on your own. While it is certain that this method is more time consuming, the results are remarkable.

Hopefully, your teacher has talked to you about cognates. These are words that sound like English words. For example, the word "computadora" is a cognate because it sounds very much like the word "computer." Usually, in any given chapter of vocabulary words, there will be some cognates. If you can pick out the cognates, you will learn these words faster and be able to concentrate on the other words in your chapter (s).

Conjugations can be difficult to remember because there are six forms of each tense. However, as you have hopefully noticed, most verb endings follow a pattern. If you can memorize the pattern for "ar", "er", and "ir" verbs then you will be able to conjugate the majority of the verbs without trouble. We have a lesson on conjugations that you can access on the Spanish Help Net. As far as irregular verb conjugations are concerned, it is best to keep testing yourself on them until you think you have them down.

Finally, inventing word associations can be a tremendous help in the memorization process. Take a look at this example. In Spanish the word for "money" is "dinero." You could remember this word by telling yourself "Okay, I order to have "dinner" and in order to do that, I have to have "dinero". The words "dinero" and "dinner" are somewhat similar. This may be a silly example, but silly is often very helpful to aid in remembering some of these words.

Whether you are taking Spanish because it is a requirement for an unrelated field or you are majoring in the language, try to understand the benefits of learning the language. Do not take Spanish just because you have to pick up some extra credits. See your Spanish course as a chance to expand your horizons. People who speak Spanish and English are often more marketable in their fields.

Patience is the key to learning a foreign language. At times, it may seem like you can not memorize anything. Just be patient and keep trying. Hopefully, as you develop a memorization method that fits you best, you will find learning Spanish easier and easier.
Nathan Ryan is webmaster at the Spanish Help Net. He has taught English and Spanish around the world. For more information, visit Nathan Ryan's Website . This blog can also be found on The Spanish Help Net Website Blog.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Teaching Terror Syndrome

I will never forget the sights, smells, and noises that bombarded by senses when I first stepped foot outside of the airport in Mexico City. I will also never forget the young kid who demanded 300 pesos from me as I sat in a yellow taxi outside of the terminal. He thought he deserved the money because he had been nice enough to slam my taxi door shut. I gave it to him. I do not think I fully appreciated how much 300 pesos was really worth on the streets of Mexico City. After all, I was only 19 when I first stepped foot in a city that had already overwhelmed my senses before my plane had even touched the ground. Fortunately, my foolish decision to pick a random taxi, which in some parts of Mexico City is tantamount to playing Russian roulette, did not cost me anything more than a few extra dollars, and within 10 minutes, I was sitting on a bus that would take me deep into Southern Mexico. Five years and 17 countries later, I still remember that exciting day in Mexico City when I officially stepped out of my comfort zone and dared to take a chance and immerse myself in a culture with which I was not familiar.

I talk with many foreign language students who want to travel and study or teach abroad. Sadly, most of them will never actually leave the country. Most have no idea where to start and the process of finding a school and moving to another country seems too overwhelming. Others are on the verge of leaving the country but someone in the family convinces them that living abroad is too dangerous. Still others are excited about the idea but it seems to them that the financial and educational sacrifices are not worth a stay overseas. It is exhausting for me to think of all of the enthusiastic people that I have talked to who have decided that studying or teaching abroad is just too difficult. It is sad to think of all of the people who I have talked with who wished they had studied abroad when they had the chance. If you have the chance, do not waste it. While it is important to contemplate the potential risks of traveling abroad, sometimes you just have to do it.

I have never used recruiting agencies. In principle, I do not like them. Many of them will take your money as well as the control over where you teach and how much you are paid. People often ask me where I found such good teaching jobs. They assume that I had connections in Mexico and China or that I used a recruiter to help me. In truth, I found my own jobs by doing a simple search on Google and Yahoo. If you do not know where to start, simply pull up your favorite search engine and type in 'Teach English Abroad.' You will be shown listings linking to large websites that recruit teachers as well as small private schools that are seeking to make direct contact with potential teachers. There really is no better way to find teaching jobs than to perform your own search.

Even if you do not know where you want to teach, looking at job opportunities is the best way to learn more about different regions. For example, if you see a school that interests you, look up some information about the location of the school. You should find out about the size of the city, the weather, the nearest embassy, sites in the area, and whatever else you want to know. It is also important to see what others are saying about the school. You can use a search engine to gather all of this information.

I have always preferred to teach in smaller cities and in private schools. The less foreign contact that you have, the more immersed you will become in the culture. If you want to learn Spanish, or any other language, you need to be in an area where you will be forced to use the language. Teaching in a large university can be fun but spending all of your time with people who speak English is not going to help you pick up another language. Choose a location where you feel safe but where you can benefit the most from your experience abroad.

In closing, do not let people convince you that traveling abroad is too dangerous for your own good. Remember that everytime you step out of your front door, you are risking your life. Driving a car on your local highway or taking a jog through your city all involve potential hazards. While it is important to be careful and alert wherever you are, it also important not to let paranoia control your life. Sometimes the best experiences in life require us to step out of our comfort zones and do something that others consider to be crazy. Do not be afraid to follow your heart's desire. Do your research and find the place that is right for you and then just do it and never look back.

Nathan Ryan is webmaster at the Spanish Help Net. He has taught English and Spanish around the world. For more information, visit This blog can also be found on The Spansish Help Net Website Blog.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Add a Spanish Keyboard --Helpful Tip

Everyone always wants to figure out what is the easiest way to input those pesky little Spanish accents and Spanish tildes. I have created a free online pictorial that will show you how to add a Spanish keyboard to your computer. No extra hardware is needed and it is very easy to toggle back and forth between an English and Spanish keyboard.

Here is the link. Add a Spanish Keyboard
Nathan Ryan is webmaster at the Spanish Help Net. He has taught English and Spanish around the world. For more information, visit This blog can also be found on The Spansish Help Net Website Blog.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Suspenseful Spanish

I walked into my 2nd grade Spanish class recently with a black bag over my shoulders. Every kid was dying to know what was in it but I made them wait for a bit while we reviewed over the material of the previous class.The kids were listening to me but I could tell that contents of the bag were on every kid's mind. When I finally got around to reaching deep inside the bag, the kids were thrilled when I brought out a beach ball and threw it into the middle of the room. You guessed it! I spent the class teaching the kids about sports in Spanish as I pulled a baseball, basketball football, and soccerball (also called a football in most countries) out of the bag.

A little suspense is a great way to catch a student's interest. Whether you're using a box, a bag, your pockets, or a blanket, when kids are curious about something, they are sure to have a better time remembering it when it is finally revealed. It doesn't take a lot of effort to entertain my kindergartners through 5th graders. A lot of your students' excitement will depend on your excitement as well. A little suspense goes a long way as long as you play it up and keep the kids guessing. Learning Spanish can be exciting for your students and they can actually learn something if you are willing to have fun yourself.

Nathan Ryan is webmaster at the Spanish Help Net. He has taught English and Spanish around the world. For more information, visit This blog can also be found on The Spansish Help Net Website Blog.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hot for All the Wrong Reasons

I’ll never forget the night I made a big mistake. I was teaching English in Southern Mexico and I was dating a beautiful young lady named Gladys. Neither she nor anyone in her immediate family spoke English so the responsibility of communicating in a foreign language rested on my shoulders. Yeah, there were times when I missed a date because had I misunderstood the time. There were other times when I said something in Spanish and everyone smiled and pretended that they had understood what I said. But after a few months in Mexico, I was feeling pretty confident with my Spanish skills. Maybe a little too confident as it turns out.

I was eating dinner with her family one night. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t just her immediate family. Her grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a few other people who I didn’t even recognize were with us. There were delicious flat Mexican tacos on the table with spicy green and red salsas that made my mouth water with delight. It should have been a perfect night for me to keep my big mouth shut. After all, with the constant conversation taking place at the table, I was only catching little snippets here and there and I should have been content to just sit back and relax. In the end though, my little snafu wasn’t really my fault because I think that someone asked me a question regarding the weather in Chiapas. Instead of simply answering, “Yes I like the weather” or “No, I do not like the weather,” I had to describe how the weather made me feel. What I wanted to say was that “I was very hot these days” and had I simply remembered that using the verb “tener” instead of the verb “ser” could be dangerous, I would have stayed out of hot water. Unfortunately for me, I did end up conveying the fact that I “was very hot these days” but the way in which the words left my mouth probably made Gladys’ mother squirm in her seat along with the rest of Gladys’ family. I do remember what Gladys’ face turned red. According to what I had just said, I was hot alright but it wasn’t on account of the weather. I will leave it to your imagination in terms of an exact translation for what I had just said.

Whenever someone says something excruciatingly embarrassing, there is always that torturous moment of silence that follows. For me, it seemed that time had come to a complete standstill and I suddenly imagined that this could go one of two ways. One, everyone could break into hearty laughter, slap me on the back, and make fun of the stupid foreigner who says stupid things in Spanish. Two, the silence would continue and I would be forever banned from dating Gladys. Well, at least these were the thoughts that were running through my head. In the end, of course, everyone did laugh and for a few minutes I was the center of conversation at the dinner table. A few days later, no one seemed to remember what I had said but of course I never forgot.

What is the point of this little story? Don’t be afraid to make mistakes as you learn Spanish. If you never open your mouth, you will never gain the confidence that you need to speak Spanish well. In my experience, I have found that people throughout Latin America as well as native Spanish speakers in the U.S. are quite forgiving because they appreciate people who are trying to learn Spanish. If you make a few mistakes a long the way, they will only serve to help you improve your Spanish speaking abilities. Learn to laugh at yourself. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you might as well give up on learning any foreign language.

Nathan Ryan is webmaster at the Spanish Help Net. He has taught English and Spanish around the world. For more information, visit This blog can also be found on The Spansish Help Net Website Blog.