If you’re like most people, Spanish in high school was probably a nightmare — two or three years of memorizing vocab and the only word you remember how to say is pantalones. I hate to break it to you, but the only way you’re passing your Spanish intro course in college is to actually learn some of the language. We get it; mastering a new tongue is hard, especially if you just want to earn your credits and run. But for those who genuinely want to speak more Spanish than Dora the Explorer, we’ve compiled ten exercises to help you through that first semester.
1. Forget what you knowThere’s nothing more grating than an English-speaker drawling “Te quiero” in a sloppy gringo accent. Even if you can’t roll your r’s, or don’t fully understand the difference between the English /t/ and the softer Spanish one, don’t be the person who doesn’t even try. Acknowledge that Spanish has an entirely different set of phonemes from English — meaning that most of the letters are not pronounced identically. Distinguish the two alphabets in your mind from the get-go. The letters look the same, but they definitely aren’t spoken the same way. (FYI, it’s not tay-kee-air-oh.)
2. Read children’s booksGo ahead and browse through that picture book with 20 pages; there’s nothing to be ashamed of. The simplistic language of kids’ books is super-helpful when you’d like expand to your word bank and reading skills. I started reading Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal not too long ago, and while I don’t immediately recognize every word, the context clues and my familiarity with the story make it possible to get through the chapters, one slow sentence at a time.
3. Balance Your SkillsetYour language abilities are broken down into three areas: reading, writing and listening, and they all progress at different rates for different people. For most, listening skills will come in first and you’ll understand more Spanish than you can speak. To keep your knowledge balanced, don’t neglect one area of understanding — dabble in all three. In other words, don’t just follow one tip from this list. It takes a mixture of exercises to keep the cogs in your brain from getting rusty.
4. Absorb Spanish Media
Mastering the pronunciation of a new language is impossible if you don’t carefully listen to native speakers. Fortunately for you, every year the Spanish-language film industry pops out gems like Pan’s Labyrinth (if you’re into dark fantasy) and Contracorriente (a queer romance film that actually isn’t utter camp). If you’re not much of a movie buff, dive into the Spanish music scene to keep your ears fresh. Spanish pop and indie rock, for example, actually aren’t all that much different from their English counterparts.