One reader wrote in and asked my opinion on learning Spanish as a language and learning Spanish at Las Lilas, the school where we learn Spanish. Since I do come across questions like these from time to time (like from my friends via Facebook and Messenger), perhaps it is a good idea to share my thoughts here. And if I write something nice about Las Lilas, they may pass my examination tomorrow, the next one, and the rest after?
I am kidding.
And I will also throw in a few tips that help me a great deal in learning Spanish.
* * I – Spanish as a Language * *
Spanish is a Romance language with 329 million native speakers (as of 2009), the second most spoken language in the world in terms of native speakers, after Mandarin Chinese. As for the most commonly used language on the Internet, Spanish comes after English and Chinese (as of 2007). But hey, these are just statistics. You may pick up a new language for your personal reasons. In my case, the language picked me. Or rather Cynthia got me into learning a language of her choice. In return, we have an agreement that she will learn a language of my choice. That did not happen. 18 months of learning Spanish has sucked all my linguistic juice away.
If you are reading this, I presume, you are an English speaker. So here are a list of similarities and differences from my observation of the two languages, at a high level, based on what I have learned so far.
- English and Spanish share a similar set of alphabets. Spanish has an extended set of characters.
- You can read a passage in Spanish by observing the alphabets. And hence, theoretically you could spell out the words based on what you have listened to. Those who are trained to convert phonetic sound into alphabets (like Cynthia whose mother tongue is Bahasa Indonesia) would have an unfair advantage to those who are not (like me who is brought up with Chinese). Such is life.
- Some argue that English grammar is harder. I think Spanish grammar is not easy either. Perhaps grammar in general is hard because of the exceptions. I often ponder: Why these exceptions? Maybe there is beauty lies within exceptions, or exceptions are what make a language beautiful.
- In Spanish, you have to remember words in masculine and feminine forms. That extends to the adjective and more. For example, a rose is feminine in Spanish, and hence you have to use the red color in feminine form to describe it (roja versus rojo). And since a sunflower is masculine, the yellow color in masculine form is used instead (amarillo versus amarilla).
- Spanish verb conjugation, in my opinion, remains as the hardest thing I have seen. In English, when we talk about exceptions, we probably refer to do-does-did-done versus jump-jumps-jumped-jumped. In Spanish, each tense has six flavors to cater for I-you-he/she-we-you (plural)-they. The good news is, there are probably only about 100 variations in total (of all the tenses in six flavors) and once you have learned it, it is yours to keep. The bad news is: How do you know which verb belongs to which variation (common Spanish verb runs in the order of 10,000)? And when you listen to a verb in a particular form, how do you reconcile that with its infinitive form? Lots of practice I suppose.
- Another good news is, there is quite a fair bit in common between Spanish and English in terms of vocabulary. Recently, I have browsed a book called The Big Red Book of Spanish Vocabulary. I can recognize quite a number of them. All of a sudden, Spanish is not that foreign to me.
* * II – Las Lilas * *
If you are residing in Singapore, Las Lilas is a school worth considering. We are told that parents send their children to Las Lilas to study Spanish. Classes are formed once there are five on board, though for beginner courses, they tend to admit a lot more students to perhaps anticipate for the higher drop out rate. We have met with three different teachers at least and they are all great teachers who speak Spanish as a native language, well qualified for the job. How fun learning can be, I reckon, depends on you and your classmates. We have a lively group and we have known each other for months. Las Lilas has designed a series of lessons in different levels. Examination happens in alternate levels. Personally, I hope to see a clearer written curriculum. But I guess they have a casual learning philosophy in mind and for working individuals like us, it is just what we need. Having said that, they host official examination too that is recognized in Spain (and other countries I reckon).
Each level has 10 lessons. It works out to be about S$40 per lesson before discount (the longer you stay with the school, the more discount you get I think). Course-ware is largely based on a textbook and an exercise book. Handouts are given during the class. And one or two lessons may involve learning through visual materials.
I wish Las Lilas can do more in terms of bringing the student community together. It is, I believe, the vibrancy of the learning community that keep the Spanish spirit alive in a country whereby hardly anyone speaks Spanish.
To access the school’s website, please click here.
* * III – Tips on Learning Spanish * *
As a small disclaimer, I am not sure if I at all am qualified to write a section on tips. Nevertheless, the followings help me in this Spanish learning journey.
- Bond well with your classmates and your teachers. It makes the learning journey more rewarding, common sense as it may seem.
- I use Collins Concise Spanish Dictionary. I have done some research before investing close to S$60. And at Kinokuniya, I browsed dictionaries of different publishers and have finally decided on this. It comes with an online edition too, free. The downside of the online edition is its clumsiness that requires repeated log in. Therefore I hardly use.
- I also use the mobile edition of the Collins Dictionary (about S$15). As and when I need to look up a word, all I need to do is to pick up my wireless phone. I use the mobile edition so much more than the paper edition.
- I find Langenscheidt’s Pocket Bescherelle Spanish Verbs very useful, as a reference tool. The conjugation tables contain entries in red that denotes exceptions. It helps for me to focus on those exceptions and memorize.
- For online translation, I love SpanishDict.com. For serious verb conjugation, it is Verbix.com hands down.
- To read everyday Spanish and to watch Spanish video clips, our teacher has recommended Radio Televisión Española.
- My favorite Spanish podcast? That has to be Coffee Break Spanish.
- If you listen to Internet Radio like I do, don’t miss Europa FM.
- I have bought a few Spanish books too. But I have yet to read them. Some enjoy reading the Bible in both Spanish and English side-by-side with one another. I intend to get Spanish-English Bilingual Catholic Bible. Well, if I am going to read some literature again and again in Spanish, I may as well clock in some points to Heaven, no?
This list will grow, for sure. But for now, that is all I have got to share. Thanks for reading and feel free to drop in comments if you have more queries, or have something, anything to share.