Monday, February 15, 2016

Being a Second Language Learner

As the chairperson of my school's ESOL program, it widely assumed/expected that I have the ability to speak Spanish.  While I took some Command Spanish courses over the years and learned the basics, it was difficult to have an in-depth parent conference without an interpreter present. In order to meet these expectations, last spring I decided to buckle down and take my Spanish studies a bit more seriously. I am still far from fluent, but my communication skills have improved to the point where I am able to comfortably communicate with parents and students.

Two of my barriers to learning Spanish have always been money and the fact that I did not want to attend a formal class.  However, I have been doing most of my studying at home and have spent less than $500 on this effort.  Here's what I've used so far:

  • Living Language: This was my first foray into the world of self-study Spanish.  I purchased this set of books from Amazon for about $30. This series of workbooks teaches the basics and comes with CDs that I listened to on my way to work.  Please note that while one of the books is labeled as advanced, completing this series will get you to the advanced beginner level at best.
  • Duolingo: This free site allows users to practice all four language domains.  It complemented my studies through Living Language and awarded me a certificate and virtual trophy when I successfully completed the program.
  • Rosetta Stone: People seem to have a love-hate relationship with this product.  While it does have its faults (such as lack of grammar explanations), it provides a way to practice speaking and pronunciation. The unit on medical emergencies allowed me to communicate to a parent that an ambulance was on the way to school to pick up her son who was having an asthma attack.
  • Ouino Spanish: To make up for the lack of explicit grammar instruction in Rosetta Stone, I purchased this software product.  It provides excellent explanations and the ability to build phrases and sentences.
  • iTalki: This website allowed me to connect with personal Spanish instructors who offer lessons over Skype.  I made sure to select an instructor from Central America in order to get the dialect of Spanish that I need to communicate with parents.  The lessons are fairly cheap (I pay $8 an hour) and the website also offers a social network platform that you can use to find language partners.  You can also do a Google search for overseas brick and mortar language schools (try Antigua, Guatemala and Granada, Nicaragua) that offer lessons over Skype for roughly the same price.

Of course, there are other avenues to learn and practice speaking another language.  For example, I recently joined a Spanish conversation group through MeetUp.  I've also discovered telenovelas through my Netflix and Hulu subscriptions.  This has turned out to be a great mix of learning and entertainment as the love triangle plot lines have provided an escape after a long day in the trenches.

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