To Learn Spanish Fast Practice with a Tutor

To Learn Spanish Fast, Practice with a Tutor

Over the past several years, I’ve tutored and taught Spanish to dozens of students of every age and skill level, from young campers learning their very first words to adults striving to connect to their Spanish-speaking family, friends, and communities.

More recently, I’ve also been on the other side of the pedagogical equation as I’ve made my way through intermediate German and scraped the surface of Italian. In other words, I’ve experienced firsthand the highs and lows of second language acquisition in addition to witnessing them in my students.

Throughout these teaching and learning experiences, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of language tutoring with experienced Spanish teachers for several reasons, no matter what proficiency level you’re starting with or hope to achieve.

I hope that over the course of this article, you’ll also come to appreciate that tutoring can be an invaluable, incomparable resource for learning how to speak Spanish. 

When you’re starting out

Diagnostic testing catalyzes Spanish acquisition

I always begin my first Spanish session with trabalenguas, or tongue twisters. One of my favorites is the following:

El hipopótamo Hipo está con hipo. ¿Quién le quita el hipo al hipopótamo Hipo?

Hiccup the hippopotamus has the hiccups. Who will help Hiccup the hippopotamus get rid of his hiccups?

Not only are trabalenguas a fun icebreaker and a good way to get over any first session jitters, they’re also a powerful shibboleth in the original, biblical sense of the word: in the hippopotamus tongue-twister, does the student know that la hache (the letter h) is silent, or do they pronounce it like the English letter?

For other trabalenguas, does the student know that la be and la ve (the Spanish letters b and v) are indistinguishable when spoken? If they don’t know these subtleties, that means I’ll have to go over the fundamentals of Spanish pronunciation with the student in the near future.

Within the first few minutes of your first session, your Spanish tutor can identify shortcomings and patterns of mistakes in your pronunciation, something that language books and automated programs can’t ever figure out.

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After trabalenguas, I usually initiate a short conversation, which helps me get to know about the student and their interests, thereby establish a casual, welcoming learning environment. Moreover, it helps me assess the student’s speaking and listening skills and gain insight into their understanding of Spanish grammar. Some of my youngest students grew up speaking Spanish at home, so their speaking and listening skills are sharp; on the other hand, their lack of formal education means that they constantly violate concordancia rules or inadvertently swap verb tenses.

Other students, especially those coming to Spanish as adults, may have less real-world experience with extemporaneous Spanish. These students tend to have trouble communicating themselves and understanding my questions.

However, these students, especially those with formal classroom experience, usually understand the ins and outs of Spanish grammar well, which can help them in future lessons.

For example, I’ve been working with a physician whose goal is to communicate to her Hispanic patients. While she has difficulty structuring grammatically correct sentences on the fly, her knowledge of medical terminology and use of Spanish basics, such as ¿Cómo está usted? (How are you doing?), ¿Cómo se siente? (How are you feeling?), and ¿Le duele el pecho? (Does your chest hurt?), are quite impressive.

With more sessions, I’m confident that her speaking and listening abilities will improve precipitously, and she’ll be in unencumbered dialogue with her Hispanic patients in no time.

The benefits and costs of tutoring

A common concern for students considering Spanish tutoring is how much does tutoring cost? First of all, there’s a huge variety of experienced independent tutors who offer a wide range of hourly rates; you’ll be sure to find someone qualified within your price range on Wyzant.

Secondly, think about the costs associated with not starting off with a Spanish tutor. You may sink money and time into a long, complicated diagnostic test that gives you an unhelpful result. For instance, say it determines that you’re an advanced beginner. Why did you get that result, and what should you do to keep your strengths strong and patch up your weaknesses? Other students may forego a diagnostic test, instead beginning with a prepackaged program that doesn’t match their initial skill level or desired intensity level — let alone pique their interest.

Instead, I believe that it’s highly advisable to meet with an experienced tutor who can offer a fun, interactive, and engaging first session, all the while diagnosing your level and figuring out which activities and learning styles suit you best.

Tutoring will get you started at the right level

This is all to say, shilly-shallying through super easy packaged lesson plans is boring and uninstructive at best, and delving into a too-challenging book or foreign film feels frustratingly insurmountable, too.

Instead, set up a lesson with a Spanish tutor who can use diagnostic tools to assess your current level and start you off on the right foot.

In addition to gauging your strengths and weaknesses, an experienced tutor can also pick up on what kinds of activities interest you most. I find that a combination of speaking, writing and listening practice is the best way to simulate an environment of Spanish immersion for my students, but not all activities are created equal. To practice speaking, some students prefer casual conversation about their daily routine while others prefer to give a timed speech in response to debate prompts or would-you-rather questions. Some love watching interviews and reading news articles while others prefer TV, film, and short stories.

By working one-on-one with a tutor, you’re able to customize every aspect of your language-learning journey, keeping you appropriately challenged and interested in your learning materials when the going gets tough.

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When you’re well on your way

Tutors continuously diagnose progress and shortcomings

As you progress from beginner to intermediate to advanced Spanish speaker, your tutor will have a surprisingly large influence on your Spanish acquisition — not only that you learn it, but also how.

Mentioned above are things like determining your baseline level and preferred learning styles. Additionally, your Spanish tutor may provide additional formal assessments to reevaluate your skill level and determine your progress, but I’ve found that each session can serve as its own diagnostic. If a student is still struggling with certain skills or grammatical concepts, I send over relevant articles, videos, podcasts, and practice exercises to bridge these gaps. If their vocabulary in a certain area is lacking, I whip up a customized set of terms or even virtual flashcards for my students.

The level of personal investment that online tutoring or in-person tutoring offers is incomparable to that of other methods of learning Spanish, which will never be able to adapt to your progress on a session-by-session basis like tutoring can.

Tutors bring their diversity to the table

In addition, the variety of Spanish you end up learning will depend greatly on your tutor’s background. Some tutors on Wyzant are native and/or bilingual speakers. Others, like myself, didn’t grow up speaking Spanish at home; instead, we’ve progressed through years of formal Spanish education and immersed ourselves in diverse regions of the Spanish-speaking world.

Such differences result in diverse teaching styles, dialects, and accents, which you’ll end up picking up along your journey through Spanish. Therefore, be sure to find a qualified independent tutor on Wyzant that works best for you and your goals.

Tutors are your best support system

During your months- or years-long endeavor to learn Spanish, your tutor will be there for support, which can be the difference between grasping Spanish and giving up before you get there. Having a consistent companion in your corner — literally, if you choose to learn Spanish online using Wyzant’s online learning tool— can help you stay on top of each bite-sized lesson and committed to your big-picture goals at the same time.

For instance, many students struggle with cláusulas si (if clauses), complex sentence structures involving multiple verb tenses, moods, and degrees of certainty. Your tutor can remind you of your triumphs with tenses in earlier Spanish lessons, such as the simple present, future, and past subjunctive tenses, helping you establish connections between older and newer material. More importantly, though, your tutor can remind you of your demonstrated ability to overcome grammatical obstacles in the past and encourage you to conquer the challenges facing you today with that same resolve.

Establishing a strong relationship with your Spanish tutor can get you through the surprising challenges that learning Spanish can bring. Mixing up words from different dialects of Spanish can result in hiccups — sometimes hilarious, sometimes humiliating. For instance, embarazada means pregnant, not embarrassed. Spaniards may use coger, to pick up, without batting an eye, whereas Latin American Spanish speakers always opt for recoger because coger means something scandalous — I admit I’ve made this mistake before!

More common for Spanish students is violating concordancia, or failing to keep grammatical gender consistent throughout the sentence. Even after years of study, it’s easy to mix-and-match masculine, feminine, singular, and plural endings. Unfortunately, such swaps can change the meaning of what you’re trying to say, confusing your interlocutor or even unintentionally misgendering people in the process. In cases like these, you can count on your Spanish tutor for feedback and constructive criticism, helping you bounce back instead of feeling discouraged or judged.

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Why choose Spanish tutoring?

All in all, forming a relationship with a tutor at the start and over the course of your Spanish-learning journey gets you to your language goals faster and more effectively. Instead of struggling to find stimulating material at the right level, meet with an experienced Spanish tutor that can determine your baseline level and find appropriate activities for you.

In my opinion, more important than finding the right content and difficulty level is finding the motivation to keep learning despite all the challenges that come with acquiring Spanish as a second language. After your first session with a Spanish tutor, you’ll come away feeling capable and confident enough to tackle the next session, or even to study Spanish by yourself until the next session rolls around!

After multiple sessions with your tutor, not only will you have interesting, stimulating conversation topics to discuss and activities to practice with, but also the support and motivation you need to get through the rough patches.

Get started with your first session

Finding a qualified independent tutor on Wyzant is super easy. Native speakers, former teachers, and experienced tutors abound, and each offers a unique pedagogical approach. Maybe your goal is to speak Spanish fluently and listen with ease. Maybe you’re more interested in reading acclaimed novels, short stories, and poetry by Hispanic authors. Or maybe you’re striving to follow the plot of your favorite thriller without subtitles. In any case, sign up for your first Spanish tutoring session to kick your Spanish acquisition journey into high gear.

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