Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.
Learning Spanish, like any other second language, is particularly challenging. It is a long-term goal which requires commitment, time and motivation. Language students often find speaking hard whether due to a lack of confidence or other reasons. Conversation is also the language skill that needs feedback from a third person, unlike writing, reading and listening, that can be self-taught.
Learning pyramid explains the average retention rate according to the activity involved. As you can see, you will remember something better if you watch it in a film than if you read it. However, the most effective way of learning is by doing.
1. Do a learning plan with your teacher or tutor
A general plan organized by topics, for instance, can help you to track your progress, work the structures and vocabulary you need to learn. You can make it as flexible as you wish so you can adapt it as you find out what works best for you. That is the moment for talk about what you are interested in: formal or informal Spanish, idioms, topics, slang, grammar structures, pronunciation, role-play for real situations, discussions…
2. Get corrections and detailed feedback
Speaking a second language uses a lot of energy doing the following: seeking the perfect word, choosing the right tense, pronouncing clearly…It can be exhausting. That is why it is helpful to know our strengths and weakness so we can focus on the latter. Share with your Spanish teacher how and when you want your corrections: immediately or after the task, so the conversation flows naturally. It is helpful if the teacher points out the error first and not the correction so you can resolve it yourself. Conversation lessons should be a balance between accuracy and fluency, although you should always make clear your priorities beforehand.
3. Decide between one-to-one or group lessons
If you are very self-conscious speaking to one person can be daunting enough, although you can find having lessons with other learners more interesting than you thought. Group lessons are an advantage because you, the student, are able to observe other learner resolving their language difficulties. It can also be a reminder that everybody is in the same boat.
4. Be realistic
About your learning goals, becoming fluent in a foreign language requires time and it is a long-term goal. It is not a sprint; it is a marathon. You might want to comment on an article about current affairs, but if you are not ready, you will only lose motivation, but do not make the lessons too easy because you will slow down your progress and lose motivation as well.
5. Bring your own materials
In the end, you want to be able to speak about what is relevant to you: your job, your day-to-day life and interests. Bring your old photos to practice the past, an article in the paper you found interesting to discuss during the lessons, a book you just read, your plans for your next holidays… The more familiar the topic, the easier as your energy can be focused on how to say it and not what to say.
6. Ask for homework
Ask your teacher about your next lessons and for extra materials that can help: vocabulary lists, grammar exercises, readings to discuss. You may want to practice the areas you want to improve.
7. Try different materials and tasks
Commenting on texts, role-play to practice situations you are not familiar, group discussions… Everything is important, because speaking a language is two ways, and you need to be able to produce speech but also to respond the people you are talking to.
8. Build a good report with your tutor
You should be able to feel comfortable and secure to give and receive feedback. Be assertive about what do you want and do not be afraid of coming across as demanding. You are just making their job easier.
9. Prepare vocabulary beforehand
While speaking Spanish, trying to remember a particular word can be very frustrating. When we cannot find it, our communicative capacity is limited. The most effective way to learn vocabulary is using it several times in context so if you are going to talk about holidays, think and prepare the words you may need. You will see how easily it becomes.
10. Keep motivated
It seems easy but it is not! above all when you reach a learning plateau, this happens even when you live in a Spanish speaking country. It is typical to be fluent but still making mistakes over and over and it is easy to give in. Being fluent means that you can speak in the foreign language without too much thinking not perfect and this is possible if you practice and keep going.