Review What You've Learned
If it's been a while since you last used your Spanish, the first step is to review carefully what you studied previously, and refresh your understanding and skills. There are many ways to do this, of course. A good starting point is to read through your elementary book and/or class notes again, taking the time to review practice activities and make sure that you still understand the concepts that were presented. If your book has an audio CD, listen to it again to get reacquainted with an authentic accent.
Schedule time for studying, and break up your review into manageable sessions. If you simply look over the book, plenty of the material will seem familiar, but you might make the mistake of assuming you really know the information when you don't.
You didn't learn elementary Spanish in just a few days so don't expect to remember it all quickly either! Though much will seem familiar once you begin reviewing, it takes more time to internalize concepts and content so you use them comfortably and accurately. Begin slowly and simply. Break your review into manageable chunks. Once you are back in the swing of things, you can pick up the pace if you want. Here are a few suggestions for managing your review.
Remind yourself of what you already know. For example, choose a category of content that you have studied and make a mental or written list of words and grammar points associated with it that you can remember.
Browse through your Spanish books. Identify the chapters that you are most interested in reviewing. If you focus on specific themes, vocabulary, and grammar structures that you want to review, it will be easier to avoid being overwhelmed.
Practice vocabulary and verb conjugations with flash cards. As you move through each chapter, make flash cards for the vocabulary and verb conjugations presented. If you organize vocabulary and verbs into specific contexts you'll find it easier to remember them.
Label your house in Spanish. Surrounding yourself with contextual-ized vocabulary is one of the best ways to stop translating. Before long, you'll associate each item directly with its name in Spanish.
Write! Another good review tactic is to try writing a few compositions, e-mails, or journal entries to practice Spanish in a less structured and more personalized way.
Listen! To get your ear back in tune, watch some Spanish-language films. You can even turn on the subtitles in Spanish to read and listen at the same time. You can do something similar with music and sing along with the lyrics printed in the CD insert.
Practice speaking. Get a study partner and hold regular conversation hours in Spanish. Go out to a Spanish or Latin American restaurant and place your order in Spanish. Name all the items on your table and make up sentences about them. Look around at the other diners and discreetly make up sentences to describe them and say what they are doing.
The reality is that the more you review, the easier it all becomes. In fact, this is the way you first learned language as a child — constant repetition and persistent experimentation. As an adult, you can speed up the process because you have a framework to hang new concepts on, but the only way a new language becomes second nature is through review and repetition.
You probably learn most new vocabulary by memorizing each word's meaning in English. To increase your skill, try to create definitions in Spanish for new words or associate them with visual images to help you remember them instead. Always thinking in English will slow you down and sometimes trip you up.
Outline Your Goals
Take some time to articulate your reasons for learning Spanish. Is it strictly for pleasure? Travel? For speaking with relatives or friends? Do you foresee using the language at work or do you hope to become more effective in a volunteer capacity? Your particular reasons for improving your Spanish are the key to outlining suitable goals and designing a program of study that will help you achieve them.
The most common response to the question, “Why do you want to learn Spanish?” is generally something like “I just want to be able to carry on a conversation.” It sounds like a simple goal, but in fact, it's probably the most difficult one of all to reach. So-called “general conversation” can touch on any topic in any verb tense, and usually jumps from topic to topic and tense to tense in a pretty unpredictable way. The reality is that maintaining a “simple conversation” with someone requires a tremendous range of vocabulary and a very high level of grammatical proficiency.
Don't underestimate the complexity of “learning just enough Spanish to carry on a conversation”! If you set precise goals instead, and identify specific content areas to study, you will find it easier to manage your learning and track your progress.
Be realistic. Consider the specific ways that you hope to use Spanish and what level of proficiency you need to acquire to be effective in those contexts. For example, Spanish for travel primarily requires an understanding and application of the language for transportation, lodging, and restaurants. You will also want to be able to get and understand directions and recommendations as well as shop for souvenirs. These tasks rely much more on vocabulary than on grammar. In fact, effective communication for a traveler doesn't require much more grammar than the simple present tense, possibly the future with
Articulate your specific needs for Spanish.
Honestly evaluate your current language skills, and list your strengths and weaknesses.
Outline how your current knowledge meets your needs, and identify gaps.
Draw up a study plan tailored to your needs and goals.
Keep it manageable. Re-evaluate and revise your study plan as necessary.
Make it personal. Practice Spanish in the way you plan to use it.
Make it unavoidable. Post your goals on your bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, at your desk, etc.
The only thing you need to do next is decide what kind of learning environments and what sorts of materials are suitable for your plan. How do you learn best — on your own or in a class? Do you prefer learning in a small group or with a private tutor? Do you live in an area where either of these is available? Of course, your budget and the availability of classes and tutors may make some of the decisions for you. If you are going to continue studying on your own, spend some time at the library and a bookstore to look over the materials available, and decide which books and other reference materials you need for what you want to learn.