Improving your Spanish Before Your First Year as an Auxiliar de Conversación

Brush Up on Your Spanish Before Spain

Here are some intermediate level Spanish resources I wish I had the summer before I was Spain-bound.

Everything is free except Netflix. (There are some “freemium” options, but I always just used the free versions.) If you don’t have an intermediate level, I’d recommend taking a class at a community college if you have time. If you don’t, no worries; regardless of how much or how little prep you do, you will be fine!

I hadn’t spoken Spanish since high school when I was an auxiliar de conversación… my first few months were rough, but things got way better and I loved it so much I ended up staying for two years.

Whatever you do, don’t:

  1. Study flashcards 2 hours a day. Ugh… boring.

  2. Use your dad’s coworker’s favorite method for memorizing languages. What works for some doesn’t work for others. coughcoughrosettastonecoughcough

  3. Read your AP Spanish Language and Culture textbook again. Nobody cares if you’re using the pluscuamperfecto del subjuntivo if you aren’t interesting to talk to.

Instead, do fun, enjoyable things…

I’ll Be an auxiliar de conversación and I like to… Read

Reading is a great way to expose yourself to new vocabulary words

Reading is a great way to expose yourself to new vocabulary words

Install the free extension ReadLang.

This is awesome if you read the news. It will let you click on a word (and only a word) in order to translate, so you’re getting as little help as possible to understand. Plus, it makes a customized vocab list for you to study from.

BBC Mundo

El País

Did you know your Kindle habla español?

Put Spanish books on that bad boy and reap the rewards. Get a Libby account, so you can even download books from your local library.

Here is a list of common best-sellers on Amazon (if these aren’t interesting- read something that you would like! Get a Stephen King book in Spanish, etc.)

These are all online periodicals that target intermediate level Spanish speakers

I’LL Be an auxiliar de conversación and I like to… Watch TV

Just promise me you will watch Ágila Roja once you’re in Spain

Just promise me you will watch Ágila Roja once you’re in Spain

Netflix in Spanish with Spanish subtitles.

‘Nuff said. Don’t let people shame you into taking off the subtitles. They will really help with isolating individual words. These are all available via Netflix in the US as of March 2019. (Note: Some links might not work in your country depending on availability.) Check out some of my personal favorites:

Watch movies in Spanish with (unfortunately) probably English subtitles.

The iTunes store sometimes lets you choose languages, but I find Google Play typically only offers English. Here are a few top recommendations for you, along with the dialects you will hear:

Check out RTVE. If you have a VPN, you can see all of the content

Conjuguemos Tube

Spin TX - Authentic Spanish Videos

Cine.AR is like a free Netflix with just movies from Argentina

YouTube

Here’s an example from the YouTubers EXPERIMENTOS CASEROS | ¿Alguna vez te has preguntado qué pasa si metes la mano en nitrógeno líquido?

I’Ll Be an auxiliar de conversación and I like to… Go online

Practicing Spanish with Twitter

Practicing Spanish with Twitter

Some fun Spanish speakers to follow on Twitter

Some fun Spanish speakers to follow on Instagram

A great Facebook page to follow

I’Ll Be an auxiliar de conversación and I like to… Listen to stuff

Might you be the one to convince Jero Romero to reunite the Sunday Drivers?

Might you be the one to convince Jero Romero to reunite the Sunday Drivers?

Want music? Check out these bands and  drop your favorites in the comments below.

Lyrics Training

A fun way to increase your vocabulary and listening comprehension while watching music videos.

Radio Stations- such as Cadena SER or Radio 3

Podcasts In Spanish

Podcasts To Help You Learn Spanish

I’Ll Be an auxiliar de conversación and I like to learn the good ol’ fashion way

These are still great tools, they just require motivation and discipline to use

These are still great tools, they just require motivation and discipline to use

Duolingo

StudySpanish.com

Spanish Language & Culture (Colby.edu)

Spanish in Texas

Conjuguemos (Verb Practice)

SpanishDict

Espanoling

Señor Jordan

The Spanish Blog

Video ELE

Quizlet

Tl;dr Spanish

These are flipped lessons that I show my students when teaching grammar. They are much sillier than normal flipped videos, but I like them.

Improving Your Spanish as an Auxiliar de Conversación

Once you’re in Spain, the sky’s the limit for improving your Spanish. If possible, I recommend not living only with English-speaking roommates (or not living with any), if your Spanish is strong enough. Younger teachers at the school and roommates will be great initial contacts, as will any auxiliares in your city.

Take a class at an Escuela Oficial de Idiomas - they are inexpensive and will probably count as credit for professional development when you move back to the US.

not obvious ways to meet people your age (especially those who want to practice language)

Do weekly “intercambios”

Pro tip: you will always start out saying “Ok, let’s talk 50% in English and 50% in Spanish,” but in my experience, they will usually give in first, leaving you with more Spanish time! :-)

Start conversations!

Talk with people next to you at the café.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when you talk, because you will make thousands of them during the year. Accept them as necessary for learning, just like you expect your students to do when speaking English.

Say “yes” when people invite you to do stuff

This can be a huge challenge, especially if you have social anxiety or would rather stay in, but it will definitely pay off in the first few months.

Go to the library

See if they have a book club you can join (side note: my auxiliar friend and I were the youngest members by at least 50 years).

Take a ____ class

Yoga, cooking, etc. See if the ayuntamiento offers classes for the “juventud” (youth), or sign up for a class you see elsewhere.

Go to concerts at a nearby bar

People love music, and Spaniards are no different. Even if you don’t drink, go to the bar! Order a mosto (grape juice) or a coca-cola light instead of a calimocho (red wine and coca-cola… hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it).

Join a gym or polideportiva, especially if they have a team sport

Never done Yoga? No problem- everyone will help you, you’ll learn vocabulary you didn’t know before, make friends, and practice your Spanish all at the same time.

Visit museums & participate in cultural meet-ups

Especially if you live in a big city, there’s bound to be bars or restaurants that do an Erasmus social. Meet one or two people there and set up a weekly intercambio where you can talk in English and Spanish.

Where you aren’t going to meet people

Volunteering. This was an eye-opener for me, because it’s so common in the United States (in California, for example, high school students must complete volunteering hours to graduate). But you’re probably not going to find places to volunteer, except the Red Cross.

Here are some recommendations that I think will help you change your way of looking at language learning

Here are some recommendations that I think will help you change your way of looking at language learning

Final Recommendations For Learning Languages

One last note. I’ve been teaching languages for over 10 years—and have seen tons of students who LOVED learning and many students who didn’t. Here are a few last recommendations I have to help ensure learning Spanish stays fun:

Remember: Fluency isn’t an on/off switch, it’s a continuum.

Stop thinking “I’m not fluent.” This mindset is toxic to language learning, as you’re setting a vague, unattainable goal. Europe, for example, divides language proficiency into 6 levels.

Guess before googling—You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) look up every word

When reading and coming to something you don’t understand, make predictions about what the word or phrase could mean based on the context. Write them down if you need to. Then, just keep reading. That’s right, don’t look it up. Nobody will ever know! Unless you’re reading something important or a detail that  seems absolutely necessary to the story, just keep going. This helps ensure that reading in Spanish is enjoyable and doesn’t seem like a chore.

Circumlocute when you can’t think of a word

Instead of miming or switching to English (which may just confuse your audience more if they don’t speak it), slow down and explain what you mean using other words. Don’t know how to say “sour?” How about “el sabor que es parecido al dulce pero te pica un poco—como si estuvieras comiendo un limón.” Or just “sabe a limón” or “es como un limón.”

Accept the process

If your brain starts spanglishing everything, you begin to dream in Spanish, or you forget English words—be proud! These are all signs that your fluency is increasing.


Current and former auxiliares de conversación- what tips do you have for incoming auxiliares wanting to improve their Spanish? What do you wish you had done the summer before you moved? Add your thoughts below!