Sunday, December 9, 2012

Spanish Language Fluency: A Work In Progress

     Last night I watched a Spanish film (Hable con ella, a film by Spain's famous director, Pedro Almodóvar). This was an event, because it was the first Spanish film I have watched without subtitles and understood the dialogue. This is to say nothing of the film— It was very weird, though I recommend it. The point is, I was able to follow, for two hours, the dialogue and plot of this film. I consider it an accomplishment, and something I could never have done before I arrived in Spain.
     I have been in Madrid now for two and a half months. In this time, my Spanish (listening comprehension, speaking, reading, writing) has improved greatly. One of the biggest factors is, of course, that I am surrounded by Spanish speakers every day. But without putting forth much effort, I could easily pass these months without improving much. Fortunately, I am trying to take full advantage of this opportunity in Madrid by learning as much Spanish as I can. I am doing this in several ways.
     First, I live in an apartment with Spanish speakers (a Spanish guy and a Brazilian guy— recently I moved from my old flat, but that is a story for another day). Secondly, I attend an "intercambio" every week, which is a language exchange, held at a bar, where people go to improve the language they're learning. I've been going to this intercambio since my first week here, and have made a few friends, who I meet there each week.
     Thirdly, I have a one-on-one intercambio with a guy in his mid-twenties from Madrid, for two hours twice a week. We walk around the city, he shows me places I haven't seen, and we split the time between speaking English and Spanish. Needless to say, between these intercambios, I am learning how to speak "real" Spanish.
     Fourthly, I speak Spanish at school with teachers as much as possible. I have even made friends with one of the P.E. teachers and have taught one of my classes (in Spanish) how to swing a baseball bat. More lessons are to come, and eventually we're going to play a game. Moreover, next week I'm going to start a third intercambio with one of the teachers, staying after school for an hour and a half or two hours once a week.

(The word notebook that is always in my pocket. Almost time for another one.)

     And since that is not enough, I have enrolled in an advanced Spanish course which meets for one hour, three times a week. Monday will be the beginning of my second week in the class, and the level is very high. There are around ten people in the class and I might be the worst at Spanish. The level is C1, which is the second highest level on the European Union scale of foreign language proficiency.
     I am taking the class for two reasons. The first is to improve my Spanish in general. The second is to prepare to take a Spanish exam at the end of May. A couple of weeks ago I started thinking about taking a test toward the end of my time here in Spain, in order to see how much my Spanish will have improved. I found the D.E.L.E (Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language), which is issued by the Instituto Cervantes, and is the only official test recognized by the government of Spain. It is equivalent to the English proficiency tests given by Cambridge. Tentatively, I am planning on taking the C1 level test, which is the second highest level test that the institute issues. This test is hard.

"The DELE C1 diploma proves that the student's progress with the language has been successful and that he or she has a higher than advanced level of Spanish. This diploma certifies the linguistic ability to understand and recognize implicit meaning in a wide variety of lengthy, difficult texts. It also certifies the ability to express oneself fluently and spontaneously without showing any signs of making any unnatural effort to find appropriate expressions, and to make flexible, effective use of Spanish within social, academic and professional contexts. Finally, the diploma certifies the ability to produce clear texts; correct in structure and detail, written about complex topics, and showing the correct use of organization mechanisms, articulation and cohesiveness." 

     Needless to say, if I were to take it now, I would certainly fail. But I have six months to improve my Spanish, and I am hopeful that I will be at or near this level by June. Even if I'm not, I think that having this concrete goal to strive for will push me to improve my Spanish more and faster than I would without a self-imposed challenge. The course that I have enrolled in will meet until the test date, which is great because it is an extended period of time, and the class is not solely focused on studying for the test, though we will to practice exams, but rather it is guided toward Spanish language improvement in general.
     Finally, I am trying to read as much in Spanish as I can, including newspaper articles, poetry, plays, and (maybe) books. Currently, I am reading Lorca's drama, Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding). I don't think it's going to end well for the characters.
     And as for writing— the main source of improvement is through email, though Facebook helps too. I've been sending more emails in Spanish than I thought I would, and not just one-liners. When I attended the Leonard Cohen concert back in October, I sat next to a woman who struck up a conversation with me. A mid-fifties madrileña, we talked before the show and during the intermission, and I got a bite to eat with her and her friend after the show. We've been exchanging emails once a week or so since then (she writes long emails, not just quotidian in subject matter, but discussing literature, philosophy, and writing). So naturally I have to reply in paragraph form, which is good but also means her emails stay in my inbox un-replied to for a little longer than usual. We finally met up again this week to attend a classical cello concert and it was great.
     All in all, I am really enjoying my time in Madrid, and I don't have much 'learning withdrawal' from college because I am learning every day.


  1. you will get C1 no sweat with all this practice. did we read part of bodas de sangre in Tellez's class? or am I confusing that with college?

  2. I know we read some Don Juan with Tellez, and also the one about Cortés, but I don't remember Bodas. I think I remember your telling me that you read some of it in one of your Spanish classes. It's good, isn't it?

  3. ask riko if he can speak puerto rican hola

  4. Hi,

    The new EU harmonized DELE format I think is now extended to C1. How long have you been stuying Spanish in Spain and do you have additional background? C1 is pretty difficult. I took the C2 in May 2012 and managed to pass. I wish I had taken the C1 first, that would have been less trauma.

  5. I've been in Spain for four months, but I have a minor in it from university. The part I'm scared about is that they say you should not seem unnatural at all in speaking. How long did you study Spanish before you passed the exam?