article from April 28, 2011 (all links current as of January 2014)
by Julie R Butler
So you are planning to expatriate to Latin America, and it is time to commit yourself to learning Spanish. The reasons for learning Spanish are many, as are the options available. You are serious, perhaps you have studied some grammar books and have been learning vocabulary, but you need more than that. Now you are ready do what it takes, and it is time to decide what kind of Spanish course is right for you.
There are three basic types of courses to choose from, all of them requiring commitment and effort, but each offering different degrees of structure and flexibility.
1. Spanish Classes offer the most structured environment, with all the benefits of personal interaction with an instructor as well as with other students.
2. Language Software offers the flexibility to study at your own pace and on your own time schedule, with multimedia options providing the audio and visual tools that you can use according to what appeals to you the most.
3. Online Courses combine flexibility with interactivity, as such components as study modules, quizzes, and chats with instructors or others can be scheduled at your convenience.
The first option may sound old-fashioned, but it is tried and true. It requires the most commitment while providing the biggest payout in the form of interaction with other real-live human beings, which might just lead to socializing over cervezas, which, in turn, might even enhance your Spanish – or at least seem to, at the time.
However, not everyone has the luxury of time that a class demands, or you may still suffer from those recurring nightmares where you show up for your final exam an hour late and discover that you studied for the wrong exam (nooooo!). The software option is good for those who are very self-motivated and good with follow through. Of course, finding a good fit for yourself is important, and weighing the advantages of each program against their costs is not easy.
Here are a few things to consider when looking for a good course:
- Does the course accommodate different learning levels, or is it just a very basic learning tool for beginners? Most of the lower priced software programs fit into the latter category, each one focusing on a different aspect of language, so take stock of what your goals are. Are you looking to build up your vocabulary, or are you interested in learning phrases? Is knowing how to speak with proper grammar important to you, or would you like to focus on comprehension?
- A comprehensive course should offer reading, writing, and speaking lessons on basic grammar, sentence structure, and pronunciation. Regardless of what your focus is, learning all of these skills together is really the best way to grasp the way that the language works, and each will enhance your understanding of the others. However, you will have the option to pick and choose whatever interests you most.
- Does the software take full advantage of technology? Look for user-friendly navigation tools, voice recognition software that will help you correct your pronunciation, dictionaries and parallel texts in English and Spanish, audio and visual aids, and step-by-step instructions.
- Will the lessons hold your interest?
- Does the course offer books, study pages, CDs that you can listen to in your car or elsewhere while you are doing other tasks to help reinforce the lessons?
- Does the company offer online support? If so, is it via email, forums, or live assistance?
- Is there a money-back guarantee or a free preview or trial?
The third option, the online courses, offer a variety of situations, from sites that offer free lessons to high-tech private instructions, providing you with the most flexibility and the widest range of learning tools. The free sites may offer useful tools for learning as much as you can at your own pace, or the free instruction is an introduction for courses that charge a fee.
Here are some listings and reviews:
Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler