Spanish for Beginners – How Methods Have Changed Over Time

Imagine the scene some 350 years ago. You had heard stories of great riches and riches brought to Spain from the newly discovered Americas. You didn’t want to become a Corsair or a Pirate. You wanted to learn Spanish and covertly discover its secrets.

To learn Spanish you needed to interact with Spanish speakers. You positioned yourself in one of the ports famous for receiving a large amount of Spanish treasures. You got a job and learned the language. Due to his repeated questions regarding the sources of the treasure, he was charged with espionage, found guilty, and flogged to death.

Granted, that somewhat fanciful and elaborate story highlighted the fact that at one point there were no Spanish lessons. There were no Spanish learning resources. There were native Spanish speakers in foreign countries and some of them could also write Spanish. But there was no formal structure for learning Spanish.

Nowadays, resources for learning Spanish abound.

The language sections of the bookstores will always offer books in Spanish, series of books in Spanish from beginners to advanced, Spanish grammar books and Spanish books for children. The list is endless.

Colleges and schools offer Spanish courses, conversational, business or perhaps more formal.

The getaways offer total immersion to learn Spanish.

The internet abounds with resources for learning Spanish, from simple free online translation dictionaries, to podcasts, full multimedia course offerings, and just about anything and everything in between.

For someone who wants to learn Spanish, making sense of the current overload of educational opportunities and trying to choose between them is a task in itself.

Thinking about the evolutionary timeline of learning Spanish resources, especially for students who are beginners in Spanish, can help to understand the jungle and decide which option to take.

[The Beginning] There were no dedicated resources for learning Spanish.

[A little while later] There were more formal books to learn Spanish. There were Spanish tutors who taught the Spanish language. Possibly they used some books in Spanish as a resource.

[A little while later still] Schools, colleges and universities began to offer Spanish in their curricula. This was still very formal in its approach.

[In the 1960’s] Mass air travel – the vacation package. This triggered the advent of low-cost Spanish ‘phrase books’, smaller dictionaries and quasi-comic books. The explosion of these markets positively influenced Schools, Colleges and Universities to offer even more courses.

[In the 1970’s & 1980’s] The use of recorded audio, initially reel-to-reel tape and then cassette tape, revolutionized the Spanish ‘learn at home’ market. Courses ranging from 1-2 cassette tapes, 30 minutes to a couple hours of audio content with supplemental textbooks to massive courses of 20 plus cassettes, many hours of content and supplemental literature.

High quality courses (many BBC products fall into this category) are now used by schools, colleges and universities as the basis for the courses they offer.

Videos introduced during this period that allow, for example, the student to witness the purchase of market products in a real Spanish market.

Learn Spanish Retreats, these give classes in an authentic Spanish environment.

[In the early 2000’s] Multimedia courses were introduced that combined video, audio, books, games. Many people and learning institutions take time to realize the enormous advance in the teaching of Spanish that these multimedia courses offer. They offer great advances in the usability and enjoyment of learning Spanish.

[Current Day] Multimedia courses developed in the first part of the century now revised and improved.

Schools, colleges and universities continue to offer Spanish in the curriculum. They are somewhat reluctant to offer full multimedia courses, as it undermines the status of the Tutor. The role of tutors becomes much less important as the quality of the multimedia course increases.

The books are still in use, and the inexpensive phrasebook will always be around. Limited by their nature, books cannot offer audio or video content. They offer only a small part of a complete learning package.

Academic institutions (there are notable exceptions) are very reluctant to fully embrace modern methods. This is true not just in the Spanish language field, but across the board, with industry leaders constantly complaining that graduates are not prepared for the modern world after graduation.

There we have a summary history of the evolution of learning Spanish.

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