Learning Spanish can be extremely difficult, especially for some of us. I know from personal experience at Cleveland High School in Portland, Oregon. The Spanish program had a great reputation, and I considered myself a pretty intelligent teen, but when I took Spanish, I struggled. I limped along, and passed the class, but I felt bad about not achieving any degree of proficiency. I would run into Spanish-speaking people all the time, but there was no way I would open my awkward mouth and try to word any sentence in Spanish. I was terrified of failing the simplest greeting.
I don’t know how the high school kids got through pandemic Zoom classes this past year—having to watch themselves practice Spanish while also seeing their classmates wince and analyze them on the screens. If I had to deal with that back in my high school days, I would never have made it to graduation!
Looking back, I can see why my lessons never really progressed. I was intimidated in the classroom. When it seemed like everyone else was able to fumble along and practice the Spanish words aloud, I was anxious about how I would sound. I only had Spanish class less than an hour a day back then, and half the class was spent with the teacher disciplining my fellow classmates. The other quarter was collecting and assigning worksheets. We spent very few minutes on actually speaking Spanish.
I wish my folks would have hired an in-home tutor to help me. If I had known about the Spanish Tutor in Portland, Oregon, that would have saved me so much grief! I really thought something was wrong with me. Here I was doing well in so many other subjects, but I was a complete screw-up when it came to Spanish.
Like many high school students, I was just unaware that I could get help. It’s normal for high school students to lack a strong sense of resourcefulness. That came later, when I realized the help is there—you just have to accept that you might need a little more guidance. It has nothing to do with your level of intelligence. Young people’s brains are growing, and learning a language uses both left and right sides of the brain. Sometimes you need a little boost to help increase the volume and density of the white and gray matter and brain connectivity. At Tutor Portland, we give our students the time and attention they need to practice Spanish in a supportive environment. We give them a leg up and a confidence power-up, so they don’t feel so intimidated in the classroom setting.
We Work on Getting the Accent Right
I had trouble learning the Spanish accent, as many students do. I remember the first time those weirdo words came out of my body. I could feel all the judgy eyes on me in the classroom. I felt like I was trying to translate morse code. I needed to get the whole accent thing, but there’s no way my classmates and teacher would wait for me to figure it out. From day one, I felt like I fell behind.
The problem is that I needed to practice getting the accent right. You can memorize all the Spanish words in the Spanish dictionary, but if you pronounce them incorrectly, people in the real-world are going to look at you like you’re speaking Pig Latin.
Mastering the accent is important for connecting with Spanish-speaking Americans, and they will appreciate your effort! But if you want to travel to Latin America, Spain, or Mexico one day, you’ll need to get the accent right too.
But for now, you need to get a good grade. Either subconsciously or consciously, a high school teacher will certainly grade you lower if your accent is poor or not authentic. They might not understand when you’re not participating because of language insecurities. You want to make the effort to sound good.
At Tutor Portland, we know peer approval and acceptance is very important during these years. Trying to sound accurate in class adds to the pressure of learning Spanish. Research has shown when students gain confidence, they are more likely to engage in dialogue. We want to empower our students to take the accent seriously by working on grammar and pronunciation. We will practice conversational Spanish to the point of comfort and ease so when our students go back into the classroom they can feel like they have the confidence to raise their hand and speak up.
Spanish Immersion Works
I learned Spanish through a study abroad course in Santiago, Chile. But traveling to another country isn’t possible for everyone. At Tutor Portland, we speak so much Spanish, it’s like being immersed in a Spanish-speaking country. That’s why tutoring I designed our program to be just as beneficial as my studies in Chile.
When I first arrived in Chile, my Spanish knowledge was at level zero. I had such a bad experience with Spanish class in high school, that I erased all the words I had learned. I couldn’t even say “please” and “thank you!”
But the immersion helped. Slowly, and with much repetition, I began to pick things up. I noticed my host parents would say certain phrases over and over. They would say “Desayuno!” when it was time for breakfast, so I quickly learned that was the word for my morning meal. Then they’d ask me, “Como dormiste?” Can you guess what that means? I had to guess too! And that’s a great way to learn. At Tutor Portland, we understand how the brain learns languages best. We will build up your Spanish vocabulary one step at a time. Chunk by chunk. Brick by brick. Poco a poco! I loved being immersed in Spanish. This was the first time I realized everyone should learn Spanish by immersion.
Full disclosure: I didn’t exactly learn to be fluent by spending time with my host family. Everyone who knew me knew how lousy my Spanish high school classes were. So my parents hired a Chilean Spanish tutor to fill the gaps. I honestly don’t think I would have made it through the program without him. He provided all the help that Tutor Portland provides for our students. He walked me through my homework and edited my papers and essays.
The editing marks helped me to learn from my errors so I could make improvements in how I wrote. In my Spanish classes back home in Portland, I had fallen in the trap of using an online translator to help me edit my papers. I used a translator to write most of my sentences or paragraphs. I know it’s a cop out, but I was just trying to survive!
At Tutor Portland, we know many students have gotten into the bad habit of using translation services. This robs them of the opportunity to learn, retain, and synthesize information. Like my tutor in Chile, our tutors will examine every word you say or write to help you understand the underpinnings of the language. Your tutor will help you with grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation. Soon your essays will receive excellent marks. My Chilean tutor instilled a great sense of confidence in me. I started engaging others in Spanish conversation. I began greeting strangers on the street. My words started to flow and feel more comfortable. I began to engage in full-length conversations with members of the Chilean community, and I felt a part of things. I couldn’t believe I was speaking this foreign language that I had told myself I could never learn.
I want our students to have the same experience. I want them to get good grades, but I also want them to speak Spanish and to know the language as if they studied abroad.
Atmosphere and Attitude: The Right Stuff
This sort of shift can happen for anyone and in any subject. Not once has Tutor Portland sent a child away because they cannot learn a subject. And if you have that thought in your head, Well they haven’t met my child, tell those hurtful words to go adios.
Your child WILL learn Spanish. You need to start with the right atmosphere. A student needs to know that they are in a ‘safe place’ to learn and practice, first of all, and that no one is there to judge their intelligence or their ability. We already know they can do it. We recommend tutoring at least every two days. Learning requires consistency, and we need your child to show up and give it a try. Students need to feel as though what they are learning matters. When I was studying Spanish at Cleveland High School and later at Portland State University, learning Spanish never seemed that worthwhile. It was just a box I had to check. At Tutor Portland we will talk about the many benefits of learning a language. We want you to see the purpose behind it.
Second, they need to know their goal will be mastery. That’s right! An ‘A’ grade is our goal, but also, we want your child to speak Spanish with ease. With Spanish-speaking Americans, abroad, and wherever. Every student is capable of earning great grades. It is simply a matter of adopting the right attitude.
An Over-reliance on Apps: We Won’t Fall For It
I’ve noticed several strategy errors that students make on their paths to learn Spanish. The first is an over-reliance on tech tools and apps such as DuoLingo. We support a minimum of five to fifteen minutes per day on Spanish learning apps, but these programs should not be the primary learning method. Tech tools are there as supplements. They will not help you master the language, nor will these programs give you the confidence or the encouragement that a tutor or teacher can provide.
Spanish Can Be Taught Without a Mainstream Spanish Course
Yes, it’s possible for students to excel in Spanish without a course or class. I’ve seen this happen in homeschools. But homeschools follow a curriculum. These home-based programs typically offer consistent direct contact with an instructor or someone well-versed in the Spanish language.
Our tutors can design a Spanish curriculum and choose a textbook that’s right for you if you don’t have one. Our curriculum services cover the building blocks and basics of the language, as well as conversational Spanish and the written word, so that you have a strong and diverse foundation. In addition, we weave in vocabulary specific to your occupational and recreational needs. For example, if you are pursuing a career in medicine, we would want to develop a program based on Spanish medical terminology and vocabulary. We find out how you will apply Spanish in your life, and build out from there. We call this our Building Out strategy.
At Tutor Portland we know students who try to learn Spanish on their own fail because they don’t have a system of accountability. It’s impossible to learn the language without feedback.
Tutor Portland’s Mission:
Our purpose is to help develop lifelong learners who progress on their individual goals. We believe every subject is important, and anyone can learn any subject with the right atmosphere and attitude. Our tutoring services in math, science, reading, writing, and foreign languages will help each student reach their goals and achieve success. Learning a second language has many benefits. It has been shown to boost life-long earnings. It can help your career develop and land you a good job.
To accomplish our mission, we hire only the most skilled and personable Spanish tutors. We train them to bring out your best. We look for several things when hiring a Spanish tutor, including knowledge of the language, passion for the application of knowing a foreign language, skills in editing, and talent in instruction. Our tutors are likeable and fun. They know how to develop a love for learning Spanish, and we want to share that with you. If you want to master Spanish, call Tutor Portland today,