16 TOP BLOG POSTS ON ACING DELE EXAM

Quick access to 16 of our top blog posts of the past three years, on how to ace the DELE exam

Our DELEhelp blog has established itself as THE authoritative resource, in English, for students preparing for the Spanish DELE exam (and for its new online twin, the SIELE, as well as for the American equivalent, the OPI). To make access easier, and give you a bird’s eye overview of what is available, we’ve copied below the blog banners for each of our top 16 posts. All you need to do, is click on a banner to be taken directly to that post.

Buena suerte with your exam prep!

See how the different exam components are grouped together and averages calculated.

TESTED ANSWERS to DELE exam FAQs

20 Top Tips for Acing the DELE exam ORAL tasks

Sephardic Jews Spain return DELE A2 language test

ACE your DELE EXAM by getting to know the curriculum

History is part of the DELE exam curriculum

The best prep for the DELE exam is to expand your VOCABULARY

Three top “been there, done it” tips for effective exam preparation for the DELE / SIELE & OPI

DELE exam functional language use a key part of curriculum

Top Tips for Acing the DELE / SIELE & WPT written tasks

The scoring criteria used in the assessment of your DELE exam ORAL test

LINKS to top DELE exam prep RESOURCES

For effective DELE exam prep, your need a personalized study plan

DELE exam reading comprehension top tips

Come to our award-winning partner school for Spanish immersion in La Antigua Guatemala

Click on image to ask for FREE Workbook




DELE / SIELE oral & writing: HOW to learn, and WHAT

The DELE / SIELE exams are very different to traditional school or college exams. The examen DELE / SIELE tests your ability to express yourself in Spanish, coherently, fluently, correctly and with sufficient linguistic scope (i.e., vocabulary / lexis), simulating real-world situations. The DELE  and SIELE are NOT examinations of your abstract knowledge of the “rules” of Spanish grammar or orthography. They test whether you can actually apply your knowledge and maintain proper communication in Spanish. The first questions when one starts prepping for the oral and written expression tests, need therefore be – for the DELE / SIELE  oral & writing: HOW to learn and WHAT to focus on, so that I can acquire the communicative competencies that the DELE / SIELE require. Even if you are not interested in actually sitting exams, but want to know how to attain fluent, coherent conversational ability in Spanish, then the same issues of How to learn and What to focus on, will apply.

These are very fundamental questions, and therefore are very broad in scope. They cannot flippantly be answered in a few bullet points – to really be of help, this blog-post must first provide you with a proper understanding of how humans acquire language and the communication skills associated therewith. In other words, give a conceptual reference framework for understanding why certain things work, and others don’t, when you are trying to gain communicative competency in a new language. This blog-post will, therefore, focus broadly on explaining the language acquisition processes occurring deep inside the brain, as based on significant new research published in early 2018. Rather than simply listing “exam acing tips”, we will today step back a bit, so that we can distinguish the forest from the detail of the individual trees. We need to comprehend what fundamentally is going on inside our heads when we acquire language – so that, with such understanding, we will be better able to focus and adapt our own language learning efforts. So please bear with me through the explanations – I can promise you it will be worth-while in helping you comprehend what you need to do to gain conversational ability in real life, and thus to ace the DELE / SIELE – as much (actually, much more) than any blithe infographic of acing tips would achieve.

In an earlier blog-post I wrote: There are many conflicting theories, plus ingrained teaching habits stretching back many generations, regarding how best to achieve proficiency so that you will be able to converse in Spanish. Just about the only thing that we do know for certain, is what DOESN’T work; it has been empirically proven that the traditional school or college-style teaching of a second language fails miserably in producing alumni with the capacity to maintain even a basic conversation at the end of their schooling. Recent figures from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) show that only 0.5% of alumni achieve that level of competence.  Most students taught the traditional way, give up on learning a second language, and those who do finish, have forgotten practically all they had learnt in just three to four years.

I am very pleased to tell you that, during January 2018, a seminal new study was published that greatly advanced or knowledge of how the human brain enables us to acquire language. We now have the empirical data to resolve the “conflicting theories” I mentioned in the earlier blogpost. This research not only clearly points to what to do, and how, in order to develop your language skills – it also confirms why that which we already knew doesn’t work (namely traditional classroom teaching methods) in fact fail, as proven by the ACTFL survey quoted above.

This significant new study was published online on 29 January 2018, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) under the title: “Child First Language and Adult Second Language Are Both Tied to General-Purpose Learning Systems”. As the title indicates, the two major conclusions of the study are that (a) mother tongue and second language are acquired using the same brain circuits, and (b) these ancient circuits are common to most animals and thus not unique to humans, nor are they uniquely dedicated to language learning. As the senior investigator of the study, Michael T. Ullman (professor of Neuroscience at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.), said in a statement: “Our conclusion that language is learned in such ancient general-purpose systems contrasts with the long-standing theory that language depends on innately-specified language modules found only in humans.”

The perceived difficulty in acquiring another language as adults, lies not so much in the nature of that particular language, as it does in our human nature.  As Steven Pinker and others have demonstrated (see the earlier blog-post), we learnt our own first language instinctively. In our early youth, we acquire language without formal grammar or teaching, because language is the defining “thing” of our species – it is our foremost unique instinct, like that of a spider is to spin webs.

We are programmed and maximally facilitated to acquire language in early childhood. Our brains are strongly focused on it up to about age six (having satisfied also our other differentiating instinct – that of acquiring the skill for walking upright).   Thereafter, however, the brain’s acquisitive capacity of necessity needs to be increasingly focused on other priorities as well, and our ability to acquire other tongues with ease, seem to us to diminish (at least, in our own perception, because it has now been proven that we engage the exact same parts of the brain to acquire any language, as we did for our mother tongue). HOW we in later life strive to acquire language, also changes fundamentally from what happened instinctively during the toddler phase – from the recognition and internalization of the patterns of our mother tongue through casual observation and then constant practicing to speak, we shift to academically “studying” the new language – as  we would study History or Geography or whatever other academic subject where the goal is to abstractly KNOW (i.e., to able to recall facts and interpret them). This is NOT the way that we would, for example, learn to play the guitar, or to play golf, or to master gymnastics, or whatever other competencies that require not just abstractly knowing about, but which requires us to hone the actual ability to fluently, coherently, and correctly DO – to DELIVER OUTCOMES.

How we opt to learn, and under which circumstances we in later life strive to acquire a new language, represent the biggest changes from how we had acquired our native language. Firstly the conditions and priorities have changed fundamentally – instead of instinctively spending our every waken moment for six years focused almost singularly on acquiring the ability to communicate,  whilst our every human need is being taken care of for us, we now have to multi-task complex lives with many competing demands on our attention span; we have to survive economically, physically and emotionally, and try and accomplish our goal whilst being able to invest only a few hours per week, for a limited time. Imagine if you could study a new language every waken hour, 24/7, without anything else requiring your attention, while being fed, cosseted and cared for… How long would it take you then – since, as an adult, you have many more learning tools available than a toddler (such as reading, access to grammar handbooks, and to all the modern digital audio-visual resources)? Six years? No! Certainly not! So, are you still thinking that babies have you beat at acquiring language?

What is true is that these adult circumstances and opportunities available to us since the advent of the age of formal schooling, have changed the way that we traditionally go about acquiring competency at communicating in the second language. It is no longer done instinctively, through observation and practice.  We shift from practice-based pattern recognition, to academically studying the new language. Like for any memorizing activity, right back to ancient times (such as what plants we can eat and which not) we engage for this memory-building activity the declaratory circuit of the brain – the circuit for data storage.  But – by “studying” the new language in this memory-focused traditional way, we are, unfortunately, concentrating on abstractly knowing its “rules”, rather than on building the competency to apply that knowledge in order to be able to PERFORM – to produce coherent, fluent conversation as OUTCOME.

HOW BEST TO GO ABOUT ACQUIRING A NEW LANGUAGE:  To understand how to go about acquiring the ability to communicate in a second language, we first and foremost have to understand how the human brain functions when it comes to “learning a language” – or, more correctly put – how we develop the ability to communicate.  Understanding this process is certain to help you in cultivating the right mind-set and learning methods for making your conquest of conversational Spanish effective.

It is recognized that the two most important abilities that set us humans apart from other primates and the rest of the animals in general, is our ability to walk upright and our ability to comprehensively communicate.  Both are vital survival skills, and both are heavily brain-driven. The ability to walk comes quicker, because it is a much shorter process. There is proof that babies actually start picking up language whilst in the womb. After birth, the brain’s major developmental focus for the next six years is on honing the ability to communicate.

A fundamental question in understanding how we humans acquire language (whether it be our native tongue, or a foreign language) is: what enables humans to have this unique capacity? Is it that we and we alone have a unique “something” in our brains – a circuit, some special DNA – that all other animals lack? This has been a rather logical assumption, and when DNA research became possible and the so-called “speech gene” (FOXP2) was identified, some had thought that it was the eureka moment – until we realized how widespread this gene is, even extending to birds, allowing them to sing. At the beginning of 2018, the result of seminal neurological research was published which once and for all dispelled the notion that we humans possess some unique “speech” part or circuit of the brain, that no other animals have.

It was clearly demonstrated that, no matter our age, and whether it is for acquiring our mother tongue or a foreign language, we use two very ancient circuits of the brain that pre-date homo sapiens and even primates – circuits that are present in most animals. Although it debunks assumptions of structural uniqueness, this neurological research has some extremely important implications for our understanding of how we humans acquire language (and consequently, how it should be taught). The most important revelation is that there are two general-purpose circuits of the brain that are employed in this effort, namely the declaratory as mentioned before, but also – very importantly – the procedural circuit. These circuits aren’t solely dedicated to acquiring language, either, but are vital in our everyday functioning.

The declaratory circuit is engaged when we consciously learn things that we store in our memory, such as how to count, the words of a song, or Spanish vocabulary. The big break-through has been to see how the procedural circuit “lights up” when acquiring language – the same circuit we use for mastering playing the piano, or to perfect our golf swing, or our tennis back-hand. This PROCEDURAL CIRCUIT enables us to PERFORM TASKS, and hones this ability through practice, practice, practice – like athletes building up “muscle memory” of their required moves. For acquiring language, therefore, we now know that it truly is also a case of “practice makes perfect”. We pick up the patterns of the language and internalize them with the objective of reflexive, spontaneous reproduction – and we do so through practice, practice and more practice, without having to think and consciously configure phrases in terms of “rules” we have tried to memorize through the declaratory circuit.

This revelation about the vital role of the procedural circuit of the brain – of actual repetitive practice – in acquiring language, goes a long way towards explaining the ACTFLA survey results, when we consider that traditional language teaching almost exclusively relies on engaging the declaratory circuit. As toddlers we principally engage the procedural circuit to pick up and practice patterns of language, and pass things like vocabulary and pattern irregularities through to the declaratory circuit to be stored. As teenagers or adults, we traditionally try and “study” a new language the other way around, namely by means of engaging the declaratory circuit to try and memorize the “’rules”, with too little opportunity to practice, practice, practice to perfection. The moral of this story, is that you cannot “study” to speak a language from books alone (that is, if you want to meet the communicative criteria of coherence, fluency, linguistic scope and correctness in spontaneous reproduction) without practice, practice, practice – just as the star pianist cannot hope to perfectly render a piece that he/she can easily read off sheet music, without also putting in the necessary practice, practice, practice.

I am not going to repeat here what I said in the earlier blog-post about the importance of pattern recognition in the acquisition of language. It is a vital human ability, and you may want to read that post again to integrate what was said there, with these new research findings about the importance of the procedural circuit and of viewing language not as an academic subject for abstract study, but as a competency that needs to be actually performed, exactly like playing a musical instrument or a sport. It is only necessary to recall one’s own childhood to know that we developed the ability to communicate verbally without any formal teaching. As toddlers, we certainly didn’t formally study grammar – but from about age three and a half, we could construct phrases grammatically correctly.  Where we did make “mistakes”, it usually was when the supposedly “correct” English form deviated from the general pattern we had correctly discerned – such as when a child says two “oxes” instead of saying two oxen, because the regular pattern for forming the plural in modern English is by adding an “-s” (like in two boxes, or two cows).  Oxen is a relic from the past, which has somehow clung on – unlike the word “kine”, which until a few centuries ago was the correct English plural of cow, but which was jettisoned in favor of cows (with “cows” probably before then regarded as child-speak).

As little kids, we didn’t think of particular verbs as being distinct conjugations of some infinitive form – we simply knew that that was the right word for that particular phrase and context, based on pattern recognition. Our ear told us if another child used a word incorrectly, without us being in any way able to explain why it was “wrong”. We developed our language skills by getting to know words as simply words, plus the familiar patterns of stitching them together in phrases.

How to understand what importance to attach to the study of grammar: It is obvious that the patterns of languages weren’t ever formally designed and ordained by committees of elder cavemen laying down grammar “rules”.  Languages grew spontaneously, constantly undergoing local variations and unstoppable evolution at the hand (or rather, tongue) of the common folk.  The first visible signs of language standardization started emerging with the advent of printing.  The first formal grammar book for any European language was only published in 1492, for Castilian (i.e., modern Spanish). In it, its author, Antonio de Nebrija, laid down as first fundamental rule that: “we must write as we speak and we must speak as we write”. What he insisted upon, therefore, is that researchers and academics should not invent language “rules”, but must observe and record that which actually exists, the patterns of speech with all their irregularities (the concept of grammar “rules” is actually unfortunate, because of the connotation that the word “rules” have of being something authoritatively ordained – with hindsight, it would have been better to speak of grammar as a faithful recording of the commonly used patterns of speech).

Because of the natural eagerness of the human mind to create order by means of identifying patterns, it was inevitable that languages would eventually be formally studied. The study of grammar would come to consist of tabulating the patterns evident in any language, such as those for word modification (known as morphology – for example, the conjugation of words) or the protocols of phrase construction (known as syntax).  It is evident that, by learning and knowing these “rules” or rather patterns, one would be able to predict likely constructs. Now, if we take any sport, knowing the rules of the game isn’t – in and of itself – going to make you a great player.  The latter depends i.a. on one’s ability to APPLY such theoretical knowledge instantly and intuitively in actual game settings. Ditto for the guitar player – knowing the score of a song doesn’t guarantee that he/she will be able to render it perfectly at first attempt. This analogy very much resembles the demands of everyday conversation, which is focused on the speaker’s ability to instantly access his/her theoretical knowledge of grammar and vocabulary (i.e., as memorized via the declaratory brain circuit) and then – most importantly – to reproduce it spontaneously in real-world communication (i.e., the practice-embedded “muscle memory” originating with the procedural circuit of the brain).  We don’t simply “know” language, we need and use it to PERFORM communicative tasks.

Speaking is the performance of a communicative task, and requires guided PRACTICE to perfect

Unfortunately, the traditional school system requires standardized curricula and methodologies. This is the case because, in order for school tuition in real life to be feasible when teaching classrooms full of students, there just isn’t much scope for individualization.  They cannot all practice speaking, all at once. And there are many other subjects to be taught in the school year, in addition to (maybe) a foreign language. Therefore, for the foreign language student there cannot be anything like the constant immersion in his new tongue that the typical toddler is exposed to every woken hour in his native environment for at least the first six years. In school and college, time for studying foreign languages is limited – usually only some four to five hours per week, homework time included, is dedicated to acquiring a second language (thus engaging primarily the declaratory circuit of the brain for memorization, without truly activating the all-important procedural circuit for practicing the ability to perform).  Furthermore, it is logical that schools – which are subject to severe constraints of time and organization, whilst dealing with entire class-groups and not individuals – by the nature of these limitations are focused on imparting theoretical knowledge of rules, and not on the individual coaching and practice, practice, practice required to develop actual communicative ability.

As a consequence, schools and colleges are mostly teaching the theoretical foundations of a foreign language, with a focus on reading and writing (all pupils can practice to read or write at the same time, but certainly all can’t practice to speak at the same time). Quite naturally, therefore, schools are setting written exams to test students’ knowledge of the content which the schools have been teaching. Schools are not structured, nor disposed, to focus primarily on the individualized testing of each student’s ability to engage in an actual conversation, one by one.  Which explains why only 0.5% of US students end up being able to converse in the foreign language they have studied.  It’s like teaching and testing football spectators for their knowledge of the rules, instead of coaching actual, competent football players.

The foregoing is not a condemnation of schools – in many ways the traditional grammar-based approach to foreign language teaching was and is what is practically possible, and no informed teacher is under any illusion that it would, in and of itself, be enough.  Because humans instinctively seek for patterns, formal grammar is clearly a very useful tool that helps identify and present for study, the patterns inherent to any language.  It is thus very important that grammar be learnt (particularly because it provides a short-cut to knowing and identifying the irregularities inherent in any language).  It obviously is a faster way of becoming aware of such patterns and their exceptions, than simply by absorbing them subconsciously, over the course of years of unstructured immersion. But it evidently is not enough to simply know these grammar rules, or even to have academic awareness of the patterns, if one wishes to acquire the capacity to fluently, correctly and coherently engage in actual conversation – to communicate effectively and reflexively.

As I said in the earlier blog-post, another major drawback inherent to the traditional way of teaching, is that it inevitably leaves the student with the impression that language consists of rules and vocabulary – of individual words, which must be strung together in accordance with set rules, such as that of conjugation.  In reality, though, language for the most part consists of “chunks” of words in the form of well-established phrases with agreed meaning. These chunks of words and the customary way in which they are strung together, form an important part of the patterns of a language. As kids, we pick up and become skilled in using these “chunks”, like: I am going to school; I am going in the car; I am not going to grandma’s etc. We comprehend that the basic chunk stays the same, we only have to change some words to suit the need of the moment. This truth was recognized some two decades ago by Michael Lewis, who called for a new, complementary approach to the traditional way of teaching foreign languages, which he called the “lexical approach”.  You may want to refresh your memory about this part of the earlier blog-post as well, because in your preparation for the DELE / SIELE, you will notice the emphasis that examiners are placing on the use of “link phrases” to enhance fluency and coherence – and such “connectors” are prime examples of the word chunks that the lexical approach has been focused on. The lexical approach is not intended to replace traditional learning, but to supplement it; Lewis and his followers see it more as an enhanced mind-set, a better understanding of how we actually acquire language, which would broaden the learning methodologies beyond their traditional focus and strive for an outcome of actual conversational competency.

The WHAT of becoming proficient at conversation: The first thing to get right, is mind-set. Your objective should NOT be “I want to study Spanish” (because that is only aimed at acquiring theoretical knowledge about the language). You should consciously decide that “I want to develop the capacity to converse in Spanish” (which entails not only knowing the theory, but the practiced and honed performance skill, of integrating and applying your knowledge in real-world situations, instantly and spontaneously). What you want to be, is an accomplished football player, not just a coach potato football rules guru.

With your mental objective clearly defined, it is important next to identify the skills and knowledge sets that are essential for you to develop, in order to acquire the ability to converse in Spanish.  These elements then become the “to do” list of your preparation plan. The ultimate phase will be to add to this “what to do” list, the very important “how to do” component.

What, then, is necessary, in order to be able to actually maintain a conversation in a foreign language? You must firstly have the ability to understand what your interlocutor is saying to you, and secondly you must be able to make yourself understood.

For both understanding and being understood, you first of all need a sufficiently ample “linguistic scope”. This means that you do have to know (i.e., that you have learnt, to the point of having committed to memory and thus have fully internalized) the words, expressions and common “word chunks” making up the general use lexis of the language. You need to do so with sufficient width and depth, so that you can easily identify the words and word chunks upon hearing or seeing them, and also instantly reproduce them when needed in your own oral expression. This essential knowledge of words and patterns entails knowing the semantics (or meaning) of words, the phonology (or sound) of the word, plus its orthography (spelling, for recognizing it when reading).

click on image to go to this blogpost about expanding your vocabulary

Your knowledge of Spanish words and word chunks  (lexis) is one of the two theoretical knowledge legs upon which real conversation stands (or falls). The other leg is knowledge of the patterns of the language, so that you can string the word chunks together correctly. But lexis may be more vital to conversation,  because your listener can, as an intelligent native speaker, compensate for your small grammatical errors of syntax or of such things as gender accord, even for wrong verb conjugation – however, what he or she cannot compensate for, is if you completely lack the appropriate words to say what you want, or pronounce them so incomprehensibly that your listener’s eyes simply glaze over. When you are preparing for a modern Spanish exams of actual communicative competency, such as the DELE / SIELE, you will know that the amplitude of your linguistic scope is one of the four equally-weighted scoring criteria that examiners will be applying, when scoring you written and oral expression tasks.

However, these two legs of stored knowledge, although clearly required, are not of themselves enough to allow conversation. In order to converse, we now understand that – like any athlete – you will have to practice these legs to perform spontaneously. In fact, if you are still obliged – when you want to say something in Spanish – to first try and remember the right words, and then to calculatedly apply these grammar rules in order to mentally construct a phrase before you can utter it, you will have a serious problem with fluently maintaining any kind of conversation.

This is the difference between sitting a traditional end-of-school written exam, where you have time to calculate how to apply rules, and real-world conversation, which is an instantaneous give-and-take. Instead of relying on calculated application of rules (which usually signify that you are still thinking in your mother tongue and first have to translate from it) you need to have fully internalized – through practice – the patterns of Spanish speech (as you had done as a kid, with your mother tongue). Having internalized these patterns, it rolls out correctly almost without conscious thought as to how to say something (thus leaving you free to focus completely on the really important thing, namely the substance of what you want to convey). From this, you will understand that being grammatically correct is just one part of the “correctness” criterium applied in the DELE / SIELE exam (other elements of correctness being spelling, pronunciation etc.) which means that grammatical correctness is assessed at one-third value of one quarter of the overall scoring under the four equally-weighted main criteria (the other two main criteria, alongside linguistic scope and correctness, being coherence and fluency).

In real life, conversation breaks down when there is no fluency and coherence – when you have to constantly interrupt your interlocutor because you could not understand something that he/she said, or when you yourself cannot find the right words or correct pronunciation or appropriate syntax to comprehensibly say what you need to say. Once again, if you need to first translate for yourself and do a rules-based calculation of how to say something, then there will be no fluency. You need to have the lexis and patterns of Spanish sufficiently internalized. Especially important to the fluent flow of conversation  is the appropriate use of link phrases in order to fluently join up different thoughts or sentences – and not end up uttering, in staccato style, a disjointed series of unconnected phrases.  You know from conversation in your own language, how important link phrases are – words such as “accordingly”, or “on the other hand” or “as you know” or any of the many such devices that we use to fill blank “think time” between sentences, and to link them together, in place of uttering “uhm” and “aah”. These are some of the most fixed and most used “word chunks” in the lexis of any language, and knowing these patterns are essential to fluency.

To recap – the what of Spanish that we need to internalize in order to be able to maintain conversation, are the patterns and the lexis of the language. The latter is the words and word chunks (including their meaning and pronunciation). The patterns are those of syntax (how words and phrases are strung together to form coherent sentences) and of morphology (how we transform words to signify different meanings). This knowledge of lexis and of patterns we have to commit to  memory (i.e, with the declaratory brain circuit), and then with the procedural brain circuit, through guided practice, hone the ability to reproduce it instantaneously without much conscious thought. Without such well-honed internalization of the lexis and phonology of Spanish and of its morphological and syntactical patterns, you cannot hope to achieve fluency.

The HOW of developing the ability to converse in Spanish: Developing the knowledge and skill sets required to maintain a conversation in Spanish, needs to engage both the declaratory and procedural brain circuits (i.e., learn and practice). Luckily, as adults we have access to certain facilitating and enhancing tools which toddlers don’t have available. Adults can read, can follow TV and live stream radio, can do classes (nowadays, also via Skype, from the comfort of the own home). In fact, it may be a misconception to think that babies have an advantage over adults, when it comes to acquiring a language, given the learning tools that adults can access.  The one true benefit that babies have, is that their brains can focus almost exclusively on mastering verbal communication because of their adult-facilitated environment without a care in the world, whereas adults have a huge array of responsibilities between which they must divide their mental energy.

Internalizing the patterns: The basic manner in which your Spanish will develop, will be by means of assimilating patterns and practicing their spontaneous reproduction. You can check with just about any fluent speaker of Spanish as foreign language – they will tell you that they don’t consciously construct sentences based on grammar rules; they speak Spanish the same way as they speak their native English. They do so intuitively and without conscious mental effort, focused on the substance of their message and not on form. They probably will have to do a double take if you start cross-examining them about the intricacies of the morphology or syntax they had just used – the same as you would, if they do the same to you about your native English (you’ll probably respond that you can’t recall why something needs to be said in that particular way, but that you know for sure that that’s the way it’s said!).

The importance of practice/immersion: To discern patterns, and especially to internalize them in this natural manner, we have to be scanning a vast amount of Spanish. This can only be achieved through immersing yourself in an environment where you regularly hear, see and have to speak Spanish, just as a toddler masters the patterns of his/her mother’s speech.

It is therefore evident that any attempt to acquire a foreign language with an approach based just on classroom + homework time (i.e., just employing the declaratory brain circuit without the addition of guided practice via the procedural circuit), is not going to result in any better performance than the figure of 0.5% of U.S. students reaching conversational ability, as cited in the earlier blog-post.

The relative importance of, and correct view of formal grammar: Again, this is not to suggest that formal grammar should or could be substituted. Grammar as we know it is none other than a handy codification of the enduring patterns of a language, as these have been observed over time by qualified linguists.  Using the fruits of their labors will clearly help you identify and understand the patterns (and their “irregular” exceptions) a lot quicker than you would be able to do with just your own random observation. The key, however, is mental attitude – you have to study grammar as a very valuable tool, which will help you spot and comprehend the patterns far quicker and easier.  Do not study grammar as if it represents the language as such, as if knowing the “rules” of grammar could or should be – in and of itself – the ultimate objective. Please realize that knowledge of grammar is no more than a convenient crutch in the early phase of language acquisition, while you are still hobbling along because of not yet having fully internalized the patterns. Just as you did with your English grammar crutch, you will be discarding it (actually forgetting all about it) as soon as you – figuratively speaking – can walk upright with ease and comfort without it.

How many adult native English speakers do you think ever give a moment’s thought to English grammar in their day-to-day conversations?  When last did you, yourself?

Always remember, too, that the language patterns codified under the title of grammar (essentially being word morphology and sentence syntax), are intellectual constructs developed almost organically over ages by communities of humans.  Since grammar “rules” are intellectual constructs, any intelligent man, woman or child can therefore mentally compensate for most errors they hear in your grammar, without losing track of the meaning you are trying to convey. Studying grammar isn’t the be-all and end-all of “studying the language” (this is particularly important to understand when prepping for exams such as the DELE/SIELE, as illustrated by the fact that grammatical correctness is just one element in the “correctness” criterium, with coherence, fluency and linguistic scope each carrying equal weight to correctness). It isn’t even the most important part of such learning (as evidenced by the ability of others to mentally compensate for your grammar errors, as well as by how quickly this crutch is discarded from your active consciousness, once you’ve reached fluency). Nevertheless, don’t be mistaken – until you are fluent through having fully internalized these patterns of morphology and syntax through constant guided practice, you HAVE TO STUDY YOUR GRAMMAR – but do so selectively, as we will show you during your tuition, and with the right mental attitude, namely that grammar is a valuable “cheat sheet” of essential patterns and irregularities.

The most vital aspect that you have to focus on in your active learning (i.e., when pumping that declaratory brain circuit) isn’t grammar.  It is expanding your Spanish lexis.

Expanding your Spanish Lexis is your top active learning priority: By studying lexis is meant acquiring a suitably ample linguistic scope in Spanish for your particular needs (for example, a missionary doctor is clearly going to require a different lexis to a policeman walking the beat in an immigrant neighborhood; a DELE A2 student will need a lesser lexis than a C2 student to pass). Lexis consists of vocabulary and phonology (i.e., knowing words and their meaning, as well as how to pronounce them) as well as the learning of “word chunks” and common expressions and idioms, plus the “link phrases” (conectores) that are so important to ensuring fluency and coherence in speech. The reasons why lexis is deemed so important to conversational ability, are twofold:

  • As was said earlier, to be able to maintain a conversation, you firstly need to comprehend. If you don’t know the meaning of a word or phrase your interlocutor has used, there is no way you can mentally compensate in order to arrive at a correct understanding of what you’re hearing (apart from asking your interlocutor to repeat and explain). It is therefore axiomatic that, to understand, “you have to have knowledge of words and the world”. This is just another way of underlining the lexical approach, which goes beyond the semantics of any given individual word to include its situational context, which helps give it specific meaning within a particular pattern of use. If you don’t have adequate lexical knowledge (i.e., knowing the situational meaning of words and phrases that you hear), and don’t know enough about phonology to be able to correctly identify which words you are actually hearing, you cannot hope to comprehend much in the course of any given conversation. Neither will you be able to do well in the multiple choice listening and reading comprehension tests that make up 50% of the DELE / SIELE exams.
  • When expressing yourself orally, lexis is also of vital importance. You have to readily know the right word or phrase (to the point of not having to break your flow to search your memory for it), and you have to be able to pronounce those word chunks intelligibly. If you don’t readily have the right words and phrases at your disposal, or you cannot pronounce them sufficiently correctly for your interlocutor to be able to identify them, then – even with the best theoretical knowledge of grammar – there is no way that your conversation can blossom, simply because your interlocutor cannot mentally compensate for words that you don’t have and which he cannot divine.  He will be as lost as you are.

At this point it is important to underline that one should have realistic expectations about the time and effort it will require to reach conversational ability in a foreign language such as Spanish, since far more is involved than just learning grammar rules and lists of vocabulary with the declaratory circuit of your brain (you have to engage the procedural circuit through practice, practice, practice to be able to spontaneously produce the right phrases). The ACTFL has calculated that a student of average aptitude will require 480 hours to reach “advanced low” proficiency (A2/B1 level in the European Common Framework such as the DELE diploma). This translates into doing forty hours per week (8 hours per day) for twelve weeks solid. To achieve “advanced high” level (i.e., not yet “superior”), will require 720 hours for the average student, starting from scratch. For the superior proficiency level that diplomats and the like require, it is generally thought that 1,000 hours of intensive preparation is necessary.  The reason for this many hours, is that these institutions (such as the Foreign Service Institute of the USA) aren’t teaching their students the same way as schools or colleges do;  through experience, they have come to understand the vital importance of practice – therefore, a diplomat doesn’t need 1, 000 hours of book study, but rather that total amount of time for both memorizing and guided practice of actual communication.

What constitutes immersion, in the internet age? Immersion doesn’t only signify visiting a Spanish-speaking country and living there for some time.  You can immerse yourself totally in Spanish-language books, films, talk radio and news. This is more focused and productive than merely living in a Spanish-speaking environment, because you can select appropriate themes and you can have your learning tools at hand, such as for jotting down and looking up new words, and adding these to your flashcard list. This combines the mental awareness of the importance of a lexical mind-set and the practice routines of engaging the procedural brain circuit, with all the other traditional learning tools focused on the declaratory circuit.

There is no doubt that the more time you invest in reading Spanish, the more you will internalize the lexis and patterns of the language, as well as getting to know the Hispanic cultural context – especially if you have given sufficient attention to your grammar as a great tool for helping you to quickly spot and understand those patterns. Reading has the huge benefit of seeing the words, but you need to hear them as well for the sake of phonology (you therefore have to maintain a balance between listening and reading). For this reason, the Spanish telenovela (TV soapy) is a great learning tool, especially those that have subtitles for the hard of hearing, so that you can see and hear the word, and also see its situational context playing out on screen.

In any event, whenever you read, read out loud – this provides good practice to your “articulation tools” to adapt themselves to the Spanish sound system, in the privacy of your own home and thus without any risk to your ego. Better still: tape yourself reading out loud, so that you can pick up your pronunciation errors – you will be surprised how different we all sound in reality, as opposed to how we imagine we sound!

Luckily, such “home immersion” in Spanish is nowadays a free option, thanks to the internet.  You don’t have to go live in a Hispanic country anymore (if you don’t want to, that is).  Check out this DELEhelp blogpost for a host of links to free sites, ranging from streamed talk radio, through the major Hispanic print press to free e-books and telenovelas. One needs to differentiate between active learning (such as working on your flashcard lists of lexis and memorizing them, or doing homework exercises in grammar, in reading comprehension or writing) and passive immersion. The latter can form part of your relaxation, like reading a book in Spanish (if you are a beginner, look for dual text books that have Spanish on one page and the English on the opposite). Every possible minute that you can have Spanish talk radio streaming live, or the TV running telenovelas in the background, is useful – even if you can’t really concentrate on their content, you will pick up phonology as well as words, phrases and patterns. Knowing how kids learn, you shouldn’t underestimate the value of this.

One of the great killers of people’s ambition to master a foreign language, is frustration (next to boredom, especially if they just do grammar exercises!). Frustration can really grow very quickly if grammar mastery is (wrongly) seen as the be-all and end-all of gaining proficiency in Spanish.  You may know, for instance, that every Spanish verb can literally be conjugated into 111 different forms, given the number of different moods and tenses in Spanish. If you get stuck on the idea that you absolutely have to memorize each and all of these 111 possibilities in order to be able to converse, the task will seem so daunting that very few will not become frustrated.

Develop your own style of speaking, that’s natural and comfortable for you: Here’s another tip – each of us, no matter our language, have a particular own style of speaking that we’re comfortable with.  We don’t use all the possible tenses in normal conversation (as some writers may do in penning high literature).  Similarly, when conversing in Spanish, you don’t need to have all 111 conjugation options rolling fluently off your tongue. This is especially true in the beginning, while you are still internalizing the basic patterns of Spanish.

Beginners and intermediate-level students, in order to start speaking with coherence and fluency, may choose to concentrate on mastering the present, the idiomatic future and the perfect tense of the Indicative mood.  If you can conjugate these three tenses well, any interlocutor will be able to understand which time-frame you are referring to.  These three tenses correspond very well to the way you are accustomed to use tenses in English, because both the idiomatic future and the perfect indicative in Spanish are compound tenses, using auxiliary verbs (just like in English, which also use compounds with auxiliary verbs to indicate past and future – auxiliaries like “shall” and “have”).

This way of speaking is in fact becoming more common in Spanish, so you won’t be regarded as weird – in the Americas, for example, the idiomatic future (futuro idiomatico) is already used exclusively, in place of the traditional conjugated future tense.  For the idiomatic future, you only need to learn the present indicative conjugation of one verb, namely “ir” (to go). We must emphasize, though, that this approach works when you yourself are speaking; however, because you cannot control the tenses that your interlocutor may choose to use, you have to have sufficient knowledge of the other tenses to at least be able to recognize them, otherwise you may not comprehend what you are hearing or reading. In any event, it is much easier getting acquainted with something to the point of being able to recognize it when used by others, as opposed to the level of active learning and especially practice that’s needed for the purpose of own speech, which demands full internalization to enable spontaneous, real-time reproduction that’s coherent and fluent.

For proficiency at conversation, you have to practice speaking (and be expertly guided / corrected): The immersion that we referred to above, needs to go beyond you simply absorbing written and spoken Spanish. To acquire the skill and confidence to maintain a conversation, you have to have guided practice in actually speaking. This is often a problem for a home-study student living in an environment where there are few speaking opportunities.  Again, though, the internet comes to the rescue, in the form of Skype and its equivalents. Such online tuition and interaction is actually better than what most classroom tuition situations can offer. In the typical classroom, you are part of a group, dragged down by the lowest common denominator and by methodologies and curricula that of necessity are generalized, without focus on your particular needs – unless you are fortunate enough to have one-on-one tuition, such as at our partner residential school in la Antigua Guatemala, PROBIGUA (click on this link for a 2-minute video).

The great benefit of having your own expert, experienced online tutor (apart from the low cost and the convenience of studying in the comfort of your own home) is that you have someone you can speak to, who will know how to record (i.e., tape), correct and guide you. A relationship of confidence soon develops, so that the natural inhibitions of ego fall away and you can really freely practice to speak. We have already mentioned the vital importance of pronunciation – it is clearly very difficult to perfect this if you don’t have a live human being listening to you and guiding you (no matter what the computer-based interactive packages may claim about their pronunciation verification software).  It is also true that interactive computer packages can tell you if you are answering correctly or incorrectly, in relation to simple things like vocabulary, but can they explain to you? Obviously not. The need for expert assessment and guidance in language practice is no different to the same need for the golfer we mentioned, practicing his swing (for both, it is the procedural circuit of the brain that’s engaged). If an amateur golfer (“hacker”) like myself should try and practice my swing on my own, I will just re-enforce my bad habits. I need a pro to video-record me, show me where I go wrong, and guide me to correct it, to make my hours of practice worth-while – the exact same applies to language practice.

Getting over the barriers constituted by the own ego / the “fear of failure”: A last tip with regard to speaking practice, concerns the barrier in the adult psyche constituted by our natural fear of making a fool of ourselves in front of others.  This is perfectly normal, and its inhibiting power is great. There are three distinct ways of overcoming this barrier.  The first is to build a relationship of comfort with a trusted tutor, as I mentioned earlier. Another is to get objective proof of your communicative proficiency in the form of certification, such as the gold standard DELE / SIELE diploma of the Spanish education ministry, or the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) in the USA. This knowledge that you’ve proven that: “yes, I can!” will boost your self-confidence no end.

A third option (which can be integrated with the first) is to create a situation where you, John Smith, aren’t making the mistakes – “somebody else” is, so it’s no skin off your nose. This approach, which is called suggestopedia, was originally developed in the 1970’s by a Bulgarian psychotherapist by the name of Georgi Lozanov. What it entails, is that John Smith will, for example, arrive at the diplomatic academy, where he will immediately be given a new identity related to his target language – he will become Pedro Gonzalez, a journalist from Mexico City with a passion for football and politics, and an entire back story that John Smith has created for his Pedro identity. All his fellow students and tutors will know John Smith as Pedro, and interact with him as such. This has the benefit of taking John’s ego out of play, plus the benefit of freeing him up to adopt a Latino persona, so that he can escape from his unilingual Anglo cultural and phonological straightjacket and learn to articulate (and gesticulate) like a true Latino.

Suggestopedia isn’t the answer to all the methodological challenges of learning a foreign language – it is simply another tool, to be used in conjunction with others. I have seen its effectiveness during my days as head of South Africa’s diplomatic academy (before I became ambassador for the New South Africa of President Mandela). I’ve also seen it here at DELEhelp – one remarkable fellow really got into the swing of things, designing for himself an identity as a Mexican footballer (soccer player). Every time, sitting himself down in front of the Skype camera, you could see him with his enormous sombrero on his head, dressed in his Mexican club soccer shirt and with a glass of tequila in his hand. It wasn’t difficult for him to really get into his new character, which completely freed him of his uni-lingual Anglo straight-jacket and assisted him enormously in mastering the articulation of Spanish phonology in no time.  If you think it can work for you, give it a try!

Like any endeavor in life, learning a new language requires more than just guts and determination (although a lot of that, as well!). It requires that you understand the challenges, and the science behind what works and what doesn’t. I hope that this rather long blog-post has helped you acquire such understanding. We here at Excellentia Didactica / DELEhelp would be more  than pleased to help you with engaging the procedural circuit of your brain through guided practice, so that you can master the performance art that conversing fluently and coherently in Spanish truly is.

REMEMBER TO ASK FOR OUR FREE 96-page DELE / SIELE EXAM ORIENTION AND ACING TIPS WORKBOOK.

Buena suerte with your learning of the beautiful Spanish language

Salu2

Willem

 




How do the SIELE and the DELE exam compare

How do the SIELE and the DELE exam compare

The examen DELE and the SIELE are not identical twins, but they share the same parent (the Instituto Cervantes), have the same curriculum, and enjoy the same status. The only true difference between them, is how they operate. The DELE is traditional, being written long-hand with  a pencil on paper, and is limited to a handful of fixed exam dates. The SIELE is hip and cool, very much into the modern ways of the world – so, it is done ONLINE.

The new SIELE is flexible – you choose your own exam date, plus which of the modules(s) testing the four communicative competencies you want to do on that day. It is quick – you can register up to 48 hours in advance, and get your results within three weeks (as opposed to many months for the DELE).  The SIELE is risk free –  because it is drawn up as a multi-level exam, you WILL get certified, at your correct level (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1), based on the level of communicative competency you demonstrated. This is because, unlike the DELE, you don’t have to register for a specific level, which means in the SIELE there isn’t the DELE’s risk of failing.

The SIELE enjoys excellent technological back-up, because it has the educational division of telecoms giant TELEFONICA as partner. SIELE therefore boasts a very informative website, also accessible in English. There is a truly comprehensive exam guide available in English, for download. If you click on the icons below, it will link you automatically to the website, or to the exam guide, or to four different short videos explaining how each of the four communicative comptencies are tested in the SIELE.

Link to SIELE website English

 

Download SIELE exam guide

 

Short video explaining listening test

 

Video on Reading Comprehension test

 

Video on the writing skills test

 

Link to video explaining oral test

So, how do the Siele and the DELE exam compare? I am the official coordinator of the accredited SIELE exam center in la Antigua Guatemala. On the other hand, I am very proud of my DELE C2 diploma. Furthermore, in real life I actually am the father of non-identical twins. So, I feel like a parent who would not want to negatively compare one to the other.  They are from the same pedigreed stable (with the SIELE boasting a cross-continent range of godparents, in the form of the University of Salamanca, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and the University of Buenos Aires) and they represent the same gold standard for certifying communicative competency in Spanish. They are both based on the Common European Framework, using the exact same curriculum. Level A2 for SIELE is exactly the same standard as A2 for DELE, and so on for all the levels (except for the top C2, which is only offered as DELE).  The fundamental truth is that the only real difference lies in HOW the exams are taken, not in WHAT they test. The difference in the HOW, is simply that – with the SIELE – the Instituto Cervantes and its partners have stepped into the internet age, with all the convenience and flexibility that modern information technology make possible.

For students who need certification in a hurry, the SIELE overcomes the long registration process of the DELE exam, the wait for a fixed exam date to come around, and then the usual two to three months wait for the results to be known (plus months more before the diploma finally arrives!).  In the case of the SIELE, you can register for the date of your choosing (at our exam center here in la Antigua, for example, we offer slots six days per week). You need do so with only 48 hour notice, and you get your results within three weeks – very often our students get theirs the very next day.

With the SIELE it is also possible to mix and match the competencies you want to have tested on any given day. To illustrate – you can do just the oral expression test (the so-called SIELE S4), or you can do the SIELE Global, which tests all four competencies over three hours of examination. The  SIELE Global is thus similar in scope to the DELE. Between these two ends of the spectrum, lie S1, S2 & S3, which are individual combinations of the four competencies:

In addition to the SIELE Global, there is the option of taking individual competency tests, in different combinations.

So, how do the SIELE and the DELE exam compare when it comes to the type of tuition / exam preparation that we do with candidates? There’s practically no difference, because the curriculum and the scoring criteria are the same. It is, after all, the same four communicative competencies that are being tested, to the same standard. We use the same material, whether you are aiming for DELE or SIELE – just familiarising you towards the end with the differing logistical demands of the distinct examining technologies.  Anyone who is familiar with the typical questions of the DELE, will immediately see that the questions in the SIELE are of the exact same ilk. We therefore use the same DELE model exam books in the preparation for both.

We find that the SIELE is an excellent tool for students who have high end goals, but who are unsure of the DELE level they want to tackle on the way there. Instead of breaking your head about what DELE level to register for, do the SIELE Global instead – you will get an authoritative certification of your current level, without the risk of failing, and it will serve as an excellent diagnostic of your strengths and weaknesses,  which one can then address on the way to the ultimate goal.

Evidently, for students who only need, or only want an authoritative report on their oral interaction competency, the SIELE S4 offers the singular focus and opportunity which the DELE (with  its obligation to always do all four competencies) simply doesn’t. The SIELE’s individual permutations also allow for effectively spreading the exam burden over different days – by doing S2 and S3 on different dates, one can amass certification for all four competencies, but achieved at an easier pace.

In the end, though, obtaining the C2 diploma requires doing the DELE, at that level.  The DELE diploma is issued by the Spanish ministry of education, and is valid life-long, whereas the SIELE Global certificate is issued by the SIELE partners, and has a validity of five years.

In the final analysis, the best course for me to steer with regard to how the SIELE and the DELE exam compare, is not to set them up as if in competition with each other (which they certainly are not) but rather to applaud the flexibility and the expansion of options that the introduction of the SIELE has added to the Cervantes family.

The key to succes for Cervantes with DELE / SIELE lies in now being better able to answer to the clearly varied needs and practical circumstances of each individual in the vast collective of students – students who rightly realize that competency in Spanish is a great asset, and who want to obtain the best, most credible certification possible.

In your opinion, how do the SIELE and the DELE exam compare? Please send us your comments and questions – we look forward to engaging with you.

Whatever format of exam you have in mind – buena suerte with your preparation!

Salu2

Willem

Get our FREE exam acing handbook




HOW THE DELE EXAM ORAL IS SCORED

Know the 4 scoring criteria used in the assessment of your DELE exam ORAL test

How are the DELE exam oral tasks scored? (And the oral of the DELE’s new online twin, the SIELE, or its American equivalent, the OPIc?). What criteria do examiners use? What does a failed effort actually sound like, compared to a candidate who passed?

We’ll give you the answers to these questions, and more.

Your result will be certified as being at a certain level of competency at expressing yourself orally in Spanish. You already know that there are six such levels for the DELE diploma exams,  starting at A1 and A2, up through B1 and B2 to C1 and the top C2. The SIELE follows the same curriculum and scoring criteria, but only goes up to C1. Your OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview) score can be expressed i.t.o. this same European scoring system (i.e., according to the 6 levels A1 > C2 just like the DELE), or the OPI certificate can be issued i.t.o. of the ACTFL / Inter-agency Round Table scoring system, which is slightly more detailed, but which follows the same principles.

Discussing each level’s particular scoring criteria would be just too much for one blog post. Therefore I’ve chosen to focus here on DELE Level B1, because it’s midway in the range.  The different levels of the examen DELE, the SIELE and the OPI are all marked in basically the same manner, with just increased grades of difficulty and scope between them. Most of the assessment methodology is generic to all levels, with the assessment simply becoming more stringent. Whether you are doing A1 or C2, you will see the same structure and principles as those that we will be explaining here for B1.

HOW IS THE ORAL EXAM STRUCTURED?

DELE exam oral isn't Spanish Inquisition

The B1 “oral expression” competency assessment, which counts for 50% of the total expression part of the exam, consists of four tasks. A candidate is allowed 15 minutes prior preparation time for tasks 1 and 2. During this prep time you may make notes and draw a bullet-point scheme of presentation, which you may consult during the test.

For all DELE exam oral tests, there are two examiners physically present, who will mark your effort in real time, there at the exam center. (This is the major difference in oral exam format between the DELE and the SIELE or OPIc – the latter two tests are done online, with the candidate speaking to a computer avatar, not a live interviewer physically present at the exam center). In the DELE oral, the one examiner is the interviewer, who does the holistic assessment, and the other examiner (who typically sits behind you) does the analytical assessment. Both use the same scoring criteria.  The holistic assessment carries 40% weight, and the analytical assessment 60%. The interviewer obviously needs primarily to keep the conversation going and cannot be distracting you by jotting down notes, so he/she makes the assessment based on overall impression – i.e., holistic.

At the beginning of the DELE oral test, the examiner who acts as interviewer will ask some “icebreaker” questions to put you at ease (these don’t count). As said, this examiner does the “holistic” scoring assessment, which simply means that he or she will form an overall opinion based on the rigorous training that all DELE examiners must complete. The second examiner does the more detailed “analytical” assessment, making notes of your performance.

After the ice-breaking, you will be asked to do your formal presentation – a short monologue of a few minutes (in the case of Level B1, it is limited to only two to three minutes). That’s followed by task two, which is a short conversation between you and the interviewer about the theme you just presented – some three to four minutes. In Tarea 3 you will be shown a photo, which you must describe and comment upon, in another two to three minute conversation. The last task is a debate with the interviewer. It is a simulation of an everyday situation (like you having to return a defective product to a shop), where you start with opposing positions and must reach a consensus solution. This also lasts three to four minutes.

THE SCORING CRITERIA FOR THE ORAL

As mentioned, the two examiners use the same criteria, but two scales for assessing (scoring) the oral part of the exam, with the analytical being more detailed than the holistic.  Both the holistic and the analytical scales are scored in terms of four ordinal bands, with a top value of 3, and zero being the lowest mark awarded. For both scales, achieving a value of 2 meets the minimum threshold.  Obtaining a value of 3 represents ample achievement. Scoring 1 or 0 means you’ve failed the particular task.

The FOUR SCORING CRITERIA for the DELE oral exam are:

Coherence,

Fluency,

Ample linguistic scope (i.e., lexis, which is vocabulary + expressions),

Correctness (of pronunciation & grammar)

I will now present you with the official scoring criteria guidelines of the Instituto Cervantes for the DELE B1 exam oral, which I’ve translated for you from the original “high academic Spanish”. Because of its importance I am going to quote it in full.

THE HOLISTIC SCALE

Value 3: Candidate can add required explanations, arguments and relevant examples to the information under discussion. Has a sufficiently ample linguistic repertoire to function without difficulty in the situations postulated, even though commits some errors. Maintains conversations and exchanges information properly, his/her interventions confirm an understanding of detailed information. Collaborates with the interviewer.

Value 2: Provides the information required to meet the objectives of the communicative tasks. Has a basic linguistic repertoire that allows him/her to tackle the postulated situations, with errors, but which do not interfere with the transmission of ideas. Maintains conversations and exchanges information, although he/she may require clarification as well as for part of what the interviewer said to be repeated, in order to confirm mutual understanding.

Value 1: Although candidate can manage simple descriptions and presentations, does not convey enough information to meet the communicative purpose of the tasks. Although a limited linguistic repertoire does allow for the transmission of information on personal matters, on his/her immediate environment and on simple, everyday situations, the candidate has to adapt the message and search for words and repeatedly makes basic mistakes. Participates in discussions and exchanges information, provided that the interlocutor helps.

Value 0: Barely transmits information, and therefore does not meet the communicative objectives of the tasks. The language barriers create difficulties in formulating what he/she means. Requires the interviewer to repeat what has been said, or to rephrase and speak slowly, as well as to assist him/her with formulating what he/she tries to say.


THE ANALYTICAL SCALE

CRITERIUM: CORRECTNESS
Value 3: Produces a clear, coherent discourse, with proper use (albeit limited) of cohesive devices such as link phrases. May show some loss of control over speech, in case of extended exchanges. Maintains a proper conversation, collaborating with the interviewer.

Value 2: Develops linear sequences of related ideas in the form of short simple sentences linked by standard connectors (eg.: «es que», «por eso», «además»). Maintains simple conversations on everyday topics, but sometimes needs clarification or repetition of part of what the interviewer said, to confirm understanding.

Value 1: Speech is limited, made up of groups of words and simple connectors (eg.: «y»; «pero», «porque»). Requires the help of the interviewer to confirm whether is correctly understanding. Is only able to respond to simple questions and statements.

Value 0: Presents confusing speech, composed of isolated statements with few binding/linking elements. Requires that the interviewer often repeat or rephrase his/her statements. Answers do not always conform to the questions asked.

CRITERIUM: FLUENCY
Value 3: Expresses self with relative ease. Despite some problems in making a speech, resulting in occasional pauses and “dead ends”, the candidate is able to move forward effectively. Pronunciation is clearly intelligible, even though a foreign accent may be obvious and there are occasional mistakes in pronunciation.

Value 2: Talks with continuity and is understandable, although there are obvious pauses to plan the speech and to think about grammar and appropriate vocabulary. Pronunciation is clearly intelligible, although a foreign accent may be obvious and mistakes occur sporadically.

Value 1: Makes him/herself understood by means of very brief expressions.  Evidences pauses, initial doubts and reformulations. Pronunciation and articulation are generally quite clear and understandable, although accent and occasional errors may result in understanding requiring some effort.

Value 0: Only manages very brief expressions, disconnected and prepared in advance, requiring many pauses to search for expressions, to articulate less familiar words and to correct the communication. Pronunciation and articulation are only correct for memorized words and phrases. Understanding him/her is difficult.

CRITERIUM: CORRECTNESS
Value 3: Shows a relatively high grammatical control. Makes mistakes that do not cause misunderstanding and which he/she sometimes self-correct.

Value 2: Shows reasonable control of a repertoire of simple structures (eg.: tiempos de indicativo, posesivos, verbo «gustar», perífrasis básicas). Makes mistakes that do not cause misunderstanding.

Value 1: Uses some simple grammatical constructs correctly, but systematically makes basic mistakes, such as confusion of tenses and inconsistencies in gender agreement.

Value 0: Shows insufficient control of even simple structures and of patterns of short, basic sentences: for example, errors in the use of the present tense and in the concordance of subject or verb; uses verbs in the infinitive rather than conjugations. Numerous errors make communication very difficult.

CRITERIUM: LINGUISTIC SCOPE
Value 3: The candidate’s linguistic repertoire allows him/her to describe situations, explain the main points of an idea or problem with reasonable precision and express thoughts on general subjects, be they abstract or cultural by nature, such as music and movies.

Value 2: The candidates’ linguistic repertoire is broad enough to function in everyday situations, allowing them to express themselves (even though somewhat doubtfully and with circumlocutions) on topics such as family, hobbies and interests, work, travel and current events. Commit lexical mistakes and inaccuracies when taking risks.

Value 1: Their limited linguistic repertoire allows them to transmit information on personal matters, on their immediate environment and in relation to simple, everyday situations (basic needs, common transactions), but they have to adapt the message and search for words. Commit lexical mistakes and inaccuracies.

Value 0: Their linguistic repertoire is limited to a small number of memorized words or exponents. Commit mistakes and lexical inaccuracies or there’s interference from other languages, hindering understanding.

REAL AUDIO OF LEVEL B1 “PASS”

I’m sure you want to hear what a passing effort in the B1 DELE exam oral sounds like. Please click on the image below, to hear the recording. Afterwards I will give you my translation of the actual comments of the examiners.

Click on image to listen

Examiners’ comments

Analytical Scale – Coherence: The candidate achieves value level 2, because she elaborates lineal sequences of related ideas in form of brief, simple statements interconnected with habitual connectors («porque creo que con el Internet podemos hacer más cosas…»;  «creo también que por nuestra generación podemos, por ejemplo, ver películas…»; «y en esto caso…»; «un intercambio, por ejemplo, con Facebook»; «pero creo que es…»; «pero también buscar información de la ciudad…»; .«es un poco lo mismo porque creo…»; «no sé de… por ejemplo, de una organización…»; «el problema es que por cada desayuno…»). She exceeds the limited speech typical of value band 1. In Tasks 2, 3 and 4, she could maintain basic conversations on everyday topics. («—[E.] ¿Te parece entonces una zona comercial? —Sí, sí, creo que sí. Es una zona de compras.»; «—[E.] ¿Tú has hecho alguna vez algún viaje organizado? —Sí, pero no con… no en el autobús, en el bicicleta. —[E.] Ah, ¿en bicicleta? —Sí.»; «—[E.] Y, ¿el desayuno? […] ¿tampoco le ha gustado? —No, el problema es que por cada desayuno…»; «—[E.] Pero, es muy extraño porque nosotros normalmente organizamos estos viajes y no tenemos ningún problema. —Ah, ¿sí? ¿En los mismos hoteles?»). The candidate achieves a score of value level 2, because her discourse isn’t limited and because she didn’t require the collaboration of the interviewer in order to answer (as would have been the case in scoring level 1).

Analytical Scale – Fluency: The candidate speaks with continuity and clarity, even though pauses for planning her discourse and thinking about grammar and appropriate lexicon were evident. («… es muy mmmm divertido…»; «… por los mayores aaaaaaa es un poco diferente…»; «… he visto un persona con unaaa… con una cámara.»; «pero no con… no en el autobús»; «Es como un… para mí, es como unaaa… como un grupo de turistas»; «podría ser que es una grupo deee… no sé deee… por ejemplo, de unaaa… de un… de una organización»). Her pronunciation is clearly intelligible, despite her evident foreign accent and her sporadic errors («la televición», «per ejemplo», «dificil»; «dependia», «sofa», «par día»).

Analytical Scale – Correctness: The candidate demonstrates reasonable control of a repertoire of basic constructs («creo que el Internet es más importante…»; «… nuestra generación»; «… mi generación…»; «… hay mucha gente que habla con…»; «… puede ser peligroso…»; «… las turistas pueden comprar cosas…»; «… he visto una persona con una cámara…»; «… la mayoría de las casas son tiendas…»; «quiero viajar solo o con amigos…»; «a mí no me gustan mucho»). The mistakes she made didn’t cause misunderstandings. («*este situación»; «es importante *de compartir»; «hay mucha gente que *viaje mucho»; «que *son una escuela de lengua»; «la gente *mayores»; «muchos *turistos»; «cerca de aquí *es un autobús»; «para que toque *por la gente»; «tienen un poco *el mismo edad»; «*estamos quince personas»; «todo *estuve organizado»; «los hoteles no estaban *limpia»; «*estaban no muy amables»; «no están *limpiada»; «hace [hacía] mucho calor»). She exceeds scoring level 1 in that she did use some basic constructs, but did not achieve a score of 3 because she didn’t demonstrate a relatively high command of grammar.

Analytical Scale – Linguistic Scope: The candidate’s linguistic repertoire is broad enough to function in everyday situations and for her to express herself, though somewhat doubtfully and with circumlocutions, on topics such as family, hobbies, personal interests, work and travel («quince personas, todos en bicicleta…»; «todo organizado, los hoteles, la comida…»; «es un país muy diferente»; «no es como Francia…»; «la cultura es muy diferente»; «estaba muy interesante a ver la cultura… ver la naturaleza…»)  and even though she did make mistakes («*so por mi generación…»; «es también un *entertainment»; «en este *senza…»).

Holistic Scale: The candidate provides the information required in order to meet the communicative goals of the set tasks. In tasks 1 and 2 she ordered and related her ideas, and justified her opinions to explain the differences between the Internet and television, and the Internet as a rival for television. She spoke from personal experience (regarding to for what purpose she uses the Internet and how often, as well as for what she uses social networks). In task 3 and 4 she was able to provide a description of the photo she selected and to maintain a conversation making a complaint. The candidate has a basic linguistic repertoire that allowed her to tackle the postulated situations, without her errors interfering with the transmission of ideas («*por mi generación…»; «creo que *un hora»; «en *el bicicleta»).

REAL AUDIO OF LEVEL B1 “FAIL”

Click on image to listen

Examiners’ comments

Analytical Scale – Coherence: In the monologue presentation task, the candidate’s speech corresponds to the descriptor of the value band 1: it is limited and consists of groups of words and simple connectors like “y”, “pero” («No me gusta nada música fuerte como rock, eh… rápido, no me gusta y cuando escucho ruido no puedo pensar en nada sí. En Madrid sueleo escuchar las canciones en español pero no me acuerdo cómo se llama y de qué cantante y tampoco todavía no… no entiendo toda la canción que significa»; «Ellos *está en un restaurante, sí… están comiendo pero antes de *comel, *comel, necesitan charlar un rato para no cumplir, no sé… puede ser y… *pensó que son novios y son una chica y un chico bastante joven…»). In the oral interaction tasks he required the collaboration of the interviewer in order to confirm his understanding and could only respond to simple questions and affirmations («—¿Y qué tipo de música era la que fuiste a escuchar? —No sé como se dice es con muchas cosas juntos. Como… ¡Ay! ¿Cómo se llama?  —¿Orquesta? — Más o menos hay un*directo, no, no es un director, dirigir»; «—¿Quedamos en el reloj de la Puerta del Sol? —¿Reloj? Voy a pensar. Ah, sí reloj. —Bueno pues nos vemos esta noche. — Bueno, trato hecho» ; «—Sí, sí, sí, o canción de invierno. Siempre escucho en la calle… hay un peinado… no, no es peinado… tocar. —¿Un músico? —Sí, sí muy bien, para escuchar»).

Analytical Scale – Fluency: As stated in the description for value band 1, the candidate makes himself understood with very brief expressions; pauses are evident, as well as initial doubts and reformulation («Sí, desde… desde llevo, no, no, no, vengo a España…, todavía no he ido alguna vez»; «Voy a pensar, eh… dos. Solo dos. Es que… El prima, el prima vez, es mi profesora llevarnos a restaurante. Me presenta… me presenta que es restaurente es típica, prado ah… y la mesa sencilla más o menos»); «Ellos *está en un restaurante, sí… están comiendo, pero antes de *comel. *comel, necesitan charlar un rato para cumplir, no sé… puede ser»). With regard to pronunciation, his articulation and his occasional errors causes comprehending him to require a certain effort – above all he has problems with pronouncing the /r/ («… no sé cómo se llama, pero el *prado, *la prato, el prato es prado de Galicia»); («*mejol, con mi amigo *mejol»); («están comiendo pero antes de *comel, *comel…»).

Analytical Scale – Correctness: The candidate uses some simple constructs correctly («Yo prefiero la música tranquila…»; «… es que cuando era pequeña, pequeño mi padre ponía la música suave en casa casi todas las noches, pienso que es un hábito desde niño…»; «¿A qué hora quedamos?»; «Sí, pero si no te gusta podemos cambiar»; «No me gusta nada música fuerte, como rock»; «están comiendo pero antes de *comel, *comel, necesitan charlar un rato…») but he systematically commits basic errors, for example demonstrating confusion regarding tenses («Quería *il a un concierto que no haya mucha gente»; «Desde llevo… no, no, no. Vengo a España, todavía no he ido alguna vez»; «… cuando dentro de varios años separan y después encuentran más o menos»; «… después de *comel podemos pedir chupitos para la…») and commits errors regarding the agreement of gender and number («… suelo escuchar las canciones en español pero no me acuerdo como se *llama»; «… mi familia les gustan escuchar el música suave y tranquila, mejor»; «Ellos *está en un restaurante, sí…»; «… *esta restaurante es *típica»).

Analytical Scale – Linguistic Scope: In this as well, he is situated in value band 1; his limited linguistic repertoire only permits him to convey information regarding personal matters, his immediate environment and simple everyday situations such as basic needs and common transactions («*Ayel fui a un restaurante muy cerca de la Puerta del Sol, no sé cómo se llama…»; «Picante, pienso que no le gusta.»; «Yo prefiero la música tranquila, eh… por ejemplo, jazz, etc.»; «… cuando era más pequeña, pequeño, mi padre ponía la música suave en casa casi todas las noches, pienso que es un hábito desde niño…») However, he needs to adapt the message and search for words  («No sé cómo se dice… es con muchas cosas juntos… como. ¡Ay! ¿Cómo se llama?»; «más o menos hay un directo, no, no es un director, dirigir»; «Sí, como, no sé como traducir en español. El verano, canción de verano (…) o canción de invierno»; «Sí, especial, no sé cómo… lan… lan…langosta»). Commits lexical inaccuracies and errors («Siempre escucho en la calle… hay un *peinado… no, no es *peinado, tocar»; «… el piano… una vez *peina mal *tocal muy mal, es que no estudio como los *peinados»; «es que *mi familia les gustan escuchar el música más suave y tranquila…»; «… necesitan charlar un rato para cumplir, no sé…»; «El prima, el prima vez…»; «pienso que quedemos a las 8 o 8 y media»).

Holistic Scale:  With regard to communicative efficiency, the candidate did offer simple descriptions and presentations («No me gusta nada música fuerte como rock, eh… rápido, no me gusta y cuando escucho ruido no puedo pensar nada, sí. En Madrid suelo escuchar las canciones en español pero no me acuerdo como se llama y de que cantante y tampoco todavía no…  no entiendo toda la canción que significa») but did not provide sufficient information to meet the communicative objectives of the set tasks, as evidenced for example in Task #1 («Yo prefiero la música tranquila, eh… por ejemplo jazz, etc. Quería *il a un concierto que no haya mucha gente») and in Task #3 («Ellos *está en un restaurante, sí… están comiendo pero antes de *comel, *comel, necesitan charlar un rato para cumplir no sé… puede ser… y *pensó que son novios y son una chica y un chico bastante *joven y ya está»). With regard to linguistic efficiency, even though his limited linguistic repertoire did permit him to convey information on personal issues, on his immediate environment and in relation to simple everyday situations («*Ayel fui un restaurante está muy cerca de la Puerta el Sol…»; «Eh… es que cuando era más pequeña, pequeño mi padre ponía la música suave en casa casi todas las noches, pienso que es un hábito desde niño, no sé, está bien») he had to adapt the message and search for words, whilst repeatedly committing basic errors («… no sé cómo se llama, pero el *prado, *la prato, el prato es prado de Galicia, después de comer podemos pedir chupitos para la… digestión»). The candidate did participate in the conversation with the interviewer and did exchange information, although he needed her assistance to do so – for example, when in Task #2, the interviewer asked him whether he likes to play a musical instrument («—¿Y te gustaría tocar alguno? —No, no… ¿Para *escuchal? — Para tocar tú. —No, no… el *peinado (piano???»), in Task #4, when he was asked whether he knows any Italian restaurants («—A mí la comida picante por la noche me resulta un poco fuerte. No sé… no sé si te gusta un italiano. —Sí, sí, me gusta. —¿Y tú conoces alguno? —Pasta solo pasta») or in Task #3, when he was asked about the frequency with which the persons in the photo go to that place  («— ¿Y tú crees que estás personas van frecuentemente a este lugar? —¿Perdón? —¿Estas personas van normalmente a este lugar? — Creo que no»).

So, where are you in your preparation for the DELE exam oral, compared to the examples above? (Most candidates who fail DELE, fail because of the oral exam).  Apart from knowing the scoring criteria, do you know how to prepare well? For top tips to help you to ace the oral exam, look at our blog post: 20 Top Tips for Acing the DELE / SIELE / OPI exam oral.

We offer a FREE 96-page in-house DELEhelp workbook, (WB #9.2: DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips) as an e-book. To ask for it, simply click on the image below and use the convenient contact information form. This one-of-a-kind DELE / SIELE exam preparation book covers the DELE / SIELE system’s objectives, the curriculum, exam format, scoring criteria and our top tips for acing it.

Good luck with your exam preparation!

Willem

Click on image to ask for FREE Workbook

Watch 2 minute video introducing DELEhelp’s exam prep services.




Our DELEhelp Team, our Town, our Value Proposition

La Antigua Guatemala

THE DELEhelp TEAM and the value we can add to your DELE / SIELE exam preparation:

Have you ever wished to have a native Spanish-speaking tutor as well as a native English-speaking one, when you started learning Spanish? I know that I did! A Spanish one for pronunciation and for practicing speaking idiomatically. An English one for explaining tough concepts to me, and for understanding my questions – most of which I couldn’t yet formulate in understandable Spanish.

Have you ever wished for a tutor who had actually sat the DELE exam him/herself? Especially when you’re trying to figure out how, and for what exactly, to prepare – beyond being pumped full of grammar? (Again, I did every day, because the typical tutors were stuck on grammar and mostly incapable of explaining the examen DELE / SIELE curriculum, their formats, objectives and the scoring criteria to me).

Now it goes without saying that one needs a native Spanish-speaking teacher. We are fortunate that our head tutor and her team are experienced, knowledgeable and dedicated. Monica has been teaching Spanish as foreign language since 1997, after studying at the Rafael Landivar university in Guatemala. She’s a native of the beautiful old colonial city of La Antigua Guatemala. Monica speaks in the well articulated, measured and very correct manner that’s typical of the inhabitants of this former capital of all of Spanish Central America (which is one of the reasons why La Antigua is the pre-eminent place for studying Spanish as foreign language – students don’t have problems with tutors who speak too fast or with heavy accents). In addition to her tutoring role, Monica also is president of our mother company (GREXPA – Grupo Excellentia Panamericano s.a., of which Excellentia Didactica or eDELE for short is part, with DELEhelp in turn a division of eDELE). She also happens to be my dear wife.

That said, I must now introduce myself. My name is Willem Steenkamp. I’m the Director of Studies of Excellentia Didactica. My past experience includes being a former head of the South African diplomatic academy (I also had the honor and privilege to have served as ambassador for President Nelson Mandela). In addition to my PhD, I’m a qualified lawyer. I speak five languages, and can read a few more. As to Spanish, I passed the DELE C2, so I know it first-hand. I’m also up-to-date with IT, having recently won Panama’s Plan de Salto (which rewarded me with a sponsored study tour of Silicon Valley and its big-name campuses).  I’m telling you this not to brag, but to show that I’ve “been there and have done it” – all of what you are now confronted with. It also shows that we have the academic skills to develop the study material, methods and individualized study plans our students need. I’ve published a few novels, as a hobby, because I like writing. The Workbooks we provide our students with, free, come from my pen.

Presenting Letters of Credence as ambassador.

Presenting Letters of Credence as ambassador.

At Excellentia Didactica we are also fortunate to have a very strong Academic Board that guides and reviews our methods and materials – for more information on its composition,  please visit the homepage of our secure website: https://edele.org 

The website also explains our different course packages. In addition to the DELEhelp  course specialized in exam preparation, we have others such as FLEXI-Spanish (relaxed conversational classes), Spanish ACCESS (which stands for Accelerated Conversation Course for English-speaking Students, for beginners), Vocational Spanish especially for medical professionals, diplomats, and those serving in religious capacities, plus SpanishTeachAssistant, which helps teachers with preparing for their own certification exams, as well as providing a solution for advanced children who are way above the class norm and who can benefit from doing one-on-one online classes with our tutors, rather than being stuck at that time in the general classroom context.

 

Monica in her "office with a view"

Monica presenting a class via Skype from her “office with a view”

OUR VALUE PROPOSITION TO YOU:

The unique skills, experience and knowledge that we can offer candidates preparing for the DELE diploma exams, are:

  • individualized, one-on-one tutoring via Skype, with a customized study plan developed for you, based on your personal strengths and weaknesses.
  • Free in-house study material, in English, i.a. explaining the DELE curriculum, format, desired outcomes and objectives, as well as the exam scoring criteria (in other words, those vitally important things that are so hard to find in English on the internet).
  • Assistance and tutoring provided in Spanish and in English, as needed, both at native-speaker level.
  • Spanish tutors from an environment where the language is spoken slowly, clearly and correctly, who are all trained and experienced in teaching Spanish as foreign language, on-line.
  • A philosophy that views the exam preparation challenges primarily from the student’s perspective.
  • Familiarity with IT and its real-world applications, optimizing benefits for home-based students studying online.
  • Battle-tested methods that grew from own, first-hand practical experience, coupled with top academic expertise.
  • A practical rather than theoretical teaching approach, with concrete exam acing tips, aimed at positive exam results.
  • Affordability, because of being based in low-cost Guatemala.

Willem and Monica at the famed ancient Maya city of Tikal, Guatemala.

Willem and Monica at the famed ancient Maya city of Tikal, Guatemala.

Here’s a quick 2-minute YouTube video introducing and explaining DELEhelp’s exam prep services, if you’re by now tired of reading:

To watch a 2-minute video introducing DELEhelp’s exam prep services, click on this image.

OUR RESIDENTIAL PARTNER SCHOOL / SIELE EXAM CENTER:

Our residential arm for immersion tuition here in La Antigua is the award-winning Spanish Academy PROBIGUA (just as eDELE is their online tuition arm). I am actually the director of studies for both. PROBIGUA is a non-profit, which has received the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Award and was recognized by pope Francis. It is also  the accredited SIELE exam center of La Antigua, of which I am the official coordinator. To get an idea of the immersion experiences we can offer, click on the image below to go to the PROBIGUA website:

Our immersion school in La Antigua Guatemala

OUR TOWN:

Our home town of La Antigua Guatemala is relevant to the uniqueness of what we can offer DELE students, for a number of reasons.

La Antigua is firstly steeped in history, with exceptional natural and cultural beauty that has made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most visited destination in Central America. Its beauty can be appreciated from these photos:  http://tinyurl.com/zezlx9j or by watching this 6-minute video produced by the New York Times: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhGSGXFAiMY&t=53s

For centuries La Antigua was the capital of all of what was Spain’s Central American empire located between Panama City and Mexico City.  Situated in the highlands at some 1,500 meters above sea level, the city attracted administrators, clergy and academics from the ambit of the royal court in Madrid.  These learned men implanted a very correct and classical form of speech, with proper articulation and without regional accents, which has endured among the population to this day. In short, they naturally speak slowly, clearly and correctly – exactly what students pray for in their tutors. No wonder that La Antigua is recognized as one of the principal places in the world for studying Spanish as foreign language (which means that we have lots of experienced tutors that we can draw upon).

A quick aside – you may have heard of the phenomenon of “lowland” and “highland” Spanish: the two quite distinct versions of Spanish that is commonly encountered in Latin America.  This distinction has got nothing really to do with altitude, which as such obviously has no influence on people’s speech. What happened is that the Spanish imperial bureaucrats tended to establish their capital cities in the highlands to avoid the heat and tropical diseases.  Commerce, though, was mostly based at the port cities along the coast.  The bureaucrats and clergy were mostly from the Madrid elite, speaking pure Castilian. The folks in the lowlands, though, were largely from the southern Spanish province of Andalusia (particularly from around the port city of Seville) and from the Spanish Atlantic islands, who transmitted their distinct dialect and accent to where they settled.

In addition to the benefit of an ample supply of well qualified, experienced tutors who speak slowly, clearly and correctly, La Antigua also offers an excellent infrastructure for language learning, with large modern DELE & SIELE exam centers and good internet connections for Skype classes.

The third major benefit that La Antigua and Guatemala offers, is financial. Guatemala’s cost of living is very low (compared to the USA and Europe) which means that we can offer one-on-one, personalized Skype tutoring at only US$12 per hour. This includes our free in-house study material, as well as our time preparing classes and reviewing homework or model exams. Payment is quick, secure and easy, with PayPal.

I hope this quick introduction has given you a more concrete and personal idea of who we are, where we’re from, and what we can contribute to your DELE / SIELE exam preparation.  To allow you to get to know us even better, we offer a FREE one hour exploratory Skype session, with absolutely no obligation. All you need to do is use the convenient contact form on this page to drop me a line, so that we can set up a date and time.

Get our FREE exam acing handbook

To get an idea of our in-house study material, use the same contact form and we’ll send you for free (and again without any obligation), a link for downloading our 96-page Workbook 9.2: DELE /SIELE exam orientation and acing tips.  This unique DELE / SIELE exam preparation book explains the curriculum, the system’s objectives and the exam scoring criteria, with battle-tested tips for acing the reading and audio comprehension as well as how to put your best foot forward in the written and oral expression tasks.

Buena suerte with your exam preparation – I hope your efforts will be crowned with success.

Willem

This is what the DELE C.2 Diploma looks like.

This is what the DELE C.2 Diploma looks like.

No better, or cheaper, DELE / SIELE exam prep anywhere

 




Expand your Vocabulary = the best DELE exam preparation

What’s the single most valuable use of your precious DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation time? Expand your Vocabulary!

Think of vocabulary this way: you may be the most talented, best trained marksman in the world – but if you don’t have bullets for your gun, you won’t get anywhere. Words are the bullets of the world of communication.  The DELE exam is above all a test of practical ability to communicate. Therefore, even if you know all the rules of grammar but lack vocabulary, you will be totally stuck in the examen DELE (or its new online twin, the SIELE, or the  American equivalent, the OPI).

Remember your own experiences with foreigners trying to speak to you in your own tongue. If they know the right words and can pronounce them understandably, your brain is perfectly capable of compensating for grammatical errors and arriving at a correct understanding.  But if the foreigner doesn’t know the words needed, or pronounces them so badly that you cannot identify the words, then there is no way for you to understand – there’s simply nothing sensible that your brain can latch onto, to help you make deductions.

Vocabulary isn’t only important in expressing yourself.  It is also vital in tests of comprehension, be it of written texts or the spoken word (see our  blog post on Battle-tested tips for the Reading Comprehension exam).

Vocabulary therefore plays a key role in all four components of the DELE diploma exam.  Accordingly, the time you spend on expanding your vocabulary is an essential investment in future success, and by far the best DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation (because these three are very similar in format and criteria, we will for convenience only refer to the DELE by name from this point on).

(click on image to ask for our FREE, no obligation Workbook)

So – how best to acquire an extensive vocabulary?

This requires four sequential learning activities:

  •  The first is to expose yourself maximally to new words as they are being used in their everyday, correct context (so that you can better understand their meaning).  This is done through reading a wide range of written Spanish, and by listening to spoken Spanish, and – very importantly – keeping note of new words that you encounter.
  • The second step is to look up the new words in a good dictionary (the online kind – which also gives you pronunciation – is most useful).
  • The third step is to note this word, together with its meaning. In the case of nouns, note also the word’s gender. For verbs you should jot down its peculiarities of conjugation, such as whether it is regular or irregular, plus its gerund and past participle).
  • The last step is to memorize these words, for which flashcards are the best tool.

snappa_1461690919

In our  blog post on the best online free learning resources, we listed links to useful publications in Spanish, as well as to streaming talk-radio stations that you can listen to.  This you should do as part of your “passive learning”, meaning that you should try and have Spanish radio or TV on as background for as much of the day as possible, and read Spanish for relaxation. When you are reading, read out loud, to benefit at the same time from practice in articulating these words and getting your body’s “tools of speech” used to forming Spanish sounds. We also recommended the world’s largest online dictionary, The Free Dictionary by Farlex.

FLASHCARDS:

Screenshot 2016-04-26 10.03.58

The proven way of noting and learning vocabulary is by means of flashcards.  These can be of the traditional cardboard type (just make sure that it’s thick enough so you can’t see through the cardboard). However, the digital revolution and the internet now give us free tools that allow for far less boring ways of practicing what may otherwise appear to be a soul-numbing activity (albeit an essential one).

One can download software such as Anki, and start from scratch. Or you can simply log on to a site such as Cram.com, where you will have access to thousands of existing Spanish vocabulary lists, or create your own ones. (Cram, which is free, is partnered with the National Tutoring Association of the USA; you can share your Cram url with your tutor, so she can monitor your progress).

Screenshot 2016-04-26 10.08.19

A particularly nice and valuable aspect of Cram is its “learning through games” technology. It is really useful when you are a home-based self-study student, without someone else available with whom you can “play” the traditional cardboard flashcards.

When planning your vocabulary expansion, the next key question is which words you should be focusing on.  In this, your DELE exam level is clearly pivotal.  At the lower levels, DELE prioritizes vocabulary related to your own life needs (family, work, school, immediate environment and everyday transactions). At the top end, DELE requires you to be able to manage virtually every situation imaginable – the very top C2 diploma refers to “mastery” of Spanish and could be equated to a post-graduate level of linguistic scope and command.  For the higher levels, it is noteworthy that many of the texts used in the exams are actually taken from the heavyweight Spanish daily press, such as El Mundo and El País (and not just from front-page news; more likely the supplements such as on culture, science and art).

Because the examen DELE is so strongly focused on real-life communicative skills (as opposed to purely academic criteria) it is useful to familiarize yourself with the most-used Spanish words.  Here at DELEhelp we have prepared a Vocabulary Workbook (free to our students) which is firstly based on computer studies that identified the most frequently used Spanish words by scanning thousands of soap opera episodes.  With this, at least you will know that the words you are learning have real utility.  The Workbook also focuses on the some 38% of vocabulary that English and Spanish have in common: the so-called cognate words and the fixed set of rules that govern their conversion.  You will probably know that Spanish and English are both members of the Indo-European family of languages, so it is not really surprising that they have approximately 25,000 words in common.  By learning the dozen or so conversion rules or patterns, one can acquire a significant instant vocabulary.  This Vocabulary Workbook (#4 in our in-house series) also will detail for you how  to set up and use flashcards.

We also have a workbook of Spanish idioms and expressions, because vocabulary doesn’t only consist of single words. The correct and natural use of such expressions is important to the ability to idiomatically and fluently communicate in Spanish.

Vocabulary infographic

To re-cap: vocabulary is really, truly important to your success in all the components of the examen DELE. The first thing to do in your DELE exam preparation, to expand your vocabulary, is to immerse yourself as much as possible in spoken and written Spanish, by reading and listening or watching TV at every opportunity. Note new words, look them up in a reliable dictionary (together with their gender or conjugation, and of course their pronunciation) and then include them in your flashcard lists. There’s unfortunately no alternative for then putting in the hard effort of memorizing them, by practicing with your flashcards and testing yourself with flashcard games.  Motivate yourself with the certainty that there’s no better investment of your DELE exam preparation time than to expand your vocabulary.

Here’s an Infographic, as a memory-jogger.

Hasta la proxima

Salu2

Willem

As a final point of interest (for the purists), regarding the cover photo of this blog post and its phrase “…all the other saurus“. You may be thinking that it should have read “sauri”, which is the normal plural of “saurus”. However: Dinosaur taxonomic names, when used in their formal (Latin) form should *NEVER* be pluralized. They refer to the taxon, and not to an individual of that taxon (see: re. Saurus Plurals)

Watch 2 minute video introducing DELEhelp’s exam prep services.




TOP DELE / SIELE / OPI RESOURCES: LINKS TO BEST SITES

LINKS to top DELE exam prep RESOURCES

In preparing for the DELE exam ( “el examen DELE “), or for its online twin the SIELE, or the American equivalent OPIc, one needs a much wider range of resources than just a good Spanish grammar handbook.

This is due to the special nature of these communicative exams, such as the DELE diploma.  It tests your ability to communicate in Spanish – that is, to understand and to make yourself understood – rather than simply testing your knowledge of the rules of Spanish verb conjugation.

It is particularly important for one’s understanding of Spanish (i.e., for the reading and listening comprehension portions of the exam) to have a broad reference framework of Hispanic culture, history, traditions and lifestyle, against the backdrop of which you can contextualize what you read or hear. You also have to get your ear attuned to different Spanish accents. Similarly, your eye/mind must get accustomed to fast-reading Spanish text. At a more specifically exam-orientated level, you need to familiarize yourself with the exam format, and practice the skills it will require of you.

In years past, assembling the necessary DELE exam resources for self-study would have entailed frequent trips to the library, or costly subscriptions and book purchases. Fortunately, in today’s modern world of the internet, DELE exam candidates have instant access to some truly excellent resources, of which practically all are available gratis.

We have assembled a list of links to the best DELE exam resources – websites that we access every day at DELEhelp.org with our own students. Even though we have an ample set of in-house created workbooks (which we make available free to our students) the reality is that preparing for the DELE exam is 20% tutoring and 80% self-study. For the latter, the resources we list here are as empowering as they are easily accessible.  The importance of active self-study, accompanied by passively immersing yourself in a Hispanic culture and the sound of Spanish at every opportunity, cannot be over-stressed.

Our recommended e-book of model exams

Our recommended e-book of model exams

FIRST AND FOREMOST: DOING MODEL DELE EXAMS

To get a true sense of what this very different kind of exam entails, it is critically important to start doing model exams as early as possible. Doing these exams also serve as the most reliable diagnostic tool for assessing the current status of your Spanish competency, which will enable your tutor and yourself to identify and address your weaknesses.  The model exams we use and recommend, are available as e-books. This ensures quick availability (most of the other model exam books exist only in print and are often difficult to obtain via Amazon, needing to be ordered from the publisher in Spain, taking time to reach you). Of the list of resources that we will provide today, this is the only one that isn’t entirely free (however, the e-books we recommend are much cheaper than the print books, being only €9.90 each, which includes its audio tracks and answer keys – for the print books you usually have to buy the answer keys additionally, and pay postage).

ModelExamen DELE Facebook group

ModeloExamen DELE Facebook group

We recommend the Nuevo Examen Dele e-books by our collaborator Dr. David Giménez Folqués (a member of our academic supervisory board), which you can order online via this link.

Being e-books they are up-to-date, easy to use, affordable and available immediately for download.

There is also a Facebook group for these model exam books, which you can join via this link.

PRACTICE SPANISH WITH THE EXAM ADMINISTRATORS
practicaespanol logo2The Instituto Cervantes (which administers the DELE exams on behalf of the Spanish ministry of education) runs a marvellously useful joint effort with the Spanish news agency EFE.  It is called Practicaespañol, and it has as objective to provide daily practice to learners of Spanish, based on the news actualities of the day. The exercises are graded in terms of the different DELE levels and contain all the elements tested in the DELE, including audio and reading comprehension, grammar tips and vocabulary lists – all with English translation in parallel. One can subscribe to the site, which is entirely free, to receive daily e-mails with exercises and news articles. This truly great resource can be accessed via this link.

Another initiative of the Instituto Cervantes is the Cervantesvirtual online library and video collection. It is a magnificent resource for books in Spanish, and also has a YouTube channel where videos with interviews and cultural excerpts are regularly carried.  These resemble the type of audio material used in the exams for listening comprehension and therefore form a valuable resource for practicing this aspect of the exam.  You can access the Cervantes YouTube channel via this link:

PRESS AND LITERATURE

Logo_ElmundoVery often the Reading Comprehension texts in the DELE exams are taken from the two leading Spanish daily newspapers, El Mundo and El País. These both have free online editions. This is the El Mundo link.

elpaislogo

Remember to not only read the front page actualities, but also the specialized sections on education, art & culture, science and the like. El País has got an edition for the Americas, which can be reached via this link.

There’s a wide range of free e-books in Spanish available today, both from Amazon Kindle and from Free e-Books.net.  As part of your passive learning, reading Spanish books for pleasure is a good way of expanding vocabulary, getting a feel for spelling, and learning about Spanish society’s values and norms.

Free e-Books.net’s Spanish section can be reached via this link.

The free Spanish e-book section on Kindle can be reached via this link.

RADIO AND FILM

To really immerse yourself in the sound of Spanish, there’s no better way than keeping Spanish talk radio on in the background. We selected one channel each from Spain, Argentina and Mexico, which have live streaming via the internet.  These channels will give you opportunity to attune your ear to different accents, and have the advantage that they are spread through different time zones. Listening to them will also keep you abreast of current affairs in the Hispanic world, as well as giving you an insight into the Hispanic outlook on life.

SPAIN: RNE Radio5 todo noticias (http://www.rtve.es/radio/radio5/)

MEXICO: Metropoli 1470am (http://www.radioformula.com.mx/) select “radio en vivo”

ARGENTINA: Radio Mitre (http://player.cienradios.com/Mitre_AM790)

Listening to the radio in the background is a largely passive learning exercise. More active listening and viewing can be achieved by looking at Spanish film and soap operas. Netflix has a wide range of material in Spanish, from children’s programmes (which would suit the beginner levels) through comedy to serious drama. It is often possible to view these with English subtitles. If you aren’t subscribed to Netflix, many Spanish-language soapies are available free on YouTube.

One of the best telenovelas for more advanced students, is “la Reina del Sur”, based on the acclaimed novel by top Spanish author Arturo Pérez-Reverte. This series provides good exercise in following different accents (such as the Mexican/Sinaloan, North African, Andalusian and Galician).    

10_LaReinaDelSur_1920x1080_2

VOCABULARY

One of the main purposes of listening to radio / TV and reading books and the news media, is to expand your vocabulary. It is impossible to express yourself properly without an ample vocabulary, and equally impossible to comprehend fully what you read or hear, if you do not possess a substantial “knowledge of words and of the world”. This latter phrase was stated as the key to succeeding in comprehension tests, by one of the leading experts in the field (see our blog post with tips for acing the reading comprehension portion of the DELE exam, for more on the critical importance of an ample vocabulary).
TFDlogo1200x1200Probably the greatest tool for researching the meaning and correct use of the new words that you encounter in your reading and listening, is the world’s largest online dictionary: Farlex-theFreeDictionary.  It helps you identify words that you may not have the exact spelling for, and gives the meaning and uses of words in Spanish, as well as giving it in English. You can also listen to a correct pronunciation. The Free Dictionary by Farlex can be accessed via this link.

Once you have clarified the meaning and use of a new word, it is essential to memorize it.  The best means of doing so is by using flashcards – either the old-fashioned cardboard ones, or the new digital versions. You can download flashcard software, such as ANKI.com. Cram logoOr you can access online flashcard repositories that already have thousands of sets of Spanish words available, such as Cram.com (you can also create your own sets on Cram, which has a very nice selection of flashcard games with which you can learn your words while playing, rather than having to rote learn them.

Anki can be downloaded via this link.

Cram.com’s existing Spanish word flashcard sets can be accessed via this link.

The links we have provided above are all for your PC; these sites also have apps, which you can download on your mobile device.

To watch a 2 minute video introducing DELEhelp’s exam prep services, click on image.

RECEIVE A FREE  DELEhelp WORKBOOK:

At DELEhelp we have created in-house Workbooks to supplement the public resources such as the above, filling gaps in the latter’s scope with regard to DELE exam students’ needs. These workbooks are available free to our students. Some of them are also available free to the readers of this blog, who subscribe to receiving e-mail notifications of new postings (please see the Mailchimp subscription widget in the side-bar). Subscribing to this blog is free and without any obligation.  It will gain you a free copy of our 95-page Workbook #9.2: DELE /SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips, which is the only DELE/SIELE exam preparation book to explain in detail, in English, the DELE/SIELE’s exam goals, structure, curriculum inventory and scoring criteria. You can unsubscribe at any time, so why not give it a try and receive this valuable resource as a free gift.

To learn more about the DELEhelp online tutoring services, please access our page on the website of our mother institution, Excellentia Didactica, via this link.

Gracias por su atención

Hasta pronto

Willem

click on image to ask for free workbook




In the DELE exam, to be or not to be, feminine or masculine – those are the questions…

In the marking of the DELE exam (the examen DELE for the Spanish proficiency diploma), one of the four main criteria that the examiners apply is called “correctness”.

This criterion relates to how grammatically and semantically correct the candidate uses the Spanish language in the written and oral expression exam tasks. The semantically correct part refers to the apt and faultless use of words and idiomatic expressions – that is, a question of vocabulary (plus, in the oral, pronouncing the words correctly, and in the written tasks, spelling them without mistakes). The grammatically correct part refers essentially to avoiding common mistakes which are easy for examiners to pick up. Two of the most common of these, are the incorrect use of the verbs “ser” and “estar”, and mistakes in ensuring that nouns and their definite articles or related descriptors such as adjectives, agree in gender.

One of the most confusing aspect of Spanish verbs for an English-speaker, is when to use “ser” and when “estar” (two distinct verbs in Spanish, but which both translate in English into “to be”). When it comes to correctness in relation to nouns, the most challenging issue is that of gender – with all Spanish nouns being either “masculine” or “feminine”.

To be or not to be…

English-speakers are often said to be confused by the fact that “Spanish has two verbs for expressing to be”. But is it really correct that English expresses all states of being with simply “to be”?  How do English and Spanish differ in this regard? To understand when to use “ser” and when “estar”, one needs to understand the distinct roots and meaning of each. But firstly, it is important to understand how and why English evolved differently.

Our starting point on the journey to understanding the divergence between English and Spanish, is the different root forms of “to be” that existed in our common Proto-Indo-European ancestor language.  Discovering these roots will help explain why “to be” in English ends up being so very irregular (I am, you are, she is, he was, they will be, we were, etc.).

The fact that, in all Indo-European languages, the verb for “to be” happens to be their most irregular verb, stems from two main reasons. The first is that it has the highest frequency of use (thus more incentive and opportunity for simplification). Secondly, in its simplification, its original composite parts tended to be rolled into one or two so-called conglomerate verbs (meaning that each new simplification is a hodgepodge of bits and pieces from different ancestral verb roots, thrown together by the vagaries of everyday common usage).

So, which were the PIE roots from which modern-day Spanish “ser” and “estar” derive, as well as the English “to be” with its many seemingly unrelated variations (is, are, was, were, am, been etc.)?  We cannot be absolutely sure about pronunciation, but the following root verbs are today widely recognized:

 “sta-” : In PIE this appears to have meant “to stand”. In classical Latin, “sto / stare” retained this meaning, but in the everyday or Vulgar Latin of the common Romans, it came to be used as a copula (i.e., as a “to be” verb that couples something to its status – “the sky is blue”). The PIE verb “sta-” is the root of one of the two modern-day Spanish copula verbs, namely “estar”. This PIE root is also at the origin of the modern word “status” (a Spanish and English cognate, which is to say it has the same meaning in both languages).

“es-” :  The English “is” traces its roots to this verb, as do the Latin “est” and Spanish “es” (the latter a present indicative conjugation of the other Spanish copula verb, namely “ser”).  It appears that the PIE root “es-” meant much the same as modern-day “is”. The word “essence” also derives from this root.

“bhu-” : The original meaning of this PIE verb probably was “to grow”, or “to become”. It has survived in English as the infinitive be and the participle been. In Latin,  the PIE sound “b” transformed to /f/, giving us the Latin fuī, which today is one of the past tense (pretérito) conjugations of the Spanish verb “ser”.

“wes- : In PIE this may have meant “to live”. It is the root for the modern English “was” and “were”.

“er-” : The modern English word “are” seems to derive from this, apparently via Old Norse, with probably at its far origin the PIE root “es-”.

 What one can easily see from the above, is that the English “to be” is in fact far more of an irregular conglomerate than the two Spanish copulae of “ser” and “estar”. So how does English, with only one verb for the many nuances of being, convey these different nuances? It is common in English to use adjectives to describe the status or essence of something or someone: “Paul is bored” describes Paul’s current state, but “Paul is boring” describes an essential characteristic of his. The Spanish way of conveying such a distinction is different, because the adjective stays the same but the copula (i.e., the choice of verb “to be”) is chosen according to whether we want to signal a status or an essence: I am bored = Estoy aburrido, I am boring = Soy aburrido.

We have looked at the PIE roots of the English and Spanish “to be” verbs, in order to show first the causes for the divergence of English. Now, for an understanding of the meaning of the Spanish “ser” and “estar” we must move forward in time from the PIE stage to Vulgar Latin, from which Spanish most directly evolved.  The Spanish verb “ser” is derived from the Latin “essere” (the root of the English word “essence”) and “estar” from the Latin “stare” (the root of English words such as “state” and “status”).

In Spanish, “ser” is used when the fundamental essence of something or somebody is described, and “estar” when a state of being is described.  It is sometimes said that “ser” relates to a trait that is “permanent” and “estar” to something “temporary”, to a “condition”. This distinction often has casual validity, but “essence” and “state” are the true indicators – permanent and temporary can, in themselves, be confusing, for example when you deal with a concept such as death (a “condition”, but one that’s definitely not temporary!). As Sam Gendreau explained in the lingholic blog: So for example, if we were to talk about somebody who died, in Spanish we would not say “es muerto” (he’s dead, using ser), but rather “está muerto” (he’s dead, using estar). Being dead is a state, albeit a permanent one. But no one is dead in “essence”. (Well, if you were to talk about a zombie, or Dracula, you could probably use “ser” instead of “estar”, since in this case, they are truly dead in essence).”

To further illustrate the difference between “ser” and “estar”, let’s look at this example:

With ser: “¿Cómo es tu madre?” – what is your mother like?; and

With estar: “¿Cómo está tu madre?” – how is your mother feeling?

In these examples, “ser” evidently relates to the mother’s essential characteristics – her personality traits. Is she generous by nature, or selfish? Tender or aggressive?  On the other hand, “estar” relates to her state – is she well, or is she ill?

 To sum up – in English we would select the right adjective with which to indicate whether we are describing the essence of something or someone, or on the other hand his/its status.  In Spanish, however, we would convey this distinction by selecting the right copula verb, using “ser” for essence and “estar” for state.

Having placed you hopefully in a state of full understanding of the essential difference between “ser” and “estar”, we can now proceed to seeking agreement on the role of gender in Spanish (which is important, because of the rule that there must be concordancia – agreement – in Spanish between the gender of the noun and that of the definite articles, adjectives etc. used with it).

 

Female libido and male dilemmas:

Grammatical gender is a system of noun classification present in approximately one fourth of the world’s languages. In languages with grammatical gender, each noun is assigned to one of the gender classes. Most such languages have from two to four different gender classes, but some have up to 20!

However, gender in linguistics in fact is not tied up with biological sex – as Steven Pinker explains in “The Language Instinct” in relation to the 16 genders of Kivunjo, a language belonging to the Bantu (South & Central African) linguistic family:  “In case you are wondering, these ‘genders’ do not pertain to things like cross-dressers, transsexuals, hermaphrodites, androgynous people, and so on…  To a linguist, the term gender retains its original meaning of ‘kind’, as in the related words generic, genus, and genre.  The Bantu ‘genders’ refer to kinds like humans, animals, extended objects, clusters of objects, and body parts. It just happens that in many European languages the genders correspond to the sexes…” (in the case of most Indo-European languages, gender classes have labels such as male, female and neuter).

In gender-based systems, gender is considered an inherent quality of nouns, and it affects the forms of other related words through a process called agreement (Spanish = concordancia). This means that nouns and for example adjectives that qualify them, must agree in their gender class, as well as in number (meaning plural or singular). Nouns may be considered the “triggers” of the process of agreement, while other words will be the “target” of these prescribed variations, such as regards their endings. The latter have to harmonize with the noun and thereby often contribute to the harmonic “musicality” of the language (i.e., the ending of the noun and the adjective will sound the same, both for  instance ending on “-a” in the typical feminine configuration).

For modern-day English-speakers the concept of noun gender is foreign, because English, like another modern Indo-European language, Afrikaans, have nearly completely lost grammatical gender (although Old English still had it).

Proto-Indo-European initially had two “genders”, being animate and inanimate (showing thereby, once again, that “gender” in Linguistics has got nothing to do with biological sex). The animate gender in Proto-Indo-European later split into masculine and feminine, thus originating the three-way classification into masculine, feminine, and neuter (i.e., inanimate). Many Indo-European languages retained these three genders, including most Slavic languages, Latin, Sanskrit, Ancient and Modern Greek, and German. However, many languages evolved, reducing the number of genders to two. Some lost the neuter, leaving masculine and feminine; these include most Romance languages, of which Spanish is part. Thus the three grammatical genders of Classical Latin were replaced by a two-gender system in Spanish.

The neuter gender of classical Latin was absorbed by the masculine gender class in Spanish. Nouns in Spanish that denote specifically male persons (or animals) are normally of masculine gender. Those that denote biologically female persons (or animals) are normally of feminine gender. Since all things, and thus all nouns, must belong to a linguistic gender class, those nouns that denote something that does not have any sex have been willy-nilly allocated to one of the two genders classes by common usage, often in apparently arbitrary manner.

Why do we encounter so much apparent “arbitrariness” in most languages? It should be understood that our present-day fondness of “rules” post-date the establishment of these languages by centuries, if not millennia. It wasn’t ever a case of a committee on linguistics meeting in some cave dwelling and establishing nice “rules” for evolving languages, which ancient populations then all dutifully followed. On the contrary, even the latter-day official language committees like the Spanish Royal Academy can at most try to condense generalized codifications from the real-world, idiosyncratic speaking habits of highly diverse populations. Like all human activity and social evolution, the evolution of language also is haphazard and often impacted by outside forces. Of the latter, the notions of linguistic purity and logical consistency rarely were the strong suits.

In Spanish, nouns that end in o or a consonant are mostly masculine, whereas those that end in a are mostly feminine, regardless of their meaning. These “rules” regarding endings on “-a” and “-o” may override biological reality in some cases: for example, the noun miembro (“member”) is always masculine, even when it refers to a woman, and persona (“person”) is always feminine, even when it refers to a man. But then – quite counter-intuitively – we have “la libido” and “el dilemma”.  (Persons of the female persuasion are normally quite comfortable with allocating “la razon” to their side of the fence, and with having “el problema” assigned to the masculine gender…)

In other cases, though, meaning does take precedence, through varying the definite article (el or la) going with the noun, according to biology : the noun comunista “communist” is masculine when it refers or could refer to a man, even though it ends with -a (i.e., el communista). This is a deviation from the typical rule that the definite article for each noun is fixed according to the noun’s allotted gender class. Another deviation from the norm is that nouns can sometimes vary their termination to indicate a different sex. Thus, in Spanish, niño means “boy”, and niña means “girl”. This paradigm can be exploited for making new words: from abogado “lawyer”, diputado “member of parliament” and doctor “doctor”, it was straightforward to make the feminine equivalents abogadadiputada, and doctora.

In general practice, though, nouns in Spanish generally follow the gender class of the Latin words from which they are derived. When nouns appear to deviate from the rules for gender, there is usually an etymological explanation, related to its origin: problema (“problem”) is masculine in Spanish because it was derived from a Greek noun of the neuter gender (and the neuter was later absorbed into the masculine), whereas radio (“radio station”) is feminine, because it is a shortening of estación de radio, a phrase with as its head the feminine noun estación (or also: la radiodifusión). The same applies to “la moto” (the motorcycle) because “moto” is short for “motocicleta”, which is feminine.

When memorizing noun gender, it will be noticed that the counter-intuitive masculinity of many nouns ending on “-a” is due to their Greek origin – particularly words relating to science. As mentioned above, in the original Greek their gender was “neuter” and they were absorbed as such into the Latin “neuter” gender class, when classic Latin had three gender classes. In consequence, when Vulgar Latin / Old Spanish discarded the “neuter” gender and folded it into their “masculine”, these Greek-derived words ending on “-a”, became “male”.

Perhaps the quickest way to undo misconceptions about the supposed male or female gender class of all Spanish nouns is, therefore, to re-affirm that in general it has nothing whatsoever to do with biological gender.  It could just as well have been called red and green nouns, or – more to the point – the “la/las” nouns and the “el/los” nouns.  Like verb conjugations, the correct gender class of nouns has to be learnt through rote memorization, for which flashcards are very useful, whether of the digital or the cardboard type. Just remember to always note on each card, the Spanish noun together with its correct definite article (la or el) and learn the combination.

To relate the above to the DELE exam scoring criterion of correctness, one can see how incorrect use of “ser” and “estar” and mistakes in gender agreement would leap in the eye of a native Spanish-speaking examiner. Such errors may often relate to idiosyncrasies that deviate from the norm, but the same applies to English – just think of how quickly you’d spot somebody saying “two oxes” (on the regular model of “two boxes”) instead of “two oxen”. These idiosyncrasies exist in all languages, and there is no alternative to learning them by heart if we want to speak “correctly” (incidentally, “ox” in Old English belonged to the feminine gender class, which in the plural ended on “-en”, which is the reason for its apparent deviation; other similar Old English words have however succumbed to common modern usage, like “one cow / two kine” which became “two cows”).

It is important to note with regard to the DELE exams, that one should not over-emphasize occasional small errors of the above kind – as long as the meaning that the candidate tried to convey still could be clearly understood. The DELE exams are, above all, tests of communicative ability – and communication by definition is the art of conveying meaning. In other words, it is not primarily a grammar exam, although no-one would want to throw away marks on repeated errors that could have been avoided. It should also be noted that it is perfectly in order to correct oneself during the oral exam, when you realize that you’ve slipped up on something like gender agreement or the choice of ser / estar – according to the official marking criteria, you will actually be positively assessed for such self-correction. Clearly it is better, though, to master it all and to practice during your DELE exam preparation to apply these forms consistently correctly…

Fuller explanations of gender agreement and the correct use of ser and estar – together with much more clarification of other puzzling aspects of Spanish grammar – can be found in our DELEhelp Workbook #2 entitled “Demystifying Spanish Grammar”. Just as with our Workbook #9.2 (DELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips), our Workbook #2 is also available free as a .pdf download from DropBox to any readers of this DELEhelp blog who ask for it via our easy-to-use contact form: [contact-form-7 id=”19″ title=”Contact form 1″]

If you have questions on any of our blog posts, or regarding the DELE exams or aspects of Spanish grammar, don’t hesitate to jot them down in the comment column of this blog – we try to answer all.

For more information on our team and what we can do to help you with your DELE exam preparation, please visit our website by clicking on    this link    and then going to the DELEhelp page. Remember, we specialize in helping English-speaking candidates online with their preparation for the DELE exams. Our Skype tuition is convenient, affordable, flexible, personalized and practical. Why not try our one-hour free sample session? There’s no obligation – please click on    this link     to register for your one-on-one Skype try-out session.

Buena suerte with your DELE exam preparation

 Salu2

 Willem

https://edele.org

 




20 Top Tips for Acing DELE / SIELE / OPI exam oral

About one-third of candidates fail the DELE Spanish language exams. Of these, 70% failed because of failing the DELE exam oral expression section.  What do you need to know, and how do you need to prepare, so that you can do well in the DELE exam oral expression test?  Or in the oral tests of the DELE’s new online twin, the SIELE, or its American equivalent, the OPI? Here are our top tips:
  • Know what the goals are of the DELE / SIELE exam oral. It is an examination of your ability to communicate in everyday situations. There’s no more common, nor more essential way of communicating, than by means of speaking. This makes the oral expression task obviously crucial in assessing your communication competency. So, what is the level of communicative ability that the DELE examiners desire at each of the different levels, from A1 throuh C2? You can study the policy statements of the Cervantes Institute and / or the European Union’s “Common European Framework of Reference for Language” (DELE is the Spanish iteration of the latter). Or, if you don’t want or can’t plow through these long documents with their high academic language (in Spanish): simply ask for our free 96-page DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips handbook. Just click on the image lower down, to ask for it.
  • Know what the official DELE / SIELE oral exam scoring criteria are. You need to be familiar with the system and criteria that the examiners will be using to assess your oral expression performance. If you don’t know this, you won’t know how best to make your presentations or how to most effectively converse with your interviewer.  Our DELEhelp study material include actual audio clips of oral expression exam candidates who passed and who failed, together with the examiners’ comments. We also have included the full official criteria, translated into English, of the two scoring scales used, namely the holistic scale and the analytical scale. Again, these are all covered in our FREE DELEhelp Workbook #9.2 : DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips (which is available as a download in  .pdf format – see image lower down).
  • Read out loud whenever you are reading Spanish books, blogs or news media during your self-study and relaxation hours.  As preparation and practice of your pronunciation, do as much of your Spanish reading en voz alta, so that you can get accustomed to actually saying words, not just seeing or thinking them.
  • Record your practice sessions on tape or preferably on video, when you do simulations of oral presentations. That way you can hear and see yourself in action, and can take note of improvements you need to make. (The key, however, is to have access to an expert, 1-on-1 tutor to guide you and give you feed-back).

    DELE exam oral isn't Spanish Inquisition

    The Oral is NOT the Spanish Inquisition…

  • In the exam, try and do the oral task the  day before the written exam tasks, if you are given such an option by your exam center administrators. Try to do it when you are still at your freshest, and try to be the first candidate to be examined on the day, so that the examiners also can be at their freshest, without yet having established a very high bar due to some genius who had gone before you (remember, this part of the exam is scored in real time, there at the exam center, by two examiners sitting with you).
  • Read (and re-read) the instructions with great care. At the start of the oral exam you will be given the exam paper and time to prepare.  Carefully study the guidelines – they contain clear guidance about what is expected of you, which topics you need to address in your oral presentation, what the contextual setting is of – for example – the photo you have to discuss, etc.
  • Take time to plan your presentation, giving it a clear structure with particular attention to the introduction and especially the conclusion. The guidelines for examiners oblige them to score each task immediately after delivery. Accordingly, your concluding statement will form their last impression and should therefore be as good as you can make it – neatly tying together your main points and the conclusions you have reached.
  • Sit correctly: Before the oral interaction tasks you will be introduced to your two examiners.  You will be seated at a small table, opposite the examiner acting as your interviewer (who also does the holistic assessment). The other examiner (doing the analytical assessment) will be seated behind you. When sitting down, don’t slouch (i.e., don’t sit with your head and upper torso leaning back in relation to your backside). Not only does this posture constrict your breathing, it looks bad and it sends the signal that you don’t relish engaging with your interviewer. Sitting correctly means getting your lower backside as far into and pressed up against the chair’s backrest as possible. This will help with your breathing and articulation. It will also force your upper body forward, thus into a natural posture of engaging positively with your interlocutor.  (The initial minute or two, before you are invited to launch into your oral presentation, will be dedicated to a brief icebreaker conversation, usually in the form of the interviewer asking you about your origins).
  • NB: NB: Engage with your interviewer, make and maintain eye contact, smile, be relaxed and friendly, COMMUNICATE.
  • Fluency is one of the four equally-weighted scoring criteria; fluency is achieved through guided practice, practice, practice, and through having a sufficient vocabulary – particularly by using link phrases (connectors), for which the examiners will be actively looking in your discourse. It is therefore important to know and practice a list of such phrases which you can employ naturally. Your lexis or “linguistic scope” (i.e., your knowledge of words and expressions) must be such that the right words will roll fluently off your tongue, pronounced correctly. However, it is critical not to get hung up on searching desperately for specific words that may have momentarily abandoned you; use whatever others that come most readily to you at that moment, even if you also have to use hands, face and additional description to communicate your point. The key to fluency remains practice, practice, practice – you have to internalize the patterns and lexis of the language with the help of an expert 1-on-1 tutor.
  • Coherence is another key scoring criteria – your message must be well structured and organized logically, so that your meaning can be clear. In the time given to you to read the exam paper and prepare your presentation, decide on an appropriate structure and note it down bullet-style (you may consult your notes, but not read entire phrases verbatim from it). Be sure that you have understood the task given to you. Read the instructions and questions very, very carefully, otherwise you will miss the point and appear incoherent.  The key elements of structure will be your introduction and conclusion – give particular attention to these.  The oral exam tasks are intended to be REAL communication: they are all about conveying information and meaning, thus clarity of message. Remember that COHERENCE and FLUENCY count for 50% of the overall oral exam weight, so don’t get fixated on grammar, at the expense of being fluent and coherent.
  • Linguistic scope is the third of the four oral scoring criteria. This means your repertoire, your knowledge of words (vocabulary) and of regular “chunks of words” (expressions) which together make up what we call lexis.  We believe that acquiring an ample lexicon is the best single thing you can focus on in your overall exam preparation – not only because it counts for 25% of the oral mark (and clearly influences your ability to be fluent and coherent as well), but because it is essential for the listening and reading comprehension tests. You can imagine the difficulty, if you simply don’t comprehend the meaning of key words in the comprehension tests!
  • Correctness of language is the last major scoring factor. This relates to correct pronunciation as well as using the correct patterns of phrase construction – i.e., grammar, such as agreement of gender and number. However, you need to be aware that the examiners are under strict instructions to ignore small grammar mistakes that do not impact the clarity of your message (in other words, this is not a school / college-style exam fixated on grammar). If you make a mistake, correct yourself in a natural manner, don’t try and ignore it as if it didn’t happen – you will actually be positively assessed for having corrected yourself. It always impresses to bring the Subjunctive mood into your discourse, which you can usually do with ease by developing and learning a stock phrase or two which you can drop into the initial “icebreaker” conversation or your introduction, or in the conclusion (something like: “Ojala pueda mantener esta pretensión de estar relajado por los próximos 15 minutos!”)
  • Confirm questions: It’s certainly normal to get nervous in an exam situation. It is therefore normal – as normal as it is, also in real everyday conversations – that one needs to ask  your interlocutor to clarify. Rather ask, than try and answer a question that you’ve misunderstood. So make sure to clarify the question if in any doubt, with a phrase like “Puede usted explicarme su pregunta, por favor…”
  • Personalize and engage with the content, by also reflecting your own perceptions and opinions about the subject matter and quoting relevant personal experiences. Don’t just recite, in a purely descriptive manner, the elements of the content you have been provided with.
  • Cover all the issues that were set in the task description: the exam paper will indicate what is expected of you (these aren’t “gotcha”-type exams). Make sure that you include these points in the scheme of structure you jotted down, and that you address each of them.
  • Watch the clock: The most important time-related risk in the oral, is that of not speaking for the totality of the required amount of time. So see to it that, in the the conversational parts of the oral (i.e., the question-and-answer and debating tasks) you speak until the interviewer tells you to stop. (In the SIELE and OPIc, you will see the time remaining indicated visually). On the other hand, in the monologue tasks such as your initial prepared presentation, it is of course possible to go seriously over time. This may harm your clarity and coherence, because you will be cut off before you’ve arrived at your conclusion. Don’t miscalculate your structuring and dwell on your first points for so long that you don’t get to cover the other main points nor conclude in a satisfactory manner – in prior practice, get a clear idea of how long you typically speak to each of your bullet points.  Therefore, plan the structure of your message well and have a watch sitting next to your notes in front of you in the DELE oral, so you can pace yourself (remember to bring an old-fashioned watch with you, because you cannot have your smartphone with you in the exam hall). Don’t be too worried about going over time in the conversational section – your interlocutor will stop you once enough is enough.
  • Learn to consult your notes in a natural manner. Don’t try and hide them, and neither should you set them so far off to your side that it would require you to disengage with your interlocutor in order to look at them. The best is to keep them in front of you, in direct line of sight with your interlocutor, thus allowing you to maintain maximum eye contact. Don’t feel shy about using them or try and hide that you are consulting your notes; you can be quite open about consulting them, if done naturally and briefly. Make them part and parcel of the conversation – it enhances your confidence to know that you have them, and thus your authoritativeness.  However, the one big no-no is slavishly reading whole sentences that you had prepared (it’s actually good to have your notes quite open, so that the examiner will see that they consist of no more than a bullet-point scheme).  The key to success is practicing to consult your notes in such a natural, non-disruptive way that doing so actually enhances the flow of well-structured conversation, rather than detract from it.
  • Pay attention as well to your delivery, i.e. to the art of oratory: vary your tone and emphasis to underscore key points. Don’t be so hung up on ensuring correctness of your grammar that you lose the natural flow, rhythm and thrust of conversation as interactive, interpersonal engagement.  SMILE. Remember that the examiners are taught to, in a friendly manner, draw you out of your shell and never to correct or criticize you – therefore, relax: they are not your enemies, nor your inquisitors.
  • Confidence is truly the key to fluent, engaged communication. When you listen to the audio clips of actual oral exams, passed and failed (linked to in our FREE exam prep book), you will notice that the failed candidates often didn’t possess significantly weaker linguistic skills than those who passed. The big difference is that they allowed their evident lack of self-confidence to rob them of the skill of natural communication.  Never forget that these oral exams test your capacity to communicate effectively – to receive and transmit meaning.  And the best booster of confidence, is the knowledge that you have practiced and practiced and practiced doing these oral interactions to perfection, doing as many guided simulations as possible in the weeks and months leading up to the exam, with your expert 1-on-1 tutor.

SPECIAL OFFER – FREE DELE EXAM PREPARATION BOOK

DELEhelp offers you its 96-page Workbook #9.2 “DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips” entirely FREE and without any obligation. All you have to do is ask for it, using our convenient contact information form (simply click on the image above). Our unique DELE / SIELE exam preparation book covers the goals and nature of the DELE / SIELE system, the curriculum, exam format and scoring criteria, as well as our top tips for acing the exam.

Buena suerte with your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation, and don’t hesitate to e-mail me your questions!

Salu2,

Willem

To learn more about how our experienced tutors here at DELEhelp may assist you with your preparation for the examen DELE, please click on this link to our page on the website of Excellentia Didactica (our casa matriz, of which DELEhelp is a division). You may also want to watch our quick 2-minute video introducing our DELE exam prep help. Just click on the 2nd image below, promoting the video, to go straight to YouTube.

DELEhelp website link

Watch 2 minute video introducing DELEhelp’s exam prep services.