1

Revised 2020 DELE exam dates

revised DELE dates 2020
Revised 2020 DELE exam dates

Due to the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic, Spain’s Instituto Cervantes published revised 2020 DELE exam dates (as seen in the header image).

Extra exam days have been added for late in July and October, to make up for those that needed to be cancelled in April and May.

It is important to keep in mind that registrations close well before the exam dates – make sure that you have completed, submitted and paid yours before the final registration dates as set out in the table.

The written exams are always held on a Friday morning, except for the double sessions scheduled for Friday 13 and Saturday 14 November. Exam centers may schedule the oral expression part of the exam for the day before the written session, or for the afternoon of exam day – check with your center on which day/ at what time you will be up to meet with the oral examiners. The results are typically available three months after the exam.

DELE exam prep book
click on IMAGE to ask for our FREE workbook

Given the ever-changing health risks that the pandemic may in future pose, at different times and in different locations, it is important to check and regularly re-check with your exam center, in case new restrictions may affect their particular ability to offer a scheduled exam.

Unlike the DELE with its periodic group exams, the SIELE (the online twin of the DELE) and the American OPIc – both being exams of individuals done online, on dates of your choice – are essentially not impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. LTI, who administer the OPIc, have however made in-home proctored exams possible in certain cases. In the case of the SIELE, local restrictions applying at specific exam centers at different points in time, may however have a bearing, so remember to check.

Look at this blog post for quick links to our top DELE exam prep tips: https://www.delehelp.org/16-top-blog-posts-on-acing-dele-exam/

¡Buena suerte! with your exam prep.

Saludos cordiales

Willem

DELEhelp website link
Click on IMAGE to go to our secure website



FREE DELE/SIELE EXAM PREPARATION BOOK IN ENGLISH

Your free DELE/SIELE exam preparation book that explains, in English, all you need to know for effective exam prep

The DELE/SIELE – a different kind of exam

The DELE exam (of Spanish language competency) is very different to the typical school or college foreign language exam. If you want to prepare correctly, then from the very start you need to be well informed about these differences – the unique goals of the DELE system, the assessment criteria that the examiners will use to score you, and the curriculum content. If you do not know and understand these key characteristics of the DELE – if you do not have a proper DELE exam preparation book explaining them – then you simply won’t be prepared to give the examiners what they are actually looking for. This applies as well to the DELE exam’s new online twin, the SIELE, which shares the goals, curriculum and assessment criteria of the DELE, as well as to the American OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview).

Unfortunately, what little material exists about the DELE’s
desired outcomes, assessment criteria and what the curriculum contains, is not
easily accessible. The curriculum and assessment protocols are only available
in high academic Spanish – policy documents written by academics for academics.
Very few Spanish tutors know much about how the exam actually functions i.t.o.
the assessment, as distinct from describing
the simple format. This means that many candidates enter the exam poorly
prepared, expecting something similar to school or college. More often than
not, their preparation has consisted essentially of grammar revision – but
grammar is just one of the nine chapters of the official DELE curriculum describing
the prescribed exam content for the exam.

Astute students, when they first encounter a DELE exam
paper, immediately sense that this is a very different kind of challenge. Because
the DELE tests what you can actually DO, in terms of really communicating in
Spanish – it doesn’t set out to test merely what you KNOW. It is no surprise,
therefore, that one of the highest-frequency search terms on the internet
regarding the DELE exam, is “DELE exam preparation book”. Which hitherto has
not existed, in English.

About this DELE exam preparation book

Having myself prepared for (and passed) the DELE C2 exam, I have lived these frustrations. When I started preparing, I did so with a personal background that had made me aware of the importance of understanding assessment criteria. I had been sensitized to the science of didactics and assessment methodology during the time that I served as head of the South African diplomatic academy. This was during the transition to democracy in South Africa. I had to completely overhaul the training to make it suited to the needs of the New South Africa (after my stint at the academy, I had the great honour and privilege of representing i.a. President Nelson Mandela as ambassador).  

In preparing for my DELE C2, I therefore quite naturally
wanted to know what the curriculum entails, and with what criteria the
examiners will use to assess my efforts at speaking and writing Spanish.  Nobody could really tell me, in any detail. Yes,
I could get acquainted with the format, in the form of model exam books. But I
could find no DELE exam preparation book that explains the assessment criteria,
the actual deliverables or “outcomes” that the DELE system wants candidates to
be able to produce, and which defines the content prescribed in the curriculum.

Because of my experience heading the academy, I knew how
vital understanding such “targeting” is, if one is to do well in any exam. I therefore
set out digging and eventually got hold of the scoring matrixes, the
instruction protocols for the examiners, and the massive, complex curriculum
document. Taken together, what an eye-opener! I saw, for example, that three of
the ten chapters of the curriculum dealt with history, geography, culture and
tradition – to ensure a sufficient level of inter-cultural sensitivity that
would, for example, enable one to correctly contextualize the meaning of many common
Spanish expressions. I also saw that entire chapters are dedicated to
identifying the “can do” statements or
actual communicative tasks that candidates must be able to perform at each
level, the “intercultural dexterities” that candidates must have developed, and
the “genres of discourse and textual products” that the candidates must master –
to name just some.  

Do you know the “can do” statements?

DIn the curriculum omnibus, I was particularly struck by the chapter “functional language use” (what the Americans call the “can do” statements) which lists all the communicative tasks that you are expected to be able to perform at each level. This ranges from basics for beginners such as asking directions, to – at the higher levels – such sophisticated tasks as introducing a toast at a formal reception. These “can do” statements encapsulate the true scope of the prescribed curriculum for each level – but how many students know about this, and are ever prepared to be able to produce these essential deliverables?

The goals of the DELE / SIELE system

What I found even more important than the curriculum as such, was the policy material explaining the goals of the Common European Framework of Reference for Language (of which the DELE / SIELE is the Spanish iteration) and the four assessment criteria that examiners use to score your efforts.

The CEFRL came about because of the abolition of the
internal borders in the European Union. This allowed EU citizens to live, work
or study in any country of their choosing. This borderless new union made it
essential for the likes of employers and post-grad schools at universities, to
have access to reliable certification of the actual ability of an applicant to
truly understand the new target language and to make him/herself understood in
it.  And it was apparent that school and
college certification simply didn’t reflect a candidate’s actual communicative
ability. For example, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
recently found, in a survey, that only 0.5% of students at high school and
college who majored in a foreign language, could actually maintain a
conversation in that language. The authors of the CEFRL set out to try and correct
this with their new policy, and the first thing they did was to change
completely the focal point and goals of language tuition.

No longer would the language as such be the focal point, as it is in the academic study of Spanish in high school or college. In academic study of Spanish, the language is dissected and analysed, as one would dissect frogs in Biology – without yourself becoming a frog. The CEFRL threw this approach overboard. Instead, it takes the student as focal point: the student as “social agent” who must be able to perform real-world communicative tasks in a foreign-language environment. The objective is thus not to fill  the student’s head with abstract academic knowledge about the language as subject matter, but to equip the student to be able to DO – to actually use the language in real-world communication. To understand what you read or hear, and make yourself understood when you speak or write. This means, to master the four communicative competencies of listening and reading comprehension plus written and oral expression (which form the four units that the DELE exam consists of).

The four DELE assessment criteria

So, if the examiners aren’t primarily intent on checking eagle-eyed what you know about conjugating Spanish verbs, but are assessing whether you are actually communicating effectively when you speak or write: what criteria do they use to score your effort? This, clearly, you simply HAVE TO KNOW if you are going to be able to give them what they are looking for.

There are four assessment criteria, which at first glance
seem very generic and woolly, if you don’t have a proper DELE exam preparation
book that can clarify what is meant with each. Most students are quite
surprised when they first learn that, for the oral expression for example,
these four equally weighted assessment criteria are: coherence, fluency,
sufficiency of linguistic scope, and correctness. In other words, 50% of your
score will be assessed on coherence and fluency – but what does that actually
mean, in terms of what is expected of you? What is understood under each of
these criteria, and how are they applied to assess an individual’s performance,
so as to arrive at a final score of pass or fail?

Our free DELE exam preparation book

Because being totally familiar with each of these assessment criteria is so very evidently of utmost importance to students who want to prepare correctly for the DELE, I felt that this was a gap that simply had to be filled. Therefore, I wrote a succinct, practical DELE exam preparation book for English-speaking students. This is truly the product of having “been there, done it”. Our in-house DELEhelp Workbook #9 of 96 pages is written from the student perspective. Its aim is to help you understand the goals, format, assessment criteria and prescribed curriculum content for the DELE, and also to share with you, practical tips for acing the exam – both in terms of how to prepare, and what to do on exam day.

The best news is: DELEhelp’s DELE exam preparation
book is available to you, entirely free and with absolutely no obligation to
sign up with us for classes. Of course, we hope that it will help convince you
of our ability to add value to your DELE exam preparation. But the decision whether
you want to use our expert 1-on-1 tuition via Skype at only US$12 per hour, is
yours and yours alone.

Also serves for SIELE exam preparation

If you are preparing to do the new online twin of the DELE exam, called the SIELE, you should also use this same DELE / SIELE exam preparation
book, since the goals, criteria and curriculum are shared (it is the same
official who signs both the DELE and the SIELE certification, namely the
Director of Studies of the Instituto Cervantes). As you can imagine, we have
also developed an additional workbook about acing the equivalent American OPI
test (the Oral Proficiency Interview). You can ask for this as well, if you are
preparing for the OPIc.

To go to this blog post, just click on image

Since you are currently reading this blog post, you may
already be aware of the many valuable articles guiding SIELE and DELE exam
preparation that are available free in our DELEhelp blog. If, however, this is
your first “landing” on our blog, check out the content list – you will see the
dozens of posts with useful tips about how to ace the oral and the written
expression tests, how to plan and what to focus on in your DELE exam
preparation, how the DELE exam final score is calculated, and many more topics.
We are pleased to offer you all this material free in our blog, in the hope
that it, too, will show you what our expertise can mean to you, for improving
your chances of doing well in the exam. Of course, once you do sign up with us
(if that is your choice) then you will receive the rest of our series of
one-of-a-kind in-house DELE exam preparation books, again entirely for free, as
part of the resources that we provide to every one of our students.

At a minimum, though, we hope that by reading this free
sample DELE exam preparation book (number 9.2:
DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing
Tips
), you will understand how different the DELE is. We hope that you
will start to sense that extra confidence that comes from knowing precisely
what you are up against.  Also, that you
will understand how you should best prepare yourself to meet the unique
challenges presented by the DELE / SIELE exam, or the OPI.

Seamlessly ties in with our 1-on-1 tuition via Skype

Properly planned and personalised preparation firstly
requires such understanding as foundation, but also needs a proper initial diagnostic of your strengths and
weaknesses as basis. Plus expert, experienced guidance that will provide you
with feed-back and correction when you invest your time and mental energy in
the essential practice, practice, practice required to become fluent, coherent
and correct in your oral and written expression.

Such expert guidance is best provided one-on-one, not in group classes dominated by the lowest common denominator. And why not use modern online tech to have expert tuition in the comfort of your own home, with flexible scheduling, and at low-low rates that reflect Central American overhead costs, not those of North America or Europe…?

To ask for your free copy of our DELE exam preparation book, simply click on the image below and send us the completed contact information form so we can e-mail you the download link (it is available as a .pdf e-book).

click on image to ask for free workbook

Buena suerte with
your Spanish exam preparation!

Saludos cordiales

Willem  




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 give you a bird’s eye overview of what is available and make access easier, we’ve copied below the blog banners for each of our top posts. To be taken directly to a particular post, all you need to do is click on a banner.

Buena suerte with your exam prep!

See how the different exam components are grouped together and averages calculated.
TESTED ANSWERS to DELE exam FAQs
Comparing the DELE, its online twin SIELE and the American OPI
20 Top Tips for Acing the DELE exam ORAL tasks
Acing the American OPIc
Three top “been there, done it” tips for effective exam preparation for the DELE / SIELE & OPI
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
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
click on IMAGE to ask for our FREE workbook



TESTED ANSWERS to DELE / SIELE / OPI EXAM FAQs

TESTED ANSWERS to DELE / SIELE / OPI exam FAQs

This Blog post’s Objective: The DELE exam (and its online twin the SIELE, as well as the American equivalent the OPIc) is a very different animal to your typical school or college exam. This is true in terms of practically all its aspects – its goals, its format, curriculum content and assessment criteria / scoring.

Despite this, there unfortunately isn’t that much practical information available in English on the DELE / SIELE exams as such, especially as viewed from the student perspective.  What is available is mostly in high Spanish, written for academics by academics, with a didactic slant dealing with the likes of methodology and desired outcomes i.t.o. the Common European Language Policy Framework, the CEFR. (For the sake of convenience, I’m just going to refer to the DELE from this point on, and not to DELE / SIELE & OPI, since all three systems are founded on the same principles).

For someone who just wants to know what to expect when he/she walks into the exam center, and how best to pass this thing, there isn’t that much on offer. Especially not in English.  As author of this blog post, I am an English-speaker who actually did the DELE C2 exam before I became Director of Studies at DELEhelp (in an earlier life, I i.a. served as ambassador  for President Nelson Mandela and as head of the South African diplomatic academy). I am also the official coordinator of our local accredited SIELE exam center here in la Antigua Guatemala, as well as being an accredited proctor for the OPI tests. Having “been there, done it”, this blog post aims to give practical, battle-tested answers to DELE exam FAQs, culled from real-world experience.

DELE exam FAQS is principally about what you can DO not just know1.  What is the biggest difference between the DELE exam and your typical school or college Spanish language exam?

School mostly tests what you KNOW; the DELE tests what you can DO with your knowledge. The DELE and its sister exams of language proficiency do not ask theoretical questions – they test your actual, applied “communicative competency”. In other words, it grades your ability to COMPREHEND Spanish, both when listening and reading, and to EXPRESS yourself understandably in Spanish, both orally and in writing.

The DELE evaluates your actual ability to express yourself in real-world situations in Spanish, both in writing and orally. It evaluates  your “communicative competency” in terms of four main assessment criteria. These are:

  • how extensive is your linguistic scope (vocabulary and expressions);
  • how correct is your use of the language (grammar, knowing the right word / phrase / pattern of  the language, plus pronunciation in case of the oral, and spelling in case of writing);
  • how coherently are you conveying your message (structure and clarity of meaning); and
  • how fluently do you speak, or how well your writing conforms to the norms for the particular genre (formal / informal letters, journalistic articles etc.)

2.  What does the DELE curriculum consist of?

DELE exam FAQs the curriculum is more than just grammar

The first important point to understand, is that the DELE curriculum consists of much more than just grammar. In fact, grammar is but one of ten main subject fields covered in the curriculum.  Reading through the list, you will understand that some relate to knowledge, and others to communicative skill sets you need to perfect. It all comes back to the fact that the DELE tests what you can actually DO with the knowledge you are required to have.

The grammar curriculum is, of course, extensive and it is important for candidates to know what is required at their particular level. For example, the Subjunctive Mood is only included from level B up, not at Level A (for B1 it is only the Present Subjunctive, while for B2 three further tenses of the subjunctive are added:  Pretérito Imperfecto,  Pretérito Perfecto and the Pretérito Plusquamperfecto).

Other key curriculum components are:

  • PRONUNCIATION
  • SPELLING
  • FUNCTIONAL LANGUAGE USE (abilities such as to ask and give directions, expressing an opinion, to prohibit something, to convey condolences etc. – at level B, for example, there are more than 130 such specific functional usages or “can do” statements listed as required competencies);
  • TACTICS and PRAGMATIC STRATEGIES (construction and interpretation of a discourse, managing modalities such as shifting time-frame, giving focus, upping intensity etc., as well as managing interactive conduct, such as showing and valuing courtesy);
  • GENRES of DISCOURSE and TEXTUAL PRODUCTS (genres of written and oral expression, such as different types of letters, essays, articles, text and e-mail messages, or face-to-face conversation, by telephone, telling a joke, presentations at conferences etc. – for level B2 alone, there are almost 40 such specific genres listed);
  • GENERALIZED and SPECIFIC NOTIONS (managing the expression of notions, which may be generalized, such as of an existential, quantitative, temporal, qualitative, or evaluative nature, or may be specific, such as of personal identity, work, leisure etc.);
  • CULTURAL REFERENCES (general knowledge of the Hispanic countries, their geography, economy and history, politics, religious beliefs etc.);
  • SOCIO-CULTURAL KNOWLEDGE AND BEHAVIOR (background knowledge of Hispanic traditions and customs in the home, the family context, the work-place, school, at leisure etc.) and
  • INTERCULTURAL DEXTERITY (identifying personal perceptions about different cultures and recognition of diversity, plus attitudes towards assimilation of cultures, mediation and interaction).

No language exists in a vacuum. All these topics are important to the socio-cultural situational awareness and communicative skill sets that candidates need in order to be able to express themselves well, and also to do well in the reading and listening comprehension tasks of the exam – but going beyond the exam, to meet the everyday challenges of communicating in real life.

To fully understand the logic behind this extensive curriculum, one needs to comprehend the GOALS or desired OUTCOMES that the DELE system is aimed at. It wants you to be able to function in a real-world Hispanic setting. It’s starting point is the student as “actor in a socio-economic setting”  who needs to communicate. The curriculum therefore covers the essential knowledge and skill sets that one need to possess in order to be able to perform the everyday, real-world communicative tasks you will encounter at your level.  These relate to transacting everyday business ranging from shopping or booking into a hotel to advanced professional transactions at Level C, plus participating in social interactions and producing oral and written presentations – in the case of each DELE level, on subjects related to that particular level’s prescribed scope of outcomes. For more details on the curriculum, see our detailed Blog post on the subject:

For effective DELE / SIELE / OPI exam prep, know the curriculum

PLEASE NOTE: At DELEhelp we have prepared an in-house workbook of some 96 pages, dealing with the DELE’s goals and curriculum as well as with the scoring criteria applied in the exam. This e-workbook is available to you, our readers – completely free and without any obligation – by simply sending me your e-mail address via our convenient contact information form: just click on the image at the bottom of this page.

3.  What is the first thing to do, when starting to prepare for the DELE exam?

DELE exam FAQs first thing to do is get a study plan

If you don’t want to be shooting blindly in the dark, you need a STUDY PLAN.

Your DELE exam study plan needs to start with an inventory of what knowledge and skill sets you will need to perfect for your level, essentially as culled from the curriculum. Against this you have to then check off your existing knowledge and skills.  Where you fall short, that shortfall will need to be the content of your study plan (for example: good pronunciation is clearly an important element, but it may just be that you grew up with Hispanic neighbors and so you have excellent pronunciation, which means that in your case this won’t need to feature in your study plan; on the other hand, you may never have had experience in writing in Spanish, so spelling and knowledge of the different formats or genres of writing will clearly be part of your necessary study content).

Once you’ve determined the required knowledge and skills you still lack, you have to match it against your available time and the resources you will need. These four legs (knowledge you lack, skills you need to perfect, time available and resources required) inform your study plan. Integrating them will give you a practical program that should work for you.

Because the DELE is not a theoretical exam, but one of practical application of communicative skills, it is vital that your current knowledge and skills level be correctly determined by means of an expert diagnostic test at the very outset, and that have available the resources (identified for you by an expert tutor) that you will need to hone your skills.

Properly planned, expertly guided self-study (i.e., learning activity such as studying lexis, and exam-simulating practice, such as of writing) is clearly the key to success, and probably two-thirds of your available time should be dedicated to that.

However, it should be evident that there are aspects tested in these exams that you cannot easily prepare for on your own, just by yourself. First there’s the issue of getting a correct initial (and ongoing) diagnostic test done of your strengths and weaknesses, to help inform your study plan and to keep you on track. Secondly, practicing your written expression skills require interaction with someone qualified. You need expert feed-back and guidance. Most importantly, though, is the ORAL – you can stand in front of the mirror and converse with yourself (and even your Spanish-speaking pals will not be simulating exam situations and giving you expert feed-back). For these elements, but especially the vital oral practice, it is essential to have an experienced DELE exam tutor, 1-on-1, as your key resource, who can give you expert and personal attention. With modern technology such as Skype, you can now benefit from such personalized, expert 1-on-1 tuition in the comfort of your own home, at unbeatable rates.  (At DELEhelp, we charge only US$12 per hour, all inclusive).

Our DELEhelp Blog has a detailed post that specifically deals with how to develop a study plan – to go to it, simply click on this cover:

Click on image to go to blog post

4.  What’s the best general preparation for the DELE exam?

DELE exam FAQs the best prep is to expand your lexis

This is one of the most common DELE exam FAQs. There are two key things that you need to be doing, if you want to be at your best for the exam. The one is to expand your “linguistic scope” as it’s called in the DELE exam scoring criteria. This means expanding your knowledge of Spanish lexis (vocabulary and phrases / expressions). The more words and word chunks you know, the better you will be able to express yourself and the easier you will comprehend what you hear and read.

We have published a DELEhelp blogpost that deals specifically with the importance of vocabulary and how to best expand yours – simply click HERE.

The second is to do as many mock DELE exams as possible. One of the best resources for this, is the ModeloExamen DELE e-books written by our DELEhelp review board member, Prof. David Giménez Folqués of the Spanish department at the University of Valencia, Spain. David has been on the DELE panel since 2006. His books are conveniently downloadable (thus immediately available), and are also very affordable. To access them, click HERE.

5.  What should one be aware of, when registering for the exam?
DELE exam FAQs check out exam center availability

First thing to diarise, would be the exam dates and the deadline dates for registering. There are usually five exam sittings per year, In April, May, July, October and November.  The registrations usually close some five weeks before the relevant exam date. (The SIELE and the OPI can be booked for practically any day of the year, typically at a few days’ notice).

The second thing to check out, would be where your closest exam centers are located. Very important – check whether your particular level of the exam will be offered by the DELE center that you are interested in, on the date you wish to sit it: NOT ALL DELE CENTERS OFFER ALL LEVELS ON ALL DATES. (Once registered, you may NOT change exam centers).

When registering, you obviously need to have your personal photo identification documentation to hand.

The registration fees vary per country and for level of exam taken, but is by no means exorbitant (at exam centers in the USA it will usually range between US$105 for A1 to US$180 for C2).

6.  What should one look out for, in the days immediately leading up to the exam?

DELE xeam FAQs things to do week before

It is a very good idea to visit your exam center in the week ahead of the exam, if just to orientate yourself – especially if it is your first exam.

Speak with the administrators at the DELE exam center about the scheduling of your oral exam session.  Depending on the numbers involved, they may be offering these on the day before the written exam; if you can do the oral on a different day to the written it will help you, because the written exam is intellectually exhausting and doing the oral the same afternoon is no joke.

Ask whether the listening comprehension test will be taken in a communal hall with the audio coming over loudspeakers, or whether each candidate will have their own audio booth with headphones; if you are hearing challenged, you need to point this out in advance – especially if you are told that your particular level’s listening comprehension will be offered in a communal setting, playing over a public address system.

7.  What are the most unexpected practical complications one can encounter, on exam day?

DELE exam FAQs get your writing fingers fit

Some aspects of the DELE experience are not so self-evident and may thus not typically feature among DELE exam FAQs, but are equally important in practice. One of the biggest problems I encountered in preparing for my own  C2, was the painful reality that my fingers had lost the ability to write at length & exam-fast in long-hand. In this age of the keyboard, you have to start practicing well in advance to write long-hand again – to ensure that you can do so speedily yet legibly and, especially, to get your fingers fit again.

Another aspect of writing by hand is that you have to get used to how many words a typical page of your handwriting comes to – the written tasks require that you write a certain number of words for each, and if you have to sit and count each word you wrote in the exam room, you are going to be wasting valuable time.

Time is indeed of the essence in the exam. The time allowed per task is very tight – for example, there’s no way that you will be able to write out a full rough draft of your written expression tasks and then neatly re-write the whole thing. In the oral, it is also important to be able to time yourself so that you can present a coherent, structured argument with intro, body and conclusion in the allotted time. It is therefore essential to bring an old-style watch, since you won’t be allowed to use your smartphone.

8.  How is the DELE oral exam set up?

The oral expression tasks are the one part of the DELE exam that’s examined and scored right there at the exam center, by qualified examiners certified for this purpose (the written portions of the exam are sent to Spain for marking).  The oral scoring is done by two examiners. One acts as the interviewer, and does a holistic assessment. The second examiner sits out of line of sight of the candidate (usually behind) and does a detailed assessment with the aid of what is called the analytical scale.

The oral tasks for all levels starts with a monologue (i.e., a formal presentation), for which the candidate is given time to prepare.  Thereafter, the subsequent oral tasks become dialogues between the candidate and the interviewer, simulating real-world situations.

The oral exam paper explains very clearly what needs to be done, and gives the candidate a lot of guidance regarding what to expect and do – for that reason, it is very important to read the exam paper with utmost care, and ensure that you cover all the aspects required in your presentation.

In the case of the SIELE Oral (S4) and the OPIc (the Oral Proficiency Interview by Computer) the candidate does not speak to a live human interviewer, but to a computer avatar that you see on-screen, since these two exams are done on-line. The principles regarding assessment etc. do, however, remain essentially the same.

 

9.  What are the oral exam interviewers like?DELE exam FAQs oral isn't the Spanish Inquisition

The DELE oral exam is not a modern-day version of the Spanish inquisition. The interviewer is trained to be friendly and facilitating. He or she will at the outset try to put the candidate at ease with an icebreaker conversation (which doesn’t count towards your score). The oral tasks resemble everyday transactions, with the objective of seeing if you can effectively manage them (for example, simulating a conversation where the candidate supposedly is trying to return a defective item to a shop). The DELE orals do not resemble a college oral exam where you are typically asked academic questions with the objective to test your subject knowledge.  The DELE oral primarily tests your practical skill at communicating fluently, coherently and correctly in Spanish.

As in any communicative setting, it is very important to really engage with your interviewer – sit forward, keep eye contact, and remember to smile.

The SIELE/OPIc oral tests have the advantage of using standardized interaction that eliminates the sometimes problematic human factor (although it may at first sound weird to have to speak with a computer avatar, that voice is well modulated and speaks very clearly, and there is no human subjectivity that could skew things). Therefore, a majority of students find it psychologically easier to handle the SIELE/OPIc orals than the live interview of the DELE.

To view our blog post on acing the DELE oral exam, click on the image:

Click on image to go to blog post

10.  Can I make & use notes in the oral exam?

This is another one of the DELE exam FAQs that we commonly get asked. Yes, you may (and absolutely should) make bullet-point notes and prepare a scheme of presentation with a proper structure, so that you can COHERENTLY and FLUENTLY present your argument with a proper intro, a body of proof and a persuasive conclusion. You don’t need to hide these notes during the presentation – it’s fine to have it on the table, as long as you don’t lose eye contact (and thus engagement) with the interviewer by looking down at your notes too much.

What you may not do, is read your notes verbatim.

It’s also a good idea to jot down a list of pre-memorized link phrases (such as: entonces, por eso / por lo tanto / por consiguiente, todavía, mientras, aúnque etc.)  as part of your notes, so that you can be reminded to use them and can easily prompt yourself to do so.  This will help limit the “uhm – ahm” pauses that destroy fluency, as well as give you time to think.

11.  What comes out as most significant in DELE examiner comments on the oral and written expression sessions?

Reviewing examiners’ comments on candidates’ written and oral expression tasks, it is clear that their main concern is the extent to which the candidate communicated effectively.  Small grammatical errors, for example, that don’t interfere with the efficiency with which the candidate is conveying meaning, will not be penalized.  This approach is borne out by the fact that “correctness” (of grammar, spelling, pronunciation etc.) is just one of the four scoring criteria – the others being coherence, linguistic scope and spoken fluency/conformity to written genre. However, if pronunciation or grammar is so poor that meaning cannot be clearly ascertained, then of course the desired communicative outcome cannot be achieved and the candidate will be penalized.

For fluency and coherence, effective structuring of discourse is emphasized, as well as the use of link phrases between thoughts / sentences, to avoid staccato, disjointed presentation (the use of link phrases is mentioned particularly frequently in examiner comments, especially at the lower levels).

An ample linguistic scope (i.e., lexis) is also critically important – if you don’t know the right word or phrase, you won’t be fluent, nor correct or coherent, apart from obviously scoring poorly on the “linguistic scope” criteria as such.  Vocabulary is thus the one issue that impacts each of the four scoring criteria, which makes it a key area for your attention.

In real life as well, if you make a grammatical mistake, your reader or listener usually can compensate mentally for your error and still follow your meaning (such as with wrong gender agreement, for example). If, however, you don’t know the right word or cannot intelligibly pronounce it, your interlocutor cannot really mentally compensate. He or she will likely end up at a loss to understand you, and thus the conveyance of meaning will have collapsed – which in the DELE exam will of course be seriously penalized.

As regards “correctness”, it is therefore first and foremost a question of the correct word or phrase, correctly pronounced (or spelled). Repeated grammatical mistakes that show a lack of command of the basics will also negatively impact your score on this criterion; the most frequently mentioned such niggles are errors in agreement of gender and number, and incorrect use of ser / estar and of por / para.

12.  How long does it take to receive the exam results? The actual diploma?

The DELE marking process takes about three months on average.  The results are published on the Instituto Cervantes website, for which you need to fill in your exam registration number and birth date in order to access yours (so remember to keep your registration number).  The actual diploma takes a couple of months more to reach the successful candidates, since it needs to be signed by some important officials. This is what the actual diploma looks like:

DELE C2 diploma example

This is what the DELE Diploma looks like.

The beauty of the SIELE and the OPI is that their results typically are available within 72 hours, with an immediately-downloadable certificate.

The DELE diploma is valid for life, the SIELE for five years and the OPI certificate for two years.

13.  Do the DELE exam administrators sometimes make mistakes with the marks or with the diplomas?

The examiners and administrators are human, so mistakes do sometimes occur. The DELE system makes provision for a formal review process. This usually applies to candidates feeling hard done by in the scoring of the expression tasks (where human examiners award marks).  Mistakes can, however, also occur in relation to the comprehension tasks – not that the computer had made a mistake in scoring these multiple choice papers, but that the human who must transfer the computer’s score to the candidate’s overall results sheet slipped up. At DELEhelp we actually had such an experience recently. One of our brightest students passed the expression tasks with flying colors, but then inexplicably “failed” the comprehension tasks quite miserably – supposedly obtaining the exact same point for both the listening and the reading comprehension. When we helped the candidate to formally query this, it transpired that the actual marks had been wrongly transferred; this was immediately rectified and our 100% success record with our candidates at DELEhelp was thus duly restored.

I also know first-hand that whole sets of diplomas can get “lost” through being inadvertently sent to the wrong exam center – those for Antigua Guatemala, for example, not so long ago ended up somewhere in Brazil, and took months to find their way to where they needed to go.

In other words, if you feel that something may have gone wrong with your exam results, don’t hesitate to query it (through the right channels, of course).

CONCLUSION: So, there you have some battle-tested answers to DELE exam FAQs we commonly receive.  We would like to keep this blog post updated and also expand this list of DELE / SIELE & OPI exam FAQs, so please send us your questions so that we can answer and include them.

click on image to ask for free workbook

Good luck with your exam preparation, and remember to ask for our free 96-page Workbook #9.2: “DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips”.  This one-of-a-kind free DELE / SIELE exam preparation book covers all aspects relating to the goals, format and curriculum of the DELE / SIELE system, plus battle-tested tips for preparing yourself to ace the DELE /  SIELE exam. Just click on the image above, to ask for it. (If you want our OPI exam prep Workbook #8, we’ll gladly send you that free, too).

You are also entitled to a free one-hour Skype exploratory session with us, with absolutely no obligation.

Salu2

Willem

Click on IMAGE to go to our secure website




Spanish History is part of the DELE Exam Curriculum

Spanish history is part of the DELE exam curriculum

The DELE exam’s curriculum doesn’t consist only of grammar – Spanish  history is part of the DELE exam curriculum. It is required that students should have a basic knowledge of the history of the Spanish language, and of Spain and the Hispanic world. Just as with grammar, candidates will not be tested directly on such knowledge in the exam.  The DELE exam, after all, is concerned with your ability to apply knowledge, rather than simply possessing theoretical knowledge. The exam tests practical, real-world ability to communicate, in writing and speech. But communication is not only about expressing yourself. It is also about comprehending. Just as you need to know vocabulary in order to  understand, you also need to know cultural context, if you really want to catch all the nuances.  That is where knowledge of Hispanic history, social norms, and traditions, as well as of their culture in general comes in – and that is why these topics are included in the curriculum of the examen DELE.

In this blogpost I will give you a brief overview of how Spain came to adopt a dialect from its far north, called castellano (Castilian), as its national language. There are other regional languages spoken in other parts of Spain, such as Galician, Basque, and Catalan. The Spanish constitution stipulates that these languages have concurrent official status, together with Castilian, in their respective autonomous regions.  Native speakers of these regional tongues prefer the term castellano for what non-Spaniards commonly call Spanish, since they consider their own languages to be equally “Spanish”. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 uses the term castellano to define the official language of the whole Spanish State, and calls the regional languages las demás lenguas españolas (lit. the rest of the Spanish languages).

The Spanish Royal Academy, by contrast, uses the term español. Its official dictionary states that, although the Academy prefers to use español when referring to the national language in its publications, the terms español and castellano are regarded as synonymous and equally valid.

The Spanish Royal Academy Dictionary attributes the origin of the name español to the word espaignol, and that in turn comes from the Medieval Latin word Hispaniolus, meaning ‘from—or pertaining to—Hispania’. Other authorities attribute it to a supposed medieval Latin *hispaniōne, with the same meaning. It is said (but not proven) that “hispania” derives from the Phoenician word that means “land of rabbits” (which is the reason behind the banner image of this post).

In the following sections you will see why it is that Spanish history is part of the DELE exam curriculum, even if you are not going to be directly tested on it:  having knowledge of the cultural background, will help you with comprehending the situational meaning of words and expressions in their societal context.

Indo-European Pre-History and the Dynamics of Language Evolution

At its root, modern Spanish derives from a common language spoken around 5,000 – 3700 before the Common Era over much of what is today Europe and the Indus Valley in India. This Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) is the common ancestor of the most important modern Indo-European languages (although in Europe and on the Iberian Peninsula other languages not related to PIE do exist, such as Basque). It is believed that PIE may have originally been spoken as a single language (before divergence began) by people living between the Vistula River in Poland and the Caucuses mountains to the East. More precisely, it may have been centered in the Anatolian region of present-day Turkey.  The languages derived from PIE show clear inter-relationship in the roots of verbs and in their grammar. These languages include the old Indian language Sanskrit and classical Greek and Latin. The Indo-European language family today consists of seven main branches:

  • Germanic (German, English, Dutch, Afrikaans, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish) have some 440 million mother-tongue speakers;
  • Indic ( Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Romany – 378M);
  • Slavic (Russian, Czech, Slovak, Slovene, Serbo-Croat, Polish, Bulgarian – 250M);
  • Iranian (Farsi, Kurdish – 73M);
  • Celtic (Welsh, Irish, Breton – (12M);
  • Hellenic (Greek –  10M); and
  • Romance (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Galician, French, Romanian and Swiss-Romansch, which together is the most numerous branch at some 670M native speakers).

PIE MapAlmost counter-intuitively, PIE was not a structurally simple, “primitive” language at all, but in fact a hugely complex one – much more so than modern languages such as Spanish, which have undergone significant simplification over the millennia. For example, PIE used three numbers (singular, dual and plural – as opposed to two in Spanish, singular and plural). PIE also used more moods (“mood” relates to the “state of mind” of the speaker; the mood  determines which set of verb terminations to employ when conjugating verbs, such as the imperative mood for giving commands). In modern Spanish everything related to actions that are uncertain, irreal, or that reflect wishes, fears, desires etc., are subsumed into one mood, the subjunctive. PIE, on the other hand, used the subjunctive only for the irrealis, and another mood (with its own conjugations), the optative, for wishes, desires, fears etc. PIE thus had a complex system of morphology. Nouns used a sophisticated system of declension and verbs used a similarly sophisticated system of conjugation.

Guy Deutscher, in “The Unfolding of Language: an evolutionary tour of mankind’s greatest invention” describes how all languages are in “perpetual motion”. We, the people, continuously adapt them. The more people there are speaking a language, especially in a diverse, fast-moving, geographically-spread social environment, the more change there will be. This is because we “cook up” languages, and the more cooks we have, the more variations to the recipe (if your family has no outside contact, you will make and eat tamales like your grandma made them, and so will your great-grandchildren). Therefore, the more primitive, slow to evolve, small in number and limited in space a society of language users is, the more complex and regular (i.e., unchanged over time) the language structure is likely to be – as is well demonstrated by PIE.

All languages continuously suffer the ravages of forces seemingly of destruction, but which at the same time serve also as forces of creation.  The more we live in accelerated time, using a language that is open to impacts from a wide circle, the more marked the evolution of the language will be. An example is the lot that befell the Classical Latin of the Roman elites, from the start of empire in 29BCE, when “Vulgar” Latin – which had always existed side-by-side with Classical Latin – increasingly replaced it to become the official form (“vulgar” here means “common” or of “the people”, this being the language spoken by the general populace and in the colonies).  Classical Latin eventually retained only its written status, mostly in the Roman-Catholic Church. That function, as language of written record, was eventually superseded by the modern regional evolutions of Vulgar Latin, what we call today the Romance languages. Examples of these regional evolutions of Vulgar Latin are French and Spanish, which started appearing in print in the 9th century.

Such evolution is universal, as can be seen also in English (another eventual imperial language with a wide foot-print). A good example is the different versions of the English Bible over time:

1000CE – me ofthingth sothlice thæt ic hi worthe

1400CE – forsothe it othenkith me to haue maad hem

1600CE – for it repenteth me that I haue made them

2000CE – because I regret having made them

A thousand years ago English still had a complex case and gender system, while now it has practically none:

Singular                                                                                  Plural

thæt wæter (the water)                                               tha wæter-u (the waters)

tham wæter-e (to the water)                                     tham wæter-um (to the waters)

thæs wæter-es (of the water)                                    thara wæter-a (of the waters)

An example of remnant impact of gender is the plural of “ox” namely “oxen” – not “oxes” on the pattern of “boxes” – because ox was of the feminine gender and feminine nouns originally ended in the plural on “-en” and not on “-es”.

In fact, English has some 200 irregular verbs, and many more if we add the prefixed forms. The 12 most frequently used verbs in English are all irregular. Irregular verbs – whether in English or Spanish – are not indicative of a language that has stagnated, but of quite the opposite:  they speak of dynamic evolution of the broader language.

Inevitably, in most living languages grammatical structure does change, vocabulary adapts, pronunciation comes to sound very different over time, but more often than not spelling seems to lag behind (because, unlike the free-wheeling spoken language, spelling has for some time now been governed by conventions dictated by committees and enforced in schools). As Deutscher observes: “…one could easily fall under the impression that for some reason changes in (English) pronunciation came to an abrupt halt after 1611. But this is just an illusion… And it is precisely for this reason that English spelling is so infamously irrational…  it is unfair to say that English spelling is not an accurate rendering of speech. It is – it’s only that it renders the speech of the sixteenth century.”

With Spanish also being an imperial language spoken in far-flung parts, the process of simplification and transformation is already in evidence in Latin America, where the “vosotros” form has been discarded and where the future tense is now exclusively constructed idiomatically with “ir+ the infinitive, instead of using the regular Spanish conjugated future tense.

Humans make language, and linguists now know that humans are inherently lazy and quirky – always prone to taking short-cuts, seeking pronunciations that are easier on the tongue, cultivating dramatic effect by using established words in counter-intuitive manner (like “cool”) yet also prone to following fashion and thereby giving impetus and acceptance to such fads. By these means humans are constantly destroying the old and creating afresh. Far from being abhorrent, this is essential to the vitality and continued serviceability of languages. Humans are also prone to ordaining and structuring, to migrating and colonizing – the effect of which, on language, is well demonstrated by the linguistic history of the Iberian Peninsula.

It is only half-jokingly said that the difference between a dialect and a language, is that the latter had an army and a navy behind it.

Click on IMAGE to go to our secure website

Romance / Latin / Italic roots of Modern Spanish

The modern Romance languages (such as Italian, Castilian, Catalan, French and Romanian) form a subfamily of the Indo-European language family. The Romance languages all derive from Vulgar Latin, which co-existed with classical Latin in the Roman Empire. Latin was an Italic language (i.e., Italic referring to the now extinct languages stemming from PIE that were spoken in the Italian peninsula, such as the Latin variants, plus Umbrian, Oscan and Faliscan). Vulgar Latin’s latter-day daughter languages, the Romance languages which took root in the old Roman Empire, are the only survivors of the original Italic languages.

Vulgar Latin (in Latin, sermo vulgaris or sermo pleibus; in English literally “common speech”) was the spoken language of the working class, traders and soldiers who colonized the empire for Rome. Classical Latin was the schooled, written language of the ruling Roman elite. The two forms co-existed side-by-side during the Roman heyday.  As Ralph Penny points out in “A History of the Spanish Language” this is illustrated by words such as those for horse, which in Classical Latin was “equus” (thus equestrian sports) but in modern Spanish is caballo, in French is cheval, in Italian cavallo, and in Portuguese cavalo – from the generic term for horse in Vulgar Latin, caballus, which in Classical Latin would strictly mean a “nag” or “work-horse”.

Linguistic History of Iberia before the domination of Spanish (Castilian)

The modern Spanish language’s Vulgar Latin seeds were brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the common Roman soldiers and colonists at the beginning of the Second Punic War between Rome and Cathage in 209 BCE.  Prior to that time, several pre-Roman languages (also called Paleohispanic languages), which were unrelated to Latin were spoken in the Iberian Peninsula. These languages included Basque (still spoken today, and unrelated to Indo-European), Iberian, and Celtiberian.

The early Iberians left few traces of their language in modern Spanish: Some of these words are: arroyo (small stream), barro (mud), cachorro (puppy), charco (puddle), gordo (fat), García (family name), perro (dog), manteca (lard), sapo (toad), tamo (chaff).

Toward the end of the sixth century before the Common Era (BCE), a nomadic tribe from central Europe known as the Celts moved into the area and mixed with the peninsula’s then inhabitants, the Iberians. The result was a new people called the Celtiberians, and they spoke a form of the Celtic language.  Most of the Celtic words remaining today in Spanish have to do with material things, and with hunting or war. For example: carro (cart), cama (bed), braga (panties, from the typical breeches the Celts wore), camino (road), camisa (shirt), cerveza (beer), flecha (arrow), lanza (lance).

Most of the words of Greek origin found in modern-day Spanish do not come from the pre-Roman period of small-scale Greek colonization along the Spanish Mediterranean coast. They were actually introduced into the Vulgar Latin language later by the Romans adopting from Greek, or were adopted from Greek even later by the Spanish themselves during the post-Middle Ages, to fill the need for scientific terminology. Most of these words refer to education, science, art, culture and religion, like matemática (mathematics), telegrafía (telegraphy), botánica (botany), física (physics), gramática (grammar), poema (poem), drama (drama), Obispo (bishop), bautizar (baptize), and angel (angel).

The Phoenicians – a Semitic, seafaring nation originally from the coast of present-day Lebanon and Syria – founded the city of Carthage on the North African coast (in present-day Tunisia) around a thousand years before the Common Era. By 500BCE, Carthage had evolved into a Mediterranean superpower. During the sixth century BCE the Carthaginians responded to a Tartessian (Iberian tribe) attack on the Phoenician city of Gadir. During this campaign the Carthaginians invaded the Iberian Peninsula and subjugated the Tartessians. The Carthaginians then went on to establish port cities in Iberia, such as Carthago Nova. Meanwhile, Rome had started to emerge as a substantial power in Italy, although its military might had been essentially land-based, as opposed to the maritime strength of Carthage. Inevitably the two powers began to clash, in what became known in the Roman world as the Punic wars.

The first war started in 264BCE, when the Carthaginians engaged an ever-expanding Rome in order to retain Carthaginian control over the island of Sicily. Carthage lost, but wasn’t eliminated as rival power. In 218BCE, the Carthaginians provoked the second Punic war, trying to recover territories that they had lost to the Romans during the first war. As part of this second war the famous Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca invaded Italy, via Spain, crossing the Alps with his elephants and Spanish mercenaries. His brother Amilcar Barca remained in Spain (the city of Barcelona derives its name from its Barca founder).

snappa_1466796034Desperate to force the marauding Hannibal to quit Italy, the brilliant young Roman general Scipio Africanus decided as counter-strategy to cut Hannibal’s supply lines by invading Iberia.  He first attacked New Carthage, which he rapidly conquered. Under Scipio’s inspired leadership the Roman Empire systematically took control of the peninsula, and then invaded North Africa itself (landing in modern-day Libya) at last forcing Hannibal to leave Italy in order to defend his homeland. Scipio went on to decisively defeat Hannibal in 202BCE at Zama in North Africa. This assured Roman hegemony in the Mediterranean and consequently in Iberia – where the Romans forthwith imposed their language. Vulgar Latin became the dominant spoken language of the peninsula, and from it, modern Spanish evolved – but not without some considerable twists and turns, as will be shown below.

It is also very noteworthy that Latinisms in Spanish don’t derive only from the early Roman root stage in its history. After the founding of written Spanish in the 9th century, the modern language very often, throughout the centuries, found itself in need of words to depict the non-material aspects of life. For these it then borrowed abundantly from Latinisms (exactly as did most other modern European languages at the time).  It is said that some 20% to 30% of modern Spanish vocabulary stem from such later borrowing.

The Visigoths invaded Hispania during the fourth century of the Common Era. They were a Germanic tribe originally from eastern Europe, but which had earlier entered Rome, where they had lived under Roman rule. Around the year 415CE they entered Gaul and Hispania and expelled the other eastern European barbarian tribes (such as the Vandals) that had settled in the area. Initially the Visigoths were Roman foederati (i.e., a treaty tribe), but they soon broke with the Roman Empire and, after being expelled from Gaul by the Francs, they established their dominion through most of the Iberian Peninsula, with their capital at Toledo. They did not have any great cultural impact, though, firstly because they were small in number (some 200,000 vs. several million Ibero-Romans), and secondly because their Gothic culture was significantly different and seen as barbaric and repulsive. Another contributing factor was that, by the time they entered Hispania, the Visigoths had themselves become in many ways Romanized. It was the Visigoth king Reccared 1st who converted the Hispanic monarchy to Roman Catholicism from around 589 CE, cementing the position of Latin due to the church’s inextricable links to that language.

The Goths themselves thus left no lasting linguistic imprint on Spanish. It is interesting, though, that – during the Latin-American wars of independence against Spain – it was common for te Hispano-Americans to refer derogatorily to peninsular Spaniards as Godos (thus illustrating the negative way the Goths were likely perceived through the ages).  Indirectly, the fact that the Visigoths had established their capital at Toledo on the central meseta (which endowed that city with a lasting status) in later years benefited the rise to prominence of the Castilian language, when Castile gained prestige among the ranks of Northern Iberian principalities by reconquering Toledo from the Moors.

At different times during its evolution, Iberian Vulgar Latin and later Spanish, also borrowed words from Germanic languages, such as yelmo (helmet), tregua (truce), robar (to steal/rob), jardín (garden), guiar (to guide), ganso (goose), banco (bench), banda (group – of soldiers etc.).

When we take into account that both English and Spanish borrowed from Greek and Latin, and that both English and Spanish share an Indo-European origin, it is no surprise that the two languages actually have near 40% of their vocabulary in common. Pronunciation of these cognate words does vary, as does spelling, particularly the word terminations used. But these terminations actually follow very clear patterns of conversion between the two languages. When you know these fixed patterns for transforming the cognate words from one language into the other, it actually becomes easy to anticipate how such familiar English cognate words will appear in Spanish, and vice versa – and you will have a sizeable instant vocabulary.

Iberia under the Moors

Iberia under the Moors

Arabic-speaking Moors from North Africa conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula from around 718CE. During this Islamic occupation, many of the country’s residents learned Arabic and eventually spoke it exclusively, but Vulgar Latin survived in certain northern kingdoms (such as Asturias) still governed by Christians, as well as among the Mozarabes (the Christians remaining in al-Andalus under Moorish governance, but who were allowed under Islamic law to retain their Catholic religion, due to also being “children of the book”). The Roman-Catholic church exclusively used Latin as language, and was also the font and protector of the written word in the education of the small Christian elites and in church liturgy and correspondence.

The Muslim conquest was at its height under the caliphate of Córdoba, which had united the Muslim lands in Iberia under central reign and elevated the city of Córdoba to Europe’s foremost seat of enlightenment, tolerance and learning. However, the Umayyad royal lineage was usurped by the regent Al-Mansur after the death of al-Hakam II in 976CE. Lacking own royal credentials, Al-Mansur harkened to populists and fundamentalist Muslims to strengthen his power base, and although he attained fame as a successful military commander, Al-Mansur’s campaigns (especially the burning of the iconic cathedral of Santiago Apostol) incentivized the Christian domains of the North of Iberia to fight back, united and ever more vigorously, under what was to become the enduring Spanish war cry of “for Santiago”.

snappa_1466796270After Al-Mansur’s death the central reign of Córdoba over Al-Andalus fell apart, with the Muslim lands splintering into taifas or small separate kingdoms. Coupled with the rise of Muslim intolerance and repression of the indigenous Christians, the table was set for the warrior clans from the north to exact their revenge and re-conquer the whole of the Iberian Peninsula, which they systematically did over the following centuries, culminating in the fall of Granada on the 2nd of January in the eventful year of 1492.

Many Arabic words have, however, entered into Spanish. Today, modern Spanish has approximately 4,000 words with Arabic roots. Most of these words are related to war, agriculture, science and the home, like tambor (drum), alférez (ensign), acicates (spur), acequia (canal, drain), aljibe (cistern, reservoir), alcachofa (artichoke), alfalfa (alfalfa), algodón (cotton), alcoba (bedroom), azotea (flat roof), algoritmo (algorithm), alquimia (alchemy), alcohol (alcohol). The influence of Arabic on Spanish was only on the lexicon (i.e., vocabulary); Spanish did not incorporate any Arabic phonemes into its phonological system. An interesting aspect of the Arabisms in Spanish (which are mostly nouns), is their tendency to start with “al”. This is due to confusion caused among the Vulgar Latins by the very different nature of the Semitic and Latin languages when it comes to the definite article (i.e, “the”). In Arabic the definite article al is invariable in respect of gender and number (thus, always al) whereas in Spanish it is very much variable (el, la, los, las – depending on gender and number). This caused the Iberians to adopt the Arabic noun together with its (fixed) definite article: in Arabic  alfalfal therefore means “the falfal” (the lucerne field), whereas the Spanish “el alfalfal” would literally mean “the the falfal (lucerne) field”.

The rise of Castile and Castilian

The leading force among the Christian principalities of extreme northern Spain in what today is called the Reconquista was Asturias, the north-western redoubt beyond the Cantabrian mountains, whose leaders became known as the kings of Leon (today, the crown prince of Spain still bears the formal title of Prince of Asturias). In this rugged, far-off part of Spain, Romanization had been less intense, and it had also most successfully resisted Visigoth hegemony.  As stated diplomatically by David Pharies: “The inhabitants of this region probably learn a somewhat simplified Latin … The Romance vernacular that arises from this Latin then evolves without the benefit of a strong learned tradition.” This is echoed by Penny: “…Spanish has its geographical roots in … an area remote from the centres of economic activity and cultural prestige in Roman Spain, which was latinized fairly late, and where the Latin spoken must consequently have been particularly remote from the prestige norm (that is, particularly ‘incorrect’)…”

In the tenth century, for the first time, there is reference to the region of the upper Ebro Valley as “Castilla”, the land of the many castles, referring to the numerous fortresses that had been constructed in those parts to safeguard Leon against Muslim attacks. Castile became an independent county in 981CE, and was recognized as a separate Christian kingdom in 1004CE.  Castile truly came to the fore through its conquest in 1085CE of Toledo, the old Visigoth capital of Spain, followed by its part (together with Aragon and Navarre) in the pivotal battle of Navas de Tolosa in 1212CE, which effectively broke Muslim military might in Iberia.

snappa_1466811678As the Moors were driven south, Vulgar Latin once again became the dominant language of Iberia, especially its variant the Castilian dialect. In 1230 Castile absorbed Leon and in 1236 its forces took Córdoba, the erstwhile capital of the Moslem Caliphate – another prestige-enhancing feat. By the middle of the 13th century, after the region of Murcia was re-conquered by the then king of Castile and León, King Alfonso X (who was called “El Sabio” – the wise or learned king), the Castilian language had gained pre-eminence among the Vulgar Latin dialects in Iberia. With large parts of Spain now under his rule, Alfonso X began moving the country toward adopting a standardized language based on the Castilian dialect. He and his court of scholars adopted the city of Toledo, the old cultural center in the central highlands, as the base of their activities. There, scholars wrote original works in Castilian and translated histories, chronicles, and scientific, legal, and literary works from other languages (principally Latin, Greek, and Arabic). Indeed, this historic effort of translation was a major vehicle for the dissemination of knowledge throughout ancient Western Europe. Alfonso X decreed that Castilian be used in his realm for all official documents and other administrative work.

In 1469 another important event in Spanish history took place. Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married, and united the two main kingdoms of the Peninsula under one monarchy. They also decreed Castilian to be the official language of the realm. This set in motion the creation of the Kingdom of Spain, and the beginning of the modern era in the region.

Columubus brings Castilian to the Americas - 1492

Columbus brings Castilian to the Americas – 1492

In 1492 Columbus took the flag of Castile to the Americas, and thus was born the far-flung Spanish empire. It should be noted, however, that Castilian was most influential in shaping the Spanish spoken in the Americas near its seats of administrative power. In these regional capitals (located mostly in highland areas, such as Mexico City, Antigua Guatemala, Bogota) the dominant influence was from court officials, clergy and academics sent there – they were educated, from Madrid and the north of Spain, and were steeped in Castilian.

When looking more broadly at the type of Spanish spoken in the Americas, it is evident that the dialect typically spoken in Spain’s south-western port city of Seville (then Spain’s largest and wealthiest city, with a monopoly on trade with the Americas) and in the Canary Islands (closely related to the western Andalusian Spanish of the region around Seville, and influential as way-station towards the Americas) significantly shaped the Spanish of the lowlands and the parts of America further removed from the seats of the Castilian-speaking bureaucracy.

Most of the common settlers and soldiers, and especially the women who colonized the Americas were from the poor, less educated regions of the south-west (Andalusia and the Canary Islands)  and their speech quite naturally influenced the areas where they settled, which were often remote from the seats of learning comfortably ensconced on the cooler highlands.  This has given rise to the distinct modern-day speech divergence between Spanish as spoken in the American lowlands and in the highlands – with the lowland variant being more informal, rapid-fire and for example tending not to pronounce the “s”. A common heritage from Canarian / western Andalusian Spanish across all of the Americas, is the fact that ustedes is used without contrast between second-person-plural formal and informal – in clear distinction to the Castilian norm of differentiating.

Another typical speech characteristic distinguishing the Spanish of the Americas from that of Iberia, is the use in the Americas of the “idiomatic” (compounded) future tense construct of ir + verb infinitive, instead of the simple future tense and its conjugations.

 

The Codification of Spanish Grammar

The Gramática de la Lengua Castellana, by Elio Antonio de Nebrija (written in Salamanca in 1492 – the year of the fall of Granada and the discovery of the Americas by Columbus), has the distinction of having been the first grammar handbook ever written for a modern European language. (Similarly, Don Quijote by Miguel de Cervantes was the first ever novel written in a modern European language). According to a popular anecdote, when Nebrija presented his handbook to Queen Isabella I, she asked him what was the use of such a work. He answered that language is the instrument of empire – as he also wrote in his introduction to the grammar, dated August 18, 1492 “… language was always the companion of empire.”

snappa_1466795761

Very importantly, Nebrija’s first dictum in his handbook was that Spaniards should write (i.e., spell & apply grammar) as they speak, and speak as they write.  Thanks in no small measure to this early stance, Spanish is today fortunate to have easy-to-learn spelling that largely follows the pronunciation of words.

The Real Academia Española (English: Royal Spanish Academy), generally abbreviated as RAE, was founded in 1713.  It is the official royal institution responsible for overseeing the Spanish language. The RAE is based in Madrid, Spain, but is affiliated with national language academies in twenty-one other hispanophone nations through the Association of Spanish Language Academies. The RAE’s motto is “Limpia, fija y da esplendor” (“[it] cleans, sets, and gives splendor”). The RAE dedicates itself to promoting linguistic unity within and between the various Hispanic territories of the world, to ensure a common standard in accordance with Article 1 of its founding charter: “… to ensure the changes that the Spanish language undergoes … do not break the essential unity it enjoys throughout the Spanish-speaking world.”

Quite naturally there are variations in the spoken Spanish of the various regions of Spain, as well as variations throughout the Spanish-speaking areas of the Americas. In Spain, northern dialects are popularly thought of as being closer to the desired standard, although positive attitudes toward southern dialects have increased significantly in the last 50 years. Even so, the speech of Madrid is the standard variety for use on radio and television, and is the variety that has most influenced the written standard for Spanish. There is, however, no notion that any variation originating from, for example, the Americas, is “wrong”. (Consequently, the DELE / SIEL / OPIc exam tests comprehension of all kinds of Spanish accents, and there is NO SINGLE PREFERRED or more “CORRECT” FORM OF SPANISH FOR EXPRESSING YOURSELF IN THESE  TESTS – i.e., you do not have to try and speak / sound like a Madrileño!).

I hope that you have seen now the reasoning behind why Spanish history is part of the DELE exam curriculum. For a better idea of how the rest of the DELE exam curriculum is composed, ask for our FREE in-house Workbook #9 “DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips“. It is an e-book of some 96 pages, which I would be happy to send you free, as a sample of our study material. Just send me your e-mail address with our convenient contact information form by clicking on the image below (this entails no obligation to register for coaching with us).

Good luck with your exam preparation!

Salu2

Willem

click on image to ask for free workbook




HOW THE DELE EXAM ORAL IS SCORED

How the DELE exam oral is scored

Explaining how the DELE exam oral is scored

Do you know how the DELE exam oral is 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? If you don’t know what the examiners are looking for, how can you effectively prepare?

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 how the DELE exam oral is scored at each particular level 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, as regards to how the DELE exam oral is scored.

KNOWING THE FORMAT HELPS YOU UNDERSTAND HOW THE DELE EXAM ORAL IS SCORED

How the DELE exam oral is scored

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.

As to how the DELE exam oral is scored by these examiners, both use the same assessment criteria.  However, the holistic assessment carries 40% weight, and the analytical assessment 60%. (The interviewer doing the holistic 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 FOUR ASSESSMENT CRITERIA EXPLAIN HOW THE DELE EXAM ORAL IS SCORED 

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 (accuracy of pronunciation & grammar)

How the DELE exam oral is scored

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 for understanding how the DELE exam oral is scored, 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.

HOW THE DELE EXAM ORAL IS SCORED: 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

To really understand how the DELE exam oral is scored in practice, the comments of examiners are very illuminating – here are their observations explaining their reasoning  for scoring (passing and failing) the above two audio clips in the way they did.

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»).

HOW THE DELE EXAM ORAL IS SCORED: REAL AUDIO OF LEVEL B1 “FAIL”

How the DELE exam oral is scored

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»).

Click on IMAGE to go to our secure website

So, where are you in your preparation for the DELE exam oral, compared to the examples above? (70% of candidates who failed their DELE, did so because of having failed 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 this DELEhelp blog post:

How the DELE exam oral is scored

Click on the IMAGE to have this blog post open in a new window

I hope that my explanation has helped you understand how the DELE exam oral is scored. For more explanation about how the exam as a whole functions, simply ask for our FREE 96-page in-house DELEhelp workbook, (WB #9.2: DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips) which you can download as an e-book. To ask for it, just 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 system and assessment criteria, plus our top tips for acing it – all in English, entirely free and without obligation to sign up for tuition.

Good luck with your exam preparation!

Willem

click on image to ask for free workbook




The best DELE exam prep is expanding your lexis

The best DELE exam prep is expanding your lexisThe best DELE exam prep is expanding your lexis of words & expressions

If you wake me up at 4am with a gun to my head and ask what you should prioritize in your Spanish exam preparation, then I will unhesitatingly tell you that the best DELE exam prep is expanding your lexis. This applies also to preparing for the DELE’s new online twin, the SIELE, and to it’s American equivalent, the OPI.

Lexis is the catch-all modern term for knowledge of individual words (vocabulary), fixed “word chunks” (collocations), link phrases and idiomatic expressions.  Think of lexis 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 can’t function. Words and expressions are the bullets of the world of communication, so that expanding your lexis is the best DELE exam prep – no ifs, no buts.

Exams like the DELE / SIELE & OPI are above all tests of practical ability to communicate. Therefore, even if you know all the rules of grammar but lack sufficient lexis, you will very likely be stuck when it comes to the comprehension tasks, as well as when you have to express yourself in Spanish. To test the truth of this for yourself, just recall your own experiences with foreigners trying to speak to you in your own tongue. If they know the right words and expressions and are thus able to describe what thing or action they are referring to (even if in somewhat jumbled word order), and can pronounce reasonably understandably,  then your brain is perfectly capable of compensating for grammatical errors and arriving at a correct understanding.

However, if the foreigner doesn’t know the words or phrases needed for describing, or pronounces them so badly that you cannot identify them, 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. Which is exactly why the best DELE exam prep is expanding your lexis.

Sufficiently ample lexis therefore plays a key role in all four real-world communication skills, which form the four components of the DELE /SIELE and OPI.  Accordingly, the time you spend on expanding your lexis 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 assessment criteria, we will, for convenience and brevity, from here on refer to them collectively by the DELE’s name only).

click on image to ask for free workbook

How best to acquire an extensive lexis

Expanding your lexis requires four sequential learning activities:

  •  The first is to expose yourself maximally to new words and expressions 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 or expression, 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.

The best DELE exam prep is expanding your lexis

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.

USE FLASHCARDS:

The best DELE exam prep is expanding your lexis

The proven best 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).

You can download software such as Anki or Quizlet or  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).

The best DELE exam prep is expanding your lexis

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 lexis expansion, the next key question is: which words should you 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 first with the most frequently used Spanish words.  The reason for this lies not only in the logic of learning these high-frequency words for the sake of their own meaning; it is a reality that most “difficult” words have situational meaning, and these common, high-frequency words typically provide the surrounding (con)text of less frequent, less well-known words. Knowing the high-frequency ones first, will help you to understand broad situations and thus to surmise from their contextual setting, the meaning of unfamiliar words.

Because the best DELE exam prep is expanding your lexis, we’ve developed two in-house Workbooks to help you achieve this

Our in-house DELEhelp Workbooks on lexis – #4 (vocabulary) & #5 (expressions, collocations and link phrases)

Here at DELEhelp we have prepared a Vocabulary Workbook (free to our registered 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-world utility.

This Workbook shows you how to set up digital flashcard systems such as Cram.com. It also focuses on the some 38% of high-frequency 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.  An example of such a rule is that cognate words that in English end on “-ce” (police, ambulance) will in Spanish end on “-cia” (policia, ambulancia).

The best DELE exam prep is expanding your lexis

Check out our DELEhelp Facebook page for regular bite-size tips like this

Our Workbook #5 completes the set about lexis and will help you with Spanish link phrases, collocations as well as idioms and expressions. The correct and natural use of such expressions and phrases are important to the ability to idiomatically, coherently  and fluently communicate in Spanish.  Be sure to pay special attention to the first chapter of our WB#5, which deals with link phrases / cohesive devices – just a quick glance at examiners’ comments will show you how intensely they are on the look-out for the correct and sufficient use of these, because of their vital role in ensuring the logical coherence of your arguments and the cohesive flow of your discourse.

Lastly, note also that that language is composed of much more than just individual words and idiomatic expressions. We now understand that there are about three times more collocations (fixed “word chunks” or word pairs) in most languages than the number of individual words in their vocabulary. Examples of these word pairs in English are “good morning”  (which we say whether it’s rain or shine) or saying that someone’s got “blond hair” (not yellow) and that we “make friends” (not get them); these habitual pairings reflect natural native-speaker language (if you say something like “yellow hair”, for example, you will be understood, but you will not sound natural).

The best DELE exam prep is expanding your lexis

To re-cap: lexis is really, truly important to your success in all the components of the examen DELE. The best DELE exam prep is expanding your lexis. To do this, you should immerse yourself as much as possible in spoken and written Spanish, by reading and listening or watching TV at every opportunity. Note new words, phrases, collocations and expressions, 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 set. There’s unfortunately no alternative but then to put in the hard effort of memorizing them, by practicing with your flashcards and testing yourself with flashcard games – which can be quite stimulating with the digital flashcard games, as opposed to the mind-numbing exercise of memorizing printed lists.  Motivate yourself with the certainty that far and away the best DELE exam prep is expanding your lexis.

Here’s an Infographic of how to go about it, 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)

Click on IMAGE to go to our secure website




Links to best Spanish exam prep resources

Links to best Spanish exam prep resources

LINKS to best Spanish exam prep RESOURCES

This blog post brings together links to the best Spanish exam prep resources, to help you prepare for the DELE, SIELE or OPIc. We have selected for you, the top free online sites for practicing with relevant exercises graded per level, for doing model exams and for expanding your lexis with digital flashcards, based on appropriate reading, viewing and listening.

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 / SIELE / OPIc 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, candidates for exams of Spanish have instant access to some truly excellent online resources, of which practically all are available gratis.

We have assembled a list of links to the best Spanish exam prep resources – websites that we use every day at DELEhelp.org with our own students. Even though we have written an ample set of in-house workbooks (which we make available free to our students) the reality is that preparing for the DELE exam is 1/3  tutoring and 2/3 self-study. For the latter, the resources we list here are as empowering as they are easy to access.  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.

Links to the best Spanish exam prep resources

Our recommended e-book of model exams

FIRST AND FOREMOST: DOING MODEL EXAMS

To get a true sense of what these very different kind of exams entail, 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 initial diagnostic (we do it FREE) will enable your tutor and yourself to identify and address your weaknesses.  

The only model exams available for preparing for the Spanish exams, are those for the DELE (simply because the SIELE and OPIc are online, computer-based exams for which the question configuration varies constantly, although the formats remain the same). However,  since all three exams are based on the CEFR (the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) using the DELE model exams are excellent and very relevant practice for all three exams, for all four the skill sets tested (reading & listening comprehension plus Written and oral expression).

The particular DELE 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).

Links to best Spanish exam prep resources

ModeloExamen DELE Facebook group

We recommend the Nuevo Examen Dele e-books by our collaborator Dr. David Giménez Folqués, 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

Links to best Spanish exam prep resourcesThe Instituto Cervantes (which oversees the DELE and SIELE exams on behalf of the Spanish ministry of education) runs a marvelously 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 / SIELE, 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-mail feeds 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 / YOUTUBE

An important segment of our links to best Spanish exam prep resources, relate to video and radio – because in these exams of communicative competency, the proven most difficult skills are the listening comprehension and oral expression. 

An excellent free resource for attuning your ear, expanding your lexis and mastering the most frequent grammar patterns, is the award-winning 11-part video series “Mi Vida Loca” produced by the Spanish section of the educational division of the BBC. This resembles a telenovela (which makes it interesting to watch), but it is in fact a very well-designed multi-function audiovisual tutorial, well worth watching.Links to best Spanish exam prep resources

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).    

Links to best Spanish exam prep resources

EXPANDING YOUR LEXIS (VOCABULARY & EXPRESSIONS)

One of the main purposes of listening to radio / TV and reading books and the news media, is to expand your lexis: your vocabulary, link phrases, collocations and expressions. It is impossible to express yourself properly without an ample lexis, 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 lexis).
Links to best Spanish exam prep resourcesProbably 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 (preferably) the new digital versions. You can download flashcard software, such as ANKI.com or Quizlet (paid). Links to best Spanish exam prep resourcesOr you can access free 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 and bore yourself to close to death).

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/laptop; these sites also have apps, which you can download on your mobile device.

Links to best Spanish exam prep resources

click on image to ask for free workbook

ONE OF THE TOP LINKS TO BEST SPANISH EXAM PREP RESOURCES: OUR 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 students’ needs. These workbooks are available free to our registered students. Some of them are also available free to the readers of this blog (see image above). You can ask for the download link to our 95-page Workbook #9.2: DELE /SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips, free and without obligation to register for classes – simply click on the image to access our easy contact form

This free sample e-book 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.

So, there you have our curated links to the best Spanish exam prep resources. To learn more about our personalized DELEhelp online exam prep coaching services, please access our page on the website of our mother institution, Excellentia Didactica, by clicking on the image below. With us, you can study in the comfort of your own home (which is both convenient and cost effective), with your own personalized study plan based on our comprehensive initial diagnostic (which is free), enjoying the experienced and expert guidance of your 1-on-1 coach – all at the unbeatably low rates that our being based in low-cost Guatemala makes possible.

Gracias por su atención

Hasta pronto

Willem

Links to best Spanish exam prep resources

Click on IMAGE to go to our secure website




Mastering ser / estar and gender in Spanish

Mastering ser / estar and gender in Spanish

Mastering ser / estar and gender in Spanish

For English-speakers, mastering ser / estar and gender in Spanish are among the hardest grammar challenges. Yet master them one must, because in the marking of exams such as the DELE / SIELE or the American OPIc, one of the four main assessment criteria that the examiners apply is called “correctness”, which refers to accuracy in language use: pronunciation, spelling and grammar.  And, for better or for worse, correct use of ser and estar, and ensuring concordancia of gender, remain among the most evident indicators of grammar correctness that examiners pick up.

In a bit more detail: the “correctness”  criterion covers how grammatically and semantically accurate 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 lexis. This goes hand-in-hand, in the oral, with 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” (two distinct verbs in Spanish, but which both translate in English into “to be”). As regards the correct use of nouns, the most challenging issue for speakers of English (which no longer uses gender) is to ensure that nouns and their definite articles or related descriptors such as adjectives, agree in gender (called concordancia). In this blog post, we will explain the origins, so that you can understand the logic behind the Spanish forms.

To be or not to be… why does Spanish have both ser and estar?

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.), with a mixed bag of sounds that one will not typically associate with being conjugations of just one, same verb.

Mastering ser / estar and gender in Spanish

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 word, 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 status, but “Paul is boring” describes Paul’s essence – 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 something or someone’s status (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 “state of being”, 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.

click on IMAGE to ask for our FREE workbook

Having placed you hopefully in a state of full understanding of the essential differences 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).

 Gender concordancia: 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!

The key thing to understand, is that “gender” as used 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, impacting their endings. The word endings 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 in Spanish).

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.

Mastering ser / estar and gender in Spanish

Are you aware that the DELE curriculum contains three chapters on history, traditions and culture?

Why do we encounter so much apparent “arbitrariness” in most languages? It should be understood that our present-day fondness of grammar  “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 their 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. In the operation of these forces, the notions of linguistic purity and logical consistency rarely were among 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 mostly to them being originally of Greek origin – particularly words relating to science and abstract notions (i.e., not concrete things). 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 gender and definite article (la or el) and learn the combination.

To relate the above to the  scoring criterion of correctness used  in exams of communicative competency, one can see quite easily 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 the old form of “one cow / two kine” which became in modern English “two cows”).

Mastering ser / estar and gender in Spanish

We are official OPI proctors and accredited SIELE exam center coordinators

It is important to note with regard to the DELE /  SIELE 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. Examiners are under clear instructions to ignore small grammar mistakes that do not harm clarity of meaning, because these exams are, above all, tests of “can do” communicative ability – and communication by definition is the art of conveying meaning.

In other words, unlike school or college,  these are NOT primarily grammar-based exams, 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 exam preparation to apply these forms consistently correctly…

I hope that this blog post has provided you with the basics for mastering ser / estar and gender in Spanish.  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: just click on the image above promoting the sample book, and the form will pop up.

Mastering ser / estar and gender in Spanish

If you have questions on any of our blog posts, or regarding the DELE / SIELE & OPI 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 Spanish exam preparation, please visit our website by clicking on the image below. Remember, we specialize in helping English-speaking candidates online, 1-on-1, with their preparation for the DELE / SIELE & OPI exams. Our Skype tuition is convenient, affordable, flexible, personalized and practical. Why not try our one-hour free sample session? (You can ask for it with the same contact form as for the book).

Buena suerte with your Spanish exam preparation

 Salu2

 Willem

 

Click on IMAGE to go to our secure website