1

Sefardi ties to the Spanish language run deep…

Click on image to read Deb’s moving post about her emotional and sentimental motivation to master Spanish

Here at DELEhelp we’ve had the singular privilege over the past two years to have helped a large number of descendants of Sefardi (Sephardim) Jews (whose ancestors were expelled from Spain in 1492), to prepare for the DELE A2 Spanish language exam. This test forms part of the requirements for making use of Spain’s “right of return” law, which allows for expedited Spanish citizenship and passport for those with Sephardic ancestry.

One of our Sefardi students, Deborah, has written a moving blog post about her personal motivation for mastering Spanish. It is a beautifully-written piece that brings into focus the emotional and sentimental motivators that are often much more powerful than the merely legal one of gaining Spanish nationality. Deb’s blog post shares insights that will benefit Jew and Gentile alike – to read it, click on the image above.

Here is a photo of Deb and her daughter, together with Mónica (Deb’s DELEhelp tutor) taken recently at a restaurant here in La Antigua Guatemala.

For Sephardim who want to make use of the Spanish law: you better move quickly to register for the DELE A2 exam, because time is running out fast…

Thank you Deborah for allowing us to link to your excellent blog post.




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



Sefardis, there’s still time to pass the DELE A2 Spanish exam

New concession! Still time for Sephardic descendants to pass DELE A2 Spanish exam

If you are of Sephardic descent and you are keen to apply for Spanish nationality, then there’s great news – a new concession by the Spanish authorities means that you can do the DELE A2 exam AFTER the 30 September 2019 deadline for having handed in your nationality application, and still have your DELE results accepted. There definitely still remains sufficient time to prepare to pass, even for beginners.

Please remember – you MUST have filed your nationality application by 9/30/2019 latest

THE SPANISH LEGAL REQUIREMENTS:

The Spanish “right of return” law of 2015 allows applicants of Sephardic descent a limited window to file their applications for expedited Spanish nationality. The deadline has already been extended once (and the law only allows for that one extension). It expired on 30 September 2019. It is theoretically possible that it may be extended again, but this would likely require amendments to the original law, not just a simple administrative act (as with the first extension). Reality is that the somewhat inconclusive 2019 Spanish general elections has left the Cortes (national assembly) with other pressing priorities. Another complicating factor may be that the Muslim world is questioning the fact that, whilst in 1492 Jews and Moors were expelled from Spain, only descendants of those Sephardic Jews are currently being invited back in.

One of the requirements under the Sefardi return law, is that applicants must show proof of having mastered basic Spanish. This is tested by means of the DELE A2 exam, administered by the Instituto Cervantes. The A2 is the second lowest level of Spanish in a system that goes up to C2.  A2 is really “survival Spanish”, with elementary grammar and its vocabulary focused on the candidate’s immediate needs and for describing his/her close living environment. The DELE exams are offered world-wide, on a limited number of days per year. The dates for 2020 are shown below .

revised DELE dates 2020
Revised 2020 DELE exam dates

From February 2020 there’s a streamlined and improved new DELE A2 exam format. The essence of the curriculum and assessment criteria remain, but it’s more targeted to the needs and experience spheres of those seeking Spanish nationality, and slightly shorter with fewer tasks and questions – so it should be easier to pass. For more details, see our blog post:

The new DELE A2 exam explained

A problem with the DELE is that the results typically only become available three months after the exam date. The actual diploma usually arrives a further three months later.  Furthermore, accredited exam centers are relatively few, and have limited numbers of seats available for the exams. These practical problems with the DELE, have caused the Spanish Justice Ministry to DE-LINK the submission of the language exam RESULTS (as well as those of the CCSE culture & constitution exam, also managed by the Instituto Cervantes) from the filing of the actual application as such.

The concession now made by the Spanish authorities, means that – on condition that you officially filed your nationality application before or on 30 September 2019 latest, then your DELE / CCSE results will be accepted beyond that date, including for exams taken AFTER the closing date for applications as such (i.e., 30 September 2019).

Exactly till when candidates will be allowed to sit for the exams and still qualify, is unfortunately somewhat unclear at the moment (we are urgently working with our local Spanish Embassy to have this definitively cleared up). The web-site of the Jewish Federation of Spain avers that the exams can still be done through the whole of 2020. The actual notification of the concession, published by the Spanish Ministry of Justice in their official gazette on 19 June 2019, speaks of a period of “one year, which can be extended or reduced” for HANDING IN YOUR RESULTS. Unfortunately, it fails to state whether the year is to be calculated from the date of publication of the notice, or from 1 October 2019. It is also debatable whether such a right, once accorded, can legally be “reduced”, since that appears to be contrary to Spanish law of administrative procedure. The Instituto Cervantes, for its part, wasn’t clear what the last qualifying date for ACTUALLY SITTING THE EXAM would be (as distinct from the last date for handing in results).

Please remember that registration for the exams close about four weeks prior to the exam date. Please make sure that the exam center that you aim to choose, will definitely be presenting the A2 on these dates. Not all centers choose to present all of the DELE exams offered by the Instituto Cervantes in any given year. Also be sure to ask whether the particular center must first meet a quota of candidates before Madrid will send them examiners (for the oral; not all centers have locally-based qualified oral examiners always to hand). Students have had the unfortunate experience of registering at such centers, and then receiving an e-mail from them on the last day of registration saying: “sorry, we didn’t meet the quota so we won’t be offering your level after all”. This then leaves the student in the impossible situation that it is then too late to search for another center.

Considering that this is truly a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and that it is now rapidly running towards its close, it makes sense to not put all your eggs in the basket of one exam session. Many things can go wrong – health-wise, business or family, impeding one to actually sit the exam as intended, or even on the day itself you may not be at your best, for any number of reasons. It thus is wise, as a precaution, to also register ahead, in time, for an additional, “fall-back” session.

The regional head office of the Instituto Cervantes for North and Central America is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico (they are also an exam center). If in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact them: https://albuquerque.cervantes.es/en/default.shtm

A last point about the registration process: if you suffer any disability that may impact your ability to fairly complete the exam, such as being hard of hearing (which may be a problem if you have to listen to the audio of the listening comprehension test over a public sound system in a group context, rather than having earphones) you need to take this up with your center from day one.

DELE exam oral sin't Spanish Inquisition

WITH PROPER PREPARATION, THE DELE A2 EXAM IS RELATIVELY EASY:

As far as the exam itself is concerned, it is NOT the Spanish Inquisition. It is not a “gotcha” type of exam trying to catch you out. It is a real-world, very practical test of your competency at communicating intelligibly in basic Spanish. The oral examiners are trained to try and put you at ease, and the exam papers as such are full of helpful guidance, so please don’t rush reading them – read them carefully, at least twice. The DELE is not like your typical school or college language exam. It is not hung up on grammar, or on marking you negatively for every small mistake. It is all about communication; about messaging: can you understand a simple message and are you able to convey an understandable message in turn? The four equally-weighted scoring criteria of the speaking and writing segments of the DELE are: coherence, fluency, ample vocabulary, and accuracy (the latter encompassing pronunciation, spelling, and grammar ). The examiners are under orders to ignore “slip of the tongue” type grammar mistakes that don’t impact the clarity of your message.

So, can a beginner start now and hope to pass in time? Definitely, YES. On condition, of course, that you are dedicated, apply yourself, and have access to a 1-on-1 coach. That “personal trainer” must work with you i.t.o. a personalized study plan, based on first of all doing a proper diagnostic of your level, aptitude and learning preferences.

As a concrete example: in 2018 we assisted as student who came to us at the beginning of May. He was based in Iceland (where there isn’t much opportunity to practice Spanish!) and he wanted to do the May 19th 2018 exam as a “dry run”, while really aiming for the July exam. Here is an extract from his registration form with us:

Address
Currently living in Iceland.
Academic Qualifications obtained
BFA in Graphic Design. No qualifications in Spanish.
Your current level of Spanish:
Beginner level.
When can we do a Skype interview about your needs?
My schedule is currently very open. I’d love to get started as soon as possible.
Which aspects of your Spanish do you need help with?
I’ll be taking the A2 exam for the Sephardic Jews Spain Right of Return. I’m scheduled to take the test on May 19, I’m not sure I’ll pass the first time, so I’m currently planning to take it again in July.

Well, this student took 20.5 hours of very focused, structured classes with us via Skype, starting on 3 May, and on 19 May he passed! And he isn’t the only one to have achieved that kind of progress, by any means. I could cite a whole list of similar cases. YES, IT CAN BE DONE! (It is based on just such testimonies that the Jewish Federation of New Mexico kindly recommends us to Sefardis who want  to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity).

OUR DELEhelp TUITION VIA SKYPE IS PERSONAL AND FLEXIBLE:

Our tuition is always based on a personalized study plan, which we design for you, based on the initial diagnostic that we do as first step. We believe in being maximally flexible regarding hours. We are open seven days a week, from early to late in the evening and you can reschedule or cancel up to one hour before the booked time for your Skype session, without any penalties. You get our specialized DELEhelp in-house workbooks and related resources FREE. We bill you at the end of each month via PayPal, so you don’t have to send us any personal or credit card data. You are billed only for the actual Skype interface time, at just US$14-00 per hour (which thus includes our class prep and homework review time, plus our in-house resources, for FREE). I’m pretty sure that you won’t get a better rate anywhere…

At DELEhelp we go way beyond grammar, covering each of the four communicative competencies being tested in the DELE. We thoroughly familiarize you with the exam format and curriculum. We inform you about the four scoring criteria applied by examiners in evaluating you in the oral and writing tests.  We also coach you in the “distractor”  techniques used by examiners in the multiple choice reading and listening comprehension tests. Our tuition is hands-on, simulating exam reality. It is absolutely goal-driven (i.e., entirely focused on helping you to pass the exam).

Above all our tuition is practical, informed by our own first-hand experience of the exam, from the perspective of an English-speaking student.  It is an intensive, one-on-one effort to help you develop your actual communicative ability in Spanish, so that you can demonstrate the real-world skill sets that the DELE’s four equally-weighted scoring criteria evaluate.  Our aim is to help you perform optimally in the exam setting. We help you to develop your actual communicative competencies. We DO NOT simply lecture you school-style about the “rules” of the Spanish language (which merely allows you to “know” in the abstract, instead of enabling you to actually DO).

Your personalized study plan will provide for 2/3 self-study and 1/3 Skype interfacing with the tutor (i.e., for every hour of Skyping, we assume two hours of guided self-study). The Skype sessions serve to practice the things one cannot really do on one’s own at home, such as practicing for the very important oral expression part of the exam. The sessions also serve to give feed-back on the self-study assignments (for example, practicing writing in Spanish) and reviewing with you, your mock exam results. We include a lot of realistic simulated exam practice – using actual previous exam papers as well as model exams.

If you want to know more about the A2 exam and how best to prepare, have a look at our earlier blogpost on the topic:

Sephardic Jews Spain return DELE A2 language test (click on image to go to blogpost)

The following blogpost will guide you about WHAT to learn, and HOW to do it: http://www.delehelp.org/dele-siele-oral-writing-how-to-learn-and-what/

Our DELEhelp blog is full of useful guidance about all aspects of the DELE exam – browse the past postings at www.delehelp.org

To know more about our DELEhelp course package, please go to our secure website: https://edele.org

Don’t forget to ask for our free, 96-page workbook of “DELE exam orientation an acing tips”, by simply filling in the contact info form linked to the image below (just click on it).

We look forward to helping YOU ace your DELE A2 exam before the Sephardic window closes: ¡Si, se puede! (Yes, it CAN be done!).

click on image to ask for free workbook



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buena suerte with your learning of the beautiful Spanish language

Salu2

Willem

(Click on IMAGE to ask for the free e-book)

 




DELE SIELE EXAM PREP IMMERSION

Our award-winning partner residential school in La Antigua Guatemala, PROBIGUA

Self-study at home for the DELE exam (or its more flexible new online version, the SIELE and its American equivalent, the OPIc) via Skype is convenient, personalized and affordable. But some of you may want to supplement this with a total immersion in Hispanic culture and conversation (especially during the last week or so before the set date for the examen DELE,  or before your appointment for  doing the SIELE). Think of homestay with a native Spanish-speaking family. Intensive, one-on-one tutoring that follows your existing DELEhelp study plan and methodology. Affordable, and situated in a beautiful and interesting environment…

DELEhelp is partnered with the renowned language school PROBIGUA in La Antigua Guatemala, to offer just such a possibility to our students. One can say that we are the internet arm of PROBIGUA, and they in turn are our residential school arm. In fact, we are the academic content provider to PROBIGUA, so that your existing study plan and preferred learning methodology will be respected and continued with, when you come here for immersion. It is quite likely that you will come face-to-face with some of your DELEhelp Skype tutors, if you choose to do your immersive “pre-exam polishing” at PROBIGUA!

In this Blog-post we will give you more information about PROBIGUA as our recommended DELE and SIELE exam preparation immersion destination, as well as on the beautiful, historic colonial capital city of La Antigua Guatemala (a UNESCO World Heritage site), but if you want to see a quick 1-minute video on the subject rather than read all about it, you can simply click on the image below, and be taken straight to the video:

DELE exam preparation PROBIGUA

Click on image for video

PROBIGUA stands for Proyecto Bibliotecas Guatemala. The school (which is non-profit) is one of the two legs of what is a laudable social responsibility venture. The other leg, is the promotion of learning in rural areas of Guatemala, which PROBIGUA does through building schools, and the running of their famous “libraries on wheels” (converted U.S. school buses) to schools and villages in the countryside. This is done with the aid of the Swiss PROBIGUA Foundation.

Here are some images related to the mobile libraries and the school building project:

:

As you can see, PROBIGUA won the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s prestigious “Access to Learning Award” in 2001, and their efforts were also recognised by pope Francis in 2016.

Furthermore, PROBIGUA is an accredited exam center for the Spanish competency SIELE exams (the flexible new online twin of the DELE) and for the equivalent American OPI family of Spanish language exams.

By coming to PROBIGUA for your DELE / SIELE exam preparation immersion, you will therefore not only be attending a top school, but you will be contributing to job creation for the expert maestras as well, plus you will have the opportunity to see more of Guatemala than just La Antigua and participate in PROBIGUA’s very interesting and laudable social and community activities.

The PROBIGUA language school is housed in the heart of La Antigua Guatemala, 10 minutes from the central plaza and located in the shadow of its most beautiful church – the La Merced. Its facilities offer a pleasant and technologically well equipped learning environment. Classes are one-on-one, in attractive surroundings, as you can see from these photos below. As said, DELEhelp is PROBIGUA’s academic content provider and internet arm, so your existing study plan and methodology will seamlessly integrate.

To go to PROBIGUA’s website, click on the IMAGE above

ABOUT LA ANTIGUA GUATEMALA: Our historic little city was once the capital of all Spain’s imperial possessions between Panama and Mexico. With its cobbled streets and colonial architecture (well preserved, except for the many signs of the might of the region’s earthquakes!)  La Antigua is regarded as the best-conserved colonial city in Central America and is now also the latter region’s most-visited tourist destination.

Historic, plus scenically beautiful in its  green valley among its three volcanos (Volcan Fuego is still active) as well as strikingly cosmopolitan, this little city that seems to have woken up like Rip van Winkle boasts countless excellent restaurants and attractions for its many visitors. La Antigua is also regarded as one of the world’s top centers for the teaching of Spanish as foreign language. This is thanks to the locals naturally speaking correctly, slowly, while articulating clearly and without much of an accent  (the local way of speaking is due to La Antigua having been the capital and seat of the learned bureaucracy as well as of many religious orders and one of the oldest universities in all of the Americas; the locals were therefore formed in the Castilian upper-class way of speaking, unlike the lowland areas of Latin America where the Andalusian accent and tradition of rapid speech was the formative norm).

The reason why La Antigua went into a two-hundred year deep sleep, was probably political – although the great Santa Martha earthquake of 1773 was a destructive reality that provided a convenient excuse. The 1770’s were turbulent times in the Americas, and the Bourbon dynasty in Spain wasn’t that well settled either. In 1773 a new Captain-General was sent to what was then known as Santiago de los Caballeros (la Antigua’s former name) with orders to i.a. dis-empower the very powerful clergy, who exerted considerable political influence from their great cathedrals, monasteries and palaces which dominated almost every square block of the colonial city. Shortly after the new Captain-General’s arrival, the great earthquake flattened much of the city, and he ordered that the capital needed to be moved to the “safer” site of the present-day Guatemala City, some 50 miles away. (A previous earthquake had struck La Antigua some 20 years earlier, from which it had by 1773 mostly been restored to its proper imperial splendour, and most locals had wanted to re-build again, after the  1773 quake, rather than move).

This order to move the capital lock, stock and barrel, had the effect of forcing the once-wealthy clergy not to restore again their imposing edifices, but to abandon them and go and construct anew, from scratch, at the new site, during tough economic times for the Spanish empire. The order to  move was made final by the king in 1775, literally on pain of death, and the city was almost completely abandoned, to the point of losing its name and coming to be referred to as “la Antigua Guatemala” (i.e., old Guatemala). This exodus,  ironically, ensured that it was saved from modernisation. Today the ruins of the once-great edifices still abound, untouched, dotted all over our little city and serving now as awe-inspiring tourist attractions.

For more about La Antigua’s importance as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can follow this link:  http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/65

The New York Times recently published an excellent short video (6 minutes) on La Antigua as destination, which will give you a good idea of what to see and do here: http://tinyurl.com/zl8fsk9

Click on this image to go to PROBIGUA Facebook page

So, for an affordable, interesting and academically worthwhile DELE SIELE exam prep immersion ahead of sitting your exam, come to PROBIGUA in La Antigua Guatemala. Here your DELEhelp tuition will continue seamlessly. You can also be part of a laudable social venture with rewarding community interaction opportunities, and you will be surrounded by spectacularly beautiful cultural and natural scenery, while enjoying the perfect climate of the “city of eternal spring”.  To go to PROBIGUA’s own Facebook page, just click on the image on the right.

Saludos cordiales

Willem

click on image to ask for free workbook




HOW THE DELE EXAM FINAL MARK IS CALCULATED

How sure do you feel about passing the DELE exam?

Are you stronger in your reading comprehension than in listening to and understanding the many different Spanish accents? Are you more fluent in speaking, than in writing Spanish? Such variation in strengths may result in you passing one element of the DELE exam, but failing in another. If that is the case, will you still make the overall pass grade?

What should you prioritize in your exam prep, to avoid that one element completely trips you up? From this, you can see that the way in which the final mark in the different levels of the DELE exam is calculated, is important to how you should focus your personal study plan, when you relate it to your pre-existing strengths and weaknesses. Here we will explain how the DELE exam marking system works at the different levels.

The calculation of the final DELE exam result for levels A1 to B2 – whether you passed or failed – is different from the system used for the top level of the examen DELE, which is level C. In turn, the system used for  C1 differs from that for the “mastery” level, C2. Nonetheless, all the levels have in common that the DELE diploma certifies practical ability to actually communicate fluently, correctly and coherently in Spanish (and not merely possessing abstract knowledge of Spanish). The four areas of communicative competency that gets tested, and which must therefore be developed in your DELE exam preparation, are reading and listening comprehension, as well as proficiency at expression and interaction, both orally and in writing.

How each of these four different competencies are individually tested and scored in the different exam sections, is explained in earlier posts in this blog series. You can access these detailed discussions by clicking on the relevant cover image immediately  below.  They will explain to you the four scoring criteria used (being coherence, fluency, ample vocabulary and correctness) as  well as the four numerical bands (0 > 3) in which marks are accorded for each of the scoring criteria.

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

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

What this present blog post will explain, is how your combined results for these different competencies are in the end aggregated, determining whether you passed or failed.

Here is the scheme of aggregation plus the required minima, for DELE levels A1 to B2:

You will see  that the four competencies each carry an equal weight, with each making up 25% of the overall exam mark. However, these four competencies are paired, two-by-two, with a required minimum of 60% for each pair (i.e., 30< out of 50). These two legs, in turn, are NOT aggregated – thus NEVER giving you an overall exam score. The global mark is simply either APTO (pass) or NO APTO (fail). This is because, if you failed any one of the two pairings, you’ve failed the exam – even should you add up your scores for the two legs and come to an aggregate mark above 60%. YOU HAVE TO PASS BOTH LEGS, to pass the exam and get the DELE diploma. This is particularly important for students who MUST pass (like Sephardic or “Sefardi” descendants who must pass the DELE A2 in order to qualify for Spanish nationality).

If you did obtain an APTO in both pairs, then your overall score will be APTO. You will receive a DELE exam results notification that looks something like this:

Scoring the expression tasks

A more complicated part of the overall pass/fail calculation of the oral  expression and of the expression in writing tasks,  is how the scoring system for the expression tasks (in four numerical bands i.e., awarding you either a 0, or a 1, 2 or 3 for each of the four scoring criteria)  relates to the mathematics of the final calculation out of 25 for each of these two exam parts. Unfortunately, there isn’t one constant, simple mathematical formula used.

Let’s start with the four bands: 0 &1 (fail) and 2 (threshold pass) plus 3 (good pass exceeding norm). This must be considered together with the fact that two assessments are always done: a holistic one, and an analytical. When this is applied to the DELE A2 exam as representative example, first to the written expression, it factors into the final calculation in the following manner:

Descripción general Formato de la prueba escrita: La prueba consta de tres tareas: dos de interacción y una de expresión. … Calificación: Se otorga una calificación holística y una calificación analítica a la actuación del candidato en cada una de las tareas. La calificación holística supone un 40 % de la calificación final y la calificación analítica el 60% restante. En la calificación analítica, las tres tareas se ponderan de la siguiente manera: Tarea 1 (17%), Tarea 2 (33%) y Tarea 3 (50%).

In brief, there are three tasks to perform in the writing exam. In the analytical assessment task one counts for 17% of the overall mark for this exam segment, task two for 33% and task 3 for 50%. The holistic assessment score makes up 40% of the overall value and the analytical the other 60%.

One must thus understand that the weight of the holistic and analytical assessment firstly differs, and secondly that the weight of each task then differs for the purpose of the analytical assessment. How it thus works in practice, is that each task is individually scored for each of the four scoring criteria (coherence, aptness of style/formality, linguistic scope and correctness) i.t.o. the 4 numerical bands, both holistically and analytically. Once that is done for all three tasks, and for both forms of assessment, then the percentage proportions as mentioned, are applied mathematically and the final score out of 25 is thus calculated.

For the oral expression tasks it is essentially the same procedure:

Descripción general Formato de la prueba oral: La prueba consta de cuatro tareas: dos de expresión y dos de interacción. Se otorga una única calificación holística a la actuación del candidato en las cuatro tareas y dos calificaciones analíticas: una correspondiente a las tareas monológicas (tareas 1 y 2) y otra a las tareas que integran actividades comunicativas de la lengua de interacción oral (tareas 3 y 4). La calificación holística supone un 40% de la calificación final y la calificación analítica el 60% restante. En la calificación analítica las cuatro tareas se ponderan de la siguiente manera: tareas 1 y 2 (50%), tareas 3 y 4 (50%).

The oral part of the exam consists of four tasks. One holistic assessment is done considering all four tasks together. The analytical assessment is split in two: one for the two monologue-type tasks (#1&2) and another for the two interactive tasks (#3&4). The holistic assessment for  the oral also counts for 40% of the weight, and the analytical for 60% – with the two segments (1&2 / 3&4) weighted equally at 50% each for the analytical. The four scoring criteria for the oral are the same as for the writing, except that fluency substitutes style/formality. The four numerical bands function the same as in the writing. The mathematical process for calculating the final score out of 25, is essentially the same as I described above for the writing.

It is of great importance, i.t.o. adopting an appropriate exam prep study plan as well as for having the right mind-set when going into the actual exam, that you understand how the two exam parts testing your competency at expressing yourself orally and in writing, are scored i.t.o. the four scoring criteria used. This is actually of much more significance than the mere mathematics of calculating the final pass/fail, discussed just now. Please, therefore, click on the banner images of the two blog posts shown above, to go and acquaint yourself with what these scoring criteria are and how they are applied.

click on image to go to a 1-minute video with top bite-size tips for acing the DELE

The system of pass / fail calculation for DELE level C1, with its minima:

The system employed for calculating a pass or fail for DELE C1 still very much resembles that for A1 – B2. It has the four competencies, also grouped in two pairs. The main addition is that the element of integrated dexterity in language use is being emphasized much more than at the lower levels. Instead of just testing reading and listening comprehension, DELE level C1 combines this with testing competency at the use of language. Similarly, oral and written expression is integrated with comprehension (what this means, is that your answers – when you express yourself – need to reflect how well you understood the texts and audio clips upon which the written and oral expression and interaction tasks are based).

The principles for arriving at an overall pass / fail determination remains the same as for A1 – B2, though. You have to obtain 60% per pair, for each of the two pairs.

The threefold scheme used for DELE level C2, with its minima:

The  difference with the lower levels is that, instead of passing two pairs you have to pass each competency tested (for A1 – B2 you could fail one competency, because if your showing in the other competency paired with it was strong enough to give you a pass aggregate for that paired group, you still passed). In the case of the three sections of the C2 exam, you have to pass each one individually. You will notice that there’s also much more focus on integrated dexterities (i.e., application skills). It is still essentially the same four core communicative competencies that gets tested, just configured into three sections in a more synergized, cross-impacting way, resembling the integrated nature of real-world interactive language use.

The DELE exam results are normally made available electronically to candidates, between two and three months after the exam date. Those who have passed, will have to wait another two to three months for their diplomas to reach them. This is what the DELE diploma looks like:

DELE C2 diploma example

This is what the DELE Diploma looks like.

What our students say:

Talking about exam results – at DELEhelp we are fortunate that our regular students always do well in their exams. I’ll quote you what two of these students wrote us. The first underlines the need for a proper study plan and focused tutoring for obtaining success. The second shows how flexible our 1-on-1, personalized Skype tutoring can be, fitting in with a globe-trotting student’s travels across continets and time zones.

KEVIN wrote about how he changed his fortunes from having failed on his own, to passing with us at his next try, getting 100% for his oral:  My family and I vacation frequently in Baja California and I have always found it rather easy to get by speaking very little or no Spanish.  Most locals I encounter in Baja are patient and usually speak a fair amount of English.

However, over the last several years, I have developed a great fondness for Mexico along with its people and culture and this fondness lead me to believe that I have been missing a great deal by remaining in an English-only world.  For this reason, I finally promised myself to learn to speak Spanish.  At the same time, I wanted an objective and concrete way to measure my progress and chose to employ the DELE exams for this purpose.

My first experience with the exam preparation process did not go so well.  After reading a bit about the exam and the various levels I decided I would prepare for a few months and then sit for the A2 exam.  This seemed reasonable to me at the time since, after all, I had some Spanish in elementary school and even practiced a bit as an adult with audio tapes.  I was not a complete beginner!  So, for a few months I studied when I could find the time and practiced online a bit with native speakers.  When exam time came around, I did my best and actually enjoyed the exam experience, but, the test was much different than I had anticipated and it I was clearly far from the mark regarding A2-level Spanish.  The test results confirmed my assessment and I failed pretty miserably on all four test sections.  I felt sorry for myself but quickly realized that I just needed a better learning approach.  I also now knew that success would require this approach to be more disciplined, formal and structured. Fortunately for me, the day of my tragic exam experience I met two other, better prepared, test-takers and they told me about their very positive test prep experience using a plan developed for them by the folks at DELEhelp. I enlisted the DELEhelp team within a week.

After an initial conversation, I was given a series of tests much like the DELE exam.  The results of this test indicated that my current Spanish level was well below A2 and that I should target the A1 level for my next exam.  It was then explained to me, very clearly, what is expected of a person communicating in Spanish at the A1 level.  With this target in mind and my test results in hand we created a study plan to get me to the A1 level in all categories.  In my case I was strongest in reading and writing, so listening and speaking would be emphasized.  Together we chose an exam date and got to work.

My study plan consisted of reading and writing assignments, vocabulary memorization (a necessary evil), Spanish media in various forms that I selected and also live Skype sessions in Spanish.  The Skype sessions were used to review and discuss assignments, test vocabulary and talk about events within the media segments.  Periodic mock tests were provided and the study plan was tuned accordingly.  For instance, halfway through my A1 prep course it became clear that I needed more conversational practice and also that we could afford to lighten the reading and writing load.  This combination of homework and independent study, along with live review in Spanish with a native speaker, worked wonders for me.  I felt quite confident heading into the exam.

When I received my test results I had a bit of a surprise waiting. I had comfortably passed the reading, writing and listening sections of the exam but I was a bit shocked to find that I had received a perfect score on the oral section (25/25).  My smile muscles severely cramped after an hour or so of constant use.

Even more fun for me was a trip that my family and I took to Costa Rica a few weeks after the exam.  I found myself talking to people I had never met before, in Spanish!  I was introducing my family, describing our adventures and asking questions about the food, their families and their country.  They were talking back to me in Spanish and smiling warmly when I mixed up words or made other, sometimes very funny, mistakes.  It is very hard to describe this experience but it was amazing.

I know that I am only at the A1 level but I am very solid at this level.  I also now understand that I can continue as far as I want down this path if I am only willing to follow an effective plan and put in the effort required.  I can be as fluent as I want to be.   It’s hard work but it is not magic and it is well worth every minute.

ALEX from England, who prepped with us whilst exploring the jungles, mountains and beaches of the length and breadth of the Americas and finally wrote her DELE exam in New Zealand, wroteWorking with Willem and Monica was extremely valuable in my preparations for the DELE B2 exam. I was travelling at the time and they were able to be flexible and work with different time zones and my availability. They tailor the content of the lessons to what the particular student is looking for and to the syllabus of the DELE exam. Having gone through multiple mock exams with Monica, I felt more prepared and confident in tackling the format of the exam on the day. They are truly wonderful people and they made the lessons enjoyable as well as effective in improving my Spanish.

An important element in our students’ success has been the use of top DELE exam preparation resources. We have selected the most important ones (mostly free), and made short 1-minute videos of recommendation. You can access these by clicking on the images below.

click on the image above to learn more about ModeloExamenDELE

click on the image above to learn more about practicaespañol.com

click on image to ask for free workbook

If you are interested in DELEhelp, you may want to visit our Facebook page, where we post regular “bite-size” exam acing tips:

https://www.facebook.com/delehelp/ 

Thanks for reading this blog post, and best of luck with your DELE exam preparation

Salu2

Willem

Click on IMAGE to go to our secure website




TOP TIPS FOR THE DELE / SIELE / WPT WRITTEN TASKS

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

THE GOAL OF THIS BLOG-POST:

You probably have asked yourself: “How can I do well in the DELE exam written tasks? (or in the equivalent writing tests of the DELE’s online twin, the SIELE, or its American equivalent the WPT – Writing Proficiency Test). What are the do’s and don’ts”? What do I have to KNOW, and which SKILLS must I hone?

The essential requirement for acing the DELE exam’s “expression in writing” tasks, is expertly-guided preparation (with lots of practice, simulating exam formats). This preparation needs to be personalized, practical, goal-orientated – i.e., pass the exam – and focused on strengthening your individual weaknesses. So that, on exam day, you will have that calm, confident mental concentration that will allow you to almost reflexively  apply the knowledge and writing skills you had practiced beforehand with our exam simulations.

During your preparation you need to become totally familiar with the DELE exam’s goals, plus its format, and the practical constraints as well as the scoring criteria for this part of the DELE exam.  You need to practice your writing skills – for correctness, for stylistic aptness, for message coherence, and as a practical portrayal of the extent of your “linguistic scope” – this latter meaning your vocabulary and lexis. You need to practice and practice some more, getting expert guidance and feed-back, one-on-one, about where and how you need to improve.

On exam day, you have to read and re-read the instructions for each task, to be certain that you understand exactly what is required. Then you have to set out to demonstrate your knowledge and skills, by firstly planning and sketching out an apt and coherent answer. With this scheme of presentation in hand, you have to start writing down your definitive answer, because there won’t be time to try to first do a draft in rough, and then re-write it all.

From this brief summary you will notice that there are elements of abstract knowledge of Spanish that will be required of you. More importantly, though, there’s the art of written presentation, which skill relates to the overall DELE goal of testing your ability to communicate effectively in writing, with tasks simulating every-day, real-world writing projects.

Furthermore, there are practical issues such as handling the time constraints, as well as “finger fitness” and legibility of writing longhand (if you haven’t done it in  a while). In this blog-post I will expand on all of these elements, giving you practical, battle-tested tips (having passed the DELE C2 myself). For illustration, I will focus here on actual examples taken from the mid-range B1-level (since I cannot hope to deal with all six DELE levels in detail in a single blog-post). However, the principles and the assessment criteria are essentially the same over all six levels, with only the length of the individual tasks and their time-frames changing, plus of course the extent of the linguistic scope required for each level.

We will deal first with the goals of this part of the exam, then with its structure, followed by the assessment criteria in terms of which your effort will be scored. In explaining how the answers are marked, we will give examples of actual answers that passed and failed, plus the examiners’ comments.

Lastly, we will give you our own DELEhelp Acing Tips for this part of the exam. These are taken from our in-house workbook #9.2 “DELE / SIELE EXAM ORIENTATION AND ACING TIPS.  In its 96 pages you will find guidance and practical tips regarding all the sections of the DELE / SIELE exam (i.e., reading and listening comprehension, plus written and oral expression).  It is available as an e-book for free download, for readers of this blog. You can request it with the convenient contact form at the bottom of this page – there’s absolutely no obligation attached.

THE GOALS OF THE DELE EXAM “EXPRESSION IN WRITING” TASKS

W E goals blockThe overall goal of the DELE exam is to certify a candidate’s level of competency at actually communicating in Spanish, in simulations of typical real-world communicative settings. It is not a school or college type exam – it is NOT primarily concerned with abstract knowledge of Spanish.  It tests the ability to apply knowledge, in conversation and in using the written word. For conversation proficiency, it tests listening comprehension and oral expression. For the written language, it assesses proficiency at reading comprehension and at expressing yourself in writing – setting every-day tasks such as writing e-mails, letters, reports and articles.

As a consequence, in the course of the written expression exam the candidate will not be unduly penalized for small errors of spelling or grammar, as long as these aren’t repetitive or of such a nature that it impedes clear transmission of the meaning of the intended message.

In brief, what the DELE tests is your proficiency at understanding meaning, and conveying meaning in Spanish.

THE STRUCTURE OF THE DELE EXAM “EXPRESSION IN WRITING” TASKS (level B1)

W E structure blockDuration: 60 minutes. Number of tasks: 2. Total extent of the texts: between 230 and 270 words. Format of the answer: The candidate must write by hand his/her answers to the tasks that have been set, doing so in the space reserved in the exam book itself. Scoring: Answers are assessed according to two scales – holistic and analytical.  The holistic scale counts for 40% of the final score and the analytical scale for 60%.  For the analytical scale, the two task papers count equally.

For the sake of comparing B1 with other levels, here’s the structure for the written expression tasks of levels A1 and C2 respectively: A1 = 25 minutes total duration, completing a biographical form and writing a brief message of 20 – 30 words; C2 = 150 minutes total, 3 tasks of 1,000 words, 450 words and 250 words respectively.

The following descriptions of the structure and scoring criteria for the DELE B1 written expression tasks, have been directly translated from the official curricular documentation (which for most students would be difficult to follow in its original Spanish, written by academics for academics). For the sake of authenticity and completeness of this very important information, we have not abbreviated and have kept to the original format of the curricular documents (which explains why the following sections will not be in typical blogpost language!).

Description of the Written Tasks – Level B1

Task 1 – Format:  The task consists of writing a letter or a marketing message, an e-mail or a blog, which may include descriptive text or narration.

Extent of the writing: Between 100 and 120 words. Focus: In this task the capacity of the candidate is evaluated to produce a simple informative and cohesive text. Based on: The writing task is based on a text provided in the exam paper (a note, announcement, letter, e-mail etc.) to which the candidate’s writing is a sequel. May be personal or public in nature.

Task 2 – Format: The task consists of writing an essay, a diary entry, biography etc., which may include description or narration. Two options are offered, of which one must be chosen. Extent: between 130 and 150 words. Focus: This task tests the capacity of the candidate to write a descriptive or narrative text in which opinion is expressed and which conveys information of personal interest, based on personal experiences, sentiments, anecdotes etc. Based on: A text provided in the exam paper, which may be a brief newspaper announcement, blog or social media, which helps to define and contextualize the candidate’s required output text. May be of a personal or a public nature.

3.3.2     Marking Scales for the Written Expression Exam: DELE B1

W E scoring criteria blockFor scoring the written expression tasks, an analytical scale with four categories, plus a holistic scale are used. Both the holistic and the analytical scale consist of four ordinal scoring bands, ranging in value from 0 to 3 points. Values of 2 or 3 signify a pass, while 0 and 1 result in a fail.

Analytical Scale: Category “Conforming to Discourse Genre”

  • Value 3: Writes texts that are clear and precise, amplifying them with details of both a concrete and an abstract nature. Writes letters, messages and notes in the correct register for the particular context (i.e., tone: levity / seriousness; formal / informal). Efficiently develops all of the points indicated in the orientation text in the exam paper.
  • Value 2: Writes simple texts that are clear. In the case of the letters, messages and notes, respects the basics conventions of the genre (introduction and conclusion) and uses basic courtesy formulas (greeting, end salutation). Develops with clarity the great majority of the issues provided as orientation in the exam paper, even though some may have been skipped or not dealt with adequately.
  • Value 1: Writes texts that are very short and basic, dealing with immediate environment or aspects of daily life. In some cases, the information appears disorganized or incomplete, which obliges the reader to re-read in order to understand. Writes letters, messages and notes that are simple and brief, related to basic necessities or transmitting personal information. Hesitantly uses the most common functional exponents, elementary courtesy rules or formulas of greeting and treatment («muchas gracias»; «hola, ¿cómo estás?») or misses some important details (for example, the greeting and farewell salutations in a letter). Mentions only some of the issues stipulated in the exam paper, or doesn’t develop these sufficiently.
  • Value 0: The text produced is limited to a series of simple, isolated phrases about self or other persons or themes from own closest personal environment. In some cases, the text produced is incomprehensible. Makes errors in simple everyday formulas related to greetings, farewells, presentations and expressions such as: «por favor», «gracias», «lo siento». There are errors in the tonal register and important details are omitted. The text produced doesn’t follow the guidelines provided in the exam paper and doesn’t meet the required extent of writing by having fewer words.

Analytical Scale: Coherence

  • Value 3: Writes clear, coherent and structured texts with limited but adequate use of cohesion mechanisms to link The message is planned, taking into account the effect it can have on the receiver. It synthesizes, evaluates and varies the information from other sources trying out new combinations and expressions, marking the relationship between ideas. Properly uses punctuation, but may make some mistakes.
  • Value 2: Writes brief and cohesive texts, ordered by a linear sequence of simple elements, using information organizers («primero», «luego», «después») and common basic connectors («y», «también», «por eso», «entonces», «pero», «porque…»), although the text displays some deficiencies or limitations in its structure.
  • Value 1: Writes a series of short sentences linked with very simple and basic connectors («y», «pero», «porque»). The discourse – in some cases memorized, messy or incomplete – obliges a rereading in order to understand it.
  • Value 0: The text is limited to a series of words or groups of words linked with very basic and linear connectors («y», «pero»). The discourse does not maintain an organized structure that allows one to follow the reasoning of the candidate.

Analytical Scale: Correctness

  • Value 3: Maintains good grammatical control in everyday situations, even though may still make some unsystematic errors or show minor flaws in sentence structure, that do not produce Spelling is reasonably accurate but may make some mistakes under the influence of the mother tongue in the least common lexicon.
  • Value 2: Shows reasonable control of basic linguistic elements and common structures used to meet immediate and predictable personal interest or May make some mistakes in the spelling of words, but that does not interfere with the transmission of the main idea of the text.
  • Value 1: Use simple grammatical structures. Makes basic mistakes, without these causing misunderstanding on condition that the message is related to an everyday communicative situation. Systematically makes spelling mistakes, which in some cases render understanding of the message
  • Value 0: Shows limited control even of very basic and simple grammatical structures, or uses short (probably memorized) phrases related to basic and immediate needs. Makes abundant grammatical and spelling errors (concordances, errors in the choice of the person of the verb), which hinder the understanding of the message and require continuous rereading.

Analytical Scale: Linguistic Scope

  • Value 3: Dominates a large vocabulary, which includes some idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms, which allows the description of unpredictable situations, as well as explaining the main points of an idea or problem with reasonable precision and express thoughts on abstract and cultural topics. May commit some minor lexical imprecisions.
  • Value 2: Has enough vocabulary to communicate in relation to candidate’s immediate environment and everyday exchanges. This allows requesting information, making assessments, expressing wishes and giving instructions. May make mistakes when using more complex structures or
  • Value 1: Has a limited vocabulary which is used to convey basic information in situations related to very specific daily needs; otherwise, vocabulary is insufficient to convey the message. Makes mistakes that do not affect the communication.
  • Value 0: Uses a very basic repertoire of isolated words and phrases that are not sufficient to transmit the required information or for communication to Commits constant lexical inaccuracies, and interference from other languages is evident.

Holistic Scale

  • Value 3: Adds a level of detail to the information required, which ensures that the organization and formulation of the message amply meets with the stated communication objectives of the level. Uses a linguistic repertoire sufficient to present clear and precise descriptions, express opinions and viewpoints and develop arguments, without apparent limitations. The result is a clear and detailed text.
  • Value 2: Provides the required information in an understandable way and manages to convey Expresses self clearly in exchanges of information related to everyday themes, though, if the issues are abstract topics, some hesitation may occur or may be missing some detail. Uses a linguistic repertoire ample enough to express self adequately on everyday situations and topics of interest to the candidate. Despite some mistakes, hesitations or repetitions the candidate constructs simple, linear sentences with keywords in an understandable and clear manner.
  • Value 1: Provides part of the required information with However, due to brevity and lack of clarity the discourse is insufficient to convey the message. Uses a limited linguistic repertoire composed of syntactic structures and memorized expressions in phraseology filled with elementary errors that makes it difficult to understand the candidate and, in some cases, leaves unclear the general idea.
  • Value 0: Contributes only some data which is insufficient to convey the message. The written text consists merely of a series of very short and simple sentences in a disorganized discourse with an abundance of errors that hinder the understanding of the message.

SAMPLES OF EFFORTS ILLUSTRATING PASS AND FAIL STANDARDS – Level B1

Task 1 – FAIL:

¡Hola Diego! Soy muy feliz para el tuyo correo. Espero que tu estes bien. Fui en Madrid solo dos dia antes que ir a Salamanca con el bus. Estabo en un bar cuando he vido Miguel con su hermana. Despues un café con ambos yo y Miguel decidimos que hacer un giro de la ciudad porque yo nunca la había vida bien. Me conouci en sitios realmente maravigliosos y me gusto  muchissimo la suya compañía. Despues fuimos en un jardín para descansar: fu un dia maraviglioso. Espero que venir pronto a Barcelona, a lo meyor el próximo mese. Tengo mucha gana de verte. Hasta pronto.

Task 2 – FAIL:

Hola me llamo Sara y quiero contar mi experiencia porque creo que esta iniziadiva es muy interesante. Para mi comer significa comer untos a la gente que quiero.  y condivider nuestras experiencias del dia. Hace tres años había una comida que me acuerdo bien. Era un ordenario dia de Enero. Y estaba con mi madre, mi padre y mi hermana como quasi todos los días; porque en mi familia es normal comer untos. Ese dia comimos una comida preparida por mi madre, que es una bravissima cocinera. Se trataba de una pasta tipica del mi pais . «pasta a la nona» también pollo con patatas. Y al fin una tarta muy rica. Ese momentos lo acuordo con mucho gusto porque estábamos untos y feliz A lo mejor una de las ultimas veces.

Comments by examiners:

Analytical Scale:

  • Aptness for genre: The texts in task 1 and task 2 are brief and basic. The task guidelines that were given, were not sufficiently developed by the candidate, with the discourse being limited to his/her everyday environment or aspects of private life. In some cases, the information appears haphazard and incomplete (tarea 1: «Fui en Madrid solo dos *dia antes que ir a Salamanca con el bus. Soy muy feliz para el tuyo correo»; tarea 2: «A lo mejor una de las ultimas veces»).  Hesitantly uses somewhat incomplete greeting formulas (tarea 1: «Soy muy feliz para el tuyo correo»). These shortcomings are reflected especially in task 1 and results in the candidate not being able to achieve a value 2 grade in both tasks taken together.
  • Coherence: Although makes good use of organizational structures (tarea 1: «Despues fuimos…»; tarea 2: «Y al fin…»; «Porque en mi familia…». «Me llamo Sara y quiero contar…»), as well as some connectors and cohesion mechanisms, the texts produced have a limited number of connectors that are insufficient to achieve the degree of coherence required for this level. These shortcomings are reflected in both tasks, and causes this sample as a whole to qualify only as value band 1.
  • Correctness: Use simple grammatical structures and makes basic mistakes (tarea 1: «Soy muy feliz para el tuyo correo…»; Fui en Madrid solo dos dia antes que…»; «Despues un café con ambos yo y Miguel decidimos que hacer…»; «Me conoucí…»; «fuimos en…»; «Espero que venir…»; «Tengo mucha gana de verte». Tarea 2: «Hace tres anos había una comida…»; «… una pasta típica del mi país…»; «Ese momentos lo acuordo…»). There are frequent errors in verbal morphology (tarea 1: «he vido, conouci, verte», tarea 2: «condivider; preparida»). Commits systematic errors of spelling and punctuation (tarea 1: «… para descansar: fu un día maravilloso», «muchissimo»; tarea 2: «anos»; «… a la gente que quiero. Y condivider…»; «Los días; porqué…»).
  • Scope: Has a limited vocabulary, with a clear influence of the mother tongue; this vocabulary is insufficient to convey the message. tarea 1: «vido, giro, vida (for vista), maravigliosos, mese»; tarea 2: «iniziadiva; untos; condivider; ordenario; quasi; bravissima; rica; acuordo».

Holistic Scale:    Although the texts produced contain information that can be understood, in the two tasks the candidate uses a limited linguistic repertoire composed of syntactic structures and memorized expressions in a written discourse full of elementary errors that hinder comprehension. All this results in the two tasks to be assessed as achieving value band 1.

Task 1 – PASS

¡Hola Diego! Gracias por tu mensaje. Cuando me encontré con Miguel justo estaba esperando el autobús para ir al aeropuerto. Mi amiga estaba regresando de los EEUU y quería mandarle la bienvenida. Pero como Miguel y yo no nos habíamos visto por mucho tiempo, decidí invitarle a comer un helado en un bar italiano muy cercano. Pasamos un tiempo maravilloso juntos y nos contamos como habíamos pasado el verano. ¡Además el helado estaba muy rico! Al final olvidé el tiempo y tuve que tomar un taxi al aeropuerto. Era caro pero valía la pena. Como seguramente tenemos los dos vacaciones en navidad, he pensado venir a Barcelona durante éste tiempo. ¿Qué te parece? Hasta pronto, saludos

Task 2 – PASS

En mi comentario quería escoger como tema un tiempo que todos nosotros conocemos muy bien: navidad. Cada vez que se acerque el fin del año nos preparamos a comer bien y por supuesto comer mucho. Recuerdo especialmente la cena del 25 de diciembre en el año en que cumplí los 16 años. Como cada año, toda la familia se reunía para celebrar la cena tradicional. Lo especial era que pude por la primera vez sentarme a la mesa de los adultos. Recuerdo bien como empezé con el primer plato que era salmón. Por la primera vez en mi vida venía acompañado de una copa de champán servido po mi abuelo en persona. Me sentí muy grande y por esto lo recuerdo tan bien. Después seguí con fruta rellenada de castanias preparado con mucho talento por mi abuela. Y por supuesto terminé con helado como postre. ¡Qué rico!

Comments by examiners:

Analytical Scale:

Aptness for the genre: The texts are clear and to the point, and in the case of Task #1 respects the conventions of the genre (Intro: «¡Hola Diego! Gracias por tu mensaje»; closure: «Hasta pronto, saludos»). Develops with clarity the great majority of the points provided in the orientation text, even though in Task #1 fails to develop the reasons for the trip to Madrid.

Coherence: Writes brief and cohesive texts, structured along a sequential line of basic elements, utilizing information organizing mechanisms and basic link phrases of high frequency (task 1: «Cuando me encontré…»; «Pero como Miguel y yo…»; «Al final olvidé el tiempo y tuve…»; «Era caro pero valía la pena…»; task 2: «En mi comentario…»; «… y por supuesto…»; «Como cada año…»; «Por la primera vez…»; «… y por esto…»; «Después…»). Th structure of the text and the distribution of the paragraphs are well ordered, thanks to proper use of punctuation. Is an effort that qualifies as band 2.

Correctness: Demonstrates a reasonable control of the basic linguistic elements and habitual structures. May commit some errors (task 2: «Cada vez que se acerque…»; «Lo especial era…»; «Por la primera vez…») but this does not interfere with the transmission of the message.  The spelling is correct.

Linguistic Scope: Possesses a sufficient vocabulary to participate in daily exchanges related to his/her immediate environment. May commit errors when using constructs or vocabulary that’s more complex (task 1: «mandarle la bienvenida»; task 2: «rellenada»; «castanias»). There aren’t important errors that impede comprehension and in totality meets the criteria for a score of band 2.

Holistic Scale: Conveys the required information in comprehensible form and succeeds in transmitting the message in a manner that’s clear, detailed and without vacillations. The result are texts that are comprehensible and well-structured in both tasks, qualifying for scoring as band 2.

DELEhelp THIRTEEN TOP TIPS:

  • W E tips blockRead as much and as widely as possible during your preparation, to familiarize yourself with written Spanish, its spelling conventions and – above all – to expand your linguistic scope. Diligently add new words to your flashcards and study them (whether old-style or modern digital, like Anki or Cram.com). For links to free reading resources, please see our earlier blog-post: http://www.delehelp.org/top-dele-exam-resources-links-best-sites/
  • Do as many mock exams as you can, to familiarize yourself with the format and the time constraints – but do get expert feed-back, otherwise you may be leading yourself up the proverbial garden path.
  • When preparing for the written exam, practice your handwriting, especially if it has been some time since you’ve last had to write with a pen in this computer age. Make sure that you are writing legibly, and get your fingers properly “fit” again. Also check how many words you typically write on the lined DELE exam sheet; during the exam it is a waste of time if you have to sit and count – rather know beforehand how much of the page would constitute a given number of words in your handwriting.
  • Read the instructions, and plan: Once you have the exam paper in hand, make absolutely sure that you understand what is required of you. Highlight or underline key points in the instructions, and transpose these to a sketched scheme of structure, so that you can make sure that you cover every element required of you in your presentation. When you plan your written presentation, keep in mind the main categories of the analytical scoring scale: aptness to genre, coherence/fluency, correctness and linguistic scope.
  • Aptness requires you to adopt a structure and style of writing suited to the genre of the task at hand (for instance, a letter of complaint will have a very different structure and style to a text message or an essay) as well as selecting the appropriate register of tone/vocabulary (i.e., formal or informal).
  • Structuring your presentation is fundamental to success, especially regarding coherence and aptness to genre. A letter, for instance, will need to consist of three components, usually presented as separate paragraphs: firstly, defining the purpose of the letter; secondly, substantiating what you are saying; and thirdly, what kind of answer you expect. It goes without saying that you have to start the letter with the appropriate greeting and end it with the correct form of taking leave (the common Spanish versions of these you have to learn and remember, taking note also that Spanish formal letters tend to be more replete with courtesies than typical English usage). Examples of a formal greeting would be “Estimado / Respetable Señor” with the name of the person, if known, followed by a heading such as “Asunto: Trafico en la calle del Augua, Aldea Santa Ana”. A formal letter to anyone who isn’t a close friend or family member will usually start with a courtesy first phrase of the kind: “Espero que todo vaya bien en sus labores diárias.” and then: “El motivo de mi carta es…”  The typical end salutation in Latin America for this type of formal letter is: “Atentamente”.
  • Journalistic style: If you are required to write a journalistic article, you need to include the well-known “what, where, when, who and why”.
  • Short sentences: Whatever the typical structure of the genre you are required to write in, you will have to present your thoughts in logically structured paragraphs, trying to keep to one issue per paragraph. Try and avoid long sentences – in any form of writing, short sentences usually are stylistically better. In the exam context in particular, the longer the sentence, the greater the possibility for confusion and grammatical errors, such as regarding tenses or agreement of gender and number. With clarity being an important scoring requirement, keep your sentences short and to the point.
  • Link phrases: The foregoing does not imply that you should spit out short, unconnected sentences or paragraphs, staccato-style. You will have seen in the scoring criteria that coherence and fluency are very important; the examiners are actively looking for the use of appropriate connectors or linking phrases. As you sit down, make a quick list of such expressions at the top of your exam page as a memory jogger, and incorporate them appropriately as you write your texts. Some examples: sin embargo, así que, de todos modos, a pesar de que,  no obstante.
  • Think in Spanish: When writing in Spanish, try and think in Spanish, rather than translate phrases that you had first formed in English. In addition to taking up valuable time, thinking in English may lead you astray: you will know that a Spaniard using literal translation in order to express himself in English, is likely to write phrases like: “I have thirst” instead of “I’m thirsty”. The same will likely happen to you if you follow that route, which will undermine fluency and leave the impression of a limited and non-idiomatic lexicon. This will lead to you being penalized under the assessment criteria for correctness and linguistic scope. To be able to think and write in Spanish, it stands to reason that you must possess an ample lexis (i.e., vocabulary + expressions) and must have developed an ear for idiomatic language usage by means of reading and listening to lots and lots of everyday Spanish. You will observe that lexis – not just individual words, but knowledge also of everyday phrases and expressions – forms the foundation for doing well in reading and listening comprehension, as well as for oral and written expression; in brief, for each and every segment of the DELE / SIELE exam.  The importance of your flashcards for actively expanding your lexis / linguistic scope, and of reading and listening to Spanish for passive learning, cannot be stressed enough. See our blog post: https://www.delehelp.org/expand-vocabulary-best-dele-exam-prep/
  • Stay calm and think laterally: If you run into problems with words you would like to use, but which are stubbornly stuck on the tip of your tongue, think laterally and improvise (don’t waste time by getting hung up on a particular word, and don’t panic). Pay attention to the minimum length required for each task – you will lose marks if you don’t write at least that much. However, don’t fill up lines by repeating ideas that you’ve already stated, the second time just in different words. Do not copy entire sentences from the exam question either. Do not regurgitate memorized model answers; examiners are trained to recognize them and your test will be invalid.
  • Proofreading: There isn’t time during the exam to entirely re-write first drafts. You have to write down your answer straight away (after having first carefully analysed the instructions, and then equally carefully having planned and structured your text). Then use the remaining time to proof-read your work. To this end, it is a good idea not to write too densely on the page (i.e., you should initially write your words somewhat spaced, in order to allow you to fit in corrections).  The DELE is not an exam in the aesthetics of handwriting, so don’t worry if you need to scratch out and correct – as long as it remains clearly legible. Proofread particularly for agreement of gender and number, for correct use of ser/estar and por/para, for obligatory use of the subjunctive mood, and for spelling mistakes, paying attention to accents (tildes).
  • Check your watch: It is imperative to have an old-style watch at hand, to check your timing. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to use your smartphone for this, since their presence in the exam center is prohibited, for obvious reasons. It therefore needs to be a traditional timepiece. Be aware also of the relative weights of the different written tasks, so that you don’t waste too much time on initial, low-weight tasks. For example, in the three tasks of the DELE A2 written expression exam, task 1 counts for only 17% of the total score, task 2 for 33% and task 3 for 50%.

infographic

infographic

click on image to ask for free workbook

For more information, feel free to request our e-Workbook #9.2 entitled DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips (96 pages). It is available for download, gratis and without any obligation – just ask, using the convenient contact information form on this page. This unique free 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 or SIELE exam. Just click on the image, to ask for it. (You can also ask for our Workbook #8, which covers the OPI / WPT, and which we will also be happy to make available to you FREE).

You may also want to check out our personalized, one-on-one online tutorial assistance via Skype – the first exploratory conversation of one hour is also free and without obligation (Click on the display ad below, to be taken to our web-site). Our rate is only US$10 per hour, which includes our own prep and homework / mock exam review time, plus our free in-house workbooks – there are no hidden extra costs.

Watch 2 minute video introducing DELEhelp’s services.

Thank you for reading this blog-post. Please see also our earlier posts, covering other important aspects of the DELE exam. Any and all comments will be highly appreciated.

Hasta la proxima

 Saludos cordiales

Willem Steenkamp PhD
Director of Studies : Excellentia Didactica




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