ACING the OPI in SPANISH

Top tips for Acing the American OPI in Spanish (Oral Proficiency Interview)

A quick introduction

The Oral Proficiency Interview, or OPI, is a language competency certification recognized by the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) of the U.S.  Government for determining the level of conversational ability of a candidate in any given foreign language. The OPI was developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) in conjunction with the ILR. It is administered by a specialist private testing company, called Language Testing International (LTI), with the help of proctor institutions around the world (and I am proud to be an official proctor myself).

The classic Oral Proficiency Interview originated as a live, 20-30 minute telephone/Skype-style conversation between a certified tester and the candidate. Thanks to advances in IT, one can  now do the modern version, called the OPIc, which is the same test but computerized.  This means that the candidate engages online with an on-screen avatar that asks the prompt questions, rather than with a live interviewer. For an excellent demo of the OPIc, please go to: https://opicdemo.actfltesting.org/ – you should really make time to review this demo, which closely resembles the actual exam. An important note when looking at this demo – it is for doing the OPIc English-language competency test. However, just as in this demo for the English, please note that also in the  case of doing the Spanish OPIc test, the initial list of options establishing your profile of personal interests will be put to you in English, making things a lot easier for you than the equivalent European exams that jump straight into Spanish exam questions (as will be explained later).

The system of tests commonly referred to as the OPI isn’t limited to testing just your oral expression. Going beyond oral proficiency, candidates can also test their listening proficiency with the LPT, their reading proficiency with the RPT and their competency at  writing with the WPT. Together, these four certifications therefore cover the same ground as the European language exams such as the DELE / SIELE of the Instituto Cervantes (The OPIc is equal to the SIELE S4 “oral expression” unit). Your certificate for any of the four competencies can, at your election, be issued either in terms of the USA-ILR scale (0>5) or in terms of the European scale (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1) because these exams share the same policy foundation, norms and standards, namely the CEFR – the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

The OPI in its live as well as computer formats is a test that reliably measures how well a person converses in a foreign language. It is focused on the communicative competency – in other words, on the clarity of the message. The procedures for both the OPI  and OPIc are standardized; the tests assesses speaking ability globally, in a holistic manner, determining strengths and weaknesses (see this blogpost for how OPI compares to DELE / SIELE: http://www.delehelp.org/oral-proficiency-interview-vs-dele-diploma/

The primary goal of the OPI / OPIc, from the system’s perspective, is for the tester to engage constructively with the candidate, in such a way that a proper sample of speech can be obtained from the candidate. It isn’t, therefore, a “Spanish inquisition” trying to catch you out. After all, from the perspective of the examiners, they must – first and foremost – capture a sample of your speech that will be sufficient to allow a valid rating of your competency. To achieve that, the conversation must clearly demonstrate the highest sustained level of performance of the speaker (known as the “floor”) plus the level at which the speaker can no longer sustain the performance (known as the “ceiling”), over a variety of topics. The OPI resembles a conversation – but, in fact, the live tester as well as the OPIc’s avatar “Ava” do respect a strict protocol to put the candidate at ease; they use trigger questions that conform to the candidate’s own pre-stated interests, to get the candidate to speak up.

The OPIc – personalized for YOUR interests

The preliminary phase of the OPIc that you will go through on exam day setting up your interview, illustrates this point well. This initial phase establishes your “interest profile” and aims to ensure that the later conversation will be geared towards topics that you will be at ease to talk about. Getting this selection of questions right on the part of  the  OPIc system should ensure a substantial enough sample being recorded. After all, there’s no point in asking you questions that you can’t answer because you know nothing about a  particular topic and have no interest in it. Doing that will simply mean that the system has failed to meet its own primary need, which is to get from you a proper representative sample that can be assessed.

The system’s data bank contains a multitude of possible exam questions, covering a hugely diverse field of interests and activities. Initially, therefore,  the computer will list for you options (in English) about your personal interests across a very wide range of subjects, including hobbies, sport,  vacation preferences and the like. The fact that the OPIc is designed this way, allows you as English-speaking student a clear comparative advantage when you do the OPIc, as compared to the DELE or  SIELE exam – firstly, because the OPIc asks you these initial questions in your own mother tongue, and secondly because it sets out to personalize your exam according to your own personal interests, whilst the DELE /SIELE simply launches straight into an undifferentiated set of exam questions, in Spanish from the word go, in a “one size fits all” style.

Your responses to the OPIc’s personal profile options then determine the precise exam questions that the computer will select for you, and which its on-screen avatar – named Ava – will then put to you (in Spanish) during the actual test. This is what the screen will look like, that you will be speaking to when doing the OPIc (in the case of the classic telephone-based OPI, your interviewer will also first establish your broad interests, but obviously it cannot be as detailed as the technology allows for the OPIc):

Next we will show you some further screen shots, to give you an idea of how detailed the questions are during the set-up “profile phase” (remember, you can see the official demo by clicking on the link supplied earlier above: https://opicdemo.actfltesting.org/ ).

The OPIc system will first  ask you to identify general fields of personal interest, which you would like to talk about. The next screen shot contains just a small sample of the areas of interest – for example, it will ask you about your activities, hobbies, sport and vacation preferences. Under sport and physical activities, for example, you will find a list that contains basketball, baseball/softball, soccer,  football, rugby, ice hockey, field hockey, cricket, golf, volleyball, tennis, badminton, table tennis, swimming, biking, motorcycling, scuba/snorkel, ski/snowboard, wateski… And so the list goes on (it is therefore quite unlikely that you, no matter which part of the world you’re from, won’t find subject matter in there that you would be comfortable and knowledgeable to talk about). Here’s the initial “background survey” screen shot :

The next screen shots show some of the hobbies plus sport options not yet listed in the text of the previous paragraph, as well as vacation options, to further illustrate the level of detail and personalization sought:

The OPIc will next ask you to broadly assess your own level of Spanish-speaking ability. This serves to ensure that the computer avatar asks you questions that correspond, in degree of difficulty, with your level and don’t totally overshoot or under-estimate it. This is again a great advantage of the OPIc over the SIELE, since the latter does not first establish a personalized profile and thus needs to incorporate into each test segment the full spectrum of difficulty levels ranging from A1 beginner to C1 advanced, which all candidates then willy-nilly need to work through. (In this particular screen shot you will see that the OPIc system asks about your “English-speaking” ability; in your exam it will of course be your Spanish-speaking ability,  but the initial profile questions will still be asked of you in English):

The OPIc – personalized for YOUR level

The OPIc system is technologically very robust and glitch-free. We here at DELEhelp are both SIELE exam admisitrators as well as OPI proctors, and in our experience the online capacities of the OPIc definitely set the gold standard for maintaining you connected on-line during the exam. You are,  therefore, very unlikely to be left stranded in the middle of the exam because of some technical glitch, if you select to do the OPIc. It is also a very user-friendly and intuitive system, and I can truly state that LTI (who manages the system on behalf of the ACTFL) are always extremely helpful and quick to respond to any queries. You therefore don’t need to be a computer genius in order to be able to use the OPIc system with ease and confidence. Remember also that there’s always an OPI proctor present, who will step in if any technical issues should arise during the test.

Contrary to what one may imagine, OPIc candidates find it easy to interact with AVA the avatar. She speaks / articulates very clearly in Spanish, not too fast, and without some deviant accent. Electing to do the OPIc instead of the old-style OPI, also eliminates any possible issue of human bias or quirks of speech / accent on the part of the human OPI interviewer that you may end up with (NB: some institutions still require that their applicants/employees must take the test in the form of the classic OPI, not the OPIc, so you need to inquire and establish from your employer or the entity to which you may be applying, what their rules are about perhaps insisting on one format and not the other – in truth, the standards are exactly equal and the certification equally trustworthy, and it is no secret that we as proctors much prefer candidates to do the modern OPIc, because of all its obvious advantages for both the student and the administrator).

The system is also mindful of helping the student to keep track of time elapsed / time remaining for responding, as well as to keep you orientated with regard to where you are (i.e., at which question) i.t.o. the overall test segment. The next screen shot shows what you’ll see while you’re doing the test – there is a bar at the top of the screen that shows you at which question you’re at, and another bar showing you the time remaining for your responses:

This next shot shows the last screen that you will see, when you’ve finished the OPIc test:

In the next segment we will share with you some tips that underpin doing well in oral exams  Keep in mind that the OPI/ OPIc is a multi-level exam. What this means is that, contrary to the DELE exam for example (for which you have to pre-select a specific level that you wish to write) your result is not going to be simply either a pass or a fail for that particular level. Unlike the DELE, you effectively cannot fail the OPI, because the goal of the system is to place you along a competence curve, corresponding to the level you have actually demonstrated. If you have asked for an OPI/OPIc certificate expressed i.t.o. the European system, you will for example get a certificate stating that your oral expression competency in Spanish is at level A2, or B2, or C1 or whatever the case may be. In the case of the DELE, if you haven’t made the grade i.t.o. the specific level you have enrolled for – say B2 – you don’t get an A2 or B1: you simply get a No APTO, meaning fail, with nothing more to show for your entire effort. (The OPI/OPIc is, as multi-level exam, therefore similar to the multi-level SIELE, which is the modern online version of the DELE introduced by the Instituto Cervantes of Spain in 2016.

What the OPIc certificate looks like

In the next image you can see what an OPIc certificate actually looks like. In this example, the grading was done i.t.o. the ACTFL system, with the candidate achieving an “Advanced Low” which corresponds to a B2 in the European system. You can see that what the grading means in practical terms (i.e., level of communicative competency) is explained on the back of each certificate:

Basic tips for Acing Oral exams:

  • Know what the goals are of the OPI/OPIc. It is an examination of your ability to communicate orally in everyday situations. There isn’t a more common, nor is there a more essential way of communicating, than by means of speaking. This makes the oral interview obviously crucial in assessing your overall communication competency.
  • Know what the official OPI oral interview format and scoring criteria are. You need to be familiar with the system and criteria that the testers will be using to assess your oral performance. If you don’t know this, you won’t know how best to converse with your interviewer.
  • Sit correctly: When sitting down, don’t slouch (i.e., don’t sit with your head and upper torso leaning back in relation to your backside, because this posture constricts your breathing). Sitting correctly means getting your lower backside as far back into and pressed up against the chair’s backrest as possible. This will help with your breathing and articulation. It will also force your upper body forward, thus into a natural posture of engaging positively with your interlocutor (this remains valid, also for the OPI format, which is an interview by phone or – in the case of the OPIc – engaging with a computer avatar).
  • NB: NB: Engage with your interviewer, be relaxed and friendly, COMMUNICATE.
  • Fluency is an important scoring criteria; this is achieved particularly by means of using link phrases (connectors), for which the testers will be actively looking in your discourse – it is therefore important to know and practice a list of such phrases which you can employ naturally. In general, it is critical not to get hung up on searching desperately for specific words that may have momentarily abandoned you; use whatever others that come most readily to your tongue at that moment, even if you also have to use additional description to communicate your point.
  • Coherence is important. Don’t launch willy-nilly into a torrent of speech, hell-bent on appearing to be answering the question, but without any thought or plan. Communication is more than filling time with sound – true communication is based on transmitting a MEANINGFUL MESSAGE. The typical structure for such is: intro/body of proof/conclusion. Organize your thoughts.
  • Linguistic scope is another core aspect tested. What linguistic scope means, is your repertoire – the breadth and command of vocabulary and expressions; how familiar you are with colloquialisms and idiomatic native language use, in order to be able to correctly contextualize sayings and to do justice to communicating about increasingly sophisticated concepts and themes. There are no better ways of improving your Spanish (and thus your score) than extensive and attentive reading, plus jotting down new words on your flashcard system such as www.cram.com . To stay abreast of news actualities across the full spectrum of subjects, spend a few minutes each day with the free site www.practicaespanol.com By attentive reading, we mean that you should be looking up words that you encounter and don’t yet know – include these in your vocabulary flashcard list, and revise them frequently. Here’s a link to a blog-post that will help you with the study of vocabulary: http://www.delehelp.org/expand-vocabulary-best-dele-exam-prep/
  • Accuracy or correctness of language is a scoring factor. This relates to your correct use of fixed idiomatic expressions and grammar, such as agreement of gender and number. Slow down! It’s fine to pause briefly and naturally to gather your thoughts (a good fall-back with which to fill these moments is using connectors or link words, such as entonces, which will give you breathing space and contribute to naturalness and fluency). When you start talking, talk at a slower/measured pace (but clearly conversational) so that you can allow yourself time to formulate thoughts and speak accurately. If you make a mistake, correct yourself in a natural manner, don’t try and ignore it as if it didn’t happen – you will actually be positively assessed for having corrected yourself.
  • Confirm questions if needed: It’s certainly normal to get nervous in an exam situation, and equally normal even in real everyday conversations to require clarifications from your interlocutor. Rather ask, than answer a question that you’ve misunderstood. So, make sure to clarify the question if in any doubt, with a phrase like “Puede usted explicarme su pregunta, por favor…” (in case of a telephonic interview).
  • Personalize and engage with the content, by reflecting your own perceptions and opinions about the subject matter and quoting relevant personal experiences; don’t just repeat in a purely descriptive manner the elements of the question your tester had posed.
  • Pay attention as well to your delivery, i.e. to the art of oratory and rhetorical devices you employ in order to persuade and negotiate: for example, vary your tone and emphasis, to nuance and underscore key points. Be sure to adapt your presentation to the nature of your audience and setting – such adaptability on your side to conform correctly i.t.o. appropriate level of formality of language or sophistication of the lexis / terminology you use, in relation to the demands of the event or setting being simulated, is an assessment criterium, especially at the higher levels. Don’t be so hung up on ensuring correctness of your grammar that you lose the natural flow, rhythm and thrust of conversation as interactive, interpersonal engagement. SMILE (it will reflect in your voice, even though the tester can’t necessarily see it). Remember that the testers are taught to draw you out of your shell, in a friendly manner, and never to correct or criticize you – therefore, relax: they are not your enemies, nor your inquisitors.
  • Confidence is truly the key to fluent, engaged communication. Never forget that the OPI tests your capacity to communicate effectively – to receive and transmit meaning. You will be authentic and authoritative when you speak from inner conviction, having personalized your responses, rather than parroting talking points with which you don’t identify. The best booster of confidence is the knowledge that you have practiced and practiced and practiced doing mock versions of these oral interviews, to perfection, before the actual interview date – doing as many guided simulations as possible with your expert tutor via Skype or in situ immersion in the weeks and months leading up to the exam.
  • Read out loud whenever you are reading Spanish books, blogs or news media during your self-study and relaxation hours. As preparation and practice of your pronunciation, do as much of your Spanish reading en voz alta, so that you can get accustomed to actually saying words, not just seeing or thinking them.
  • Record your practice sessions on tape or preferably on video, when you do simulations of interviews. That way you can hear and see yourself in action and can take note of improvements you need to make. A good method is to review how you initially had responded, and then “re-do” your initial answers in writing, ensuring that they are now to the point, well-structured, accurate and impactful – thereby developing and internalizing your own mental system of organizing your thoughts so that you can respond to questions reflexively in such an organised, clear manner.
  • MOST IMPORTANT – get an expert tutor with whom to practice and who can design for you an appropriate personal study plan & help guide you to success.     

FREE OPI Workbook!

This blog post is already quite long. Rather than trying to cover everything here, I prefer to offer you – FREE and with NO OBLIGATION – our in-house DELEhelp Workbook #8. It contains a lot more detail about the OPI grading system, as well as the scoring criteria used by the examiners (the “can do” statements against which your performance will be weighed in relation to the different competency levels). The Workbook also contains links to videos of actual OPI interviews, as well as to further free resources that will give you even more background detail about the OPI/OPIc. Just click on the image below, to access the short contact form with which to ask for our free Workbook #8. And while asking, you can also request the download links for our other free in-house workbooks as well, as advertised elsewhere in this blog and on our DELEhelp Facebook page.

Click on image for form with which to ask for free workbook

 




16 TOP BLOG POSTS ON ACING DELE EXAM

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

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

Buena suerte with your exam prep!

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

TESTED ANSWERS to DELE exam FAQs

20 Top Tips for Acing the DELE exam ORAL tasks

Sephardic Jews Spain return DELE A2 language test

ACE your DELE EXAM by getting to know the curriculum

History is part of the DELE exam curriculum

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

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

DELE exam functional language use a key part of curriculum

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

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

LINKS to top DELE exam prep RESOURCES

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

DELE exam reading comprehension top tips

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

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SPANISH EXAM PREP: THREE TOP TIPS

Spanish exam prep: three things that work best to help you ace the DELE / SIELE or OPI

There are three things that, above all else, you should do in your Spanish exam prep. Doing these will help you ace your exam, whether it is the DELE, the SIELE or the OPI. The three things are: (1) get to know your “enemy”, (2) have a large “linguistic scope”, and (3) practice speaking and writing in Spanish, 1-on-1, with an expert tutor. (If you don’t yet know what the DELE, the SIELE and the OPI are, please go to this blogpost: https://www.delehelp.org/dele-siele-opi-spanish-exams-compared/ ).

Students often say to me: “You are an official SIELE exam center manager, and an OPI proctor. You’ve passed the DELE C2. You have been helping hundreds of students to successfully prepare for these exams. What are the top three practical, ‘been there, done it’ tips you can give a student i.t.o. effective Spanish exam prep?”

The first thing I say to students who are planning their Spanish exam prep, is that they have to really “know the enemy” to be able to beat it. Find out about your particular exam’s assessment goals, its format, curriculum and scoring criteria. Make sure that you understand exactly what the examiners will be expecting of you. Without knowing this, you cannot develop a proper study plan. Nor will you have the right mind-set for going into exam day. Because without a proper understanding of how different these exams are to school or college exams (they are focused on “communicative competency”, not academic competency) you will likely still think that they are marked like the language exams you knew in school or college.  Which they definitely are NOT – they test your ability to USE the language, to actually COMMUNICATE, instead of just having academic knowledge about it. For example, i.t.o. the scoring method used: do you know that, for the speaking and writing tests, your COHERENCE, your FLUENCY and the extent of your VOCABULARY count for three times more of your overall score than does your CORRECTNESS? (of pronunciation, spelling, grammar etc.).

The second important thing to do in your Spanish exam prep, is to focus most of your self-study time on learning the lexis of the Spanish language – in other words, its vocabulary plus expressions. This is hugely important for both the comprehension and speaking/writing tests. In the writing and speaking, the “amplitude of your linguistic scope” (i.e., your knowledge of vocabulary and expressions) count for 25% of the total test score. In the comprehension tests it is even more important, because it is obvious that if you don’t know what key words in the text or audio clip mean, you’ll be unlikely to comprehend the message and equally unlikely to get the answers right.

Thirdly, get an experienced, knowledgeable tutor with whom you can practice, 1-on-1, to express yourself in Spanish, whether it be in writing or speaking. Because the one thing that you clearly cannot do by yourself at home, is practicing conversation by yourself. Nor will your writing practice have full value if you don’t have an expert to review it and guide you. Prepping for these exams is all about PRACTICE. Which is why one-on-one tuition is streets ahead of wasting time in group classes where you are held back by the lowest common denominator and where you have to share your part of precious prep time with how many others.

Let’s get into some more detail now, and also point you to resources that will help you get to grips with these three keys to success with your Spanish exam prep.

click on image to ask for free workbook

GETTING TO KNOW THE GOALS, CURRICULA AND SCORING CRITERIA:

To really get to know what will be required of you, you will need to do two things. One is to read up about these exams from a source describing them in plain English and from the student perspective – from the point of view of explaining what skills these exams are actually set up to test, and how. The second is to do as many model exams as possible, to gain first-hand insight through practice, doing so with an expert tutor who can explain to you where you fall short and why (and how to remedy that).

You have to understand what the goals are that these exams are devised to accomplish (in brief, to test and certify your practical, real-world ability to actually communicate in Spanish – i.e., to understand what you hear and read, and to be understandable when you write or speak). Get familiar with the exam format, which is structured to test your real-life “can do” ability with regard to the four communicative competencies (listening and reading comprehension, plus written and oral expression). Obviously, you have to know what content you will be tested on, so you have to familiar with your level’s curriculum (for example, in the DELE / SIELE the Subjunctive Mood isn’t tested at levels A1 and A2). The most important part of the DELE / SIELE curriculum is the “functional language use” chapter – what is called in the OPI system the “can do” statements. These identify the actual tasks that you must be able to perform at your level, and about which you will be tested. (Grammar constitutes just one of the 12 chapters of the DELE / SIELE curriculum).

And finally, you have to be very clear about the scoring criteria that the examiners
will apply to assess your written and spoken expression (they will evaluate,
with equal weight, four things: your coherence, linguistic scope, fluency and
correctness – which we will come to in a moment). The best sources for getting
this information, in English, written from the perspective of the students’
needs, are our FREE in-house Workbook #9, as well as the detailed posts in this
DELEhelp
blog.

If you click on the image above for the Workbook, you will
be taken to a contact info form that will enable us to send you the download
link FREE, without any obligation. By clicking on the image of a particular
post, such as how the final pass/fail is calculated (below), you will be taken
to that post in this blog – or you can look in the “archives” column on the
right and select for yourself.

I know that most students, when they ask me for my top three tips, probably expect me to refer them to aspects of grammar to study. Like asking the teacher at school what content to “spot” for an upcoming test. Things of the kind that your school teacher would have identified – like mastering the Subjunctive Mood (if you aim for a middle or upper level pass). Or to get clarity on when to use “ser” and when “estar” (for the lower levels – and beyond). Of course, these certainly are useful things to master, and you must definitely get around to them. But you can already see that they are nowhere near the top three priorities for these communicative exams (even though they may be in school or college-style exams).

Once you know what the four equally-weighted scoring criteria are, and how they are applied, you will clearly understand how differently you will have to prepare yourself for these exams. In essence, these exams test your ability to convey a clear message, and whether you understand the messages that you receive. This they do by testing whether you can maintain a coherent and fluent conversation, plus: can you express yourself correctly, and with a sufficiently ample linguistic scope? (i.e., have command of the words and expressions needed, with which to clearly formulate your message). The fundamental difference in objective between school-style exams and these “can do” tests, speak from the results that the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) encountered when they did a survey about ability to actually maintain a conversation. They tested students at senior school and college level, who majored in a foreign language. The result was: only 0.5% could – proof enough that if you prep for the DELE / SIELE & OPI like you would have approached a Spanish exam in college, you would stand a 99,5% chance of failing. It’s not merely about what you KNOW, it’s all about what you CAN DO.

When it comes to format, the DELE/SIELE/OPI exams vary but slightly (mostly due to different technologies used – the DELE being an old-style “pen & paper” exam, and the SIELE / OPI using computers with online technology). However, the goals and the approach to assessment stay the same for all of them. In the case of the DELE, there is no flexibility – all four the communicative competencies (i.e., reading and listening comprehension, as well as oral and written expression) are tested in sequence, in one exam. In the case of the SIELE and OPI, because of the modern technology they use, there is much more flexibility. You can choose which competencies to be tested on – either just speaking, or all four, or any combinations in between – and one which days you want each tested (if you have selected more than one competency to be tested on).

Make sure that you know which of these exam formats would best suit your own goals or accreditation needs, so that you can choose wisely between the DELE, the SIELE and the OPI (they are all of equal international standing, with the OPI being USA-based, and the DELE / SIELE offered under the auspices of the Instituto Cervantes of Spain). You will find an up-to-date blogpost comparing these three exams, by clicking on this link: https://www.delehelp.org/dele-siele-opi-spanish-exams-compared/

Next I’ll will give you pointers about the most important (and rewarding) traditional learning (i.e., memorizing) challenge that you must take on, in order to do well in these exams – which is: expanding your lexis.

Click on image to go to blogpost about how to expand your “linguistic scope”

THE IMPORTANCE OF VOCABULARY & HOW TO MASTER IT:

As I’ve indicated earlier, your “linguistic scope” is one of the four equally-weighted scoring criteria used in assessing oral and written expression in these communication-based Spanish language exams. For the comprehension tests, a broad knowledge of lexis is actually even more important, because if you don’t know the meaning of key words and expressions used in the reading texts or audio clips, you won’t be able to understand what is truly meant in the particular piece.

There is no way around it – vocabulary and idiomatic expressions (and their meanings) simply need to be memorized. This is the hard learning part of prepping for these exams. There are, however, proven methods of making this more effective and less boring. The one such method is using flashcards; in particular the modern digital ones, such as Cram.com. The other, complimentary method is to master the twelve conversion patterns
for the so-called cognate words (i.e., those with common roots and similar meaning) in both languages. They constitute the 38% of vocabulary that is common between Spanish and English. To give an example of such a conversion pattern – words that end in English on “…ce” will in Spanish end on”…cia”, such as police / policia and ambulance / ambulancia. If you know these patterns, you will have a huge instant vocabulary and will know how to spell and pronounce them correctly.

At DELEhelp we have developed two in-house workbooks, specifically to help you expand your linguistic scope. The first of these (DELEhelp Workbook #4), helps you master the use of flashcards and the art of cognate conversion. It also provides you with a list of the thousand most frequently used words in Spanish (culled by supercomputers from hundreds of telenovela episodes, so this is real-world Spanish). The second (Workbook #5) introduces you to the most commonly used Spanish expressions – particularly the very important “link phrases” or “connectors” that the examiners are so keen to see you use, because they help ensure coherence and fluency.

The modern digital flashcard systems undoubtedly are the key
to effective learning of lexis. You can use flashcards to memorize words and expressions
– not only i.t.o. meaning, but you can (and should) add the gender of nouns,
and the conjugation rules applicable to individual verbs (whether they are
regular / irregular etc.). The beauty of the modern flashcards is that they help
you escape the soul-deadening boredom of trying to memorize printed lists of
words. It is like playing chess against the computer – systems like Cram.com (which
is free) make the learning process interesting by playing games with you,
whilst all the time sorting the words that you already know from those that
still challenge you, and keeping you focused on the latter.

When you have set up your flashcard system, it is very
important to be diligent in maintaining and expanding it. Every new word you
encounter, whether reading or listening, must
be jotted down, looked up in a good dictionary (like the free online dictionary
by Farlex) and then incorporated into your flashcards. The more you read
Spanish, listen to Spanish talk radio or watch telenovelas, the bigger and better
your linguistic scope will get – if you discipline yourself to note new words on
flashcards and then actively learn them, as your most important self-study
general assignment.

Click on image to go to blogpost with 20 top tips for acing the oral exam

THE IMPORTANCE OF
1-on-1 PRACTICE GUIDED BY AN EXPERT TUTOR

We know today, thanks to neuroscience, that our brains process the acquisition of language in the same way, using the same brain circuit that we employ to acquire the skill to dance, to play the piano, or to play golf – any skill that we perform. In the case of sport, we talk about building up “muscle memory”, which is the ability to reflexively play that tennis backhand shot because we’ve internalized – through much practice – the patterns of the movement. Knowing what to do isn’t equivalent to being able to actually DO: as a total golf hacker, I can go out and buy every book ever written about the sport and study them exhaustively – but that won’t help me beat Tiger Woods.

We know that this is true also for language: speaking our
mother tongue, we don’t for a moment consciously think about grammar – we do it
reflexively, on the basis of the lexis and patterns of the language that we’ve
internalized through constant practice. It is probably fair to say that the
vast majority of any population don’t have even the most basic idea about the formal
grammar of their mother tongue – yet they all speak it correctly (mostly). We know
that nobody sits down toddlers to actively teach them language in a formal,
grammatical way like in school – they observe and practice (and unlike us
adults, they don’t have ego hang-ups about making mistakes, which keeps us from
opening our mouths, and thus from practicing).  By trial and error toddlers internalize what the
right words are for describing particular things or actions. Constantly they practice
the correct pronunciation, and stringing words together in the correct
patterns. And lo and behold, after five-six years they speak with confidence
and clarity, before they’ve received one day of schooling.

Although language handbooks are very valuable tools that are available to us adults when we aim to acquire a new language, they aren’t a substitute for actually practicing to speak and to write. Practicing writing one can (and should) do by oneself at home, but to gain full value, you need an expert to review your written assignments and to guide you i.t.o. necessary corrections. However, practicing conversation is simply impossible to do effectively in front of the mirror, on your own. Even the best interactive computer program isn’t going to help you with practicing true conversation either. You need an expert interlocutor, who can correct and guide you, 1-on-1. Earlier, I mentioned the 0.5% result that  the ACTFL found when they assessed how well traditional foreign language schooling actually equips students to maintain conversations. This statistic also explains why enrolling for group classes to prepare for exams such as these, is usually a waste of time and money – you need opportunity to practice, not just to sit there and listen, and that can best be achieved 1-on-1 with an expert tutor who not only knows Spanish, but also the ins and outs of the particular exam for which you are prepping.

Such conversation practice with a tutor isn’t just idle chatter – it needs to be structured, simulating  the exam itself (for example, using appropriate photographs as conversation triggers, such as the DELE and SIELE interviewers typically use). The practice conversations should ideally be recorded, for subsequent review and so as not to interrupt you in mid-stream to correct a word or phrase here and there – particularly when practicing for gaining fluency and coherence is so important i.t.o. the scoring criteria that will be employed in the exam. It speaks for itself that, in the normal course of such conversation practice, any problems that you have with correctness of pronunciation, grammar, choice of words and the like, will naturally come to the surface and will be attended to. This means that such conversation practice isn’t just preparation for the oral test, but for all of the elements of the exam.

So, there you have it. My three top tips for your Spanish exam prep. How to best prepare for exams that test your “communicative competency”, such as the DELE / SIELE or the ACTFL’s package of tests, most prominent of which is the OPIc – the Oral Proficiency Interview by computer

Please take note that you can ask to receive a free download link to our 96-page in-house Workbook #9.2: “DELE/SIELE exam orientation and acing tips” by sending me an e-mail to: ws@edele.org or by filling in the convenient contact info form on this page. It will certainly help you in your Spanish exam prep!

Buena suerte with your preparation!

Salu2

Willem




COMPARING THE DELE / SIELE & OPI SPANISH TESTS

At DELEhelp we are often asked how the three main Spanish language competency exams, the DELE, the SIELE and the OPI compare, since we are official proctors for the American OPI system, as well as accredited SIELE exam coordinators (and I myself as writer of this post, have a DELE C2 diploma).

THE THREE OPTIONS: The traditional style “pen & paper” DELE exam of the Instituto Cervantes of Spain is long established and thus probably the most widely known Spanish language competency test. However, modern technology now offers two equally valid additional options. Both can be taken online, with much more flexibility and convenience. One is the SIELE (which the Instituto Cervantes launched in 2016 as essentially an online twin for the DELE). The other is  the American OPIc – the Oral Proficiency Interview via computer – of the ACTFL (the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages).

These online exams offer not only a choice of accreditation between Spain and the USA. They also offer relief to those students who need their results quickly (not the three months that the DELE results take), and who want to take their exam any day of the year (i.e., not be limited to one of the five dates that the DELE offers). In particular, the SIELE and the OPIc offer relief to students who do not want, or do not need, simultaneous testing in all four communication formats (listen, read, write, speak) which remains an onerous obligation with the DELE. If you only need, for example,your oral proficiency assessed and certified (or any combination of the four competencies) then the SIELE in its different component forms, or the ACTFL package of competency tests for speaking, writing and reading & listening comprehension would be much more suited for you.

Lastly, both the SIELE and the ACTFL online tests are multi–level exams that peg you at your right level for each competency individually. Unlike the DELE, you don’t have to commit yourself to passing all of these competency tests at one specific level, on one day (for instance, B2). And unlike the DELE, you effectively can’t fail SIELE or the OPI/WPT/LPT/RPT (whereas the DELE you most definitely can fail, if you do not achieve an across the board pass for the four competencies together, in their same-day exam).

THE SIELE EXAM PACKAGE:

The SIELE  and the DELE use the same curriculum and scoring criteria. They both qualify you i.t.o. the same levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1) and the certificates for both are signed by the same official – the Director of Studies of the Instituto Cervantes. If you want to do the top C2 level, though, you can still only do that through the DELE. The SIELE has eliminated many of the logistical nightmares associated with the DELE, and introduced newfound flexibility – both regarding the dates when you can sit the SIELE (practically any day of the year, as opposed to five fixed dates for the DELE) and the fact that the SIELE allows you to test for only one competency at a time, if you wish (as opposed to the DELE’s obligation of doing all four in one sitting). You also typically get your SIELE certificate within three days of doing the exam, whereas you have to wait THREE MONTHS for your the DELE results (and another three months for the actual diploma). We have published a detailed blogpost about the SIELE, so I will not repeat all the details here. You can access the post by clicking on this link: https://www.delehelp.org/the-siele-exam-is-fast-flexible-and-fail-proof/

SPAIN OR USA? When you look beyond the Instituto Cervantes of Spain’s DELE / SIELE and you consider the American ACTFL’s options as well, there is one essential question  to ask yourself – especially if you need certification for university study purposes or employment in a public service position: do you intend studying at a North American college or work for a U.S. entity?   If  that is the case, then the ACTFL’s package of OPI/WPT/LPT/RPT may be your more appropriate choice (even though many American academic institutions do also recognize the DELE and increasingly, the new SIELE).

If your personal goal – or your professional / social need – is no more than to be able to converse, then one of the best general certifications (for Americans especially), is the OPI / OPIc test of the ACTFL.  Keep in mind that, although the ACTFL tests are commonly know as the OPI, they are not limited to assessing oral proficiency only – you can do the WPT, RPT and the LPT (the writing proficiency test, and those for reading and listening proficiency), similar to those offered under the SIELE banner. These three additional proficiency tests are all done individually online, in much the same easy way as the OPIc (the classic OPI is still done by telephone, but has in practice been largely superseded by the OPIc).

Public sector institutions in the USA (many of which are grouped together in the inter-agency round table for languages or ILR, associated with the ACTFL) obviously accord preference to the OPI/OPIc. It stands to reason that most academic institutions in the USA are also familiar with the ACTFL and its testing, for credit purposes. Many private sector institutions in the USA, such as business employers and private schools seeking to appoint teaching staff, require OPI/OPIc certification from applicant employees as well.

This blogpost will essentially describe the OPI and OPIc, plus what we here at DELEhelp can do to assist you in your preparation for the interview, whether it be the online or “by phone” version.

MAIN DIFFEENCES BETWEEN THE DELE / SIELE AND THE ACTFL TESTS

Whereas the DELE tests all four components of communicative competencies as integral, obligatory parts of one exam sitting, on the same day, the ACTFL and the SIELE test these competencies individually: in the case  of the ACTFL, in the form of the OPI / WPT / RPT / LPT stand-alone tests. These can – if one so choose – be taken on different days and it’s possible also to choose to do only one test, and no more: like the OPIc or the SIELE S4, both being just oral proficiency.

For the DELE exam, the candidate must register for one of six progressively more difficult levels, from A1 to C2, and pass all the competencies at that same level/standard in one exam.  Fail one and you fail all. In the case of the OPI and also for the WPT/RPT/LPT, there is no testing level to pre-select on the part of the candidate. Each comptenecy is assessed independently. The generic interview / test format allows for candidates to be assessed and a level of proficiency to be certified for each competency, on the ACTFL scale of ten, ranging from “novice low” through “intermediate mid” to “superior”, or the ILR (Inter-Agency Language Roundtable) scale of 0 to 5, with the latter being equivalent to “functionally native”. It is possible, though, with the ACTFL’s tests to request that your certificates be issued i.t.o. the European 6-level scale (A1/A2, B1/B2 & C1/C2).

The physical exam format is also different: for the DELE, the candidate must present in person at a certified examination center across the globe, pen in hand, on one of five pre-set exam dates during the year. The OPI is an interview conducted by telephone, and the OPIc is an online test by computer (as are the WPT/LPT/RPT), which can be taken at any pre-arranged time of year, taken wherever the candidate finds him/herself (where there is a proctor available).  The OPI/OPIc can usually be scheduled within a few working days. The tests are conducted i.t.o. the ACTFL assessment protocol by Language Testing International (LTI). To request an oral proficiency interview, the candidate needs the co-operation of an institution that can procurate the test (i.e., vouch for the identity of the candidate and oversee adherence to the rules) which may be an accredited school or one’s own employer. Our terrestrial school here in La Antigua Guatemala, PROBIGUA, is such a proctor institution: http://www.probigua.com ).  The certified OPI/OPIc or other ACTFL proficiency test result is normally available within ten working days (the DELE usually takes three months).

THE ORAL PROFICIENCY INTERVIEW

The traditional-style OPI interview (as opposed to the OPIc interview) is conducted live by a qualified tester, by phone; it is recorded and usually further assessed by a second examiner, before a proficiency level is certified. The interview lasts from twenty to forty minutes. The objective is to assess the candidate’s ability to use the language orally in real-life situations. The manner in which the candidate acquired Spanish is not important, nor is there any set coursework or curriculum to cover. The candidate is tested against a standard set of criteria, essentially by means of questions and answers broadly intended to resemble a conversation.  The tester will structure the questions in such a way as to oblige the candidate to use different tenses, such as past and future, and to express hypotheses and wishes – in this way indirectly testing knowledge of grammar and (above all) your ability to apply this knowledge.  The format also makes provision for using role-play at some point, which the tester will introduce and explain in English.

Testers are under strict instructions to avoid contentious topics such as politics and religion. A manual for OPI testers explains how topics should be selected:

  • Warm-up topics should focus on autobiographical information, educational background, work or profession, interests, hobbies, etc.
  • The tester’s role is to develop topics that are of interest to the candidate so that the candidate is engaged in the discussion naturally and spontaneously.
  • Topics to pursue (if previously mentioned by the candidate) include:

Education, work experiences, future career ambitions, consumerism, customer service, sports, exercise, the workplace in the 21st Century, innovations, urban, suburban, rural communities and lifestyles, transportation, traffic, ecology, the environment, industry (financial, service, manufacturing), classical culture, art, music, popular culture, TV, movies, fashion, technology, computers, hobbies, special interests, food, diet, entertainment, pets, automobiles, tourism, travel, science, medicine, history, etc.

The online OPIc is an advance on the OPI, since it eliminates the human factor in the interviewing, and is therefore even more standardized. The first important thing to note about the OPIc is that all instructions are in English, as opposed to the DELE / SIELE, where all instructions are in Spanish only.

This is obviously a great advantage for English-speaking students, which is further enhanced by the ACTFL’s ample study materials in English for preparing for the OPIc.

You will be interviewed by a friendly avatar called AVA, who will first establish with you the topics that most interest you in life, and then allow you to choose the main themes about which you want to be interviewed. The conversations start out at the level that you yourself had rated your Spanish to be at (done in the biographical segment that introduces the test). It thus allows you to “warm up” with well-know topics that you’ve identified as being of interest to you, regarding sport, recreation, your work, family etc. It then steadily escalates to the main themes you chose, which would for example be:  

The test is similar to climbing a stairway, with the objective being to see at how high a level you can sustain the conversation (the “floor”) and where you find the going impossibly tough (the “ceiling”). Student feed-back has been that the OPIc format is very user-friendly, keeping one at ease and without undue time pressure. The fact  that the instructions are, as mentioned, in English is also a clear advantage for students with working knowledge of English – especially if you are still a relative beginner at Spanish.

From our own practical experience of the DELE / SIELE / OPI exam formats, we can testify to the fact that the OPIc is by far the most technologically advanced and also robust against hiccups. Yet it is also the most simple, intuitive and human-friendly to use.  So, if your accreditation requirements are satisfied by the OPIc, don’t hesitate to go for it.

From observing students, it appears that people actually have fun doing the test.

lti-logo

For more information on the Oral Proficiency Interview by computer OPIc, have a look at this LTI website (it includes a demo exam you can try):
https://www.languagetesting.com/oral-proficiency-interview-by-computer-opic

The ACTFL has 76 OPI sample videos on YouTube, which you can look at via this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWx_y3LsB3w&list=PLh_cfDwS8mrt6d3RFa5QdVnxktSfS8sS0

We have prepared a DELEhelp BLOG POST specifically on the OPIc, with lots of detail and acing tips – you can access it by clicking on the image below:

Top tips for Acing the OPI in Spanish

DELEhelp CAN PREPARE YOU FOR THE ACTFL TESTS like the OPIc

From the above, it is evident that the objectives of the DELE / SIELE and the ACTFL tests are very similar, as are their approach based on “can do” comptency. This being the case, you will understand why our tutors here at DELEhelp would be very able (and happy) to assist your preparation for doing the ACTFL tests – particularly the OPIc, if your aim is purely to demonstrate competency at speaking.  As with the DELE / SIELE oral prep, the key to effective preparation for the OPIc is lots of oral practice (via Skype) with a qualified tutor who can simulate the OPIc interviews and provide you with feed-back and correction. Depending on what level of OPIc certification you would like to achieve, a personalized study plan will be developed to help you with mastering the appropriate lexis (vocabulary and phrases) and grammar necessary to achieve the coherent, fluent speaking required for the standard you are aiming for. Our programs and lesson hours are entirely flexible, and at only US$14 per hour, our rates are unbeatable.

If you want to ask for our free, no-obligation e-book for preparing for the OPI/OPIc, and/or if you would like to do a free exploratory Skype session with me, in English, about what coaching assistance we can offer  you (with no obligation), please use the convenient contact information form that you can access by clicking on the image below:

Buena suerte with your preparation!

Saludos cordiales

Willem Steenkamp
Director of Studies: Excellentia Didactica

Click on IMAGE to go to our secure website




TESTED ANSWERS to DELE / SIELE / OPI EXAM FAQs

TESTED ANSWERS to DELE / SIELE / OPI exam FAQs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  What does the DELE curriculum consist of?

DELE exam FAQs the curriculum is more than just grammar

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

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

Other key curriculum components are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on image to go to blog post

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

DELE exam FAQs the best prep is to expand your lexis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DELE xeam FAQs things to do week before

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

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

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

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

DELE exam FAQs get your writing fingers fit

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

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

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

8.  How is the DELE oral exam set up?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Click on image to go to blog post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DELE C2 diploma example

This is what the DELE Diploma looks like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salu2

Willem

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ONLINE COACHING FOR DELE/SIELE & OPI

Key elements of our online coaching for DELE/SIELE & OPI

Our online coaching for DELE/SIELE & OPI exams of Spanish language ability is based on the fact that these are “can do” exams, not tests of abstract academic knowledge. Effective online tutoring that truly helps students, 1-on-1 with their exam preparation, requires special coaching methods which are very different to traditional classroom teaching.

Such coaching must be founded on a well-designed, personalized study plan for each individual student. This needs to be based on a proper initial diagnostic of each individual’s existing  level, unique learning preferences and strengths & weaknesses. Done this way, our expert 1-on-1 exam prep coaching  is much more effective than taking group classes at a residential school, where the lowest common denominator often drags everyone down and where there is very little opportunity for what is truly essential in any skill development: practice, practice and yet more PRACTICE.

Furthermore, enjoying such personal coaching via Skype in the comfort of your own home, is a lot more convenient, as well as time and cost-effective than attending group  classes. But you probably know that already. What you likely want to know, is what (i.t.o. resources) you will be receiving from us, if you should choose DELEhelp to tutor you via Skype, and how (i.t.o. methodology) we will be going about it. Those are the fundamental questions that we want to answer with this blog-post.

1. THE ISSUES WE WILL ADDRESS IN THIS POST:

  • Defining our shared Objectives
  • Recognizing the Challenges
  • The Exam Components
  • Mind-set
  • Methodology: OBL / CLT/ Lexical Approach / Suggestopedia
  • Lexis: Phrases, collocations, expressions and Vocabulary
  • Pronunciation
  • Correct Grammar & Spelling
  • Exam Simulation

2. DEFINING THE OBJECTIVESVEU1RODNF5 (3)

2.1 You need a Personalized Study Plan

At DELEhelp, our individualized online coaching for DELE/SIELE & OPI has a single focus. It is to help the unique you (i.e., not a group class full of students) to pass your chosen exam.

To achieve this, we first have to develop a personalized study plan, based on your individual needs and learning preferences. People do not have the exact same aptitude for language learning. Personal preferences differ, when it comes to study methods – for example, between those who thrive on structured grammar and those who hate it. Candidates also don’t have the same level of competency in Spanish to begin with. Their respective strengths and weaknesses vary significantly, as far as what they happen to already know (or not know). Equally, and very importantly, there are differences between individuals as to which communicative skill sets they already have mastered.

The four skills are fundamental to everyday communication, and therefore to the goals of these exams – because these exams, just like real life, revolve around the ability to fluently and coherently apply your knowledge in everyday, practical communication settings. Therefore, doing a proper initial diagnostic and developing a personalized study plan for each candidate is absolutely essential (which explains why group classes usually are not optimal for students preparing for these exams).

To arrive at a well-founded individual study plan, we first have to diagnose your current strengths and weaknesses, plus your aptitudes and preferences. By strengths and weaknesses, we don’t mean only what you do (or don’t) yet know. We primarily need to test what you can do, because these exams are a very practical assessment of your competency at communication in real-world situations. We therefore have to test your ability to apply your knowledge, and measure your skill at all four task fields, namely reading and listening comprehension, plus oral and written expression.  We will, during the first weeks, test your competency at actually communicating in Spanish, with reference to correctness, fluency, coherence, and a sufficiently ample linguistic scope (these four elements in bold, are the typical assessment criteria used by the examiners).

Once we have established what you know and can do, we then have to match that with what the curriculum for your chosen exam level requires of you to know and be able to do. In this way, we identify your individual knowledge and skills shortcomings, which we then have to address with a personalized plan of learning activities and skills coaching. This plan is constantly updated i.t.o.  your progress, which we continuously measure during the Skype sessions, as well as by means of regular mock exams (which also familiarize you with your exam’s format). This study plan also needs to flexibly fit around your practical constraints as well, such as the study time you have available and your budget.

We will NOT try and make you fit into some boilerplate “package plan” based on a one-size-fits-all syllabus.

2.2       What you need to know about your exam’s format and goals

DELE exam logoOur shared objective is to develop your real-world proficiency at actually communicating in Spanish, so that you can pass your chosen exam. But how will this proficiency be tested in the exam? What kind of exam is the DELE, the SIELE or the OPI? What does your exam aim to assess, what tasks does it consist of, and how is it scored?

What is needed at the outset, is to ensure that you have a proper understanding of the goals and nature of these exams of communicative competency, which are all now based (whether European or American) on the CEFR – the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). Again, they are by nature very different from typical school or college language exams. Only once you know exactly what is required, and how your efforts will be scored, can we then take careful aim at those aspects of Spanish everyday usage which your diagnostics show you haven’t yet sufficiently mastered. (For a fuller discussion of how a personalized study plan is drawn up, please see our DELEhelp Blog-post below (click on the image to have the post open in a new window):

Click on image to go to blog post

What we won’t be doing, is to over-emphasize school-style formal teaching of Spanish, because neither these exams nor the everyday communicative challenges encountered in real life are directly concerned with abstract knowledge of grammar – nobody in either the exam or in real life is ever going to ask you to recite conjugation tables. In any event, school or college-style tuition is notoriously inefficient at developing conversational ability – according to statistics from the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) only 0.5% of US students who majored in a foreign language, can maintain a conversation in the new language, at the end of their regular studies. (For more information on how the human brain processes patterns in order to acquire language, please see our DELEhelp Blog-post: “Learn to Converse in Spanish”):

Click on the IMAGE to go to this blog post

The foregoing doesn’t mean that you can get by without having internalized the patterns of Spanish (grammar is just a handy cram sheet of those patterns). What is essential is the correct mind-set. One has to understand that the objective is to develop the skill to communicate, to which end grammar does serve as a handy tool facilitating the identification and comprehension of the patterns you need to be able to apply; knowing the rules of Spanish grammar by heart, however, is not the end goal, in and of itself.

We also assume, since you are enrolling for one of these exams, that you already have some basic Spanish schooling under your belt – we are therefore not going to be presenting you with a generalized beginners course (unless you are aiming for Level A1, por supuesto). Our interventions will, instead, be focused on sharpening your proficiency at actually communicating in Spanish. We will be targeting your specific needs and weaknesses according to the individualized program of tutoring we’ve drawn up, after a thorough diagnosis.

The principal objective with our online coaching for DELE/SIELE &OPI will be to help you to internalize, through guided practice, the lexis and the patterns of Spanish (lexis being its words and “word chunks” or collocations, plus expressions, with the patterns being the syntax and morphology of Spanish).

However, comprehensible communication obviously is not enabled merely by knowing the right words and phrases, in terms of merely knowing their individual meaning (as important as such knowledge of semantics undoubtedly is). Comprehensible communication also requires intelligible pronunciation as well as the syntactically and morphologically correct use of the strings of words (i.e., sentences) that you speak and write.

It bears stressing again that grammar, in this context, must be seen as a useful tool, and not the be-all and end-all of “learning Spanish”.  Knowledge of grammar is, in reality, just a shortcut to identifying and internalizing the all-important patterns of the language. It is these patterns that you have to “get to own”, to the point of reflexively applying them without having to consciously think (which is what we mean by internalize).

The objective is to develop your ability to instantly and without conscious, calculating effort, roll out the correct phrases and combinations that will convey your message (just as you constantly do in your native tongue, without even thinking about grammar). It is a question of the right mental attitude: your overriding goal (even when learning grammar) must always be to develop the ability to converse in Spanish – that is, not merely to know the rules of Spanish grammar, but to be able to apply them. Life is all about the skill of APPLYING knowledge, not merely about possessing abstract knowledge; this is the proficiency that’s fundamental to these exams as well.

In essence, we will be concentrating on assisting you to develop and improve your Spanish communication skills. This means that, during the Skype sessions, we will primarily be concentrating on guided conversation practice – firstly, because in the case of the DELE for example, it is statistically proven that the oral section causes 70% of the students who end up failing the exam, to have failed. Secondly, we focus on conversation sessions because conversation is the one skill that is difficult for you to practice alone at home. Thirdly, targeted conversation shows up any weaknesses in your overall preparation through the lexical or grammatical mistakes you make, which can then be clarified and corrected on the spot. We also believe in the value of doing regular mock exams, to familiarize you with the typical format, but also to use as an ongoing diagnostic tool, so that we can constantly adapt your personal program as needed.

Our task is to get you to be confident and comfortable in your own skin when communicating in Spanish, so that you may do so coherently, correctly and fluently. To achieve this, we have to help you to gain confidence and overcome the natural inhibitions associated with fear of making mistakes in front of others, through the application of some basic principles of teaching psychology (about which, there will be more detail later). These principles of de-suggestion (Suggestopedia) we integrate with the broad modern pedagogical approaches known as Outcome-based, Task-based or Content-based learning, plus Communicative Language Teaching and the Lexical Approach – as will be explained in sub-section 6.

3.   RECOGNIZING THE CHALLENGES

childrenIt is common wisdom that, whether it is a child or an adult that’s acquiring a new language, the end objective is the same (namely, to be able to communicate, primarily through conversation).  Evidently, though, there exist practical differences in the circumstances of adults and children when acquiring a language, that are important to realize i.t.o. understanding and meeting the challenges.

In many ways, adults are better positioned to acquire a new language, than toddlers. Adults enjoy definite advantages – such as, for example, having the ability to read. In addition, there are many learning tools adults can access, such as books, audio and video, flashcards and interactive computer programs, which permit intense bursts of immersion. There’s also tuition, plus the availability of grammar handbooks that identify and explain the patterns of morphology (how words are morphed, such as through verb conjugation, to signify different meaning) and syntax (how sentences are put together). Adults, therefore, are not limited to acquiring these patterns just from speech that they randomly hear in their environment, as kids are obliged to do.

Nevertheless, kids have one great overriding advantage: they can devote at least six years of almost exclusive mental focus to the basic process of developing language proficiency, because their every other need is being taken care of (and their brains are, at that  age, optimally receptive to language). Very few, if any, adults enjoy the luxury of so much time and focus! Can you imagine how good your Spanish would be if you had six years of total, exclusively focused immersion, as a child would have? Put differently, if you study 10 hours a week for a whole year, you’ve only done around 40 days, when considering only waken hours.

Yet we as adults typically want to acquire a new language in the briefest of time, while still attending to all our other priorities (the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages calculate that a student with above-average aptitude will require 720 hours of the intensive kind of language training that diplomats undergo at the Foreign Service Institute (i.e., full day and freed up from other work obligations), to reach the kind of professional-level proficiency at conversation that diplomats, for example, would require).

Furthermore, kids don’t suffer the barrier of inhibition, which in most adults stifles the very essential willingness to open their mouths and practice.

When adults learn a foreign language, they typically progress through stages – first acquiring the ability to read it, secondly to being able to listen and follow the spoken word, thirdly being able to speak, and lastly to write to native standard. For these exams (as for real life) all four of these skill sets have to be mastered – except of course if you’re only doing the OPI as such, or the SIELE S4, which are limited to just the oral skill.  The main challenges to communicating effectively, fluently and confidently in Spanish as foreign language can be summed up as being, on the comprehension side:

  • Establishing a sufficiently ample lexis (vocabulary plus collocations and expressions) as well as knowledge of the syntactical and morphological patterns of the language, to enable you to understand the meaning of what you are reading or hearing;
  • Attuning your ear to enable you to correctly capture and differentiate the words and phrases that others are saying; and

on the side of expressing yourself orally and in writing:

  • Getting your tongue and mouth accustomed to forming sounds the Latin way, to enable you to pronounce intelligibly;
  • Developing a sufficiently ample linguistic scope in Spanish (lexis) so that the right words and phrases come to you with ease; and
  • Internalizing the patterns of Spanish morphology and syntax, so that you can reflexively string together words in the correct configuration, when conducting a conversation.

To meet these overt challenges just mentioned, some important innate ones also have to be overcome:

  • We have to help you undo unilingual rigidity (particularly for those who don’t yet speak any foreign tongue) because this restricts mouth movement, body language and conversational mental agility. This rigidity, which is a very important hindrance to acquiring proficiency in a foreign language, stems from inhibitions related to our adult ego-awareness, and from lifelong conditioning and casting in one cultural/linguistic mode. It negatively impacts ability to pronounce correctly, and also inhibits the ability to recognize and mentally “own” the lexical and grammatical patterns of Spanish, especially where these patterns differ from that which the student is used to in native English;
  • In parallel with overcoming unilingual rigidity, we need to assist you in developing your own confident, uninhibited Spanish-speaking “alter-ego” – this new parallel persona needs to have a correctly-attuned mind and flexible tongue/mouth and body language; and
  • As with any distinct type of exam, there is the challenge of building confidence for the exam itself by knowing what to expect of your chosen exam, how to approach it (i.t.o. your lead-up preparation, as well as on exam day itself) and being well orientated about its typical setting, format, sequence of tasks, and the practical do’s and don’ts.

4.  THE “FOUR SKILLS” AS EXAM COMPONENTS

The modern exams of communicative competency are designed to test different levels of proficiency at everyday communication skills, encompassing comprehension of the written and spoken word, plus the ability to express oneself intelligibly and coherently in Spanish, both in writing and in conversation. It thus includes audio listening elements (to test comprehension of meaning, accents, vocabulary etc.), written tasks (hand-written as well as multiple choice papers) plus oral presentation / conversation.  The length of time allocated to each component varies for the different levels.  Rather than re-inventing the wheel by writing up our own version of each level’s requirements, we prefer to direct you straight to the original sources:

NB: When you sign up with DELEhelp for our  online coaching for DELE/SIELE & OPI, you will be provided with our free in-house Workbooks for your particular exam and level.  Our e-book #9, for example, is titled DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips.  In its some 96 pages you will find detailed guidance about the exams and how to prepare yourself for presenting your knowledge and skills to best advantage.  If you are aiming to do the OPI / OPIc, then you will receive our e-book #8, which is aimed specifically at that test. You will also receive the entire series of our Workbooks, all in English, which are all free for our registered students, covering topics such as vocabulary / cognate words, expressions and idioms, the history of Spanish, plus a very popular one, WB#2, called De-Mystifying Spanish Grammar which relates Spanish to the grammatical reference framework with which students are already familiar, namely that of English.

Even if you’re not registered as a student, but want to check out our materials, you can make use of our FREE, NO OBLIGATION OFFER of our e-books 8 & 9 covering the OPI/OPIc and the DELE/SIELE, by simply asking for the download links, using our easy contact info form – just click on the images below to contact us:

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Click on IMAGE to ask for this FREE e-book, with no obligation.

 

5.   THE MIND-SET TO ADOPT

mindsetBefore we address the didactic methods available for coaching in preparation for these exams, it is important to stress once again that the candidate’s own mind-set regarding mastering Spanish is pivotal.  Exam preparation is firstly a question of self-improvement, of self-study. No spoon feeding. What is at issue, is developing yourself psychologically, intellectually and in terms of practical, physical performance skills – expanding your existing communicative persona as based on your mother tongue, by adding an additional, parallel identity: the new Spanish-speaking you.

One’s mother tongue is perhaps the most definitive expression of one’s culture.  It is of such importance in the life of individuals and societies that the way we speak it, seriously type-casts us: as nationals of given countries, natives of particular places, members of a given social strata.

To function effectively as communication medium for any given society, language requires a high level of conformity within that group. Language is a code, and like any code it must be shared with exactness and precision, in order to unlock the same meaning. Individuals cannot freely construct phrases and pronounce words to their own whim or delight, and hope to be clearly understood.   Therefore, in our formative early childhood, we are conditioned to conform to the communication parameters of our family’s peer group – their language use, their way of pronouncing (such as in regional dialects or class-based speech), even to types of body language. This is the reality of societal conditioning, which underpins the hurdle of unilingual rigidity.

As Steven Pinker and like-minded researchers have shown, up to the age of six a child instinctively acquires its mother tongue from its immediate environment – just as a spider has the innate skill and instinct to spin webs, our species has this instinct as our particular “thing” (together with the ability to walk upright, of course). There is strong proof that our species is genetically “wired” to acquire (as opposed to abstractly learn) the ability to communicate in the mother tongue, with adaptations of the brain that facilitate this acquisition as the uppermost developmental priority, up to the age of six.  Thereafter (unfortunately) the brain has to start allocating resources to other priorities and consequently the learning of another language can get crowded out – even though the latest neuroscience has shown that our brains process language acquisition exactly the same, whether it’s 1st or 2nd language, or as adults or toddlers.

It is also important to understand that what the young child acquires is the skill to communicate, rather than merely abstract “knowledge”  about the features of a particular language – definitely without yet consciously being able to describe its grammar “rules”, for example (even though they can apply the patterns).  Communicating also requires skill at using one’s articulation tools to form sounds. Styles of pronunciation are therefore also fixed in childhood, so as to conform to the accent or dialect of one’s peer group (a quick aside – a respected linguist once defined the difference between a “dialect” and a “language” as being merely that the speakers of the latter possessed an army and a navy, meaning that they could enforce the official supremacy of their dialect, over those of other groups…).

From very early childhood, as part of this human quest for conformity, we accustom ourselves to our own language or dialect’s accent – its particular “mouth gymnastics”. We also learn to conform to its socially acceptable customs of non-verbal communication (for example, British “stiff upper lip” versus “Latin exuberance”) in body language. Then – from the beginning of formal schooling – we are drilled to conform to the written character sets of our language, abiding by its rules of spelling.

Understandably, because conforming is of such importance, our particular communication mode quickly tends to become a rigid fix, with the tongue and jaw seemingly inhibited from forming sounds at variance with the mother-tongue pattern. Without re-conditioning, the mind also seems incapable of according “non-conforming” sound values to the familiar letters of our alphabet that we see when reading – even if reading a foreign language.

To compound matters, our equally highly conditioned ears seem reluctant to differentiate and de-code unfamiliar sounds reaching them.  Worse still, when we listen to our own speech, our hearing tends to selectively “hear” only the sounds that we ourselves had mentally intended to form. We do not register accurately the actual sound (often highly mutilated by our stubborn jaws and tongues) that in fact escape from our mouths; this is why we have to use a recording device and record ourselves when practicing, so as to re-listen, in order to be fully aware of our own shortcomings in pronunciation.

We are also inhibited by our fragile adult ego. We are o-so-afraid of making fools of ourselves in public. And what more revealing way to demonstrate “foolishness” than to incorrectly speak someone else’s language?

It therefore stands to reason that, in order to speak Spanish like a “native”, we have to first acquire the right mind-set. We have to be willing to “go native”. Then, we have to consciously re-accustom our minds, jaws, faces, tongues, hands – everything we are – to the demands of an additional  cultural identity; in essence constructing an “alter-ego” for ourselves that’s “native” to Spanish culture and to whom the grammatical constructs, tongue gymnastics and body language inherent to speaking Spanish “natively” will thus come naturally, without embarrassment or ego interference.

6.  METHODOLOGY – TBL / OBL / CLT , the Lexical Approach & Suggestopedia

scrabbleIn dealing with methods of tutoring and exam preparation, it would be easy to fall here into the trap of academically discussing all the theories that are nowadays proffered about learning. There’s a plethora of “methods” out there today, with so many acronyms it looks like a Scrabble board.

Please rest assured – that is not what we’re about to do here.  We want to introduce a practical, common sense approach to addressing the challenges that we identified earlier, always keeping in mind the need for personalization.  We’re not into absolutizing any given method (in most instances, these modern methods seem quite similar, just with different names depending on where and with whom they originated). With us, your online coaching will therefore be driven by you and your unique needs, not by some methodological dictate, as often happens in school systems.

There are, however, common denominators that we have to take note of in most of the methods that are now in vogue, whether they be called task-based learning (TBL), or outcome based learning (OBL), or content-based learning. They all have in common that students need be assisted to acquire the skill to apply knowledge – not just to know, but to be able to actually do. This is the essence of the common European approach to learning adopted in 2005, known as the Bologna Process, which defines qualifications “in terms of learning outcomes”, with emphasis on the “importance of performance”. Such performance relates to “what students know and can do” when they finish their course. You will by now be very aware that these exams share this common European approach, and therefore are strongly focused on testing competency at actual communication.

Task or outcome-based education originated from a behaviorist approach to teaching. It ties in, in the sphere of language training, with one of the other modern methods known as Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). This method came about thanks to a recognition of the limitations of traditional teaching methods. A study by the University of Illinois found that “students who were taught communicatively fared no worse on grammatical tests than students that had been taught with traditional methods, but they performed significantly better in tests of communicative ability.”

In recent years CLT has become more refined, through Task-Based Language Learning (TBLL).  In TBLL the emphasis is on the successful completion of tasks; the students’ efforts are then marked, which allows for regular progress assessment to be conducted.

In our experience at DELEhelp, the best practical approach to selecting an appropriate teaching methodology for each student is a two-track one. Firstly, we have to stay true to our maxim of personalization, dependent on the unique knowledge and skill levels, plus distinct aptitudes and learning preferences of each individual student. Secondly, one has to be guided by the reality that these exams are structured as outcome / performance based, communicative competency tests. Since this is the way the exam is set up, we evidently need to adhere to the same task or outcome based, communicative approach, with emphasis on developing proficiency at performing real-world communication tasks.

At DELEhelp, you will be assigned at least two tutors – one who is native English speaking (with a C2 level of Spanish), for explaining challenging concepts in English and to allow you to put your questions in your own tongue. The other tutor is native Spanish-speaking (but with a good working knowledge of English) to assist you with pronunciation and Spanish lexis and grammar in general, as well with your communicative skills development. For the frequent simulations of the oral exams, you will encounter some of our other tutors who will act as the interviewing examiner, to simulate the exam situation where you have to face an unfamiliar figure.

What is somewhat unique about us, is that we approach the exam prep assistance from the student’s perspective – thanks to the fact that I myself, (the Director of Studies of DELEhelp), had to pass the DELE exam, at the highest C2 level. It is truly a case of “been there, done it”, with therefore a very clear and practical understanding of what kind of help the English-speaking student needs in order to succeed.

To help you come to grips with the patterns of Spanish more easily and quickly, our in-house workbooks (which are in English), purposely set out to relate the Spanish constructs to the linguistic framework you are most familiar with, namely English.

In the course of our  online exam prep tutoring, we focus on:

  • the typical tasks set in these exams (reading and listening comprehension, plus oral and written expression);
  • regularly assessing progress by means of exam simulations using model exams and the actual scoring criteria (which also serve to familiarize you and provide practical experience); and
  • using our Skype interface time primarily for those aspects of preparation that a student cannot do at home, such as practicing conversational fluency (during which we can immediately address any problems regarding correctness of grammar, lexis and pronunciation). The Skype interface time also serves for providing feed-back on self-study tasks the student has submitted.

At the beginner levels in particular, we do of neccesity incorporate grammar exercises in the tuition (as a handy shortcut to learning the patterns of the language, not as a goal in itself).

In all study plans we stress the importance of self-study: for every hour of formal tuition via Skype, there should typically be at least two hours of guided active self-study, plus as many hours as possible of passive immersion.  By the latter we mean, for example, having talk radio or TV running in the background throughout as much of your day as possible, and doing as much leisure reading in Spanish as you can fit into your daily routine.  The active self-study consists of doing set tasks (yes, homework) to improve the comprehension and expression skill sets being tested in these exams, plus working on your vocabulary and lexis flashcards. We will expand on this a bit later, but to complete this introduction of methodologies, we need to present a solution for the adult ego problem – with a method that has been proven to work for many learners of a second language, particularly at beginner level.

In the 1970’s the Bulgarian psychotherapist Georgi Lozanov developed a teaching method which he called suggestopedia.  This method was validated in 1978 by a special working group of the UN’s educational arm, UNESCO, whose formal finding was: “There is consensus that Suggestopedia is a generally superior teaching method for many subjects and for many types of students, compared with traditional methods.”

Suggestopedia was proven to be particularly useful in the learning of a second language. It is based on the idea that people, as they grow older, are inhibited in their language learning by the unilingual rigidity we mentioned earlier. They instinctively try to force the new language into the communicative mold of their mother tongue – whether in relation to pronunciation, or to grammatical structure. To escape this tendency, the student needs to approach the new language with a clean mental slate; he or she needs to adapt to the new language and its conventions, rather than trying to adapt that language to their own pre-existing way of using rheir communication tools. It is, of course, not easy to transform oneself culturally, because sense of identity is so strong and valuable – the “suggestopedic” trick lies in creating a parallel persona for tackling the new language, free of inhibitions of ego or prior conformisms.

Lozanov said that students need to feel confident and relaxed and their psychological barriers must be “de-suggested”. Since the 1970’s, significant development of these principles have taken place and been published under names such as SALT (Suggestive Accelerated Learning and Teaching) and Superlearning.

Pure Suggestopedia as well as its derivatives are mostly orientated to classroom/group teaching, not to our one-on-one online tutorials. In its original form Suggestopedia has been rightly criticized over the years as not being capable of covering all methodological aspects of language tuition, and it has been superseded by the newer approaches mentioned earlier. Again we must stress that, at DELEhelp, we don’t follow any “method” slavishly, nor do we condemn outright any approach – be it traditional grammar (if correctly viewed as a shortcut to the patterns of the language), or Suggestopedia, for that matter. This latter may not be personally appropriate for all, depending on preference and personality, but that it could contribute to your induction into a Hispanic mind-set, is proven fact.

So, how would we help “liberate” you from the constraints inculcated in you by society, and by your (very human) adult ego, using the essence of Suggestopedia?

sombreroFirstly, we would ask you to choose and build (solely for the purpose of your Spanish language practice, not as a public persona) your own Hispanic identity, your “alter-ego”.  Choose a name, a nationality, locality / residence, profession, family context etc., and write up a little mock biography which your tutor will use to refer to you by that name / identity. In other words, convert yourself into Pepe Pérez, a taxi driver from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for example.

Why do we do this? Because whereas John Smith may be understandably hesitant / reticent to mouth full-throatily in the Spanish way, the nice roaring RRR’s  when for example he must pronounce the name Raul, the newly minted “Pepe Pérez” will have no such psychological hang-ups.  And when Pepe mispronounces or says something that could be construed as silly, so what? It’s no skin off John Smith’s nose/ego!

This “mind trick” of mentally adopting, for learning purposes, a parallel identity may sound infantile, but the principle of “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” or “it takes a thief to catch a thief” (or any other idiom which we can twist and misuse to make the point that if you want to speak like a native, then go native) has been well proven. You simply have to de-suggest your mouth, tongue and jaw out of its rigid cultural fix. You have to accustom your communication tools, through positive suggestion, to function in a “new native” manner.  If not, you cannot avoid sounding in Spanish like the incomprehensible gibberish that you yourself have laughed at in the past, whenever you’ve heard others trying to speak your language, whilst retaining their own “sound system”.

Intelligible pronunciation is absolutely vital to being understood – if you make errors of grammar, your interlocutor can usually compensate in his own mind and deduce what you’re actually trying to say. Mispronouncing, on the other hand, usually means just a blank stare, indicating that he/she doesn’t have a clue what you’re talking about (and thus cannot possibly compensate). Therefore, it is rightly said that pronunciation is much more important than correct grammar, and you can only pronounce correctly if you acquire the native tools and mind-set. In the course of your online coaching sessions, a considerable amount of time and effort will go towards improving your pronunciation.

A few other psychological tricks you could consider employing to get yourself into the “Pepe Pérez” mold for your sessions with our tutors, as well as for use during your self-study time, is to identify for yourself a talisman such as a hat or beret that you imagine a Pepe would be wearing, and putting it on whenever you are “Pepe”. Have a glass of tequila, or Spanish/Chilean/ Argentinean wine to hand, or a cup of mate, and put on bolero or salsa music, or classic Spanish guitar, in the background. We’re sure that, with your fertile imagination and originality, you will be able to imagine your own re-enforcers of this idea.

Since these exams are based on the common European framework (CEFR) and therefore correspond largely with the goals of OBL/CLT/TBLL (i.e., “communicative competence”), how do we go about assisting you with your exam preparation?  We try to maximize your active interaction, not only with your tutor but also with authentic sources of everyday Spanish, such as found in the media. For this reason, two-thirds of the hours that we recommend you set aside each week for conscious, guided exam preparation (as opposed to informal preparation by means of – for example – listening to talk radio when you travel to work, or reading a novel in Spanish) will be dedicated to such guided interaction tasks.  Your efforts in completing these communicative tasks (i.e., the outcomes you produce), will be reviewed with you during the face-time that you have each week with your tutor via Skype.  The practical application of this OBL/CLT/TBLL approach will become apparent when we deal, here-below, with the very important aspects of lexis, pronunciation and correct grammar & spelling.

Check this DELEhelp blog-post, for a set of links to very useful free sites that can help you with your passive immersion, as well as with the vital flashcards for expanding your linguistic scope:

LINKS to top DELE exam prep RESOURCES

7.   LEXIS (vocabulary and phrases)

Just as sure as the best gunner with the best machine-gun will not achieve results without bullets, so you will fail if you don’t have the necessary “ammunition” for speaking Spanish. This ammo is constituted by your linguistic scope – by the words and word chunks (collocations) plus link phrases and expressions that you know. You need to seriously build your vocabulary (knowing each new word’s proper pronunciation, its meaning, its gender in case of nouns and its irregularities in case of verbs, plus of course its correct spelling). Because, once again, knowing the rules of grammar serves no purpose if you don’t have the words to which to apply those rules. These exams are very strong on testing your linguistic scope. It is therefore imperative that you read widely, particularly the better newspapers such as El Pais and El Mundo (which are available free, on-line).

When you are reading and you encounter a new word or expression, YOU HAVE TO LOOK IT UP.

We recommend using an on-line dictionary such as FARLEX.

If you are old-fashioned, get yourself a whole stack of note cards, of a stiff cardboard and in a color that you can’t read through when held against the light. Note the new Spanish word or expression on the one side, and the English meaning(s) on the other. The modern way, though, would be to have flashcards on your computer, using free software such as Cram.com, Quizlet or Anki.

You simply have to memorize the vocabulary and phrases. The flashcard method of memorizing has the great advantage over making word lists, that you can easily test yourself. Secondly, while testing / memorizing, you can separate the cards into those that you know (which you put aside) and those you don’t, which you put back in the pack. This way, you are not wasting eye and mind time on words you already know; you are focusing only on ones you don’t know, and testing yourself till you don’t have any “don’t know” cards left in your hand.  You can also “play” the cards with a mate, or on the computer if you are using Cram, making it more interesting and challenging. Your tutor will be asking you to e-mail him/her your “new words” on a regular basis.

The best way to pick up the vocabulary of colloquial conversation-speak, is to watch Spanish-language soap operas – it will also help you with deciphering different regional accents (which DELE and SIELE will be testing you on). Whenever you have the opportunity, you should also be listening to Spanish-language talk radio – with live streaming now common, it is easy to tune in to stations such as RNE, the Spanish National Radio (see our blog-post on “useful links”, mentioned earlier).

Because language does not consist solely of free-standing individual words, but most often of established patterns of words (such as idioms, proverbs and expressions) we have developed a Workbook (#5: “Spanish Idioms, Proverbs & Expressions”) These expressions you should also transcribe onto individual cards, for learning purposes, paying particular attention to the “link phrases” that the examiners are so keen to see and hear you using. (See this DELEhelp blog-post for more on the importance of vocabulary:

Click on the IMAGE to go to this blog post

8.   PRONUNCIATION

pronunciationIt cannot be stressed enough that lexis + pronunciation is the true key to being understood.

You have to practice the physical traits of mouth/jaw/tongue involved with pronouncing Spanish, and you have to liberate your mind and muscles from the rigid culture-cast and ego constraints – adopt your alter-ego and just go for it (it’s Pepe being loco, after all – not you!).

You should also be aware of the problem of the human mind over-riding the human ear – with our minds suggesting to us that we are indeed pronouncing as we intend / would like to, whereas the truth is most often very different.  YOU THEREFORE NEED TO RECORD YOURSELF, to hear accurately how you truly sound when you are practicing your pronunciation. During your Skype sessions, your tutor will constantly be focusing on improving your pronunciation.

Once again, TV soap operas and talk radio are excellent tools for picking up the correct way to pronounce words.

During your DELE exam online tutoring sessions there will be time allocated to listening comprehension tasks, working through video clips (from YouTube) to help you attune your ear.

9.   CORRECT GRAMMAR & SPELLING

Like most things in life, Spanish grammar becomes easier once you have an understanding of the history of the language, as well as of its evolution from ProtoIndo-European, through Vulgar Latin, to the vibrant Romance language of today.  You need also to understand the grammatical structure of Spanish (for instance, the importance of determining the correct modus or mood, before deciding on which tense to use).

We believe that foundational knowledge of this kind should be conveyed in the student’s own language – in this case, plain English, devoid of unnecessary academic jargon and stuffy terminology.  Signing up for tuition with us, you will receive our Workbook #1: History and Origins of the Spanish Language and Workbook #2: De-Mystifying Spanish Grammar:

10. EXAM SIMULATION

The key tool which we will be using to prepare you for your specific level of DELE, is the model exam. We use as departure point, the e-book series of model exams “Nuevo Examen DELE” written by Prof. David Giménez Folqués of the University of Valencia in Spain, which can be bought online and downloaded from Bubok publishers in Spain. David has been a member of the official DELE tribunal since 2005 (he kindly reviewed our in-house workbooks).

There is no better exam preparation than doing these model papers and assignments, because it provides your tutor (and yourself) with insight into your level / needed areas of extra focus, and it familiarizes you with the exam format as well as the nature of the challenge.

11. TYPICAL STUDY PLANS

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To give you an idea of what our online tutoring study plans typically look like, here are two plans, from both ends of the spectrum – one for A1 level, and the other for C2 preparation:

Level A1

Hola ABC

 Thank you for your patience through the diagnostic phase.

 As discussed with you today, it is clear that we have to allocate time to improving all four elements of communication as tested in the DELE: reading and listening comprehension, as well as written and oral expression. It is also clear that we have to focus on all four the evaluation criteria, namely expanding your linguistic scope, the correctness of language use, coherence and fluency (the first and last requiring most attention, in your case).

The study plan is based on at least 7 hours of active self-study and 3 hours of Skype interaction per week (i.e., not including passive immersion such as having talk radio / TV on in the background, and leisure reading).  It stands to reason that listening to and speaking Spanish is going to be the form of communication you most use in the real world, and it is also true that most people who fail DELE, do so for failing the oral expression exam. We therefore believe that we must allocate as much time as possible during the Skype sessions to oral interaction, because it helps you with gaining fluency as well as with your listening comprehension, listening to your tutor. It also permits immediate corrective intervention regarding pronunciation and grammar correctness, and shows up gaps in vocabulary/lexis knowledge. Furthermore, it is the one element that you cannot easily practice by yourself as part of your self-study (the written exercises you can evidently do as part of your self-study homework).

The program that we therefore suggest for the three one-hour sessions per week, is as follows (keeping in mind that, from time-to-time, we will deviate from this in order to include mock exams):

 Monday:

  • 30 minutes vocabulary/lexis flashcard review;
  • 30 minutes conversation class based on news items covered on the PracticaEspanol.com website during the previous week.

 Wednesday:

  • 30 minutes of revision of grammar / written homework you’ve sent in by the previous Monday evening (try and do one chapter per week of “Step-by=Step”, up to chapter 12, doing all the exercises and sending them in – this way we should finish with the DELE A1 curriculum’s prescribed grammar in three months, with time left for revision before the exam);
  • 30 minutes conversation class based on one of the videos from the attached prescribed list, which you need to preview during self-study (please view 2 videos per week).

Friday:

  • 30 minutes of reading comprehension review, from your reading comprehension prescribed book (1 chapter per week);
  • 30 minutes of conversation class based on the Spanish books you’re reading (links below) doing 7 chapters per week.

 Please remember, when you are reading, to read out loud and tape yourself, so that you can review your pronunciation. Also jot down all new words in your flashcard system. Please send us your updated flashcard list every Monday morning. You should prioritize incorporating the words and expressions from our two Workbooks 4 & 5 into your flashcard lists a.s.a.p.

I am also including a link to the Kindle version of a useful little vocab book, which has at the back categories of words like family, food, shops, professions, animals etc.  

 The book links are:

Model exams:

Nuevo Examen DELE A1“. This e-book was written by Dr. David Giménez Folqués, professor at the Universidad de Valencia, Spain, and member of the DELE tribunal since 2005. It is directly downloadable and very affordable (some US$11).

Grammar:

One of the best handbooks for learning Spanish is called “Easy Spanish step-by-step” by Barbara Bregstein, published by  McGrawHill. You can buy the Kindle version from Amazon (i.e., it will download on your iPad and your laptop as well, with the free Kindle app) for US$7.22 .  We have it in the office, so you and your tutor can work off the same page on Skype.

Reading Comprehension:

For reading comprehension practice, we recommend another book which you can download from Amazon Kindle, called Practice Makes Perfect: Spanish Reading Comprehension.

General reading:

La isla del Tesoro / Robert L. Stevenson Zig-Zag (Kindle):

Stories from Mexico / Historias de Mexico (dual text = print edition) Side-by-side bilingual books:

1001 most useful Spanish Words / Seymour Resnick (Kindle):

For audio comprehension practice, we have selected a number of video clips freely available on YouTube, at A1 level – please see the attached list.

We will periodically be doing mock exams, usually the last Friday of the month, using the model exam e-book listed above – the oral expression part we will do on a Friday, instead of the regular conversation class that day (your interviewing examiner will be one of our tutors not familiar to you, i.e., not Monica).  Please do the written portions over the week-end, in one go (as in the real exam, simulating the conditions as close you can). Scan with the CamScanner smartphone app and send to us for review; we will then discuss the following Wednesday during the homework review slot.

 ¡Buena suerte!

 Salu2

 

Level C2 (prepared for an advanced student already very strong on grammar and pronunciation, and needing only familiarization with the exam format and a bit of “polishing”)

 Dear XYZ

 After the diagnostic we’ve just completed, let me first state that we believe that you should go directly for the DELE C2. You’ve certainly got the potential, and doing C1 first won’t really add much in the form of experience, since you will be doing sufficient mock exams during your preparation anyway.

 In planning your exam preparation, we need to be guided by the exam components, as well as by the exam scoring criteria.

 As regards the four exam components, we see you as being well versed in each – written & oral expression, as well as listening and reading comprehension. The ones probably requiring slightly more attention would be written expression and listening comprehension.

As regards the four main scoring criteria, namely linguistic scope, coherence, fluency and correctness, we believe that you will perform strongly in all of them, particularly in fluency and coherence. What we need to keep expanding is linguistic scope, by exposing you to varied vocabulary, as well as expanding your knowledge of the socio-cultural and historical background of Spanish and Hispanic society (please go through the C2 curriculum document in your DELEhelp Workbook #9.3 very carefully, in the latter regard).

 Having stated above the “what” that we have to do, the real question is the “how”.

 You are evidently an excellent, self-motivated student – so most preparation will have to be done on your own, as self-study (the two hours per week that you have available for Skyping, will have to be focused on problem clarification, and on the aspects that are hard to do at home, such as oral presentation).  How you schedule your self-study will be entirely up to you. Please keep in mind the importance of passive immersion – keeping on talk radio / TV in the background as much you can, and doing lots of leisure reading, especially of the news media.

 As we’ve discussed, because of your already existing level of proficiency we don’t see formal grammar revision in general as necessary.  You should identify aspects of grammar about which you feel uncertain, which we then can address, as and when necessary.  In any event, we believe that the oral and written expression exercises will quickly show up little niggles that need to be rectified, which can be addressed there and then.  We will, therefore, be setting you written expression homework tasks every week, on the one hand as practice, and on the other to show up grammar and spelling problems, if any.  These you should kindly try and return two days before your scheduled Skype session.

 As part of your “passive” self-study we would encourage you to read as much as possible, and to diligently expand your vocabulary flashcard list from such reading.  Prioritize reading the Spanish-language news media, as indicated in our DELEhelp blogpost on useful links: http://www.delehelp.org/top-dele-exam-resources-links-best-sites/

To expand your background on Spanish history and also your vocabulary on the Moorish era in Spain, please read the Kindle e-book “El Mozarabe” that I mentioned:

 For the listening comprehension, we will have to set time aside during the Skype sessions to do reviews with you (from the YouTube video list attached).  You should also be doing self-study, especially with the videos on the CervantesVirtual YouTube channel of the Instituto Cervantes, that we have asked you to subscribe to.

 The structure of the typical weekly two-hour Skype session will provisionally be:

Review of written expression homework tasks – 30 minutes

Review of listening comprehension videos – 45 minutes

Free-flow conversation – 45 minutes (based on news topics covered during the preceding week in the media, such as reported on the PracticaEspañol website, as well as relating to chapters you have been reading in El Mozarabe); the objective with the conversation sessions will be to identify grammar lapses, vocabulary shortcomings, pronunciation issues and to improve fluency and correctness in general.

 This structure will be open to continuous adaptation as the need arise – the closer we get to the exam, the more time will be dedicated to doing actual model exams and reviewing them (particularly to practice the multiple choice exam format used for reading and listening comprehension testing).

 Please let us have your thoughts on this draft study plan.

 Kind regards

 

So, ladies and gentlemen embarking on your Spanish exam challenge, there you have a comprehensive overview of our online coaching for DELE/SIELE & OPI methodology – of what we do, how we do it, and why we do it this way. Please remember that you can request a free, no obligation one hour exploratory Skype session with us, to see if we appear compatible with you and your needs. Just send us your contact particulars with our convenient Contact Information form that you can access by clicking on THIS LINK.

Good luck with your preparation!

Willem

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Spanish History is part of the DELE Exam Curriculum

Spanish history is part of the DELE exam curriculum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1000CE – me ofthingth sothlice thæt ic hi worthe

1400CE – forsothe it othenkith me to haue maad hem

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

2000CE – because I regret having made them

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

Singular                                                                                  Plural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Romance / Latin / Italic roots of Modern Spanish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iberia under the Moors

Iberia under the Moors

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

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

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

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

The rise of Castile and Castilian

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

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

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

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

Columubus brings Castilian to the Americas - 1492

Columbus brings Castilian to the Americas – 1492

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

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

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

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

 

The Codification of Spanish Grammar

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

snappa_1466795761

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

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

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

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

Good luck with your exam preparation!

Salu2

Willem

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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»).

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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

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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

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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).

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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

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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)

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