Tips for Summer Language Study

Students and teachers alike need the summer to recharge and spend time with family and friends. That being said, here are some pointers that you can give your students to maintain their edge over vacation to slow down the summer slide. All of these are effective strategies for interacting with the language outside of class in general. Since it’s too late to give students a physical copy, you could post these to your school’s learning management system if students have access to it over the summer. Click the links below the blue “download” button at the bottom of the post to download a PDF or Word version of this handout.

Tips for Summer Language Studysun

Watch your favorite movies with Spanish subtitles. This is a very effective way to learn new vocabulary in a fun context. In fact, many non-native speakers of English learned by watching U.S. movies and television.

How you do this depends on whether you want to focus on reading the Spanish you see or understanding the Spanish you hear. It can be difficult to do both at the same time when watching movies (especially ones you haven’t seen before) because of the rate of speech and the large amount of new and low-frequency vocabulary. I suggest that you keep the audio in English if you’re able to read the subtitles quickly enough. Your mind will link up what you’re hearing to what you’re reading. Remember that we translate ideas rather than directly word-for-word. If you want more listening practice, try turning on the English subtitles and put the audio in Spanish.

Keep in mind that the Spanish you hear can sound quite different depending on what country or even what region within the country that the speaker is from. The more you are familiar with the movie, the better, as your focus should be on the language rather than what is happening on the screen.

Most public libraries or the larger networks that they’re a part of have a sizeable collection of foreign films, including many in Spanish. Netflix also has a growing quantity of Spanish films although not all of them have English subtitles. In addition to picking up new words, you will learn a lot about the culture of Spanish-speaking countries through authentic sources such as these.

Follow a blog written in Spanish. Just like in English, there are blogs about anything and everything you can imagine…sports, video games (yes, even Fortnite…), celebrities, music, and more. Remember that you don’t have to understand every word that you see to get the gist of what someone is saying. Interact with other enthusiasts in the comments and ask the author questions in the target language.

Download the free mobile app “Duolingo”. There are apps for Android and Apple. It’s convenient, easy to use, and features a “gamified” learning platform. The developers have made some significant improvements over the years with the main one being an increased focus on high-frequency language. It’s great for interacting with basic to intermediate language (which is where we operate in high school foreign language class). The app will remind you to get daily exposure to the language via email and push notifications (which you can disable) on your phone. Duolingo doesn’t replace reading and listening to the language in more realistic contexts, but it can be a great supplement.

There are a number of very good television series on Netflix at the moment. “El Internado: La Laguna Negra”, “Gran Hotel”, “El Ministerio del Tiempo”, and “Rebelde” are my top suggestions. There is only the option of Spanish audio, but you can flip between English and Spanish subtitles if you need to. If you watch it with English subtitles, I suggest going back and eventually watching it with the Spanish subtitles to get the maximum benefit.

Fluency Matters ( has a great variety of leveled readers in Spanish that are written for language learners. This is where the books during our free reading time at the beginning of class come from. Books currently cost $6 each plus shipping. Topics include pirates, sports, ghost stories, the illegal bird trade in Costa Rica, and more.

These authors do an excellent job of intentionally limiting new vocabulary, while exposing the reader to “unsheltered” grammar (mixing tenses and moods), which is a much more natural way of acquiring the language. These are preferable to Spanish books written for native speakers that you would check out from the library because they limit the amount of new vocabulary, which is what makes some texts incomprehensible for novice language learners.

Change the settings on your phone or tablet to Spanish. Since you are already familiar with where everything is on your device, this is an easy way to pick up some technology-related vocabulary.

I don’t recommend studying grammar rules or memorizing vocabulary lists and conjugation charts. You will get limited and often temporary results from this compared to using the above suggestions. Memorizing words and verb forms out-of-context like this tends to result in short-term learning rather than long-term language acquisition.

Talk with native speakers whenever and wherever you can even if it’s just a brief exchange. Don’t be afraid to ask them to slow down or repeat something. They will be flattered that you are trying to speak their language and learn about their culture.

Summer Study Tips – Microsoft Word Document

Summer Study Tips – PDF

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Desert Island Survival Scenario to Teach the Conditional Tense

I love using hypothetical scenarios to teach the conditional tense. The very nature of activities like these encourage endless “what if” questions from the teacher and the class. In this scenario, the student can only bring four items from the list. The desert islandcatch is that there is an opportunity cost associated with each choice. If the student only chooses items used to procure and cook food, ask him how he plans to keep the bugs away, avoid a sunburn, and entertain himself. Your students will impress you with their answers as they defend their choices.

While the items in the inventory might not be high-frequency, this is also an opportunity to get loads of reps on “para que” (in order to). For example, “I would bring a tent so that I wouldn’t have to sleep in the rain.” Encourage students to come up with other items that they have the vocabulary (or use circumlocution) for as long as they can articulate why they would bring it.

The more spontaneous teachers might even be able to spin a student response into an impromptu story. If it has energy, go with it.

Like most of my resources, in addition to the Spanish version,  I have uploaded an editable English template of this activity so that teachers of other languages can readily adapt it to their classes.

Desert Island Survival Scenario (English)

Desert Island Survival Scenario (Spanish)

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¡Corre! El Encierro (The Running of the Bulls)

What language teacher doesn’t love a good Rick Steves video of the Running of the Bulls?  This is a good activity if you need to take a break from providing the input for about 20 minutes and want to cover one of the more intriguing cultural spectaculars of Spain at the same time. I made discussion questions in English and in Spanish. The video runs 6:23. I don’t imagine that it would be a problem in many schools, but out of an abundance of caution I will mention that Rick Steves is drinking a beer from :22 to :43. There are some other good homemade videos on YouTube that really make you feel like you’re there, but ensure that you screen them beforehand as some are a bit graphic.

My students always enjoy discovering who in the class would and would not participate in this. There are always a couple who surprise me with their answers. In fact, I would love to know if you would run with them or if you would be willing to share any personal experiences from the Festival of San Fermín. Leave a comment below!

Running of the Bulls Worksheet (English)

Running of the Bulls Worksheet (Spanish)

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Personalize Learning by Taking Special Person Interviews to the Next Level

“Special Person” (Persona Especial) interviews can serve as the backbone of any level class from novice to advanced. This is hands-down the most effective and compelling way that I know to personalize learning and acquisition in the world language classroom. Bryce Hedstrom is the hands-down guru of this process. You can check out what he has to say about it here.

Finding out someone’s age, where they live, what they like to eat, etc. are important things to know and can get us quality reps on important structures, but there comes a point in time where you want to know what animal someone would be and why or who they would like to meet from any point in history, right?

Click on the blue “download” button below to download the list of questions that I use in my upper-level classes. Note that you could use many of these questions in lower-level classes as well provided that you haven’t been sheltering verb tenses and moods (which we discourage in CI teaching).

Personal Especial Reference Sheet (English and Spanish)

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