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DELE / SIELE oral & writing: HOW to learn, and WHAT
The DELE / SIELE exams are very different to traditional school or college exams. The examen DELE / SIELE tests your ability to express yourself in Spanish, coherently, fluently, correctly and with sufficient linguistic scope (i.e., vocabulary / lexis), simulating real-world situations. The DELE and SIELE are NOT examinations of your abstract knowledge of the “rules” of Spanish grammar or orthography. They test whether you can actually apply your knowledge and maintain proper communication in Spanish. The first questions when one starts prepping for the oral and written expression tests, need therefore be – for the DELE / SIELE oral & writing: HOW to learn and WHAT to focus on, so that I can acquire the communicative competencies that the DELE / SIELE require. Even if you are not interested in actually sitting exams, but want to know how to attain fluent, coherent conversational ability in Spanish, then the same issues of How to learn and What to focus on, will apply.
These are very fundamental questions, and therefore are very broad in scope. They cannot flippantly be answered in a few bullet points – to really be of help, this blog-post must first provide you with a proper understanding of how humans acquire language and the communication skills associated therewith. In other words, give a conceptual reference framework for understanding why certain things work, and others don’t, when you are trying to gain communicative competency in a new language. This blog-post will, therefore, focus broadly on explaining the language acquisition processes occurring deep inside the brain, as based on significant new research published in early 2018. Rather than simply listing “exam acing tips”, we will today step back a bit, so that we can distinguish the forest from the detail of the individual trees. We need to comprehend what fundamentally is going on inside our heads when we acquire language – so that, with such understanding, we will be better able to focus and adapt our own language learning efforts. So please bear with me through the explanations – I can promise you it will be worth-while in helping you comprehend what you need to do to gain conversational ability in real life, and thus to ace the DELE / SIELE – as much (actually, much more) than any blithe infographic of acing tips would achieve.
In an earlier blog-post I wrote: There are many conflicting theories, plus ingrained teaching habits stretching back many generations, regarding how best to achieve proficiency so that you will be able to converse in Spanish. Just about the only thing that we do know for certain, is what DOESN’T work; it has been empirically proven that the traditional school or college-style teaching of a second language fails miserably in producing alumni with the capacity to maintain even a basic conversation at the end of their schooling. Recent figures from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) show that only 0.5% of alumni achieve that level of competence. Most students taught the traditional way, give up on learning a second language, and those who do finish, have forgotten practically all they had learnt in just three to four years.
I am very pleased to tell you that, during January 2018, a seminal new study was published that greatly advanced or knowledge of how the human brain enables us to acquire language. We now have the empirical data to resolve the “conflicting theories” I mentioned in the earlier blogpost. This research not only clearly points to what to do, and how, in order to develop your language skills – it also confirms why that which we already knew doesn’t work (namely traditional classroom teaching methods) in fact fail, as proven by the ACTFL survey quoted above.
This significant new study was published online on 29 January 2018, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) under the title: “Child First Language and Adult Second Language Are Both Tied to General-Purpose Learning Systems”. As the title indicates, the two major conclusions of the study are that (a) mother tongue and second language are acquired using the same brain circuits, and (b) these ancient circuits are common to most animals and thus not unique to humans, nor are they uniquely dedicated to language learning. As the senior investigator of the study, Michael T. Ullman (professor of Neuroscience at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.), said in a statement: “Our conclusion that language is learned in such ancient general-purpose systems contrasts with the long-standing theory that language depends on innately-specified language modules found only in humans.”
The perceived difficulty in acquiring another language as adults, lies not so much in the nature of that particular language, as it does in our human nature. As Steven Pinker and others have demonstrated (see the earlier blog-post), we learnt our own first language instinctively. In our early youth, we acquire language without formal grammar or teaching, because language is the defining “thing” of our species – it is our foremost unique instinct, like that of a spider is to spin webs.
We are programmed and maximally facilitated to acquire language in early childhood. Our brains are strongly focused on it up to about age six (having satisfied also our other differentiating instinct – that of acquiring the skill for walking upright). Thereafter, however, the brain’s acquisitive capacity of necessity needs to be increasingly focused on other priorities as well, and our ability to acquire other tongues with ease, seem to us to diminish (at least, in our own perception, because it has now been proven that we engage the exact same parts of the brain to acquire any language, as we did for our mother tongue). HOW we in later life strive to acquire language, also changes fundamentally from what happened instinctively during the toddler phase – from the recognition and internalization of the patterns of our mother tongue through casual observation and then constant practicing to speak, we shift to academically “studying” the new language – as we would study History or Geography or whatever other academic subject where the goal is to abstractly KNOW (i.e., to able to recall facts and interpret them). This is NOT the way that we would, for example, learn to play the guitar, or to play golf, or to master gymnastics, or whatever other competencies that require not just abstractly knowing about, but which requires us to hone the actual ability to fluently, coherently, and correctly DO – to DELIVER OUTCOMES.
How we opt to learn, and under which circumstances we in later life strive to acquire a new language, represent the biggest changes from how we had acquired our native language. Firstly the conditions and priorities have changed fundamentally – instead of instinctively spending our every waken moment for six years focused almost singularly on acquiring the ability to communicate, whilst our every human need is being taken care of for us, we now have to multi-task complex lives with many competing demands on our attention span; we have to survive economically, physically and emotionally, and try and accomplish our goal whilst being able to invest only a few hours per week, for a limited time. Imagine if you could study a new language every waken hour, 24/7, without anything else requiring your attention, while being fed, cosseted and cared for… How long would it take you then – since, as an adult, you have many more learning tools available than a toddler (such as reading, access to grammar handbooks, and to all the modern digital audio-visual resources)? Six years? No! Certainly not! So, are you still thinking that babies have you beat at acquiring language?
What is true is that these adult circumstances and opportunities available to us since the advent of the age of formal schooling, have changed the way that we traditionally go about acquiring competency at communicating in the second language. It is no longer done instinctively, through observation and practice. We shift from practice-based pattern recognition, to academically studying the new language. Like for any memorizing activity, right back to ancient times (such as what plants we can eat and which not) we engage for this memory-building activity the declaratory circuit of the brain – the circuit for data storage. But – by “studying” the new language in this memory-focused traditional way, we are, unfortunately, concentrating on abstractly knowing its “rules”, rather than on building the competency to apply that knowledge in order to be able to PERFORM – to produce coherent, fluent conversation as OUTCOME.
HOW BEST TO GO ABOUT ACQUIRING A NEW LANGUAGE: To understand how to go about acquiring the ability to communicate in a second language, we first and foremost have to understand how the human brain functions when it comes to “learning a language” – or, more correctly put – how we develop the ability to communicate. Understanding this process is certain to help you in cultivating the right mind-set and learning methods for making your conquest of conversational Spanish effective.
It is recognized that the two most important abilities that set us humans apart from other primates and the rest of the animals in general, is our ability to walk upright and our ability to comprehensively communicate. Both are vital survival skills, and both are heavily brain-driven. The ability to walk comes quicker, because it is a much shorter process. There is proof that babies actually start picking up language whilst in the womb. After birth, the brain’s major developmental focus for the next six years is on honing the ability to communicate.
A fundamental question in understanding how we humans acquire language (whether it be our native tongue, or a foreign language) is: what enables humans to have this unique capacity? Is it that we and we alone have a unique “something” in our brains – a circuit, some special DNA – that all other animals lack? This has been a rather logical assumption, and when DNA research became possible and the so-called “speech gene” (FOXP2) was identified, some had thought that it was the eureka moment – until we realized how widespread this gene is, even extending to birds, allowing them to sing. At the beginning of 2018, the result of seminal neurological research was published which once and for all dispelled the notion that we humans possess some unique “speech” part or circuit of the brain, that no other animals have.
It was clearly demonstrated that, no matter our age, and whether it is for acquiring our mother tongue or a foreign language, we use two very ancient circuits of the brain that pre-date homo sapiens and even primates – circuits that are present in most animals. Although it debunks assumptions of structural uniqueness, this neurological research has some extremely important implications for our understanding of how we humans acquire language (and consequently, how it should be taught). The most important revelation is that there are two general-purpose circuits of the brain that are employed in this effort, namely the declaratory as mentioned before, but also – very importantly – the procedural circuit. These circuits aren’t solely dedicated to acquiring language, either, but are vital in our everyday functioning.
The declaratory circuit is engaged when we consciously learn things that we store in our memory, such as how to count, the words of a song, or Spanish vocabulary. The big break-through has been to see how the procedural circuit “lights up” when acquiring language – the same circuit we use for mastering playing the piano, or to perfect our golf swing, or our tennis back-hand. This PROCEDURAL CIRCUIT enables us to PERFORM TASKS, and hones this ability through practice, practice, practice – like athletes building up “muscle memory” of their required moves. For acquiring language, therefore, we now know that it truly is also a case of “practice makes perfect”. We pick up the patterns of the language and internalize them with the objective of reflexive, spontaneous reproduction – and we do so through practice, practice and more practice, without having to think and consciously configure phrases in terms of “rules” we have tried to memorize through the declaratory circuit.
This revelation about the vital role of the procedural circuit of the brain – of actual repetitive practice – in acquiring language, goes a long way towards explaining the ACTFLA survey results, when we consider that traditional language teaching almost exclusively relies on engaging the declaratory circuit. As toddlers we principally engage the procedural circuit to pick up and practice patterns of language, and pass things like vocabulary and pattern irregularities through to the declaratory circuit to be stored. As teenagers or adults, we traditionally try and “study” a new language the other way around, namely by means of engaging the declaratory circuit to try and memorize the “’rules”, with too little opportunity to practice, practice, practice to perfection. The moral of this story, is that you cannot “study” to speak a language from books alone (that is, if you want to meet the communicative criteria of coherence, fluency, linguistic scope and correctness in spontaneous reproduction) without practice, practice, practice – just as the star pianist cannot hope to perfectly render a piece that he/she can easily read off sheet music, without also putting in the necessary practice, practice, practice.
I am not going to repeat here what I said in the earlier blog-post about the importance of pattern recognition in the acquisition of language. It is a vital human ability, and you may want to read that post again to integrate what was said there, with these new research findings about the importance of the procedural circuit and of viewing language not as an academic subject for abstract study, but as a competency that needs to be actually performed, exactly like playing a musical instrument or a sport. It is only necessary to recall one’s own childhood to know that we developed the ability to communicate verbally without any formal teaching. As toddlers, we certainly didn’t formally study grammar – but from about age three and a half, we could construct phrases grammatically correctly. Where we did make “mistakes”, it usually was when the supposedly “correct” English form deviated from the general pattern we had correctly discerned – such as when a child says two “oxes” instead of saying two oxen, because the regular pattern for forming the plural in modern English is by adding an “-s” (like in two boxes, or two cows). Oxen is a relic from the past, which has somehow clung on – unlike the word “kine”, which until a few centuries ago was the correct English plural of cow, but which was jettisoned in favor of cows (with “cows” probably before then regarded as child-speak).
As little kids, we didn’t think of particular verbs as being distinct conjugations of some infinitive form – we simply knew that that was the right word for that particular phrase and context, based on pattern recognition. Our ear told us if another child used a word incorrectly, without us being in any way able to explain why it was “wrong”. We developed our language skills by getting to know words as simply words, plus the familiar patterns of stitching them together in phrases.
How to understand what importance to attach to the study of grammar: It is obvious that the patterns of languages weren’t ever formally designed and ordained by committees of elder cavemen laying down grammar “rules”. Languages grew spontaneously, constantly undergoing local variations and unstoppable evolution at the hand (or rather, tongue) of the common folk. The first visible signs of language standardization started emerging with the advent of printing. The first formal grammar book for any European language was only published in 1492, for Castilian (i.e., modern Spanish). In it, its author, Antonio de Nebrija, laid down as first fundamental rule that: “we must write as we speak and we must speak as we write”. What he insisted upon, therefore, is that researchers and academics should not invent language “rules”, but must observe and record that which actually exists, the patterns of speech with all their irregularities (the concept of grammar “rules” is actually unfortunate, because of the connotation that the word “rules” have of being something authoritatively ordained – with hindsight, it would have been better to speak of grammar as a faithful recording of the commonly used patterns of speech).
Because of the natural eagerness of the human mind to create order by means of identifying patterns, it was inevitable that languages would eventually be formally studied. The study of grammar would come to consist of tabulating the patterns evident in any language, such as those for word modification (known as morphology – for example, the conjugation of words) or the protocols of phrase construction (known as syntax). It is evident that, by learning and knowing these “rules” or rather patterns, one would be able to predict likely constructs. Now, if we take any sport, knowing the rules of the game isn’t – in and of itself – going to make you a great player. The latter depends i.a. on one’s ability to APPLY such theoretical knowledge instantly and intuitively in actual game settings. Ditto for the guitar player – knowing the score of a song doesn’t guarantee that he/she will be able to render it perfectly at first attempt. This analogy very much resembles the demands of everyday conversation, which is focused on the speaker’s ability to instantly access his/her theoretical knowledge of grammar and vocabulary (i.e., as memorized via the declaratory brain circuit) and then – most importantly – to reproduce it spontaneously in real-world communication (i.e., the practice-embedded “muscle memory” originating with the procedural circuit of the brain). We don’t simply “know” language, we need and use it to PERFORM communicative tasks.
Speaking is the performance of a communicative task, and requires guided PRACTICE to perfect
Unfortunately, the traditional school system requires standardized curricula and methodologies. This is the case because, in order for school tuition in real life to be feasible when teaching classrooms full of students, there just isn’t much scope for individualization. They cannot all practice speaking, all at once. And there are many other subjects to be taught in the school year, in addition to (maybe) a foreign language. Therefore, for the foreign language student there cannot be anything like the constant immersion in his new tongue that the typical toddler is exposed to every woken hour in his native environment for at least the first six years. In school and college, time for studying foreign languages is limited – usually only some four to five hours per week, homework time included, is dedicated to acquiring a second language (thus engaging primarily the declaratory circuit of the brain for memorization, without truly activating the all-important procedural circuit for practicing the ability to perform). Furthermore, it is logical that schools – which are subject to severe constraints of time and organization, whilst dealing with entire class-groups and not individuals – by the nature of these limitations are focused on imparting theoretical knowledge of rules, and not on the individual coaching and practice, practice, practice required to develop actual communicative ability.
As a consequence, schools and colleges are mostly teaching the theoretical foundations of a foreign language, with a focus on reading and writing (all pupils can practice to read or write at the same time, but certainly all can’t practice to speak at the same time). Quite naturally, therefore, schools are setting written exams to test students’ knowledge of the content which the schools have been teaching. Schools are not structured, nor disposed, to focus primarily on the individualized testing of each student’s ability to engage in an actual conversation, one by one. Which explains why only 0.5% of US students end up being able to converse in the foreign language they have studied. It’s like teaching and testing football spectators for their knowledge of the rules, instead of coaching actual, competent football players.
The foregoing is not a condemnation of schools – in many ways the traditional grammar-based approach to foreign language teaching was and is what is practically possible, and no informed teacher is under any illusion that it would, in and of itself, be enough. Because humans instinctively seek for patterns, formal grammaris clearly a very useful tool that helps identify and present for study, the patterns inherent to any language. It is thus very important that grammar be learnt (particularly because it provides a short-cut to knowing and identifying the irregularities inherent in any language). It obviously is a faster way of becoming aware of such patterns and their exceptions, than simply by absorbing them subconsciously, over the course of years of unstructured immersion. But it evidently is not enough to simply know these grammar rules, or even to have academic awareness of the patterns, if one wishes to acquire the capacity to fluently, correctly and coherently engage in actual conversation – to communicate effectively and reflexively.
As I said in the earlier blog-post, another major drawback inherent to the traditional way of teaching, is that it inevitably leaves the student with the impression that language consists of rules and vocabulary – of individual words, which must be strung together in accordance with set rules, such as that of conjugation. In reality, though, language for the most part consists of “chunks” of words in the form of well-established phrases with agreed meaning. These chunks of words and the customary way in which they are strung together, form an important part of the patterns of a language. As kids, we pick up and become skilled in using these “chunks”, like: I am going to school; I am going in the car; I am not going to grandma’s etc. We comprehend that the basic chunk stays the same, we only have to change some words to suit the need of the moment. This truth was recognized some two decades ago by Michael Lewis, who called for a new, complementary approach to the traditional way of teaching foreign languages, which he called the “lexical approach”. You may want to refresh your memory about this part of the earlier blog-post as well, because in your preparation for the DELE / SIELE, you will notice the emphasis that examiners are placing on the use of “link phrases” to enhance fluency and coherence – and such “connectors” are prime examples of the word chunks that the lexical approach has been focused on. The lexical approach is not intended to replace traditional learning, but to supplement it; Lewis and his followers see it more as an enhanced mind-set, a better understanding of how we actually acquire language, which would broaden the learning methodologies beyond their traditional focus and strive for an outcome of actual conversational competency.
The WHAT of becoming proficient at conversation: The first thing to get right, is mind-set. Your objective should NOT be “I want to studySpanish” (because that is only aimed at acquiring theoretical knowledge about the language). You should consciously decide that “I want to develop the capacity to converse in Spanish” (which entails not only knowing the theory, but the practiced and honed performance skill, of integrating and applying your knowledge in real-world situations, instantly and spontaneously). What you want to be, is an accomplished football player, not just a coach potato football rules guru.
With your mental objective clearly defined, it is important next to identify the skills and knowledge sets that are essential for you to develop, in order to acquire the ability to converse in Spanish. These elements then become the “to do” list of your preparation plan. The ultimate phase will be to add to this “what to do” list, the very important “how to do” component.
What, then, is necessary, in order to be able to actually maintain a conversation in a foreign language? You must firstly have the ability to understand what your interlocutor is saying to you, and secondly you must be able to make yourself understood.
For both understanding and being understood, you first of all need a sufficiently ample “linguistic scope”. This means that you do have to know (i.e., that you have learnt, to the point of having committed to memory and thus have fully internalized) the words, expressions and common “word chunks” making up the general use lexis of the language. You need to do so with sufficient width and depth, so that you can easily identify the words and word chunks upon hearing or seeing them, and also instantly reproduce them when needed in your own oral expression. This essential knowledge of words and patterns entails knowing the semantics (or meaning) of words, the phonology (or sound) of the word, plus its orthography (spelling, for recognizing it when reading).
click on image to go to this blogpost about expanding your vocabulary
Your knowledge of Spanish words and word chunks (lexis) is one of the two theoretical knowledge legs upon which real conversation stands (or falls). The other leg is knowledge of the patterns of the language, so that you can string the word chunks together correctly. But lexis may be more vital to conversation, because your listener can, as an intelligent native speaker, compensate for your small grammatical errors of syntax or of such things as gender accord, even for wrong verb conjugation – however, what he or she cannot compensate for, is if you completely lack the appropriate words to say what you want, or pronounce them so incomprehensibly that your listener’s eyes simply glaze over. When you are preparing for a modern Spanish exams of actual communicative competency, such as the DELE / SIELE, you will know that the amplitude of your linguistic scope is one of the four equally-weighted scoring criteria that examiners will be applying, when scoring you written and oral expression tasks.
However, these two legs of stored knowledge, although clearly required, are not of themselves enough to allow conversation. In order to converse, we now understand that – like any athlete – you will have to practice these legs to perform spontaneously. In fact, if you are still obliged – when you want to say something in Spanish – to first try and remember the right words, and then to calculatedly apply these grammar rules in order to mentally construct a phrase before you can utter it, you will have a serious problem with fluently maintaining any kind of conversation.
This is the difference between sitting a traditional end-of-school written exam, where you have time to calculate how to apply rules, and real-world conversation, which is an instantaneous give-and-take. Instead of relying on calculated application of rules (which usually signify that you are still thinking in your mother tongue and first have to translate from it) you need to have fully internalized – through practice – the patterns of Spanish speech (as you had done as a kid, with your mother tongue). Having internalized these patterns, it rolls out correctly almost without conscious thought as to how to say something (thus leaving you free to focus completely on the really important thing, namely the substance of what you want to convey). From this, you will understand that being grammatically correct is just one part of the “correctness” criterium applied in the DELE / SIELE exam (other elements of correctness being spelling, pronunciation etc.) which means that grammatical correctness is assessed at one-third value of one quarter of the overall scoring under the four equally-weighted main criteria (the other two main criteria, alongside linguistic scope and correctness, being coherence and fluency).
In real life, conversation breaks down when there is no fluency and coherence – when you have to constantly interrupt your interlocutor because you could not understand something that he/she said, or when you yourself cannot find the right words or correct pronunciation or appropriate syntax to comprehensibly say what you need to say. Once again, if you need to first translate for yourself and do a rules-based calculation of how to say something, then there will be no fluency. You need to have the lexis and patterns of Spanish sufficiently internalized. Especially important to the fluent flow of conversation is the appropriate use of link phrases in order to fluently join up different thoughts or sentences – and not end up uttering, in staccato style, a disjointed series of unconnected phrases. You know from conversation in your own language, how important link phrases are – words such as “accordingly”, or “on the other hand” or “as you know” or any of the many such devices that we use to fill blank “think time” between sentences, and to link them together, in place of uttering “uhm” and “aah”. These are some of the most fixed and most used “word chunks” in the lexis of any language, and knowing these patterns are essential to fluency.
To recap – the what of Spanish that we need to internalize in order to be able to maintain conversation, are the patterns and the lexis of the language. The latter is the words and word chunks (including their meaning and pronunciation). The patterns are those of syntax (how words and phrases are strung together to form coherent sentences) and of morphology (how we transform words to signify different meanings). This knowledge of lexis and of patterns we have to commit to memory (i.e, with the declaratory brain circuit), and then with the procedural brain circuit, through guided practice, hone the ability to reproduce it instantaneously without much conscious thought. Without such well-honed internalization of the lexis and phonology of Spanish and of its morphological and syntactical patterns, you cannot hope to achieve fluency.
The HOW of developing the ability to converse in Spanish: Developing the knowledge and skill sets required to maintain a conversation in Spanish, needs to engage both the declaratory and procedural brain circuits (i.e., learn and practice). Luckily, as adults we have access to certain facilitating and enhancing tools which toddlers don’t have available. Adults can read, can follow TV and live stream radio, can do classes (nowadays, also via Skype, from the comfort of the own home). In fact, it may be a misconception to think that babies have an advantage over adults, when it comes to acquiring a language, given the learning tools that adults can access. The one true benefit that babies have, is that their brains can focus almost exclusively on mastering verbal communication because of their adult-facilitated environment without a care in the world, whereas adults have a huge array of responsibilities between which they must divide their mental energy.
Internalizing the patterns: The basic manner in which your Spanish will develop, will be by means of assimilating patterns and practicing their spontaneous reproduction. You can check with just about any fluent speaker of Spanish as foreign language – they will tell you that they don’t consciously construct sentences based on grammar rules; they speak Spanish the same way as they speak their native English. They do so intuitively and without conscious mental effort, focused on the substance of their message and not on form. They probably will have to do a double take if you start cross-examining them about the intricacies of the morphology or syntax they had just used – the same as you would, if they do the same to you about your native English (you’ll probably respond that you can’t recall why something needs to be said in that particular way, but that you know for sure that that’s the way it’s said!).
The importance of practice/immersion: To discern patterns, and especially to internalize them in this natural manner, we have to be scanning a vast amount of Spanish. This can only be achieved through immersing yourself in an environment where you regularly hear, see and have to speak Spanish, just as a toddler masters the patterns of his/her mother’s speech.
It is therefore evident that any attempt to acquire a foreign language with an approach based just on classroom + homework time (i.e., just employing the declaratory brain circuit without the addition of guided practice via the procedural circuit), is not going to result in any better performance than the figure of 0.5% of U.S. students reaching conversational ability, as cited in the earlier blog-post.
The relative importance of, and correct view of formal grammar: Again, this is not to suggest that formal grammar should or could be substituted. Grammar as we know it is none other than a handy codification of the enduring patterns of a language, as these have been observed over time by qualified linguists. Using the fruits of their labors will clearly help you identify and understand the patterns (and their “irregular” exceptions) a lot quicker than you would be able to do with just your own random observation. The key, however, is mental attitude – you have to study grammar as a very valuable tool, which will help you spot and comprehend the patterns far quicker and easier. Do not study grammar as if it represents the language as such, as if knowing the “rules” of grammar could or should be – in and of itself – the ultimate objective. Please realize that knowledge of grammar is no more than a convenient crutch in the early phase of language acquisition, while you are still hobbling along because of not yet having fully internalized the patterns. Just as you did with your English grammar crutch, you will be discarding it (actually forgetting all about it) as soon as you – figuratively speaking – can walk upright with ease and comfort without it.
How many adult native English speakers do you think ever give a moment’s thought to English grammar in their day-to-day conversations? When last did you, yourself?
Always remember, too, that the language patterns codified under the title of grammar (essentially being word morphology and sentence syntax), are intellectual constructs developed almost organically over ages by communities of humans. Since grammar “rules” are intellectual constructs, any intelligent man, woman or child can therefore mentally compensate for most errors they hear in your grammar, without losing track of the meaning you are trying to convey. Studying grammar isn’t the be-all and end-all of “studying the language” (this is particularly important to understand when prepping for exams such as the DELE/SIELE, as illustrated by the fact that grammatical correctness is just one element in the “correctness” criterium, with coherence, fluency and linguistic scope each carrying equal weight to correctness). It isn’t even the most important part of such learning (as evidenced by the ability of others to mentally compensate for your grammar errors, as well as by how quickly this crutch is discarded from your active consciousness, once you’ve reached fluency). Nevertheless, don’t be mistaken – until you are fluent through having fully internalized these patterns of morphology and syntax through constant guided practice, you HAVE TO STUDY YOUR GRAMMAR – but do so selectively, as we will show you during your tuition, and with the right mental attitude, namely that grammar is a valuable “cheat sheet” of essential patterns and irregularities.
The most vital aspect that you have to focus on in your active learning (i.e., when pumping that declaratory brain circuit) isn’t grammar. It is expanding your Spanish lexis.
Expanding your Spanish Lexis is your top active learning priority: By studying lexis is meant acquiring a suitably ample linguistic scope in Spanish for your particular needs (for example, a missionary doctor is clearly going to require a different lexis to a policeman walking the beat in an immigrant neighborhood; a DELE A2 student will need a lesser lexis than a C2 student to pass). Lexis consists of vocabulary and phonology (i.e., knowing words and their meaning, as well as how to pronounce them) as well as the learning of “word chunks” and common expressions and idioms, plus the “link phrases” (conectores) that are so important to ensuring fluency and coherence in speech. The reasons why lexis is deemed so important to conversational ability, are twofold:
As was said earlier, to be able to maintain a conversation, you firstly need to comprehend. If you don’t know the meaning of a word or phrase your interlocutor has used, there is no way you can mentally compensate in order to arrive at a correct understanding of what you’re hearing (apart from asking your interlocutor to repeat and explain). It is therefore axiomatic that, to understand, “you have to have knowledge of words and the world”. This is just another way of underlining the lexical approach, which goes beyond the semantics of any given individual word to include its situational context, which helps give it specific meaning within a particular pattern of use. If you don’t have adequate lexical knowledge (i.e., knowing the situational meaning of words and phrases that you hear), and don’t know enough about phonology to be able to correctly identify which words you are actually hearing, you cannot hope to comprehend much in the course of any given conversation. Neither will you be able to do well in the multiple choice listening and reading comprehension tests that make up 50% of the DELE / SIELE exams.
When expressing yourself orally, lexis is also of vital importance. You have to readily know the right word or phrase (to the point of not having to break your flow to search your memory for it), and you have to be able to pronounce those word chunks intelligibly. If you don’t readily have the right words and phrases at your disposal, or you cannot pronounce them sufficiently correctly for your interlocutor to be able to identify them, then – even with the best theoretical knowledge of grammar – there is no way that your conversation can blossom, simply because your interlocutor cannot mentally compensate for words that you don’t have and which he cannot divine. He will be as lost as you are.
At this point it is important to underline that one should have realistic expectations about the time and effort it will require to reach conversational ability in a foreign language such as Spanish, since far more is involved than just learning grammar rules and lists of vocabulary with the declaratory circuit of your brain (you have to engage the procedural circuit through practice, practice, practice to be able to spontaneously produce the right phrases). The ACTFL has calculated that a student of average aptitude will require 480 hours to reach “advanced low” proficiency (A2/B1 level in the European Common Framework such as the DELE diploma). This translates into doing forty hours per week (8 hours per day) for twelve weeks solid. To achieve “advanced high” level (i.e., not yet “superior”), will require 720 hours for the average student, starting from scratch. For the superior proficiency level that diplomats and the like require, it is generally thought that 1,000 hours of intensive preparation is necessary. The reason for this many hours, is that these institutions (such as the Foreign Service Institute of the USA) aren’t teaching their students the same way as schools or colleges do; through experience, they have come to understand the vital importance of practice – therefore, a diplomat doesn’t need 1, 000 hours of book study, but rather that total amount of time for both memorizing and guided practice of actual communication.
What constitutes immersion, in the internet age?Immersion doesn’t only signify visiting a Spanish-speaking country and living there for some time. You can immerse yourself totally in Spanish-language books, films, talk radio and news. This is more focused and productive than merely living in a Spanish-speaking environment, because you can select appropriate themes and you can have your learning tools at hand, such as for jotting down and looking up new words, and adding these to your flashcard list. This combines the mental awareness of the importance of a lexical mind-set and the practice routines of engaging the procedural brain circuit, with all the other traditional learning tools focused on the declaratory circuit.
There is no doubt that the more time you invest in reading Spanish, the more you will internalize the lexis and patterns of the language, as well as getting to know the Hispanic cultural context – especially if you have given sufficient attention to your grammar as a great tool for helping you to quickly spot and understand those patterns. Reading has the huge benefit of seeing the words, but you need to hear them as well for the sake of phonology (you therefore have to maintain a balance between listening and reading). For this reason, the Spanish telenovela (TV soapy) is a great learning tool, especially those that have subtitles for the hard of hearing, so that you can see and hear the word, and also see its situational context playing out on screen.
In any event, whenever you read, read out loud – this provides good practice to your “articulation tools” to adapt themselves to the Spanish sound system, in the privacy of your own home and thus without any risk to your ego. Better still: tape yourself reading out loud, so that you can pick up your pronunciation errors – you will be surprised how different we all sound in reality, as opposed to how we imagine we sound!
Luckily, such “home immersion” in Spanish is nowadays a free option, thanks to the internet. You don’t have to go live in a Hispanic country anymore (if you don’t want to, that is). Check out this DELEhelpblogpost for a host of links to free sites, ranging from streamed talk radio, through the major Hispanic print press to free e-books and telenovelas. One needs to differentiate between active learning (such as working on your flashcard lists of lexis and memorizing them, or doing homework exercises in grammar, in reading comprehension or writing) and passive immersion. The latter can form part of your relaxation, like reading a book in Spanish (if you are a beginner, look for dual text books that have Spanish on one page and the English on the opposite). Every possible minute that you can have Spanish talk radio streaming live, or the TV running telenovelas in the background, is useful – even if you can’t really concentrate on their content, you will pick up phonology as well as words, phrases and patterns. Knowing how kids learn, you shouldn’t underestimate the value of this.
One of the great killers of people’s ambition to master a foreign language, is frustration (next to boredom, especially if they just do grammar exercises!). Frustration can really grow very quickly if grammar mastery is (wrongly) seen as the be-all and end-all of gaining proficiency in Spanish. You may know, for instance, that every Spanish verb can literally be conjugated into 111 different forms, given the number of different moods and tenses in Spanish. If you get stuck on the idea that you absolutely have to memorize each and all of these 111 possibilities in order to be able to converse, the task will seem so daunting that very few will not become frustrated.
Develop your own style of speaking, that’s natural and comfortable for you: Here’s another tip – each of us, no matter our language, have a particular own style of speaking that we’re comfortable with. We don’t use all the possible tenses in normal conversation (as some writers may do in penning high literature). Similarly, when conversing in Spanish, you don’t need to have all 111 conjugation options rolling fluently off your tongue. This is especially true in the beginning, while you are still internalizing the basic patterns of Spanish.
Beginners and intermediate-level students, in order to start speaking with coherence and fluency, may choose to concentrate on mastering the present, the idiomatic future and the perfect tense of the Indicative mood. If you can conjugate these three tenses well, any interlocutor will be able to understand which time-frame you are referring to. These three tenses correspond very well to the way you are accustomed to use tenses in English, because both the idiomatic future and the perfect indicative in Spanish are compound tenses, using auxiliary verbs (just like in English, which also use compounds with auxiliary verbs to indicate past and future – auxiliaries like “shall” and “have”).
This way of speaking is in fact becoming more common in Spanish, so you won’t be regarded as weird – in the Americas, for example, the idiomatic future (futuro idiomatico) is already used exclusively, in place of the traditional conjugated future tense. For the idiomatic future, you only need to learn the present indicative conjugation of one verb, namely “ir” (to go). We must emphasize, though, that this approach works when you yourself are speaking; however, because you cannot control the tenses that your interlocutor may choose to use, you have to have sufficient knowledge of the other tenses to at least be able to recognize them, otherwise you may not comprehend what you are hearing or reading. In any event, it is much easier getting acquainted with something to the point of being able to recognize it when used by others, as opposed to the level of active learning and especially practice that’s needed for the purpose of own speech, which demands full internalization to enable spontaneous, real-time reproduction that’s coherent and fluent.
For proficiency at conversation, you have to practice speaking (and be expertly guided / corrected): The immersion that we referred to above, needs to go beyond you simply absorbing written and spoken Spanish. To acquire the skill and confidence to maintain a conversation, you have to have guided practice in actually speaking. This is often a problem for a home-study student living in an environment where there are few speaking opportunities. Again, though, the internet comes to the rescue, in the form of Skype and its equivalents. Such online tuition and interaction is actually better than what most classroom tuition situations can offer. In the typical classroom, you are part of a group, dragged down by the lowest common denominator and by methodologies and curricula that of necessity are generalized, without focus on your particular needs – unless you are fortunate enough to have one-on-one tuition, such as at our partner residential school in la Antigua Guatemala, PROBIGUA (click on this link for a 2-minute video).
The great benefit of having your own expert, experienced online tutor (apart from the low cost and the convenience of studying in the comfort of your own home) is that you have someone you can speak to, who will know how to record (i.e., tape), correct and guide you. A relationship of confidence soon develops, so that the natural inhibitions of ego fall away and you can really freely practice to speak. We have already mentioned the vital importance of pronunciation – it is clearly very difficult to perfect this if you don’t have a live human being listening to you and guiding you (no matter what the computer-based interactive packages may claim about their pronunciation verification software). It is also true that interactive computer packages can tell you if you are answering correctly or incorrectly, in relation to simple things like vocabulary, but can they explain to you? Obviously not. The need for expert assessment and guidance in language practice is no different to the same need for the golfer we mentioned, practicing his swing (for both, it is the procedural circuit of the brain that’s engaged). If an amateur golfer (“hacker”) like myself should try and practice my swing on my own, I will just re-enforce my bad habits. I need a pro to video-record me, show me where I go wrong, and guide me to correct it, to make my hours of practice worth-while – the exact same applies to language practice.
Getting over the barriers constituted by the own ego / the “fear of failure”: A last tip with regard to speaking practice, concerns the barrier in the adult psyche constituted by our natural fear of making a fool of ourselves in front of others. This is perfectly normal, and its inhibiting power is great. There are three distinct ways of overcoming this barrier. The first is to build a relationship of comfort with a trusted tutor, as I mentioned earlier. Another is to get objective proof of your communicative proficiency in the form of certification, such as the gold standard DELE / SIELE diploma of the Spanish education ministry, or the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) in the USA. This knowledge that you’ve proven that: “yes, I can!” will boost your self-confidence no end.
A third option (which can be integrated with the first) is to create a situation where you, John Smith, aren’t making the mistakes – “somebody else” is, so it’s no skin off your nose. This approach, which is called suggestopedia, was originally developed in the 1970’s by a Bulgarian psychotherapist by the name of Georgi Lozanov. What it entails, is that John Smith will, for example, arrive at the diplomatic academy, where he will immediately be given a new identity related to his target language – he will become Pedro Gonzalez, a journalist from Mexico City with a passion for football and politics, and an entire back story that John Smith has created for his Pedro identity. All his fellow students and tutors will know John Smith as Pedro, and interact with him as such. This has the benefit of taking John’s ego out of play, plus the benefit of freeing him up to adopt a Latino persona, so that he can escape from his unilingual Anglo cultural and phonological straightjacket and learn to articulate (and gesticulate) like a true Latino.
Suggestopedia isn’t the answer to all the methodological challenges of learning a foreign language – it is simply another tool, to be used in conjunction with others. I have seen its effectiveness during my days as head of South Africa’s diplomatic academy (before I became ambassador for the New South Africa of President Mandela). I’ve also seen it here at DELEhelp – one remarkable fellow really got into the swing of things, designing for himself an identity as a Mexican footballer (soccer player). Every time, sitting himself down in front of the Skype camera, you could see him with his enormous sombrero on his head, dressed in his Mexican club soccer shirt and with a glass of tequila in his hand. It wasn’t difficult for him to really get into his new character, which completely freed him of his uni-lingual Anglo straight-jacket and assisted him enormously in mastering the articulation of Spanish phonology in no time. If you think it can work for you, give it a try!
Like any endeavour in life, learning a new language requires more than just guts and determination (although a lot of that, as well!). It requires that you understand the challenges, and the science behind what works and what doesn’t. I hope that this rather long blog-post has helped you acquire such understanding. We here at Excellentia Didactica / DELEhelp would be more than pleased to help you with engaging the procedural circuit of your brain through guided practice, so that you can master the performance art that conversing fluently and coherently in Spanish truly is.
REMEMBER TO ASK FOR OUR FREE 96-page DELE / SIELE EXAM ORIENTION AND ACING TIPS WORKBOOK – simply click on the image below.
Buena suerte with your learning of the beautiful Spanish language
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 DELE results (and another three months for the actual diploma to arrive). 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://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 known 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 chooses – 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 competency 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 partner school here in La Antigua Guatemala, PROBIGUA, is such a proctor institution. 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-known 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.
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” competency. 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$18 per hour (from 1st of February 2022), 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!
Willem Steenkamp Director of Studies emeritus: Excellentia Didactica
The DELE and FUNCTIONAL LANGUAGE USE
DELE exam functional language use segment is a key part of curriculum
Why is “functional language use” an important curriculum component?
The DELE / SIELE exam curriculum consists of much more than grammar and spelling. The same applies to their American equivalent, the OPI. Because the DELE / SIELE & OPI test “communicative competency”, they are focused on what you can actually DO, more than on what you abstractly know. (For the sake if convenience, from this point on I will refer simply to the DELE, instead of each time the DELE / SIELE & OPI).
In this blog post we will examine the DELE’s curriculum component that identify the “functional language uses” prescribed for every level, i.e., A1, B2, C1 etc. This means, which every day, functional uses of the Spanish language a student needs to master, in order to do well in the DELE exam (or, plainly put, which typical tasks of real-world communication – the OPI’s “can do” statements). Examples of such “can do” statements would be: can I identify myself to an official? Can I ask for directions? Order a cup of coffee? Introduce a toast at a wedding? (The latter, at the upper levels, of course!).
“Functional language use” signifies the everyday communicative tasks that the student must be able to perform well, as assessed in terms of four scoring criteria: fluency, coherence, correctness and sufficiently ample linguistic scope (i.e., knowledge of vocabulary and expressions). Some more examples of these functional uses would be tasks such as to ask for information or for a favor. Or it could be to express an opinion or sentiment, such as disagreement or repentance. It includes how to relate socially, such as in the tasks of responding to words of welcome, or extending sympathy. It also includes influencing a situation, such as how to give an order or to deny permission. Another set of functional language uses relate to structuring a conversation – for example, tasks such as how to greet someone and how to respond to a greeting.
How important is “functional language use’ in relation to the other curriculum components? Very! Grammar and pronunciation/spelling are but the first components of the DELE curriculum, which has ten in all. The next main component is “functional language use” (i.e., the “can do” statements). Because the DELE exam does not pose college-style questions that test theoretical knowledge, what you should be expecting, is for your ability to perform these functional tasks to be tested instead. These tasks happen to also be typical of communication in real life, so mastering them not only serves to help one in the exam, but prepares one for the demands of everyday interaction – which is exactly what the DELE system is designed to foster and measure.
What the section on “functional language use” also does, is to give a good, practical indication of the SCOPE of matter that must be mastered for each level of the exam. In that sense, it is like a built-in “exam spotting tool” that students so much wish to have.
Now, simply to be practical about this blog post, it should be evident that dealing here in detail with the required functional language use competencies as listed in the DELE curriculum for every single level of the DELE system would be too much ground to try and cover in one blog post. We will, therefore, focus here on Level B, because it sits in the middle of the range and students at other levels can get a good idea of what their level’s requirements would likely be (all three levels follow the same structure and headings in relation to this particular component on functional language use). In addition, we will provide links at the end of this blog post to this curriculum component for each level, for your convenience.
Our purpose here is not to give you fully developed phrases as examples of the typical manner in which Spanish-speakers accomplish each of these functions. Again, this is because (even if we limit ourselves to level B) that would require the volume of a whole book, not a mere blog post. The idea here, in this blog post, is to introduce and sensitize you to the TYPE OF FUNCTIONS that the DELE requires you to be able to perform. We will present these in English (because the original curriculum documents are, of course, in high academic Spanish) so as to make them more accessible to especially the lower-level students. The links to the “functional language use” curriculum segment for each of the DELE’s A, B & C levels – which we provide at the end of this blog post – will however lead you to the somewhat wider detail of the original documentation. But not even in the original curriculum itself, will you find full examples of the typical phrases you will need to be able to form and articulate in order to perform these everyday functional tasks – that, your expert 1-on-1 tutor will have to help you with, via Skype.
Related to the emphasis on mastering functional language uses in order to communicate competently, is a growing trend towards following a lexical approach as the best way to acquire a new language (“lexis” meaning internalizing “word chunks” or expressions and patterns of language, instead of mostly studying grammar rules – see our blog post: https://delehelp.org/learn-to-converse-in-spanish/).
This lexical trend plays into the DELE’s focus on tangible outcomes, not merely on abstract knowledge. Also important is tradition and culture, since clearly there are broadly standardized speech “formulas” / norms of good conduct, for how to appropriately perform these “functional language use” tasks, such as commiserating with a bereaved person, for example. The best way to master these everyday communicative functions (which is key to doing well in the exam, as well as in real life) is to practice with your expert tutor, doing simulations and role-playing.
Now please be aware that this blog post will, of necessity, have a somewhat weird look to it. This is because we are now going to list (in abbreviated form, in English) the DELE functional language use tasks – doing so under the same headings as used in the original curriculum document. Remember, this serves as an introduction, to give you a feel for the scope and nature of what is required (and, if you still labor under any illusion that the DELE’s curriculum is all about learning the rules of Spanish grammar and spelling, to disabuse you of that notion). For set 1, we will give some examples (as contained in the actual curriculum document) to illustrate what is meant under each function.
DELE Curriculum Level B: FUNCTIONAL LANGUAGE USE
Set #1: Ask and give information:
identify; (example: ¿Quién es la hermana de Raquel?] -La (chica) morena que está hablando con Pablo. Who is Raquel’s sister? The brown-skinned girl talking to Paul);
ask for information (¿Sabes si / dónde / cómo…? ¿Sabes cómo se hace la sopa de marisco? ¿Puedes / Podrías decirme si / dónde / cómo…? Por favor, ¿puede decirme dónde está la estación?);
then request confirmation.
Set #2: Express opinions:
ask an opinion;
give an opinion;
ask for valorisation;
express approval and disapproval;
position yourself in favor or against;
ask if your interlocutor is in agreement;
present a counter-argument;
express certainty and provide proof;
express lack of certainty and demand proof;
invite to formulate an hypothesis;
express obligation and necessity;
express lack of obligation and necessity;
ask about knowledge of something;
express knowledge of something;
express own lack of knowledge;
ask about the ability to do something;
express your ability to do something;
ask if interlocutor remembers or has forgotten;
express that you remember;
express that you have forgotten.
Set #3: Express preferences, desires and wishes:
ask about tastes and interests;
express tastes and interests;
express aversion; ask about preferences;
express indifference or absence of preference;
ask about desires;
express a desire;
ask about plans and intentions;
express plans and intentions;
ask about state of mind;
express joy and satisfaction;
express sadness and sorrow;
express pleasure and happiness;
express anger and indignation;
express fear, anxiety and preoccupation;
express surprise and longing;
express admiration and pride;
express physical sensations.
Set $4: Influence the interlocutor:
give an order or instruction;
ask a favor;
ask for an object;
ask for help;
repeat an earlier order;
respond to an order,
reject a prohibition;
propose and suggest;
offer and invite;
ask for confirmation of an earlier proposal;
accept a proposal,
offer a proposal;
reject a proposal,
offer an invitation;
menace (only B2);
promise and commit yourself;
offer to do something;
calm and console.
Set #5: Relate socially:
return a greeting;
direct yourself at someone;
present yourself to someone;
respond to a presentation;
ask about the necessity for a presentation;
solicit to be presented;
respond to a welcome;
respond to an excusing;
respond to thanks;
present your sympathies/condolences;
propose a toast;
express good wishes;
respond to congratulations and good wishes;
pass on greetings, wishes for better health;
respond to being wished;
take leave of.
Set #6: Structure a discourse:
establish the communication or react to communication being established;
greet and respond to a greeting, ask about someone and respond to such a query;
ask for an extension and respond to such a request;
ask if you can leave a message;
ask how things are going, and respond;
request to start relating something and respond;
introduce the theme for relating something and react;
indicate that you are following the telling with interest;
attract the attention of the speaker;
introduce something into the conversation;
organize the information;
reformulate what was said;
highlight an element;
open a digression;
close a digression;
reject a theme or an aspect of the theme;
indicate that the conversation may be resumed;
ask of someone to keep quiet;
concede the floor to someone;
indicate that you wish to continue the discussion;
conclude a narration;
introduce a new theme;
reject closure and inject a new theme.
As promised, here is the link to this particular section in the original DELE B-level curriculum document:
I hope that this blog post has given you at least a feel for what this very, very important component of the DELE curriculum is all about. Keep an eye on our blog; as indicated, we will be posting new segments in this series that will eventually cover all of the components of the curriculum.
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Don’t miss out either on our other free offer, which is an exploratory one hour Skype session with myself, in English, explaining the intricacies of these exams and answering your questions – you can make use of these offers with no obligation on you to eventually sign up for coaching.
Best of luck with your exam preparation!
TOP TIPS FOR THE DELE / SIELE / WPT WRITTEN TASKS
Top Tips for Acing the DELE / SIELE & WPT written tasks
THE GOAL OF THIS BLOG-POST:
You probably have asked yourself: “How can I do well in the DELE exam written tasks? (or in the equivalent writing tests of the DELE’s online twin, the SIELE, or its American equivalent the WPT – Writing Proficiency Test). What are the do’s and don’ts”? What do I have to KNOW, and which SKILLS must I hone?
The essential requirement for acing the DELE exam’s “expression in writing” tasks, is expertly-guided preparation (with lots of practice, simulating exam formats). This preparation needs to be personalized, practical, goal-orientated – i.e., pass the exam – and focused on strengthening your individual weaknesses. So that, on exam day, you will have that calm, confident mental concentration that will allow you to almost reflexively apply the knowledge and writing skills you had practiced beforehand with our exam simulations.
During your preparation you need to become totally familiar with the DELE exam’s goals, plus its format, and the practical constraints as well as the scoring criteria for this part of the DELE exam. You need to practice your writing skills – for correctness, for stylistic aptness, for message coherence, and as a practical portrayal of the extent of your “linguistic scope” – this latter meaning your vocabulary and lexis. You need to practice and practice some more, getting expert guidance and feed-back, one-on-one, about where and how you need to improve.
On exam day, you have to read and re-read the instructions for each task, to be certain that you understand exactly what is required. Then you have to set out to demonstrate your knowledge and skills, by firstly planning and sketching out an apt and coherent answer. With this scheme of presentation in hand, you have to start writing down your definitive answer, because there won’t be time to try to first do a draft in rough, and then re-write it all.
From this brief summary you will notice that there are elements of abstract knowledge of Spanish that will be required of you. More importantly, though, there’s the art of written presentation, which skill relates to the overall DELE goal of testing your ability to communicate effectively in writing, with tasks simulating every-day, real-world writing projects.
Furthermore, there are practical issues such as handling the time constraints, as well as “finger fitness” and legibility of writing longhand (if you haven’t done it in a while). In this blog-post I will expand on all of these elements, giving you practical, battle-tested tips (having passed the DELE C2 myself). For illustration, I will focus here on actual examples taken from the mid-range B1-level (since I cannot hope to deal with all six DELE levels in detail in a single blog-post). However, the principles and the assessment criteria are essentially the same over all six levels, with only the length of the individual tasks and their time-frames changing, plus of course the extent of the linguistic scope required for each level.
We will deal first with the goals of this part of the exam, then with its structure, followed by the assessment criteria in terms of which your effort will be scored. In explaining how the answers are marked, we will give examples of actual answers that passed and failed, plus the examiners’ comments.
Lastly, we will give you our own DELEhelp Acing Tips for this part of the exam. These are taken from our in-house workbook #9.2 “DELE / SIELE EXAM ORIENTATION AND ACING TIPS. In its 96 pages you will find guidance and practical tips regarding all the sections of the DELE / SIELE exam (i.e., reading and listening comprehension, plus written and oral expression). It is available as an e-book for free download, for readers of this blog. You can request it with the convenient contact form at the bottom of this page – there’s absolutely no obligation attached.
THE GOALS OF THE DELE EXAM “EXPRESSION IN WRITING” TASKS
The overall goal of the DELE exam is to certify a candidate’s level of competency at actually communicating in Spanish, in simulations of typical real-world communicative settings. It is not a school or college type exam – it is NOT primarily concerned with abstract knowledge of Spanish. It tests the ability to apply knowledge, in conversation and in using the written word. For conversation proficiency, it tests listening comprehension and oral expression. For the written language, it assesses proficiency at reading comprehension and at expressing yourself in writing – setting every-day tasks such as writing e-mails, letters, reports and articles.
As a consequence, in the course of the written expression exam the candidate will not be unduly penalized for small errors of spelling or grammar, as long as these aren’t repetitive or of such a nature that it impedes clear transmission of the meaning of the intended message.
In brief, what the DELE tests is your proficiency at understanding meaning, and conveying meaning in Spanish.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE DELE EXAM “EXPRESSION IN WRITING” TASKS (level B1)
Duration: 60 minutes. Number of tasks: 2. Total extent of the texts: between 230 and 270 words. Format of the answer: The candidate must write by hand his/her answers to the tasks that have been set, doing so in the space reserved in the exam book itself. Scoring: Answers are assessed according to two scales – holistic and analytical. The holistic scale counts for 40% of the final score and the analytical scale for 60%. For the analytical scale, the two task papers count equally.
For the sake of comparing B1 with other levels, here’s the structure for the written expression tasks of levels A1 and C2 respectively: A1 = 25 minutes total duration, completing a biographical form and writing a brief message of 20 – 30 words; C2 = 150 minutes total, 3 tasks of 1,000 words, 450 words and 250 words respectively.
The following descriptions of the structure and scoring criteria for the DELE B1 written expression tasks, have been directly translated from the official curricular documentation (which for most students would be difficult to follow in its original Spanish, written by academics for academics). For the sake of authenticity and completeness of this very important information, we have not abbreviated and have kept to the original format of the curricular documents (which explains why the following sections will not be in typical blogpost language!).
Description of the Written Tasks – Level B1
Task 1 – Format: The task consists of writing a letter or a marketing message, an e-mail or a blog, which may include descriptive text or narration.
Extent of the writing: Between 100 and 120 words. Focus: In this task the capacity of the candidate is evaluated to produce a simple informative and cohesive text. Based on: The writing task is based on a text provided in the exam paper (a note, announcement, letter, e-mail etc.) to which the candidate’s writing is a sequel. May be personal or public in nature.
Task 2 – Format: The task consists of writing an essay, a diary entry, biography etc., which may include description or narration. Two options are offered, of which one must be chosen. Extent: between 130 and 150 words. Focus: This task tests the capacity of the candidate to write a descriptive or narrative text in which opinion is expressed and which conveys information of personal interest, based on personal experiences, sentiments, anecdotes etc. Based on: A text provided in the exam paper, which may be a brief newspaper announcement, blog or social media, which helps to define and contextualize the candidate’s required output text. May be of a personal or a public nature.
3.3.2 Marking Scales for the Written Expression Exam: DELE B1
For scoring the written expression tasks, an analytical scale with four categories, plus a holistic scale are used. Both the holistic and the analytical scale consist of four ordinal scoring bands, ranging in value from 0 to 3 points. Values of 2 or 3 signify a pass, while 0 and 1 result in a fail.
Analytical Scale: Category “Conforming to Discourse Genre”
Value 3: Writes texts that are clear and precise, amplifying them with details of both a concrete and an abstract nature. Writes letters, messages and notes in the correct register for the particular context (i.e., tone: levity / seriousness; formal / informal). Efficiently develops all of the points indicated in the orientation text in the exam paper.
Value 2: Writes simple texts that are clear. In the case of the letters, messages and notes, respects the basics conventions of the genre (introduction and conclusion) and uses basic courtesy formulas (greeting, end salutation). Develops with clarity the great majority of the issues provided as orientation in the exam paper, even though some may have been skipped or not dealt with adequately.
Value 1: Writes texts that are very short and basic, dealing with immediate environment or aspects of daily life. In some cases, the information appears disorganized or incomplete, which obliges the reader to re-read in order to understand. Writes letters, messages and notes that are simple and brief, related to basic necessities or transmitting personal information. Hesitantly uses the most common functional exponents, elementary courtesy rules or formulas of greeting and treatment («muchas gracias»; «hola, ¿cómo estás?») or misses some important details (for example, the greeting and farewell salutations in a letter). Mentions only some of the issues stipulated in the exam paper, or doesn’t develop these sufficiently.
Value 0: The text produced is limited to a series of simple, isolated phrases about self or other persons or themes from own closest personal environment. In some cases, the text produced is incomprehensible. Makes errors in simple everyday formulas related to greetings, farewells, presentations and expressions such as: «por favor», «gracias», «lo siento». There are errors in the tonal register and important details are omitted. The text produced doesn’t follow the guidelines provided in the exam paper and doesn’t meet the required extent of writing by having fewer words.
Analytical Scale: Coherence
Value 3: Writes clear, coherent and structured texts with limited but adequate use of cohesion mechanisms to link the message is planned, taking into account the effect it can have on the receiver. It synthesizes, evaluates and varies the information from other sources trying out new combinations and expressions, marking the relationship between ideas. Properly uses punctuation, but may make some mistakes.
Value 2: Writes brief and cohesive texts, ordered by a linear sequence of simple elements, using information organizers («primero», «luego», «después») and common basic connectors («y», «también», «por eso», «entonces», «pero», «porque…»), although the text displays some deficiencies or limitations in its structure.
Value 1: Writes a series of short sentences linked with very simple and basic connectors («y», «pero», «porque»). The discourse – in some cases memorized, messy or incomplete – obliges a rereading in order to understand it.
Value 0: The text is limited to a series of words or groups of words linked with very basic and linear connectors («y», «pero»). The discourse does not maintain an organized structure that allows one to follow the reasoning of the candidate.
Analytical Scale: Correctness
Value 3: Maintains good grammatical control in everyday situations, even though may still make some unsystematic errors or show minor flaws in sentence structure, that do not produce Spelling is reasonably accurate but may make some mistakes under the influence of the mother tongue in the least common lexicon.
Value 2: Shows reasonable control of basic linguistic elements and common structures used to meet immediate and predictable personal interest or May make some mistakes in the spelling of words, but that does not interfere with the transmission of the main idea of the text.
Value 1: Use simple grammatical structures. Makes basic mistakes, without these causing misunderstanding on condition that the message is related to an everyday communicative situation. Systematically makes spelling mistakes, which in some cases render understanding of the message
Value 0: Shows limited control even of very basic and simple grammatical structures, or uses short (probably memorized) phrases related to basic and immediate needs. Makes abundant grammatical and spelling errors (concordances, errors in the choice of the person of the verb), which hinder the understanding of the message and require continuous rereading.
Analytical Scale: Linguistic Scope
Value 3: Dominates a large vocabulary, which includes some idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms, which allows the description of unpredictable situations, as well as explaining the main points of an idea or problem with reasonable precision and express thoughts on abstract and cultural topics. May commit some minor lexical imprecisions.
Value 2: Has enough vocabulary to communicate in relation to candidate’s immediate environment and everyday exchanges. This allows requesting information, making assessments, expressing wishes and giving instructions. May make mistakes when using more complex structures or
Value 1: Has a limited vocabulary which is used to convey basic information in situations related to very specific daily needs; otherwise, vocabulary is insufficient to convey the message. Makes mistakes that do not affect the communication.
Value 0: Uses a very basic repertoire of isolated words and phrases that are not sufficient to transmit the required information or for communication to Commits constant lexical inaccuracies, and interference from other languages is evident.
Value 3: Adds a level of detail to the information required, which ensures that the organization and formulation of the message amply meets with the stated communication objectives of the level. Uses a linguistic repertoire sufficient to present clear and precise descriptions, express opinions and viewpoints and develop arguments, without apparent limitations. The result is a clear and detailed text.
Value 2: Provides the required information in an understandable way and manages to convey Expresses self clearly in exchanges of information related to everyday themes, though, if the issues are abstract topics, some hesitation may occur or may be missing some detail. Uses a linguistic repertoire ample enough to express self adequately on everyday situations and topics of interest to the candidate. Despite some mistakes, hesitations or repetitions the candidate constructs simple, linear sentences with keywords in an understandable and clear manner.
Value 1: Provides part of the required information with However, due to brevity and lack of clarity the discourse is insufficient to convey the message. Uses a limited linguistic repertoire composed of syntactic structures and memorized expressions in phraseology filled with elementary errors that makes it difficult to understand the candidate and, in some cases, leaves unclear the general idea.
Value 0: Contributes only some data which is insufficient to convey the message. The written text consists merely of a series of very short and simple sentences in a disorganized discourse with an abundance of errors that hinder the understanding of the message.
SAMPLES OF EFFORTS ILLUSTRATING PASS AND FAIL STANDARDS – Level B1
Task 1 – FAIL:
¡Hola Diego! Soy muy feliz para el tuyo correo. Espero que tu estes bien. Fui en Madrid solo dos dia antes que ir a Salamanca con el bus. Estabo en un bar cuando he vido Miguel con su hermana. Despues un café con ambos yo y Miguel decidimos que hacer un giro de la ciudad porque yo nunca la había vida bien. Me conouci en sitios realmente maravigliosos y me gusto muchissimo la suya compañía. Despues fuimos en un jardín para descansar: fu un dia maraviglioso. Espero que venir pronto a Barcelona, a lo meyor el próximo mese. Tengo mucha gana de verte. Hasta pronto.
Task 2 – FAIL:
Hola me llamo Sara y quiero contar mi experiencia porque creo que esta iniziadiva es muy interesante. Para mi comer significa comer untos a la gente que quiero. y condivider nuestras experiencias del dia. Hace tres años había una comida que me acuerdo bien. Era un ordenario dia de Enero. Y estaba con mi madre, mi padre y mi hermana como quasi todos los días; porque en mi familia es normal comer untos. Ese dia comimos una comida preparida por mi madre, que es una bravissima cocinera. Se trataba de una pasta tipica del mi pais . «pasta a la nona» también pollo con patatas. Y al fin una tarta muy rica. Ese momentos lo acuordo con mucho gusto porque estábamos untos y feliz A lo mejor una de las ultimas veces.
Comments by examiners:
Aptness for genre: The texts in task 1 and task 2 are brief and basic. The task guidelines that were given, were not sufficiently developed by the candidate, with the discourse being limited to his/her everyday environment or aspects of private life. In some cases, the information appears haphazard and incomplete (tarea 1: «Fui en Madrid solo dos *dia antes que ir a Salamanca con el bus. Soy muy feliz para el tuyo correo»; tarea 2: «A lo mejor una de las ultimas veces»). Hesitantly uses somewhat incomplete greeting formulas (tarea 1: «Soy muy feliz para el tuyo correo»). These shortcomings are reflected especially in task 1 and results in the candidate not being able to achieve a value 2 grade in both tasks taken together.
Coherence: Although makes good use of organizational structures (tarea 1: «Despues fuimos…»; tarea 2: «Y al fin…»; «Porque en mi familia…». «Me llamo Sara y quiero contar…»), as well as some connectors and cohesion mechanisms, the texts produced have a limited number of connectors that are insufficient to achieve the degree of coherence required for this level. These shortcomings are reflected in both tasks, and causes this sample as a whole to qualify only as value band 1.
Correctness: Use simple grammatical structures and makes basic mistakes (tarea 1: «Soy muy feliz para el tuyo correo…»; Fui en Madrid solo dos dia antes que…»; «Despues un café con ambos yo y Miguel decidimos que hacer…»; «Me conoucí…»; «fuimos en…»; «Espero que venir…»; «Tengo mucha gana de verte». Tarea 2: «Hace tres anos había una comida…»; «… una pasta típica del mi país…»; «Ese momentos lo acuordo…»). There are frequent errors in verbal morphology (tarea 1: «he vido, conouci, verte», tarea 2: «condivider; preparida»). Commits systematic errors of spelling and punctuation (tarea 1: «… para descansar: fu un día maravilloso», «muchissimo»; tarea 2: «anos»; «… a la gente que quiero. Y condivider…»; «Los días; porqué…»).
Scope: Has a limited vocabulary, with a clear influence of the mother tongue; this vocabulary is insufficient to convey the message. tarea 1: «vido, giro, vida (for vista), maravigliosos, mese»; tarea 2: «iniziadiva; untos; condivider; ordenario; quasi; bravissima; rica; acuordo».
Holistic Scale: Although the texts produced contain information that can be understood, in the two tasks the candidate uses a limited linguistic repertoire composed of syntactic structures and memorized expressions in a written discourse full of elementary errors that hinder comprehension. All this results in the two tasks to be assessed as achieving value band 1.
Task 1 – PASS
¡Hola Diego! Gracias por tu mensaje. Cuando me encontré con Miguel justo estaba esperando el autobús para ir al aeropuerto. Mi amiga estaba regresando de los EEUU y quería mandarle la bienvenida. Pero como Miguel y yo no nos habíamos visto por mucho tiempo, decidí invitarle a comer un helado en un bar italiano muy cercano. Pasamos un tiempo maravilloso juntos y nos contamos como habíamos pasado el verano. ¡Además el helado estaba muy rico! Al final olvidé el tiempo y tuve que tomar un taxi al aeropuerto. Era caro pero valía la pena. Como seguramente tenemos los dos vacaciones en navidad, he pensado venir a Barcelona durante éste tiempo. ¿Qué te parece? Hasta pronto, saludos
Task 2 – PASS
En mi comentario quería escoger como tema un tiempo que todos nosotros conocemos muy bien: navidad. Cada vez que se acerque el fin del año nos preparamos a comer bien y por supuesto comer mucho. Recuerdo especialmente la cena del 25 de diciembre en el año en que cumplí los 16 años. Como cada año, toda la familia se reunía para celebrar la cena tradicional. Lo especial era que pude por la primera vez sentarme a la mesa de los adultos. Recuerdo bien como empezé con el primer plato que era salmón. Por la primera vez en mi vida venía acompañado de una copa de champán servido po mi abuelo en persona. Me sentí muy grande y por esto lo recuerdo tan bien. Después seguí con fruta rellenada de castanias preparado con mucho talento por mi abuela. Y por supuesto terminé con helado como postre. ¡Qué rico!
Comments by examiners:
Aptness for the genre: The texts are clear and to the point, and in the case of Task #1 respects the conventions of the genre (Intro: «¡Hola Diego! Gracias por tu mensaje»; closure: «Hasta pronto, saludos»). Develops with clarity the great majority of the points provided in the orientation text, even though in Task #1 fails to develop the reasons for the trip to Madrid.
Coherence: Writes brief and cohesive texts, structured along a sequential line of basic elements, utilizing information organizing mechanisms and basic link phrases of high frequency (task 1: «Cuando me encontré…»; «Pero como Miguel y yo…»; «Al final olvidé el tiempo y tuve…»; «Era caro pero valía la pena…»; task 2: «En mi comentario…»; «… y por supuesto…»; «Como cada año…»; «Por la primera vez…»; «… y por esto…»; «Después…»). Th structure of the text and the distribution of the paragraphs are well ordered, thanks to proper use of punctuation. Is an effort that qualifies as band 2.
Correctness: Demonstrates a reasonable control of the basic linguistic elements and habitual structures. May commit some errors (task 2: «Cada vez que se acerque…»; «Lo especial era…»; «Por la primera vez…») but this does not interfere with the transmission of the message. The spelling is correct.
Linguistic Scope: Possesses a sufficient vocabulary to participate in daily exchanges related to his/her immediate environment. May commit errors when using constructs or vocabulary that’s more complex (task 1: «mandarle la bienvenida»; task 2: «rellenada»; «castanias»). There aren’t important errors that impede comprehension and in totality meets the criteria for a score of band 2.
Holistic Scale: Conveys the required information in comprehensible form and succeeds in transmitting the message in a manner that’s clear, detailed and without vacillations. The result are texts that are comprehensible and well-structured in both tasks, qualifying for scoring as band 2.
DELEhelp THIRTEEN TOP TIPS:
Read as much and as widely as possible during your preparation, to familiarize yourself with written Spanish, its spelling conventions and – above all – to expand your linguistic scope. Diligently add new words to your flashcards and study them (whether old-style or modern digital, like Anki or Cram.com). For links to free reading resources, please see our earlier blog-post: https://delehelp.org/top-dele-exam-resources-links-best-sites/
Do as many mock exams as you can, to familiarize yourself with the format and the time constraints – but do get expert feed-back, otherwise you may be leading yourself up the proverbial garden path.
When preparing for the written exam, practice your handwriting, especially if it has been some time since you’ve last had to write with a pen in this computer age. Make sure that you are writing legibly, and get your fingers properly “fit” again. Also check how many words you typically write on the lined DELE exam sheet; during the exam it is a waste of time if you have to sit and count – rather know beforehand how much of the page would constitute a given number of words in your handwriting.
Read the instructions, and plan: Once you have the exam paper in hand, make absolutely sure that you understand what is required of you. Highlight or underline key points in the instructions, and transpose these to a sketched scheme of structure, so that you can make sure that you cover every element required of you in your presentation. When you plan your written presentation, keep in mind the main categories of the analytical scoring scale: aptness to genre, coherence/fluency, correctness and linguistic scope.
Aptness requires you to adopt a structure and style of writing suited to the genre of the task at hand (for instance, a letter of complaint will have a very different structure and style to a text message or an essay) as well as selecting the appropriate register of tone/vocabulary (i.e., formal or informal).
Structuring your presentation is fundamental to success, especially regarding coherence and aptness to genre. A letter, for instance, will need to consist of three components, usually presented as separate paragraphs: firstly, defining the purpose of the letter; secondly, substantiating what you are saying; and thirdly, what kind of answer you expect. It goes without saying that you have to start the letter with the appropriate greeting and end it with the correct form of taking leave (the common Spanish versions of these you have to learn and remember, taking note also that Spanish formal letters tend to be more replete with courtesies than typical English usage). Examples of a formal greeting would be “Estimado / Respetable Señor” with the name of the person, if known, followed by a heading such as “Asunto: Trafico en la calle del Augua, Aldea Santa Ana”. A formal letter to anyone who isn’t a close friend or family member will usually start with a courtesy first phrase of the kind: “Espero que todo vaya bien en sus labores diárias.” and then: “El motivo de mi carta es…” The typical end salutation in Latin America for this type of formal letter is: “Atentamente”.
Journalistic style: If you are required to write a journalistic article, you need to include the well-known “what, where, when, who and why”.
Short sentences: Whatever the typical structure of the genre you are required to write in, you will have to present your thoughts in logically structured paragraphs, trying to keep to one issue per paragraph. Try and avoid long sentences – in any form of writing, short sentences usually are stylistically better. In the exam context in particular, the longer the sentence, the greater the possibility for confusion and grammatical errors, such as regarding tenses or agreement of gender and number. With clarity being an important scoring requirement, keep your sentences short and to the point.
Link phrases: The foregoing does not imply that you should spit out short, unconnected sentences or paragraphs, staccato-style. You will have seen in the scoring criteria that coherence and fluency are very important; the examiners are actively looking for the use of appropriate connectors or linking phrases. As you sit down, make a quick list of such expressions at the top of your exam page as a memory jogger, and incorporate them appropriately as you write your texts. Some examples: sin embargo, así que, de todos modos, a pesar de que, no obstante.
Think in Spanish: When writing in Spanish, try and think in Spanish, rather than translate phrases that you had first formed in English. In addition to taking up valuable time, thinking in English may lead you astray: you will know that a Spaniard using literal translation in order to express himself in English, is likely to write phrases like: “I have thirst” instead of “I’m thirsty”. The same will likely happen to you if you follow that route, which will undermine fluency and leave the impression of a limited and non-idiomatic lexicon. This will lead to you being penalized under the assessment criteria for correctness and linguistic scope. To be able to think and write in Spanish, it stands to reason that you must possess an ample lexis (i.e., vocabulary + expressions) and must have developed an ear for idiomatic language usage by means of reading and listening to lots and lots of everyday Spanish. You will observe that lexis – not just individual words, but knowledge also of everyday phrases and expressions – forms the foundation for doing well in reading and listening comprehension, as well as for oral and written expression; in brief, for each and every segment of the DELE / SIELE exam. The importance of your flashcards for actively expanding your lexis / linguistic scope, and of reading and listening to Spanish for passive learning, cannot be stressed enough. See our blog post: https://delehelp.org/expand-vocabulary-best-dele-exam-prep/
Stay calm and think laterally: If you run into problems with words you would like to use, but which are stubbornly stuck on the tip of your tongue, think laterally and improvise (don’t waste time by getting hung up on a particular word, and don’t panic). Pay attention to the minimum length required for each task – you will lose marks if you don’t write at least that much. However, don’t fill up lines by repeating ideas that you’ve already stated, the second time just in different words. Do not copy entire sentences from the exam question either. Do not regurgitate memorized model answers; examiners are trained to recognize them and your test will be invalid.
Proofreading: There isn’t time during the exam to entirely re-write first drafts. You have to write down your answer straight away (after having first carefully analysed the instructions, and then equally carefully having planned and structured your text). Then use the remaining time to proof-read your work. To this end, it is a good idea not to write too densely on the page (i.e., you should initially write your words somewhat spaced, in order to allow you to fit in corrections). The DELE is not an exam in the aesthetics of handwriting, so don’t worry if you need to scratch out and correct – as long as it remains clearly legible. Proofread particularly for agreement of gender and number, for correct use of ser/estar and por/para, for obligatory use of the subjunctive mood, and for spelling mistakes, paying attention to accents (tildes).
Check your watch: It is imperative to have an old-style watch at hand, to check your timing. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to use your smartphone for this, since their presence in the exam center is prohibited, for obvious reasons. It therefore needs to be a traditional timepiece. Be aware also of the relative weights of the different written tasks, so that you don’t waste too much time on initial, low-weight tasks. For example, in the three tasks of the DELE A2 written expression exam, task 1 counts for only 17% of the total score, task 2 for 33% and task 3 for 50%.
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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).
Almost 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:
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).
Desperate 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
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”.
After 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 “thethe falfal (lucerne) field”.
The rise of Castile and the Castilian language
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.
As 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.
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 LenguaCastellana, 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.”
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 THES 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!
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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
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:
Ample linguistic scope (i.e., lexis, which is vocabulary + expressions),
Correctness (accuracy of pronunciation & grammar)
I will now present you with the official scoring criteria guidelines of the Instituto Cervantes for the DELE B1 exam oral, which I’ve translated for you from the original “high academic Spanish”. Because of its importance 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
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”
Click on image to listen
Analytical Scale – Coherence: In the monologue presentation task, the candidate’s speech corresponds to the descriptor of the value band 1: it is limited and consists of groups of words and simple connectors like “y”, “pero” («No me gusta nada música fuerte como rock, eh… rápido, no me gusta y cuando escucho ruido no puedo pensar en nada sí. En Madrid sueleo escuchar las canciones en español pero no me acuerdo cómo se llama y de qué cantante y tampoco todavía no… no entiendo toda la canción que significa»; «Ellos *está en un restaurante, sí… están comiendo pero antes de *comel, *comel, necesitan charlar un rato para no cumplir, no sé… puede ser y… *pensó que son novios y son una chica y un chico bastante joven…»). In the oral interaction tasks he required the collaboration of the interviewer in order to confirm his understanding and could only respond to simple questions and affirmations («—¿Y qué tipo de música era la que fuiste a escuchar? —No sé como se dice es con muchas cosas juntos. Como… ¡Ay! ¿Cómo se llama? —¿Orquesta? — Más o menos hay un*directo, no, no es un director, dirigir»; «—¿Quedamos en el reloj de la Puerta del Sol? —¿Reloj? Voy a pensar. Ah, sí reloj. —Bueno pues nos vemos esta noche. — Bueno, trato hecho» ; «—Sí, sí, sí, o canción de invierno. Siempre escucho en la calle… hay un peinado… no, no es peinado… tocar. —¿Un músico? —Sí, sí muy bien, para escuchar»).
Analytical Scale – Fluency: As stated in the description for value band 1, the candidate makes himself understood with very brief expressions; pauses are evident, as well as initial doubts and reformulation («Sí, desde… desde llevo, no, no, no, vengo a España…, todavía no he ido alguna vez»; «Voy a pensar, eh… dos. Solo dos. Es que… El prima, el prima vez, es mi profesora llevarnos a restaurante. Me presenta… me presenta que es restaurente es típica, prado ah… y la mesa sencilla más o menos»); «Ellos *está en un restaurante, sí… están comiendo, pero antes de *comel. *comel, necesitan charlar un rato para cumplir, no sé… puede ser»). With regard to pronunciation, his articulation and his occasional errors causes comprehending him to require a certain effort – above all he has problems with pronouncing the /r/ («… no sé cómo se llama, pero el *prado, *la prato, el prato es prado de Galicia»); («*mejol, con mi amigo *mejol»); («están comiendo pero antes de *comel, *comel…»).
Analytical Scale – Correctness: The candidate uses some simple constructs correctly («Yo prefiero la música tranquila…»; «… es que cuando era pequeña, pequeño mi padre ponía la música suave en casa casi todas las noches, pienso que es un hábito desde niño…»; «¿A qué hora quedamos?»; «Sí, pero si no te gusta podemos cambiar»; «No me gusta nada música fuerte, como rock»; «están comiendo pero antes de *comel, *comel, necesitan charlar un rato…») but he systematically commits basic errors, for example demonstrating confusion regarding tenses («Quería *il a un concierto que no haya mucha gente»; «Desde llevo… no, no, no. Vengo a España, todavía no he ido alguna vez»; «… cuando dentro de varios años separan y después encuentran más o menos»; «… después de *comel podemos pedir chupitos para la…») and commits errors regarding the agreement of gender and number («… suelo escuchar las canciones en español pero no me acuerdo como se *llama»; «… mi familia les gustan escuchar el música suave y tranquila, mejor»; «Ellos *está en un restaurante, sí…»; «… *esta restaurante es *típica»).
Analytical Scale – Linguistic Scope: In this as well, he is situated in value band 1; his limited linguistic repertoire only permits him to convey information regarding personal matters, his immediate environment and simple everyday situations such as basic needs and common transactions («*Ayel fui a un restaurante muy cerca de la Puerta del Sol, no sé cómo se llama…»; «Picante, pienso que no le gusta.»; «Yo prefiero la música tranquila, eh… por ejemplo, jazz, etc.»; «… cuando era más pequeña, pequeño, mi padre ponía la música suave en casa casi todas las noches, pienso que es un hábito desde niño…») However, he needs to adapt the message and search for words («No sé cómo se dice… es con muchas cosas juntos… como. ¡Ay! ¿Cómo se llama?»; «más o menos hay un directo, no, no es un director, dirigir»; «Sí, como, no sé como traducir en español. El verano, canción de verano (…) o canción de invierno»; «Sí, especial, no sé cómo… lan… lan…langosta»). Commits lexical inaccuracies and errors («Siempre escucho en la calle… hay un *peinado… no, no es *peinado, tocar»; «… el piano… una vez *peina mal *tocal muy mal, es que no estudio como los *peinados»; «es que *mi familia les gustan escuchar el música más suave y tranquila…»; «… necesitan charlar un rato para cumplir, no sé…»; «El prima, el prima vez…»; «pienso que quedemos a las 8 o 8 y media»).
Holistic Scale: With regard to communicative efficiency, the candidate did offer simple descriptions and presentations («No me gusta nada música fuerte como rock, eh… rápido, no me gusta y cuando escucho ruido no puedo pensar nada, sí. En Madrid suelo escuchar las canciones en español pero no me acuerdo como se llama y de que cantante y tampoco todavía no… no entiendo toda la canción que significa») but did not provide sufficient information to meet the communicative objectives of the set tasks, as evidenced for example in Task #1 («Yo prefiero la música tranquila, eh… por ejemplo jazz, etc. Quería *il a un concierto que no haya mucha gente») and in Task #3 («Ellos *está en un restaurante, sí… están comiendo pero antes de *comel, *comel, necesitan charlar un rato para cumplir no sé… puede ser… y *pensó que son novios y son una chica y un chico bastante *joven y ya está»). With regard to linguistic efficiency, even though his limited linguistic repertoire did permit him to convey information on personal issues, on his immediate environment and in relation to simple everyday situations («*Ayel fui un restaurante está muy cerca de la Puerta el Sol…»; «Eh… es que cuando era más pequeña, pequeño mi padre ponía la música suave en casa casi todas las noches, pienso que es un hábito desde niño, no sé, está bien») he had to adapt the message and search for words, whilst repeatedly committing basic errors («… no sé cómo se llama, pero el *prado, *la prato, el prato es prado de Galicia, después de comer podemos pedir chupitos para la… digestión»). The candidate did participate in the conversation with the interviewer and did exchange information, although he needed her assistance to do so – for example, when in Task #2, the interviewer asked him whether he likes to play a musical instrument («—¿Y te gustaría tocar alguno? —No, no… ¿Para *escuchal? — Para tocar tú. —No, no… el *peinado (piano???»), in Task #4, when he was asked whether he knows any Italian restaurants («—A mí la comida picante por la noche me resulta un poco fuerte. No sé… no sé si te gusta un italiano. —Sí, sí, me gusta. —¿Y tú conoces alguno? —Pasta solo pasta») or in Task #3, when he was asked about the frequency with which the persons in the photo go to that place («— ¿Y tú crees que estás personas van frecuentemente a este lugar? —¿Perdón? —¿Estas personas van normalmente a este lugar? — Creo que no»).
So, where are you in your preparation for the DELE exam oral, compared to the examples above? (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:
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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!
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Links to best Spanish exam prep resources
LINKS to best Spanish exam prep RESOURCES
This blog post brings together links to the best Spanish exam prep resources, to help you prepare for the DELE, SIELE or OPIc. We have selected for you, the top free online sites for practicing with relevant exercises graded per level, for doing model exams and for expanding your lexis with digital flashcards, based on appropriate reading, viewing and listening.
In preparing for the DELE exam ( “el examen DELE”), or for its online twin the SIELE, or the American equivalent OPIc, one needs a much wider range of resources than just a good Spanish grammar handbook. This is due to the special nature of these communicative exams, such as the DELE diploma. It tests your ability to communicate in Spanish – that is, to understand and to make yourself understood – rather than simply testing your knowledge of the rules of Spanish verb conjugation.
It is particularly important for one’s understanding of Spanish (i.e., for the reading and listening comprehension portions of the exam) to have a broad reference framework of Hispanic culture, history, traditions and lifestyle, against the backdrop of which you can contextualize what you read or hear. You also have to get your ear attuned to different Spanish accents. Similarly, your eye/mind must get accustomed to fast-reading Spanish text. At a more specifically exam-orientated level, you need to familiarize yourself with the exam format, and practice the skills it will require of you.
In years past, assembling the necessary DELE / SIELE / OPIc resources for self-study would have entailed frequent trips to the library, or costly subscriptions and book purchases. Fortunately, in today’s modern world of the internet, candidates for exams of Spanish have instant access to some truly excellent online resources, of which practically all are available gratis.
We have assembled a list of links to the best Spanish exam prep resources – websites that we use every day at DELEhelp.org with our own students. Even though we have written an ample set of in-house workbooks (which we make available free to our students) the reality is that preparing for the DELE exam is 1/3 tutoring and 2/3 self-study. For the latter, the resources we list here are as empowering as they are easy to access. The importance of active self-study, accompanied by passively immersing yourself in a Hispanic culture and the sound of Spanish at every opportunity, cannot be over-stressed.
Our recommended e-book of model exams
FIRST AND FOREMOST: DOING MODEL EXAMS
To get a true sense of what these very different kind of exams entail, it is critically important to start doing model exams as early as possible. Doing these exams also serve as the most reliable diagnostic tool for assessing the current status of your Spanish competency, which initial diagnostic (we do it FREE) will enable your tutor and yourself to identify and address your weaknesses.
The only model exams available for preparing for the Spanish exams, are those for the DELE (simply because the SIELE and OPIc are online, computer-based exams for which the question configuration varies constantly, although the formats remain the same). However, since all three exams are based on the CEFR (the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) using the DELE model exams are excellent and very relevant practice for all three exams, for all four the skill sets tested (reading & listening comprehension plus Written and oral expression).
The particular DELE model exams we use and recommend, are available as e-books. Thisensures quick availability (most of the other model exam books exist only in print and are often difficult to obtain via Amazon, needing to be ordered from the publisher in Spain, taking time to reach you). Of the list of resources that we will provide today, this is the only one that isn’t entirely free (however, the e-books we recommend are much cheaper than the print books, being only €9.90 each, which includes its audio tracks and answer keys – for the print books you usually have to buy the answer keys additionally, and pay postage).
ModeloExamen DELE Facebook group
We recommend the Nuevo Examen Dele e-books by our collaborator Dr. David Giménez Folqués, which you can order online via thislink.
Being e-books they are up-to-date, easy to use, affordable and available immediately for download.
There is also a Facebook group for these model exam books, which you can join via this link.
PRESS AND LITERATURE
Very often the Reading Comprehension texts in the DELE exams are taken from the two leading Spanish daily newspapers, El Mundo and El País. These both have free online editions. This is the El Mundolink.
Remember to not only read the front page actualities, but also the specialized sections on education, art & culture, science and the like. El País has got an edition for the Americas, which can be reached via this link.
There’s a wide range of free e-books in Spanish available today, both from Amazon Kindle and from Free e-Books.net. As part of your passive learning, reading Spanish books for pleasure is a good way of expanding vocabulary, getting a feel for spelling, and learning about Spanish society’s values and norms.
Free e-Books.net’s Spanish section can be reached via thislink.
The free Spanish e-book section on Kindle can be reached via this link.
RADIO AND FILM / YOUTUBE
An important segment of our links to best Spanish exam prep resources, relate to video and radio – because in these exams of communicative competency, the proven most difficult skills are the listening comprehension and oral expression.
An excellent free resource for attuning your ear, expanding your lexis and mastering the most frequent grammar patterns, is the award-winning 11-part video series “Mi Vida Loca” produced by the Spanish section of the educational division of the BBC. This resembles a telenovela (which makes it interesting to watch), but it is in fact a very well-designed multi-function audiovisual tutorial, well worth watching.
To really immerse yourself in the sound of Spanish, there’s no better way than keeping Spanish talk radio on in the background. We selected one channel each from Spain, Argentina and Mexico, which have live streaming via the internet. These channels will give you opportunity to attune your ear to different accents, and have the advantage that they are spread through different time zones. Listening to them will also keep you abreast of current affairs in the Hispanic world, as well as giving you an insight into the Hispanic outlook on life.
Listening to the radio in the background is a largely passive learning exercise. More active listening and viewing can be achieved by looking at Spanish film and soap operas. Netflix has a wide range of material in Spanish, from children’s programmes (which would suit the beginner levels) through comedy to serious drama. It is often possible to view these with English subtitles. If you aren’t subscribed to Netflix, many Spanish-language soapies are available free on YouTube.
One of the best telenovelas for more advanced students, is “la Reina del Sur”, based on the acclaimed novel by top Spanish author Arturo Pérez-Reverte. This series provides good exercise in following different accents (such as the Mexican/Sinaloan, North African, Andalusian and Galician).
EXPANDING YOUR LEXIS (VOCABULARY & EXPRESSIONS)
One of the main purposes of listening to radio / TV and reading books and the news media, is to expand your lexis: your vocabulary, link phrases, collocations and expressions. It is impossible to express yourself properly without an ample lexis, and equally impossible to comprehend fully what you read or hear, if you do not possess a substantial “knowledge of words and of the world”. This latter phrase was stated as the key to succeeding in comprehension tests, by one of the leading experts in the field (see our blog post with tips for acing the reading comprehension portion of the DELE exam, for more on the critical importance of an ample lexis). Probably the greatest tool for researching the meaning and correct use of the new words that you encounter in your reading and listening, is the world’s largest online dictionary: Farlex-theFreeDictionary. It helps you identify words that you may not have the exact spelling for, and gives the meaning and uses of words in Spanish, as well as giving it in English. You can also listen to a correct pronunciation. The Free Dictionary by Farlex can be accessed via this link.
Once you have clarified the meaning and use of a new word, it is essential to memorize it. The best means of doing so is by using flashcards – either the old-fashioned cardboard ones, or (preferably) the new digital versions. You can download flashcard software, such as ANKI.com or Quizlet (paid). Or you can access free online flashcard repositories that already have thousands of sets of Spanish words available, such as Cram.com (you can also create your own sets on Cram, which has a very nice selection of flashcard games with which you can learn your words while playing, rather than having to rote learn them and bore yourself to close to death).
Cram.com’s existing Spanish word flashcard sets can be accessed via this link.
The links we have provided above are all for your PC/laptop; these sites also have apps, which you can download on your mobile device.
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ONE OF THE TOP LINKS TO BEST SPANISH EXAM PREP RESOURCES –
OUR FREE DELEhelp WORKBOOK:
At DELEhelp we have created in-house Workbooks to supplement the public resources such as the above, filling gaps in the latter’s scope with regard to students’ needs. These workbooks are available free to our registered students. Some of them are also available free to the readers of this blog (see image above). You can ask for the download link to our 95-page Workbook #9.2: DELE /SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips, free and without obligation to register for classes – simply click on the image to access our easy contact form.
This free sample e-book is the only DELE/SIELE exam preparation book to explain in detail, in English, the DELE/SIELE’s exam goals, structure, curriculum inventory and scoring criteria. You can unsubscribe at any time, so why not give it a try and receive this valuable resource as a free gift.
So, there you have our curated links to the best Spanish exam prep resources. To learn more about our personalized DELEhelp online exam prep coaching services, please access our page on the website of our mother institution, Excellentia Didactica, by clicking on the image below. With us, you can study in the comfort of your own home (which is both convenient and cost effective), with your own personalized study plan based on our comprehensive initial diagnostic (which is free), enjoying the experienced and expert guidance of your 1-on-1 coach – all at the unbeatably low rates that our being based in low-cost Guatemala makes possible.
Gracias por su atención
FOCUS your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation
To properly focus your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation you need a study plan
Since most students’ time is at a premium, you need to FOCUS your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation. Hitting the bull’s-eye (whether for the DELE, or for its online twin the SIELE or the American OPI) therefore depends a lot on having a proper STUDYPLAN. Approaching these exams in a similar way to how you would learn for a school or college exam, simply won’t do – because they test for very different things: school or college test your abstract academic knowledge, where-as these exams are all about the four communicative competency skills – about your actual “CAN DO” ability.
So, what data do you need, to be able to plan properly – to correctly FOCUS your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation? And, with the data in hand, how do you go about crafting your study plan? This blog post will answer those key questions. (Since the DELE and SIELE share the same curriculum and scoring criteria, and that of the OPI package of tests is very similar, we will – for brevity and convenience – from this point on, refer to the three exams only by the name of the DELE).
WHAT DO YOU NEED FOR PLANNING:
To plan properly, you need to know and understand the knowledge and skill sets that the “examen DELE ” curriculum requires of candidates at your level. Hand-in-hand with that, you need to identify your own shortcomings in relation to those knowledge and skill sets, as measured in a proper diagnostic, against the four scoring criteria that examiners will use to assess you. Then you have to identify the resources that you will require to overcome your shortcomings.Lastly you have to build in a feedback mechanism, to assess whether your draft plan is adequate, and thereafter to monitor your progress (so that you can continuously adapt, as and when necessary).
To comprehend the knowledge and skill sets that DELE requires, you firstly have to be very clear about the system’s goals, as well as the structure, curriculum, and scoring criteria for your level of the exam. Our free DELEhelp Workbook#9 entitled “DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips” is a great resource for these topics; this one-of-a-kind DELE exam preparation book is in English, which helps a lot because the original curricula and scoring guidance documentation are written in high Spanish (by academics, for academics).
click on IMAGE to ask for our FREE workbook
Secondly, once you know the DELE exam system inside out, you have to look at the other side of the planning equation – namely the extent of your own existing knowledge and skills. This you then have to measure against all the things listed as required in the curriculum inventory and scoring criteria (because your plan evidently needs to focus on learning what you don’t yet know, and practicing what you cannot yet do i.t.o. communicative skills). But this is one of the most difficult things to do on your own – how do you know what you don’t know? How well are you actually communicating?
This essential initial diagnostic input is an important part of the value that an experienced tutorial service with expertise in DELE exam prep can add. Without clarity about the shortcomings in your knowledge of Spanish, plus clarity about the curricular and scoring requirements for your level of DELE, your “planning” will be like shooting blindly into the dark (see our blog post about the need to know the DELE curriculum for more on this).
To Focus your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation, know the curriculum
Be aware, though, that in preparing for the DELE exam, planning how to acquire the relevant knowledge of Spanish and its cultural context that you still lack, isn’t enough. This is because of the unique nature of the DELE system. It isn’t so much WHAT you know that’s tested (in other words, it’s not your typical school exam format). Rather, it’s your ability to APPLY that knowledge in real-world communicative settings, that’s being assessed. Therefore, in addition to acquiring the relevant knowledge, you particularly need to plan to acquire and practice those communicative skills as well.
THE “DEMAND SIDE” VERSUS THE “SUPPLY SIDE” OF YOU PLAN:
It is only once you understand WHAT you have to learn about Spanish and the Hispanic world, as well as how you will be MARKED, plus what SKILLS you have to hone, that you will have assembled all the ingredients required to draw up what we may call the “demand side” of your own individualized DELE exam preparation plan. Remember that your plan needs to help you to meet all of the knowledge and skills demanded by the four sets of pruebas(tests) of which DELE consist. Because in order to pass the exam, you have to obtain a pass grade for each section (i.e., for each of the four skills) namely reading comprehension, listening comprehension, expression in writing and oral expression.
Click on image to go to this blog post
With the demand side of your plan drawn up, you next have to look at the “supply side” – you have to identify appropriate RESOURCES for acquiring the relevant knowledge and for helping you hone the required skills. Here it is important to keep in mind that your DELE preparation plan needs to be much more than merely scheduling hours of study; above all, you have to practice applying that knowledge. Because the DELE is first and foremost a practical test of your ability to actually communicate in Spanish, and not of merely possessing theoretical knowledge about it.
By matching the supply/demand and resources elements of the equation to your available time, you will arrive at a draft DELE exam preparation plan.
FOCUS YOUR DELE / SIELE / OPI EXAM PREPARATION – BUILD IN A FEEDBACK LOOP:
But how will you know whether your draft DELE exam preparation plan is appropriate? You can wait for the exam results to come out, and then judge – but that may mean that you had invested a lot of time and effort, preparing on the basis of a defective plan that missed key requirements, or which wrongly assessed your own strengths and weaknesses.
To be safe rather than sorry, you need expert assessment and feed-back at the very start on both your current level of Spanish and on your draft plan. You need this BEFORE you start investing time and effort in preparation based on perhaps an inadequate plan. Thereafter, once you’re practicing what you’ve planned, you need regular assessment and feed-back about how well your preparation is actually going, so that you can adapt where necessary. Ideally, therefore, you need experienced guidance from the word go in setting out designing the right DELE exam preparation plan for your particular needs, followed by regular feedback during your implementation of it, showing how well your preparation is progressing. You don’t want to be bluffing yourself…
The good news is – there’s no need to re-invent the wheel with regard to all of this, trying to do it all on your own. It is sensible to get help. DELEhelp.
Who are our typical DELEhelp students? They are independent, self-motivated individuals, who can do things for and by themselves. They are way beyond needing to sit in a classroom, in order to learn something. They want to study in the comfort of their own homes, without having to abandon family, business or workplace for any stretch of time just to go back to some school to muddle along with laggards in group classes. Neither do they want the additional cost of travel and accommodation that goes with attending classes at a residential school. What they want to do is guided self-study, with access via Skype to an expert tutor for regular assessment, guidance, practice and feed-back.
Our students want their tutors to be practical and goal-orientated, trained to view the DELE challenge from the student’s perspective, not that of the typical Spanish grammar maestra. Their time is valuable, so our students want quality time with their tutor, who must provide personal attention based on an individualized study plan designed for their particular needs. Because they are busy, our students want flexible time schedules. And because our students know that money doesn’t grow on trees, they want affordable rates (which we can offer, being based in competitively-priced Guatemala – only US$14 per hour of actual Skype time, with our study material made available free and including the initial diagnostic). For more detail on our 1-on-1 coaching services, check out our secure website by clicking on this image:
DRAWING UP YOUR EXAM PREPARATION STUDY PLAN:
In coming to grips with the demand side of the plan, it is important to know that the DELE system is part of the Common European language learning policy framework (the CEFR). This includes a very well developed, highly detailed curriculum inventory for each DELE level. Contrary to what is commonly believed, this curriculum isn’t limited to grammar and spelling. These are the actual curriculum inventory chapters for Level B: (1) Grammar; (2) Pronunciation; (3) Spelling; (4) Functional Language Usage – i.e., the important “can do” statements; (5) Tactics and Pragmatic Strategies; (6) Genres of Discourse and Textual Products; (7) Generalized and Specific Notions; (8) Cultural References; (9) Socio-Cultural Knowledge and Behaviour; and (10) Intercultural Dexterity.
It is unfortunately true that the original source documents are in academic Spanish that may be beyond the grasp of most students. Our FREE Workbook #9 summarizes the curriculum plus scoring criteria in English, in some 96 pages – it is available free and without obligation, as a .pdf download (if you haven’t yet done so, you can click on the book promo image above, or on THIS LINK, and use the convenient contact form to ask for it).
To properly assess one’s own existing knowledge and skills levels in relation to what’s required i.t.o. the curriculum, so as to see what you don’t yet know / can’t yet do, is extremely difficult on your own, just by yourself. The best way is by doing a properly moderated diagnostic of all four skills, using an actual DELE exam at the appropriate level. For this you will need the assistance of a qualified tutor, because an important part of the exam consists of assessing your ability to express yourself orally and in writing. This means that someone with the appropriate experience and expertise (i.e., your DELEhelpcoach) will have to listen to you speaking, and read what you’ve written, and judge from it your strengths and weaknesses. Even the comprehension portion of the exam – which consists of multiple-choice questions – requires the guidance of a tutor if you want to understand why certain answers are correct, and others not.
This need for a personal coach goes beyond just the initial diagnostic: doing as many model exams as you can fit in, needs to be an important part of your DELE exam preparation – but to be optimally effective, expert guidance and feed-back are essential. Not only is doing model exams the best way of familiarizing you with what to expect, but it also is the best diagnostic tool for ongoing assessment of your progress and thus for guiding adaptations to your preparation plan, where necessary.
RESOURCES AND TIME ALLOCATION:
In addition to the reference materials regarding the curriculum and scoring criteria that we’ve already mentioned, you will have deduced by now that one of your principal resources will be a good personal, 1-on-1 tutor. This is true not only for initial and ongoing assessment, but also for assisting you with grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, Hispanic history and culture, and ESPECIALLY for practicing the very essential written and oral presentation skills that you will need. A tutor will be able to help you with your shortcomings in grammar, suggesting suitable resources and guiding your grammar practice. For making your practicing of the written and oral expression tasks functional, the tutor as your “exam interviewer” is obviously indispensable. Fortunately, these services are readily available from us, on flexible schedules via Skype / Zoom, for as little as US$18 per hour.
Our emphasis on the need for expert guidance and practice with your tutor must not leave the impression that DELE exam preparation can be sufficiently accomplished by merely sitting at the feet of some guru. Two-thirds of your available preparation time should still be allocated to SELF-STUDY. One of thereal keys to success in the DELE exam is having a sufficiently ample LEXIS – knowing the right word / collocation, link phrase or expression, plus how to pronounce it, and how to spell it. That is why we say, in the blog post linked to below, that the best single thing you can do as prep for the DELE exam is to EXPAND YOUR LEXIS (click on the image to go to the blog post)
Your self-study will take two forms – passive and active. For expanding your vocabulary and your background knowledge of the Hispanic world, you need to expose yourself as much as possible to spoken Spanish, having talk radio or TV on for as much of the day as possible, and reading Spanish for relaxation whenever you have a free moment (when you read, read out loud – it helps you practice articulating at the same time).
On the active side, you need to reserve lots of time for researching new words and expressions you’ve encountered while reading/listening, recording them on flashcards, and memorizing them. You also have to actively do grammar exercises, do comprehension tests, read up on Hispanic traditions, culture and history as prescribed for your level in the DELE curriculum, plus practice your oral and written presentation skills. An excellent resource for familiarizing yourself with the Hispanic background prescribed in the DELE curriculum, is the MS-Office “Smart Lookup” tool – our Workbook #9 covering the curriculum inventory is structured in such a way that you can highlight any given keyword in the curriculum text (i.e., something like Iguazu waterfall), right-click on it, and then click on “Smart Lookup” in the drop-down menu, which will immediately give you a succinct description of the event, place, person or issue, plus links to more detailed resources.
We have also developed a comprehensive series of in-house workbooks, in English, to cover essential aspects – these workbooks our students receive FREE, upon registering with us for personalized exam prep coaching. Here are the covers of just two of them:
TOOLS & TIME NEEDED:
For practicing your oral presentation skills, a recording device is essential (most modern phones can capture video, or at least audio). You need to include ample practice time for oral presentation (recording yourself, and then reviewing it). This is in addition to the guided presentation practice that you will get with your tutor, simulating with her the oral expression tasks in the model exams during your 1-on-1 Skype sessions.
Doing the initial diagnostic exam needs to simulate as realistically as possible the actual exam time constraints. Ideally, you need to set aside a sufficient block of time on some day of the week, to be able to do the entire exam in one sitting (as you will eventually have to do at the exam center). This is essential for practicing your timing of doing the different tasks – the DELE exam can rightly be described as a race against the clock. Especially at the upper levels these exams are also intellectually draining, so by continuing to do model exams while observing the time constraints, you will get “fit” for concentrating for the duration (and not in the least to get your fingers used once again to writing for extended periods by hand – given that in our modern world we are used to text or type, rather than write longhand).
So – how many hours of preparation do you need for the DELE exam? There can be no rule of thumb, because every plan needs to be individualized, based on the strengths and weaknesses of the particular candidate, as well as on how high he or she wants to try and reach (the DELE exam levels need not be taken in sequence – one can enrol straight away for the highest level C2, without being near that level yet; the preparation will then need to be so much more extensive and intensive, but it can and has been done).
To properly focus your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation, the best advice is to start well in advance of your targeted exam date, working with your coach to do the diagnostic and draft your personal study plan, and ten to commence your guided preparation and assess your progress as you advance. The experience you gain of how fast you are progressing, and seeing in practice how much time you actually have available per week, will allow you to realistically adjust your preferred exam date (fortunately there are now many exam sittings through-out the year, particularly with the SIELE and the OPI packages, which can be set down for practically any day). For the self-study student this would be the most practical approach, allowing the necessary preparation time to be spread over the time actually available to you, taking into account work and other obligations.
This is what the DELE Diploma looks like.
THE NECESSITY OF EXPERT GUIDANCE AND FEED-BACK:
We understand and respect that self-study students have a life and therefore have many obligations to juggle, whilst having the will to succeed on their own. However, because of the nature of these exams that test your “can do” skills rather than book knowledge, it is important to have someone expert to practice with, to guide you and give you feed-back. (This, incidentally, is why attending group classes for DELE exam prep typically isn’t effective, because of the limited opportunity for practice and the lack of personal attention).
If you want to know more detail about the didactic foundation of our tutoring methodology and see examples of personal study plans, then please have a look at this blog post:
Key elements of our 1-on-1, personalized online coaching methodology
The post will give you more detail on how we can help you to focus your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation. It explains the didactic approach that your personal DELEhelp exam prep coach will adopt in guiding you, and ends with actual examples of study plans.
As a concluding summary, we have prepared an INFOGRAPHIC which succinctly sets out the steps for planning and practicing your exam preparation.
Thanks for reading – we look forward to your questions and comments!
Know the DELE / SIELE / OPI exam curriculum
Know the DELE / SIELE / OPI exam curriculum for effective preparation
Are you preparing for an exam of Spanish? The DELE or its new online twin, the SIELE, or the very similar American equivalent, the OPI? If so – then, to ensure that your preparation will be effective and that you don’t miss out important elements, you absolutely have to know the DELE / SIELE / OPI exam curriculum.
WHY KNOW THE DELE / SIELE / OPI EXAM CURRICULUM AND DIDACTIC GOALS?
Ask yourself: Do I really know what the curriculum of the DELE / SIELE, or for the Oral Proficiency Interview contain, at my level? In other words, what knowledge and skills will I be tested for? Do you know, for example, that the official DELE / SIELE curriculum document consists of ten chapters – only one of which deals with grammar? What are the required knowledge and skill sets, beyond grammar, that the other nine chapters prescribe?
Do you know the didactic goals that these exams of “communicative competency” in Spanish are designed to achieve? Do they just serve to assess abstract academic knowledge of the Spanish language, or rather aim to test real-world “CAN DO” communicative skills? What does the Common European Framework of Reference for Language (the CEFR) policy document, which has been accepted around the world and which guides all three these exams, say about these key didactic goals that examiners are guided by? (Being distinctive goals and assessment criteria that make these exams very different from school or college language testing!).
Can you really prepare effectively for your exam of Spanish, if you don’t know what the curriculum’s content is and what the CEFR prescribes, in terms of the knowledge and skill sets that candidates must be able to demonstrate at each level? To illustrate: if you are thinking of doing a B-level exam, do you know which of the tenses of the Subjunctive mood you need to master for B1, and which additional ones for B2? (Keeping in mind that this little example is just about the one chapter dealing with grammar – what about the other nine?).
So, again, ask yourself: how can I prepare myself sensibly – that is, knowing what knowledge content to prioritize for studying, and especially which “functional language use” skills (the “can do” statements, which form an entire chapter) must I prioritize for PRACTICING, if I don’t first become familiar with the exam curriculum and didactic goals?
It is unfortunately true that very few students (or their tutors, sadly) give much attention to the curriculum. It seems that some students just assume that these exams will be the same as school or college exams. Or perhaps worse (in the case of those with a vague familiarity with these exams), it seems that it is often thought by such students that one can kind of muddle through with one’s “street Spanish”, without prepping in a properly structured way, because of the fact that these exams are practical tests of one’s ability to actually communicate in Spanish in real-world scenarios (i.e., without there being direct, college-style exam questions on Spanish grammar, spelling, culture etc.).
The truth, though, is that the way in which your “can do” mastery of the four communicative competencies (the four skills, i.e., reading and listening comprehension, plus oral and written expression) are tested, do assess whether you possess the required knowledge and skill sets with reference to the curriculum – even if indirectly. Those four competencies are of course very broad. So is the sheer scope of any language. Therefore – unless your are game for preparing for literally anything and everything to possibly crop up in your exam – the only way to make your task more manageable is to know to what specific knowledge and skill sets examiners are limited at the level that you are targeting. This is, of course, stipulated in the curriculum for each level.
Once you understand the need for knowing the curriculum and didactic goals, the unfortunate truth is that an important practical problem then surfaces. Those students who do then go to the considerable trouble of locating the voluminous curriculum document in the hidden recesses of the world-wide web, will encounter a formidable obstacle, even for those who are aiming for C2 level. The reality is that the official DELE / SIELE exam curriculum is huge and complex, written in high Spanish – by academics, for academics.
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MAKING IT EASY TO KNOW THE DELE / SIELE / OPI EXAM CURRICULUM
At DELEhelp we have translated the relevant curricula content into everyday English. We have summarized the curricula as part of our FREE in-house Workbook #9: DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips. This one-of-a-kind DELE / SIELE exam preparation book of 96 pages is available to you, entirely FREE and without any obligation, by simply asking for it; use our convenient contact information form by clicking on the IMAGE above. Apart from the curriculum, this comprehensive DELE / SIELE exam preparation book covers the CEFR’s nature and goals for the DELE / SIELE system, the exam format, the scoring criteria that are applied, plus our top tips for acing the DELE / SIELE exam. (If you are prepping for the OPI / OPIc Spanish test, simply ask in addition for our free Workbook #8, Prepping for the OPI).
What follows here-below, is a brief introduction of these topics. For the more detailed treatment of these important subjects, do not hesitate to ask for our free DELE / SIELE & OPI exam preparation books. Because the DELE and the SIELE use the same curriculum (the principles of which the OPI package of skills tests also follow), I will from this point on refer only to the DELE by name, merely for the sake of brevity and convenience – everything applies equally to the SIELE and the OPI and the latter’s companion tests, the RPT (Reading Proficiency Test), LPT (listening) and WPT (writing).
The DELE diploma goals:
To understand what one must prepare for, it is essential to be familiar with the DELE system’s goals. At its outset, the official Common European language framework (CEFR) states about its policy document that: “It describes in a comprehensive way, what language learners have to learn to do in order to use a language for communication and what knowledge and skills they have to develop so as to be able to act effectively. The description also covers the cultural context in which language is set.”
The Common Framework assessment system has as goal the certification of a candidate’s practical competency at using Spanish as language-in-action. The exam therefore simulates actual communication formats within a real-world, everyday social and economic context, set in the cultural context of the target language nation. It views the candidate as a living actor (“social agent”) in a foreign-language environment, who has tasks to perform – which he/she cannot accomplish without competency at communicating in that language. This practical approach defines communication as the ability to comprehend the received spoken and written message, and to express and convey a meaningful message in return, both orally and in writing.
The Policy Framework describes the level of communicative competency required at, as an example, the B1 level as follows: “(The candidate) can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.” (We are using Level B as reference here, because it is situated at mid-point in the range, so that students at levels A or C will thus be able to relate to it – the full curriculum inventory is just too voluminous to treat every level within the confines of this blog post).
For Level B2, this is the policy document’s description of competencies: “(The candidate) can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of different options.”
Now it stands to reason that the clear step-up seen between B1 and B2 will require a broader field of knowledge and enhanced skills on the part of the candidate aiming for the higher level. But more knowledge of what, and skills in which sense, exactly? The DELE curriculum inventory document details what this knowledge and skills should consist of. We will illustrate its scope and focus with examples taken from the B-level inventory.
The DELE B-Level Curriculum Inventory:
The official curriculum inventory for DELE Level-B is divided into ten main chapters. Because DELE exams simulate real life, the scope and number of knowledge fields and skill sets involved are as wide as life itself. In these exams, no-one is going to be required to write college-style abstract theoretical essays on phenomena of grammar or forms of Hispanic socio-cultural celebration. However, it is undeniable that comprehension of a language depends as much on knowledge of its cultural context as on knowledge of vocabulary or grammar rules.
Just looking at the titles of the different curriculum inventory chapters, gives one a good feel for the width of the curriculum’s scope. They are: (1) Grammar; (2) Pronunciation; (3) Spelling; (4) Functional Language Usage – i.e., the “can do” statements of communicative tasks that a student must be able to perform; (5) Tactics and Pragmatic Strategies; (6) Genres of Discourse and Textual Products; (7) Generalized and Specific Notions; (8) Cultural References; (9) Socio-Cultural Knowledge and Behaviour; and (10) Intercultural Dexterity.
The Level-B grammar inventory alone runs to thirty small-print pages. It differentiates in detail the knowledge required for B1 and B2. An example of this is the specification regarding the tenses of the Subjunctive mood a candidate needs to know – for B1, it is only the present subjunctive, whereas for B2, three more tenses of the subjunctive mood are added: the perfect, the pluperfect and the imperfect (at Level A, knowledge of the Subjunctive is not required).
It probably didn’t come as a surprise to you that there is a formal curriculum inventory for grammar, nor that chapters also exist for spelling and for pronunciation. What most students are surprised by, is that the curriculum goes far beyond these stock language exam aspects, to include a wide range of functionalities as well as knowledge about social mores, traditions, Hispanic history, geography, economy and the like. You will better understand the need for this when you read about the science behind doing well in listening and reading comprehension in our Reading Comprehension blog post, or in the free Workbook mentioned earlier.
Click on image to read this blog post
It is well established that comprehension depends largely on the ability to relate events / words to the broader context of their setting, and to make correct inferences – thus to the depth and width of one’s reference framework of relevant general and cultural knowledge. As it was succinctly put by one of the experts in the field, Prof. Hirsch: comprehension depends of one’s knowledge of words and of the world – in the DELE’s case, of the Hispanic world in particular.
To give you a feel for the level of detail provided in the curriculum inventories, I copy here our brief summation in English of their content on Orthography (spelling) and Pronunciation:
Pronunciation (B1 & B2 same)
General characterization of Spanish pronunciation;
intonation (melodic units and their relationship with punctuation, posing of questions, courtesy, giving orders);
the syllable and accents (identification, relationship between spoken and written accents);
rhythm, pauses and timing;
(B1) diphthongs, tripthongs, hiatuses;
(B2) protective “e” in front of foreign or Latin words starting with “s” (espectáculo, estadio, estatua, estándar);
(B1 & B2) words with letters b, v, w / c, k, q, z and digraph ch / g, j / h / y and digraph ll / s, x / t, d;
use of capital letters – in entire acronyms (ONU), at beginning of words, after punctuation with a colon (:);
use of lower case letters at start of word – acronyms converted into words (módem, sida), converted proper names for regions etc. (un [vino de] rioja);
use of cursive letters – titles of literary works and publications, insertions of foreign language into text;
hyphenation – long words after syllable, maintain original spelling of non-assimilated foreign words, expression of numbers, dual form words (Si no estudias nunca aprobarás. / No es antipático, sino tímido);
Know the DELE / SIELE / OPI exam curriculum’s chapter on “Functional Language Use” (the very important “CAN DO” statements of what you must be able to DO)
The aspects of functional use of language specified for Level-B fall under these main headings:
Ask and Give Information;
Express Preferences, Desires and Wishes;
Influence the Interlocutor;
Structure a discourse, and
Relate Socially (which is, for example, further divided into: greet, return a greeting, direct yourself at someone, present yourself to someone, respond to a presentation, ask about the necessity for a presentation; solicit to be presented; welcome someone; respond to a welcome; excuse yourself, respond to an excusing; thank someone; respond to thanks; present your sympathies/condolences; propose a toast; congratulate; express good wishes; respond to congratulations and good wishes; pass on greeting or wishes for better health; respond to being wished; and take your leave of someone – the other sub-headings have much more ample lists of situations).
As is the case in most languages, there exist stock formulations or politesse’s for each of the above situations in Spanish, which one has to PRACTICE as essential “can do” communicative skills. But without getting familiar with the curriculum first, how would you know that this may be expected of you in the exam?
NB: If you are preparing for the DELE A2 exam (as many students do, who are seeking to qualify for Spanish nationality) you can access our detailed list of the Functional Language Use “can do” tasks for level A2 by clicking on THIS LINK (it will download the document from our Dropbox, as a .pdf).
The History and Culture of the Hispanic World is part of the DELE Curriculum
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The three chapters in the curriculum inventory on the history and socio-cultural traditions and characteristics of the Hispanic World are also very detailed. This is our brief summation of the section on history, as prescribed for LEVEL-B:
History of the Hispanic World – events and protagonists of past and present
Legendary personalities and events:
Milestones of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: Spain – the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera; the Second Spanish Republic; the Spanish Civil War, the concept of “two Spains”; Franco; the Spanish transition to democracy: Personalities and important events, importance and place of King Juan Carlos in the Spanish transition; Governments of the democratic era: Prime Ministers, prominent personalities, values that Spaniards attach to the monarchy and its role in society.
Revolutions in Latin America: Mexican revolution, Cuban revolution; revolutionary personalities in Latin America; dictatorship and democracy in Latin America during the second half of the twentieth century; prominent personalities and events.
Contemporary guerrilla movements in Latin America: [Sendero Luminoso/Shining Path (Peru), Sandinista Popular Liberation Front (Nicaragua), FARC (Colombia), ELN (Bolivia)]; Importance and place of the guerrilla movements in the society of some Latin American countries.
Important events and personalities of social and cultural life:
sport – hosting Mexico Olympics in 1968 and Barcelona 1992; Miguel Indurain, winner of five Tours de France; Argentina, winner of the World Cup Soccer 1986, and Spain, winner in 2010;
Awards for Literature and the Arts in Spain [the Cervantes (novels, poetry, plays, essays …), Goya, Max teatro, Onda]; Awards for Literature and the Arts in Latin America [Juan Rulfo Literature Prize (Mexico), National Novel Prize (Bolivia), National Plastic Arts Prize (Cuba)];
film festivals [Festival Internacional de Cine de San Sebastián, Seminci, Festival de Cine Iberoamericano de Huelva (España); Festival Internacional de Cine Mar de Plata (Argentina); Festival de Cine de Cartagena (Colombia); Festival del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano de La Habana (Cuba); Festival Internacional de Cine de Guadalajara (México)];
Nobel Prize for Literature [José Echegaray, Jacinto Benavente, Gabriela Mistral, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Pablo Neruda, Vicente Aleixandre, Gabriel García Márquez, Camilo José Cela, Octavio Paz, Mario Vargas Llosa];
Nobel Peace Prize [Carlos Saavedra Lamas, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Alonso Garcia Robles, Oscar Arias Sanchez, Rigoberta Menchu Tum];
Nobel for Chemistry [Luis Federico Leloir, Mariano J. Molina];
the Prince of Asturias Awards.
The above is probably enough for one blog post – this brief introduction to the curriculum is not intended to cause you to obsess about it, or to abandon your DELE / SIELE or OPI aspirations right here and now. However, clearly one cannot prepare intelligently for the exam without being familiar with the curriculum requirements. To make this quite vast and “high Spanish”, academically-written document accessible, we have prepared a comprehensive summation, in English, as part of the FREE Workbook referred to earlier. You will have noticed, too (above), that we’ve published a number of blog posts about specific aspects of the DELE / SIELE curriculum. In addition, we have written two in-house DELEhelp Workbooks to help English-speakers grasp the formative elements in the history of the Spanish language, as well as to relate the evolution and structure of Spanish grammar to that of the English system that you are familiar with (our registered students receive all our Workbooks FREE).
KNOW THE DELE’s ASSESSMENT CRITERIA AND SCORING SYSTEM
The curriculum is, of course, not the only foundational document that one has to be familiar with, in order to do well in your Spanish exam. Knowing the curriculum goes hand in hand with the need to know the official set of four assessment criteria that will be used by examiners to assess your performance in the written and oral expression sections of the exam, plus the scoring system. This is the subject of other posts here on our blog, and is also covered in our free Workbook #9 mentioned earlier.
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To ask for your free copy of our 95-page Workbook 9.2DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips and/or WORKBOOK #8 about the OPI (which we will supply, upon request, in download .pdf format) please use our convenient contact info form by clicking on the Workbook #9 promo image above, or on THIS LINK.
Obviously, should you enrol with DELEhelp for our personalized, expert one-on-one Spanish exam prep coaching via Skype, we will ensure that you know the DELE / SIELE / OPI exam curriculum. You will also receive our full range of in-house workbooks and related audio-visual resources specific to your exam and level, as free study material (we charge only for the actual Skyping time, at only US$14 per hour, all inclusive). For more information about us and our tuition, please go to our secure website (just click on the IMAGE below, and the site will open in a new window).
Thanks for reading this post, and buena suerte with your Spanish exam prep!