D.E.L.E Exam Prep: A Guide To Improving Spanish and Passing Exams
Improving Your Spanish and Helping You Pass the D.E.L.E. Exams
Have you ever found yourself just so damn frustrated with your progress in Spanish? I know i have. Maybe you've decided to take the plunge and sit an official D.E.L.E exam and now the nerves are building. The D.E.L.E. exams are the most widely recognised Spanish language qualifications in the world. To put it short- if you want to add "I speak Spanish" on your CV, that means having a D.E.L.E.
Often what the learner needs is a new perspective on their approach and that's what I aim to give here. This lens contains many helpful tips and strategies to help you make the most of your Spanish learning journey. There are sections on speaking, reading, writing and listening as well as links to some very helpful material indeed. It is my pleasure to bring you a guide built from my experiences. Enjoy :-)
Photo Credit: I made it by pasting public image of Penelope Cruz with a Spanish Flag :-)
Step 1: Motivation = Objectives
From A1 to C2
To summarise levels (very simplistically) this is how they work. There are 6 levels. A1 and A2 are beginners. B1 and B2 are intermediate. And C1 and C2 are...well pretty good actually. The people in the Council of Europe who researched and put the reference levels together very wisely left it all a little vague. So, there is no defining line between one level and the next. Everything is built on general definitions of what you might expect a beginner (and so on) to know, not know or just struggle with.
A0- You've don't have any words in the target language. You probably can't read a word either.
A1- You can string a few sentences together- how are you? i'm from ireland. my name is David. In terms of vocabulary at this level you probably have between 500 and one thousand words in your active vocabulary (that is the vocabulary you can use, not just recognise) mainly in the areas of food, directions, clothes, family and other simple but incredibly useful areas.
A2- You possibly have all the vocabulary you need to survive getting a bus, checking into a hotel, asking for directions, ordering food in a restaurant...whether or not you can or do use it...At this level you probably already have a grasp of some grammar. Perhaps you are already using some version of the future (in Spanish, most people learn to say I'm going to + verb infinitive long before they pick up the past tenses, or even that many irregulars in the present.)
B1- Ah, everything the A2 has but more polished. If you have it you do use it and by gum are you frustrated most of the time. You can have conversations, maybe even fluent ones. You still need sympathetic listeners most of the time and you do best in one on one conversations.
B2- Ok, all the levels are achievements to be proud of but at B2 you may notice that the natives stop treating completely like a foreigner and engage you in normal conversation. You can survive about 90% of the situations that life throws at you and you can even engage in some of the beer fueled debates that happen. Genuinely...well done!
C1- At a non technical level you rock. Sometimes people even confuse you for a local! You can sing and joke and improvise and walk in on a conversation and get the gist of it immediately. In short you now have super powers in the language. In Spanish the C1 level is a little strange. In the DELE B2 exam you may need to show off your ability in many testing situations. The readings are tough, the grammar is comprehensively tough and the listening is, for want of another word, tough. At C1 level however they assume you have the grammar, the reading becomes very formal- that is the amount of english formal cognates increases and so you will recognise more words in the readings...even if you didnÂ´t know you knew them. So, exams are not real life.
C2- In the areas that interest you or are related to your profession (working in the target language) you can actually out do the natives! No, they're still native, they'll always have that but through your study and exposure you've taken a look at their language they rarely do. You sir or maddam, are a legend.
Link to the PDF Common Reference Levels Document
Here you find a version of the document from the Council of Europe which lays out the reference framework for assessing language level.
- Council of Europe Language Framework
Read through it and get an idea of what level you are!
What level are you? - Don't be Shy :-)
Phew! So i'm sure you've read all of that level information in the PDF and so on. Before we proceed I have a simple question for you. Even though this thread is mainly aimed at Spanish learners, I'd encourage anyone with experience in a second language to jump in :)
What (not native) Level Are You in a Second Language?
"Set yourself goals. Where do you want to get to and when do you want to have reached your destination. Setting goals helps focus you and setting a time limit helps you keep that focus."
Step 2: Resources and Materials
I've always found it worth the time to go and find a mountain of resources before beginning a language learning journey. Firstly, this is the moment when I feel fully energised about my new project. Secondly I know the energy won't last and i'll be in danger of becoming what the experts call "bored" Having another new angle to tackle a project on hand and ready to go certainly cuts out the boring part.
Your first port of call should be the Internet in all it's wonders. Google is your best friend when it comes to looking stuff up. After that, it's always nice to have someone like me helping you out. Below i'm building a list of free resources and throughout the other sections I try to recommend some of the books and so on that have helped me.
Links to Free Stuff
- 6000 Words of Vocabulary
Well this hefty free app as the name suggests has 6000 pieces of vocabulary. I don't use this as a primary language learning tool but in those moments where you just want something pretty and quick apps like this will serve you very well.
Memrise works on the principle of spaced repetition of "Mems" -something that helps you to remember. It could be a picture, a joke a mnemonic or anything really. Over time this builds a solid vocabulary. Short term or long term- the jury is still out
Duolingo starts at the start and gets you to write, speak and understand sentences in your target language. I ran through the Spanish activities. The vocabulary is not volumnous however the grammar sets a pretty solid foundation.
El Cronometro Preparation Materials - The Timepiece
From a structured learning point of view this book (it is a series and includes lower levels too) is worth its weight in gold. Are you thinking of taking these exams to prove your level of Spanish? The correct tools often make the job easier. El Cronometro offers a straight forward tour of the exams. Each level contains 4 different practice exams (including all sections- reading listening etc) and the audio cds to go along with them. Note- these are not study books exactly, they are wholely focused on what is required at each level in the exams.
But- they really get you thinking about what areas you are strong in and what areas you need most to improve. I was a little shocked when I failed to get a perfect mark in the reading section. But El Cronometro provides pages of explanations and tasks to hone your skills. I discovered that while I may have known what was going on in a text (perfect for some enjoyable fiction reading) I didn't necessarily get the nitty gritty of it (not so perfect when i've just been asked to sign a renting contract in Andalucia)
Once again it's worth repeating- exams are not exactly real life. So, these focused guides are really a must have if you want to make your study time much easier. El Cronometro begins with an overview of the exam structure and focuses at all times on what is actually required. At the end of each section there are example answers and strategies to mull over.
If the DELE exam is your destination, this book is your road map!
Step 3: Knowing the Exams- What is D.E.L.E. ?
According to their own website "DELE (Diplomas of Spanish as a Foreign Language) is the official accreditation of the degree of fluency of the Spanish Language, issued and recognised by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport of Spain."
Essentially it is the most recognised award in the Spanish language in the world. What's more, you can apply to do an exam without having to do any obligatory courses. Exams can be sat in countries all over the world.
Some Exam Prep. Guides - Mixed Feelings
From A1 to C1 we all need a little help sometimes. These guides are focused to let you concentrate on what will actually happen in the exam. To be honest I was not overly wowed by them. At the low levels (A1, A2) I would recommend the Internet as a more fruitful preparation ground.
For the Intermediate levels perhaps these do serve their purpose. Allied with other materials these guides can give you a good indication of what you don't know. This can serve to inform your further study a little better.
I've been there and done that and like I said I'm not impressed. Having said that I know people who are currently learning and using these guides amongst other things and they give two thumbs up. So perhaps it's a matter of perspective.
If you want to confirm that you have the basics of the language then this is the place to start.
This guide can help you smooth over many of the doubts a beginner often has.
At intermediate level you really need to start making sure the gaps of your language education are being filled in.
At B2 level extra preparation material is essential. However at this level you should already have a good idea of what material exactly would be best for you.
If you're ready to sit the C1 exams then you probably know what you're doing. But as I often say- exams are not real life. A preparation guide means you can "measure twice and cut once" Unfortunately by the time you reach C1 level you may have noticed that the amount of free useful material on the Internet has dried up.
Below you can find much more information and all important exam sample papers. Remember, we all want to speak the language we're learning in real life, but exams are not real life. You can prepare for exams and you can use many strategies and helpful guides to achieve the exam results you desire. So, download the sample papers and begin preparing :)
- The official D.E.L.E. site
Here you can find lots of useful information on the exams as well as some sample exams.
- The Cervantes Institute website
Here you can find information on exam dates and locations and a broader selection of sample papers.
- Fluent in 3 months
Follow Benny the Irish polyglot on his inspirational human journey.
A1 sample papers, Listening, Reading, Grammar/Vocabulary and Writing sections.
A2 sample papers, Listening, Reading, Grammar/Vocabulary and Writing sections.
- Level B1 - Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera
B1 sample papers, Listening, Reading, Grammar/Vocabulary and Writing sections.
B2 sample papers, Listening, Reading, Grammar/Vocabulary and Writing sections.
C1 sample papers, Listening, Reading, Grammar/Vocabulary and Writing sections.
Step 4: Focusing on Skills
"Reading without reflection is like eating without digestion"
We will divide "reading" into 4 different subsections. The key as always is to be active. Get yourself a notebook and a dictionary.
A) Super specific. This is when you only read for what you need to know. If you are going to a restaurant tonight you will get out a dictionary so that you can order your favourite food. This is "vocabulary building" reading and is most extreme in the levels of A1 to A2. You will probably encounter dozens of food terms and be able to read a menu even if you only order the same thing every time.
B) Specific. This is for your interests and as you become more comfortable with the vocabulary you already know. At a specific level you don't know exactly what words your'e looking for but you have an idea of where to find them. From the restaurant example above- perhaps we have a good grasp of food vocabulary, so we can start reading recipe books. From this we'll come across foods, cooking verbs, delicious adjectives and more. We are in a specific area (food) but we're approaching it in a much broader sense.
C) Daily. An example of this is reading the newspapers. You can do it daily, though your'e perhaps not on the lookout for anything in particular concerning your vocabulary. For exam focus, try to understand as much as you can. Push yourself to the level where you are reading on a regular basis things where you only recognise 90% of the words.
D) Casual. Reading for enjoyment and relaxation.
Reading Ideas - Something for every level
A note of caution. You can find many books like this on Amazon and other places. They will not be perfect Spanish. However they will be tailored to a specific level. So, with that in mind, be sure to pick a book that isn't easy for you. Choose something you can learn from. This was one of my first resources in Spanish and I have to say i enjoyed it.
A progressive reading experience from simple present indicative in the first stories and on to more complicated grammar later on. Enjoy Spanish short stories with handy translations to help you understand absolutely everything.
A masterpiece from a master writer. La Sombra Del Viento is a classic modern novel to fall in love with.
I first read this book in English and I have to say it is an exceptional piece of writing.So, of course, it was only natural that it was one of the first to join my Spanish language library.
A Most Valuable Skill
In life it is generally good advice to listen. But in terms of learning a language we need to define exactly what we mean. You see...there is more than one way to listen. Don't believe me?
Ok, when was the last time you had a conversation where you didn't hear a word that was being said and just nodded your head at the appropriate intervals? Well, that's what we call Passive Listening.
Passive Listening is what happens when the sound is going on all around you but you're not rally paying attention. Does this sound like the best way to learn a Foreign Language?
Active Listening is the opposite. It requires you to pay attention and have the goal of understanding. That sounds better. So what we want to d is change Passive into Active.
One very effective way to do this is to play mini games throughout the day, depending on your level.
Amaral - My first translated song in Spanish
This is a song from Spanish artist Amaral. It gave me the all important vocabulary of "pillow" and since it's a little bit lovey dovey it probably helped me court my Spanish girlfriend too.
Exam Focus: Listening - Games and Activities
Remember: You'll never speak a language unless you actually...you know, speak it. So, make your listening fun and active because ultimately the reason you want to learn how to listen is so that you can understand and engage with people...in their language. Enjoy :)
- At A1 to B1 levels the listening will be straightforward. You will hear something and the question will be directly related to what you've heard. By B2 you may encounter some "trick" questions. C1 and C2 will require that what you hear acts as a prompt, and no longer as a direct information gathering exercise.
- Listen to the news and give yourself a point for every number, date and amount you successfully pick out. Next move onto nationalities
- Listen to 3 or more soppy love songs and try to pick out the phrases you would use (or would never use) in a love letter. Extra points if you actually write the letter and send it!
- Eavesdrop on the people in the bar beside you. It's loud, a lot is going on...excellent ear training!!! Remember to be polite, if you're already at a level where you're getting 20% of what's going on...maybe its time to stop listening in.
- Learn 10 common words today. Give yourself a reward if you can hear them all- news, bar, love songs...anywhere.
- Find artists and songs on youtube. And actually listen to them. And if you like them then translate the entire album...by ear :-) The next step is of course singing these songs at a party of your new friends. Spanish people in particular love it when a "guiri" sings a bit of flamenco :-)
- Go to a local sports game and try to hear and learn the chants!
- Set yourself a mini mission. Example: Go to ask directions back to my hotel/apartment. Ok, so now you know what to expect. When you ask someone for these directions they will start saying- left, right, ahead, around, in front of. So, listen for these expected phrases.
- Listen to body language. When you're sitting in a bar and someone comes over, puts their hands on the empty chair at your table and says something...chances are they are inquiring about the availability of the chair. You didn't need to understand what they said, the body language said it all.
- Learn to ask open ended questions. Get the other person talking more. This gives you time to listen and its on a topic of your choosing, so you can be comfortable with the context.
- Can you think of more? Help your fellow learners by sharing them in the comments section below :-)
Grammar and Vocabulary
The Make or Break Section
This is a section which I can give you only one tip for. That is to do the sample papers above and work out what areas exactly you need help in. If you're putting yourself out there and actually speaking the language then a lot of the grammar will "flow" for you. However it's those fun areas of the language like- por/para, ser/estar, preterite/imperfect that will still be a bother.
You need 70% in every section and even if you're acing all the other parts a 69% here still means a fail :-( After you do your first sample exam paper take note of exactly where your weak points are. They will be the same (more or less) in all exam papers.
What does this mean for the learner? Well simply put it's something that i'm sure you've already guessed- we make the same mistakes all the time.
Some Specific Writing and Grammar Resources - Verbs, Vocabulary, Pronouns and Prepositions
In the D.E.L.E. exams you will have to write and you will have to do a grammar and vocabulary section. But chances are you don't often write all that much in your day to day life. You will need to pass all sections of the exam and so writing practice is an essential part of your language study. From day 1! And grammar is a stubling block that you need to get over as soon as possible.
Below I highly recommend the Practice Makes Perfect series of books. There are others in the series, and by other authors, but i've only included the books i've used. In particular I love the style of Dorothy Richmond, the author of most of the Spanish books.
Some products I have used include the Practice makes perfect series. In particular I would recommend Verbs anyone getting to grips with the tenses.. Starting from regular AR verbs in the present and progressing all the way to perfect subjunctives this book contains thousands of written exercises (with full answer key) explanations and tips and translations for you to try. All in all it forms a very progressive learning tool. When I first got this book I actually didn't do any of the exercises written, I did them orally, and from the results I reckon this is a resource worth having on the bookshelf. Recommendation: Beginners to Advanced
As for the others I have included- Vocabulary includes over 10,000 terms so its certainly an upper intermediate book, and you shouldn't approach it until you actually need that much vocabulary. I use it as a reference, a very good starting point, when I know i'm going to have to talk within a certain context. Recoomendation: Upper Intermediate to Advanced
And Pronouns and Prepositions...well that was just a personal bugbear of mine. You should choose resources based on your own needs at the moment- I have reviewed only products I know and have used to success. Recommendation: Any level, if you need it.
or texting, or emailing...
It's still important today to be able to communicate through written word (Exhibit A: this lens) however for many people it's considered an unnecessary burden when learning a language- often times complicated by different written and spoken elements in the same language.
But here are some reasons why writing is an important part of your language journey. One- some day you may want to show off your linguistic ability - on a CV for example - and that means D.E.L.E. and that means passing every section. And two- writing reinforces what you already know. When you learn the conjugation of a few irregular verbs and then need to use them successfully in a short story they really stick in your head.
This reinforcement reduces those moments of hesitation in the spoken language. For the less than very confident among us going out and making mistakes in a conversation is tough. Writing reinforces where the stress is on a word, what grammatical structures to use and what vocabulary you have encountered in this context before. All in all making speaking that little bit more comfortable for the shy people :)
Say it with...words :)
This section could be very short indeed. The Top Tip! sums it up. An inspiration in this area is the Irish Polyglot and explorer Benny, over at http://www.fluentin3months.com/
Top Tip! Speaking is the quickest and most efficient way to improve your language level.
And that's all there is to it. Go out and speak and you will get better. Work past the forgotten words, the preposition slips and the "embarrassment". When you speak you improve. Again, as in listening, you should strive to be active and work out all of your weak points, but enjoy yourself too.
We'll split the speaking task into 2. First up- speaking in real life. And secondly speaking in an exam. Of course they compliment each other but you should still bear in mind that exams are not real life and have strategies!
We'll talk a little bit about real life tips here and then some more D.E.L.E. help is in the list below. In real life we keep coming across the same situations and the same contexts. As the saying goes "If you don't learn from you mistakes you will repeat them" So, that is our main goal in speaking. When we find ourselves in a common situation- asking directions, ordering food, booking a doctors appointment - we should A) be prepared before hand and B) improve for the next time.
Set yourself mini missions. Decide "i'm going talk about the weather at the bus stop today" and then go and prepare some phrases, look up some of the things you might want to say and which you may expect to hear and go and speak. After your encounter promise yourself "i'll be better next time" and set about improving. Link your day together with this mini missions. In a very short time you'll be able to go about your daily life with out using English!
If you're at a higher lever this still works. You just make the missions more open ended and conceptually challenging. So instead of asking directions you may turn to a companion and begin a conversation with "did you hear the one about..." or "i see they've banned cloning" The same principle applies. Prepare first, put yourself in the situation and then learn from it.
"Speaking is the quickest and most efficient way to improve your language level."
Exam Focus: Speaking - Speaking D.E.L.E. style. Some tips and tricks.
- "Frame" your thoughts. Very often the speaking section will involve you having to give an opinion on something. For example a photo, or perhaps a comparison of photos. Use framing phrases to say things like "in my opinion" "well, i see you're point but i don't quiet agree" "and that's why, in a nutshell I think this photo expresses the themes of...."
Remember it's important to frame both the start and the end. An important part of cohesion in a language is you ability to close a conversation and to end something rather that just a blank stare, a worried smile or interminable rambling.
- Use "softeners" like "well" and "you know" just like the native speakers. This can give you the benefit of the doubt and makes you sound more comfortable in the language. Listen to native speakers, what do they say when they're talking to their friends? Do they say "I like the blue one" or do they say "hey man, i like the blue one is all i'm saying, you know"
- Use lots of cohesive devices. First of all, secondly, however, having said that, additionally, as previously mentioned etc. Basically anything that ties your ideas together. A child limits themselves to yes, no, but, or and sometimes a learner of a language can be the same. Express yourself like an adult.
- Begin describing pictures you see in magazines and newspapers. If you can't keep an internal monologue going for ten minutes then you need to loosen up and just say what comes to mind. Yes you can prepare for a lot of things but the majority of the spoken test will be pure improvisation. So if you can't prepare make sure you practice.
- Arrange to meet with a Spanish friend (even if its on Skype) to help you. Have conversations on anything and everything but for ten minutes every meeting have your friend choose a random topic (or set of pictures) and you guys have to speak about that for the ten minutes. As a native speaker they can of course give you a lot of feedback and invaluable help.
Wherever you are on your language journey remember some simple truths. You are not alone, others have tread your path before and they have felt your frustration and they have celebrated the same successes that you do. You too can can reach the heights of the highest achievers and succeed in your journey.
Take it one day at a time. Always prepare, always improve. Be active, not passive. Speak!
And you'll discover that in life in the countries you've chosen to travel you are not alone. When you speak, when you communicate with people of different nations and different experiences in their own language you will find that they too feel frustration and celebrate success.
A language journey is a human journey.
Do you have any language learning stories you'd like to share? Or maybe you have some tips you think would be helpful for other learners. Well, this is the place to leave them :-)