Don Guillermo's Professional Spanish
925 E. 17th Ave., Denver,
How long does it take?
How long is a rope? People have different capacities and
goals. I just got a call from a former pupil of a world famous
language school who has completed their level 4 program. Why does
want more Spanish lessons? It has something to do with forming
Q. How fast can I learn?
A. The faster you go, the faster you forget it. Do it right
this time, so that you don't become one of the many who say "Well, I
"took" Spanish, but I didn't get anything out of it". Don't
"take" Spanish. Learn Spanish!
Do you teach
Executives can get priority treatment in private sessions. There is
no-one else present to hold you back or to push you too fast. If
you are referring to business Spanish, beginners can supplement their
studies with business vocabulary. Advanced people can specialize
in business Spanish while doing some brush up and practice in other
Q. What is the best way
to memorize new vocabluary words?
A. Memorization is good
for short term memory and necessary for taking an examination under
memorization is perhaps fun or a comfortable way to prepare for class
live classes my style or approach could be called "familiarization".
Class exercises are designed to target all aspects of the language
separately. Hiding the page or covering the words is discouraged
in class as this
cultivates pausing, fosters speaking broken Spanish,
hinders versatility, and slows down the pace of the live class.
Q. Are classes conducted
exclusively in Spanish?
A. For advanced and some intermediate students classes are
conducted in Spanish. For beginners and some intermediate pupils I use
English to get the students initiated and comfortable, and for
explanations. In the conversation part of the class for all students
Spanish is used exclusively.
Some schools do everything in Spanish, period. That is fine for certain
students who can pick it up that way. Other students cannot learn well
that way, and after paying a large amount of money, they are sacrificed
and told that it is their fault. Be sure that your "teacher" is an
actual professionally trained and experienced teacher. For example, you
could get a
job as an
English teacher in any country. Could you answer all questions about
the English language? Would you improve as a teacher after a few
years? Would you even consider it your profession? Or would
you be there today, and gone tomorrow? Caveat emptor!
Q. Is Spanish easy or
A. It is easy to speak single words or phrases for daily life or
travel. Water, beer, beach, ash tray, and bathroom are essential
words at the lowest levels of functionality. It's an accomplishment to
the intermediate and higher levels. One prospective student on
the phone asserted that he was not interested in listening
comprehension (of sentences), reading, or
writing. He said emphatically: "Only the speaking, because I just want to tell them".
Q. Isn't a group class
better than a private lesson?
A. One imagines the ideal group. In that
case, a group can be very rewarding. Bright students must be
patient and not tap their pencil while waiting for another to
respond. Students who do not believe in homework must not giggle
or make subtle comments if they cannot answer questions due to lack of
preparation. Bad pronunciation by classmates is contagious. So, to
answer the question: No. Unless you are looking for a social
one-on-one is always better!
Q. I am a very busy
person. Could I just go to class and not do any homework?
A. Yes, there are
several students that do "alright" that way, but will not quite get the
punch for the buck that they could by studying a little. Their memory
is not as sharp as the other students. It's noticeable.
Also, I once had a young guitar student who didn't own a guitar.
would use the extra guitar that I have here during his lesson. As
soon as his parents bought him an instrument and he was able to
practice, his abilities
Q. What about learning
from tapes, CDs and videos?
A. All materials are helpful to some degree or another.
Recordings serve best as a
supplement. At some point live human beings, face to face, should be
into the equation. Many "American" travelers (not all) are famous
for their preference for tourist guide books, maps, and elementary
recordings over human contact. Finding a good teacher can help
overcome the tendency toward isolation.
Beware of claims by some that their materials are free of
boring drills. After opening the package, you might find the standard
old "pattern drills", which are the most mechanical and boring of
all drills. In that case, somewhere between lessons 5-7, the
expensive materials may end up
just setting on the shelf.
A certain course claims that their materials are almost as good
as having a private teacher in your home. Don't be so gullible! Some of
the major skills of a
teacher are to answer questions and to motivate. No CD's, DVD's or
tapes can directly
answer questions of the simplest nature. Motivation doesn't mean
make a purchase. (That particular course subsequently made
another commercial ridiculing the value of teachers, which has been
pulled more recently in favor of another commercial suggesting that
"trying hard" is the enemy of learning, and that all correct learning
is incidental. Apparently their sales department is "trying
One course is now offering online live sessions with "native speakers".
acknowledges the limitations of the materials, after years of puffing, and contradicts the claims
that the materials themselves are superior. There is a huge
"army" of their students who have the growing reputation of not being
use the correct verb form.
Q. What is the objective?
A. The objective is always the task at hand. It's similar
to a baseball pitcher where the goal is to retire next batter.
The various exercises feature different facets of the
language, such as recognition and comprehension, while others work on
pronunciation, flow, word order, speed, and vocabulary. All of this is
foster versatility as opposed to going by a static script. If you
turn it around the other way and
focus on the "pie in the sky", you will marry the best
In the military services they differentiate between an objective vs. a
plan to reach the objective. In learning a language a qualified teacher
has a lesson plan and does not delegate the plan.
There seems to be some connection between retired military people and
early attempts to design a language learning program for the Department
of War, which later became the Department of Defense. Some of
materials and their spin-offs are still used by the Department of State
and are still sold under various brands. While it's true that all
materials can be helpful, bear in mind
that recent news reports (2006) show that American diplomats, as a
whole, are seriously lacking in foreign language skills.
Q. What is the difference
between you and other local schools?
A. There are good Spanish
teachers in the world, and there are others who are not very good. Make
sure that your teacher is qualified and experienced. What I have
noticed down through the years is that some have imitated and still
imitate quite a lot of
what I do: the name of the business, the teaching materials, the page
layout, the course terminology, the
wording of ads, the exact promotions a week
later in local tabloids, etc. One of my students actually
designed the curriculum for another prominent school (no longer
offering Spanish). She had told them
that they were not "organized", and after her efforts they were
organized! One thing to bear in mind is that most of the time the
business organizers are different from the teachers they employ.
Q. Can I learn Spanish
in my sleep?
A. Yes, but then you'd have to go back to sleep to use it.
Aim a little higher!
Q. Isn't there a secret
to learn quickly and painlessly?
A. Here is a hint to the
answer: if your heart is in what you do, then ...Guess
what? ... In that direction lies the so