Strategies for Negotiating Meaning and Learning Spanish and Portuguese[1]


Learning a new language is a process!

  1. Be patient. Learning another language takes time. There are no shortcuts. At times you will believe you have not made any progress at all, and then, all of sudden, everything starts to fall into place. You REALLY ARE MAKING PROGRESS. Be patient, and enjoy those eureka moments when they come.
  2. A second language is learned little by little. As a rule of thumb, always come to class, do your homework as scheduled and study in 30 to 60 minute sessions, twice a day or more if possible. Whatever schedule you choose, don't cram.
  3. Don't be too hard on yourself. Not only are you studying the basics of the structure of the language and its sociolinguistic functions, but you are also "doing things" with the language. Make sure you go back to the opening pages of the chapter after you finish it and see how much progress you are really making.
  4. Come to class and be an active student. Some days you will feel that you are not prepared and will not be able to make the most out of class (or you simply don't want to be embarrassed for not having prepared homework). Other days you will believe that the topic for that class is not interesting or not relevant to you. Overcome those feelings and come to class.
  5. Study with someone else. Whether your partner knows more or less than you do, you can always learn something from working with your classmate. Simply asking and answering each others' questions will teach YOU more than you think.
  6. Learning a second language may require a different learning process than the one you use for other school subjects. Follow your own instincts as far as study strategies that work well for you are concerned. At the same time, make sure you also learn to trust your instructor and consider the rationale behind the textbook materials. Give it a try!
  7. Have fun. If you worry excessively about your grades and the "right" answers you may forget that learning a second language can be fun too. After all, in what other class do you get to socialize with others while you're learning?  Don't forget to enjoy the ride.

Don't know exactly what that word means?

  1. Does it matter?  You don't have to know every single word in a sentence to get the gist of it.  Do you basically understand what the sentence is getting at?  If so, that's probably close enough.
  2. Learn to deal with ambiguity. There is not always a one-to-one correspondence of vocabulary and structure in English and Spanish-Portuguese.  Words have specific culturally relative connotations. If you learn to deal with ambiguities you will be much more successful.
  3. Guess the meaning of new words by context. When you're reading a novel or a technical document in English, you don't go to the dictionary each time you come across a word that you don't exactly know: you infer the meaning from context and keep reading. Do the same in Spanish and Portuguese.

Don´t have the words to say what you want to?

  1. Cognates: Use something like English.  Cognates are words that look or sound almost alike in multiple languages (for example, civilización or sociedad). Learning to recognize these words can help you expand your vocabulary quickly and make you seem more sophisticated.
  2. Circumlocution: When you´re searching for a word, you don´t have to use the exact equivalent of an English word.  Instead, use your limited Spanish to go around it or explain it in simpler terms.
  3. Gestures: Act it out!
  4. Images: Draw pictures instead.

[1]          adapted from  updated 7/26/2007.  accessed 7/26/2007  (From Teaching Manual - Impresiones, 2004)

Tulane University, Spanish & Portuguese Dept., 304 Newcomb Hall, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5518