How Much Spanish Should I Speak to Travel or Live in Spain?

One of the most common questions I’m asked about moving to Spain is the level necessary to be able to understand and be understood while traveling and working. This is a loaded question, as Spain is a place where English is both commonplace and rarely spoken. 

When I came to live in Seville, I had years of study and a few months in Valladolid as backing. Little did I know that Spanish was such a complex language, or that doing adult things like opening a bank account and settling claims would turn into such a frustrating task. After all of this time and the pummeling of different accents, my own manner of speaking is laughable.

Still, the importance of learning languages has hit Andalusia full-force, and English is much more widely spoken than five years ago. Here, your questions answered:

What Level of Spanish Do You Need for a Trip to Spain?

Spain is rightly regarded as one of the most exciting travel destinations in the world, but regardless of whether you decide to soak up the sunshine on a long, sandy beach or enjoy the food and exciting culture of cities likes Barcelona and Madrid it is a good idea to learn some of the Spanish language before you go. Of course, how much you need to learn depends upon what you intend to do with it and here are a few examples of to get you thinking.

I recommend having a working knowledge of transportation vocabulary and basic phrases, and the same goes for food and lodging. While many people in the travel industry will have some English, a little legwork goes a long way, especially if there’s a problem.

To Make Friends

The Spanish people are famously friendly and outgoing, making Spain a wonderful destination for anyone who is interested in becoming friends with people from a different culture. In this case, you will want a fairly wide vocabulary and to be able to speak in as relaxed a manner as possible. You probably won’t be overly worried about some grammatical faults, as you will iron these out once you start talking to your new Spanish friends.

Intercambios, or language exchanges, are becoming ever more popular with Spaniards and foreign residents alike. These weekly meetings are often held at bars or public spaces, and encourage language participation on both ends. In Seville, couchsurfing usually meets for an exchange on Thursdays, and there are several in the Alameda. You can also use University message boards to look for a one-on-one.

To Sample the Food

Spain is also famous for its magnificent cuisine. If you love food then you will want to try the likes of paella, tortilla de patata and other local treats. In order to get the most out of your culinary experience you might like to learn a good variety of food related words. This is going to be especially relevant if you plan to head off the beaten track and eat in small restaurants where English might not necessarily be spoken. If you are able to say, the best of my Spanish lessons in Miami is the bit where we talk about food for hours then you will be on your way to learning what you need.

Knowing regional dishes will not only enhance your visit, but also help you guarantee that you’re getting great service. I tend to shy away from places where English, French, German and a handful of other languages are present on menus, though I still have to learn parts of the pig in English!

To Look for a Job

Perhaps you are planning a dramatic change in your life and want to look to further your career in Spain. This is becoming an increasingly popular option in these days of the globally mobile workforce. There are some parts of the country with a high population of English-speaking expats and it is possible that you could land a job there with little knowledge of the Spanish tongue. Still, you’ll want to have a decent grasp of some formal Spanish phrases in order to make a good impression on the person interviewing you.

Yeah, Guiri Puss, aprende español!

Interested in studying for an exam to prove that you’re a Spanish crack? The DELE diploma is valid in nearly every country in the world, and I passed the C1 in November 2011. Check out my Do’s and Don’t post and what to expect on the exam.

This post was made possible by an outside source. As always, I reserve all rights of submission.

Do you learn any language bits before you travel? Looking to learn Spanish in Spain? Contact me for the inside scoop on the best language schools!

The Rain in Spain

“I knew the weather was changing during my morning cigarette yesterday,” the Novio mentioned as he smoked his [fifth] evening piti.

That’s the problem with being a pilot, he confessed. You start to understand the weather patterns. His friends nodded, confident that we were about to enter the Veranillo de San Miguel. Like most moments in my life in Seville, I shrugged and gave them a puzzled look.

Alas, not three weeks after returning to Spain, I’m putting away my summer clothes and actually sleeping under sheets. We welcomed Autumn this week with spouts of drizzle, chillier temperatures and the need for a jacket in the evening. Now is the time people start chiding you for not wearing a scarf (reason for getting a cold), for sleeping with your window open (reason for getting a cold) and walk in stocking feet in your house (reason for getting a cold).

Spanish idioms about the weather are some of the silliest I know, and I’ve made a point to put them into my speech for a dramatic effect when talking about Seville’s 300 days of sunshine, and 65 days of cold, damp grossness (for the record, the only think I like about Fall is anything pumpkin-flavored).

Veranillo de Membrillo/de San Miguel – Indian Summer

The little summer of quince or Saint Micheal is what we Americans call Indian Summer – a deceptive window of time where summer returns for just a few short days, complete with high temps and sunshine. Currently, it’s been in the low 70s, and sevillanos are hoping to squeeze out one more beach weekend.

Hasta el 40 de Mayo, no te quites el sayo – Bring your jacket

Like the Veranillo de Membrillo, the above refrán refers to just the opposite: to not be deceived by warm weather, as there will always be a burst of cold. It literally means, until June 10th, don’t take off your light jacket. This old idiom begs you to consider covering up so as not to catch a cold.

Tiempo de perros – Foul weather

The weather of dogs means nothing more than bad weather – storms, blustery winds and the like. Use this idiom with the verb hacer to talk about the weird weather that descends on the land of sunshine and siestas to impress your Spanish friends.

Tener más frío que robando pingüinos – To be very cold

There exist dozens of ways to talk about cold, including the “cold that peels” or the cold that likens you to playing with seals. My favorite is to be colder than robbing penguins, conjuring up a winter wonderland at the North Pole. In Seville, it hasn’t snowed and stuck for over 50 years, so the blue skies that are ever-present in winter trick you into thinking it’s warming up. Nope. Get your penguin-catching nets ready.

Tener carne de gallina – To have goosebumps

Goosebumps are weird sounding, but the Spaniards go ahead and make it goose skin. Even weirder.

Estar calado/a hasta los huesos – To feel damp

I didn’t realize just how cold Seville gets in winter until the Christmastime rains came. All of the sudden, my clothes wouldn’t dry and I found myself shivering under the covers with the heat on, nothing more than my eyes peeking out over the top. Because the city sits in a river valley surrounded by mountain ranges, Seville weather is damp and humid at any time of the year, prompting old ladies to admit to being damp in their bones as the walk their carritos to the supermarket.

Similarly, Spanish employs weather terms to describe people and situations.

Darse ni frío ni calor – to not matter

Spend the last weekend of Indian Summer in la playa or the mountains? No me da ni frío ni calor, really – I’ll take a weekend outside of Seville and away from my computer anytime. Anyone who is wishy washy uses this expression with a shrug to reaaaally let you know that they don’t care, and it’s translated literally as not giving you neither hot nor cold. Cue Katy Perry music.

Cambiar más que una veleta – to be fickle

Speaking of which, you probably have a friend who tells you it doesn’t give him hot or cold, but then changes his mind. Someone who changes more than a weather vane is said to be fickle, and I could easily blanket stereotype with this one, but I won’t. Hey, we’ve all got friends like this.

Llover sobre mojado – When it rains, it pours

As I listen to the rain finally pounding down on a very dry Seville, it’s easy to envision this idioms: When one bad thing happens on top of another, it’s raining over what’s already wet. I made friends with another auxiliar when she was living in Huelva five years ago. As much as she loved Spain, she got dealt one bad hand after another, finally leading her to leave spain after one year. Her reason? It didn’t just pour, it poured over what was already wet.

Pasar como un nube de verano – to be short-lived

You know what passed by like a summer cloud? Summer itself! I have to admit, I’ve never planned my outfits around shoes, but when you haven’t got many options for Fall shoes on a sudden rainy day, it happens. Anything short-lived is remembered nostalgically as a summer cloud. The only problem is, in Andalucía we’ve got either zero clouds or sun protection, or the icky grey skies known as borchorno.

Que te parta un rayo – to go to hell

Straight out of Greek mythology? Damning someone means wishing they get halved by a lightning bolt. I like it.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Got any other to share? Leave them for me in the comments – I love learning Spanish idioms almost as much as teaching them in English!

What to expect on the DELE Spanish Exam

updated with the help of Agasel in November 2015

A la bim! A la bahm! A la bim bohm bahm!

I expected a rousing Thursday! from my six year olds, but instead got “El día del examen de Miss Cat!”

Call it what you want – D-day, DELE-day, Run-and-hide-under-the-Cronómetro-book day, but November 17th was finally upon me. My pencils all sharpened, I hightailed out of work an hour early and took the train to Cádiz.

After nearly a year of toying with the idea, buying the prep books and finally buckling down to study, I got around to taking that stupid thing.

Psst! The format changed. Like, really, really drastically throw-your-stupid-refranes-book-in-the-hogueras changed. But, when I walked into the International House in Cádiz, I kind of didn’t know this, despite Lauren’s warnings and even the Instituto Cervantes announcing it. Alas, there were no books available for the new C1 or C2 formats, so I gleefully skipped over the grammar sections and watched an insane amount of news in Spanish. Because, duh, the DELE don’t like no tontos.

The city of Cádiz sat quiet and refreshingly beautiful, what with the haze of cheap rum and 16-year-old vomit lifted on a non-Carnaval night. The air was chilly on the peninsula, so I wrapped my arms tightly around my body and followed my phone’s GPS to my testing site, the International House Cádiz, a language school with academies around Spain.

The lobby resembled my elementary school’s, just brighter and not straight out of the 70s. My fellow testees hailed from all around the globe, brought together by our common language – castellano. I introduced myself to Marina, the exam coordinator, who was just a few months older than me and British, despite a Spanish name and flawless written Spanish.

The DELE exam in the superior levels are composed of four parts that examine your destrezas integradas, or your ability to understand, interpret and express yourself in Spanish. This means that rather than having a section simply dedicated to listening and answering multiple choice questions, you’ll be asked to listen to some kind of speech, short dialogue or conference and then speak or write about it. These competencies are the examen oral, the comprehensión lectiva, the competencia auditiva and the destrezas básicas, an evil hybrid of interpretation: audición e expresión escrita.

I followed Marina up a tight, winding staircase to the top floor. My bag and coat joined two others: one was the girl completing her oral exam in front of the judges, the tribunal, and the other preparing her…wait! She’s preparing something?

At 8 o’clock sharp (bravo, Spain!), Marina led me into a small classroom that had remnants of a young learners class in it. In front of the sturdy table sat two stark white folders. “Option 2 is a bit shorter,” Marina said as she pulled the door behind me. I read : La participación de jóvenes el el proceso político.” Ew, no. Option 1 it would have to be, a topic debated and groaned about in the halls of St. Mary’s: Spain’s push for the retirement age to be changed to 67 from 65. Coming from a long day of work, it seemed like something I could talk about when giving my personal opinion.

During the 20 minutes given to read the article enclosed in the folders, the candidato must read and take notes to prepare a four-to-six minute speech about the topic. Then, the interviewer will give the candidate the opportunity to establish and defend his opinion. Finally, the candidate is presented with a hypothetical situation and four photos, and he must talk about it and choose the best picture of the situation, defending the decision.

By 8pm, the tribunal had already seen well more than a dozen candidates. The handle to the door was icy cold as I pulled it shut, and I immediately regretted my decision to wash my hands in the bathroom – a soap dispenser disaster had left a huge stain on the lower half of my dress. I hastily explained my disheveled appearance and accepted their laughter.

After a few basic questions about how I ended up in Spain and how I learned Spanish, I gave my presentation, focusing on the article’s scientific evidence for abhorring the law proposal. The first few sentences felt choked, but noticing that the interviewer wasn’t writing anything on the blank paper before me, I suddenly felt eased. Being the last interviewee of the day, the interrogation seemed quick.  Using my own experience teaching, I spoke easily about my own hesitations at the new proposal.

After completing the third section – four pictures of work situations and speaking about which suited my personality best – I gathered my lone bag and said goodbye to Marina, knowing we’d see each other in 12 hours. Bursting into the cold air, I was relieved that Gustav, a tall Swede, had opted to switch with me and do his entire exam Friday, leaving me to get the most worrisome part out-of-the-way.

After a quick stroll around the star-shaped peninsula that the old city sits on, I had two beers and some pizza (hey, I earned it!) before retiring to my hotel. The long week at work, coupled with sheer mental exhaustion, made for a heavy párpados.

The following morning, I reached the testing center. Fourteen names appeared on the door immediately off the lobby – a long, thin room with NIVEL C1 written in messy script on the whiteboard. ¿Catherine? Candidata cuatro, José Manuel, the tribunal boss, said, a slight smile crossing his face. I wished him a good morning and laid my eraser, three sharpened pencils and a pack of tissues on the table ahead of me and settled in for four hours of castellano. When we were all seated, JM explained the last-minute instructions – we had to use the pens provided, were allowed to mark up test booklets and that there was a slight mistake on the oral competency exam.

I had found the copy of last year’s C1 exam online and quickly reviewed its contents while we waited for 9am to hit. Short dialogues were new on the listening section. And there were no narrative stories to write. I took a quick glance around. People were rubbing their heads, crossing themselves. I said a quick prayer: please don’t let this 300€ have been in vain. José Manuel looked at us and dropped his hands. You may begin, he announced.

The morning session before a break had two parts: the reading and listening. I grabbed the pen and got down to business on the reading. During the 90 minute exam, one can allow about 15 minutes per each of the five tests, called tareas. The first (if memory serves me right) is a formal text – contract, meeting minutes, etc. – followed by a series of multiple choice questions. I tend to score higher on the scientific tests, so this was a piece of cake, responding to questions about proposals of an apartment building’s neighbor assembly. The second task is a narrative text with paragraphs missing. Following the broken piece are seven short paragraphs. The candidate must find the correct six passages, thus omitting one of the false entries. I was delighted to have a passage about travel, but this section proved to be the most difficult for me. Blame it on narrative journalism classes. The third text was a scientific article about the improbability of life on Mars with a few straightforward multiple-choice questions, and then came the fun part: reading six or eight museum exhibit announcements, and answering short questions about them.

For example: ¿Cúal de las exhibiciones tiene actividades complementarias? Which of the exhibit has conferences, contests, etc. I would then have to match the correct exhibition to the description. The fifth and final section was the grammar, where prepositions and subjunctive conjugations were left out, and the candidate must choose the correct option out of three given. There were 14 questions, which I finished rapidly.  I had just enough time to quickly check to be sure the bubbles were filled in correctly before JM announced, ¡Lápices sueltas! and even took a pen out of another candidate’s hand.

The listening test was much the same: four tareas with 30 associated questions. While on older models of the exam were simply listening and answering true/false and multiple choice questions, the new version of the exam is again focused on those destrezas – using the language to make educated guesses.

Tarea 1 was the toughest, as the candidate had to listen to a conference and fill in six blanks from a pool of 13 answers, all of which are very similar. I had to listen to a woman talk about the practical use of great thinkers’ ideas. Yawn. Being a subject I had no interest in, it was difficult to focus my brain entirely. Next, in Tarea 2, there are eight questions that follow two short dialogues. the candidate must identify specific details or feelings and choose from three or four multiple choice answers. The third section is the same listening as before; listening to a lecture and selecting multiple choice questions. Finally, Tarea 4 presents short dialogues that express emotions or specific information, and the candidate, again, chooses the best answer from three.

As a tip, use the short breaks to read ahead in the questions and understand them completely. The listening exam passes quickly because you have to work at the pace set by the audio tracks. Thankfully, nearly all of the audiciones were easy to understand and the accents clear. I was also sitting directly in front of the CD player as candidate 4, which was to my advantage.

I burst into the bright sun, thankful for an extra jolt of endorphins and a quick coffee. Inside a small sweets shop, I bought PEZ – remembering my high school coach’s acronym – pure energy and zip – and popped the whole thing in my mouth for good measure, as the writing section would be the most difficult for me. The 30-minute break alloted passed quickly, but I was getting antsy to finish.

The final written section of the exam is the combination listening and written exam. On four short, lined pages provided by the testing site, we’d have to complete two tasks. As the Novio was helping me prepare, he said that my stinging complaint letters deserved an A+, but my narrative writing was unfocused and messy.

On the exam model, there are two parts: the first requires one to listen to an eight- to ten-minute speech, take notes, and then write an expository essay with the author’s opinion at the end, taking note of word count. Then comes a choice between a complaint letter and a narrative. Clearly, I chose the complaint letter and had to write to my city hall calling blasphemy against the lack of cultural programming for senior citizens. The long essay was a pain in the culo – ten minutes of someone droning on about the conservation of fossil fuels in marginalized communities. In the end, I had to squeeze my words into the papers provided and hastily count words, but closing my booklet two minutes and sliding it to the corner of my paper, I took a long exhale and slumped in my chair. It was finished. Terminado. Finito. Acabado. As I stood up to collect my bags, I saw people scribbling to finish and sweat collecting on brows.

I felt good. As the maximum number of points is 100, and one must score a 33 on each section (Yeah, I don’t understand that math either…), I figured I’d done the required for an APTO score (adequate) and would be awaiting a certificate in a few months. In fact, I think I could have done the C2, too, with a bit more discipline and hours dedicated to studying. Marina was nowhere to be found, so I called the Novio to tell him it was all done, popping chuces into my mouth as  a reward. I finally relaxed on the train, looking forward.

While I may not need an Instituto Cervantes-issued ticket for a job any time soon, having to get back in the study mode and do something else but enjoy the sunshine and siestas was good for me (and my wallet, aside from the books and actual exam). I won’t find out my score for another 6-8 weeks, but I can rest easy note having a date looming over my head.

You can find the model on the Instituto Cervantes website by clicking here and downloading the PDF.

Update: I passed my DELE exam, scoring a near-perfect score in both reading and writing. My listening score was average, though my speaking section was dismal. I went in overconfident yet nervous, and by not adhering to the exam specifics, I probably sounded like an idiot.

Have you ever taken a DELE exam? What helped you study? Read my tips for studying for the DELE exam here.

Do’s and Don’ts: How to Prepare for the DELE Spanish Exam

Hatched as a plan to find something to do during the cold winter months when the Novio was away in Somalia, I decided to begin studying for the DELE. I didn’t need it for a job, nor a university program. Nay, this overachiever wanted to prove she knew enough Spanish to have a piece of paper proclaiming it.

Famous. Last. Words.

The Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera is an internationally recognized exam that probes the level of a non-native speaker who can operate using the language in the various skills of foreign language learning: writing, speaking, reading, listening. It’s comparable, depending on one of six levels of the Marco Común Europeo de Referencia, to the Cambridge and Trinity Exams of English. The exams are supervised by The Instituto Cervantes, a renowned study center from which you can request a free brochure.

Tips and Tricks for studying for the DELE Spanish exam

Little Miss Smarty Pants thought she could do the C2 Superior Level. After doing some research on the exam’s sponsor, Instituto Cervantes, I marched down to FNAC to buy the prep books, El Cronómetro and the Edelsa C2. I ended up getting only the first, mesmerized by the stopwatch (hence the title) and nervous when I cracked open the book to see just black, white and maroon and no pictures, just tiny little stopwatches next to the words “pon el reloj.”

The May examination date rolled around, and between Holy Week, Feria, and visits from not one but four friends…well, I forgot to sign up. No pasa nada, I thought, I’ll just study during those rainy afternoons at camp and then that month I’m home doing nothing. I toted the book to La Coruña and then to Wheaton, but only cracked it on a long car ride to Kentucky to write out the slang words on cards to study.

Yeah, Guiri Puss, aprende español!

My exam is in ten days. At some moments, I feel confident and like test ain’t got nothing on my Spanish-wielding tongue, until I remember that I also have to know how to write and interpret well in a language.

After finally hitting my stride (and saying adiós to my social life), here are some Do’s and Don’ts of studying for the DELE.

DO buy the right materials

After starting your initial search to find out more about the DELE on the Instituto Cervantes website, it should come as no surprise that there are books made especially for the exam, much like the standard GRE or LSAT books. To help get you started, you can ask for an informational guide from the Instituto Cervantes.

The book recommended by the FEDELE in Seville was the Cronómetro. I prefer this book because it not only has tons of practice session, but it also helps you find the testing method most suited for you. When doing the reading comprehension, is it easier for you to read first, then tackle the three questions, or is it better to read the questions first to know what you’re looking for? It also has a better description of what to expect from each section in the exam. I bought it at FNAC for around 24€, and the newest edition, all green and white and super bético, was the same price of of Amazon in Spain. Since the format of the C2 has changed this convocotoría, this book is better suited to help you prepare for the new exam.

I also used the Edesla C2, which was really like a series of mini-exams within a different theme (science and technology, arts and ethics, man and his surroundings). What’s more, the Libro de Claves was actually sold separately, so I had to make yet another trip to FNAC and spend an extra 3€. And I peeked because the questions were so incredibly vague. “En el texto se dice”: UM A LOT OF THINGS?!

My pick is definitely the Crom. So go ahead and Pon that Reloj.

DON’T assume you know your level: do the online exam

In Europe, there is a standardized model of foreign language comprehension, known as the Marco Común Europeo de Referencia (MCER) here in Spain. This is an umbrella term, as it refers to the basic competencies a language learning should have in his desired language. the DELE, for the most part, follow the MCER, so the six levels are standard, and you can see them here.

Before going out and buying your prep books, take the shortened version of the exam, available on the Instituto Cervantes Spanish page (click here). I took it once before studying hardcore and scored a C1.4, the highest level of C1, and again just last week and scored a C2.1, the lowest for that level. Additionally, the FEDELE offered to have me come in and take a few practice oral exams, though the woman told me I was a C2 and should consider taking the C2 written, as well.

Looks like I made a good choice in the C1.

DO find a good place to study

My Cronómetro book looks like a tattered old journal – all marked up, the binding half-ripped. Sadly, I have carted the 300-paged monstrosity around to too many places – Córdoba, America, Madrid – and barely even given it a second thought. Every time I think I can study somewhere, I find it’s impossible because of background noise or distractions.

Case in point:

Sure, it was nice sitting outside on a balmy May morning, but the quarterly chimes on the nearby Mezquita made me nervous and more time-conscious than usual. And trying to study on the AVE high-speed train? Please.

I would study as close to the conditions as possible – sitting upright, having a pencil and sharpener handy, plenty of light, and no distractions (even turn your móvil down if you have to! Mine beeps constantly, so I put it in a different room). I often waited to do the listening portions until The Novio was out of the house and didn’t have the TV blaring.

DON’T try and study outdoors, during holidays or when friends are in town.

Did I care cramming one weekend when I had nothing better to do? Of course, but I don’t regret not taking the exam before when I had friends visiting and I wanted to travel to Romania and when the rebujito and Monica’s arte took over at the Real. Be realistic – if you can’t put in the time needed to adequately prepare, don’t pay to do the exam.

DO consider taking a course or having private instruction

Doing simple google search for “cursos DELE” nets hundreds of places to get exam prep, both online and in person. Most are costly (around 300€), but come with the practice book and pautas and tips to doing the exam. I knew I could study for the majority of the test on my own, but considered hiring a Spanish teacher to help me with the writing and speaking part of the exam. In the end, our schedules weren’t compatible, but Eva seemed like a great resource.

The first place to look is the Instituto Cervantes itself in your city, and finally at the various language centers in your city, like CLIC or even universities with international programs. Keep in mind cost, whether or not it’s intensive or not, the success rate of students and if you think it will help you in the long run or not.

I personally thought the people at CLIC in Seville and Cádiz were more than happy to help me prepare by offering free consultations, following up with emails and in turn being an examination center. In addition, the Instituto Cervantes also offers online consultations, practice exams and prep courses.

DON’T freak out about knowing all of those stupid refranes.

Guess what! They’re no longer on the exam! Collective sigh of relief, verdad? Before, the there were up to 12 points to be earned simply by reading a statement with a refrán, or a type of common saying, and choosing one of three options.

For example: Me han dejado asistir de oyente, pero no puedo meter baza en ningún momento.

Well, you say, meter means plenty of things, and Baza is a small town in Granada, and the sentence says you were able to go to a lecture and listen, but surely it had nothing to do with that little village. So, you look at the three choices. A intervenir, B interrumpir, C cooperar. Hmm, no help. I chose B, but it’s actually A. There were eight of those in a 60 minute test that also included text completion and error detection.

Instead, I would focus more on knowing prepositions, por v. para, ser v. estar and the subjunctive tenses more to help you on the writing and speaking sections of the exam. No los estudies, ni a tiros!!

DO practice writing prompts like crazy – even the ones you’d never choose on the actual exam.

I tried to skip them, but I couldn’t. The writing section is a large part of the DELE, consisting of two parts: in the first, you’ll be asked to pick one of two options regarding a formal letter or email. This may be a complaint, a letter to the mayor, an email requesting information, a reclamation of a service…and the list goes on. It’s important to know formal salutions, advanced vocabulary and to include all of the parts asked for in the prompt.

The second part is more personal, and you’ll have to choose between three different prompts. These could be about personal opinions, experiences or anecdotes. The language employed here is much more narrative and you’ll often be asked to describe how you felt when X took place. And it doesn’t hurt to make it related to Latin culture, either.

Keep in mind you’ll have to beat the clock: you have 60 minutes for brainstorming, drafting and re-writing your two pieces of 150-200 words in pen. Practice with your clock ALWAYS, on all of the parts of the exam, but be much more wary during this section. Your pieces should also be clear and use the language you know – it’s advised to make the letter more simple if and always when it’s clearer.

DON’T cram. Make a doable schedule, and stick to it.

My biggest mistake. I would come home so wiped from school, that I often put off studying. Then I had work to do. Then it was someone’s birthday. And, in the spirit of Dude, Where’s My Car, and then and then and then and then…! En fin, I wasted a lot of days where I could have been working through problems and writing prompts and instead had to cram last weekend and barely consume any beer. These last few weeks, I’m doing my best to do one or two practice sessions a night to be able to stay on top of my game but still not stress out.

I learned time management skills when I was like in third grade…what happened to them?

DO practice outside of the book – listening to political debates, brushing up on medical vocabulary, reading hilarious books like El Tesís de Nancy

I realize I live in Spain and have ample opportunities to speak and listen to Spanish, but I have been utilizing all kinds of tools to amplify my vocabulary – even my smart phone! I downloaded an app called Prensa de España, which has newspapers from around Spain in mobile format, found a great English-Spanish dictionary and have been listening to podcasts. The world is my oyster when it comes to finding even MORE ways to sneak a little castellano into my life (as if a Spanish novio and Spanish workplace and, um, living there weren’t enough!).

On the writing and speaking sections, and general knowledge of Hispanic culture is 100% important, as is being able to listen to different accents. The exam may call for you to read a quote and take a stance on it, talk about the economic crisis, or write about that time you schlepped through the Prado Museum. Knowing some basic vocabulary will actually make you sound like you know what you’re talking about, and so will using the “he” form of haber.

And read El Tesís de Nancy. It’s about an American girl who lives in Seville during the 70s and dates a gypsy. It’s hilarious, and her errors in the letters she writes to her cousin Nancy have helped me to be a more critical reader of my own writing in Spanish.

Now that you’ve decided to prepare the exam and you’re willing to shell out 175€ for the upper level exams, how does one go about signing up? Read about my experience taking the DELE here.

Have you ever tried speaking Spanish? What types and tricks have you got to share? If you have more questions about the DELE, be sure to contact COMO Consulting Spain, a relocation consulting company with insider knowledge about the exams.

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