Advanced Spanish … Where Do I Go from Here?

In case you didn’t know, I’m a perfectionist. If you read all my blog posts about Spanish grammar and trying to improve, you might get that impression, but I’ve tried my best not to come off too crazy. Did it work?

I’m trying to take the DELE, otherwise known as the Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera, or Diplomas of Spanish as a Foreign Language. I’d like to take the exam in November, when I’ll already be in Spain. I got this book, El Cronómetro, but the exam format has changed, so I’m not sure just how useful it will be.


So, my question out there to all my Spanish-speaking friends/bloggers:

How do you improve your Spanish if you’re past the point of learning grammar?

I know the verb tenses, the irregular verbs, and how to conjugate. I understand when to use the subjunctive about 95% of the time. I sometimes slip up verbally when using por/para, but I know the right way. My pronunciation is okay, according to Mario. But I still lack vocabulary. However, I swear there are words I read, try to learn, and then forget—and then the cycle repeats itself, which is obviously maddening.

Tell me your strategies. I already have one of those personal dictionaries, and try to speak to him in Spanish, which usually works, unless he switches to English (which he does! all! the! time!).

49 thoughts on “Advanced Spanish … Where Do I Go from Here?

  1. I was going to answer your question, but you pointed it out in the post. In this exam you’ll find words that are genereally seen in newspapers and magazines. Do you read them? Make lists of words, flashcards. Try to use them in sentences. I know how difficult vocabulary can get when you’re past advanced level. I’ve been through that with English. Anyways,I don’t think there is a way tp study it. Try the way you feel comfortable and that works for you.

    1. I am doing this so far! Mario studies English vocabulary by reading The Economist. They usually have use a higher register, so if you’re at all interested in that sort of thing I recommend it!

  2. Which level are you doing? I passed the C1 by 1.47 points – my reading and listening/writing was 9 points above where it needed to be, and my listening and speaking barely made it thru. I would use the book to practice pacing yourself (I do believe the exam prep material has been modified with this edition – I picked up the book at FNAC after the exam out of cuiosity). I had the examiner take pens out of people’s hands!!

    Definetely stay abreast on current events, too. this isn’t a normal grammar test – it’s a lot more about interpreting and then expressing them. I was asked about educating citizens of third world countries about recycling and conserving energy, about the changes to labor laws (jubilación a las 67), had to read technical information, etc. I thought the C1 would be below my level, so I was surprised when I barely passed!

    Thanks for the pingback, too!

    1. Ahhhh that makes me nervous! I don’t know yet — either C1 or C2 because I’m such a perfectionist that I want to do the highest level, even if it’s not appropriate. My speaking is okay, except when I get nervous, which would be likely. I speak best when I’m trying to impress Spaniards a don’t know (in a non-academic setting).

  3. I have the Radio Spain app on my iPhone and iPad…I love listening to Spanish talk radio. Sports, news, lifestyle, etc. Really good for paying attention, “thinking” in Spanish, new vocabulary. When I lived in Spain I kept a notebook with me at all times–made it my dictionary and would write new words/phrases every time I learned something.

  4. Kaley,
    believe it or not, the best way to learn vocabulary in ANY language, is to read. And a lot. I think you like to read, so head on down to your university library and start looking for the Spanish section.

    1. I did. I’m annoyed, though, because the last book I picked up was full of 19th century vocabulary, and I didn’t understand a thing.

  5. If you’re having difficulty remembering vocab you should try using Anki. It’s a free programme. You save “decks” of flashcards onto Anki. Anki shows you one “side” and you try to remember the word. When you remember the translation you press “show” and the translation is shown. It gives you options of how difficult the word was and then uses some maths-magic to figure out when to next show you this card.

    It’s a lot easier than I’m explaining it! You should have a look at the tutorials on YouTube but I think that it’s a great resource for getting vocabulary to stay in your head (especially if you have a SmartPhone to use so that you can learn stuff when you’re bored and hanging around places!).

    If you look at the blog FluentInThreeMonths there’s a thing about “Learning With Texts” – Benny (the blogger) has set up a programme for learning new vocabulary through texts. You should have a look!

  6. There is a system in making your vocabulary list, I’ve only just started using it-

    1. You have 3 lists (3 papers, or 3 columns on the same paper or excel whatever)
    2. The first list is the daily list- a list of Spanish words only (not the translations) which you test yourself on daily
    3. The weekly list (You test yourself only once a week….)- once you feel you know a word on the daily list, you bump it up to the weekly list. In the meantime, this frees up more space on your daily list for a new word.
    4. The monthly list…you guessed it, weekly list words can get promoted to a monthly list
    5. If you forget a word on the weekly or monthly list, you demote it.

    The advantage of this method is it keeps your list dynamic, so you don’t spend the same amount of time revising words you know, kinda know and don’t know. Also it doesn’t need to be a list, if you use flashcards, it can be a daily, weekly and monthly bag.


  7. Reading/watching movies has definitely helped my vocabulary. Do you have a Kindle? If you download a Spanish dictionary, it makes it a lot faster to look up a word (with a physical book I know I’d get lazy about looking up all the obscure words I don’t know).

  8. get yourself an intercambio. many people say finding a significant other is the way to learn a language – but I that’s most applicable when one of you doesn’t speak the other’s language. rather than add stress to your relationship, find a third party! ask at the local uni / look on / tutor / etc.

    1. I think I plan on instituting a “No English” policy for the three months I’m in Spain (May to June). Mario is the only one in Spain who knows English well enough to actually speak it to me consistently. But if I forbid from doing so … no one else will either, so I could get some quality immersion time.

  9. If your objective is to increase your vocabulary, then I’d encourage reading. My Spanish would be much worse if I didn’t regularly challenge myself to read novels and news stories in Spanish. I listen to a lot of music from Mexico and South America. That helps too since I’ll look up lyrics and learn new words that way too.

  10. I’ve thought about taking the DELE too, but Cat’s posts have scared me a little! I got a book too about a year ago but it was published before the changes so that won’t be much help now. Reaching the “plateau” in language learning definitely makes it difficult to “echar pa’lante” as they say in PR. I guess more contact with the language at an academic level is the best way to improve? I’m about as stumped as you haha

      1. I was just thinking too (as I replied on Cat’s post about the DELE) that listening to radio from other countries (a lot of radio stations are online now) and movies from other places will give you exposure to different dialects as well. If you have Netflix, there are tons of movies in Spanish from all different countries instantly available! I don’t think Netflix works in Spain, but while you’re in the States it might be worth a shot!

  11. One thing I do in Thai, is I read and read and read! I also try and translate TV. when I don’t know a word quickly I write it down as something to work on later. This is a way to test where my holes are.

      1. If you email me your number I´ll get Ramón to call you. I´m at I told him about you and he said he´d be delighted to talk to you. I also told him you´re sweet, smart and pretty so I think that definitely swayed him! Anyway, he´s been running the DELE exams at the Instituto Cervantes for years and is well-aware of its strengths and weaknesses and he could certainly orient you. Be warned, se enrolla como una persiana, but is the most bilingual person I´ve ever met so you can talk to him in whichever language you like. Look forward to hearing from you. x

        1. Hey Mo,

          I won’t be back in Spain until May 8. Would he be willing to call me then? I’ll give you my number then so he can call me!

          I can tell you’re British when you sign off with an x. I noticed all my British friends doing this on Facebook or in emails! I love it!



          1. No problem Kaley. As for the x, I find my US friends use xoxoxo which I´ve always taken to mean hugs and kisses though it might actually be “piss off and leave us alone.” Anyway, look forward to hearing from you when you´re back in Hispanilandia. Oh, nearly forgot, x!

  12. For me, what really made my Spanish fluent, was having close personal relationships with Spanish speakers- most not English-speaking. It was pretty intense, yet, and for many months it was awkward. But, after 6 months of hanging with them every week I started really integrating well into their conversations, making jokes (even if they were dumb jokes) and speaking quite fluently. It can be hard to be in that situation (having almost 100% non-English-speaking Spanish-speaking friends), but if you can figure out how to get to that level of exposure (not to mention the social pressure of needing to communicate/be apart of the group) it will work magic.

    1. Thank you! I think that, for the most part, I can integrate myself well. I can make jokes — but I only do so if I feel comfortable, which isn’t easy for me. I hope that I’m able to “aprovechar de” this summer in order to really get better.

  13. Integrating, though, with friends, all the time, in Spanish? I have yet to take my own advice here in France! The key is having a local bilingual (English, Spanish) friend who introduces you to all of their Spanish friends. I have found this ‘hook’ in France recently, and I am truly interested her as a friend and like her friends (very important!) and went to some parties (where I once again had that very frustrating, impatient feeling that I once had en español) but then got sick all winter and haven’t been back out with them. The most I’m doing now, while sick, is chatting with some of them in French on Facebook. Anyway, since I don’t speak French so much at home, I think it’s especially important to make friends in the language. It’s so tough though – I haven’t truly pursued making friends in French like I could be. Due to your ambition I’m sure you’ll definitely aprovechar de this summer!

    Secret to feeling more comfortable = cerveza ;-)

  14. If your problem is learning and then forgetting, maybe try learning it another way. I always try to test myself on both ‘recognition’ (you can recognize the word) and ‘recall’ (you can come up with the word) – can you tell I got a psych degree? :D Here’s how I do it:

    When I’m studying Spanish vocab, I write it down with the definition and where I found the word. I come back to review it, along with the context. Then I leave it alone for a while, and try to generate the words later in the day to make sure I can ‘recall’ them too. Just mentally review the new stuff, without flashcards or any kind of cues. I practice this ‘recall thing’ a few times a couple times a day whenever/wherever I have some down time. Remembering a word in different physical ‘contexts’ (like in your living room vs. during your commute) is supposed to help you retain it better too.

    This is kind of like flashcards, but sometimes just knowing you have the answer right there on a flashcard makes it less daunting! The ‘recall thing’ makes you struggle with the word for a while until you get it – or realize you actually don’t know it. Some words are just wayyy harder than others (‘desafio’ was sooo hard for me, but I’m not sure why!)

    Ha, so that’s my nerdy psych approach. It definitely works for me, hope it helps you out too!

  15. Prithika’s system is basically what all SRS (spaced repetition system) applications like Anki do for you. As for reading, I love my Kindle because I can set the default dictionary (separate purchase) to Spanish-English and easily look up new words as I read. Then I highlight and save those words for later reference. I also highlight entire sentences or passages that I think are useful for later references. Plus, it is easy to find free Spanish novels out of copyright to read on sites like Gutenberg.

  16. I have the same C2 Cronómetro book, but I’m planning to take the C1 next month (yikes!). I’ve done the C1 practice tests on the Instituto Cervantes website so I feel like I understand the differences in the exam format now. After reading about how much prep time you’re giving yourself – now I’m getting worried!

    I try to read all my news at online Spanish newspapers (El Pais and their many topic-specific blogs) and watch the afternoon news during lunch. Being an English teacher, with a lot of English-speaking friends, I’ve found it difficult to practice my speaking on a regular basis. So I’ve resorted to reading the newspaper aloud to myself and trying to organize as many intercambios as I can during the next month.

    I thought I’d learn a lot from listening to my young Spanish students, but then I realized they say things like “tú fuistes” and “tú dijistes”… so now I just listen to the cute phrases they say when they’re excited/worried/frustrated etc.

    Good luck with the studying!

  17. There are no if, and or buts…you must refrain from speaking English with your guy. You must minimize, if not altogether remove, interaction with the English language (obviously easy to do in Spain; not so easy if you also teach English as a job). So, there’s pretty much the ugly truth. Accessibility to English is what inhibits English speakers. As great as a gift it is, it has its yang too,

  18. I live in the Philippines where everyday words are peppered with Tagalog, Malay, Indian, English, and Spanish. Sounds confusing but we get along somehow. Our numbers, days of the week, and months are in Spanish. Our table appointments, kitchen, utensils, etc. are in Spanish and most living conditions as well. But that’s about it.

    My dream at the moment is to learn the language in Valladolid or Salamanca. I just need a good amount of moolah to get there.

    1. Jay, that’s very interesting. I used to work for a company with branches in the Philippines, and I could see that they used some Spanish and had some leftover cultural influences from the Spanish colonization.

      Good luck with your dream! I would recommend Salamanca, because I think it’s more beautiful. Of course, I’m a little biased because I met my husband there, and I lived there. But it’s a great place to live, especially in your 20s!

What do YOU think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s