We asked
Spanish tutor

Octavio Olenik Giaccaglia about learning Spanish as a beginner

Octavio has been a private Spanish tutor for the past 6 years. You can contact him for a private lesson on Fiverr.

How does your course aid true beginners?

As the course I offer is mostly composed of private and individual lessons, I’m able to fully understand the student’s level and their needs. That’s one of the many advantages the private lessons I teach can provide to the student: a completely personalized learning experience.

Whenever I teach an absolute beginner, I make sure to start by the fundamental basis of every language: its sounds. Then, I always continue with cognates and audio comprehension. I’ve always thought it makes little to no sense to start learning a language by studying how to say “thank you”, for instance. Of course one needs to learn it eventually, sooner than later, but doing so doesn’t attack the main issue: the fact the student won’t even be able to properly pronounce those newly-acquired words. If a complete beginner wants to properly learn a language, my method has proven to be the one that properly cements the language learning process.

What essential skills does your course require?

As my course is absolutely personalized and it consists mostly of private lessons, the only essential skills somebody needs to have prior to taking the course are time, interest in learning the language and speaking a language we both understand (either English, Italian, French or Esperanto, why not?). If the student has those three things, we’d be ready to start.

What will students learn in your course?

I’d like to talk about what I call “the two realms”. The first one is the linguistic one, while the second one is the extra-linguistic one. The linguistic one is composed of everything strictly language related (i.e. syntax, grammar, morphology, pronunciation, etc) and it helps the student build skills such as audio-comprehension, written comprehension, sentence structuring, word formation through derivation processes and, of course, how to use all these elements when speaking the language.

Now, the second realm is related to Hispanic cultural literacy. As soon as possible, I like to introduce more complex topics by using level adequate news, videos and conversations. In order to properly learn a language, one needs to be surrounded of as much information and context as possible and, plus, to be able to see and judge a different culture from the new glasses you wear when speaking a foreign language makes everything more engaging and formative.

Weekly time commitment for the course?

Usually, I would recommend at least two hours a week, divided in two lessons of one hour each. Now, if possible, three lessons a week is the sweet spot in my experience, because it allows the student to make a steady progress while also having time to process the new information and doing the extra activities I always send.

What are common challenges for Spanish beginners?

There are multiple challenges when it comes to learning Spanish. There are pronunciation related challenges (specially with challenging phonemes), structure related challenges (different languages have their own structures and acquiring them tends to be difficult), conjugation related challenges (as the verbal conjugation in Spanish is quite hard due to the amount of irregularities and tenses) and so on.

The thing is, learning a language should be difficult and challenging. In any case, learning anything is supposed to be demanding, as that’s how people are supposed to get better. That’s why I like embracing difficulty and offering level-adequate challenges for the students. It’s OK to struggle and at the end of the day, I’m always there to help out.

Do you focus on a specific dialect?

I try to be as neutral as possible, unless asked to teach a particular dialect. I’m specialized in those from Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Spain, but I can of course teach other dialects if the student is interested in learning one in particular.

How do you weave in Spanish culture?

I integrate Hispanic culture through music with an active approach, news articles, films, YouTube videos and similar stuff. A cultural approach is important as it makes the whole process way more engaging and enjoyable. Moreover, one of the most beautiful things learning a new language gives the student is the access to a whole new world of content, information, outlooks and cosmovisions. That’s the most interesting part of learning a new language, having sudden access to a new world of resources to discover and explore.

What resources do you suggest for beginners?

I always suggest the next method: picking three things one enjoys, anything really. Whether it’s movies, outdoor activities, sports, politics or musical instruments, it doesn’t matter. Then, they can look for content related to those topics on the internet and start consuming it. If needed, I can also provide useful online resources, it’s not a problem for me. This helps the students to be engaged with the learning process, as now they have a clear and fun way to apply what they learn.

Any notable success stories from students?

I have plenty, but I’d like to highlight the case of “S”, my first student. He is a man from the US who always liked my country because of football. When he started learning with me, he knew almost nothing, but we studying during around 6 months. Then, he moved to Mexico for 2 months before coming to Argentina for 6 months. Afterwards, he went to the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Peru and then back to Argentina. While being to all these countries, he could speak the language, he got to know more people and he’s been having the time of his life so far. I like having played a role in his language learning and having helped him to achieve his goals.

Key traits of successful students?

A successful student is whoever is committed to the process. Commitment and time is all it takes to do pretty much anything and learning a language is not an exception. Plus, dedication on the other side always helps a teacher to do their jobs. It’s a win-win situation.

Tips for practicing outside the class?

The most useful tip I can give anyone is to be in close contact with the language. The student should immerse in the language as much as possible. Using apps, trying to speak to native, including songs in Spanish to their Spotify lists, watching videos or films in Spanish or just trying to think in Spanish. Whatever it makes a student closer to the language is an excellent resource.

What’s next after completing your course?

After completing my course, the student is nowhere near done. Once they have had my lessons they are ready to use the knowledge they have acquired to carry on learning the language. They could now travel to a Spanish speaking country, meet new people through the Spanish language, use the language in a professional/educational context and so on. Completing my course could be seen as the first step in a whole life process which always has something new to offer.

What’s your top advice for beginners?

To any beginner I could tell them not to give up. There will be moments in which they think it’s impossible or that they’re stuck and making no progress. It’s important to understand that learning a new language it’s a process, it takes time and it’s going to be quite difficult at times. Maybe taking some time off is a good option, the important thing is to carry on despite the frustration and keeping one’s own pace, knowing that it always pays off at the end.

Any misconceptions in Spanish learning?

There are plenty, but I’d like to address one in particular: people will always tell you to listen to music or to watch films, which is an amazing idea overall, but one needs to take into account that a passive role towards content will do pretty much nothing for someone. An active approach is essential for making the most of the content: reading the lyrics/subtitles, actively trying to comprehend what’s being said and trying to grasp as much as possible on what’s going on is the actual and smart way to learn a language by consuming media.