Hola, Adiós, Gracias, Tortilla, Paella, Señorita, Buenos Días, Hablar, Tapas, Amigos…
Chances are, you probably know what most or all of the above mean without having any proper training in Spanish. That’s hardly surprising considering the great extent to which Español permeates pop culture and a certain Nickelodeon cartoon. Now imagine legitimately learning this language.
Spanish ab initio allows you to do just that.
Introduction to ab initio
Ab initio courses are unique to IB, and during the course, you are learning a completely new language from scratch in a full two-year course, which is specially designed to ensure that you learn as efficiently as possible. ACS(I) offers four ab initio courses: French, Spanish, Malay and Chinese, with Spanish being the most popular. In fact, there is even a Spanish class meant for intact class students! In a nutshell, the course includes basic and advanced grammar as well as a great variety of vocabulary, and by the end of the course, you will be able to string it all together to describe and elaborate on several things, such as:
Colours and Numbers
Dates and Times
Clothes and Descriptions of People
House and Household Items
Food & Beverages
Hobbies and Past-times
…and several others. This list is far from exhaustive, and the practicality of the course becomes increasingly obvious when you take it. All these topics are balanced appropriately with the several new grammar rules you have to remember, and during exams and tests, it all comes together and suddenly you realise, “Wow, I can do Spanish/Malay/French/Chinese.”
What lead me to my choice?: The Advantages of Taking Spanish
Before further going into details, I would first like to explain exactly why I took Spanish. For all of my academic life beforehand, I have been taking Hindi, and for the four years of secondary school in ACS(I), I expected myself to take Hindi for IB as well. Spanish, or any other ab initio for that matter, was a distant thought, one that I never truly considered and I simply passed it off as being too niche.
During orientation, I started to think that Spanish was a good idea. However, should I abandon a language that I had been taking for ten years? I went back home one day and tabulated all the pros and cons of taking Spanish ab initio instead of Hindi B. Here’s a run-through of the advantages of taking Spanish:
First and foremost, you get to learn a new language. A completely new language. Learning a new language is not only a great way to improve oneself, but it is also a great way to learn new things about other languages, including ones that you are well-versed in. That might sound funny initially, but it’s completely true. Learning a new language from scratch at this age makes you significantly more familiar with the different parts of speech (articles, adjectives etc.) and it might also make you analyse languages that you already know and compare them to Spanish. Additionally, since Spanish and English have strong foundations in Latin, there are many similar words and these foundations and become more apparent when you pick up Spanish (as well as French).
Occasionally, you might even run across a Spanish word that introduces you to a new word in English! Just the other day, I learnt what ‘elegía’ was. It meant ‘elegy’, which was a word I didn’t know in English.
Also, you learn a lot about the language’s country. This is especially the case with Spanish, since Profesora (Spanish for “teacher”) is from Spain! By learning Spanish, I was able to learn a lot about Spain, as well as the many other Spanish-speaking countries in the world, such as Mexico, Chile and Argentina. Spanish is different from the other ab initio languages as it is spoken by a large list of countries in the world, and the distribution of native speakers is really wide. As such, learning Spanish properly and practically introduces you to a great variety of countries in the world, making you appreciate different cultures and people, just like how an international course should.
Speaking of practicality, Spanish is a really practical language simply due to the sheer size of the population that speak it. Being the most common second language in USA also makes Spanish even more practical, especially if you desire to converse with the Hispanic people in USA and the rest of the world. South America is home to several emerging economies, and knowing Spanish ensures that great business opportunities can be found in all of these countries (with the exception of Brazil and Suriname).
Spanish is also a great opportunity to meet new friends and have fun. While every subject class in the non-intact system will bond during the course of the two years, Spanish, and the other ab initio courses, are different, as the class as a whole is learning something entirely new. Spanish class is, in many ways, a serious party. While that seems like an oxymoron, it is probably the best way to describe the extremely enjoyable yet undeniably no-nonsense learning experience that you share with a couple of amazing people. And why would it stop at the class? Remember all those random Spanish comments on YouTube and Facebook videos? Now you can interact with them, and who knows, maybe you’ll have a Spanish pen pal!
No, I am not referring to breaking down and crying due to the difficulty of learning the language. I can safely say that, if you start off on the right foot, you won’t face that. I am actually referring to the breakdown of the IB grade.
Oral Examination (25%):
No IB subject is free from IAs, and Spanish is no exception. The oral is conducted individually and consists of conversation and picture discussion, and it very unlike PSLE MT Oral. The ab initio Oral Exam truly tests your competency and fluency as you have to think on the spot, and give responses that are quick and yet do not compromise on grammar or pronunciation. Fortunately, Spanish pronunciation is easier that the other ab initio languages (especially if you know an Indian language beforehand).
Written Assignment (20%):
This is similar to the English WT in the way that it is set in school and assessed externally. In the Spanish WA, you have to choose a topic and compare how your home country and a Spanish-speaking country of your choice are different in that topic.
Paper 1: Comprehension (30%):
This is a 1.5h long comprehension paper, where there are several passages and questions on these passages. Since this is an ab initio course, this paper mainly tests your understanding of Spanish when put in different contexts.
Paper 2: Composition (25%):
This paper is 1 hour long, and you would need to write compositions depending on a situation that they provide you. Examples could include writing an itinerary for a trip, and sending a letter to a Spanish friend describing your home country of Singapore. This paper tests your ability to, well, write quickly and comprehensibly, getting all you ideas on paper accurately with minimal linguistic mistakes.
Is it difficult? The Learning Experience Summed Up
Taking Spanish was downright the best decision I had made last year. I came into the language knowing that I had to work hard, and, well, I was right. Spanish, like other languages, is only “muggable” to a certain small extent. Acing Spanish requires a connection between the language and the learner, and this connection has to kept steady throughout the entire course. However, the environment is extremely conducive, and the Spanish community in ACS(I) encourages each other very well, which is a relief. Of course, the Spanish teacher (Mrs. Virginia) is an amazing teacher, who never fails to make us enjoy learning the language. The course is very well-paced as well, but that also means that you need to constantly put in effort to excel.
As Profesora said, a strong foundation is the most important part of ab initio. The things you learn initially are the most important, and the rest of the course will be building up on that. So, a tip in advance, do not slack for the first few months. The results can be devastating. Of course, don’t slack off for the remaining months as well. Learning a language requires unparalleled dedication and passion, something which you must instil in yourself if you have not already done so. On the whole, the learning experience is fantastic, yet intense. Hard work is definitely a must, and the fruits of hard work extend to more than just a 7 for your IB exams.
Tips for the future Spanish student
I have seen a lot of good and bad things students have done in the past year with regards to ab initio, and I can safely say that the worst is not having a positive mindset. A positive mindset is essential for any challenge, not just picking up a new language. Have a positive mindset from the start, so that you won’t lose out on anything important.
I can safely say that listening to Spanish music has helped me a lot. It acts as a great supplement to the teaching in school. Other than the fact that Spanish music helps you to keep a positive mindset and to connect with the language, there’s also the undeniable fact that Spanish music is legitimately good. In fact, I am currently listening to Spanish music right now, as well as during several times when Spanish is not even related to what I’m doing.
Duolingo. This is one of the best Spanish supplements out there, and it is extremely useful. I have been using it from the start of my Spanish journey, and it has been a great blessing. Althouugh Duolingo teaches Latin American Spanish while Spain’s Spanish is being taught in school, the differences are minimal and both are accepted for IB (just like how it is for English; Both American and British English are accepted).
Don’t be afraid. There is absolutely no reason to be afraid. As I have previously stated, the community of Spanish students in ACS(I) is amazing and loving. We are all a friendly bunch of people who won’t judge you based on your wrong pronunciations or silly mistakes. In the end, we all learn to laugh at ourselves and our incompetence, and we learn from each other’s mistakes and improve on the beautiful language of Español.
Should I take it?
Honestly, it depends on your situation. For me, 2 years was not too much different from 1.5 years (the length of the Hindi course), and I also strongly desired to improve myself by learning something new. The same situation might not apply for you. Perhaps you’re planning to take Chinese B instead.
In the end, go for what you find interesting and useful. If you want to take something different to enjoy your two years in this amazing institution, Spanish ab into might just be the perfect choice for you. The challenge might seem daunting, but, like all challenges, you will mature afterwards and you will obtain a wider perspective on the world that the other languages won’t provide as much.
I would like to remind those who did not take HMT in Secondary School that you have to take the MT A-levels in order to satisfy MOE’s Bilingual Policy. However, this is not much of a problem as people blow it up to be. For me, taking the Hindi A-levels was another challenge I accepted with enthusiasm, and it was over quicker than expected.
After this barrage of information, I guess it’s safe to ask you:
¿Quieres estudiar Español?
And, if you’re convinced, you can safely answer:
And with that, ¡adiós amigos!
Rohan Arya Varma (6.14) is from the graduating batch of 2015.