Student Guide

¡Bienvenidas, bienvenidos, bienvenides a su clase de español!

Welcome to your Spanish class! (Wondering why there are multiple versions of the word for welcome? Skip ahead to chapter 2 to find out.)

Congratulations on choosing to embark on the journey to learn Spanish and become more competent interacting within Hispanic cultures. We have created this book and companion materials to help guide you through your first courses in Spanish, but rest assured, this book is not just a compilation of grammatical exercises. It is called Comunidades because we want this book to be an opportunity to introduce you to the vibrant richness of the multiplicity of cultures in the Spanish-speaking world. We also want to remind you that as a student in the United States, that “world” includes your country and intersects with your community. You may already have some experience navigating in Spanish and among the Spanish-speaking world or you may be brand new to the language and its cultures. Whatever your previous experience, we hope that this textbook will expose you to the key cultural topics and linguistic structures to be able to interpret, interact with, and communicate about everyday topics. We also expect that by the end of this course, you will be able to interact appropriately and sensitively within a variety of Hispanic cultures and use that cultural understanding to reflect critically on and gain insights into your own cultural products, practices, and perspectives.

What to expect during class time

If you are like most students, you are probably wondering what this class will be like. The short answer is that every day will be different!

A. 80%–90% of the class will take place in Spanish. This means that you cannot expect to understand every word being spoken, especially at the beginning, when you are just getting started. It is important to keep an open mind and listen carefully to your professor and observe what he or she does. We know from research on second language acquisition that you will build proficiency in a new language through meaningful interaction with and in that new language. Do not expect to spend class time talking about Spanish in English. Instead, know that you are going to build your competency by using Spanish to communicate with others about things that are true and important to you. To help get you started, here are a few phrases you will likely hear from your instructor in the first weeks. Try thinking of different scenarios in which your instructor will tell you and your classmates to do the following things. Note that many commands are represented here as ending with an optional por favor, meaning “please”:

  1. Abran el libro (por favor)—Open the book (please)
  2. Siéntense (por favor)—Sit down (please)
  3. Levántense (por favor)—Stand up (please)
  4. Levanten la mano (por favor)—Raise your hand (please)
  5. Hablen con un compañero—Speak with a classmate
  6. Pregúntense (p.ej., ¿Cómo te llamas?)—Ask each other (e.g., What’s your name?)
  7. Escuchen (por favor)—Listen (please)
  8. Escriban (p.ej., sus nombres)—Write (e.g., your names)

B. Your instructor will use a variety of strategies to make their language comprehensible to you. Especially in the beginning, expect to pay close attention to hand gestures and other body language to make meaning out of what your instructor says. Do not be afraid to demonstrate your lack of understanding: ask your instructor to pause, repeat, or rephrase, or simply demonstrate your need for help. Use the following phrases to help you:

  1. No comprendo—I don’t understand
  2. No entiendo—I don’t understand
  3. ¿Cómo?—What?
  4. Más despacio, por favor—Slower, please
  5. Repita, por favor—Repeat that, please
  6. Necesito ayuda—I need help
  7. ¡Ayuda!—Help!

C. There will be times when you may feel slightly uncomfortable or not completely at ease. It is strange to be exposed to a completely different language and to not be able to communicate at the level at which you are accustomed. Know that you are not alone in this! However, the only way to be able to read, write, understand, and speak Spanish is to practice reading, writing, understanding, and speaking Spanish. Mistakes are part of the process, and your instructor will work hard to make the class environment a safe space to try out new things, stumble over pronunciation, make awkward cultural missteps, and simply engage in the messy, exciting process of language acquisition and growth in cultural competency.

What is expected of you as a student

  1. Spend the entire class period actively engaged. This means you will need to watch, listen, take notes, ask questions, demonstrate your understanding (or your lack of understanding), and work to negotiate meaning with your instructor and fellow students.
  2. Communicate in Spanish as much as possible. This may mean that at the beginning, you are not saying very much more than sí, no, and other single words that you learn, and you are communicating more through nonverbal signals such as raising your hand, standing up, nodding, or shaking your head.
  3. Spend time outside of class working meaningfully in the language. This book includes a variety of resources that your instructor may or may not assign for homework or extension activities. Even if you aren’t working on a specific assignment, it will do wonders for your proficiency and your acquisition of the language if you can dedicate even just a few minutes every day to studying and working in Spanish. See the section “Tips for success” for some specific ideas and strategies you can employ.

What to expect from this textbook

Since this is an open-access textbook, your instructor has the liberty to take the text exactly as it is written or remix, adapt, and change it according to the needs of the class. That being said, the following is a brief explanation of the layout of each of the five chapters in the order in which they were written. As you read, take note of the sections you think might be most helpful to you and remember that this book is free! That means that the text and all accompanying resources are available to you. If you read about a section that you think sounds interesting or useful but your instructor doesn’t choose it to use for class, you can still access it and use it to your advantage.

All five chapters are organized thematically and designed to slowly present the most important, high-frequency, and culturally relevant vocabulary and structures in order to build proficiency in Spanish from the ground up. Since this is a practically oriented textbook, you may be surprised that certain words are presented as key vocabulary even before there’s an explicit grammar lesson on the “rule” or “paradigm” relevant to that word. We have designed this text to introduce students to the most useful and frequent words and structures in order to achieve the communicative goals of the chapter, so the structure and focus are distinct from textbooks built around covering specific grammar topics. Each chapter has the following elements:

  1. Tira cómica. This comic strip will introduce you to the key words and structures of each chapter in context. Taken together, they tell the story of Ana, a Mexican American college student from Indianapolis, as she interacts with members of her different communities and navigates the typical daily life of a college student. Reading about Ana and her life will also help expose you to certain cultural practices in the Spanish-speaking world and should spark some reflection and interesting discussions about similarities and differences between these practices and your own.
  2. ¿Te fijaste que…? This section, meaning “Did you notice…?” in English, signals the specific cultural and linguistic touchpoints of the chapter through a series of inductive questions that draw your attention to those elements as represented in the comic strip. We recommend that you start with the questions and then check your understanding by reading the description and explanation provided, but you can also read the description first and then quiz yourself on your understanding by completing the questions after.
  3. Ampliación. The goal of this section is to provide contemporary examples of the modern cultural products and practices in the Spanish-speaking world by extending “traditional” cultural content, questioning stereotypes, and exposing you to the modernity of the Hispanic world.
  4. Vocabulario, gramática, and culture. Each chapter includes explanations of vocabulary and linguistic structures as well as a series of activities to practice interpreting and employing them. Beyond practicing specific structures and vocabulary in isolation, each chapter will provide a variety of activities and prompts for you to express, interpret, and negotiate meaning in Spanish—that is, opportunities for you to actually communicate in order to express and gain information, learn about others, and make conscious cultural and linguistic connections.
  5. Video entrevistas. As an extension of the cultural information presented, each chapter will present a series of short videos in which native and heritage speakers of Spanish share information about themselves and ask and answer questions of one another. This is an opportunity for you to see and hear Spanish “as it is actually spoken,” since these will be nonscripted interviews with individuals from a variety of backgrounds in the Spanish-speaking world. You will also be able to read a transcript and complete follow-up activities about the videos.
  6. Evaluación. This wouldn’t be a proper college class (or any level of class, for that matter) if there weren’t some way for your instructor to assess you and for you to keep track of your learning. Expect to be evaluated on your ability to interpret written and spoken Spanish, interact with peers in Spanish, and present orally and in writing. To help you in your learning process, we have identified and marked the practice activities that are geared toward each of these communicative modes:
    1. Interpretive activities.
    2. Interpersonal activities.
    3. Presentational activities.

Tips for success

  1. Approach class and class topics with humility and an open mind. As mentioned earlier, it is unreasonable for you to expect yourself to understand every single word that is spoken in class and be able to pronounce everything perfectly right away. In addition, some cultural topics and activities may seem strange and even unnatural to you—such as making close physical contact with a stranger—when you are first exposed to them. That is OK! Try to dig into the discomfort and move beyond your initial reactions and judgments so that real learning can happen!
  2. Do not shy away from speaking Spanish. Persevere even when the words are difficult to pronounce and you know you aren’t saying them correctly. The only way to get comfortable speaking Spanish is by listening to and speaking Spanish! Also, the only way you will know whether your pronunciation is comprehensible is by trying to pronounce the words.
  3. Engage actively and meaningfully in Spanish outside the classroom. Whatever your class schedule is, you will undoubtedly need more hours of contact with Spanish to develop true proficiency. Just like any other academic subject, you will need to devote time and energy to study and practice outside of class. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
  • Take your time with homework materials, pausing to check for your understanding and quizzing yourself before you move on. Homework assignments are not just activities to “get through” but important opportunities for you to grow in your proficiency.
  • Reread the “Tira cómica” and other key sections of the textbook, going slowly to check for your understanding.
  • Keep a vocabulary notebook and jot down words and phrases in Spanish that you see and hear. Review these words often, connect the words to items and events in real life, and start to form sentences with them once you are able.
  • Review your notes and all class materials regularly, at least once a week. Read through them and try to come up with more sentences and examples.
  • Take any and all opportunities to revise and resubmit your work, incorporating any feedback from your instructor.
  • Meet regularly with classmates to go over content and materials from class and practice together. Try to re-create activities from class together.
  • Attend any university events that involve Spanish or the Hispanic community.
  • Watch films and shows in Spanish, with English subtitles as necessary. Most streaming services have tons of content in Spanish.
  • Listen to music, podcasts, or news in Spanish. There are so many resources out there for language learners.
  • Take every opportunity to speak Spanish with friends, coworkers, teammates, and community members. If you don’t regularly interact with Spanish speakers, consider using your university’s tutoring service for extra practice. Many schools offer these types of services free of charge to students.

D. Be patient and kind to yourself. Learning a language takes time, practice, and dedication. Don’t give up easily and try to keep working through mistakes. They are part of the process of learning!

Engagement activities

After reading through the course syllabus and the above introduction, complete the following activities by jotting down a list or a brief reflective paragraph in English:

  1. Consider how you feel about taking Spanish this semester. Where do you fall in the following diagram, and why? What prior experiences, expectations, and feelings are influencing this? Where do you think they are coming from? Which may be helpful in your journey this semester, and which may not?

7—Super Excited! 5—Positive     3.5—Neutral   2—Not Great  1—Awful

  1. Reread the section “What to expect during class time.” Which aspects of this section are most exciting/energizing to you and why? Is there anything in this section that makes you feel nervous or uncomfortable? What could you do to overcome those feelings?
  2. If your whole class community makes a commitment to cultivating a successful community of Spanish-language learners, you all can have an amazing semester. What are you committed to doing in order to contribute to your class community and be successful as a Spanish learner?


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Comunidades by Yuriko Ikeda and Julia C. Baumgardt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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