Getting the Most from the Calendar

Using the calendar is very straight-forward. You hang it up and look at it every day, right? In fact, there is more to this calendar than just looking at it. In order to really get the most from this very effective tool, it's worth thinking about the following points:

Where to put the calendar?

It is important to put the calendar in a visible spot where you'll see it regularly. This is a key element because much of the effectiveness of the calendar relies on "visual repetition", that is, looking repeatedly at the same phrases.

Since many people work with computers, one suggestion is to put the calendar not too far from the office computer screen. That way you can glance at the calendar from time to time.

Another suggestion is to put the calendar close to the telephone. You can then quickly locate phrases to use with people on the telephone.

Some people even put the calendar in the bathroom.

Although the wall is the optimum location for the calendar, many people just leave it open on a table or a desk if there is not enough room on the wall.


Dates or no dates?

As you will have noticed, there are spaces for you to write the months, years and dates. If you choose to do so, use a pencil so that the calendar can be reused in other years. Many people choose not to write in the dates and prefer to use the calendar as is.


Taking lessons or self-study

If you are taking a class, you'll quickly discover that the calendar is a perfect complement. You'll observe that much of the class material is illustrated in the daily examples. The advantage of using the calendar with a class is direct access to an instructor for clarification or explanation.

On the other hand, if you are not taking lessons and are using self-study, you are on your own. This means that for explanations of grammar or vocabulary you will have to fend for yourself. You will need access to a good dictionary, a guide to verb conjugations and a grammar guide. All of these are readily available on the Internet.


How the is calendar organized?

When open, the calendar has an upper page with the theme of the month and a lower page with the daily examples. Nothing on the upper page is translated. You'll have to get out your dictionary if necessary to figure out the meanings. These examples are in a large type so that they can be read at a good distance.

The lower page, of course, has the daily examples. All these examples are numbered so that the translations can be easily found at the back of the calendar.

As you contemplate the calendar, the first thing to understand is what the theme of the month is really about. Many themes revolve around certain words, typically verbs.

The verb systems of Spanish and French are notoriously difficult to master because in certain ways they are so much more complex than the English verb system. All the verb forms, and, as a matter of fact all the grammatical concepts, are always illustrated in examples. It is important to learn these forms in contexts that make sense.

The daily examples, of course, illustrate in depth the concept of the month. Notice that in many cases, the examples often have two and sometimes three similar forms over two or three consecutive days. This is done for those really frequent and important forms that are used in many different ways.


Watch out for feminine and masculine forms!

French and Spanish distinguish between feminine and masculine grammatical gender. Words are said to be feminine or masculine. This means that adjectives in particular have to agree in gender with other words in the phrase or with the gender of the speaker.

To simplify the presentation of the examples, we have systematically alternated between masculine and feminine forms. So you must pay close attention to any examples that refer to human beings. You may have to change the form of an adjective to make it agree with the right gender. For example, you may have to change "mais vous êtes fou" to "mais vous êtes folle" or "estoy loca" to "estoy loco".


Three steps to fluency: Imitate - Assimilate - Create

Choose one or more examples to work on every day and repeat until memorized. Of course, it's even better if you have the opportunity to actually use the example a few times in a live situation. This is the initial phase of Imitation where you basically parrot the examples.

If you're really good at parroting the examples, you may even get into a bit of deep water! Native speakers may be fooled into thinking you understand more than you really do. They then start speaking at full speed and end up losing you. You'll have to get out of that predicament, but actually this is a sign that your language skills are good enough to impress some people.

As you work with the examples and begin to understand the underlying principles or patterns, two things will begin to happen. First, you start to hear (spoken language) and see (written language) these principles as you interact with the language.

Secondly, you start to really understand how the language works and you see how phrases are constructed from their various components. This is a phase of comprehension or Assimilation.

At this point, you should be able to play with the examples and modify them according to the requirements of the situation.

With practice, your understanding of how the language works will improve quickly, but the ongoing problem will be one of vocabulary. You'll hear and see words that you don't understand. Even more complicated are idiomatic expressions and sayings that cannot be understood just by the individual words.

The ultimate goal is to be able to make up your own examples based on the patterns you have mastered and your other observations. All of this, of course, is in conjunction with any materals that you may be studying in a class or with a tutor. This is the phase of Creation where the examples in the calendar are basically little structures that you can use as foundations upon which you can build your own original creations. Then speaking the language becomes fun and even second-nature.


Daily repetition is the key

Just like learning to play a musical instrument, repetition is the key to rapid improvement when learning a language. In the beginning, you must repeat the examples as many times as necessary until you feel comfortable speaking at a normal clip.  Of course, you start slowly and work your way up. When you can say the examples accurately at a normal speed, you will have achieved basic fluency. The only thing missing is some vocabulary.


Using the recordings

Listen to the recordings over and over again until you feel you know them by heart. The recordings are models of pronunciation. But just as important is the role of the recordings in teaching us how the grammatical components we see on the page are translated into sound. Unlike the written form, there is no way to see how the spoken phrase is divided into words. By listening to the recordings repeatedly, we can soon begin to hear how the components are structured in the spoken language. Pay attention to how the words flow into each other