The traditional way to learn Spanish has been to start where a first grader would start. You learn the Spanish alphabet, learn simple Spanish words, and learn simple Spanish grammar. You advance in the same way throughout your studies.
The trouble is, it seems that after a course like this, people may learn Spanish to a degree without ever learning how to hold up their end of a conversation. Speaking in an informal setting is very different from speaking in a formal class.
For this reason, many people who give courses for people to learn Spanish have changed. They now give what are called “conversational Spanish classes.” These classes, by their nature, must be taught by someone who is extremely fluent in conversational Spanish.
Purists would have you dive right into a conversational setting, stumbling as you find your way. Generally, though, you will learn Spanish words that are necessary parts of a conversation first. These can be small words like “and, or, she, what,” and so on.
After you have that basis, you will usually be given a thin volume of conversational topics. These have about two short pages for each topic. Words related to that topic are given. Then, some questions are given as conversation starters.
When you use topics like this, you use the book as a starting point to learn Spanish rather than as the point of the class. You might, for example, have a topic about going on a trip in a car. There will be words that denote different parts of the car, such as the trunk. Then there will be words about stops you make along the way, like gas station.
You use the conversation starters to get you going. In this instance, a question might say, “How did you get your car ready for your last trip?” The students can all use the topic words, along with the small words they know, to answer the question and learn Spanish.
Everyone will get a chance to answer the question eventually, but the conversation should be a lively interchange of ideas if the facilitator is any good at all. As you learn Spanish more, you will have even more to say about each topic. You can draw on words you have learned in other lessons.
Once you have a few lessons under your belt, the facilitator might have you set aside the book for some lessons. During these times, you can talk about yourselves. You can get to know each other. As you learn Spanish, you will also find out what your classmates do and what they like.
Of course the topic words will not give you all the words you need to carry on a normal conversation. They are just a starting point after all. This is where the facilitator comes in. You try to use Spanish words that you do know to describe what you mean. When you get your point across, the facilitator will supply the word.
In conversational classes, the facilitator helps you out, but classmates also help each other. It’s a group effort to begin and sustain a conversation. As you learn Spanish, you will find that it’s less effort than pleasure.