Friday, July 8, 2016

Advice on Reaching Advanced-Low on the OPI Part 2

Since I wrote the post Advice on Reaching Advanced-Low on the OPI, it has become the most popular on my blog. As I continue to tutor people who need to achieve this level, I have come to realize that there are other pieces of advice that I usually give that I should include on my blog, so I'm creating a Part 2.

Listen more -a lot more! This is often overlooked since improving speaking is the goal but as a university instructor of Spanish that uses comprehensible input (CI),  I cannot overemphasize how important it is to substantially increase the time spent doing active listening. As a non-native second language user, listening has been the primary skill I have developed and the one I started to work on more that 40 years ago when I first began to hear Spanish. Listening should precede speaking; it can help with pronunciation and developing an ear for the basic structures, so you know what sounds right and expanding your vocabulary. Recently, I came across a video of young lady who went from Intermediate-High to Advanced-Low and also cites how increasing her time spent listening in Spanish was one of the keys to moving up a level.   She had been listening, as I recall, for approximately 6 hours a week, but increased that amount to nearly 20 hours a week, which she says made a great difference for her.  Similarly, this page, from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Minnesota suggests that to reach advanced one should “engage with the language 15-20 hours per week outside of class over the course of several years”.

What should you listen to? Anything you can find that is comprehensible (80% or more) and interesting to you. There are many choices on, plus podcasts, movies and series on Netflix, online radio, music, etc. Specifically for the OPI, I'd recommend videos that are conversational-like and involve paragraph-length narrations and descriptions, which is primarily what you must produce during the interview. Here are some sites where you can hear natives doing just that on a variety of topics: ,, and

Practice telling complete, cohesive stories, especially in past tense. Complete means there should be a beginning, a middle and an end. Part of telling a complete story is the details you include. For example, let's say that you were asked about something you did recently and you tell about how you went to a restaurant to celebrate a friend's birthday. An Intermediate speaker might say :

Fui a un restaurante. Era el cumpleaños de un amigo. Es su restaurante favorito. Nuestros amigos fueron tambien. Tuvimos que esperar un poco cuando llegamos. Había mucha gente ahí. Yo comí pollo pero todos mis amigos comieron carne. Me gustó mucho. Comimos y hablamos mucho y nos divertimos. Nos quedamos en el restaurante 3 horas. Llegué tarde a casa pero dormí bien.

An Advanced speaker might the story this way, adding specific information about the relationship between the people involved and when and why things happened:

El sábado pasado, un amigo mío que celebraba su cumpleaños ese día, me invitó, junto a unos amigos mutuos, a comer a su restaurante favorito. Cuando llegué al lugar, nuestros amigos ya estaban ahí esperando una mesa ya que el sitio estaba lleno de gente que, como nostoros, no había hecho reservaciones. Gracias a Dios no tuvimos que esperar mucho pero no lo notamos porque pasamos el tiempo hablando. Ya en la mesa, llegó enseguida la mesera y menos mal, ya que todos teníamos hambre. Yo pedí pollo mientras que los otros en el grupo pidieron carne. La comida estuvo muy rica y disfrutamos mucho comer y hablar con nuestros amigos especialmente en ocasiones como ésta. La pasamos tan bien que no nos dimos cuenta que ya habían pasado 3 horas y como se hacía tarde todos decidimos que era hora de irnos. Llegué tarde a casa pero dormí bien esa noche.

The Intermediate version is more a series of sentences and only highlight the primary activites without giving details to describe some of the circumstances surrounding them. For example, “tuvimos que esperar” is mentioned in the Intermediate version but in the Advanced version, a why is given- “ya que el sitio estaba lleno de gente había hecho reservaciones”.
The Advanced version takes many of the sentences from the Intermediate version and connects them to form longer ones and also uses more cohesive devices such as ya que, mientras que and como.
It also uses more adverbial phrases like cuando, enseguida, and ya to situate the events of the story to show the relationship between them. All of these features of the Advanced version help to make the sentences flow together and make the story more complete.

As you practice telling more Advanced-like stories, try to include information about when an event took place (el sábado pasado, hace...días, etc.) and also the why behind it - (¿Por qué a ese lugar? ¿Por qué tuvieron que esperar?) Making these types of changes to the way you tell anecdotes will help you start moving closer to achieving Advanced-Low.

Have you reached Advanced-Low or higher?  What did you do to get there?  If you'd like, share your story in the comments section below.