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The intended result of a series of Spanish courses is the ability to speak fluidly, if not extensively, in Spanish. The quickest way to speak quickly is to learn some set phrases. As a result of strategies that involve this learning tool, perhaps 75% of Americans can parrot “¿Dónde está el baño?” and “Dos cervezas, por favor.” However, a disappointingly high percentage of people who can say those things cannot say anything that would be useful outside a restaurant.

Working backwards from my curricular goal of creating verbal facility in my students, I start by expressing the threshold concept that verb-conjugation skills matter more than a broad vocabulary when it comes to speaking clearly and smoothly in Spanish. I tell my students that you can point at objects you want to buy or eat, but there are many verbs that one would not be willing to act out before strangers in order to be understood.