Learning a language opens so many opportunities to New Zealanders – and there are an exceptional number of reasons to embrace learning Spanish. Studying NCEA Spanish provides an excellent grounding to your language journey. But more than that, NCEA Spanish has a lot of resources available to ensure that Kiwi high school students become fluent Spanish speakers.

However, while the New Zealand Ministry of Education and the NZ Qualifications Authority have a plentiful supply of teaching and learning resources for NCEA Spanish – many people find the way NCEA works and the Spanish Syllabus itself quite confusing. So we're going to help simplify NCEA Spanish for New Zealand learners so that the only thing you need to worry about is when you use "el" or "la" when talking about your "examen".

Traditional Spanish Bull Fighting Watercolour
Talking art and culture in NCEA Spanish. Image by Brigitte from Pixabay

Understanding how NCEA Works

Many people, particularly parents, struggle with understanding NCEA because you can take multiple levels at the same time and different subjects. Before 2002 there were few choices for studying subjects at the higher levels of high school.

Generally, there was one science subject, one English subject, one maths subject and so on. You studied five or six different topics for an entire year then sat an exam at the end. You then received a "School Certificate" in each subject you passed. It was a very straightforward system, but many students fell through the cracks, and it didn't really help prepare students for the modern world.

Think of NCEA as being more like a university degree. You have an overall qualification that you're working towards. While you have specific subjects that you must take, you can also mix and match papers at different levels and areas. The key is that you obtain enough credits in each level to gain your NCEA qualifications.

To gain NCEA, you need to get 80 credits – and most "standards" (papers) are worth 5 credits each.

Spanish travel poster
Passing NCEA Spanish with full immersion at home. Image by 7089643 from Pixabay
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NCEA Spanish Endorsement

In addition to earning NCEA, you can also receive an "Endorsement" in individual subjects.

From the NZQA website:

Students will gain an endorsement for a course if, in a single school year, they achieve:

  • 14 or more credits at Achieved or Merit or Excellence, and
  • at least 3 of these credits from externally assessed standards and 3 from internally assessed standards.

 So, for example, to gain an Endorsement for NCEA Spanish Level 1, you could take both:

90908: Demonstrate understanding of a variety of spoken Spanish texts on areas of most immediate relevance
90911: Demonstrate understanding of a variety of Spanish texts on areas of most immediate relevance

And one of:

90909: Give a spoken presentation in Spanish that communicates a personal response
90910: Interact using spoken Spanish to communicate personal information, ideas and opinions in different situations
90912: Write a variety of text types in Spanish on areas of most immediate relevance

Then by working with a tutor to ensure that you are studying the correct information and gaining practice in speaking, writing, and reading, you increase your ability to achieve Achieved or Merit or Excellence on each "Achievement standard". Woman dancing while wearing Traditional Mexican costume

Embrace traditional Hispanic dance while studying NCEA Spanish Image by ERA CAUDILLO from Pixabay

How to take NCEA Spanish if there is no Spanish teacher

You may find that your school doesn't offer enough Spanish standards to meet the minimum requirements. If that is the case, you can first check on the NZQA website that your school offers all available Spanish Standards for the appropriate level. Standards are revised regularly to ensure they meet students' needs, tertiary education, and employers.

You may be able to enrol in additional NCEA Spanish Achievement Standards through Te Kura. This is New Zealand's largest state school and is responsible for delivering distance education from early childhood to NCEA Level 3. While most people are aware that New Zealand has a great correspondence school for home-school, many don't realise that you can co-enrol. This means that if your high school doesn't offer a subject that you particularly want to take, you can enrol for just an individual standard – including Spanish at all levels, including year 7 and year 8.

Should you Hire a Spanish Tutor or an NCEA Tutor?

Even one session with a tutor can help ensure that you are on track to getting the grade you want in NCEA Spanish. But the question is, do you need someone specialising in tutoring NCEA Spanish or someone who can simply help you practice your Spanish?

Finding someone fluent in Spanish to practice with is going to be the cheapest option. But that doesn't mean it will be value for money. You will need to know what you need to practice to explain your work areas.

Hiring a Spanish Teacher means working with someone who can provide a more robust understanding. Teaching a language requires knowledge of the grammatical structure of the language and how to share this knowledge with a student.

Seeking the help of a tutor experienced in NCEA Spanish means that you will be working with someone who knows the language fluently and someone who can help you understand the questions you will be asked in your exam. This means that you can better focus on developing the skills and understanding you need.

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The Learning Curve of NCEA Spanish

To pass NCEA Spanish Level 1, you will need to learn around 700 Spanish words. That can feel like a daunting task when you first look at the vocabulary list. However, compare this to the top ten words used in English:

  1. the
  2. be
  3. and
  4. a
  5. of
  6. to
  7. in
  8. I
  9. you
  10. it

in Spanish (without gender variations), this looks like:

  1. el
  2. ser
  3. y
  4. un
  5. de
  6. a
  7. en
  8. yo
  9. tu
  10. eso

Just like that, you've learnt ten words. But as none of them is helpful to form a sentence, you'll need to know a few more – and in this way, you'll be able to not only be able to communicate in Spanish but will have learnt the vocabulary you need at a much faster rate than you realise.

For NCEA Spanish Level 2, you only need to learn around 300 words, and for NCEA Spanish Level 3, that drops down to about 150 words.

However, don't focus on just memorising a dictionary! The goal of learning a language is communication. The New Zealand Spanish curriculum provides scaffolding is a key to sharing your thoughts and ideas with others.

A day of the dead exhibition
Studying NCEA languages can lead to the Day of the Dead Exhibition. Image by Nikola Tinková from Pixabay

Preparing for NCEA Spanish Exams

Whether you hire a tutor, find a study buddy, or go it alone, everything you need to know about your exams is available on the NZQA website. Your teacher will also help you find past exams and understand the information you will need to master.

Whether you will need to understand spoken or written Spanish will largely depend on the particular unit standard, you are taking. Of course, as you move through the levels, there will be an expectation that your knowledge and ability to communicate will also grow.

All levels use natural language and sources, so listening to Spanish music and watching or reading news pieces are great ways to practice. You could even justify spending time on Spanish social media. The short communication of Twitter and TikTok is easier to build confidence than longer pieces.

The downside of using everyday Spanish sources is that they aren't simplified or slowed down like crafted language learning pieces. Again, this can make for a steep learning curve, but once you "get" it, you'll find your progress faster.

The guidelines state that a student taking Spanish at NCEA Level 1 should be able to recognise:

  1. Where a noun, adverb or adjective can easily be constructed from the verb or vice versa;
  2. Obvious cognates and loan words;
  3. Numbers, days of the week and months of the year;
  4. Structural words like articles, pronouns and prepositions
  5. The opposite of a word e.g agradable desagradable;
  6. Countries and words denoting nationality, especially those that pertain to the Spanish-speaking world.

Assessing Your Knowledge of Spanish

Testing your own knowledge is challenging, as it is very easy to gloss over the areas you don't know and focus on the areas you are comfortable with. So the NZQA suggests creating a checklist and thinking about how well you can talk or write about:

  • Where places and people are
  • Things you like or dislike
  • How you feel
  • Something you have to do
  • Describe other people, places, or things

Your teacher will likely have you keep a diary or notebook with new words you learn, but you can also note ways to use the new words in your vocabulary.

Why Excellence in NCEA Matters

While at Level 1 and Level 2, gaining Excellence will be helpful for in-school recognition, specific scholarships, or exchanges; at Level 3, there are distinct advantages. This can lead you into Scholarship Spanish, which could provide the funding for your tertiary education.

Suppose you get a scholarship in a single subject. In that case, the Ministry of Education will award you $500. In contrast, the top few students in New Zealand are awarded $10,000 a year for three years of tertiary study. While these obviously aren't easy to achieve, with study and support, they are achievable.

Keep Learning Spanish

Try to think in Spanish when you are working through problems from other subjects – for example, the English standard "Communicate with people from other cultures" could provide an excellent opportunity for you to think about how you communicate with people from different Spanish speaking countries.

There are so many opportunities that learning Spanish can provide, but balancing all the demands of NCEA can be difficult. Luckily, you can use your budding Spanish ability with other subjects. Keep speaking, writing, and thinking in Spanish.

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Alison