Learning Spanish or any new language is something that many people have aspired to do. Beyond being fun, useful and rewarding, learning a new language has many benefits. You can widen your job opportunities, improve your interpersonal skills, and develop a better understanding of people and their cultures. Learning a new language has even been shown to have medical benefits. Some studies have shown that learning a new language as an older adult can stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia.
With so many benefits, the decision to learn a new language is a no brainer. But for many who have tried, learning a new language is not so easy.
BECAUSE THEY ARE DOING IT WRONG!
If a two year old can learn to speak a new language, why can’t an adult?
The response that you will most often hear is that children’s brains are like “sponges” and are designed to learn more readily. This may be true to a degree, but it is not as much as you might think.
In fact, it’s more about a child’s circumstances that allow them to learn a language so quickly. A child just learning to speak, doesn’t have any other form of communication short of simple gestures and crying. In order to get what he wants, he has a need to communicate via verbal language. He can’t fall back on his native language like an adult can.
This tells us a lot about how we should be learning a language as an adult.
Types of Language Learning
There are many traditional approaches to learning a language, many of which you have likely tried; the most common of which is formal language classes. This method involves mindless memorization, translation and recitation, which often reaps little benefit.
For years I took Spanish classes in school and learned quite a bit of Spanish grammar and vocabulary. When it came time to actually speak the language I found myself frustratingly attempting to translate the words in my head. This was a slow process that inevitable left me way behind in any conversation.
Another method that is often used is language software like Rosetta stone or Rocket Spanish. This type of software is great in that it allows you develop direct relations between words and objects, instead of translating. This allows for a more natural thought process, and is more conducive to learning in a way our mind was designed to. However, it has its drawbacks.
Language Software doesn’t allow you develop conversational skills by directly applying the language. Also, you don’t get experience with slang and colloquialisms which are a bigger part of everyday conversation then many realize.
If classes and software are no good, then immersion has to be the way right?
To define it, immersion, is the act of completely involving yourself in a countries culture and language. Sometimes, this works great. But sometimes it doesn’t. The problem is, often time’s people in foreign countries speak English better then you can speak their language. The first time I visited Germany, almost everyone I spoke German to would pick up on my American accent and start speaking English. This isn’t true everywhere, but is increasingly common.
The other way
Throughout my high school and college career, I took classes in Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. In order to learn I practiced these languages whenever I could and even went to Panama, Portugal and Asia. Despite my years of effort and even my immersion overseas, I was still not proficient. It wasn’t until I developed a NEED to learn the language that I truly began to speak on a proficient level.
Having a NEED to learn a language is the secret for adults to learn a second language.
Immersion and formal classes are helpful tools, but you won’t truly learn a language until you put yourself in a situation where you NEED to communicate in a foreign language with no alternatives.
When I first became a Police Officer, I often worked in Hispanic Neighborhoods, and responded to crimes where the victims and suspects only spoke Spanish. There were other Officers that spoke Spanish, but were often unavailable. At first I was afraid to speak Spanish, for fear of saying something incorrect. But once I overcame this, I began learning very quickly.
When it came to Portuguese, I took classes in college and even practiced speaking with my girlfriend. I didn’t really start learning until my girlfriends parents (Who are Brazilian and speak zero English) stayed with us in an overly crowded one bedroom apartment for several months.
In order to get through my everyday life, I had to speak Portuguese. I didn’t have a choice, as they didn’t speak English and my girlfriend often wasn’t around to translate. I didn’t worry about grammar or making mistakes, as communicating my point was more important.
To sum it up, if you really want to learn a new language, keep these tips in mind:
Develop a NEED to speak the language
Put yourself in a situation where you have no choice but to speak the language in order to communicate. If you know someone who speaks your desired language and English, develop a rule that you will only communicate in the language that you are learning. If you are able to immerse yourself in a foreign country, do it, just don’t resort to English when times are tough.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
This is probably one of the biggest hurdles people have to cross. They are terrified to say something wrong, so they say nothing at all. Once you get over this fear, you will truly begin to learn. Some people refute this, as they say you will pick up bad habits. But in my experience your grammar and pronunciation will get better with time, so don’t overly stress it.
Often times you will struggle in a conversation to understand what the other person is saying, or to say what you want to say. Just remember to relax, and work through it. Most people will appreciate that you are trying and take the time to help you. Communicating with people in a foreign language should be fun, not stressful.
Learn phrases before vocabulary
Many people end up learning mountains of vocabulary with no idea how to use them. I learned that often in a conversation, you say the same phrases just in different ways and with different words. Learning phrases will also help you understand people quicker, and will allow you to improve your pronunciation and grammar.
Keep a dictionary or mobile translation app on hand
Always have on hand some method of looking up words or phrases. If you need to know a word or phrase in a conversation, you can have it on hand immediately. Just don’t overly rely on it, as it will impede your learning.
So that’s it.
To learn Spanish or any new language, keep those tips in mind and you will be learning in no time. The hardest part of this is finding a situation that forces you to speak the language. I understand this may be difficult for some, but if your committed you can make It happen.
Once you have that you will learn naturally.
Disclosure: Some of the links in my posts are affiliate links. If you purchase the products, I receive a small commission. However, I only recommend products or services I personally use and highly value.