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YES! You can learn Spanish. Not for the faint of heart, uncover the truth about learning a language and the unfailing rules for how to avoid the pitfalls. Don’t miss out on the juicy details about a growth mindset to become bilingual.
To get an accurate understanding of your situation, let’s start with a test. (more like a confession)
Which one fits you?
(a) I’ve tried to learn Spanish and failed.
(b) Spanish sounds like gibberish (something I will never understand)
(c) the idea of studying makes me want to run like Forrest Gump
(d) all of the above
Definitely (d) – I’ve done them all spectacularly at some point on my Spanish language learning journey. Even so, two decades and many learning and teaching experiences later, I am successfully bilingual in Spanish.
If you’ve got an (e) ____________________ share in the comments section below.
Learning Spanish SEEMS impossible, but it’s not
People doubt their ability to learn Spanish (everyday, all day and in the worst way). That was me, way back. So, I get it.
My first language learning experiences told me it was impossible to learn a second language. One year of Spanish class and two years of German class in high school taught me that. All I could do is count to ten, laugh at “yo soy un conejo negro” and say “ich bin” (that’s a real cliffhanger or I think I am god).
Those three years of sitting in class gave me zero results. I couldn’t use either language at all. I passed the class, but I failed miserably in real life.After all isn’t the whole point to be able to use the language? The answer is yes, of course, unless you love to study theory. [Note to self – a 4.0 GPA will not buy you a language]
I am living proof – YOU CAN LEARN SPANISH! And if I can do it, so can you, for sure. (did i share any of my stupid stories yet? I love to laugh at myself. I’m sure i will)
I have powers. Super powers to make people’s faces freeze and eyeballs pop out in disbelief. What? How? That’s what they say when I speak Spanish to a native speaker. Darn near every time, their first question is – where are you from? They are confused because I am an American who actually speaks Spanish like them. In their mind I must be from Tijuana. Then I stare back in disbelief because I am thinking about all the mistakes I just made.
How did I get from silent zero to dazzling abilities? That filler story is for later. What matters now is you and your doubts.
The obstacles are real
We are all screwed. Languages by their nature are confusing. Have you ever even though about the reason why we have to learn different languages? I’m thinking about mega-construction companies, tall towers and shrines.
Learning a language is hard.
Yet many, many, many people successfully learn a second or third or fourth… language. It takes the growth mindset. And knowing that what hurts you makes you stronger.
A list of excuses, ahem challenges
The biggest obstacle is you. I know because I was my own worst nightmare. I had to beat myself up every I got the same thing wrong (and I still do the same mistakes). That was bad. Please take notes. Rule #1 Do not beat yourself up for mistakes. Be your number one fan. And if I wasn’t beating myself up, I was neglecting myself by doing the wrong things. It’s so easy to waste your time on things that won’t grow real language skills.
Next to you is them. Who are they? That’s the wrong question. It’s what are they? The classes, the textbooks, the quizzes and tests, the workbook exercises – they are all a lot of work with little pay. Rule #2 Do not become the slave. Make it engaging.
Wait, I lied, this is the bigger than biggest obstacle. The struggle to learn is constant. By learn, I mean the struggle is in using Spanish. Rule #3 Get comfortable with feeling stupid. You are not really stupid; you just feel dumber than an idiot sometimes. The reason why is because you compare your English-self to your Spanish-self. Experience wins every time. If you’re not sure what I mean, here are some exquisite looser experiences:
You speak like a gringo.
The book you’re reading looks like it’s written in heiroglyphics.
You are listening to this lovely person who speaks as fast as the micro-machine commerical guy. “Mas despacio, por favor.” was my mantra.
You must be a really serious and quiet person. The truth is your frustration is growing because you have so much to say, but no words.
And they love talking to you because you have nothing to say.
You have to do this again and you still don’t get it. (The complaint department is closed forever).
After successfully navigating through all of the language learning struggles, I can say who cares? In the end, you will have built a fine character to go along with your perfect accent. Really though, I know exactly how to grow massive language skills without falling into a ditch and dying of starvation.
The food is great here. Here’s a few more tidbits of food for thought:
We are language learning machines
Maybe, like me, your experience has shown you it’s impossible to learn Spanish. That’s an absolute lie. The truth is we are born with our own internal built-in language learning machine. Many tiny parts of the brain are solely dedicated to language. And huge parts of our bodies do the same – actually our entire body. All our senses – sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing – take in the information we need to communicate. Our mouth and tongue create the sounds to make words and put our thoughts into meaningful statements.
You already learned a language
That’s right, you can think, listen, speak, read and write in English. You’ve already successfully learned a language. The first time around it took two years to learn all the sounds, three years to learn how to use words, and thirteen years to hone your skills in all school subjects. Your history of language success proves you can do it again. And even better the next time around with the tips above.
Begin by learning the basic Spanish sounds.
Learn a second language
You’ve got so many advantages this time around. You know how to learn a language, how to make the sounds, how to listen, how to use words to express your thoughts. So why not do it again? We are not limited to one language. In fact, one person can speak many languages.
Just ask the awesome Swiss couple in Budapest. We had a great and hilarious evening full of great conversation in English and Spanish. Their native languages are German, French, Italian and Romanish. They spoke all of them beautifully and with great skill. Americans, we can do better, go for at least two languages.
Be a big baby
Like I said earlier, we are born to learn language. Babies are our best language learning role models. Can you do what they do everyday? Spy on people, be really noisy, and have an insatiable appetite to play. They are always listening to us big people, even when they don’t look or act like it. I know, I have teenagers.
That’s what it takes to learn a language. First, be a great listener and observer. Second, engage with what you are learning through activities. Third, repeat every good thing over and over until you can’t no more. Then, expand on top of that foundation until you’ve got massive language resources. Fourth, fail and never fail to keep on trying until you make yourself understandable.
It’s that simple. All it takes is the focus and energy of a baby.
That is a second set of rules, but don’t tell nobody. It’s our little secret.
Be humble or die of embarrassment. I personally guarantee you will not know what to say, how to say it and even say the wrong things, OFTEN. I’ve been there so many times. I have blown an endless list of breakfasts, greetings, conversations about life, plans and stories with silence. It was so frustrating, having so much to say and no words to spit it out. It looked like I was stupid, like I had nothing to say. At least I can laugh about it now.
Then there was the time I called my nieces “chingas” when I meant to say “changas”. Their laughter said it all. I said a bad word to little kids, how shameful. Mistakes will happen. You will say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Everyone will get over it eventually.
Grow Up and Take Responsibility
So what holds you back? I know I had two years of foreign language classes in high-school. All I could do was count to ten and say “ich bin”. That would be enough to prove it is impossible. Yet five years later I graduated from UCLA with a degree in Spanish language and literature. Does that make sense?
Now it’s time to stop being a big baby. Be a grown up and take responsibility for your thinking. It is possible to learn Spanish. You have what it takes to learn – focus, energy, time and dedication to be successful. If you are not too serious about the formal institutions of education, take some time to create a Spanish Study Plan.
You’ll never regret it, only the embarrassing things you’ll say.