“How long have you been learning Spanish for?” “What level are you for Spanish?” “How did you learn Spanish?”
As a member of the Spanish and Latin American Society at uni (as President, no less!), I get to have this conversation a lot. I really should have better answers by now. I default to giving this long-winded explanation about how I started learning Spanish at uni, then stopped for about a year, then restarted again yada yada. Then I talk about how I didn’t like the teachers at uni, how I don’t really like classes, that I prefer to learn on my own, that I use resources I find on the internet…
“Do you use Duolingo?” “Do you watch a lot of Spanish movies?”
I’ve realised I feel this compulsion to separate the two periods because I learned so much more in the second one than the first. I put this down entirely to a change in approach.
Most people seem to think that joining a class is the best way to learn a language. You feel part of a cohort, you practice speaking with your partner, your compositions come back covered in red ink, you’re forced to study for the fortnightly vocab tests. The professor teaches the material, and you learn it.
But in a big class, your focus unavoidably gets funnelled towards what’s in the exam. This is even more so at university where your marks determine your average and, to some degree, your future. This approach is counter-intuitive as you’re only demotivated to learn beyond the course outline. To reach proficiency, though, you need a broad vocabulary – something you can’t get if you’re limited by a book.
Secondly, textbooks are boring. Rote learning how to name every piece of furniture in my living room, or filling in the blanks with correctly conjugated verbs really don’t interest me. But stories illegal immigration to USA from Latin America or the significance of dead bodies in Puerto Berrio, Colombia grab and hold my attention.
Of course, you have to factor in your level of knowledge but my point is, when you’re curious, you’ll keep going. You’ll want to understand. And you’ll enjoy a little moment of triumph every time you recognise the word or grammar rule you had to look up the day before.
Those children’s books are easy, but if they’re not stimulating, so what?
If you read my blog, you’ll know I love podcasts, (I think it’s a really underrated medium), I listen to them when I’m on the train/walking/doing chores. I also read articles on my Kindle, and follow my favourite Spanish-language websites and football teams on Facebook and YouTube (I’m addicted to YouTube). This is just me – maybe you prefer movies, literature, or telenovelas.
Takeaway: Don’t wait for someone to teach you. Look and you will discover new worlds to explore. Take an interest, and make the language part of your life. You’ll develop a much wider vocabulary and your conversations will be a whole lot more fun. You can then do a certification exam later.
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