Tag Archives: Spanish

010 Ways to Actually Learn a Foreign Language

6 mins 5 secs

0. Start with why, yes I know this is also the title of a book ( which is queued on my reading list), but this absolutely essential. If you do not have precise reasons why you want to learn something, be it a language or a new skill, when the tough times come ( i.e., the plateaus ) you are going to experience more friction than usual trying to go from where you stand to where you want to go. Starting with why does help, but do not delude yourself this won’t erase any of the difficulties that may arise, but it will give you some traction to keep you going.

1. Be ready to work: there is no way around it! There is no magic potion you can drink and you will suddenly wake up being able to understand another language. The ideas which we will discuss here are meant to be simple but simple doesn’t mean easy. Remember nothing that is really worth our efforts is easy or comes fast.

2. Have an open mind they say. It sounds easier than it actually is. When you learn a language, you are also learning a new way of seeing the world, which might utterly contradict your own culture’s practices and beliefs. Calm down, breathe and let it be, the world is not going to explode because you actually realized that the way you do things is not THE way of doing them. On the contrary, getting to know another culture with a different worldview will expand your horizons and will strengthen your knowledge of your own culture. You might be surprised by the things you’ll learn or rediscover about your own culture that you just took for granted.

3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, for it is absolutely ok to do so, what’s more, they are inherent in the learning process. Think about the time when you were a baby and were learning how to walk, didn’t you stumble and fall repeatedly? Yes, you did, but that did not stop you from getting up and trying again and again and again until you succeeded. So why should it be any different when learning how to do something else?

4. At first, you will have an accent, and you probably will still do even if you are proficient, but guess what? Accents are sexy! So don’t make the mistake of being paralyzed because you won’t sound like a native speaker, what’s important is being able to communicate.

5. Accept the fact that you will be lost, especially when hearing words for the first time, there are times in which you will only understand two words out of a ten-word sentence, and you know what? It’s perfectly normal. Jared Diamond gives an example of this in his book “Guns Germs and Steel”. He says that the very first pre-Columbian people that saw Colombus’ ships approaching could not actually see them because they did not know what a European ship looked like, it was only after the shaman described it to them that they began to see it! As we say in Spanish ” El que no sabe es como el que no ve” roughly translated “He who does not know is the same as he who cannot see.” Your brain cannot recognize information it does not hold, hence the “fog” you experience when you don’t understand. For the longest time, I thought that the line: “C-notes by the layers” in Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” said “Seadoos by the lakes” it was only years after I first listened to that song that the pennies finally dropped. When I did understand what the song actually said and what it meant ( it’s all about them Benjamins yo!) I felt like a cork was removed from my ears and I was able to hear!

6. Ignore people who criticize you, and make fun of you when they hear you trying to speak the language you are learning, remember that your priority is to use the language, so the only way to achieve that goal is to actually try, and after that, you guess it, try!

7. Do not fall into the trap of wanting to know how everything in the language works. Instead, do speak, practice, and try. At first, you’ll feel like an actor that is playing a part, or someone who is repeating like a parrot without knowing why, or even worse; someone who is lying and saying things he doesn’t believe ( point 2). However, the more you « lie », the more you begin to believe the lie and the easier it would be to understand why people see the world that way. This will make things simpler to understand once you get into the language’s nitty gritty grammar aspect because you’ll say it with conviction.

Now that we’ve tackled the significant psychological barriers to learning a language, let us get into some tactics:

8. Use a unilingual dictionary, yes I said it: unilingual. But why oh why? Well when you use a unilingual dictionary to look up a word, not only are you learning the word we looked up, but also some words of the definition which, you eventually had to look up as well to understand the original word’s meaning. In this manner, you multiply the number of new words you learn and as an added bonus you learn them in context. The fact that you get used to shaping the meaning you want to convey in the target language really helps you to consistently make the effort to actually use the language we want to learn instead of becoming eternal translators going back and to our mother tongue, which is a heavy cognitive task.
We should ask ourselves whether we want to actually communicate in the target language or not. If the answer is yes, then we can use the said language as we learn it!

9. Get you entertainment on! Yes watch as many movies, tv shows documentaries as you wish (Yay! you now can feel better about those “one season in one sitting” tv-watching strings), but there is a catch; change the audio and subtitles to the target language.
At first, you won’t understand a thing, ( or perhaps it won’t be the case), and that’s ok ( more on that on the next point). At first, you will be distracted by the subtitles and you’ll spend your time reading and not actually watching the movie.
One thing you can do is watch an old DVD that you’ve seen many times so that you know the storyline by heart. You have to do so in the target language (that is the language you wish to learn), that way if you miss some of the action it won’t be that big of a deal since you’ve seen the movie before.
Why is this a good strategy? Well, you’ll begin to understand the relationship between the pronunciation of the words and their spelling, for there are some languages in which the way you spell some words is not the same way you pronounce them. ( Yes, English I am looking at you!) By doing this, when you see a new word, which you won’t understand right off the bat, you can pause the movie and go look it up in the dictionary. Now, this is no fun. However, the movie is just the excuse you are using to learn a new language; with time, you’ll start noticing your progress as you move away from reading the subtitles because your mind will have made the link between the pronunciation and the spelling of the words you hear. When this happens, you won’t need to read the subtitles as much because your ear will have gotten used to hearing and recognizing the sound patterns and the rhythm of the target language.

10. Try to find someone to practice the language with. Post an ad on Craigslist or your local version of it, so that you can meet and speak with other people, who, like you, have made learning the same language a priority. Even better, visit your local University and go to the international’s students office and post an ad offer help with your mother tongue in exchange for help in the language you seek to learn. You live far from a University? Well, many apps allow you to practice a language with other people. I like Anchor.fm because it allows you to meet interesting people and have great conversations while you practice your target language. Don’t worry about not being able to explain the ins and outs of your language to the other person, should she have a question about grammar and why it is a mistake to say this and not that. You can tell her that it is just that way and the other option just sounds funny/weird. Remember, neither you nor the person helping you have to be linguists to help the other practice a language.

Language as The Sixth Sense

2 mins 39 secs

❝The limits of my language are the limits of my world.❞

‒Ludwig Wittgenstein

We experience the world through our five senses, sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell, but what if I told you that we indeed can develop another sense? You would say to yourself, ” he must be joking right?”

Well, no. I am serious; when I say language as the sixth sense, I don’t mean it in that sense, (no pun intended). What I mean is that language can help us hone our senses by sharpening our perception. How can this be possible?
Well, language shapes the way we relate to ourselves, to others and the world around us. When we learn a new language we are presented with a new set of senses; we acquire new ways of seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting and even touching. We experience the world through someone else’s perspective.
To fully “speak truthfully,” in another language, that is, understanding what we say and why we express things in such a way, and not in another; we are forced to wear cultural sunglasses, i.e. adopt a new worldview. When we do this we learn new ways of making sense of reality, and quite often, the vocabulary in our native language grows by leaps thanks to the new perspectives brought forth by the new language we are learning.
One of the reasons why at first, we do not understand anything or just one or two words from a sentence, when we first hear it, is because our senses are not sharp enough to receive the new information. Hasn’t it happened to you that when you listen to a song for the nth time, you finally get that one word that had eluded you since forever?
Or once you know what a “weird” word means, and by weird, I mean that it does not have a shared root with your native language or Latin, it ceases to be weird because now your brain has something to pair it down with and thus can make sense of it.
Jared Diamond illustrates this in his book, “Guns, Germs and Steel” when he says that native Americans could not at first “see” the Spanish ships because they had never seen them before. It was once the Shaman described the ships to them that the rest of the people were able to see them.
To me, a foreign language is that Shaman, who broadens our horizons and allows us to see and experience what others cannot.
Let’s take something we do every day to illustrate my point further: Looking things up: asking Mr. Google and getting lost in Wikipedia.
When you do a Google search, if you can read English you are in luck, because most of the Internet “speaks” English, but there are sometimes in which a second or a third language come in handy. Let’s say you are Interested in wine, a little French, Italian and Spanish can help you when searching for wine-related terms because those languages, influence the wine universe profoundly.
Wikipedia is this incredible fountain of knowledge, and it is dandy because 98% of the time you find what you are looking for in English. But there is that 2%, sometimes the only articles you can get your hands on are not in English or the English version is not as detailed as the one in the original language.
So, in this era in which information is gold, having access to more details or getting closer to the source can mean having a competitive edge over other people who just speak one language.

Even if I did not convince you, I think that if you read that yesterday, I wore a mauve shirt to work instead of just “plain” purple, all of sudden my chic level goes up, right?

What do you think? Can knowing a foreign language give you an advantage in life or business? If so which one? Leave a comment below!

The Spanish Speaker Teaching English in France

3 mins, 7 secs

❝Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.❞

‒Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

The story of my life right now. It’s a great conversation starter, but it always begets the same question: “Why don’t you just teach Spanish, that’d be easier for you right? If only I had a fraction of a cent every time someone asks me this question…;)
The truth is yes, I could teach Spanish, but it wouldn’t be easy, on the contrary, it would be hard. Why? Because it is my native language and it is second nature to me.

We take for granted the words that flow effortlessly out of our mouths; we never stop to think that there are some people right now struggling but going at it in earnest trying to learn our language.

My default answer some years ago to a question about Spanish grammar or word choice was always “because it sounds better that way.”

Hasn’t it happened to you that your colleague, friend or even significant other, non-native speaker of your language asks you why this or that is wrong, and the only answer you can come up with is that it sounds better in such or such a way?
You know what the right answer is, but you cannot express it in words clear enough for someone, who doesn’t wear the same glasses as you do, (i.e. they do not speak your language) to fully understand.

I know I get frustrated when my partner asks me a question, and I can’t fully explain to her why she should not mirror certain expressions from French when speaking Spanish because they won’t just work; (I’m getting better at it, though).

That is why I chose not to become a Spanish teacher because here in France they require teachers to have a thorough understanding of the language and the culture references that surrounds the languages they teach, ( like in most countries, I am sure), and how it relates to the French language and culture.

So you see, part of that equation was non-existent for me. I did not have a strong understanding of Spanish and the Hispanic culture. All I had were memories from high school classes I hated because every one of my Spanish/literature teachers gave me crap about my horrible handwriting. In fact, I thought Spanish was not cool:-( it wasn’t until many years later that I came to love my language because I had gained a better understanding of it as result of being confronted out of necessity (French) and out of choice (English) to other languages and cultures.

Recently, while talking to a fellow Colombian and teacher (Spanish), I found out that apparently (RUMOR) her professors at the university told her that they were unconsciously more strict with people whose first language was, you guessed it, Spanish.

This is a rumour because it would be unethical not to give EVERYONE a fair chance when taking a course in a higher education institution. Perhaps the person that told this to my friend did it, to scare her and to remind her not to rest on her laurels and think that obtaining her teaching degree was a done deal just because she was a native speaker.

So, what seemed like an easy choice, turned out to be, in fact, a tough one. With all this in mind, I decided to become an English teacher even though “the odds were against me,” for I had fallen in love with the language and its culture ever since I was 8 or 9 years old. This choice enabled me, with the help of teachers, family members, and mentors, to live and study in The States, Canada to end up in La France, after getting a High School diploma, a Bachelor’s degree and a master’s in chronological and geographical order.

Don’t get me wrong; I still had to learn a lot of things and further the knowledge of the things I knew. On top of that, I had to get my knowledge of French at par with the requirements of the M. Ed. program I took and the competitive exam I had to pass to be a teacher here.

Thus, by avoiding something seemingly straightforward, which in reality would’ve turned out to be laborious, I chose something that seemed hard at first:

“What? You’re going to teach a language that is not your own in a country that speaks a third language?”

Even though it was indeed hard, it turned out to be easier at the end, compared to the obvious choice of just teaching my native language.

“Sometimes doing the hard things is an easy way to get solid and lasting results.”    

-The Language Monk.


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