3 things I wish someone had told me when I was first learning languages
Podcast episode 54 – SEE ALL EPISODES
Today I bring you some tips that’ll help you become fluent in Spanish.
Today’s question comes from Tim, one of my Twitter followers. Tim sent me a message saying: “Is there anything you wish you had known when you started learning languages? Anything that would have made it easier?”
See also: Maria’s step-by-step Spanish courses.
Learning languages: intro
I love this question, and I’ve thought about it a lot. There are a few things that would have saved me a lot of time, and money. But I can think of 3 which stand out above the rest.
They really would have made my language learning a lot less painful. Hopefully, they will help you with your Spanish.
These are my three thoughts.
Learning languages: number 1
You don’t have to get bored to make progress
As you may have discovered by now, few things in life can be more boring than learning a foreign language. And many courses out there certainly make sure that it is that way. But it doesn’t have to be.
I cannot tell you how many mind-numbing language courses I’ve come across. They seem to follow the weird principle of: no pain no gain.
But, if there’s something I’ve learned in my many years of learning languages and teaching Spanish, is this: When you’re learning a language, if you get bored, you’ll soon give up. Guaranteed.
I guess we all get bored for different reasons. For me, having to use a dictionary is top of the list.
Those courses that rely on you having to look up words in a dictionary are a complete no-go area for me. If the course author cannot be bothered giving me a glossary, I’m not getting that course. And I certainly won’t recommend it to you.
And thank goodness, the days when people had to learn a language with a stodgy grammar book are long gone.
With today’s technology, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy studying Spanish. Fortunately, there are some great courses that make it real fun.
Learning languages: embrace technology
You can learn with videos, audio lessons, children’s books, audiobooks, or a mixture of them all. You name it.
When I look at the courses I first used when I was learning English, I’m amazing I managed to plow through them.
Today, courses like that are on my black list. Instead, I like getting courses with plenty of audio recordings.
I’ve just bought myself a new French course, and I’ve put all the recordings on my iPhone and iPad, and I listen to them throughout the day.
And I’ve got the course book on my iPad too, so I can go through my French lessons wherever I am. It’s so easy, and so much fun!
I think half of the French I know I’ve learned in the kitchen, while I cook. You see, I love cooking. Especially if I can do something else at the same time.
So, how can this help you? Here’s my tip: If you don’t enjoy the Spanish course you’ve got, find a different one. There are plenty to choose from, and there’s bound to be one out there that you really enjoy.
Learning languages: number 2
My second thought is this: Small steps are worth more than big jumps
I remember looking forward to the summer, when I could spend hours every day learning English. Or so I planned in my head. I was going to make so much progress in a few weeks. But it never happened. Something always came up. There were unexpected distractions, family commitments, places to go to, and, above all, truly pathetic excuses for not getting on with my language lessons.
I then made a great discovery: what makes you fluent in a language is regular, steady progress. If you persevere every day, for several months, you’re guaranteed to get to the next level. No doubt some days will be better than others. Sometimes you won’t get much done. But, one day, all of a sudden you’ll notice how much you’ve improved. And it’s such a wonderful feeling.
Now, I always encourage my students to have micro goals and small plans for their Spanish. I tell them: “Tiny steps will take you anywhere. You just need to keep going”.
Learning languages: number 3
And my third and final thought is: The sooner you start speaking, the easier it’ll be.
Speaking in a foreign language can be really scary. All your instincts tell you you shouldn’t do it. You’re going to make a fool of yourself, you’re going to embarrass your friends, people are going to think you’re mad.
And yet, the only way to become fluent in Spanish, is by opening your mouth and saying something. Time and time again. And making lots of mistakes in the process.
I always tell my students that there’s only one thing worse than saying the wrong thing in Spanish. And it’s not saying anything at all. At least, if you say something wrong, I can correct you. And you can say it right the next time.
Learning languages: childhood memories
I remember when I was fourteen, my parents hired an English teacher. Mr Collins, he was called. He was a really nice guy, and obviously knew how to get a teenager to stop wasting her parents money. The first time he come to the house, I sat across the table from him, and wouldn’t open my mouth. I could understand everything he said, but he didn’t extract a single word from me. I was paralysed with terror.
The second time, he brought a tiny little book with funny stories. Each story was just a page long. And it had a silly cartoon next to it. The vocabulary was way below my level, so I could understand all the funny stories. Mr Collins sat there patiently, reading out his book to me. Eventually, my terror melted away and I started laughing at the stories. I then I said my first few words. And then a few more.
By the time Mr Collins went back to England, a year later, I was fluent in his language.
To become fluent in Spanish, aim at saying a few short sentences of your own, every day.
Learning languages: recap
To recap, these are the 3 things I wish someone had told me when I was first learning a language:
• Number 1. You don’t have to get bored to make progress
• Number 2. Small steps are worth more than big jumps
• And number 3. The sooner you start speaking, the easier it’ll be
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