So you want to learn Spanish? There are so many roads on this journey, however they are not all created equal. Yes, you need to make your learning experience as close as possible to an immersion: use apps, read, write, listen to music, attend cultural events, have Spanish-speaking friends (getting a Spanish lover is an added plus!). But only learning from a native speaker will give you a solid foundation to proceed with knowledge and confidence on your journey. Here’s why.

A learning software cannot evaluate your progress

As a Spanish Language Master (formerly known as Spanish Language Specialist), I know that while a software can teach you grammar and some pronunciation, it cannot accurately evaluate your progress beyond mainly mechanical and associative exercises. A teacher is there to guide you from your starting point to where you want to be. Your end goal on this journey, or at least one of them, is fluency. Though a software can tell you whether your answer is correct or incorrect, that is as far as it goes. This should be a supplement to your lessons, not the means for you to learn.

Expertise beyond a software

A teacher is the bridge between you and your new culture. Grammar, vocabulary, syntax, pronunciation, reading, writings, cultural dos and don’ts… A teacher can help you there. She is a world of knowledge and expertise that is easily accessible at every lesson. Use this knowledge wisely. Do not take it for granted.

Tailored lessons

A teacher should have either lessons tailored specifically for you or your level. These lessons will be changed or adjusted based on the challenges you face and the progress you make throughout your course of study. This isn’t something a software can offer you.

The human touch

Aside from the technical aspects of language learning, there are far too many things a software cannot give you: engagement, support, attention, solidarity… The list goes on and on.

A teacher holds you accountable
I had been trying to get up at 6AM to go to the gym but it wasn’t happening. Even though I have an incredible amount of energy (great when you are a teacher!), I also love my sleep. Why should I be up at 5:30AM to make it downstairs by 6AM if I don’t really have to? Well, that changed when I found JC, my trainer. No matter what JC would be downstairs at 6AM. I pay him by the hour. Guess what happens if I don’t show up at 6AM? He is still charging me! When you have someone that you have to meet and respond to, you are held accountable. You are expected to arrive on time and be prepared. Your lessons are forfeited if you don’t show up. And the whole I’m-not-feeling-so-good-today only goes so far.

Real-time pronunciation corrections

Enough said. Get your software to do that for you. Yes, go ahead, try it!

When the Spanish teacher is not a native

I grew up bilingual (English, Spanish) and believe this is the best gift my family ever gave me (kudos to my voracious mother). I love and appreciate everything from both of my worlds. But there is no stopping you from mastering a language without being a native speaker. I have seen my students and clients do it many times. It requires patience, courage and discipline, but it is the goal of many language learners and certainly obtainable. It is my job to make it obtainable. But can someone who is not a native speaker become a Spanish teacher? Feasible, yes, to some degree. I have seen it happen in the US, where there is often a shortage of native Spanish speakers working as teachers. But, I must play devil’s advocate here and say it is not the same as having a native Spanish speaker. The pronunciation is not the same, and the knowledge of the culture, the spirit, love, customs, traditions, and the nuances of Hispanics are not innate to that person. That being said, it is possible that the teacher has perfect grammar. The problem is that because you are a beginner, it will be hard for you to pick up on anything that is not up to par. So although it might fine for you to study from a non-native speaker, I do not recommend it. In over a decade of teaching Spanish I have yet to come across a nonnative Spanish teacher that I feel is a great exception to the aforementioned.

So if you want to learn Spanish, get moving! The clock is ticking. Get a software if you want, but also find the best teacher for your needs. Just remember: Keep it native.

Irma Cedeno

Irma is an educator, linguist, creativity expert, cultural competence strategist, and the founder of Diáfano, a company responsible for designing and implementing Spanish classes and programs at corporations. From universities and top US institutes to Fortune 500 companies, Irma has been an integral part of language learning and cultural competence training. After travelling to 40+ countries (and counting!) and over 10 years of working in education, she developed and honed her methodology in 2013. The Diáfano Method is student-centered methodology that breaks down language learning into clear and simple steps.
Irma grew up bilingual and is a proud learner of French, Italian, Portuguese, and Japanese. Check her out at www.diafanomethod.com.

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