Time to play! Let’s pretend you are in one of my Spanish classes.
This is the evening activity: You are out shopping in Otavalo, Ecuador, a market famous for its richness in colors, textiles and jewels. You’ll work in pairs, where one of you is the customer and the other is the merchant.
The situation: You want to take some gifts home to your friends and family, but you want to get the best value for your dollar; the merchants also want to get the best dollar for their valuables.
What’s needed: Clothing and accessories vocabulary, as well as verbs for shopping and bargaining.
What’s missing?: Your imagination!
As an adult you want to have a full grasp of the situation before you go out to play. You want the rules, the guidelines, the limits. You ask me how much money do you have? If you need to use American dollars or sucres? How much time is allowed? If you can use English? And five minutes later, you still have not started the activity.
These are all valid questions, but if you use a little imagination, you will realize none of these questions are really all that important. Whatever mistakes you might make, your teacher will correct you. Be like Nike: “Just do it.” You’ll save time and energy. You’ll be more efficient without even meaning to.
Suppress the urge to control
More than pronunciation, enunciation, grammar mistakes, and syntax, there is one thing I try to correct in all my students: the need to know everything. This includes the need to understand all the rules, the urge to memorize beyond their brain’s capacity, and to become so adamant in their ways that learning a language starts to feel like a job. Remember: learning a language is usually optional. Even if you need it for work or to live abroad, learning a new language is not a primal need for survival. And if you don’t need it for survival and it’s optional, then it should be fun!
Life is your playground
Who do you know who’s a bundle of joy and a ton of fun? So mischievous they drive you nuts? Full of energy and enthusiasm? Someone who screams, who rants, but who certainly knows how to live the good life? We all know someone like that. They usually fit these parameters: big wild hair, about 40 pounds and 40 inches tall, untied shoelaces, shoes on backwards (if you could get them to wear shoes), lack of long-term perspective (“Why do I have to brush my teeth tonight yet again?”), love to run after dogs (even pits are scared of their hugs!), and if they come across those revolving doors, well, let’s just say they’ll make good use of them.
Did you guess it?
Children are the world’s best language learners. Yes, they have some time on their hands, but it goes beyond that. Let’s look at how a child approaches life and how you can use their approach (or what I call the no-approach-at-all approach) to learn Spanish and have some fun in your classes!
When it rains…
Kids play in the rain. They invite their friends to play. They sing, they dance, they scream. They don’t wonder where the rain comes from. For adults, on the other hand, it’s all about “raining on my parade.” The rain is an obstacle, a challenge, something that gets in the way of you and your next meeting, you and the next cab ride. But what if the rain, the challenge, is really there to remind you that nothing is guaranteed? To just roll with it? If you get lemons, make lemonade. Plus, when literally, you could use that time to study :).
When children see a puddle…
They jump over it. And then they do it again. They think it’s amazing that there is a puddle there. An adult, instead, will not only avoid the puddle; they will also nag because it is there. How about approaching it differently? Could the puddle be an invitation? Play, jump, and enjoy! There will always be puddles, so why not make the most of them?
When children fight…
There is a lot of name-calling and he-did-this versus she-did-it-first. Emotions run high. They usually cry, and there could be some violence involved, usually nothing too drastic. And then something magical happens: The children go back to playing. They might not even recall the fight. They might fight again, but yesterday (or a minute ago) is yesterday. Their minds are open to new experiences, just as you should be when learning a new language.
When a child falls…
Yes, they cry. Often. Perhaps too loud for the rest of us non-parents to feel any empathy. But soon enough they are back on their feet and all is forgotten. Has a child ever told you about how they fell yesterday? Or reprimanded themselves for falling before? They don’t keep track of the past. They do not judge or punish themselves for past mistakes. And yes, they do eventually grow up and stop falling (most of them, that is), but their minds are always focused on the present. You must stop looking at your language mistakes and imperfections as failures. Give them the importance they merit, which in most cases is simply learning from them and then letting it all go.
So, in order for you to learn Spanish, the question remains: Are you ready to play?