Yes, there is certainly a right and wrong way to learn a language. In over a decade of language methodology to students of all ages and backgrounds, whether it was Spanish in the US, or English in Mexico or Japan, I can tell you that learning a language is first and foremost a choice. Are you ready to make that choice?
I won’t give you any rules on grammar. I won’t tell you how to tackle the subjunctive. I won’t even tell you what you can do to improve your language skills. What I will give you is five rules to live by. Learn these five rules, follow them, and the rest will come easily.
The path to language acquisition can seem daunting, but let’s simplify it:
Why do you want to learn Spanish? I can tell you from my own experience that despite living in Japan for a year, my Japanese never improved much because my priority was not learning the language. I didn’t have a why. You must have a why and it has to be a strong why. Learning Spanish “for fun” is usually not a strong enough of a why. Find your why. The sooner you find it, the better off you will be.
This is something I’ve always told my students and clients. Learning a language is a journey. It’s not something that happens overnight. And honestly, if it did, how long would it keep your interest? Is it possible to take shortcuts? Of course it is, but shortcuts involve immersion programs, preferably in a country that speaks that language, and other methods that require a higher time or financial investment now in order to get quicker results in the future. You must set realistic expectations for yourself and understand that the process, or journey, as I call it, is as important as the result. The perseverance and resilience you will develop while learning a new language will also be transferrable to other parts of your life. Stop wondering when you will be good. Instead, focus on what you are doing exceptionally, and what you can improve on.
A few years ago, my sister and I spent the weekend on a personal retreat in a Buddhist monastery. The president of the monastery was very welcoming. He had a tea ceremony in our honor and answered many of life’s pressing questions (we had a lot of questions!). The most important takeaway for me was when he said, “Life? It’s not hard. It’s easy.” Once I said that to myself, I realized just how easy it began to feel. I am, after all, the master of my fate, the captain of my soul. It’s really as easy or as hard as you decide it is. It’s a mental game. You can apply this to learning a language. Have you decided that it is too difficult to learn? Or have you decided that it will be a journey of self-discovery, challenging, but joyous, and that you will roll with the punches? Gracefully, of course.
You might be investing five hours weekly into learning a new language, but are you being consistent? It is better to do 20 minutes every single day, than five hours on one day. Be consistent, and try to keep a specific time of day for your studies.
Who is holding you accountable on this journey? If a teacher, choose wisely. They will be your partner in crime. It’s always best to have someone who is better than you (expert preferred!) and who is invested in your learning experience.
If you follow the aforementioned, I guarantee you will build a solid foundation to learn Spanish.
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Irma is a trained linguist, native Spanish speaker, and teacher. She is the founder and CEO of Diáfano.
For those with no prior experience with Spanish. 9-week course.
For those who can hold a minimal conversation in Spanish, ask for directions, etc.
For those who are conversational and can express emotions in Spanish
For those who are conversational and can express emotions in Spanish. The course is designed to get you to full fluency.