Over the last few years, I have wanted to learn more languages. I began with German, and though I learned a lot, it became difficult to practice in my region. I learned enough from textbooks and university courses, but I needed to practice with others outside the classroom. Unfortunately, the Stammtisches in my area are not well organized, so the opportunity to utilize the language to gain fluency is limited. Sadly enough, cultures using German as their first language are highly educated, meaning, their English is almost always fluent. They have to be a truly kind and exceptional person to put up with my bad German so that I may practice. So, two weeks ago I decided to learn an additional language – one that is more practical for my region.
(Check-out what Mark Twain thought about German)
In my quest for language learning, I targeted two languages in my area that could be utilized in my community; Mandarin and Spanish. Next, I looked at my career path and asked myself, “Which would I benefit most from right now?” In the last twenty years, the Pacific Northwest has become home for many immigrant families from Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries. So, my choice in language learning is really based on practicality – I chose to learn Spanish.
Learning any language is a daunting task if you’re lost in the void that is the internet. Many resources tout various slogans such as, “learn Spanish in 3 ½ days! Guaranteed!” or “Become fluent and get more jobs and money!” In the end, they are designed to teach an individual target phrases for travel, business, or ordering at the local Mexican restaurant. These are essential phrases, sooner or later, but beginning with basic lexicon is best.
Syntax: I need word order before I can tackle anything; it helps with visualizing the words when I know where to place them in a sentence.
Verbs: I look to regular verbs and how they’re conjugated in a single tense, but I generally stay away from irregular verbs unless they’re essential in language; e.g., the Spanish irregular verb ir (to go). I spend a day or two paying attention to what verbs I use most often in English. When I have a list of 10 to 15 verbs, I learn them in Spanish, as well as their present tense conjugated forms. I suggest using 501 Spanish Verbs. These verbs usually consist of human needs or giving information: want, must, need, write, go, study, live, have, eat, and speak.
Nouns and adjectives: I create a weekly vocabulary list of practical words I may use throughout the week. I suggest using a Langenscheidt English-Spanish dictionary. A fun way to learn nouns is to write their name in your target language and tape it to the object. Essentially, you’re building your own language learning classroom in your home. Each day when you look into your mirror, you’ll always see that its name in Spanish is espejo. If you’re a visual learner, this is a great method to create images in your mind. I have trouble with word recall, and being able to visualize the word in my mind allows it to be recalled faster.
(Update 01/03/13: New York Times released an article on labeling methods)
In the next step, I take these basic verbs, nouns and adjectives I have learned and create simple conversational phrases that may arise in a casual conversation. For example:
Hablo inglés, pero yo estudio español y alemán.| I speak English, but I study Spanish and German.
El azul es mi color favorito. | My favorite color is blue.
Necesito ir al hospital. | I need to go to the hospital.
It’s nothing fancy, but it conveys important information. More than learning the phrases, you have learned their various forms and how to use the words properly; this in comparison to phrase books which do not explain the phrases, but provide half-hazard translations. When learning a new language, understanding the essentials to exchange vital information is important. Learning a new language is a slow process that takes dedication and practice – never expect to learn a language overnight and always remember we all learn at our own pace. Set a pace that is comfortable and establish firm and flexible goals for yourself and continue to practice every day even if you’re not learning new words.
If you find a great resource that establishes a lesson plan, use it! I have chosen two resources that have done this. StudySpanish.com is a great lesson plan that even provides exams to test your knowledge. The second is a resource I checked-out from my local library, it’s called Living Language: Spanish – The Complete Course. Alternating between two courses allows for a more comprehensive basis for learning a language on your own. Sometimes one may explain the concepts better than the other which allows for you to move on to the next level. Mixing resources is a great way to stay involved and learn from different perspectives.
Aforementioned, set realistic, attainable goals that engage your intellect and challenges your personality. There are two goals I want to accomplish before my birthday in April:
Write a one page biography in Spanish.
Order a Consuelo (an alcoholic beverage the size of your head) and dinner from the Cantina.
This will help further my Spanish learning, as well as expose me to my target culture. There will be mistakes made in both goals, but the goal of learning a language is not to be correct all the time; it’s to learn from mistakes and immerse yourself in a culture and language you did not know before.
Next term at university, I tutor adult ESL learners – immigrants and refugees – where I am hopeful these new language skills will aid both myself and the students. I will continue to provide resources for others wanting to learn Spanish, as well as share my journey in learning Spanish.