Learning a new language requires a lot of time dedicated to memorizing many jumbled, unfamiliar sounds and sound patterns that are supposedly words and phrases that mean something somewhere out there! At least, that’s what I used to tell my brain when I had to take chemistry. I had to have faith in the fact that all of those little letter and number combinations on the periodic table really did mean something and I had to just simply memorize them and pass the class! Spanish can be similar in it’s difficulty to learn when these letter combinations mean absolutely nothing to you. However, words that are cognates can prove to be much easier to recall since your brain might be familiar with their basic structure already like familia for “family” or mapa for “map.” (See blog post “Borrowed Words”) Unfortunately, not all words in Spanish are so similar to their English counterpart. An example would be the word “table.” Your entire life you have called a table, “Table.” Only now you are telling your brain that it can also be called, “Mesa.” For some of us it almost feels as though our brains short-circuit for a moment. You can almost audibly hear the electrical surge, see the spark and smell the smoke. Trying to re-name things for your brain isn’t easy! This is why studies show that learning a second, or even multiple languages (Yes, multiple!), is much easier at a younger age, but let’s not get into that.
What am I saying? Yes, learning a second language and putting it to use isn’t easy but it is possible! How does one improve in anything? Practice.
Most people with whom I am acquainted know that I speak both English and Spanish. Many tell me how they have learned some Spanish in the past whether in school or by some other means. However, if I try to speak to them in Spanish now they quickly inform me that they no longer remember much or any of it! That’s a shame. A second language is such a useful skill in today’s world for so many reasons! The usual story of how this sadly comes about in most cases refers to not using their Spanish knowledge. In other words, not practicing. The best way to continue to cultivate your Spanish learning and speaking is by speaking it to another Spanish speaker and doing so regularly. Ideally with someone that knows more than you or is a native speaker.
I have heard many different reasons as to why people who are learning Spanish choose not to practice with another Spanish speaker.
– “What If I mispronounce something?”
– “What if I have a bad accent and the person finds it funny?”
– “What if the person speaks too quickly in response and I don’t understand?”
– “I don’t want the person to think that I’m fluent and start rambling off to me in Spanish!”
– “The person speaks English too. Why speak to that person in Spanish?”
– “What if I get corrected for saying something wrong?”
Let me stop there cause the list could go on and I’m actually laughing out loud (and my dog is looking at me as though I have lost my mind!).
Here are a few rebuttals to these Spanish-speaking fears.
* Mispronounce? No one is perfect and that is why you are practicing.
* Accent? The real question is “who doesn’t have an accent?” Some people actually find accents attractive! Ever think about that?
* Too fast? You need to learn how to ask someone to speak more slowly for you in Spanish so you can understand them. (See blog post “Polite Words and Phrases”)
* You don’t want the person to think you speak fluent Spanish? You can just say that you’re learning Spanish and took this opportunity to practice.
* Why use Spanish? It’s an opportunity! They can be rare so you should take advantage of them.
* Corrected? It is not a negative thing if you are corrected for not saying something properly. It is a good thing! That person has helped you learn something new. Don’t allow yourself to become discouraged or embarrassed. That will only hold you back.
All of this brings me to a personal thought that I tell everyone who gives me any of the excuses I mentioned or the many others that I didn’t. Being in the United States, I appreciate it every time a native Spanish speaker that is learning English practices their English with me. Whether there are grammatical mistakes or not. No matter if I am fully able to understand every word, I appreciate the desire to learn it and the courage to speak it. I am not judging them by their lack of fluent English or the presence of an accent in their speaking it. Put yourself in the position of being the fluent English speaker and someone would like to practice what they have learned with you. Wouldn’t you enjoy helping someone practice their English? Would you be overly critical and expect them to speak it flawlessly? (If you said NO to the first and YES to the last… then you have some other deeper issues you might need to address.) I truly believe most would say YES to the first and NO to the second! Keep that in mind as you go out and practice your Spanish – as you should – whether with an acquaintance or at your favorite restaurant! No need for timidity or fear. People do admire the drive to learn a new language! Many, if not most, don’t mind helping.