I speak a second language and I love just about every second of it. For those who may be new to the blog, I am an American living in Spain. Before moving to Spain, I spent a year working a bilingual job at a non-profit organization in my city. However if we’re being honest, I didn’t really pick up Spanish until just a few years ago. While I most certainly do not speak the language perfectly, I spend a lot of my life in Spain speaking Spanish. I love it.
Life is funny, isn’t it? I get to see the language-learning process in reverse for me living here in Spain. I work as an English teacher here, so I’m constantly helping Spaniards improve their English. Often times I know their struggle because I have been there. Other times I find myself thinking “you know this is what really helped me over this hurdle or that. You really should do X thing.” So I thought I would share my tips on the blog. These tips can be applied to all foreign languages. So here are 4 things that supercharged my Spanish.
1. I stopped saying that my Spanish was bad
I find Spanish people saying that their English is bad all the time. And I just kind of want to scream, quite frankly when they say this. We all know that positive thinking can do wonders. If you always think that you suck at speaking your foreign language, will you really improve? One day it dawned upon me that I frankly never had time to think that my Spanish was bad. I got hired to work a bilingual job and thus I had to communicate the best way that I could. Many people who called the organization spoke no English, so I was forced to only speak Spanish. What I noticed I started telling people was that I did not have perfect Spanish. And of course they would always reply with “well of course! It’s not your first language.”
So language-learners, replace “my French/Spanish/German/Arabic or whatever language you’re learning is bad” with “my Spanish is not perfect.” You’re not telling any lies as your of course it’s not perfect … you’re still learning. For me, it helped me to think more positively about my Spanish and speak with confidence.
2. Not. Everything. Translates.
When I first studied Spanish, I worked with Daniel from Coffeeshop Spanish. He had a dinner at his house and I remember a fellow student saying “if I could just translate my thoughts.” I responded with “honestly, that’s never going to be a reality so you might as well just accept that.” Maybe that was harsh, but I like the truth man.
In Spain, I find Spanish people all the time translating everything. I will tell them some phrase in English and they will ask me what that translates to in Spanish. And the truth is, not even all expressions translate. Idioms and expressions develop out of cultures … and cultures are different. So of course such and such phrase from German will not have a similar one in Spanish and so forth. Also sometimes one thing is a verb in one language and an expression in another. Perfect example is kick vs. dar una patada. In English, we just use the verb “to kick” when someone swings their leg in order to hurt another person. In Spanish, they use the expression “dar una patada” which literally translates to give a leg. It would just be strange to directly translate that to English.
When I speak Spanish, I try to jump into the Spanish world as much as I can and think in the language. I try to learn words or phrases within the language. And I do not try to translate every single statement back to English. I couldn’t hold a conversation if I did that.
3. I put myself in situations where Spanish is the only option
I realized that a big reason my Spanish improved rapidly is because I was continually forced to “find a way.” Working at Su Casa, I was forced to speak with people who only spoke Spanish on a daily basis. You learn quickly when there is simply no option.
So because this worked so well for me, I sought out a flat with Spanish people who all spoke little English. We all just always speak Spanish to each other all the time. I wanted to be forced to speak the language every day here in Spain, so I figured Spanish housemates (vs. other English teachers) was the best way to ensure that I would speak Spanish daily.
4. I stopped believing the b.s.
Apparently it’s harder to learn languages as an adult. However I never let that stop me from pushing hard. Also people also want to believe that some are just more wired for languages. I honestly think that’s a load a crap. Maybe there’s a slight truth to that, but the only reason I think I speak decent Spanish is because of how much I immerse myself in it. When Spanish people are amazed that I speak well for only having spent 6 months in their country. So I explain that I spent 40 hours a week for an entire year speaking Spanish. That really is the only difference.
I think that language-learning is hard and of course people get frustrated. And so these things can be nice excuses. However if you believe them, they will hinder your progress. And that is no good.
At the end of the day
I do not speak Spanish perfectly and there’s still so much I could learn. However it’s most important to me that I keep my mind positive. That positivity will help you make tremendous leaps and bounds.