Learning (or relearning) a new language

You don’t need classes to learn (or relearn) a foreign language.

I’ve been studying and practicing Spanish on my own for the past four years. Since then, I’ve gone from reading Dr. Seuss with difficulty to finishing Cien Años de Soledad, and have gone from having difficulty pronouncing basic words to being able to comfortably converse in Spanish while traveling to Uruguay for work and Nicaragua for pleasure.

While I’m not particularly great with foreign languages, I’m proud of my progress. Over my next few blog entries, I’ll discuss how you can learn Spanish with a library card, a mp3 player, and an Internet connection.

I’ve benefitted from the a set of audio lessons as a review of the basics, but learning on my own has taken me farther and deeper than that or any other packaged learning program (I’ve tried several, which have ranged from decent to awful).

Parts of the strategy I’ll be setting out over my next few entries should apply pretty well to any foreign language, but similarities between Spanish and English, and the convenience of Spanish-language materials and Spanish-speaking people in the U.S. make this a lot easier, though French would probably be relatively easy as well.

Here are a few tips for starting out:

Preparation
If there’s one tip I can offer with confidence, it is to commit yourself. Learning a foreign language is a lot like exercise. The benefits are great, but they only last as long as you commit the time.

If you want to be able to speak Spanish well five years from now, you’re going to need to practice every week (or nearly every week) for the next five years.

I estimate that I need two to three hours a week of practice to steadily improve, and 60 to 90 minutes to not lose anything. That said, there are ways to work on your Spanish (listening, not reading) while doing other activities such as driving or exercising: I’ll discuss some of those methods shortly.

Learn (or re-learn) the basics
I really benefited by having the basic rules of grammar and conjugation down. Learning Spanish is relatively easy compared to some other foreign languages because almost all of the tenses match.

Fortunately, my local library had an old copy of the “Living Language” Spanish lessons on CDs; by listening to these and practicing again and again for weeks, I was able to gradually build vocabulary and re-learn the verb conjugations.

Has anyone else had a similar experience or have any tips you’d like to share?

Read about learning Spanish on YouTube.

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2 Responses to Learning (or relearning) a new language

  1. Rick says:

    If you have cable, spending some time with Univision or one of the other Spanish-language networks can be a great help. At first, all you might understand are the commercials, but it’s surprising how quickly you catch on to what’s going on.

    Spanish-language film is another opportunity to immerse yourself — and there’s an incredibly rich tradition of brilliant cinema to enjoy here!

    Great post, Will!

  2. stretchyourmind says:

    Thanks, Rick!
    Yes, commercials, whether on the radio or television, are a great learning point, because they’re designed to be understood, even when the person is driving, not paying attention, or otherwise distracted.

    And Spanish-language movies are great too–so many wonderful directors are doing so many exciting things right now. Hopefully I’ll do a post at some point, but for now it’s somewhat intimidating.

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