By: Pilar Johnson
This is my fifth year teaching Spanish, and I have done it in many different venues including homeschooling groups, tutoring support, and private instruction. I have found that across all these diverse settings the challenges remain the same. This month, I am pleased to share my observations about the most common trouble areas of learning Spanish as well as some practice tips to
make it easier! ¿Listos?
Let's start with some of the most common challenges for students learning Spanish:
Fear-Over the last five years, I have often noticed that the older my students are, the bigger their fears of having to speak the language. Most commonly, students have strong feelings of embarrassment over saying words wrong. Despite these concerns, the majority of people who speak a different language will notice when someone is trying hard to practice it! Frequently, those who already speak the language will understand you even if you do not use the exact right words, and they will help you work it out. When learning another language, you have to try to put that fear away as best as you can. One way to keep the fears at bay is remembering that everyone who is starting to learn a language will say something wrong at some point. Mistakes are okay. Mishaps are not going to the end of the world. And maybe, you might even learn to laugh at yourself!
Accept differences–At the beginning of learning a language, it is natural to compare the new one to how you say it or write it in your native language. This comparison is normal behavior as the brain is trying to find an association between the new language and the language you already know. However, as classes continue, it is important to note that sometimes you will not be able translate exactly word-for-word. Embrace the ambiguity, so it will be easier for you as you work between the two languages. Keeping an open mind toward such indirect translations, especially the gender of the words in Spanish, will allow you apply the rules of the new language accordingly.
While these obstacles creep up for many new Spanish students, there are some surefire ways to work through them:
Time–Practice, practice, practice… The more you speak and write in the new language, the more you will get used to it! Before even realizing it, you start speaking more like a native and less like a student. In my classes, I often ask my students read aloud, even if they do not understand what they are saying at first. Eventually, the brain will adapt to speaking the new language. In my experience, I have noticed that my students speak faster and with better pronunciation when they are thinking less about the 'right' way to do it because the mind uses the repetition it has already saved in your brain!
Be Flexible-Even though I follow a curriculum, I am certain to add in some fun activities with my students along the way. In my classes, we play games such as Uno, Bingo, and Simon Says to practice vocabulary and grammar in creative ways. I use funny videos as well as Spanish songs that are popular with young listeners (not the typical, old-school Spanish music). The more fun we make learning the new language, the less it will feel like a chore.
When in doubt, a great motivator is to remember that knowing another language gives you incredible opportunities to enter new worlds where you can find novel music, movies,
books, foods, cultures, and more. Being bilingual increases the amount of experiences and relationships that can bring joy to your life, which makes all the hard work worth it! So, what are you waiting for? ¡Vamos a practicar juntos!
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