“To have another language is to possess a second soul.” ~ Charlemagne
If you are serious about learning a foreign language, be it Spanish, French, Italian or Chinese — you are in the right place. This article is intended to challenge you to rethink your entire approach to learning a language. It will help you simplify your goals and get back to the fundamentals.
Studies from the University of Chicago have shown that the decision-making skills of individuals who can speak an extra language are way better than others. For many businesses, Spanish is becoming a necessity. Research has shown that learning Spanish or any other foreign language helps your native language. With the extra language under your belt, you would not just communicate with people better but connect with their rich culture, traditions, and heritage. Your world would literally expand.
Spanish is spoken in 20 countries by more than four hundred million people with the US being the second-largest Spanish speaking country in the world behind Mexico. You could take your vacations to a different level with a native tongue. You would be amazed at the sort of response you’d get from a native speaker when you speak Spanish to him or her.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” ~ Nelson Mandela
1. Clarify The “Why”
“In the province of the mind, what one believes to be true either is true or becomes true.” ~ John Lilly
To enable your dream to speak Spanish like a pro, you would first need to figure out “the why”. If you don’t begin with the right reasons your motivation will dwindle a lot sooner than you ever imagined. With a weak cause, your progress would invariably dip after the first few days. You begin to doubt your abilities. Soon your focus shifts to finding excuses on why you this isn’t meant for you. A weak why breeds insecurity.
Henry Ford had famously said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”
The key is to think this through before you begin, to clarify the Why behind your goal.
Why is it that you want to learn that language?
To speak fluently with your colleagues, expand your business, impress that cute girl in your team, expand your world or just because you are madly in love with the music of the exotic land?
When I started to learn Spanish at the beginning of the last year, my motivation began to dwindle by the third week of January. “Is it even worth it?” kept playing in my head. Then I came across some Spanish music. When I found “Al partir un beso y una flor” by Nino Bravo, I knew right away that this was my song. The music, the rhythm, the voice and the lyrics resonated with my heart. I just had to learn this rich musical language. There was no other option. The crawling impetus of being able to communicate with Brazilian teammates found its wings with my newly discovered love for Spanish music.
If you find yourself asking the question of whether the journey is even worth the sweat, dig deeper to find your “Why.” What you’ll find hidden deep within you, might even surprise you.
“Anything is possible if a person believes” ~ Mark 9:23
2. Invest In Yourself — Take That Spanish Course
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
There are no shortcuts to success. If you are serious about your future self, about learning a foreign language and making enormous progress in life, you’ll have to start with yourself. Unless you invest time, money and effort towards the direction of your dream, your dream would stay a dream.
How much is your dream worth to you? Unless you have your skin in the game, your commitment can’t be genuine. Money is the easy part — Time and effort are where it gets tricky. This is not advocating frivolous spending of hard-earned money. But the value of “time” far outweighs the value of “money.” If you fear to shell out the monthly expense to learn your dream language, how can you commit to the time and effort needed to master it?
On the flip side, when you invest in that desired course, time magically appears. The same principle goes for a gym membership. Whether its training your mind or training your body, the same concepts apply.
You’ll find when you financially invest yourself into something, you’d become very committed to that thing. Economists call this sunk cost bias. But the way to leverage this to your benefit is to invest more (provided of course you can afford it.) The more heavily you become invested into something, the more likely your commitment escalates to meet your goal. Your investment of money and time is directly proportional to the quality of the outcome you derive out of the investment.
Some of the most successful people in the world are intense learners. They are hard readers and bigtime investors. Their biggest investment is “them.” They know if they could improve their current selves into better future selves, the quality of their life would never be mediocre again.
“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” ~ Jim Rohn
3. Consistency Matters
The key to progress is consistency. Part of the reason why most things in the world that get started by aspiring individuals never see their completion is due to the lack of consistency.
Greg Mckeown in his book “Essentialism” talks about the benefits of journaling every day. He had been journaling for more than a decade every day. The one thing that he had found value in, is to journal “less” than he felt like. To journal less but every single day reaps the benefit of habit-forming, continuity and consistency. The approach “Less but Better” is extremely effective in almost every aspect of life.
Applying it to learning Spanish, the key is to make a slow start to maintain the velocity. The consistency of the turtle was way more impactful than the agility of the hare. Chugging half an hour of learning every day would take much farther in your odyssey than spending four hours in the first week. You don’t want your routine to last only a week or a month.
Most of the free apps such as duolingo or busuu have the feature of prompting you to put in those fifteen minutes every day. You’d amazed at the progress you’d make with that tad bit of commitment daily.
Maxwell Maltz, the famous American cosmetic surgeon, had found that patients with amputated limbs sensed a phantom limb for 21 days before getting adjusted to their situation. In his renowned book “Psycho-Cybernetics,” he had said, “these, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.” In other words, if you can remain consistent for at least three weeks with a slow but steady form of learning Spanish, it would soon translate into a new habit. One key-note here is it in many cases it could take well beyond that “three-weeks” timeframe for it to become your second nature.
“You cannot conquer what you are not committed to.” ~ T.D. Jakes
4. Go All-in —Media, Music, News
It is not enough just to register in a course or thinking that just a few minutes would get you there. Of course, it would get you started, help form the crucial habit. But once you have the routine built-in but feel you have been stuck at the same level for a while, it means you haven’t gone all-in.
The key lies in the balance. Feeding your subconscious mind when your active conscious mind is not actively working, wins half the battle. Tune in to the Spanish channel on your radio or play those slow songs that are close to your heart on your drive back home from work. Of course, to know which songs you like, you’d need to listen to a bunch of them beforehand. It would take time but it’s time well spent. On stuff that would reap results over the next several years.
Every little bit helps so long as the direction is right. If you are serious about this, you are far better off going all-in whenever time permits. This doesn’t mean than you’d need to work four hours every single day. But the little time you put in every day would be well worth it. The purpose is to grow you through various sources of input.
According to scholars and polyglots, listening is probably the most difficult skill to master in the journey of learning a foreign language. Giving yourself the liberty to tune into the Spanish channel on your way to that grocery store, is the first step. Even though you won’t understand much of what’s said, your subconscious mind would work the magic. Under the hood, it sweats to take you to the next level — the level you always wanted to be.
“There is but one degree of commitment; total.” ~ Arnie Sherr
5. Speak In Spanish At Every Opportunity You Get
Picture yourself speaking to someone in their tongue, a broken imperfect language. You have this colleague at work who you are used to talking in English, how could you suddenly start speaking Spanish with her? What will she think of you? Would she laugh and stop looking your way the next time you pass?
The embarrassment of sounding odd holds us back more often than we imagine. Most fears in our minds are either unfounded or baseless. Mustering up the courage to speak the imperfect language to someone at your workplace or school, is the secret. This would transcend you beyond your limitations. You would be learning at a pace you wouldn’t even realize. The value of putting yourself out there in awkward situations far outweighs the cost associated with it, if the intention is right.
People will admire you for the courage of trying to speak in their native tongue. The inspiration you would receive from just a few such casual discussions would boost your confidence to venture out. “Confidence” is the secret that separates the polyglots from the people who are still dreaming.
The next time you meet that old Spanish colleague, your challenge would be to start speaking in their native tongue. If the smile on their face doesn’t widen, you could as well stop reading my articles.
“The secret to happiness is freedom….and the secret to freedom is courage.” ~ Thucydides
6. Get Accountability Partners
As per the “Goal Setting Theory,” clear feedback loops on your goals are essential to your success. An accountability partner does exactly that. All you need is a learning buddy, a spouse, a colleague or a friend that shares the same goal as you. Develop regular contact with this person. Follow through and see yourself transform. Literally!
David Brin, the leading American author on science fiction had said, “When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.” It takes courage to be accountable to someone on what you desire to accomplish, what you commit to. Some of the best leaders were best not because of what they did but how they did. According to Jeffry Benjamin, “Accountability is the measure of a leader’s height.”
Best of all, both of you could speak broken Spanish with each other — admire, criticize, correct, teach and learn from each other in this odyssey. Here are the three key characteristics you would be looking out in your accountability partner:
1. A goal-oriented, focused and highly motivated individual.
2. Someone who has tasted success and knows what they are doing.
3. Selfless and a genuine person who cares for your success.
“Accountability breeds response-ability.” ~ Stephen R. Covey
7. Volunteer In Spanish Organizations
One step further to an accountability partner is to become a volunteer in a nonprofit Latino group that’s part of your organization. It goes well beyond just learning the language. It helps you serve the community while learning the culture firsthand. More importantly, it gets you out of the comfort zone to achieve a higher purpose.
Suddenly an excellent platform to hone your speaking and listening skills unravels in front of you. If you are a student or an employee of an organization, there are probably quite many such teams. Volunteer and be part of these selfless groups with men and women who believe in the value of paying back to society. Chances are you would not just learn the language and the culture. But take it well beyond by cultivating some long-term friendship with a few of them.
Make a difference with all your heart and in turn, your heart will be filled with way more joy than you’d asked for. When you combine your motive of learning a language with a superior motive of generous serving, the emotion finds wings in selflessness. Sherry Anderson, the curling champion from Canada had said,“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.”
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore
8. Extensive Reading Over Intensive Reading
“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift.” ~ Kate DiCamillo
Language learners are oftentimes guilty of not reading enough, one of the four major language building skills. Speaking of reading, the two fundamental types of reading anything are Extensive and Intensive Reading.
Intensive reading is with the purpose to analyze, deconstruct, understand and grasp every single bit of information, bit by bit, one word at a time. When you read a sentence, you try to understand every word, observe the grammar, punctuation, pronunciation, make notes. Finally, you’d put everything in perspective to understand the whole line in the context of the material.
This sort of reading activity is taxing on your mental faculties. It’s best done for short periods when the mind is at the peak state. The material itself should be interesting enough to justify the laborious task of getting through it. The result is more often a feeling of overwhelming exhaustion rather than a sense of accomplishment.
Alternatively, extensive reading is skimming through as much material as possible. The purpose you are driving at is completion rather than deciphering the meaning of each word. Note-taking, looking up vocabulary or watching for grammar rules is far from the goal. Rather, absorbing the gist of the story is your primary intention. The result is a fun, exploratory journey through an extensive amount of text. It leaves you with a sense of gratification of having completed what you had set out to achieve.
As you might have guessed, both are just reading tools to help you succeed. The key is to spend more time reading extensively. Enjoying the material is a lifesaver than getting bogged down by the nitty-gritty of the material that saps the energy right out of you. The more extensive reading you do, the more you’ll fall in love with it. Over time, your subconscious mind would be able to grasp the meanings of words that you had never read intensively but just in passing.
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” — Joseph Addison
9. Enjoy Your Ride
Sigmund Freud, one of the founders of modern psychological theories, had coined the term “The Pleasure Principle.” It is the instinctive “pleasure-seeking” and “pain avoiding” tendency of the mind to satisfy phycological needs. We all know the irrefutable truth in the saying, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”
Research of Sergio Pellis, professor of neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, has shown that if juvenile rats fail to engage in peer-to-peer play, as adults they have deficiencies in social, cognitive and motor skills.
No matter what you do, the essential ingredient to success is to have fun along the way. You must approach learning the language with positive enthusiasm, embracing the challenges that come up. Before long, you’d be way ahead than someone who goes through the motions while secretly dreading the process.
Of course, the conjugations are way more than English, the rules of grammar are not just extensive but intricate. A minor distraction and you’d be entangled between the subjunctive and imperative modes.
No question getting to conversational levels with a native speaker takes hours of practice equivalent to mastering football or baseball. There are no shortcuts in either of them. But with the right attitude, you could easily soar through the challenges. Challenges that could have easily bogged down some fierce, yet grumpy learners, would not dare to touch you when you cultivate the right mindset.
“My philosophy is: If you can’t have fun, there’s no sense in doing it.” ~ Paul Walker
“You live a new life for every new language you speak. If you know only one language, you live only once.” ~Czech Proverb
There are surprising health benefits from learning an additional language that goes way beyond just the ability to converse with someone else. Here are just a few of them.
1. Improved memory
2. Increased attention span
3. Delayed onset of dementia with bilingualism
4. Better cognitive skills
5. Bigger brains
Venturing on a language learning journey is a daunting task. But it must not be boring and monotonous. If you have reached this far, chances are unlike most people, you are serious about learning the magical language. Taking some bold steps listed here could get you closer to your destination.
Figuring out your why, starting slowly but steadily, investing in yourself with a physical or online course, learning a little bit every single day, listening to the beautiful songs, speaking to colleagues in their tongue, volunteering in organizations to cultivate some long term relationships, reading extensively, getting an accountability partner are some of the secret ingredients to success. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. Enjoy the thrill of your ride as you near your destination. Remember don’t be huffing and puffing. Rather bask in the glory of culmination, with a smile of accomplishment on your face. For there would be little doubt left that “you are indeed a damn good Spanish speaker!”
Take That Leap
I have created the perfect Spanish cheat sheet to help you to put your plans into action instantly with practical tools and resources.
In addition, you’ll receive a short inspirational fiction filled with hope and compassion, to put you in the right frame of mind.