Learning a second language has always been my biggest lifelong dream. I remember when I was a child, my Argentinian grandparents would brew piping hot maté tea in the mornings and play alphabet games with me in Spanish. I remember hearing them smoothly transition from one native tongue to the other in conversation, entrancing my young self with the mystery of this fascinating second world.
It wasn’t until the past few years or so that I’ve buckled down and pushed myself to reach a conversational level on my own. As I continue the path to fluency, here are a few tips that really put things in perspective and taught me more than simple verb tenses, conjugations or new vocabulary. I encourage everyone to learn another language, for your own personal fulfillment and growth, including but not limited to these eight life lessons:
Photo by Fine Art America
1. Prepare to Feel Vulnerable.
Ultimately, language will not bend or cater itself to us. It’s not going to come easy or without repetitive trial and error, where at this stage, we are stepping out of a comfortable English world and into one of the unknown. We’ve had it pretty easy in our monolingual life up until this point, where it’s not going to come without hard work and a bit of bravery.
Granted, this big learning step isn’t exactly a new concept, since a BBC article states that about 60-75% of people across the world already speak more than one language. We have to put in the time, be willing to ask for help or resources when we need them, and be cognizant that the vulnerability of publicly wearing our mistakes and embarrassment does, in fact, level all playing fields for everyone.
2. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
There is a saying that goes something like, “nothing good ever comes easy”. Of course, there are no quick fixes for those particularly worthwhile dreams. We have to be diligent and acknowledge that instant fluency is not going to happen overnight. Being fluent in Spanish has always been my lifelong goal, but no shortcut, textbook all-nighter, or Netflix novela-binging marathon is going to give me that immediate prize I’ve always longed for. The day-to-day work will reveal its own fruits to us later down the line as we see our hard work mount into something valuable and tangible. Try to acknowledge that thorough effort, putting in the time and daily consistency will always prevail. Don’t rush the process. Just trust it.
3. Be Willing to Make Mistakes
Have you ever thought about having to speak in front of an audience and would rather run away in fear of embarrassment? Or have been pressured to sing karaoke in front of a group? Are you afraid of what people might think of you? According to an article from the Los Angeles Times, the fear of failure is the number one reason people don’t set goals or try new things. Unfortunately for us, in this life, we are guaranteed to make mistakes. We can choose to be embarrassed, we can choose to let it affect us, and we can choose to live in fear of constant criticism.
But accepting my errors and flaws while learning Spanish has caused my confidence to skyrocket. Not only am I now brave enough to initiate a conversation with a native speaker, but I sing Spanish karaoke, I laugh off the silly blunders, and I ask questions. I am willing to let myself be weak, unknowing, and vulnerable. And it has done wonders for my personal life as well as my learning.
4. Play Smart, Not Hard
I can’t emphasize enough how time management plays into the effectiveness of learning. Since I’m a huge planner and outliner, this made the most impact on my journey with the Spanish language. Here are some facts on time management from a University of Georgia publication:
“Much like money, time is both valuable and limited: it must be protected, used wisely, and budgeted. People who practice good time management techniques often find that they:
- Are more productive,
- Have more energy for things they need to accomplish,
- Feel less stressed,
- Are able to do the things they want,
- Get more things done,
- Relate more positively to others, and
- Feel better about themselves (Dodd and Sundheim, 2005).
Finding a time management strategy that works best for you depends on your personality, ability to self-motivate and level of self-discipline. By incorporating some of these strategies, you can more effectively manage your time.”
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
A study from Brown University supports my personal prerogative that “practice makes perfect”, by emphasizing something they call “overlearning”. It states that people who continued to train on a visual task for 20 minutes past the point of mastery locked in that learning, shielding it from interference by new learning, according to a new study in Nature Neuroscience. The small daily efforts that add up have real cognitive impacts on the brain, which strengthen the knowledge we accumulate along the way.
In my own experience, I make a habit of speaking, reading and listening to Spanish every single day. Whether it’s changing the language on my iPhone to familiarize myself with the lingo, indulging in Spanish TV shows and podcasts, or striking up a conversation with my Dominican boyfriend, I went out of my way to practice it constantly. Olly Richards, polyglot of eight languages and CEO/founder of I Will Teach You a Language, frames it as: “You need to spend time with the language.”
6. Ask for Help
When embarking on a challenging task, we may find ourselves struggling emotionally and mentally. To avoid foregoing language-learning obstacles alone, it’s important to use our resources and ask for help when we need it. That’s why I lean on my close personal support systems: my boyfriend’s native-speaking family, my coworkers and other friends who offer a helping hand. These networks are crucial to learning, as it often takes a village. Respectively, research findings from the University of Buffalo show:
“Research has shown that there are tremendous benefits in having a network of supportive relationships: those with robust social support networks have better health, longer lives, and report higher well-being. Friends and loved ones can make you more resilient in times of stress, setback, or loss and they can also make the good times even better.”
7. Be Patient with Yourself
I remember I almost gave up hope when I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted right away. As someone surrounded by native speakers every day, I was wondering why I was unable to catch up to them, understand, or converse as well as them. And as mentioned earlier, this process isn’t going to come overnight, nor will it necessarily come easily. During this long journey, we need to forgive and have patience with ourselves and acknowledge that this isn’t our first language. Trust in yourself and trust the process.
8. Have Fun!
Lastly, don’t forget the reason why you began this journey in the first place: Maybe it’s to better yourself in your career. Maybe you are dating someone who is a native Spanish speaker. Maybe you just want to try something new for the first time. And if we are dragging ourselves to attain fluency without finding any personal reward or satisfaction, perhaps we should reconsider why we even started learning Spanish.
Regardless, we should all pat ourselves on the back for embarking on something that pushes us, challenges us and stretches our world view. At the end of the day, learning another language will be the best gift we ever give ourselves. Treat it as such, and enjoy the ride.
Featured Artwork: Nelly Baksht