Learn to Speak Spanish

by : Douglas Bower

This article is about language learning methods. I know what you are thinking,

"Why isn't he talking about motivation first?"

The reason I am starting with methodology first is that the wrong method of learning a second language is often the biggest deterrent of motivation.

I hear this all the time from potential expatriate wannebees who tell me they would love to do what my wife and I did-move to Mexico. Many are highly attracted to Guanajuato because it is a beautiful colonial town in central Mexico with a small American population. The few expats who do live here have chosen to learn the language, in varying degrees of proficiency, in order to assimilate into the culture. To live in Guanajuato, you have to learn the language to some degree and this frightens many Americans who could live here if they would learn Spanish.

Those Americans who are attracted to Guanajuato instinctively "get that." They know they have to become at least marginally proficient in Spanish but the thought scares them to death.

Let me ask you something: For the sake of argument, let's pretend you researched the place to which you want to retire and Guanajuato is your number-one choice. You just have to move here. No other place will do. Why on earth, you reason, would you want to take the time and expense to move to Mexico if you are not willing to try to learn at least some of the language? Why be doomed to living in one of the "Little America" enclaves where linguistically challenged expatriates move? "Ridiculous," you reason. "I want a genuine Mexican town."

So you know you want to learn at least some of the language and want to start long before making the move. You have two or three years before retirement so you have some time to engage in a good stretch of studying the language before actually taking the plunge.

What is the first thing that will pop into your mind or might be suggested by family and friends as to how you should start your Spanish learning adventure?

"You should take the Spanish courses at a University or Junior College."

This is exactly what you are going to think of or be told your course of action should be if you want to learn Spanish. You will think of enrolling in the Spanish sequence of courses at a college-level institution.

Traditional Spanish courses, at either the high school or college level, are usually a sequence of four courses. You have Spanish level I, II, III, and IV. You enroll in Spanish I and get a textbook, a workbook, and some CD's or Cassettes tapes. You show up for class where, in most cases, you will not have a native speaker but rather someone with a Spanish degree or who studied for a number of years in a Spanish-speaking country. Rarely will you be lucky enough to get a native speaker as an instructor.

On the first day of class, you will be given a class syllabus where your course of study will be outlined for that semester. You will be required to memorize a certain number of vocabulary words and dialogues, you will have to do textbook and workbook exercises, listen to the CD's or tapes, and be tested on it all.

If this doesn't scare you into running out the door screaming for a refund on textbooks and tuition, and you manage to make it to levels III and IV, this will: the classes will most likely be conducted entirely in Spanish. Not one word of English will be allowed to be uttered or even thought.

How does this sound to you? You will spend a fortune on books and tuition. You will spend a great deal of time and energy to participate in a traditional method of learning a second language that by design will not equip you to speak Spanish. You heard me correctly. This traditional language learning methodology is NOT designed to teach you how to speak Spanish.

"The American system of foreign language instruction has not taken advantage of the more than 40 years of modern linguistic, psycholinguistic, and neurolinguistic research on language learning and development. The approach used in most American schools and universities is called the grammar-translation method which has been codified by professional teachers." - Harris Winitz, Ph.D. Language Development, K.C., Mo.

NEXT: "But, but...what about the conversation classes?"