Learning languages is hard especially when you’ve been monolingual most of your life. I’m the typical American that didn’t start learning languages until middle school. Then I didn’t take the class seriously at all.
So right now, I´m a B1 level Spanish learner and I´m also using a phone app to learn some Tagalog before I go to the Philippines. I have taken psycholingustic classes, taught English and passed my TEFL certification so I´ve learned a lot of things about language acquisition. So here what I’ve been doing to learn languages but I am not an expert.
When I was working in Madrid, I would use my breaks to study. Now I’m signing up for Spanish classes at the Cervantes Institute in my city. There are Cervantes Institutes everywhere in the world so if you want to learn Spanish then check them out.
It´s really important to set realistic goals when you do anything. My goals are to be able to use four conjugations in conversation and be able to read all of the Harry Potter books in Spanish. Now it´s important to mention you can´t just read in Spanish and expect to learn the language. Many times our brains assume meanings without understanding the actual grammar or the actual word. So that is why translating from your native language to your learning language is really important. Now I´m not an expert. I´m just a humble girl attempting to learn somethings.
How I Study Spanish
- I conjugate 3 verbs a day and write one sentence per conjugation. I write the present, preterite, imperfect and future. Spanish verbs are really hard. There are about 8 different conjugations but I´m focusing on these four because they are the most used. This takes about 10 minutes. The app ConjuVerb helps.
- I translate a poem. I downloaded a book of poetry Things to Shout Out Loud by Markus Almond. They are short, use simple language, and I translate them into Spanish. I have a decent level of Spanish so this takes 10-15 minutes. It can takes longer depending on your level and the poem, of course. It´s not super important how accurate the translation is because all that matters is your are seeing the conjugations in context and enforcing vocabulary.
- Then I read. The first book I read in Spanish was Coraline. I loved the movie, it had pictures, it was made for young readers and it was short. Then I got a series on Kindle Unlimited (a subscription service with kindle $9.99 a month for a large selection of books) called Spanish Stories for Beginners. It´s nice because the level is low and many of the phrases are defined at the end of the chapter with a quiz. The stories are a little bland but it makes it easy to learn. I burned through two of these books. In about four months.
- Now I´m reading Harry Potter y la piedra de filosofal. I know the plot and the language is made for young students. This can take as much time as I want. Try to get a book made for young readers that is interesting and if there´s a movie that helps because it´s easy to get lost when you are reading in another language.
- I usually commit 15-30 minutes a day. I read on the metro and knock it out first thing in the morning. It was definitely difficult at first but by the end of reading my second book in Spanish I was able to get in the flow. Kindle is also great for this because I can just tap on a word and it translates so my flow isn´t interrupted.
- Now for Tagalog. I´m using app Lingo Tagalog. It is $9.99 for 35 lessons or $25 for all lessons. I commit to doing two lessons a day (often I do up to 5) and write the information down.
- With Duolingo, I made the mistake of not writing things down and just using the app but that did not enforce my learning. Duolingo does have one big fault that Lingo Tagalog doesn´t. Duolingo doesn´t explain grammar. It just uses it in context but for me I need an explanation. Lingo Tagalog has a quick one page explanation of all grammar points so you can study the grammar before taking the quiz.
- Also try to use drawings over translations. It´s important you are separating the languages. you don’t want to get in the habit of translating words you want to just know the words by heart.
- Now I did try to write all of my notes from Tagalog to Spanish so I was using both languages. It sort of worked but it eventually got a bit complicated because the difference between meanings varies so much. Learning the sign with the word has proven helpful because you are utilising your motor skills as well as language skills. But you´d have to know sign language first, which I kind of sort of do. I explain how I taught myself some sign language in the link below. However, sign language has taken a back seat to Tagalog for now.
- I also watch videos from Learn Tagalog with Fides. She is great because she just takes normal conversations and gives the translations in context. The goal is to use your language in conversation so it’s important to memorise phrases for common conversations first. You want to create a little script for yourself with phrases like, “How are you,” “I am a teacher,” “Where are you from,” and “Where is the bathroom?” If you have special needs like I’m vegetarian, learn those phrases first.
- Eventually, I would like to be able to have simple conversation and read Harry Potter in Tagalog too.
The most important thing about learning anything is setting goals. I don’t mean learning goals but reasons for learning the language. I first went to Spain to learn Spanish, I wanted to travel more. Now I’m learning Spanish in hopes of getting certified in a B2 level. This certification could open up many doors to jobs. One day C1 may be achievable but as of now I’m far off from that point. As for Tagalog, my goal is to go to the Philippines and be able to use the local language and eventually be able to talk to my mom and cousins in Tagalog. Language learning is so hard but incredibly rewarding. Think about it, every language you learn opens the door to more friends, cultures, and countries.
Americans and Languages
I do wish America did what Spain is doing. Spain starts teaching English in preschool then by high school students most students can at least test into B2 if not C1 level. Then if they can get a C1 level in English they move on to French or German. It makes sense! The research on how language changes the brain is incredible. Bilingual people are less likely to get Alzheimer’s, they can think faster and their whole brain is different. There’s no need to stay ignorant and monolingual when we have you tube, phone apps and more. Learn a language and widen your horizons!