In spite of having taken Spanish classes since kindergarten, I emerged from 7th grade knowing little more than how to say very basic things such as “My favorite color is green” and “I like dogs.” The reason for my lack of knowledge stemmed not from the school nor the teachers, but rather, my own lack of interest in the subject. I can’t explain it, but sometime during 8th grade I was struck with a desire to truly learn the language. And that has been my key to success. That is the reason I am fluent today. It all starts with desire. After you’ve got that desire, I recommend you do the following:
Take Spanish classes
• I took Spanish classes all throughout high school and most of college. When people hear that I’ve traveled to several Latin American countries, they automatically assume that’s how I learned the language. They’re wrong – I learned most of it in the classroom. Spend several months in any Spanish-speaking country and yes, you will pick up key phrases and a wealth of vocabulary words, but you will not learn the grammar. In fact, you may even learn incorrect grammar on the street, which is why it’s better to study it in an academic setting with a trained professional.
Make friends with a native speaker
• In high school, one of my best friends was a native Spanish speaker. So whenever I had questions about how to word a sentence, or which word I should use in such and such context, I turned to her. She could tell me what sounded natural and what didn’t, which is something that those of us learning a foreign language struggle with. Of course, you should always attempt to word the troubling phrase on your own before turning it over to your friend, but friends will always be happy to help.
• And while I found it more effective to learn grammar in school than on the street, that is not to say studying abroad does not have its benefits. After all, there is no better place to practice your target language than a country that speaks that language almost exclusively. However, I would say the best part of studying abroad (I have done it twice) is simply broadening your world view. You come home bragging about dishes like lomo saltado and patatas bravas; complaining about how packed combis are; and longing for the views offered by Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and the Inca’s Machu Picchu. It is truly a life-changing experience.
So what if you don’t have a desire to learn a foreign language? That’s fine. After all, if everyone on this earth enjoyed working with numbers, we would all be a bunch of accountants, and we’d have no musicians or plumbers or doctors. How awful would that be?! Regardless, most of you will have to take at least a couple of years of foreign language in high school, so you’d better make the most of it. My advice is to make a couple of friends in your Spanish/French/Latin class so that, come quiz or test time, you will have someone to study with… someone to bounce your questions off of. The camaraderie will make the class a lot more enjoyable – even if you’re not so keen on the subject matter. ¡Buena suerte!
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