The single most common question that people ask me is: how did you learn Spanish as a second language? It makes sense. Learning a new language is a common aspiration for many Americans just below losing weight and quitting smoking. These researchers suggest that language learning is a great resolution for the new year.
Here are some bits of wisdom that I can pass along to the aspirational language learner:
Have a reason
Motivation is critical. I started a management job that I really liked; however, to do the job well I needed to speak some Spanish. All of my employees were bilingual Latinos. I was the monolingual gringo manager. Knowing Spanish could make the difference between success and failure. I loved the job and wanted to do well. So I was motivated.
Then I doubled-down on my motivation: I booked a trip! Travel is an excellent motivator for language learning.
Study a semester abroad, one week at a time
Eight months after I started studying Spanish, I found myself in Mexico City, alone.
My friend, Steve Barrymore, a fellow language learner, told me about these great language schools all across Latin America. He had studied at many of them, one week at a time. In lieu of more traditional vacations, Steve liked to study Spanish for a week in an immersion experience. Based on his recommendations, I booked myself a one-week Spanish immersion experience at ASLI Spanish Language Institute in Cuernavaca, Mexico (just south of Mexico City).
I spent four hours in the classroom every day. The class was small with only a few other students. We practiced conversation ands studied grammar. For the rest of the day, I spent time with my homestay family, walked around the city and hung out in el zocalo, the city center with my classmates.
My initial concern before the trip is that these kinds of language schools would be dominated by traditionally-aged college students. I was 33 years old. My concerns were quicky dispelled. The school was full of people of young and old, from the US and Europe.
It was on this trip, eight months into my learning that I caught myself thinking in Spanish. I was hooked!
That week long immersion trip was the first of many. The following year I traveled to Costa Rica to attend a school called Intercultura. This school is where my Spanish language skills went from intermediate to advanced.
The second day of lessons my new professor had me successfully reading, analyzing and re-writing Gabriel Garcia Marquez short stories!
Graduated interval recall + common words & phrases=pimsleur style
A person with vocabulary limited to just the 1,000 most frequently used lexemes (words or several words that form a single meaning) can understand 88% of spoken Spanish. Only 1,000 words or phrases will get you 88% of the way to solid spoken fluency.
Graduated interval recall is a method of learning that involves introducing a new word or phrase. Then it reinforces it over gradually increased intervals of time. The introduction and reinforcements are layered upon one another into a weave of language lessons.
The combination of common words and phrases plus graduated interval recall is what makes the Pimsleur learning system the fast track to spoken language proficiency.
I completed all four levels of the Pimsleur Spanish series. Each lesson is thirty-minutes long. Levels one through three contain thirty lessons or 900 minutes of instruction. The final series is ten lessons or 300 minutes.
I paid nothing for the first two levels (450 minutes of instruction) as they were available for checkout at my local library.
The video on this page contains the first lesson of the Pimsleur Spanish series.
Have more questions about learning a second language, like Spanish? Put them in them comments.