Please Spanish students, make mistakes!


As I mentioned last week, I started teaching a new conversation class for beginners to Spanish, which has inspired me to share a series of tips related to language learning.  These tips will be geared towards students that are new to the language learning process, but could also be beneficial to the veterans.


Tip #2 – Please, make mistakes!

Generally speaking, the last thing we want as human beings is to make mistakes.  We feel embarrassed, dumb, unprepared, etc. But when it comes to learning a language through conversation, mistakes are an important part of the process.  

If you’re putting yourself out there and trying to communicate, you’re going to make mistakes.  No one that is learning a language speaks it perfectly. No one. And if you actually want to learn to speak, you need to put yourself out there, therefore you will make mistakes.  

In addition to that, scientific research shows that we are more likely to learn from a previous mistake that we personally made, than from just being handed the correct information.  

So the next time that you think to yourself “I better not say anything because I’m not sure it’s right,” remember that perfection is not the goal in the language learning process; communication is.


Cognates are your friend!

Last night I started teaching a conversation class for beginners to Spanish, which has inspired me to share a series of tips related to language learning. These tips will be geared towards students that are new to the language learning process, but could also be beneficial to the veterans.

Tip #1 – Cognates are your friend!

Cognates are words that are similar in 2 languages, usually because they come from the same root or language (such as Greek or Latin).

For example:
Poem & poema
Climate & clima
Check & cheque
Salary & salario
Authentic & auténtico

When you are new to a language, cognates are your best friends. They’re easy to learn to use when you speak and to understand when you’re listening. Here is a list of 1000+ English/Spanish cognates:

One thing to be aware of is that there are false cognates (commonly referred to as “false friends”).

For example:
To be embarazada does not mean to be embarrassed, it means to be pregnant!
To molestar someone means to annoy them, not to molest them!
A fábrica is a factory, not fabric.
Recordar means to remember, not to record.
To be exitado means to be sexually aroused, not excited!

If you’re the type to study vocabulary, a list of cognates is an excellent place to start!


Are you embarrassed to speak Spanish to native speakers?


Practically every day I talk to a student who tells me how embarrassed they are to speak Spanish in front of native speakers. They are afraid to make mistakes and “sound like a five-year-old.”


It’s very easy for me or someone else to tell you not to be embarrassed, but that doesn’t mean that the embarrassment will suddenly disappear. However, there are a few things you may want to consider.


You are learning an entire other language!

This is huge! How many people can say that? I am pretty sure that in the world the percentage of people who are learning a foreign language is much, much smaller than the percentage of people who are not.


It took you years to learn your native language!

After all of the years you have working on your native language, there are still many many things that you do not know. How could you possibly expect to speak a foreign language perfectly when you have probably put in 1% or less of the time that you put into learning your native language?


Native Spanish speakers are generally thrilled and flattered when you’re learning their language!

They don’t care if you make mistakes. And if they do care, why should you? Do they speak English perfectly?  Do most people who learn a foreign language speak it perfectly?  Um, no.


Who doesn’t love to be the expert?

People in general love to teach others something that they know how to do well. Tell a native Spanish speaker that you are learning their language and that you would love the opportunity to practice with them, and they will feel like they are on top of the world!


Remember why you’re doing this!

Most people learn a foreign language so that they can better communicate with others in the world. You do not need to do it perfectly, you just need to do it.


Letting go of the embarrassment is by far the most important thing you can do during this amazing journey. It will free you up to put yourself out there, make mistakes, and learn from them, which will actually help you to improve your Spanish!  It will give you the opportunity to meet others and to learn about their culture. Learning a new language truly opens up an entire other world. Allow yourself that extraordinary opportunity.



Spanish language milestones


Every day I listen to a chapter of an audiobook in Italian. The short stories that I read are usually 3 chapters, so it usually takes me 3 days to listen to an entire story. Then I usually listen to the story 2 to 5 times, before I completely understand it (and by “completely understanding it” I do not mean every word, I mean all of the important aspects of the story), so usually it takes me between 1 – 3 weeks to get through one short story.

A few days ago I listened to my first story all the way through. I was so captivated by the story from the first chapter that I had to listen to another one and then the third one. When I was finished I realized that I had listened to the entire story and understood everything (and again, with “everything” I don’t mean every single word, I mean all of the important concepts of the story) in just one shot! I was SO excited that I immediately shared my news with everyone I ran into that day!  

So why am I telling you this?  Because throughout my personal language learning journey I always think about our Spanish students and what they must go through. On this particular occasion I realized how important it is to celebrate the milestones. We often spend so much time worrying about vocabulary that we don’t know yet, mistakes that we make when we speak, tenses we don’t yet understand, etc., What we should be doing instead is celebrating the milestones, remembering how much joy learning a language can bring into our lives, thinking about the doors learning a language opens up for us, how much fun it is to learn a new funny or useful phrase, how interesting it is to learn the way another language expresses something, etc.

Today my request is that you take a moment to celebrate your Spanish language learning accomplishments. What have you experienced recently that made YOU giddy?


Sick of always being a beginner in Spanish?


Will I ever move past being a beginner in Spanish?

I would guess that I talk to 3 to 5 people every week that have been studying Spanish on and off for 10-20 years, who have never gotten past the beginner stage. If this is you, read on.

Learning a language takes time. There is no way around that unless you move to a foreign country for a year, where you actually live your entire life in that language. Since most of us don’t have that luxury, we need to fit language learning into our daily lives.

This is where it gets tricky. The majority of students usually start out strong, and then after a few months they take a break. Then a few months later, they come back to it, and then they take another break. This totally works, if you take breaks in the right places.

For example:
When you start to learn Spanish, you should not take a break until you are conversational at least on a basic level. You should be able to talk for 2-3 minutes, (even if you sound like a 3 year old) about basic every day things in your life, such as your family, your job, your hobbies, what you did last weekend , etc. If you’re taking classes with us, we recommend not taking a break until you have been in an A1 class for at least 3-6 months.

The next break should not come until you have reached an intermediate level. If you are taking classes with us, that would be when you have been in a B1 class for at least 3-6 months.

These are the only breaks I would recommend, if your goal is to get out of being a beginner. And even when you take breaks, Spanish should continue to be a part of your life in one way or another (maybe listening to podcasts, audiobooks, chatting with friends, journaling, whatever you want), and the breaks should not last more than 3 months.

I always say that learning a language is like working out. It should always be a part of your life, not a stop and start over again kind of thing, because just like with working out, when you take a long break, you can really feel how much muscle (Spanish) you have lost!

So if you are feeling frustrated that you’ve been a beginner for what feels like 100 years, stick with it until you are solid in a low intermediate level, and then you can consider taking a short break, but not before!


No time to practice your Spanish?

Are you one of the many students that feels they do not have time to work on their Spanish outside of class, but want to practice? If that is you, here are 5 ways to practice your Spanish in five minutes or less per day:

1 – Listen to a podcast or an audiobook while you are getting ready, cleaning the house, driving, etc.
Time required = 0 minutes/day

2 – Answer Pura Buena Onda’s “Conversación del día on Facebook every day:
Time required = 5 minutes/day

3 – Write out your to do list or grocery lists in Spanish.
Time required = approximately one minute every time you add an item

4 – Keep an audio journal. Talk about your day every day.
Time required = 5 minutes/day

5 – Learn a song. Sing it once a day, with the lyrics in front of you, every day until you can sing it without looking. Then spend five minutes a day translating it until you understand the whole thing. Then pick a new song.
Time required = 4-5 minutes/day

So next time you say that you do not have time to practice your Spanish, remember that you are full of caca.


What is your attitude towards learning Spanish?

¿Qué tal chicos?  ¿Listos para el fin de semana?

This week I want to talk about the role that attitude plays in learning a language.


The reality is that attitude plays a huge part in everything that we do.

If you walk into a situation with a bad attitude, you probably won’t be surprised when everything turns out crappy.

When you go into a situation with a positive attitude, you will most likely feel thankful afterwards that everything went so well.

This is how it plays out in life, and this is how it plays out with language learning.


So here are a few alternatives for those days when you are feeling negative about the language learning journey:


Instead of: The conjugations are so hard in Spanish!  I’m never going to learn them!

How about: There are so many conjugations in Spanish that I’m going to focus on learning one at a time.


Instead of:  I’m never going to understand native Spanish speakers, they talk way too fast!

How about:  My goal is to someday understand native Spanish speakers, so I’m going to dedicate 5 minutes to comprehension practice every day.


Instead of:  My pronunciation in Spanish sucks!  I can’t make those sounds!

How about:  I’m going to work on my pronunciation by reading out loud, listening to native Spanish speakers, trying to mimic sounds, by looking in a mirror at the positioning of my tongue when I speak, etc..  I’m bound to get better!


Instead of:  I feel like I don’t know anything!  I’m never going to be fluent in Spanish!

How about:  I can’t believe how much Spanish I have learned already!  X years/months ago I couldn’t even X and now I can X!  


So the moral of the story is that attitude counts.  Learning a language is a lifelong process, and having a bad attitude is just going to make everything take longer, seem worse than it is, and take away the joy of learning. What is your attitude towards the language learning process?



Squeezing in some Spanish over the holidays

I know, I know, I know, you are very busy right now and the last thing you need to think about is how you are going to practice your Spanish over the holidays!
But, I am a firm believer that anyone can find five minutes in their day for a little practice. And those five minutes will help you to not come back to class in January feeling like a total dumbass, so I highly recommend it!

Here are a few recommendations:

Things that you can easily do for five minutes:
Talk to yourself
Participate in La conversación del Día on PBO’s Facebook page
Journal about your day (on your phone if necessary)
Do DuoLingo or better yet, Busuu
Listen to Spanish radio, a podcast, music, and audiobook, whatever…
Listen to music in Spanish
Read a paragraph or two or three of a book/magazine, whatever you can squeeze into five minutes
Hear someone speaking Spanish? Strike up a conversation!

When to squeeze in these five minutes:
While you are getting ready
While you are having breakfast
While you are waiting in a horribly long line somewhere
You can use it as an excuse to get away from your crazy family for five minutes
While you are driving
While you are at an airport somewhere
While you’re cleaning

So, as you can see, you can always find 5 minutes to practice your español :) How will you practice over the holidays?


Spanish tip: Diccionario vs Dictionary

Hola chicos,
¿Qué tal la semana?

As you probably all know by now, immersion is the best way to learn a language.  Yet most of the time, when we are studying Spanish, we look up a word in the dictionary with the English definition. Why do we do this?  Because it’s faster & much easier I would think.

This week our tip to you is to look up words in a Spanish dictionary. Most of the time we can understand the meaning when it is explained in Spanish and this allows us to stay in our target language, which in the long run is a much more effective learning strategy. If it’s still not clear, you can always look it up in English, but try Spanish first.

What is a new word for you this week and what is the definition that you found in the dictionary in Spanish?  Give us the definition, but not the word…let’s see if we can guess!



My favorite dictionaries:

Real Academia Española

Word Reference