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For most of my life I have been fascinated with other languages. I recall being
somewhat excited about the prospect of studying a language in High School,
but the end result was a great disappointment. In two years of study of
the Spanish language we barely knew anything past finding out about names,
telling about going to the movies, or asking where the bathroom is. In
two years we had done little more than cover the basics and in the final
month of class finally were able to construct such dizzying phrases as
"I am going to go to the movies." as opposed to the much simpler "I go
to the movies" that we had lived with for a little over a year and a half.
At this point in time I really wondered if I just wasn't meant to know
and understand another language. In college I chose to study German and
learned more in a semester about that language than our High School course
had covered in 2 years of Spanish and so felt somewhat bolstered in the
hope that I would someday be bilingual. Time passed and I had got away
from language study for some years when I decided that I needed to buckle
down and get to learn one language other than my native one very well.
I chose Spanish for a few reasons. The primary reason though is the ease
of access to cable television in Spanish as well as a weekly newspaper
in Spanish. In the United States it is pobably the most practical second
language you could learn with some regional exceptions.
It has been now about 7 years since I decided to learn Spanish and I feel
like the last year in particular has been the most effective and beneficial.
In this entire process I've learned a lot of interesting things about
myself, how I learn and how people generally learn and come to some conclusions
on how I will approach refreshing and bettering on my understanding of
the German language which is next on my list. For much of the task of
memorizing whether it be pronunciation or actual vocabulary words I highly
encourage the use of spaced repetition flash card software. For the sake
of brevity, I'll just say that the concept is that you review your memory
items each day which may take anywhere from 5-30 minutes. You grade yourself
on how well you know or didn't know the memory items and then pick back
up tomorrow. The software uses your self rating to decide when to present
the information to you again. It has been one year since I started using
mnemosyne which is a spaced repetition software program and I credit it
for a vast increase in my Spanish language vocabulary.
In approaching a new language, the first thing I would do is learn the
alphabet and the pronunciations. Most introductions to a language will
give you an english word as an example for the pronunciation of characters.
I think my approach would be to have the letter on one side of a flash
card and the pronunciation cue on the flip side of the card. Learn these
as well as possible first. Grammar is certainly important for the structure
of a language and for sounding like an informed individual but my opinion
is that you should not let yourself get bogged down in the details of
grammar too early on. Learn the basics of grammar. Learn if there are
special endings for different forms of the verb, if the nouns have gender
and what rules apply. Learn the basics of whether or not adjectives agree
with the number or gender of nouns. But, if some of the rules are too
much to keep straight right now, then move on.
In my opinion the absolute highest priority early on should be learning
vocabulary. As soon as you are able to start learning words in the target
language, do so. Swabesh lists are a good place to start. Online you can
find the 207 most commonly used words for most highly studied languages.
Learn those and then start collecting more words. As you run across these
words write them down, look them up in a translation dictionary and add
them to your deck of flash cards. This is exactly how I've studied for
the last year and I'm at a point with Spanish that most weeks I can go
through the local paper without needing to lookup any words. As your vocabulary
grows you will inevitably see grammar examples. Read words out quietly
in your head to help yourself get a feel for pronunciation and for the
grammar rules that you are going to pick up by example.
As you continue to learn vocabulary I think it's a good time to return
to the grammar lessons and try to clarify your understanding. Find examples
of those grammar rules in your reading. You may use a number of sources
as your raw material for vocabulary word mining as well as grammar examples.
For instance, books, magazines and newspapers (including their online
counterparts) can be the best source for vocabulary because these media
tend to show off more vocabulary than tv or movies. That much said, tv,
radio and movies can be great ways to familiarize yourself with the spoken
patterns of the language and perhaps to either correct your pronunciation
or give an idea of regional variations on how things are pronounced.
By the time you have a vocabulary of 2000 words your confidence in at
least understanding the language should start to be very solid. Use your
vocabulary to communicate however possible to increase your comfort with
speaking and producing the language even if you only speak to yourself!
Continue to work with your flash cards each and every day and keep collecting
vocabulary. The bottom line here is that 95% of your work should be vocabulary
acquisition. If some of the grammar rules are too complex right now, don't
let it stop you, get in there and learn by example and review the grammar
again at another time. Using this approach I'm convinced that I can get
to a high comfort level with almost any language with a year's study or
Visit the authors sites for more information on the study of languages and how to learn spanish for beginners .
Published - March 2010
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