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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 less.

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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