While there are a raft of techniques, practices and behaviors you can use to help improve and accelerate your Spanish learning, there are also a set of things that will hold you back.
It might sound obvious but if you want to improve, you need to do more of what pushes you forward and less of what holds you back.
There are a lot of strategies that could be added to this list but here are the top 5 that will slow your progress:
Learning another language at the same time
This is a big no no. Learning two languages at the same time can cause confusion and chaos in your brain as you try build knowledge of both languages.
When you are learning a language and committing it to memory, your brain is working to form new associations and clusters and to group them in certain ways.
Ideally you want to be able to cluster the parts of your brain that are dedicated to one language at a time. If your new associations for Spanish coincide with French, Italian or any other language you will have difficulty recalling the words of the language you intend to use.
If you are an aspiring polyglot, decide on what language you want to learn first and then focus on improving that language until you reach your goal level then switch languages.
The choice of which language to learn first shouldn’t be a hard, it’s Spanish right?
Fear of making mistakes
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear” – George Addair.
This one holds a lot of language students back, myself included.
It is scary, you don’t want to look like in an idiot if you say the wrong thing. Maybe they wont understand you, or maybe you won’t understand them.
I’ve been there, trust me. Its awkward and you feel uneasy. But, you need to face fear head on or otherwise you will never reach your language goals.
When you give it a go, you realize that most Spanish natives appreciate you have taken the time to learn about their language and culture.
Spanish natives that I have spoken to have been overwhelmed with excitement that someone is learning their language. They didn’t care that my pronunciation or use of grammar wasn’t perfect. They could understand me and I could understand them and in most situations that is good enough.
When I was in Pamplona in 2012 for the San Fermín festival, I sat next to a local to watch the running of the bulls. I spoke with him for an hour while we waited for the main spectacle. He could not believe my level in Spanish and said that most Australians he had spoken to tend to panic when he simply says ‘hola’. He said that a simple greeting was often followed by “dude, I don’t speak Spanish.” Now as embarrassed as I was that my fellow countryman struggle to belt out a simple ‘hola’, there is hope that if your Spanish runs deeper than a simple greeting, you might be surprised at how easily you can impress.
I have already spoken about the danger of cramming and will continue to do so.
When learning a second language there is lot to learn. You can’t fit it all into a few big study sessions sporadically spaced apart.
You need to find a study flow where you can practice regularly, everyday if you can can. If you miss a day or two, no big deal. But don’t think you are going to learn Spanish on the plane when you are heading to a Spanish speaking country – you might be lucky if you can memorize and retain anymore than two or three phrases.
This is a killer, and I think we all face this at times, so don’t be worried if you think you are the only one dealing with time sapping procrastination tendencies.
The first step to overcoming procrastination is to develop an ability to recognize it when its happening.
There are lots of techniques for dealing with procrastination and I will talk more about these in upcoming blog posts but for now see if you can recognize your procrastination patterns and catch yourself quickly.
Say you start to memorize a verb table and then you look up and you have an email. The email points to a Facebook post, the Facebook post points to a YouTube video, the YouTube video points to another video etc. Before you know it you have lost 2 hours.
Try to catch yourself in the first 5 minutes of this pattern and pull yourself back. Try to develop the habit and overtime you will get better at understanding the triggers that cause you head down a YouTube rabbit hole. Turn off email if you have to. Turn off the internet if you have to.
But if all fails and as an absolute worst case, if you simply can’t help but procrastinate, start by acknowledging that you procrastinating when you are. It is much better to acknowledge it when it’s happening so that in future you may be able to deal with it. If you can’t see it, you will struggle to ever do something about it.
If perfectionism is holding you back, you need to put things in perspective. English is my first language and I make mistakes all of the time. Does this apply to you? Have you perfected English? If you make mistakes in English, how are you ever going to perfect a second language?
There is nothing wrong with aiming for perfection, it is worthwhile moving toward perfection overtime. But I put perfection and fluency in the same bag. They are both good destinations but you will never get there if you can’t walk the journey through mistakes, bad grammar, bad pronunciation and missing vocabulary.
Perfectionism can be closely aligned with fear of making mistakes. Just remember that the natives that you are speaking to are more often than not excited and happy that you are speaking their language and will not judge you if you say the wrong thing or mess up the grammar.
If you are waiting to be perfect before you try to converse in a second language you could be waiting a long time.
If any of these behaviors apply to you, take action to prevent them next time. There are lots of strategies but the best strategy is being a little more self aware.
Tackling fear is best done by knowing that it is fear holding you back. Procrastination is best tackled by acknowledging that you are procrastinating. Same with perfectionism and cramming.
If you don’t recognize the poor patterns you won’t be able to work against them. But once you do, you can work to remove the behaviors that are stopping you from reaching your language learning goals.