on January 05 2011 09:30 am 4

Why it Doesn’t Matter if you Failed High School Spanish…or Any Other Language

I’m sure you’ve heard it plenty of times: someone says they’ve “always” wanted to learn such-and-such language, but then claims they still can’t order coffee or even name basic colors in the language they’ve been wistfully admiring for years. Of course, for some it really is just an idle wish or at least a very low priority. Nothing wrong with that…we’ve all got those.

For others, though, the hold up is the belief that because they did so badly in the language classes they took as children or teens, they’ll do just as badly as adults. Bad schools experieces make some people assume they’re “not good with languages.” In reality, probably with few exceptions, there is no reason having floundered in school resigns you to a miserable fate of ending monolingualism. There are very real reasons most of us progressed slowly in school language classes and reasons we can do better as adults.

You Have More Choices Now

Most schools provide a very limited choice of language courses. You’ll usually get the three or four languages most widely spoken in the region. If none of those choices particularly inspire you, it’s unlikely you do very well. Passion for the language is a huge factor in sticking with it and, I would say, learning quickly. As an adult, you have the chance to choose any language you truly want to learn, even if it’s Hmong or Laotian.

You Have More Ways to Learn

There’s more than one way to go about language learning. School classes are often focus on memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules with a lot of writing and very little listening material or conversation practice. That kind of knowledge is easy to test and therefore convenient for teachers, but it doesn’t always provide practical communcation skills.

As an adult, you can choose the learning methods that suit you best. Notice whether you learn better through reading or listening, then try to get more authenitic material (material made for native speakers) in whichever form suits you. Try different textbooks and language courses like Pimsleur, Living Language, Teach Yourself, Assimil, and Rocket Languages. There are hundreds out there. Some of these carefully feed you material in a very organized way, while others use a more organic, immersion-like approach. All have their pros and cons. If you’re wary of buying, check your library for copies.

And look around the internet for courses by people who have their own take on learning the language. Some examples are Synergy Spanish, a course on how to communicate effectively in Spanish with just 138 Words and Arabic Genie, which offers a fast way to learn to read Arabic. Both were created by individuals who developed their own skills and methods in the real world rather than a classroom. I haven’t tried either course, so I’ve no idea how good it is, but the point is course like these can be as useful as more expensive, university-developed material.

You Have Access to Memory Aiding “Tricks”

Unfortunately, language teachers rarely teach students how to learn a language. They usually just don’t have time to provide tips and tricks on learning vocabulary, improving speaking fluency or the many other things you need to do when learning a language. Out of inexperience, young students try the first things that come to mind. For instance, they may try to memorize vocabulary simply by reading and rereading a list of words the teacher provides, which is probably the hardest way to learn vocabulary.

As an adult, though, you have the opportunity to try out learning tricks, memory aids and other “mind hacks” that can help you learn much faster. Not everyone likes to use these; some people prefer to immerse themselves in authentic material and surround themselves with native speakers and just soak up what they can in their own time. That’s fine, but if you need to learn quickly for your job or some other pressing reason, then you may want to arm yourself with some extra “mental tools” for language learning.

Related posts:

  1. Four Surefire Tips to Supercharge Your Spanish Studies
  2. How to Fix “I’m Not Good with Languages.”
  3. How to Learn a Foreign Language Faster
  4. Learning a Foreign Language Online: Cheap and Convenient or a Waste of Time?
  5. Make and Keep your Language Learning New Year’s Resolutions

Filed under Mindset

4 Responses to “Why it Doesn’t Matter if you Failed High School Spanish…or Any Other Language”

  1. Brian says:

    Excellent Post!, I have been stuying Arabic for about 2 years now and am working towards learning Mandarin. With foreign languages it just seems to come natural to myself, unlinke learning math or any other science. But I have found the key to foreign language success is in consistency and repetition. Good Stuff!

  2. Amelia says:

    Glad you enjoyed the post, Brian. I agree with you about consistency and repetition. Even a little bit every day is better than not starting at all.

  3. It does not matter if you failed your high school Spanish. Most of those who passed cannot speak Spanish either. As Amelia has pointed out, if you begin by getting more and more of the language in you, you can go in later and figure out the grammar. I like to focus on things that I like to listen to and read, build up my word power, and then back fill the grammar later, in bits and pieces, when I have a point of reference. My first goal is to understand. I worry about speaking ,and speaking correctly much later.

  4. Amelia says:

    Thank you for your visit and comment, Steve. I’m also partial to getting lots of imput first, although I find it hard to keep myself out of the grammar books. :) I think another benefit of starting out with casual reading and listening, without any specific goals or timeline, is that it’s less intimidating for someone who’s afraid they’re “not good with languages.” It varies by language of course, but often enough even trying to read short ads or cartoons or listening to pop music gives a person some experience with the language, which builds up their confidence in their ability to learn.

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