Category Archives for "Language and Culture"

“The Wrong and Right Way to Learn a Foreign Language”

"There is a Wrong Way and a Right Way to Learn a Foreign Language" 

In 2012, the Washington Post published an article titled "The wrong and right way to learn a foreign language", written by Stephen Krashen, the prominent linguist and educator. In the article he took issue with some recent advice by a State Department staffer. The staffer advised "study grammar very hard, drill vocabulary every day, and force yourself to talk" in order to learn a foreign language.

Krashen points out that this advice flies in the face of decades of research. Krashen writes:

[Instead], we acquire language when we understand what people tell us and what we read, when we get “comprehensible input.” As we get comprehensible input through listening and reading, we acquire (or “absorb”) the grammar and vocabulary of the second language.

Following are some quotes from Krashen's writings followed by explanations of how Designed Immersion™ relates to the same concepts:

Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill.

Our Designed Immersion™ approach avoids all use of tedious drills and instructs the user to focus on enjoying the content rather than on memorization while using the program. More importantly, Designed Immersion™ is based on the principle of maximizing comprehensible input over time.,

Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language - natural communication - in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.

When the condition of 'meaningful interaction in the target language' is satisfied, students invariably find the process satisfying and enjoyable. When, instead, the focus is placed on the language itself with drills, memorization exercises and grammar study, most students find it difficult to maintain interest for very long.

The best methods are therefore those that supply 'comprehensible input' in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear.

All the content within and experienced through the Spanish Fluency Membership is comprehensible - either explicitly because of the contextual translations and explanatory notes or implicitly because of the Training included with the Spanish Fluency Membership. You watch, listen and read along on your own with no social pressures, tests, corrections, etc. that might cause anxiety.

Regarding 'speaking practice' Krashen says:

Should language students force themselves to talk? Research informs us that at beginning stages, highly successful second language acquirers often experience a substantial “silent period,” a time when they produce little or no language. The silent period is nearly universal for children acquiring a second language, and there are entire cultures in which second language acquirers are expected to experience a silent period.

Forcing language students to speak before they are ready not only makes them extremely uncomfortable but does nothing for language acquisition. Speaking doesn't cause language acquisition; rather, the ability to speak is the result of comprehensible input.

There is a substantial research literature showing that vocabulary knowledge comes largely from comprehensible input, especially reading in both first and second languages.

In Designed Immersion™ our main focus is on students acquiring the ability to fully understand native Spanish speakers when they speak because understanding (knowing) the language is the basis for fluency. As adults, we all know how to speak - we learned to speak as children learning our native language.  And we can easily apply that speaking ability to Spanish - to the degree that we know the language. 

Nevertheless, becoming really comfortable and confident with speaking Spanish is an additional skill we focus on in the Spanish Fluency Membership.

Learn Spanish and Give Your Brain a ‘Potent Workout’

Becoming fluent in Spanish could help slow down some effects of aging

As a recent article in Science News makes clear, knowing and even learning a second language improves brain functioning and may protect our aging brains. Of course, I am happy enough already that my efforts to become fluent in Spanish are paying off – both in my increasing fluency and in the fun I’m having in the process.  But it’s nice to know that just knowing Spanish creates a kind of automatic brain exercise that improves my brain functioning now – and could significantly delay the negative effects of Alzheimer’s (should I be so unfortunate to get it in the future).  Maybe my language study is just as beneficial to my brain functioning as Luminosity and similar mental exercise games! Except that those games won’t help me speak Spanish.


Learning Spanish helps your brain to function better

How does being bilingual give your brain such a great workout?

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Did I Waste My Time Taking Spanish Classes?

Apparent Early Success Followed by Disappointment

I took several years of Spanish classes in high school and at university.  I found the classes somewhat tedious, but I did well enough and received good grades.  Time passed and one day I was thrust into a situation where I had to use my Spanish in order to do my job.  (I won’t bore you with the details, but my job involved interviewing people in their homes and sometimes those homes were filled with recently arrived immigrants who spoke only Spanish).

Well, I was disappointed and even shocked at how poorly I was able to communicate in Spanish.  I could manage greetings and a few simple phrases, but I was incapable of conducting the interview.  I was still able to pick up a book or magazine and recognize and even understand many words, but conversational fluency was way beyond me.

Something Wonderful

And then, a few years later, something wonderful happened.  I was invited to go on a month-long road trip around central and southern Mexico with 3 native Spanish speakers.  My three companions all spoke fluent Spanish and English, but we agreed – for my benefit and for their preference, to communicate only in Spanish for the duration of the trip.  We flew to Mexico City and rented a Volkswagen Beetle and started off.


We rented a car for our Mexican road trip

Right away I realized that my holiday trip was not going to be easy – and I didn’t think it was “wonderful” in any way, initially.  Continue reading

A Spanish Acquisition Exercise – Best Done When You’re Hungry

I love food – cooking it, but especially eating it.  A Spanish acquisition exercise that I do periodically and that has helped me improve my Spanish is to watch food preparation videos from Hispanic countries on YouTube.  Granted, there are tens of thousands of such videos on YouTube, and usually it takes me a while to find the right videos.  These are my criteria for choosing videos:

  • The video must show the speaker’s face for at least part of the time.  I want to connect with the person doing the video as much as possible.
  • I like the person doing the video and get the feeling that the person is being genuine and is not just a paid entertainer. As much as possible I want to practice with ‘real people.’
  • The person speaks clearly and, ideally, not too fast.
  • The video is not too long – usually less than 10 minutes.  Since I am watching the video as a language learning exercise, I don’t usually want to sit through a 30 minute detailed set of instructions on how to prepare a sophisticated dish.
  • I find the video engaging and fun to listen to.
Spanish acquisition exercise

Argentinian women making empanadas

Spanish Acquisition Exercise

Then I watch and listen to the video, understanding as much as I am able to without concern for what I don’t understand.  I want to make this a fun, enjoyable language acquisition exercise, not a language learning exercise.  So I usually don’t bother looking up words in the dictionary, nor try to memorize vocabulary, etc.  But I do employ one of the fundamentals of language acquisition: repetition. So, when I finish that video, I try to find another one that is about the same dish. I find it helpful and interesting to compare the two recipes and to get different points of view on how to prepare that dish.  And the second video always uses a lot of the same vocabulary as the first which provides the repetition, but with some changes.

Continue reading

Learn Spanish with Songs

One of the easiest and most engaging ways to improve your Spanish is listen to and sing songs.  When you learn Spanish with songs it can help you in these ways:

  • Repeatedly listening to a song accomplishes the important step of repetition.
  • There is research that points to the positive role song plays in language learning – in the areas of tone, rhythm and memory which are all basic to both music and language.
  • The process of repeatedly listening to and practicing a song is not boring; in fact, most people find that it’s fun and emotionally rewarding.
  • Singing a song out loud (singing along with a recording, alone or with others) is a great way to practice pronunciation and self-expression.
  • Songs help us expand our vocabulary and ways of expressing ourselves beyond our ‘comfort zone.’

Here is a song, Canción de Adiós, that’s good for learning Spanish because it’s clear and easy to hear the words, and the song is melodically simple. The song was written and performed by Andrea Galindo-Escamilla who is a member of Rice University’s Mariachi Luna Llena Band.


If you’d like to view the video directly on YouTube (where you will be able to see the video in higher resolution), click here.

Below are the full lyrics of the song along with the English translation. Enjoy singing along with the song – and even memorizing it so that you can sing to yourself while you drive. Canción de Adiós has a rich vocabulary and has 7 instances of subjunctive mood verbs and this can be very helpful; we English speakers learning Spanish often find the frequent use of the subjunctive  in Spanish a little challenging.

Canción de Adiós

Que en la vida te encontraraThat in life I found you
y que enseguida te amaraand that immediately I loved you
fue el destino que seguí.was the destiny I followed.
Poco a poco fue creciendoLittle by little it grew
este amor que floreciendothis love that flourishing
ahora tiene que has to die.
La distancia tiene culpaThe distance has blame
pero no tiene disculpabut it doesn't have justification
que no lucharas por mí.that you wouldn't fight for me.
Vete ya, no tengas dudaGo away now, don't doubt
que en mi corazón se quedathat in my heart remains
este amor que es para tí.this love that is for you.
Quién no sabe en este mundoWho doesn't know in this world
que al amar se da la vidathat when loving one gives one's life
y se entrega el corazón.and one surrenders one's heart.
Es por eso que hoy lloroThat is why today I cry
por amarte y adorartefor loving you and adoring you
y aun así decirte adiós.and yet tell you good bye.
Ojalá que nuestra historiaHopefully our story
permanezca en tu memoriaremains in your memory
y vuelvas a ser feliz.and you are happy again.
Sigue ahora tu caminoContinue now your way
así lo quiso el destinothat is how destiny wanted it
que no fueras para mí.that you were not for me.
Te doy gracias por tu tiempoI thank you for your time
por crear tantos recuerdosfor creating so many memories
de mi vida junto a ti.of my life with you.
Quiero que sepas que el llantoI want you to know that the tears
también se convierte en canto,also transform into song,
y así nació esta canción.and that is how this song was born.
Quién no sabe en este mundo Who doesn't know in this world
que al amar se da la vida that when loving one gives one's life
y se entrega el corazón.and one surrenders one's heart.
Es por eso que hoy lloroThat is why today I cry
por amarte y adorartefor loving you and adoring you
y aun así decirte adiós.and yet tell you good bye.
learn Spanish with songs. Andrea Galindo-Escamilla

Andrea Galindo-Escamilla, composer of Canción de Adiós


The Pars Omni Spanish Voices program that you saw in action in the video above is a language acquisition and language learning tool that can help you become more fluent in Spanish.  It gives you access to dozens of recorded, unrehearsed conversations (and songs) with native Spanish speakers. Download Pars Omni Spanish Voices to find out how it can help you become fluent in Spanish.