Category Archives for "Language Immersion"

Become Fluent in Spanish and 3 More Languages? It’s Not About Effort

My wife’s cousin Anna, from Mexico, married a Dutchman, Ruudek (Ruud) and they now live in West Africa with their two children Elea and Ulysse. The children, ages 5 (Ulysse) and 9 (Elea) both speak 4 languages fluently: French, English, Spanish and Dutch.  They even speak a smattering of an African language.  Both children learned Spanish and the other languages without making any particular effort – just as children and many adults do all over the world. I’m amazed when I watch them switch easily from one language to another. Yet, they acquired those languages through the natural language acquisition abilities that all we humans have.

Become fluent in Spanish like Elea and Ulysses

Ulysse and Elea

How did they do it?

They both have attended schools where they received some formal language instruction, so they also learned French and English as well as acquiring it. Here’s how they are able to speak 4 languages today.  Their parents met and eventually married in Paris where both were studying.  Since neither spoke the other’s native language at the time (i.e. Dutch and Spanish), they spoke French and continue to speak French with each other to this day.  When Elea was born they decided that it would be good if she could speak Spanish and Dutch, too.  So Anna spoke to Elea in Spanish and Ruud communicated with her in Dutch.

When Ulysse was born a few years later, his parents continued the same pattern of speaking Spanish and Dutch with him. Of course, both children have also been hearing French in their home ever since they were born because their parents speak that language with each other.  The family spent several years in an English-speaking West African country and both children picked up English from daily exposure to it from the nanny, from school and from playmates.

If you are reading this blog, most likely you are an adult.  How can you or I learn from the example of Ulysse and Elea?  Many people assume that children learn languages faster than adults, but it’s not clear that children really do have such an advantage – in fact the opposite may be true.  However, t’s pretty obvious that Elea and Ulysse have the right conditions to learn languages.

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Acquire Spanish While You Enjoy a Good Television Drama

I recently started watching the television drama from Spain called Gran Hotel and, I have to say, I’m hooked. The series, filmed over the last 3 years, consists of 39 episodes and takes place in Spain at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s reminiscent of Downton Abbey and is an interesting mix of drama, mystery, romance and comedy. The Gran Hotel (it’s titled ‘Grand Hotel’ in English) has won many awards (scroll to the bottom of this article to see a list) and is proving to be very popular in many countries. I found that it’s a wonderful way to acquire Spanish.


Palacio de la Magdalena, Santander, Spain, where Gran Hotel was filmed

What I like about Gran Hotel is that it’s very entertaining and I find myself engrossed in each episode from beginning to end.  I’ve been watching the show on Netflix and their version has English subtitles.  So I find myself glancing down to read the subtitles, especially when the actors are speaking rapidly.  And at times some of the actors’ lines don’t have subtitles – which is a great opportunity for me to take in the Spanish and understand as much as I can (a subsequent subtitle usually clarifies anything I might have missed).  This series provides an ideal way to improve my Spanish because it engages my mind in the drama so well, while exposing me to hours of Spanish – all in the context of lively action and a beautiful environment.

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The Benefits of Connecting with People in Spanish Acquisition: You’re Not Alone!

As I’ve mentioned before, I recently started taking a dance class after several years of not dancing. I was intimidated by the other people in the class because they clearly dance a lot and are at a very high level. At first it was hard to focus on enjoying the experience because I was worried what the other people would think of my rusty technique. However, once I realized that not only did no one else care what I was doing, but I also wasn’t there for their approval, I was able to let all that go. This was very freeing, and helped me get much more out of the class.

While being around other people who are working on what I am working on can be intimidating, it also drives me to try harder and perform at a higher level than I would by myself. Their excellence motivates me to rise to their level, to do my best – whatever that is at that time – and to keep improving more and more each time. This concept doesn’t only apply to dance. I’ve also found that I enjoy practicing yoga with others more than on my own (with the occasional home practice mixed in). I also enjoy practicing and using my Spanish language abilities with other people more than working on my own.

actively experience


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From English to Spanish: Code-Switching and Language Acquisition

I recently read a blog post about motherhood in Chile. It talked about a one-year-old girl being bilingual in English and Spanish and sometimes switching between the languages. I like this blog because it touches on a variety of subjects, including a series on motherhood around the world. Obviously, language would be an important part of raising children in a different country if the language spoken there was not your native tongue. This mom has seen this firsthand. While you may think that a child mixing up the two languages they are learning is a bad thing or will negatively affect them, research has shown that’s simply not true. Bilingualism and multilingualism are good for you, whether you are a child or an adult, and switching back and forth (known as “code-switching”) is a natural part of the process.

Reading about this child code-switching made me curious to brush up on the idea. In the process I found this video that brilliantly depicts how we code-switch in our everyday lives, even within our native language.

We all make assumptions based on our environment and act accordingly, but we might not always be as good at interpreting things as we think we are.

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The Difference Between Understanding in Spanish and Communicating in Spanish

I’ve mentioned that my husband is a medical student and that he is, unfortunately, not very proficient in Spanish. I’ve also mentioned that the rotation he is currently in involves seeing a lot of Spanish speaking patients. Because of this, he was given some handy materials on commonly used phrases, and we have been practicing some Spanish at home to help him at work.

medical spanish pocket

My husband’s handy dandy medical Spanish notebook.
Photo courtesy of the writer

Though he was given some handouts, he has been feeling frustrated with being put in situations where he can’t communicate with his patient because he doesn’t have the Spanish fluency he needs. It makes him uncomfortable to not be able to communicate with and care for them. His discomfort adds to the discomfort the patient is already experiencing because they are in a situation where they need to see a doctor, and because they are with a doctor who doesn’t speak their language. It’s neither party’s fault; it’s just a reality that they do not share a common language, and this interferes with the situation.

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