Category Archives for "Language Learning Tools"

“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?

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.

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

1 2 3 5