September 8

Making Progress in Spanish by Taking Things Step by Step: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

I read an interesting book recently (as you know I love to do) and, of course, particularly enjoyed the parts that related to language. The book is written by a stroke survivor about her experience and recovery. She discusses how she had to take things step by step over a long period of time and this made me think about how important it is to take things step by step when trying to make progress in Spanish fluency.

my stroke of insight
An informative and engaging read that gives insight into strokes as well as the human condition in general.
Photo courtesy of the writer

There was a ton of great content in the book about how our brains work, like this:

“Although each of our cerebral hemispheres process information in uniquely different ways, the two work intimately with one another when it comes to just about every action we undertake. With language, for example, our left hemisphere understands the details making up the structure and semantics of the sentence – and the meaning of the words. It is our left mind that understands what letters are and how they fit together to create a sound (word) that has a concept (meaning) attached to it. It then strings words together in a linear fashion to create sentences and paragraphs capable of conveying very complex messages.” 

She goes on to discuss how our right hemisphere “complements” the left “by interpreting non-verbal communication,” like “the more subtle cues of language including tone of voice, facial expression, and body language.” Like the author, I believe thinking about thinking and thinking about how our minds work are great and important ways to facilitate and enrich learning. Thus, knowing how our brain processes language can help us support our natural mental processes as well as help diagnose what’s wrong when things don’t seem to be working correctly. It is also interesting to think about the non-verbal things that our right mind is processing when we are learning, receiving, and producing language.

In addition to excellent explanations of the natures of the two hemispheres of our brains, the author also discusses her painstaking recovery process. She recalls “breaking the effort of sitting up into smaller steps” and thus finding “regular success along the way.” She says she “had to completely inhabit the level of ability that I could achieve before it was time to take the next step” and that she “had to go through each stage, master that level of ability, and then the next step unfolded naturally.” She asserts that “if the boundary between what you can do and what you cannot do is not clearly defined, then you don’t know what to try next.”

These insights can also be applied to acquiring a new language. It is very important to break that giant task into manageable steps, like remembering three new vocabulary words and using them in conversation or written practice, and taking time to celebrate those accomplishments along the way. When you give yourself clear goals, you will know what to do next and will be able to tangibly see when you have made progress in Spanish, which is an important part of learning and motivation.

Another important insight is that true progress takes time. My husband has expressed frustration at not being able to communicate with patients at work and understandably expressed that he wants to know Spanish, but doesn’t want to learn Spanish. While I wish he had more desire to learn (and I think he actually does, he just doesn’t have the mental bandwidth to do it right now because he is learning so many other things), I get that his experience with learning Spanish in high school was less than stellar and so he is kind of turned off to the idea. I won’t give up on him, though, and am confident that his language journey is not over.

Language acquisition is a journey that occurs over many years and through many different experiences. That’s not to say that you can’t make real progress quickly – you absolutely can. That said, there will always be more to learn and more ways to improve. Wherever you are in the process, you can benefit from a step by step approach and high quality learning tools, like Pars Omni Spanish VoicesDownload the software for free for an immersive Spanish experience.


language acquisition, language learning, Spanish language

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