We talk to people every day – on the street, in the store, at home – and rarely think about how amazing it is that we can actually communicate with them. We constantly take for granted our ability to converse with those around us.
Now, 58.9 million of our neighbors here in the States are Spanish-speakers. Imagine that for a moment. There is an impressive language barrier between us and almost 20% of the population. How can we bridge that gap and begin to communicate more fully with our neighbors? Well, we can start by perfecting our Spanish-learning process.
Why the Traditional Methods of Learning Spanish are Flawed
Let’s think about how most of us have tried to learn Spanish…
- Workbooks with reading and writing exercises
- Large classroom settings
- Non-native Spanish speaking instructors
- Software (free or paid) with audio recordings
- Classes only 1 or 2 times per week
Did one of these methods work for you? More than likely, they did not because these techniques utilize the wrong parts of the brain.
Flaws in the Traditional Methods
Remember the list we made of the different ways we normally try to learn Spanish? Those are what we are going to call ‘traditional learning methods.’ Let’s explore further to see where exactly they went wrong.
If you’re like me and went to public school, the norm was that you took about a year of foreign language in middle school before it became a requirement in high school. Since I studied in Texas, Spanish was the most logical choice of a second language. However, it wasn’t like I had much of a choice since German and French were my only other options. So, I began to study Spanish only because of its practicality. Now, on a personal level, Spanish was my least favorite class. I was a pretty good student overall, but matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do better than a B- (yes, I know – I was an overachiever).
At some point, I owned the fact that I wasn’t good at learning languages and just gave up. I stopped trying, which was quite contrary to my personality.
Looking back, I can point to several things that probably held me back.
Common Learning Errors
- Large Classes: I was in a 5A district, studying at a high school of 5000+ students. My graduating class was about 1000 students. In other words, the classrooms were consistently filled to capacity.
- Limited Attention: Due to the high student count, how much attention could one teacher realistically give to any one student? How does anyone stay focused when they’re just another face in the crowd?
- Limited Practice: Our classes, if I remember correctly, were approximately 50 minutes. They later shifted to an hour and twenty minutes in high school. Within those 80 minutes, I experienced about 10 minutes of actual application time. However, we weren’t speaking with actual native speakers. Instead, we stammered broken phrases to other non-Spanish speakers for a couple of minutes until we got distracted by a more interesting topic.
- Workbooks: Given the limited class practice time, most of the actual Spanish work was assigned as homework. This meant that we mainly learned about the reading and writing rules of the Spanish language in class, and perfected them (or at least attempted to) outside of class. I would actually argue that my reading and writing got pretty decent, but I couldn’t speak the language if my life depended on it.
In hindsight, it’s clear that my Spanish journey was flawed since day one. I was learning how to read and write in Spanish, but I barely flexed my auditory & speaking muscles. The lessons, activities, and practice works were constantly reinforcing reading and writing in Spanish, nothing else.
Now let me be clear. I’m definitely not saying that software and textbooks that focus on those learning areas are insignificant. I truly believe they can be helpful. However, I’m simply saying that they are only one part of a much bigger picture. We need various tools to activate the key areas of the brain that will help us effectively learn Spanish fast.
Before we can begin to learn Spanish fast, we must have a better understanding of how the brain functions when learning a language.
How the Brain Works
The brain is a very complex organ in the human body. It controls everything we do. Whether that’s reading, writing, or speaking, the brain has to be trained, over time, to know how to complete those tasks.
Although the brain is much more complex than what we can delve into here today, it is clear from looking at this diagram that different language functions are primarily controlled by distinct areas of the brain.
What this shows us is that when we try to learn a language with just reading or writing exercises, it isn’t very effective because we aren’t exercising the part of the brain that controls speech. We are learning only half of what we need to become fluent in Spanish.
In other words, as a learning audience, we have been studying and learning Spanish incorrectly.
In a nutshell, our brain accomplishes any task by firing or sending electrical signals to different regions of the brain. These signals then travel through the body to the muscles that you want to use. Let’s say, for example, you want to say something. Your brain would first send out signals to different parts of the brain to recall the words and sentence structure you need. Then, it would signal your muscles to move correctly and get your vocal cords to produce the correct sound. All at the same time. Whoa! That’s a lot of tasks! No wonder it’s a hard thing to learn, huh?
Becoming More Efficient
These electrical signals we just talked about travel along something called ‘axons.’ However, the further the signals have to travel, the more energy they lose. Luckily, our axons are wrapped in a fatty substance called myelin, which helps maintain energy. You can think of axons like the coaxial cables of the brain.
When we’re younger, this myelin fatty substance is quite thin. The more we ‘practice’ specific tasks, though, the more resources your body dedicates to that axon and thickening the myelin. This, in turn, produces a very well insulated pathway for that particular electrical signal. In this TED video that explores the idea further, they refer to it as something “similar to an information superhighway.”
Logically speaking, as a signal becomes fast and more efficient, the result should appear quicker and better, right?
Targeting the Correct Objective
The answer is yes. But to make that signal faster, we need to practice the right tasks. If we want to create efficient pathways in our brain for speaking Spanish but never say a word, those pathways will never develop. We must target the correct objective when we learn Spanish.
At this point, I can probably conclude that I did not excel in high school Spanish because the curriculum and activities were creating and reinforcing axon pathways in my brain specifically for reading and writing. Had I been able to converse and develop pathways for speaking, I would have been more proficient in communicating in Spanish. There’s a common saying, “practice how you’ll execute,” and it rings true for language learning.
More Than Practice: Quality and Effectiveness
The video I previously mentioned goes on to point out that although practice is necessary to build up the myelin along your axons, it’s not the only thing needed to develop mastery over any skill, including speaking Spanish.
This explains why repeating a bunch of words randomly or without context, often does NOT lead to Spanish fluency. So, we have talked about how traditional learning methods are ineffective. What’s the correct way to learn Spanish quickly, then?
How We Do It:
At Spanish Academy, we’ve developed a unique method of teaching Spanish that centers around five key concepts represented by the acronym RAMMA. These letters stand for:
Our classes are either 1-on-1 or 2-on-1, giving you the ability to talk about things that are relevant to your life. This does a couple of things. First, it gives your brain a point of reference and allows you to contextualize and process what’s going on. It also aids in pushing the information into your long term memory.
Because the information is relevant to your experience, you’re naturally more engaged in the class. Studies show time and time again*** that when you are attentive, your brain is more likely to retain the information.
Now that your classes are relevant to your experiences, you can learn Spanish through a lens you are familiar with. This gives meaning and perspective to your Spanish learning journey. Instead of just learning a bunch of generic words and phrases that you might never use, you will actually learn useful and meaningful vocabulary, grammar, and conversation skills.
Just like being attentive allows you to store information in your long-term memory, giving meaning to the context allows you to do the same. All that context, perspective, and meaning lets you process and store this information a lot faster than if you were to just try and memorize things a list of words.
Of course, repetition plays an important part in language learning. That’s where the last letter comes in: A for accountability. To continue with something that’s difficult, you need guidance and direction – or accountability. This is one of the most important things that people forget about or don’t include in their learning regiment because they don’t think it’s important. However, it can actually shorten your learning curve by avoiding mistakes that you would otherwise make. Think of your Spanish teacher (or some accountability partner) like Google Maps. You’re still able to get to where you need to go without Google Maps, but it’s a lot faster if you have it guiding you along the way.
Learn Spanish Fast
In my travels, there’s a joke that I’ve encountered many times over – as I’m sure many of you probably have. It goes something like this…
“What do you call someone that knows three languages?”
“What do you call someone who knows two languages?”
“What do you call someone who knows one language?”
Crazy right? But, there’s some truth to the joke. In many parts of America, there are people who feel that other languages should not be spoken or used in public.
Without getting political, I think one of the reasons for this, is that people find it really hard to learn Spanish or any other language. And it is challenging, don’t get me wrong. But it can be easier than people make it out to be if they practice and learn Spanish correctly.
So, it’s time to throw out those traditional methods and start learning Spanish effectively today. Click here to learn even more about how our program can help you learn Spanish fast, or go ahead and sign up for a free class. We can’t wait to see you in class!
About the author
Ron went from zero to Spanish fluency in 3 months after he left his high-paying consultant gig to become a director of a school for impoverished kids in Guatemala in 2009 – dove into the deep end. In 2010, he saw an opportunity for a real business and began his company in his tiny apartment. As the CEO/Founder of Homeschool Spanish Academy & Spanish Academy TV, he loves making an impact in students’ lives and also really loves chocolate.
If you’d like to learn more about how the brain works, check out this TED video. Or watch this one to discover how to learn Spanish in only 6 months! These videos go more in-depth with the ideas discussed in this blog.
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As you plan your mission trip, you likely already have high expectations for what your time abroad will look like – fellowship, meals at big communal tables, a brand new church or home completed and filled. To make all of your lovely visions a reality, you need to master Spanish so you can so you can effectively communicate with the locals in the community you are serving.
No matter where you are in your language learning, there are some key things you need to know to be ready for your mission trip. Here is a breakdown of nouns and verbs to help you spread the good news.
Introduce Yourself and Your Faith
A great way to introduce your work abroad is to start with your organization. All churches have a name in Spanish:
- Mormon – Mormón
- Catholic – Católico
- Protestant – Protestante
- Christian – Cristiano
- Jehovah’s Witness – Testigos de Jehová
As you meet the new congregation or group of volunteers, be sure to include the purpose of your mission trip as you say hello.
- My name is ______ and I am missionary – Me llamo _______ y soy un misionero (de) __________.
(name of your institution)
Say What You Believe
More complex yet equally important, you need to state your beliefs so there is no confusion about your goals or beliefs. Here are some key phrases.
- I believe the bible is the word of God – Yo creo que la Biblia es la palabra de Dios.
- Do you know the story of ______? – ¿Conoces la historia de _____?
- I follow the bible and the Book of Mormon – Sigo la Biblia y el Libro de Mormón.
- We pray everyday – Rezamos todos los días.
- I go to church on Saturday – Asisto a la iglesia el sábado.
- God loves you- Dios te ama.
Learn Verbs to Explain Your Activities
- Pray – Orar or rezar
- Attend – Asistir
- Minister – Ministro
- Build – Construir
- Join – Unir
Furthermore, use those verbs to invite people in, explain an activity and make everyone feel welcome.
- Will you join us in prayer? – ¿Te unirás a nosotros en oración?
- Are you available to attend a service? – ¿Estás disponible para asistir a un servicio?
- We are here to minister to the children. – Estamos aquí para ministrar a los niños.
- We want to build a new church. – Queremos construir una iglesia nueva.
- You are invited to join us for lunch. – Estás invitado a unirte a nosotros para el almuerzo.
Names and Texts
Reading in Spanish, particularly the bible, will take practice. Don’t wait to start your studies in your new language. Practice with important names and simple excerpts from the scripture to start, then work with people on your mission trip or ministry group before you leave.
- Jesus – Jesús
- The Virgin Mary – La Virgen Maria
- Joseph – San José
- The apostles – Los apóstoles
- Angel – Ángel
- God – Señor or El Padre, (the father)
- The Son – El hijo
- The Holy Spirit – El espíritu santo
After a few lessons, try a few easy bible verses in your new language.
- Psalm 118:6 The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid – Salmos 118:6 Dios está conmigo: no tendré miedo.
- Acts 16:31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Actos 16:31 Ellos respondieron: “Cree en el Señor Jesús, y serás salvo, tú y tu casa”.
- Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. Lucas 6:31 Haz a los demás lo que quieras que te hagan a ti.
Practice, practice, practice for your new adventure and get your Spanish as fluid as you can. You will see the difference great communication can make between a visitor and the host country. Likewise, your new parishioners will love that you made the effort.
Time to start getting your Spanish ready for your next mission trip? Sign up for a free class with HSA today to get started!Read More
Do you love setting goals, taking ownership of your language learning, and building a following? If so, you will benefit from keeping a language journal. A basic record of your progress in Spanish class can be the difference between simply attending class to blowing it out of the water.
Even if the thought of a daily journal doesn’t appeal to you, there is a way to make this practice work for you. HSA wants to see you succeed, so here is a quick guide to help you set up and use your new language journal.
Designate, Decorate and Design your Journal
Your journal practice should be easy and fun, so keep your habits in mind. Think of how you record items for yourself or your work and let that inform your journal. Don’t force yourself into something new; keep what you like at the forefront to help you stay active in your practice.
Here are three fun choices to think about:
Invest in a notebook with a beautiful cover and nice heavy paper that has bonus features like pre-written dates, space for images, and/or a calendar at the top. Get yourself a nice pen you love to write with and some good pencils for extra notes. If you live for office supplies, go for highlighters, organizational tabs or stickers to use as you like.
If you love to draw or paint, go for an unlined book or choose a large pad that can handle heavy ink, charcoal or paint. Turn your entries into comics, illustrated images or fun doodles to help you record what you want to save.
A Journal App
Note-taking apps have become more popular because they help people do more than write; they can add photos, audio, and video to what they want to remember. If you love music, you can record live performances in Spanish and notes about where you heard it, your favorite lyrics or what the song reminded you of as you listened. If you live on Instagram, you can recreate your posts in your journal and caption them in Spanish.
For phone journals, you can try several apps. Google Keep is good for lists and adding images. Penzu is an online, private diary you can access from your phone and can share with a teacher. Microsoft OneNote is a nice choice for longer entries with additional media attached.
Find one you like and keep it on your home screen to remind you to update it often.
A Published Blog
Set up a blog by writing articles in first-person about your real progress as a Spanish learner. It’s an interesting twist on a journal because with this option you can gain followers and get comments on your writing.
Not for the faint of heart, a blog can be a great tool, but only if you’re prepared for it. It requires maintenance, special tools to block spammers, and regular updates. Good bloggers post at least once a week and only fully-developed, polished pieces.
The benefit of publishing your journey is that you can interact with readers. You can ask for comments on a theme (in Spanish, even!), share it with a classmate, and use it to share other parts of your life. Be ready for the critics and enjoy the fans. If it’s your goal to improve as a writer, a blog is a great place to start.
What to Write and Why
You have your journal of choice. Now, you need to write something.
The more organized learner will want to create sections within their journal. Consider adding multiple items like
- reflections on your class experience
- your learning patterns and habits
- lists of new vocabulary
- personal progress and goals
If you aren’t much for organizing or subsections, use these ideas to get you started:
The reflections section is to help you cement in what you learned at your last lesson. The idea is to find a place to journal right after class and then note down things you remember. Get out your workbook or class notes to help you along. What joke did the teacher make about a certain phrase? If in a classroom setting, which classmate had the best pronunciation that day? Did you speak up in class or hide in the back?
Don’t judge yourself here. Record what happens so you can look for patterns in your learning habits. Maybe you’re more open to language lessons on Tuesdays rather than Fridays or you perform well in class if you switch out your morning coffee for water. It’s easier to notice these things if you keep a record of your own experience.
Vocabulary is where you can take note of words to ask your teacher about, words you’ve heard but don’t understand or confuse with similar words. This is also a great place to practice verb conjugations and tenses. Building words is a valid practice that many language experts recommend, so add it to your regular entries.
Track Your Progress
Personal progress is an important section. This is where you can set goals for yourself like
- Order an entire meal in Spanish
- Tell a joke to a Spanish-speaking friend
- Set an appointment in Spanish
- Speak Spanish for 10 minutes straight
If you write your goals down, you are much more likely to strive for them. When you achieve one, write about it. Show yourself that you can speak Spanish. Remember, confidence is half the battle—build it with your journal.
The beyond section is where you can go further than the learning in class. Translate a song to or from Spanish and record yourself singing it. Illustrate vocabulary words into a beautiful story. Do anything you like that helps you stay excited about Spanish.
The Benefits of a Language Journal
Journalling alone is great—it helps you keep a clear head, organize your thoughts, and develop ideas. Most importantly, a language journal has a laser focus that empowers you in your language acquisition. How does a language journal benefit you?
- It helps you remember new words to ask your teacher about or to look up later. This builds your vocabulary faster and easier.
- It gives you a record of your learning style. Notes on your favorite exercises, songs, and readings can be collected in the same place. When you analyze these reflections, you will know how to practice on your own and optimize your homework time.
- Your journal is a physical reminder of everything you learned in class. When you have off-days and feel frustrated, you can look back at all of your accomplishments. That’s enough to motivate you on any day.
- It provides a safe space to record your mistakes. An effective way to avoid repeating the same mistake over and over is to pay attention to it, make a note of it, and reflect on it in future use. If you throw an s into deporte or switch the number tres with trece, write it down. Once you record that mistake and see it on paper, you’re less likely to make that flub again.
No matter how you keep a language journal, the key is to use it in a way that feels natural and helpful. Make it fun, keep it personal, and let it grow into a true expression of your linguistic journey.
Do you have a great language journal? Please comment below and tell us how it’s helped you in your quest to learn a foreign language!Read More
Did you know that people in Spain think it’s fun to get chased by a group of giant bulls running down the street? It’s true! Every July in the city of Pamplona, Spain there is an eight-day festival commonly referred to as the Running of the Bulls.
The Origins of the Festival
This festival began as a religious gathering in honor of a saint. Saint Fermin was a man who died in battle against the French army back in the year 303. Someone built a cathedral in Pamplona in the place he died and people honored him for the first time in July of 1196.
Local butchers in Pamplona also moved their animals through the city in July. They wore long, white aprons while moving their bulls from one end of town to the big corral about a half mile away. They needed the bulls to run fast to get to the corral, so they would shout and run next to them. The bulls pounded the cobblestones with their hooves, eager to get into the big, guarded enclosure. They ran in groups of six to ten bulls at a time and people came out to see the powerful animals take over the streets.
Soon, people joined the butchers in guiding and running with the bulls. More runners came along to keep the animals moving and soon it was a big event. The people of Pamplona blessed each run by singing a religious song to Saint Fermin three times before the bulls came out.
To run with the bulls, festival-goers wear all-white outfits and a red scarf. The white color shows respect to the original butchers who moved the bulls long before there was a fun festival. It’s also important to wear a red scarf – that’s to help everyone remember Saint Fermin.
It’s traditional to wear a red, cloth belt known as a sash. Though the sash may not honor anyone, it is a custom staple that keeps participants looking stylish in the streets.
How to Run with the Bulls
Pamplona’s running of the bulls takes place each year from July 6-14. Starting on the 7th, a bull running takes place each day at 8 a.m. The runners gather in the streets to get themselves pumped up for the big, fast animals. They sing, dance and climb up onto each other’s shoulders. Some even dive into the crowd and let the people catch them.
A rocket that explodes over the city signaling that it’s time to start running – here come the bulls! The crowd takes off for the corral with twelve giant bulls behind them sprinting at full speed.
The goal is to join the bulls in the street, not to torture or tease them. A lot of runners hold out a rolled-up newspaper to help keep a respectful space between themselves and the nearest bull. No one touches the bulls as they go down the street – as that tends to make the bulls angry.
If people need to stop, they typically jump up onto a barricade on the edge of the street or jump into a doorway.
Kids under 18 can watch, but only adults may actually run with the animals. However, there are lots of fun things for younger visitors to do in Pamplona.
The Festival for Kids
Pamplona’s big party is for everyone. Giant stilt characters walk down the street and give children a friendly bop on the head. Shops sell ice cream and treats all over the city and there are free concerts of every style of music.
In the evenings, the kids get to run with a special fake bull that shoots off fireworks. Are you brave enough to run with a bull full of sparklers?
Why People do This
Pamplona’s big festival is a reminder to live life to the fullest. As we don’t live forever, we need to enjoy ourselves! During these special days, people in Pamplona generally don’t work so they can focus on celebrating every moment; they eat delicious food, dance with their friends and spend memorable time with their loved ones. There’s no question that the event can be dangerous and that some believe the event to be unfair to the bulls, but in Spanish culture, it’s truly a tradition that has a great deal of history behind it.
Even if you don’t want to run in front of a bull, just being within the city alongside locals is an experience in itself. If you ever get a chance to go to Spain and this sounds like something up your alley, consider stopping in Pamplona during the first two weeks of July and check Running of the Bulls off your bucket list
Already planning a trip and need to work on your Spanish? Sign up for a Free Class trial with HSA today. It’s fun and effective!Read More
Travelling takes on a whole new meaning when you can walk out of the airport confident in your Spanish. You connect with the people and places around you, actions and experiences take on a deeper meaning and the world becomes more accessible. Kids and adults alike travel with an enhanced level of confidence when they can say so much more than “Hola.” Simply put, becoming fluent in Spanish can increase your access to the world.
We’ve put together a list of fabulous destinations to inspire your studies and keep your eyes to the horizon. Grab your passport and coordinate with your loved ones for a new getaway that lets you put your Spanish to use.
Buenos Aires, Argentina: A city that brings together the cultures of the world with food to eat and places to visit. Start with the government Pink House, the Latin answer to the White House. Then, hunt down local, delectable, chocolate dipped cookies called alfajores in the Palermo district full of delicious coffee houses.
La Paz, Sucre, Bolivia: Both La Paz and Sucre share the title of capital in Bolivia, a country at the heart of South America. Bolivia is a great place for budget travelers. Museums, markets, and even Spanish immersion programs are available at the right budget in these capital cities.
Santiago, Chile: A gorgeous city you can stare at all day, Santiago is also home to tons of great attractions. Start with a thrill at the scary stories in the General Cemetery. Then visit hidden gorge Cajon del Maipo or sip a Chilean grappa as you luxuriate in this stunning city.
Bogotá, Colombia: This city is delicious at every turn. Start your day with a Bandeja Paisa, a plate of meats, beans, and eggs that are delicious in the capital city. Satiated, check out the art scene all over the streets and in Bogotá’s museum.
San José, Costa Rica: Fly out to the islands and spend time in San José, the city between the volcanoes. Wander the central market and taste a rambutan or get great selfies in the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden. Taste some local coffee at the Historic National Theater then use that caffeinated energy to hike the Central Valley. Oh, and eventually go to the beach.
Havana, Cuba: A country now open to more travellers, this is also a trip back in time. Take a break from your phone and computer, (internet is only in the most expensive hotels), ride in a classic car and pick up a book at La Plaza de Armas. Havana is a great place to slow down and remember what’s important in this life while still increasing your access to the world using your new Spanish.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: A coastal city that offers tons of flavor and color, Santo Domingo is a great place to explore. Eat the flag or, a bandera, made from white rice, red beans and stewed meat. Finish it with a cup of extra strong, sweet Café Santo Domingo, the national coffee. Learn about the Traino, a tribe wiped out by Spanish colonial forces and see La Zona Colonial, the city’s oldest and most preserved section. Rich in history and great stories, Santo Domingo is a great destination for your next trip.
Quito, Ecuador: If you love great architecture, soft, fresh bread, and beautiful mountains, you will love Quito, Ecuador. Right on the equator, the country is a gorgeous, Latin destination and the city is replete with surprises. Make sure your Spanish is outstanding so you can get the most out of this small city.
San Salvador, El Salvador: Bordered by Guatemala and Honduras, this small country is easy to miss on the map, but unforgettable in person. San Salvador’s coast is an explosion of greens and blues. In the city, they celebrate the art of Él Salvador in public spaces and museums. Grab a pupusa and some fresh fruit as you stroll around this stunning city.
Malabo, Equatorial Guinea: Another coastal getaway, Malabo has scenery for days. Rent a bike and pedal around to see for yourself why this is a great destination. After your trip, grab a coffee at the Café Malabo. Be sure to use your Spanish to order a round of delicious tapas to round out your day of exploration.
Guatemala City, Guatemala: A stunning, modern city surrounded by soft, rolling mountains, Guatemala City will take your breath away. This metropolitan city is like nothing else in the country, which hosts the largest preserved rainforest in the Amazon. Go climb the trees, but soothe your sore muscles in a fancy hotel room bath when you make it back to the city.
Mexico City, Mexico: A huge, diverse place, Mexico City is home to a mix of cultures and friendly people who will be happy to sit with you as try the local tacos and practice your Spanish verbs. Buy great tops at the boutiques, visit Frida Kahlo’s house and take the city in. It will make a great impression on you.
Panama City, Panama: Take in the natural beauty of the ocean and the man-made grandeur of the Panama canal in one visit to Panama City. This capital is beautiful and full of history and a tradition of international relations. Book a table at Schooner’s so you can stare at the beach as you munch on seafood.
Asunción, Paraguay: The lack of direct flights from the US or Europe to this small country means it’s not a massive tourist draw. Asunción is a great place to explore, to experience the nightlife and visit the Lopez Palace and House of Independence. Above all, be sure to taste the delicious food like roasted pork with local cornbread.
Lima, Peru: A beautiful city perched right on the sea, Lima is the gateway to the wonders of Peru. Seated below the Andes, the city has European style architecture and restaurants full of international influence. Be sure to eat lots of fresh seafood and drink your share of Piscos, the national cocktail.
San Juan, Puerto Rico: San Juan is a colorful, tasty city with easy access to beaches in every direction. Check out the central market where you can pick up tropical fruit or chat with herbal healers about natural cures. Or go to Old San Juan for great coffee and to take some beautiful photos of the colorful buildings. This is a great spot for beach enthusiasts and adventurers, but culture junkies will love it, too.
Madrid, Spain: A city full of fierce pride and non-stop energy, Madrid is famous for a reason. Home to historic art galleries, the city has experienced a renaissance in the wake of economic troubles. Now a modern home to tons of music, beautiful works and of course, great tapas, Madrid is sure to enchant you when you visit.
Montevideo, Uruguay: Take a deep breath, and relax in the city of Montevideo. Check out the restored mansions that serve as theaters and hotels or enjoy the new, modern structures that go right up to the edge of the coast. Montevideo has a beautiful climate and tons of boulevards to stroll down. Uruguayans love their meat, so be sure to partake in the local parilla or bbq.
Ready to master Spanish and increase your access to the world? Sign up for a free class to see why HSA is the best way to quickly and effectively learn Spanish.Read More
We all dream of speaking Spanish at full-speed and hope that all of the studying will result in new friends, exciting travels, and maybe even job opportunities. Many students spend the bulk of their time learning a new language just reading and writing it in hopes of fluency. Unfortunately, this is not the most effective way to learn Spanish or any language. We all have to gulp down our fears, open our mouths and speak.
Passive Versus Active Learning
Speaking Spanish fluently involves four areas of learning: listening, speaking, reading and writing. The first two, when you pay attention and respond, are the active parts of the language. The other two sections are important but fall under the passive subheading.
Passive study techniques have their place and they are absolutely necessary to master a new language. As we learn new vocabulary, the list of new words can overwhelm us. As we read, we can take our time, look up and double-check meanings, take notes, etc. It’s a comfortable, slow-paced way to absorb new vocabulary.
The same goes for writing. We can relax a little more, help ourselves out with a dictionary or a tutor if desired. This is also a good chance to practice accents, spelling and sentence structure.
What happens when we’re in conversation? First, we have to navigate around words we don’t know, which is frustrating. That ignorant feeling can raise a student’s stress level and keep him or her from speaking at all. When we do know a word, it doesn’t always make it out in time. A new Spanish speaker may experience that tip-of-my-tongue sensation. The “I know the word, but I can’t put my finger on it…” feeling.
These are all stages of language learning known as Going Public. Students fear speaking out loud because they might accidentally say the wrong word, offending someone or embarrassing themselves. However, making mistakes in Spanish is just part of the learning process and essential for mastering the language.
Say it Wrong, then Say it Right
Teachers know the best learning opportunities exist within student mistakes. A falter in a sentence, a missed part of speech or an incorrect conjugation are all good opportunities for students to reflect and learn from these mistakes.
Staring at a dictionary or writing a sentence one hundred times to memorize it can appeal to a language learner who will give anything to avoid speaking. However, working through that fear is what will seal the correct phrase in their mind. This emotional journey, while scary and intimidating, is what students need behind the language. Good teachers know pushing past a mistake and through the embarrassment means something as simple as the Spanish word for bread can internalize the lesson and make it part of a student’s permanent bank of knowledge.
What to Look for in a Class
A good Spanish class will have a balance of active and passive learning activities. The teacher needs to encourage individual students to speak to him or her and to classmates. One-on-one lessons should also be a lot of speaking and listening, but texts should be a part of the lesson.
If you feel your child is spending too much time in a textbook or watching movies in Spanish and not enough in conversation, consider looking for a program that offers a more immersive, conversational curriculum where actually speaking Spanish is at the core.
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How does America compare to other countries when it comes to language acquisition? The answer is complicated; it changes based on age, available programs and the lifestyle of each learner. Here’s an overview of how bilingualism in the US compares to other countries.
The Age of the Student
There are several factors that ultimately determine how many bilingual individuals there are within a given country’s population. One of the main factors is how young a student starts learning a second language.
Between the ages of two and eight, the brain is primed for language acquisition. A young child is able to separate two languages, learn without stress over pronunciation and retain hundreds of words. For example, a child born into a family with bilingual parents and grandparents will be exposed to two or more languages early on in life and as a result, will have an easier time learning both.
Some schools and language programs take advantage of this early ability by offering bilingual preschools and kindergartens. In Shanghai, international schools teach children as young as two. Classrooms often feature a foreign and local teacher so that the students can hear both languages from a native speaker.
Other parts of the world introduce new languages later on, treating a second language as an elective, rather than a core subject. In Japan, students don’t start English classes until they are in Jr. High and then only spend a few hours a week on the language. The focus in these groups generally involves reading, writing, and perfecting grammar.
Changes in American Schools
Bilingualism in the US is different as there are various school systems with different structures and objectives. Many US school systems have seen a drop in foreign language instruction since 2008. One estimate states that only one in five American students is enrolled in a foreign language program even though the demand for bilingual workers within the US is on the rise. It’s an unfortunate trend, but many incredible individuals are working to get American kids on track.
Certain schools are going against the this downward trend. Instead, they are working to help get young students excited about foreign language and emphasize communication as a basis for learning. Students write emails, have debates and make presentations using their second language. Though this approach is not a standard for many schools, it has shown to be successful among those participating.
Beyond the Classroom
When taking on a new language, it is only natural to be interested in traveling to regions where the new language is spoken. If the opportunity presents itself, it can be very advantageous to do so. In Scandinavian countries, there is a big focus on crossing borders. Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes love to visit Spain, Portugal, Italy and England often. Children from these countries grow up with a lot of encouragement from parents and friends to speak Spanish and English. As a result, they often master other languages, all while retaining their native tongues.
More programs outside of school are also available to students of all ages. HSA is one of several online Spanish programs that learners of any age can use to learn or improve their Spanish. HSA strives to promote bilingualism in the US and around the world.
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A tasty homemade snack, dessert or even a full meal can make a great addition to any Spanish lesson and a wonderful way to look at culture. Here are some Spanish foods to learn about and taste the next time you want to do some extended learning.
Spanish Deviled Eggs
Eggs are a huge part of Spanish cuisine as well as an important element in the Latin diet. The Spanish have several egg dishes that they enjoy throughout the day and chilled, spiced Deviled Eggs are a good option for a hot afternoon.
This Andalusian version of eggs is full of chorizo, pimento and olives, all of which are known Spanish foods used in a variety of dishes. If you have picky eaters in your home, you can adjust the recipe to leave out some of the extra ingredients. Encourage everyone to try a bite of the original as these are a true taste of Spain.
Ham and Cheese Empanadas
Ham and cheese empanadas are great because it’s essentially a warm, crunchy sandwich that helps introduce your family to empanadas. Empanadas are little half-moon shaped pastries filled with anything from seasoned ground beef to sweet summer strawberries.
Empanadas are more than tasty, they’re also a piece of history. Recipes of these delicious pastries can be found in cookbooks as far back as the 1500s. Today, many people still love them and your family will adore this version.
This recipe is sure to be a new favorite. Cream cheese is seasoned and paired with slices of ham to make a warm, salty snack perfect for any lunch or party. Have them as a post-Spanish class snack or to munch on while you plan your trip to Catalan, Spain.
Kids Watermelon Sangria
A cool, tall glass of sweet, pink sangria is hard to top on a hot summer day. Grab some watermelons, mint, and blackberries.
Traditional sangria mixes sugar and fruit and dates back to ancient Rome. When the Spanish wine industry took off, Sangria was created and is still popular all over the country. Luckily, many non-alcoholic versions have gained the same standing as the original and now everyone can have a glass.
Make this version with the kids when the weather starts to warm up. Be sure to name the ingredients in Spanish when you make it – there’s nothing like a lesson you can taste!
Pink Banana Agua Fresca
More popular in Mexico than Spain, agua frescas are definitely worth a try because they’re so refreshing and delicious. The drink is somewhere between a pressed juice and a smoothie. They’re lightly sweetened and served ice cold to take the edge off of a hot day.
This one uses a bit of milk to smooth out the taste of banana and then calls for dashes of grenadine to give it a pink color. Don’t be afraid to water this drink down a little to keep the texture light – agua frescas should never be too intense.
The recipe is quick and easy. Younger chefs can be in charge of the grenadine while older helpers can chop up the bananas and measure out the milk. Make plenty – this one is likely to be a favorite.
Authentic Spanish Flan
No Spanish dinner is complete without a few wiggly bites of flan. This gelatinous dessert is golden yellow with caramelized sugar on top and all around on your dessert plate.
Made of only five ingredients, flan comes together fast and tastes delicious. It’s creamy, sweet and easy on the pallet so even your most picky eater will want to try it.
Remember to incorporate a bit of the Spanish foods history behind whichever dish you choose and be sure to use as much Spanish vocabulary as possible to get the full effect of the lesson.
If you tried one of these Spanish foods or any other fun, authentic dishes, please share in the comments for others’ to enjoy!
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Scientists who set out to map the bilingual brain find themselves on a strange and wonderful journey; a new language shapes the brain in a way unparalleled in any other field. The brain appears to grow in certain regions when we communicate in a new way, while it maintains its shape in mathematical or scientific ventures. What’s happening here?
Here is what specialists around the world have observed in our brain mass as we learn new sounds, words, and expressions.
A Big Hippocampus and Cerebral Cortex
Swedish scientists used MRI technology to scan the brains of military recruits in intensive language studies. Their scans showed that the hippocampus, the part of the brain that learns new words, grew bigger. Areas of the cerebral cortex associated with speaking and listening also increased in size.
The same study scanned the brains of recruits enrolled in other subjects such as science and math and did not see this same brain growth. From this, they were able to prove that the anatomy of a language learner’s bilingual brain is different in shape than that of a scientist or weapons specialist.
Compete and Converge
As a student takes on Spanish, they feel a shift in their minds as they go from hanging out with friends in English to conversing with a teacher in their new language. That’s because of the two different ways of talking that exist in the brain and compete with one another.
As students get immersed in their lessons, they may go to say something in English and accidentally use a Spanish word. This is a natural part of the process of becoming bilingual. Psychologist Judith Kroll assured her audience this momentary memory lapse was no reason to panic.
During a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, DC in 2016, Kroll said, “A bilingual’s two languages sometimes converge, but often they compete…these changes to the mind and the brain are not simple.”
Kroll explained that the brain has to learn how to switch back and forth, but it will stumble along the way. Years of active use of a new language solves the problem and helps speakers go from English to Spanish and back again in an easy, fluent manner.
What this Means for Learners
That ability to switch from language to language can change how the brain focuses and how it ages.
A bilingual brain knows how to sweep aside the clutter and find the right word in the right language. So, when a learner needs to focus in a different scenario such as a noisy lecture class, they can block out the unnecessary noise and hone in on what’s important. They also get less distracted and feel able to control where their attention falls, rather than get pulled in five different directions.
As the brain ages, it’s often less susceptible to develop brain problems when it has spent years practicing a second or third language. A study conducted on multilingual students in India showed their learning delayed alzheimer’s disease and dementia up to four years later. This happened because their brains could already accomplish what preventative medications are designed to do – help switch from one point of attention to another.
Are Language Learners Smarter?
The short answer is not necessarily, but the longer answer is yes, in a manner of speaking. A bigger, more developed bilingual brain is always an advantage, no matter what your field of work or study.
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Using the 5 human senses can be extremely advantageous when learning something new, like Spanish or another foreign language. Teachers can use experiences, meals, and experiments to get students excited to use their new language. Want to try some sense exploration at home? Here are some fun activities you can do with things you already have at home.
Sight or Vista
There’s no question that some learners are more visual than others. For those that are, there are plenty of ways to explore the sense of sight to aid in learning Spanish.
You can start by playing a sight-word game with your child. Sight words encourage students to memorize and recognize the way words look and how they are spelled. Jump for the Words is a fun sight word game that also spends some energy. First, write 5-10 Spanish words on paper and attach each word to a piece of yarn hanging from a doorway (or entry way). Make sure the words are just out of reach for you child and start calling out the Spanish words. Your child will have to listen to what word you’re calling out, recognize that word on paper, and jump to grab it. You can take this game to the next level by adding a friend or sibling for some friendly competition.
If your learners are younger, try using a prism for some fun visual effects. Hold it in the sunlight to make a rainbow on the floor. Use them to warp your view of patterned paper or to inspire a work of art. Have your little learners point to and call out the colors they see in Spanish.
Smell or Olfato
The human nose is amazing. There are so many ways to explore our sense of smell can be that it’s hard to choose just one. Here are three to get you started.
Try painting with spice paints. Before you start, let your child decide which colors should go with each spice. This is a great chance to smell everything in the spice cabinet and learn the names of the different spices in Spanish. Then stir one spice into each color, take the easels outside and paint in the sun. The air will bring out the scents in the paintings and make your little artist want to create all day.
You can also grab a blindfold and then collect different foods from the kitchen with distinct smells. Try onions, lemons, cilantro, cinnamon sticks and vinegar. The kids put the blindfold over their eyes, then try to identify each food through smell only. For each food identified, be sure to identify in one language, then the other. Switch up the order of identifying in English and Spanish to truly master each word.
Finally, you can add on to the smelling game by adding a matching challenge. Double up on your food samples and then see if your learners can find each cup’s exact match using only their sense of smell.
Hear or Oido
Listening activities are a chance to listen to new kinds of music, audio books and play games like “Marco, Polo” in the pool. These are all solid activities, but you can also play some fun games that explore the sense of hearing in a new way.
A fun way to practice a new language is playing a game of old fashioned tin can telephone. Use any clean, empty cans and carefully punch holes in the bottom. Connect them with a long string. Each person should stand just far enough apart for the string to be tight. Then tell a secret, riddle or joke (in Spanish!) into the can. Your kids will love listening with this low-tech phone. Have the listener repeat what they heard out loud in Spanish and then try to translate into English. Then, switch turns.
Feel or Tacto
Use this sense as a chance to run barefoot in the grass, splash in the pool or compare the feel of different fabrics. Exploring your neighborhood can be a good way to use the sense of touch (or feel) for learning. Design a Scavenger Walk using a list of Spanish words that describe how things feel. Then, go word by word and see who can find the most examples for each word. You can give points or make this more of a discussion.
Need to stay indoors? Try some homemade finger paints. Based on your student’s level of Spanish, make a list (in Spanish) of things to paint. Using Spanish, have them call out each color they use and write the word in a sentence below each picture before moving on to the next.
Taste or Gusto
There’s a big opportunity in using the sense of taste to promote learning. Whether it’s trying new flavors or enjoying a bite of our favorite foods, there are many memorable ways to practice Spanish while doing so.
Set up a taste test using 5+ foods with various flavors and textures that can be classified as any of the following. Sweet – sour -bitter – salty -spicy (stick to mild level) – dry – crunchy – moist – chewy. Have your student identify the food in Spanish, then try the food and identify the flavor and/or texture. You can use a blindfold and make this a blind taste test if your little learner is feeling extra adventurous.
You can also try baking one of your child’s favorite sweet treats or get together and cook a favorite family meal at home. Have your student translate the recipe from English to Spanish, then talk through each step in Spanish. For example, when it’s time to set the oven, your student should tell say, Poner el horno a 400 grados. If you’re not too familiar with Spanish yourself, be sure to check the translation before starting so everything turns out just the way you like it.