Our family members: we love them, we get annoyed by them and we have fun times with them! Most importantly: we know we can count on them whenever we need them! So many of our memories are tied to the time we’ve spent around our family. I think we all know how important they all are! So it’s good that when we speak Spanish, we know how to refer to them!
Today, let’s learn how to say write and say the family in Spanish! If you haven’t yet, watch our latest video! At the end of this blog post, you’ll also find a table with all the vocabulary words you need to describe your family in Spanish! Don’t forget to download the PDF as well to keep practicing!
Christmas Eve Dinners
I’ve lived abroad or in a different city than my familia for almost 10 years. Because of that, there’s one thing I try to do whenever possible: spend navidad (Christmas) with them. Even if it is usually only in spirit! For as long as I can remember, we’ve celebrated two Christmas Eve dinners. One is at my abuela’s (my mother’s mother), and the other one is at my abuelos’ (my father’s parents). Both dinners have always been filled with love, tons of laughter, good food, and as many family members as we can get together!
My Mom’s Family
Christmas Eve always starts at my abuela’s house. Back when I was a little girl, my bisabuela (great-grandmother) used to make tamales, pierna, ponche, and all the good Guatemalan food we eat for Christmas. When I was old enough to help, she would even let me be the sous chef! I think there was more talking than cooking from my part, though. My bisabuela meant the world to me! She would babysit me and my hermano (brother) all the time when we were kids, up until she passed away. She was like a second madre (mother) to my hermano and me. Now my mamá (mom) is in charge of most of the Christmas dinner! Her tamales are the best ever! No wonder, she uses my great-great-grandmother’s recipe (that’s a hard one in Spanish: tatarabuela!). My abuela (grandmother) also participates in the cooking, but she lets my mamá take the lead on the tamales!
The Awaited Tamal
Making tamales is a group effort and it takes a loooong time. In the late afternoon on Christmas Eve’s Day my mamá or abuela brings out the “tamal de prueba” (“trial tamal”). This is the first tamal of the whole batch and they bring it out so we can try it. They make tamales only a couple of times a year, so this is a BIG moment that my hermano, my tía (aunt), and I are always anxiously awaiting. We sit down on the big dining room table, everyone with a fork in hand, and we share the first tamal. Every time, I tear up on my first bite because it tastes just like family, like all the beautiful moments we’ve spent together. It feels like being with my bisabuela again because my mamá’s tamales taste just like hers!
My Dad’s Family
After the “tamal de prueba,” we get into the car and head to my abuelos’ house. A huge dinner of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, salad, apple sauce, and my tía’s special gravy awaits us there! If we get to gather the whole crew, it’s my abuela, my abuelo, my four tías (aunts), my prima (female cousin), my primo (male cousin) my papá, my hermano, my hermana (sister), my sobrino (nephew) and I! We normally arrive by the time dinner is ready because we were at my abuela’s giving the emotional support for the whole tamal-making process.
A Family Tree
Now, it’s time to understand a little bit more about my family tree. My hermana is really my medio hermana (half-sister). Her father is my father, and her mother is my dad’s first wife. So my mother is not my sister’s mother. My mom is her step-mother – or her madrastra! And my sister is my mother’s hijastra (step-daughter). My primos are my first cousins (primos en primer grado) because they are the children of my dad’s sister, but the children of my dad’s cousins are my second cousins (primos en segundo grado). I do get to see my primos en segundo grado around this time because my abuelo’s sister – my tía abuela – has a piano school and she hosts a Christmas recital every year! The recital is tons of fun! One of my favorite parts about going to the recital is that we get to sing German Christmas songs that my abuelo and his hermanos used to sing as children!
All The Laughter
Back to lovely Christmas Eve! During dinner, I try to cat up with everyone because it’s one of the only times of the year I get to see them all! Last year’s dinner I heard some great news: my prima is getting married this year! I’m looking forward to meeting her prometido (fiancé) and having tons of fun at her wedding! Another amazing thing is that multiple languages are spoken. We mainly speak Spanish, but there is also the occasional English and German. Sometimes my abuelo will even throw in some French into the mix! Each and every time, at some point, one of my tías will start laughing, and we’ll all follow suite and laugh until our bellies hurt! It’s very enjoyable to laugh uncontrollably, but I do not recommend trying this at home – especially after all the food of a Christmas Eve dinner!
More Tamales and More Love
After having dinner at my abuelos’, we head back to my abuela’s house where more tamales will be awaiting us! I’m telling you, I’m sure I eat more on Christmas Eve’s Day than on any other day of the year! All the food is made with so much love and I just can’t refuse it!
For the more visual and auditory learners out there and anyone else who would like to do a recap of this blogpost on a video: here you go!
Now, let’s do a recap of all the vocabulary we just learned! To hear the vocabulary spoken, don’t forget to check out the video and PDF below!
Okay. Before we start today, have a look at this awesome video! After I watched the video, I tried to snap my fingers to chanin-chanin! It didn’t quite work and it made me remember how many years ago, my best friend spent a crazy amount of time trying to get me to do it “right.” Despite her efforts and 25 years of being Guatemalan, I still can’t make the snapping sound. Now the important question: were you able to do it? It’s okay if you can’t! That makes two of us! Either way, this expression and hand gesture has an important influence on Guatemalan culture.
Chanin, chanin-chanin, or the hand movement that accompanies those words, is ingrained in Guatemalan culture in an inexplicable way. Whether or not they actually say the words, everyone does this hand movement. Some people do it everywhere, others do it only in the familiarity of their homes. Some make it snap, while others just shake their hands like pom poms (and I raise my hand to this!!!). The video got me thinking that I do it a lot (and I mean a LOT) more often than I initially thought I do. It’s just one of those things that you learn at a very young age because everyone around you does it!
What is ‘chanin chanin’?
Let’s divide this in two and explore its meaning:
- Words: Saying ‘chanin’ or ‘chanin-chanin’
- Gesture: The famous finger snapping hand movement
The origin of the word chanin
Guatemala’s official language is Spanish. However, different cultural groups across the country speak another 24 officially recognized languages! Yes, that’s a lot of languages for one country! 22 out of those 24 languages are Mayan languages spoken by indigenous people.
Now, going back to chanin and Guatemalan Spanish. Because of the cultural exchange that exists between the various groups in Guatemala, Mayan languages have influenced – and still are influencing – Spanish greatly! Many words we use in Guatemalan Spanish, like chanin, originate from a Mayan language. Chanin, in particular, means apúrate, or hurry up.
To practice some Spanish reading, visit Guatemala’s official page on our linguistic heritage: Guatemala, un País con Diversidad Étnica, Cultural y Lingüística. There are also some maps for you to see where these different cultures and languages exist! You can also check out these Top 5 Spring Break Destinations in Guatemala and compare the places listed here to where each Mayan language is spoken.
Origin of the chanin gesture
As for the hand movement, I’ve been asking some abuelitas, and no one really knows where it comes from. I can only assume that someone, one day, really needed to get something done. So, they started shaking their hands to communicate a sense of urgency to another person who spoke a different one of the 24 languages. Since they couldn’t understand each other with words, hand gestures had to do the job!
Imagine if you’re in the middle of something and someone starts frantically shaking their hands to signal that you should hurry up – believe me – you’ll hurry up!
The Languages of Guatemala
Languages are directly related to ethnic groups and culture. There are four different ethnic groups in Guatemala and one uses different languages:
Learn more about Guatemala’s culture and ethnic groups here!
*Information on the number of native speakers from 2002 Census.
Spanish in the context of indigenous languages in Guatemala
Although Spanish is the “main” official language of Guatemala, a big percentage of the population does not speak Spanish! But how does this happen? The Spanish arrived in Guatemala almost 500 years ago in 1524 AD and as part of their colonization, they taught the indigenous people Spanish.
While 500 years may seem like enough time for everyone to learn Spanish, Guatemala is a country divided (and united!) by different cultures and landscapes. The various groups did not always accept a new language being imposed on them (who would?). Plus, the fact that some villages are so far removed from political, economic, or cultural centers allowed for many to just keep living their life without needing to learn a new language.
This is all now changing, but we’ll talk more about Spanish in Guatemala in another blog post! In the meantime, you can read a little something on Guatemalan history here.
Something to keep in mind: The Spanish of each Spanish-speaking country is greatly influenced by the languages the indigenous populations spoke or still speak! That’s the reason why there are sometimes big differences in the words the people of different Spanish-speaking countries use.
Y ahora, and now, exploremos the other languages of Guatemala!
According to the 2002 census, 41% of the Guatemalan population identify themselves as indigenous (descendants of the Mayans). All these people speak various Mayan languages, and each one is a descendant of the language Protomaya, which came to life some 6,000 years ago! Yes, it’s been a long time! There are now 22 indigenous Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala, each spoken by a different cultural group! And yes, each one of them is a language of their own (not a *dialect!) with unique grammar, sounds, and vocabulary!
Let’s have a look at these 22 Mayan languages:
*dialect: “A particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.” Thanks, Oxford English Dictionary!
As you can see, only a very small percentage of the population speaks each of the Mayan languages! These numbers have greatly decreased in the last few years and are still rapidly declining due to multiple reasons. For one, technology is only available in certain languages. Similarly, most services and information are only accessible in Spanish. People are also moving to bigger cities for work or studies, and because of that many families consider it more important for their children to learn Spanish than an indigenous Mayan language. Parents and grandparents have struggled to live in a country where they cannot speak the official language, and they don’t want their children to have that same experience.
However, it’s important to mention that Guatemala’s government and different NGOs have started campaigns to promote Mayan language learning in schools and through any possible platform. The thing is, a language is not only a set of words we use to communicate with others. Languages carry the entire historical background of a whole culture! As such, it is important to value and cherish each Mayan language as much as we value and cherish all those beautiful colors we see when we visit a Guatemalan market!
Check out these quotes by Guatemalans to understand a little bit more about the importance of language as part of a culture: Discovering Treasures Through Spanish Quotes
Xinca is a language that doesn’t belong to the same group as the other 22 indigenous Mayan languages. Its origin is unknown, but it used to be widely spoken throughout Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. While some sources say the language is extinct, others say there are currently only about 100 people who speak this language.
Garifuna is the only language from the Arawakan language family spoken in Central America. All other languages from this language family that are not extinct, are spoken in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname. Up until 1797 when the Garifuna people were deported to Honduras, the language was only spoken in some Antillean Islands. Now, a total of about 200,000 people speak this language throughout Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, and the US. If you’d like to learn more about the Garifuna culture, check out this documentary film in Garifuna language (and English): Garifuna in Peril.
Language is a huge part of culture! When you learn a language, you’re not only learning to say things with other words, but you’re venturing into a new world of ideas and customs. Continue learning more about Guatemalan culture and language by scheduling a FREE CLASS with us today!Read More
Learning a new language can be daunting – the pronunciation, the grammar, the slang, the social nuances. Even when it’s a category 1 language like Spanish, the learning process can be quite intimidating, especially when you don’t know how to start.
There were two main things that held me back several years when learning Spanish: fear of making mistakes and lack of exposure. Now, I was exposed to Spanish as young as 5 years old, and I took classes and used audio books for about 6 years in middle school and high school. One year before I graduated, I took a trip to Peru. I was expected to be a translator since I was at the top of my Spanish class, but when I got there it was a complete shock. I did not understand one. Single. Word. Then, a few years later, I went to Guatemala and truly focused on my Spanish. Once I committed myself to Spanish immersion and practice with native speakers, I was holding conversations after one month and translating for my friends by 4 months. Now, complete fluency took a few years more, but that had to do more with learning the local jargon and perfecting the dreaded subjunctive. In those first months though, I did not take one single Spanish class. So, how was I able to learn so quickly? Well, I’ve put together some important points that helped me learn Spanish as a beginner. Hopefully, they will be of service to you as well!
1. Language Journal
I’m a visual learner. Still to this day, if I learn a new Spanish word, I cannot remember or reproduce it until I see it written. If you’re a visual learner like me, keeping a language journal is critical to the learning process. You can write down new words, make connections between them, study sentence structure….and the list goes on. Even if you’re not a visual learner, a language journal is still a great idea when learning Spanish as a beginner. You can write down new words you hear in a conversation or in a movie, mark down the pronunciation, and return to your notes at later times to keep practicing.
When learning a language, you are teaching your brain to think in a completely different way. Up until now, it has always thought and used English (unless English is not your first language!). In order to work towards Spanish fluency, your brain needs to create new pathways; it’s like digging a riverbed in a desert. At first, it will be extremely difficult, but with practice and repetition, the water will start flowing with ease. That’s where the journal comes in. You can’t expect yourself to remember every word you hear in class or in a conversation – you need reinforcement. With the language journal, you can write things down how you best understand and remember them. You can refer to your notes to practice or if you forget a word that’s on the tip of your tongue. It’s also extremely useful to have a small language journal to carry with you if you know you’re going to be situations that require Spanish conversation. I can tell you from personal experience that a language journal can be a lifesaver when you start learning Spanish as a beginner.
Like I said before, lack of exposure held me back from Spanish fluency for 6 years. 6 years! When I had accurate exposure to the Spanish language, I was conversing in months. Exposure to the language is absolutely essential when learning Spanish as a beginner, whether you’re 5 or 95! It may seem absolutely overwhelming initially, but remember what I said about building riverbeds in our brain? At first, the water trickles, but with practice, it will soon start flowing.
Taking Spanish classes with a native English speaker may seem easier for you, but in the end, it will cost you – possibly even 6 years! Take the leap. Expose yourself to the Spanish language. This doesn’t necessarily mean traveling to Latin America and completely immersing yourself in the culture and language (Although, if you get the chance, I highly recommend it). There are plenty of opportunities for exposure right where you are.
- Movies and Television – You may think that it’s not possible to learn a language this way, but I have met so many people who learned to speak English just by watching movies and TV shows like ‘Friends.’ It takes commitment, but it’s possible! This is a great way to get Spanish exposure at no extra cost, especially if you have young learners. Netflix is a great option as well because you can choose from shows in Spanish (like Narcos or Reina del Flow) and shows that have a mix of English and Spanish, or ‘Spanglish’ (Jane the Virgin, One Day at a Time). Subtitles are another great tool to increase your Spanish exposure and comprehension. Learn more about how to use them to learn Spanish as a beginner here.
- Community – About 51 million people speak Spanish in the United States. Get out and make some friends! I know it can be awkward to start speaking your second language with a native speaker – trust me, I avoided it for a very long time. However, nothing can help you more than taking that step and initiating conversation with a native speaker.
- Online Classes – Here at Spanish Academy, we offer high-quality online Spanish classes to students of all ages around over the world. These classes are unique because they are taught by native speakers whose goal is to improve your Spanish fluency. You get great exposure to the language, a personal tutor to answer all your questions, and reinforcement materials. Instead of traveling all the way to Latin America, you can get the same benefits right in the comfort of your own home. Try a Free Class today to see if it’s a right fit for you!
So you have your vocabulary words written in your handy-dandy notebook. You increased your exposure to the language using one of the suggestions above. Now comes the scary part. Actually talking. I avoided conversing in Spanish for such a long time, thinking I wasn’t ready yet. Turns out, it was what I needed most of all. If you just do bookwork and never practice speaking, you’ll never be ready to hold a conversation. As uncomfortable as it may be, you need to start conversations in Spanish even as a beginner. In my personal experience, many native Spanish speakers wanted to speak English with me so they could practice. However, when I expressed my desire to learn and improve my Spanish, they were more than happy to help me. I am forever grateful to them for their patience as they listened to me stumble through sentences and repeated themselves various times until I understood what they were saying. Find someone you feel comfortable with (possibly even with a personal instructor from Spanish Academy) and ask to practice your Spanish with them.
Of course, learning a language doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient with yourself. Everyone learns in a unique way at their own speed. You will make mistakes – I still do, in both languages! However, if you are persistent in learning Spanish and use the right tools, you will progress towards fluency. Don’t get frustrated!
Also, you will be surprised at how patient people are when you try to speak to them in their native language. When I was learning Spanish as a beginner, I was afraid they would get frustrated or not understand me. However, it was quite the contrary. The people around me understood what I was trying to say and helped me express myself in a more natural way. They were incredibly forgiving and so delighted that I was making an effort to communicate with them in Spanish.
‘La práctica hace al maestro.’ Practice makes perfect. This is especially true when talking about learning a language and creating those pathways in your brain. The more you practice, the easier Spanish will come. One great tool I can recommend to learn Spanish as a beginner is language apps. They aren’t the same as having your own Spanish teacher, but they are a great way to reinforce what you are learning in class or what you heard in your Spanish conversations. Check out our top 4 apps of 2019, and pick which one would best for your language needs. For complete beginners, I would recommend Drops.
To learn Spanish as a beginner, you need to make sure you have some sort of exposure to Spanish every day, whether that be through apps, TV, conversations, or classes. Taking a class here and there or using Duolingo once a month will not get you to fluency. Keep practicing diligently, and you will see impressive results in as little as a few months!
To learn more about our Spanish program and the classes we offer, click here. If you want to know why our method works, check out this blog, which also explains more about the way our brains function. And, of course, don’t forget to sign up for a free class today! When learning Spanish as a beginner, it really helps to have a native speaker help you through the process and answer all your questions. Choose your personal instructor from our 60+ teachers to guide you on the path towards Spanish fluency. ¡Empieza hoy!
As a parent, you want the best for your child – especially where education is concerned. When it comes to foreign language, sometimes our local options fall short as we don’t always have access to native teachers. Therefore, many people turn to online alternatives for second-language courses, such as Spanish classes. However, good Spanish programs can be lengthy and difficult, especially if you choose a program that doesn’t fit your child’s needs. Is it worth it to invest in a private instructor? Do Spanish textbooks alone work? What about the multiple online software programs?
Weighing your options is always a good idea. Below, you will find 5 popular alternative Spanish classes for children and teenagers. If you are looking at courses for adults, please visit our blog here. ¡Vamos!
Although you may not consider these options to be exclusively ‘online’ programs, they are quite popular with families looking for Spanish fluency. These applications are very similar in structure (for a more detailed description, click here) and offer interactive activities to enforce learned vocabulary and grammar. Memrise has a more game-like vibe, while Duolingo is a little more focused on grammar. However, with Memrise you can choose from hundreds of Spanish courses made by users. This ensures your child learns what they need for their level or what peaks their interest. Duolingo also offers a placement test so your students start right at the level they need.
You can find both programs online or on your phone as an application. The free versions offer a variety of language learning options, such as games, vocabulary exercises, pronunciation, and writing. Although there are not live teachers helping your child along, he or she can watch short videos of natives speaking and listen to authentic pronunciations.
Rosetta Stone is a favorite among families looking for authentic Spanish classes. Developed in 1992, this program is a Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) software. In other words, the student learns with an automated program.
The platform uses images, text, sound, and repetition to help your child learn Spanish. It also analyzes aspects of your student’s progress to help them learn at their own pace and enjoy the process. For example, it tracks how many questions the student answered correctly, how accurate their pronunciation is, and how long each lesson is taking. However, like the apps, there is no live instructor to help the student along.
So, those first two options don’t offer any live teachers to guide your child through their learning journey. A private instructor is always a plus, especially if your child is quite young. Are there any affordable options available with personal instructors? Let’s look at the Kids’ Club Spanish School.
This platform is a bit newer, created in 2017. The classes allow the child to sit down with a live teacher and interactive software to learn Spanish. The backbone of the program is the
Panda Tree is another program that offers live Spanish instruction at your own convenience. This one offers classes in both Chinese and Spanish, and it has been in operation for 5 years. Just like the Kids’ Club Spanish School, the classes utilize interactive software ideal for younger children. This way, kids can sit down with their teacher as if they were in a real classroom. The learners also have access to additional songs and activities to practice with outside of class.
However, this platform doesn’t offer a free trial class to see if it is a good fit for your child. Another drawback both Panda Tree and Kids’ Club Spanish School have is that there is a maximum age limit. Many high school students need Spanish credits to graduate or to apply to college, but these programs are geared mainly towards younger students.
Spanish Academy, though, offers live classes to all ages – preschool, elementary, middle school, and high school. There is even a program for you, mom and dad! This platform combines personal classes at your convenience with a written curriculum so your child has a complete learning experience. If you have two kids that want to learn together, you can even sign them up to study at the same time. That way, they can have more fun learning Spanish together!
Best of all, the price for classes are significantly lower than both Panda Tree and Kids’ Club Spanish School, even though all three programs offer live, personalized classes online. The only drawback is that availability with Spanish Academy may be limited during the school year because of its great popularity.
Is your little learner ready to start learning Spanish? Click here to sign up for a free class today and give your child a brighter future!Read More
A big part of communication happens through spoken language. As opposed to written language, or the words we read and write, spoken language is everything we speak and hear. Another type of language we utilize is body language, or nonverbal communication. You may be wondering, what does this all have to do with TV and learning Spanish? Well, keep reading & you’ll find out how to learn Spanish by watching TV!
To learn more about the different types of communication and how they impact our interactions with others check out this blog post.
If we think of spoken language, we can divide it into two parts:
- What goes out – the words we say
- What goes in – the words we hear
We know that language learning is a skill like any other, and to get better at it, practice is key! If we are learning to speak Spanish, we need to actually speak Spanish. Before we can have a conversation, though, we need to understand spoken Spanish. One way to better our comprehension is consistently listening to Spanish! The thing is, Spanish has numerous sounds that the English language doesn’t, so we need to train our ears to get accustomed to this new world of sounds. And why not learn Spanish by watching TV?
Fun fact: did you know that some languages only exist in spoken form? In some languages, there are no written words to the spoken ones! According to Ethnologue, almost half of the over 7,000 spoken languages around the globe have no written form. Isn’t that fascinating?
Mashed Potatoes vs. French Fries
Let’s be honest. When you’re just starting to learn Spanish (or any language), and you hear people speak, it’s hard to point out where one word ends and another begins. At first, hearing the language feels more like mashed potatoes when in reality every word is a French fry! The more we listen to Spanish, the easier it will become to recognize the different sounds, and where words begin and end. It will be easier to pull the French fries out of the potato mash!
Now, how can we use all this knowledge to our advantage when learning Spanish? We’re very lucky to live in an age when technology offers so many different options that we can use differently depending on the level of our language skills. Let’s learn Spanish by watching TV! Series, movies, documentaries, cartoons…anything with spoken words will be of great help on our path to becoming fluent Spanish speakers!
Talking about technology, why don’t you check out our blog post on the Top 4 Spanish Apps of 2019!
Learn Spanish by watching TV
Let’s go back to words being French fries! Some fries are only seasoned with salt and pepper, while other fries are so heavily seasoned you can barely taste the potatoes! That’s exactly what happens with Spanish and all its different accents! While some are very easy to understand because the speakers pronounce words very clearly, other accents are an entirely different story!
Spanish is my native language, and there are series and movies in Spanish that I’ve watched with English or Spanish subtitles. Why? Because sometimes I want to focus on the plot instead of on trying to understand what people are saying. This is entirely normal: my ear is not accustomed to such an accent! If you need subtitles as a Spanish learner, don’t feel bad because even I as a native speaker need them sometimes too. You and I are definitely not alone on this!
Speaking of different accents, this blog post will help you improve your own accent.
Where to Start
¡Empecemos! Go to Netflix or your preferred streaming service. Pick out your favorite cartoon, series, or movie. Yes, that one you’ve watched at least once (but probably more times than you’d like to admit) in English. Choose to watch the Spanish dubbed version with English subtitles! Wait a second. What?! The original is in English and I’m saying you should choose to hear it in Spanish with subtitles in English? Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Why? Well, there are two reasons for this:
- You’ve watched this before, and you know what to expect. You know the plot and the characters so your brain already has an idea of what it will be about. This means you’ll have a fun time watching something you like even if you don’t understand everything you hear. It also allows your brain to focus on learning these new sounds with everything you hear!
- The language used on dubbed versions is a lot more neutral than the one from series or movies originally filmed in Spanish because it’s meant to cater to different audiences in various regions. Therefore, this is a great place to begin!
Where to Continue
Once you are past level 1, any of the following combinations will be great to continue learning Spanish by watching TV:
- Spanish audio with English subtitles: This will help train your ear to the sound of Spanish.
- Spanish audio with Spanish subtitles: You’ll hear and read very similar information. Therefore, you’ll start connecting spoken words to written words!
- English audio with Spanish subtitles: This will help you get used to Spanish spelling and written language.
And what should you watch? I don’t want to recommend anything in particular because whatever you watch should be fun for YOU! Learning Spanish by watching TV is educational without you even realizing it because it is so enjoyable! My only recommendation on this aspect is to start with series or cartoons, as movies are way longer and you don’t want your brain to be overwhelmed! We want this to be a fun ear-training activity!
My Personal Experience
Very often, people ask me where I learned English. This is not an easy question for me to answer because English is the only language other than my native tongue I didn’t primarily learn in a classroom – as was the case with German, Italian, French, and Latin. Instead, I learned English in a very organic way. I watched TV and played video games in English! What did I watch? I chose cartoons, series, documentaries, and movies! And even though it never felt like learning, I was learning English and training my ears to the sounds of the language.
It’s simple this time: pick a show you like and have fun while learning! And why not try a FREE CLASS with us to tell us about your experience learning Spanish by watching TV!
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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So, you want to learn Spanish. Maybe it’s even one of your New Year’s resolutions that you said you wanted to do but haven’t got around to yet. Nowadays, there are so many different resources we can use to learn Spanish. Applications, though, have a special draw to those of us who want to learn quickly and on the go. Maybe you’re looking to start from scratch, or perhaps you are already in Spanish and just need extra support. Well, you’re in luck! We’ve compiled a list of the best Spanish apps of 2019 to learn Spanish for free! Check out which one will work best for you.
There are four key areas of language learning: listening, speaking, writing, and reading. The most passed over and avoided area is reading, probably because it requires patience and time. However, reading can astronomically improve your language skills because you are subconsciously learning language structure and patterns while also absorbing new vocabulary through context. The only issue is…how can we make it fun and appealing? With Beelinguapp! This is by far the best app to practice your Spanish reading. With the free version, you have access to a variety of reading material. You can choose from different categories, such as travel, kids’ stories, and science. In addition, you can select your level as beginner, intermediate, or advanced. However, I will say that the beginner material is not for true beginners. You will need some basic Spanish knowledge before using this app.
How does it work?
After selecting your language, level, and category, you can choose which item you would like to read. Then, download it and begin reading either on your own or with the narrator. As the narrator speaks, the app highlights the text so that you can both hear the pronunciation and see the written word. Another cool feature of this app is that you can read the Spanish part only, or have the Spanish and English versions open at the same time to compare them. Finally, you can build your own glossary by adding new vocabulary words to your account.
This Spanish app was quite a pleasant surprise. It’s called ‘drops’ because you learn just a couple words at a time. In the free version, you can only study 5 minutes every 10 hours, which is perfect for those of you who are trying to squeeze language-learning into your busy schedules. If you’re looking for something more intensive, or already have some Spanish experience I would not recommend Drops. However, if you are just starting to learn, this is one of the best Spanish apps available.
How does it work?
Drops has great visual effects, with a drawing or animation accompanying each vocabulary word. After each word is introduced, there are exercises and games to help you truly learn the vocabulary. The app tracks your progress by how many words you have learned and then calculates your level accordingly. Additionally, the vocabulary is separated into categories, and the first level of every category is available all at once for your perusal. The categories include everything from science to business, from food to fashion.
In my opinion, Memrise came in as an extremely close second after Duolingo for the title of ‘best app to learn Spanish.’ While the other Spanish apps are limited to their own specific style of learning, Memrise combines them all into one app. Not only can you learn multiple languages at once, but you can learn from multiple platforms. For example, you can learn Spanish from the multiple Memrise Spanish courses, or from different programs that users themselves have created. Some of these other courses even include all the vocabulary from the corresponding Duolingo courses.
How does it work?
This app looks at language learning like growing a plant. When a word is first introduced, it is just a seedling. The more you practice, the more the plant grows until it flourishes into a flower. When the flower wilts, it means it’s time to practice that word. Depending on the course you choose, you can learn both phrases and vocabulary. Instead of a placement test, Memrise offers different levels of Spanish that you can choose from based on your experience. The Memrise courses themselves offer both vocabulary and phrases, while some of the other courses focus on different vocabulary, conversational skills, idioms, etc. In the learning process, you can find a variety of exercises, from watching videos of native speakers to practicing your own pronunciation. The app even includes both direct and literal translations so you can understand the structure of words and phrases.
Of course, you’ve probably heard of Duolingo. It has become so popular lately, and it continues to hold it’s title as one of the best apps to learn languages. What makes this app doubly amazing is that the founder of Duolingo is Guatemalan! Since our teachers are located in Guatemala, the country holds a special place in our hearts (learn more about Guatemala here). However, Duolingo isn’t in the number one best app spot because of any bias. To the contrary, its content speaks for itself.
How does it work?
You can either start at the very beginning or take a placement test to score out of some lessons, which makes this app perfect for all Spanish learners. As you progress through the lessons, you learn both vocabulary and phrases. Additionally, grammar is taught by showing it in sentences instead of a formal grammar lesson. If you would like more explanation, you can hover over the word or words. Like Memrise, you can reach different levels and goals, which encourages the user to keep practicing. To reinforce what you have learned, there are interactive exercises that test all areas of language-learning: pronunciation, writing, listening, and comprehension. Duolingo and Memrise are very similar in the way that they present and practice vocabulary, but Duolingo takes it a step further by giving grammatical explications, user forums, and supplemental learning features.
Get Practicing with the Spanish Apps!
Now that you have all the information, try out some of 2019’s best Spanish apps. Let us know which one you found to be your favorite!
Of course, the best way to utilize these Spanish apps would be to use them as a supplemental course to real Spanish classes. Take a Free Trial Class with us today and see how you can learn Spanish with a live instructor from the comfort of your home.
Many homeschool Spanish programs claim to have a great method for learning and retaining the language, but unfortunately most of them are made with the goal of translation, not true understanding and end up falling short.
How can you know what to look for in your child’s homeschool Spanish curriculum? Certain elements will stand out in a better curriculum. Here are 4 elements to look for when choosing a program.
Good Listening Practices
Hearing the correct pronunciation of a word, being able to follow a conversation and pick up on cues all come from active listening in class. A great curriculum will value listening skills as an important part of each lesson.
Early classes in a low-level Spanish class will put a big emphasis on pronunciation. The teacher may stretch out the word to emphasize each vowel, consonant and accent. Words will build into simple phrases spoken at a slower pace and repeated as needed.
It’s also essential that the student hear a variety of people speak Spanish. This helps the brain compile a sound file from the many versions of how a word or phrase sounds within a range instead of the same thing over and over. A good class will help your child create this mental file and recognize a word in a song, conversation or test.
Again, this seems like an obvious one, but so much of language happens when we read We mentally pronounce the words on the page, we remember their shape and meaning and store them in our long-term memory so that we can use them. Active, levelled reading needs to be a part of your child’s program.
Reading should begin with single words and basic, two to three-word phrases. Don’t discount them, that’s an important part of the process. Phrases and ideas will grow and get more complicated further into the program. Your student needs to feel confident reading both to themselves and out loud to you or their instructor to gain a stronger grasp on their Spanish.
Written Spanish is so much more complicated than it sounds – the punctuation changes, the spelling is different and the flow is very unlike that of which we see in English. It is essential that your child practice writing single words, basic phrases and more complex ideas as he or she works through a program.
Many students balk at writing of any kind. It’s always the most trying and complicated part of language acquisition, even in the best classes. Since writing is where applied learning happens in Spanish class and it cannot be overlooked. Your child may struggle with this aspect more than any other – that’s normal. Just be ready with loads of extra support.
Encourage your child to write out song lyrics, jokes, short stories and anything else they like in Spanish to enhance their new skills. It will help them feel great about their new language and show you exactly how much they are understanding in class.
Speaking and Conversation
The importance of speaking and using Spanish is essential to any learner. Many Spanish curriculums put an emphasis on translating phrases into English or put more energy into reading and writing. While these aren’t bad things to do, they skip the most important element – speaking.
Language students who have an emphasis on conversation use a different part of their brains as they speak than when they write out an exercise or read a textbook. The combination of all three makes for a more complete and immersive experience and helps learners master Spanish on a deeper level.
At Homeschool Spanish Academy, your child has a Spanish speaker to practice with one on one as part of their daily practice. It helps them internalize each word and make it their own as they work through the program.
Try a free trial session today and see for yourself why our teachers and our homeschool Spanish curriculum are helping so many students become bilingual. Click here to schedule your class.Read More