How do you speak, eat and live in a language you are learning?

August 31, 2022 0 Comments

From teacher to student

To set the record straight, I’ll confess: As a teacher, I was a bit of a prude when telling students how easy it was to learn English. Then I arrived in Chile in July 2010 and the only words I knew were Hello Y friends. Would what he had been telling students to do on the other side of the language learning experience work?

Come with me as I live, eat and speak what I preach.


I reorganized my life so that Spanish is front and center. The language learning formula is that you will quickly be able to read and follow what is happening. The context will help you even if you don’t understand every word. You will then be able to understand more and more what people are talking about. If you advance, you may begin to speak like an 18-month-old, but the vocabulary will develop. Writing is the most difficult. Even people who speak the language very well rarely write like native speakers.

To live

So how do I experience Spanish? When I get up in the morning I tune into the radio and/or television of RTVE in Madrid on my laptop. There are no commercials and the announcers speak with clear, crisp voices. If the people you are listening to speak well, it is much easier to follow the conversation.

And when you really listen, you’ll start to hear how many words are, in fact, the same as English, but with a different pronunciation. English emphasizes the first syllable; Spanish the penultimate.

Another advantage is that the news shows are repeated, so what I miss the first time, I will catch more in the second round. My usual station is 24 hours. outdoor radio – live. I learned economics fluently as 23 of the 24 hours are spent discussing the financial crisis in Spain.

For television news, watch the announcer’s mouth. Remember that this is now deaf people learn to speak, so pay attention and imitate. Sports broadcasts are also good listening exercises, as the vocabulary is limited.

Now I only listen to Spanish music. And only watch Spanish movies. Subtitles, which makes it a waste of time as you are reading in English instead of listening in the target language, is not a problem on RTVE. If your family and neighbors complain about the gongs and wails in the Chinese opera you’re listening to or watching, get headphones and turn them off.

During the first few months when I was reading the news in Spanish on the BBC, I really didn’t know much about what was going on in the news. But once I was able to follow it, I realized I hadn’t missed much anyway. However, my reading skills improved.

I have kept a diary since August 1981. So I force myself to write a little in Spanish every day. It’s not great literature, but it’s fun to reread it after a few months and spot the mistakes. When I read or write, I try to concentrate on the verbs. More on this topic later.

To experience the language, also check out local food festivals, multicultural events, language exchange programs, and online deals. Even if you want to learn fairly obscure languages, like Khmer or Inuit, there are online resources ready and waiting.

To eat

Studying Spanish, and one should live the culture, is much more fun with a glass of sauvignon blanc from Chile in one hand and some tapas in the other. Same goes for steak and Malbec at midnight. In fact, after a couple of glasses of came upstairs I get quite chatty.

While you’re at the bookstore, grab a cookbook in the target language and whip up a few dishes. If in doubt about the ingredients, check with a translation program as you don’t want a cup of sugar in your soup. Then put on some music, pour a drink, light some candles and mentally transport yourself to the country of the target language.


Once you get past the growling stage on a single noun, it’s time to tackle verbs so you can talk to people. Although memorizing how to conjugate verbs rivals getting a root canal, all languages ​​revolve around these stubborn little critters. No verbs, no action. End of story, so go ahead and accept verbs as your friends.

Turn learning verbs into a fun activity of saying a sentence in present, past and future tense. Then reward yourself with a sip of saki if you’re learning Japanese. Read a passage and underline all the verbs.

Also note what time they are in: past, present, future. Suddenly you will have a “eureka” and patterns will start to appear. Everything will start to make sense. And when that happens, eat out at the restaurant in your target language. Hopefully the waiters at the Korean cafe will be able to talk to you.

To learn to speak well you have to practice every day. When I started teaching at the University of Waikato, I used to practice my lessons in front of a full-length mirror. Observing myself, I learned how I presented myself to the approximately 400 beaming sophomores in the auditorium. Now I do the same with Spanish. And it’s also a good thing as I now live in Phnom Penh and Spanish speakers are not available.

I would pour a glass of wine, pull up a chair in front of the mirror, and review my day. Topics include what I did and what I will do tomorrow. Sometimes I just go off the rails and talk about whatever. I carry my Spanish book with me so I can refer to it, especially the verbs, when I need it.

Okay, it may sound a bit strange, but believe me, it works. Another option is to film yourself. If you’re worried that other people might think you need a mental health evaluation, tell them you’re auditioning for a role in the Ukrainian play. As long as you have a cover story, no one ever asks.

Learning another language is mental gymnastics. The more practice, the better you become. In short live, eat and talk and it will be more fun.

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