The process of learning a language is a lot like an athlete training for a gold medal. There’s coaching, goal setting, hard work, determination, riding the ups and downs and modifying your strategies to get to the prize at the end.
The Olympics have concluded in Rio for another 4 years and you’ve possibly been glued to your tv screens or computers willing your team to success. Maybe you found yourself dreaming about one day collecting a gold medal and hearing your national anthem being played. I’ve often dreamed of being a diver, but then I remember I’m scared of heights, so that dream will remain unfulfilled. But, I digress… For all of these athletes, their results have been the direct result of hard work. Sure, many would be naturally gifted, but as in any endeavour, there are also people who just love what they do and work hard to succeed, regardless of their natural talent. There are many similarities between learning a language and winning a gold medal as an elite athlete.
When you decide you want to learn a new language, there are many factors which will determine your success, or lack thereof.
Goal setting and motivation:
Understand what is your motivation for learning a new language. Is it for travel to help you get around Spanish speaking countries a little more easily, or maybe work where a high level of proficiency is required? Is it something to keep your mind occupied, or are you just looking for a new challenge? Being clear on your motivation for learning Spanish will help you set reasonable and achievable goals. Think also about your learning preferences. All of these factors will help determine the method and intensity of coaching required. Having realistic expectations will also help keep you motivated. For me, travel was the main reason. I wanted to be able to find my way around and not look like too much of a tourist, while hopefully making some meaningful connections with locals throughout my travels in South America. Looking at my progress over the last couple of months, I know I am doing well, but I also know that in the beginning my expectations were not realistic. After a month of classes I was never going to be fluent and communicating like a local – though I had learnt some choice swear words from a couple of locals! – but in the back of my mind I think that’s what I was hoping for and I became disheartened.
Just like an Olympic athlete, you need someone who is an expert in that field to help you reach your potential. In the case of learning a language, coaching may take many different forms. You could attend formalized language classes, or one on one tutoring, both of which are available at Vamos Spanish Academy, an online learning app such as Duolingo or possibly a language conversation exchange. All of these are valid options and in truth you will probably go with a mixture of these.
Hard work and discipline:
An Olympic athlete is disciplined and works hard. They have a training schedule which they stick to diligently; even if they are tired and their bodies ache they still get up and train. Learning a language requires the same sort of mental discipline and hard work and, like an elite athlete, there are no shortcuts. You need to do your homework, you need to practice daily across all of the disciplines such as speaking, listening, reading and writing, even if you are tired or you have a headache. Two hours once a week probably won’t get you to your goal of speaking the language, but some dedicated time everyday to practicing your skills will quickly produce results. I’ll admit that if left to my own devices I would not practice terribly hard and would find an excuse to chat with friends or have a glass of wine, which is why I opted for classes. I know I have homework to do, everyday, and I don’t want to be the one who turns up to class without having completed it.
Understand that there will be ups and downs:
Sometimes an Olympic athlete performs below their expectations for whatever reason, but that doesn’t mean they give up. This principle holds true for learning a language. You will sometimes have a bad day or even week, when none of the grammar makes sense or you can’t remember that tricky irregular verb conjugation. This is a natural part of the learning process so don’t be discouraged. Take a break, have a glass of wine with friends, have a scoop of ice cream or go for a walk to clear your head but come back to it feeling refreshed and with a clear sense of purpose. A couple of weeks ago I had a mini melt down and wallowed in self pity for a couple of days because I thought I was just too stupid to learn Spanish and then on the spur of the moment, I booked a ticket to Rio for the weekend. I came back sunburnt as it was sunny and hot in Rio as opposed to cold and cloudy in BA, but I was also refreshed and ready to start lessons again.
Continually review and modify your strategies:
An Olympic athlete continually changes their training and sets new goals. Are you getting bored, do you need to change it up a bit? Are you finding your initial learning strategies that worked in the beginning are now not so useful? Continually reassess where you are against your goals and adjust your plan if you need to.
Remember, it takes time to learn a new language – just think about how long it has taken you to perfect your native tongue! You can’t expect to be speaking fluent Spanish after only a few classes, but if you are motivated, disciplined and have a good coach helping you along, there is no reason why you can’t learn a new language to whatever level you choose. I’ll keep plugging away and I will improve, and when I head home to Australia I would like to think I will continue to practice this beautiful language.
What strategies have you found successful for learning a new language? We’d love for you to share your tips.
If you’d like more information on our Spanish Courses in Argentina, or your would like to Learn Spanish in Buenos Aires please visit Vamos Spanish Academy and we will be happy to help you on your Spanish language journey. If you want more information about how to Study Spanish in Buenos Aires simply come visit us at Viamonte 1516, Buenos Aires, Argentina