For 2024 I have set the goal to learn intermediate Spanish in just 6 months.
This is a difficult goal, but there are a few reasons I want to do it! Firstly, I could talk to native speakers when travelling to South America. Secondly, I can see the world in a different light because different languages make you perceive the world differently. And thirdly, I can delve further into my love for the science of learning through language learning.
But most importantly, I can show others learning a language as an adult is 100% possible.
Many young adult learners believe learning a language after childhood is significantly harder--so they don't try in the first place.
But after doing some research I discovered adult learners can be just as effective if not more so in the same time frame as children in language learning (Krashen et al. 1979). In this article I'm going to share my learning plan for learning intermediate Spanish in 6 months as well as the biggest principles I have learned about language learning from my research.
Hopefully, hearing about my journey will inspire and spark you to make your own language learning journey!
3 Biggest Principles Of Language Learning I Found From The Research
There are 3 principles about language learning I learned from my research that will supercharge any language learning effort.
1. Prioritize Comprehensible Input Over Everything Else
The most radical thing I learned was the idea you should prioritize comprehensible input over everything else.
I discovered this from Krashen's input hypothesis for second language learning. It's founded on two ideas:
- We acquire language most effectively through comprehensible input containing i + 1--that simply means the input is a little beyond your ability of understanding.
- A low or weak affective filter to allow the input "in." In other words a non-stressful environment.
This approach is completely counterproductive to the way we have been taught languages in school. The hypothesis poses we don't acquire language by learning the grammatical structure and then finding meaning. We FIRST find meaning, and acquire the grammatical structure over time.
This blew my fricking mind...
I'll admit, I learned Spanish for four years in High School before making this journey (this definitely makes my journey a little less hard).
But if I'm being completely honest, I don't remember that much from my high school class. The instruction wasn't valuable. We learned things through prioritizing grammar over comprehensible input.
If we had focused on comprehensible input instead, I might have taken away more from the class.
Taking this into account, the next question becomes, what does optimal input for second language learning look like. According to Krashen, optimal input includes four things:
- Optimal input is comprehensible. It should be at i + 1 of the learners structure.
- Optimal input is interesting and/or relevant.
- Optimal input is not grammatically sequenced. This means in acquisition based materials you don't have to be consciously concerned the information contains i + 1 materials. When meaning is successfully negotiated the message will contain i + 1 materials as long as the next rule is true.
- Optimal input must be of sufficient quantity. This ensures there are i + 1 structures for every learner even when every learner is at a different stage.
Taken together these rules promote language learning through mass comprehensible input of interesting and relevant in information in the target language.
I'm not saying you should never learn the grammar of the language.
However, grammar should be learned on the side of comprehensible input as it becomes relevant. It wouldn't make sense to learn ALL the grammar of a language before beginning to intake comprehensible input. That would be like buying every piece of fishing equipment imaginable before even going out to fish.
So, how am I getting in more comprehensible input? A few ways:
- I'm building a Spanish song playlist. Mostly comprised of songs I already know--especially Disney translations lol.
- Most importantly, I'm following an awesome tip I learned from Ramse Oudt's Italian learning journey. That is I'm replacing all of my entertainment with the target language. So I can play video games, watch entertainment YouTube videos, and more, but it has to be in Spanish. This tip is gold.
- I'm speaking to a native Spanish speaker through Tandem. This glorious app matches you with someone who is learning the language you know, but is native to the language you're learning. Then you converse. HIGHLY recommend you check it out if you're learning another language.
2. Personalize The Language Learning To YOU
It's essential you personalize your language learning to YOU.
The problem with language learning apps like Duolingo is they don't have a method of personalization. I experienced this first hand when I used the app for a few days and was learning words I would rarely use in real life--stuff like asking for a taxi, pen, or travelling. In effect, I would forget the words just a day later.
This involves writing down words, phrases, and more you want to memorize in your target language.
You get these from your comprehensible input throughout the day. Then every day, you have a set time where you go through and memorize some of them. Over time, this ensures you learn what you will actually use in your target language.
3. Develop A Gameful Mindset
Language learning is made significantly easier if you come in with a gameful mindset.
A gameful mindset is described in Jane McGonigal's Superbetter as adopting the mindsets you often have while playing games and bringing them to real life. For example, adopting a challenge mindset which means embracing real-life obstacles as voluntary challenges rather than threats, akin to accepting a game's challenge. Or finding allies to help you in your language learning journey who will keep you accountable and provide assistance when you need it. Or setting and achieving small quests that progress you toward your language learning goals every single day.
Developing a gameful mindset can help you get over the humps in your language learning journey.
I know from personal experience.
I used to be addicted to video games like a fish is addicted to water. I would play video games for hours every single day. When I came across a tough boss battle, I surprised even myself with how resilient I was in the face of challenge--sometimes I spent days in a row fighting a single boss (and often significant sleep, exercise, and healthy eating habits).
Applying these mindsets to your language learning will help you continue even when times get tough.
I have even given myself two epic wins like in a video game for the end of my 6 months to prove if I have learned the language well enough:
- I will be able to debate my native Spanish speaking friend Rushika in Spanish over 3 random topics pulled from a hat around my interests.
- I will be able to read The Stormlight Archives (my favorite fantasy series ever) to a comprehensible level in Spanish.
My Daily Spanish Learning Routine
Taking these principles into account, this is what my Spanish Learning Routine looks like on a daily basis:
- 15 minutes of memorizing my personal vocabulary
- 15 minute of consuming comprehensible input in Spanish of songs, video games, movies, etc.
- 15 Minutes of talking to my Tandem partner in Spanish either through writing or speaking
The only other thing I do is sometimes I replace my memorizing of vocabulary with learning a new grammar rule or tense. When I feel it's necessary.
I don't stick to this schedule perfectly every day. But on most days I do. I hope that through doing this for 6 months I will be an intermediate in Spanish.
Hopefully my article has inspired you to make your own language learning journey.
Remember, it's never too late to learn a language.
If you liked this article you should check out my book summary interpretation of How People Learn. It dives into how we have evolved to learn and how the school system is built antecedent to it.
- KRASHEN, S., LONG, M. and SCARCELLA, R. (1979) Age, rate and eventual attainment in second language acquisition. TESOL Quarterly 13: 573-582. ↩︎
- Krashen, S. D. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon Press. ↩︎
- https://www.magneticmemorymethod.com/how-to-learn-a-new-language/ ↩︎
- McGonigal, J. (2015). Super better: a revolutionary approach to getting stronger, happier, braver, and more resilient. Penguin Press.: https://amzn.to/3GQyCiT ↩︎