Know Your Learning Strategies as an Adult Learner of Spanish

Did you know as an adult you have built in learning strategies that can help you learn Spanish? Or do you think that you only have a built in mental block towards learning Spanish? Maybe you watch with envy as you see your child rapidly pick up Spanish.

Sure you've heard all the reasons why it's easy for a child to learn a second language, but has anyone ever explained to you, your unique advantages of learning a foreign language as an adult? There isn't a competition necessarily going on between an adult and a child as far as learning languages goes, but if you are an adult who has a continual internal negative tape saying you can't learn a second language, the tape needs to be put on pause for a few minutes to think about it; really think about.

Learning Strategies of an Adult learning Spanish (often used subconsciously)

Categorizing: (ever play Scattergories?)You as an adult can already categorize things. You consciously know that "I'm learning numbers, colors, days of the week, opposites" from your mind's file of general knowledge. Learning to categorize things is one of the earliest learning strategies, we as humans develop. You have categorized lists that can go on and on, such as fruits, vegetables, countries, summer clothing,etc. You can learn to plug in new vocabulary,and know the situations when you will need to use them.

Language Discourse: Most of you know that there is a give and take in language discourse. You ask a question, that requires a response. You know there are certain words used for questions--Who, What, Where, Why. When you learn a second language and in this case Spanish, you anticipate, once you learn Donde? (where?), you then want to know what are the other question words in Spanish. In the usual volley of conversation, one can continue a thread of conversation based on general life experiences. Conversation strategies and learning strategies kind of blend here, and are a real benefit to those who want to extend their conversation practice as they learn Spanish.

Intuitive Grammar: Your own language's grammar, may be implicit knowledge to you. This means you intuitively know how to say something correctly, but you can't verbalize the exact rules. Often studying Spanish will bring about an "aha!" moment when you learn the grammar rule used to explain how to say something in Spanish. Once revealed, you quickly apply it to your Spanish learning experience.

Drawing from how words work and your own language's grammar,you know that words in English add on endings or suffixes; Spanish is similar. For example, if I tell you that words that end with -ly in English, are like words that end in -mente in Spanish (generalmente, realmente, rapidamente); you can generally make the connection of what the words really are rapidly. The same goes for words that end in -tion in English, end in -cion in Spanish.

Memory tricks: (Demonic devices, or is it mnemonic devices? Ok, so what about memorizing all those new words? You say, "I have a terrible memory". That is where learning Spanish with memory devices or tricks can come in handy. Some words are easily remembered because they are so similar to the English equivalent, such as computadora, television. A good program for adults learners will teach memory tips to help the words get into our memory banks. For example , one way to remember that "El vino" is "he came". You can think "He came with the VINO(the wine). Of all the learning strategies, I think this is a key one to help the adult learner in the beginning stages of learning Spanish. And yes, there are programs out there that have lists of vocabulary with memory tips or associations to go with each word. A good one I can recommend is Warren Hardy's Spanish program, see:

Internal Translating: A natural tendency that adult learners have is to translate everything in their head first. A beginning learner will first think of what s/he wants to say in English and then translate it into Spanish. Such as "I need to go to my hotel" and then plug in word for word " Yo-necesito-ir-a mi-hotel". If you've had teachers in the past who have told you to quit translating first, I would ignore that. This is a learning strategy that is a good thing. You are making bridges to connect your first language to your new language, so by doing the translating thing in your head your are making connections. This is learning a language on a very conscious level. With practice, this switching can actually occur very quickly and then move to the point where you aren't conscious about it anymore. And some would say, who cares if it's conscious or subconscious, the point is you are communicating which is what learning a foreign language is all about.

Some of you who are good auditory learners, after listening to Spanish phrases will see that the phrase just seems to come out of your mouth, without you doing the translating in your head. Good for you when that happens, it got into your subconscious. I don't know all the technical terms for what is going on in your brain, but I think it's healthy for you. When people talk about staving off Alzheimer's or dementia by keeping your brain active, I think one can almost feel the synapses snapping back and forth as you move from speaking English to Spanish. Exercising your learning strategies is excellent exercise for your brain.

Here are my two recommendations to get in listening practice

For an explanation of why I recommend these go to my page