Learning Spanish is an adventure that is not only fun but beneficial to the mind in incredible ways. Anyone can learn Spanish but starting young is always better. There are many ways to learn a language but methods that are immersive and target high frequency vocabulary tend to be more effective. Spanish can be quickly learned by moving to a Spanish speaking country but you can get a head start by taking a class or even from your home computer.
Did you know there are more benefits to learning a second language than just being able to communicate in a new way? Research shows that children who learn a second language benefit in ways that change their thinking patterns, improves their first language and increases their self perception. Children learning second languages such as Spanish can increase their sense of achievement, enhance their cognitive abilities and even become more creative. Not only will they now have the opportunity to speak with twice as many people in the world but their options for choosing colleges and career opportunities are also improved. Perhaps the most important reason to learn a second language is that a person becomes more fully developed, more intellectual, and better prepared to be a successful and happy contributing member of this complex society.
Spanish can be learned at any age, but generally speaking, the younger exposure begins the easier the process tends to be. While there are many factors to becoming fluent, research suggests that a child’s mind begins to change at age 7 and again at age 12 whereby and the mind becomes less impressionable to language acquisition. Ideally then learning before this time is optimal. As a teacher to elementary, high school age children as well as adults I can see that there is a marked difference between each of the categories. Kindergarten children remember words almost effortlessly while adults struggle just to recall a few words. High school age students have good memories but their confidence and willingness to take chances is much lower than elementary age children. If you have children it’s best to expose them to Spanish as young as possible, they can thank you later.
Methods for learning a second language widely vary and some are clearly more effective than others. Translation and audio-lingual methods where students repeat phrases often mindlessly are methods that are largely ineffective. Often a learner becomes confused, is slowed down and frustrated if presented with translation methods because languages do not translate literally. Methods for learning a second language that are more effective are those that are more direct. The meaning of the word direct here is that words and ideas in the second language are directly associated with an object or idea. By directly associating ideas and objects in the second language learners speed up mental processing significantly. Direct association with ideas also helps avoid errors with grammar that would arise if translation was being used. Additionally, learning in the direct method is more enjoyable and rewarding because results are quicker and because there is less confusion the learner is more successful. The Direct method is an immersive method that mimics more closely the way a person would learn if they moved to a Spanish speaking country. Methods that only focus on vocabulary are clearly very limited! While learning vocabulary is important and necessary it can only take you so far. Using vocabulary alone students would suffer from sound like a cave man and probably would not feel too successful or intelligent when immersed. Having that said carefully chosen vocabulary and conversational topics can facilitate a student’s sense of achievement. If topics that are used often in everyday conversation are chosen for study then the learner will be more likely to know what to say and how to react in more situations. It is also important that the topics be geared toward the learner age and position in life. Children for example would be more likely to talk about toys and games than an adult. Unfortunately many programs still today use translation and vocabulary alone even though they are the most ineffective methods. These methods are still used because they take very little effort to prepare by the teacher and are often used by individuals who are not educated on the topic. These outdated and ineffective methods are responsible for discouraging many who may have otherwise become bilingual.
The very best way to learn a language is to immersive yourself! From my experience children who are immersed in a second language in a Spanish speaking country at a very young age can understand and follow instructions in the second language after about 3 months. These same children become comfortable with the language after about six months and are mostly bilingual after a year. For children the process is more about just interacting with those speaking the language and less about studying the language itself. Older students can also become functionally bilingual when immersed after a year if they are also studying daily along the way. While true immersion is ideal it is not an option for most of us at just any moment. Perhaps immersion is a plan for the future or maybe it is not an option at all. Either way, there is little question that having prior knowledge by either taking a class or doing online studying prior to immersion will make the process smoother and less stressful. Students who take well planned classes or well designed online lessons using direct and immersive methods can also be very successful, but usually at a slower rate. If the class is accompanied with online lessons like those from Spanish Scholars then the process becomes even more defined and perfected.
Learning Spanish can only be helpful! More excitement and enjoyment from life are possibilities that await you or your child when you decide to learn Spanish. Starting sooner than later is always best but be careful which programs you are exposed to. Choosing the wrong programs can cause confusion, frustration and even abandoning the idea of learning Spanish itself. So choose programs like Spanish Scholars that avoid translation and you will be happily on your way to learning Spanish!
by Sra. Seco
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