Ideas on teaching yourself Spanish (or any language)

My blog posting of Feb.21, 2022

In 2018 (more or less) I published my book on learning Spanish by studying the Spanish words to songs. (for an excerpt see the last paragraph of this posting. The book’s title is “Love songs in Spanish for Enjoyment and Learning”), In that book I mention that in my experience native speakers of Spanish respond warmly to  the efforts of a non-Spanish speaker to speak Spanish. The better their Spanish, the more they were not only appreciated but even loved. In reviewing my book one Californian professor of Spanish took issue with my remark and dismissed it as irrelevant. I disagree with her and to explain my point of view I am including below some observations I made on this subject long ago (December 20, 1976).

(From 1976)

This patience of Mexicans also comes into play when a Norteamericano attempts to speak their language. They almost always listen patiently and with tolerance even if you are as slow as a sleepy cucaracha and even if you massacre their language, The Mexicans I have met let me know without words that they appreciate the qualities (bravery, humility, respect and interest) which lie behind my efforts. They know, even if only unconsciously, that one’s efforts are concrete proof that you acknowledge the special beauty of their culture and language. One’s efforts seem to say “Spanish is beautiful and important enough for me to try to learn it for its own sake and it is doubly worth the effort if it will enable me to really communicate with these people.”

How the human barriers come crashing down when you use Spanish! You see the difference as soon as you switch from English to Spanish. Eyes that hitherto were cod-fish dull (faintly skeptical and unengaged) suddenly light up. You see a glint of surprised recognition and friendly interest in your interlocutor’s eyes. Even if your Spanish is not great the atmosphere will change; you’ll be more likely to get what you want (assuming you want something, like street directions) and you’ll certainly have a pleasanter experience.

It goes without saying that the better your Spanish, the more success you will have in establishing contact with the natives. There are many programs for studying Spanish. I have tried several. Overall I thought the Berlitz program was the best. Working with CDs in Spanish and repeating the cues over and over and over works wonders. If you limit yourself to listening (and don’t speak) you will be short-changing yourself.  Say the words out loud. You have to hear for yourself how good you accent is.

Sooner or later you have to study at least one grammar book. Doing this will give you an overview of the structure of the language. Among other things it will make you aware that Spanish is not that easy a language to master when it comes to such things as irregular verbs (so many of them!) and idioms (hundreds and hundreds of them).

Attending Spanish classes can be very useful. Much will depend on the instructor. Listening and interacting with a lively, well-organized instructor can inspire you and improve your Spanish.  There can be downsides to attending classes (apart from the cost). I have met too many people who think that attending classes is all they have to do in order to become skilled speakers of Spanish. I think they are kidding themselves. I don’t think it will. In most classes not much time is taken to do repetition exercises, etc. and these are vital to gaining a good accent and acquiring confidence when speaking your “target language.” Again, working with CDs should be the biggest slice of your language learning pie. You might want to work with cassettes as well (if you have a player that can accommodate them.). Back in the 1970s I put in dozens (maybe even hundreds) of hours on the Berlitz advanced Spanish program (six cassettes).

The story line of this program is brilliant: Riccardo, a Spanish-speaking man from Boston, works in the import business (importing Mexican goods to the U.S.A.). He travels to Mexico City to meet and spend time  with his opposite number in Mexico City. This Mexican has a beautiful, intelligent daughter named Consuelo. Riccardo falls for her and carefully woos her. Meanwhile she has to fend off her cousin (Faustino)  who also is interested in her (for her parents’ money). It’s a brilliant program, full of imagination and humor. It’s also loaded with cultural insight. I still have my copy and try to listen to all six cassettes just prior to leaving Canada for Mexico or Spain.   

Please let me know if you can find out where to buy it.  I phoned several Berlitz offices to find out if this program was available. Strangely enough, they knew nothing about it and had no idea where to get it. I think Berlitz missed a real opportunity when they decided to let this 1970s (or earlier) program fall into obscurity and oblivion. Recent versions of a program are not always the best.

Also available and a great tool for learning Spanish is the DVD series “Destinos” which is free, I believe, through Youtube. Rachel, a bright lady lawyer is the anchor of the storyline. Through this program you will travel to several countries where Spanish is spoken.

Below are a few lines from the first song in my book (“Love songs in Spanish”): “Solamente una vez.”  The lyricist contends that we only have one real love in our life. You will know when you first become aware of this great love because “you will have festive churchbells that will sing in your heart.” What a lovely image!

5. Una vez, nada más

Once, no more than that

6. en mi huerto

in my garden (or orchard)

7. brilló la esperanza,

shone hope (did hope shine),

8. la esperanza que alumbra

hope which lights up

9. el camino de mi soledad.

the pathway of my loneliness..

10. Una vez, nada más, se entrega el alma

Once, no more than that, does one give one’s own soul

11. con la dulce y total renunciación.

with sweet and total renunciation.

12. Y cuando ese milagro realiza

And when that miracle produces

13. el prodigio de amarse

the prodigious phenomenon of two people loving each other

14. hay campanas de fiesta

There are festival church bells

15. que cantan en el corazón.

that sing in the heart.

Don’t forget to check out my Website (www.godwinbooks.com). I not only list my books there, I also include long passages from most of them. I also include many of the reviews my books have received.

“Love songs in Spanish” can be ordered from amazon books  but the only way you can get the CD that contains all twenty-five songs in the book is through me. Write me for details and I will give you the information you want. rthomson@islandnet.com

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