Learn Spanish – It’s Really, Really, Really Hard


There is an awful lot of emphasis put on life enrichment these days.  We see it when we turn on the TV, listen to the radio, surf the web.  Walk into a book store and there is likely a display of books on how to be happier, healthier and live a fuller, richer life.

I’ve got a tip that can enrich your life – learn Spanish.

It has got to be one of the, if not the most life enriching things that I’ve done.

To be able to communicate with another culture is an amazing thing.

This fact had an awful lot to do with my then wife and I deciding to sell out, pack up, and move our family to Costa Rica in 1999.

Prior to that time, I had always admired and envied those that had a second language. We tried in the States to learn Spanish.  I bought a huge satellite dish and put it out in the yard just so we could get Spanish TV.  I thought that would be the way to get the kids to learn Spanish – NOT.

At that time there was no Rosetta Stone, but I did scour the market and found what there was.  Berlitz has always been pretty good.  I bought their cassettes and memorized them.  “Hola Pedro. Como está?  Donde está María?” and so on.  We found a video set that assured us our kids would learn Spanish.  They did watch the videos and would mockingly say “Zozo está listo para los panquekes?”

There just weren’t a lot of options back then.

Our decision to move to Costa Rica had several facets, but this learning a new language (Spanish) was prominent among them.  I felt that it would be a leg-up in this world for my kids to be bi-lingual.  I know that sounds noble, but my own intense desire to learn a second language was firmly in the mix as well.

It worked.  My kids are fluent, and so am I (mas o menos).  Looking back on it, I’m glad we did it, and if I had it to do all over again, I would.

Learning a second language is hard.  No, let me say that in a different way.  Learning a second language is extremely, a lot, and way hard. It is really, really, really hard.  Actually I feel at this moment that English is lacking in expressing this thought.  Why do I make this point?

I’ve seen so many people start to learn Spanish and then stop.  Or, learn up to a certain point and then get along with – Gringo Spanish.  I think that one of the main reasons people stop is that it is really really hard.  (I know, this may sound ridiculously obvious, but bear with me here.)

There is a romantic notion to the idea of learning a new language, but when it comes time to actually do it, and you find out how puzzling and complex the whole thing is, we decide that we’d prefer to read a book.

Understanding this point can be oddly encouraging.  If you have started, or are starting to learn Spanish and are reading these words and thinking “that’s me”, take heart.  When we calibrate our expectations to the task, we are more likely to stick with it.  This thing is hard-isimo, it’s no cake walk, but man is it ever worth it: and more importantly, you can do it.

I believe that almost everybody can learn a second language.  Obviously some have a facility for it, and others clearly don’t.  But, if we consider the value of the project to our lives, and keep in mind a few simple points, we can stay with it.

Points to help you to stick with it:
Everybody has heard the story of the guy/gal that was fluent in 2 months, or 6 months, or whatever.  So, we pick up our “Spanish Made Simple” book and go at it for a couple months.  When we find that we are no where near even forming a complete sentence, we decide that we are not “gifted” in the area of language, or worse yet, that everybody else who learned the language has the “gift” and “I don’t.”

I know that there are progenies out there in music, science, the arts, and language.  DO NOT compare yourself to these people.  You are in the category of folks that won’t learn the language in a short period of time – sorry.

Whatever your time expectation or limitation is regarding the learning of Spanish, get rid of it.  Or here’s an idea, replace it with the 5 year plan.  You’ve got 5 years to get moderately proficient in Spanish.  I’ll bet you can feel the relief of this thought.  I know that I did.  “OK, now I can get about the business of learning a second language, I’ve got that monkey off my back.  I can be slow, whew!”

You’ll likely notice that there are kinda two issues at play here.  One is this time constraint issue.

The other is that we feel stupid when it comes to language. “Others got it, but I don’t”. (Refer back to the first point here – learning Spanish is HARD.)

The human brain is designed to learn language, it’s what it does, and there is plenty of room in there for all the languages that you want to throw at it.  We learned English before we could walk and even though we likely don’t remember this part of our lives well, I think that we all learned our native tongue as babies, because it was intensely fascinating and pleasurable.  I can honestly say the same for me, about learning Spanish as an adult.  (By the way, I started my Spanish learning at around the age of 40.)

Let the brain do its thing.  The language works.  Millions, if not billions of people speak it.  All we have to do is relax, get out of the way, and let our amazing language absorbing brains accept the language.

In other words, YOU CAN DO IT.  And why not?  We live in a foreign land where a foreign language is spoken.  What an amazing opportunity for life enrichment.

Next step – the mechanics of learning Spanish.  I’ve got some what I call “cheats” for getting going with the language.

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