Make as Many Mistakes As You Can

In the previous article, we established a couple points that help one stick with the formidable project of learning to speak a second language namely, Spanish.

To re-cap:

  • It is a huge project that will take longer than you think.
  • It is hard for everybody (except for the extremely rare progeny).

If we can clean these 2 points out of our heads and press on, we’ll be more likely to learn Spanish. However, there is another point that needs to be mentioned. And it’s a problem that likely plagues other areas of our life from time to time: pride.

To learn to speak a language, we have to pass through the goo-goo gah-gah phase of our toddler days yet again, but this time as an adult. It was much easier when we were 16 months old, everybody expected our incompetence. But now we are mature, intelligent, have a respected career, and are really quite intellectual, thank you very much.

Pride kills a lot of efforts to learn a second language. Funny thing, it isn’t just the big, wealthy, fit, smart, beautiful ones that fall to this. Over the years of living here in Costa Rica and being asked on innumerable occasions to help Tico friends with their English, I have seen on a regular and consistent basis these lovely, humble Ticas (female Costa Ricans) unable to overcome their embarrassment (they need to speak perfectly before they’ll let anyone hear their limited level of English). This effectively hamstrings any possibility that they will learn the language.

Ya’ Gotta’ Make Mistakes:
It’s the only way. You try this, and it doesn’t work, so you try that. If you’re wrong, you find out by doing. It’s the Thomas Edison rule of achievement. “I didn’t fail 10,000 times while inventing the light bulb. I uncovered 10,000 ways that a light bulb won’t work.

This point has actually been established by researchers. The process of learning a language involves making many mistakes. If we aren’t sticking our necks out


and forcing our tongues to make the strange sounds of our new language, we won’t make the mistakes and so we won’t learn the language. I have met many, many people who understand Spanish but can’t speak it for this reason.

Think in finite numeric terms. Let’s say that there are 9,523,923 mistakes that have to be made before you can be conversational in a language. Get busy. After a week of serious effort, you can have that number whittled down to a mere 9,523,759.

Ok, so I think that with that we cover the 3 main points of clearing our own garbage out of the way so that our brains can get on with the business of learning the language. So now that we understand that:

  • It’s really hard – for everybody
  • It takes time – for everybody
  • We’ve got to be humble and speak it. Make mistakes, and keep trying!

Here’s the meat & potatoes of the whole thing. The secret to learning Spanish…

Get Involved With The Language

We have decided that we are going to learn Spanish and so learning Spanish is what we now do. We eat, sleep and breathe Spanish. We live in a Spanish speaking country, and so now, instead of avoiding Spanish situations, we seek them out and we bathe in them. We endure the awkward times where we’re all standing around with polite, confused looks on our faces wondering if we understood what was just said, or wondering if we just said something really stupid. (Every man that learns Spanish has to go through the “estoy embarazado” experience one time. We think we’re saying “I’m embarrassed” when we’re actually saying “I’m pregnant”.)

Here’s the boring stuff: Verb-ology
There’s more to this than just setting all pride aside and floundering about until we find ourselves conversant in the language. What we want to do is minimize memorizing. Memorizing is no fun, and is probably the reason that we stopped studying Spanish in school. It’s still necessary to a mildly painful extent but we’ll here prune it down to the bare minimum.

Spanish is all about verbs, as are all of its Latin based cousins (of which English is not one). French, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Italian and Romanian all rely heavily on the conjugated verb to get a sense across. The tentative, definitive, softened, demanding tones come from choosing the tense that we’re going to apply to the verb. This is a little tough on us English speakers because our language uses other non-verb means for these things.

Guerilla Spanish:
Here is where we start into the “cheats” or Guerilla Spanish as I like to call it. We’re not overly concerned with being accurate. What we want to be able to do is communicate – to convey ideas – get the point across.
Hot Tips:

  • Get 501 Spanish Verbs book. I wore out 3 of them along the way and am now on copy #4. It’s a little cumbersome to carry around, but just go on and get it.
  • Get Madrigals Magic Key to Spanish. It’s a fairly comprehensive course that gets you involved with the language right from the outset with Ms. Madrigal’s own version of cheats. The book was written in the ‘50s and was illustrated by Andy Warhol.

Some of my background in learning Spanish


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