Language is one of the finest products of human beings, and because of the globalization, need to understand other languages is increasing more than ever.
This is a series of language learning entries, which tackles several languages I learned/am learning (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, etc.). I will be sharing very lough characteristics and origin, reasons I learned, and how I learned/am learning.
This time, I will be talking about Spanish. ¡Vamos! (let’s go!)
Origin of Spanish
When you learn a new language, it is important to know its origin, and if you learn several languages and their origins are similar, it really facilitates learning. By no means I can go into detail here (that is the field of linguistic), but from the below, you can see that Spanish (left) is part of the Romance (Latin) languages which derive from Proto-indio European, which is just one part of a branch of a big tree (bottom right). Yes, we human have so many languages (an estimated number of 7,000 as of now)
Why I learned Spanish
- New culture: I happened to merge into the Hispanic culture by chance, which I really liked. So the desire to learn this came quite naturally as opposed to an imposed study at school.
- Curiosity: You could meet any new culture, and what distinguishes continuous learning from just a mere encounter with a new culture is insatiable curiosity. I liked the sound of the language (and I believe Japanese people tend to get attracted to “P” sound in the beginning and end) and met people I wanted to stay in touch with.
- Travel: Trips to Latin America expanded my world. First I went to Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, and I loved communicating with my broken Spanish. This motivated me to improve more and enjoyed the second and third travel (Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, etc.).
- Work: I continued to work in a kitchen in New York, and really liked to communicate with my colleagues (most of them were Latino, from Mexico, Guatemala) to learn Spanish and their culture. After New York, I moved to Chile where I had to learn more official Spanish
- Hobby: I continued as a hobby (Blog) and as a tool to tell my stories.
6 Reasons to learn Spanish
As you can see below table as of 2019 (source), total speakers and native speakers (4th column) have different rankings.
|RANK||LANGUAGE||TOTAL SPEAKERS||NATIVE SPEAKERS (RANK)||ORIGIN|
|2||Mandarin Chinese||1,117M||918M (1)||Sino-Tibetan|
Illustrations by Victoria Fernandez.
- More opportunities: as you can see, if you can use Spanish, you have a chance to talk with over 500 million people (2nd rank for the number of native speakers!), which means you will have more opportunities to know people, have work, dance salsa, read resources, etc.
- Be different but still useful: Although it is useful to be able to talk to many Spanish-speaking people, the Spanish language is not getting as much attention as it should be (compared to English), so if you like to be a bit different, choosing Spanish can be an option.
- Facilitate Travel: As you can see on the map above, in Central and South America, the majority speak Spanish (and you can still use it in Brazil as they speak Portuguese, which is very similar to Spanish). That is, If you like to travel the continent of Latin America, Spanish will pretty much do and you get to communicate with many travelers and understand the sites you visit you would never know without Spanish (although it is very important to try to learn some indigenous language!). This large geographic coverage is convenient, but it also means Spanish people conquered wide territories.
- Brain and health: research shows that the more languages you speak, the less likely to have a brain-related disease (e.g. Alzheimer) as you are exercising and stimulating your brain. In addition to the brain, learning new things means maintaining a learning mindset (try new things) which will keep you healthier and younger (mental age is linked with physical age).
- Learning to learn: Once you get the hang of Spanish, you get to understand how to learn. For example, you will know your learning style (visual, audio, logical, analytical, etc.) and apply that experience for further/different learning (e.g. learning another language or other area). Also, Spanish is Latin origin, so are Italian, French, Portuguese.
- Joy of learning: Learning new things is fun especially that is something you chose to do. When you come across new phrases, vocabularies or moments you finally understand something you had no clue previously, you get to see ah-ha moment. You might want to gain language skills for job and money-making, but I personally believe having joy is one of the most important things. And compared to other subjects that are difficult to measure learning, language is relatively easier to see the progress.
In a nutshell, it will expand your world and makes you a better person.
10 ways to learnーHow I learned/am learning Spanish (what I learned)
- Start with speaking by knowing people (joy of communication): I met Spanish language in New York for the first time, as they are many Latinos (many from Mexico). I didn’t have to study, but I was interested in knowing some greeting phrases and enjoyed using. You need someone to talk to, ask questions and directly/indirectly correct you. In my case, I started working in a kitchen in New York, where the majority consists of Latinos workers (many of them don’t have legal status). I learned quite a lot of words and phrases by using my golden phrase “Cómo se dice XXX en español (how do you say X in Spanish)”. Leaning to say “how do you say XXX” in your target language is such a convenient one.
- Take class proactively (some rules you never learn from the conversation): To complement my survival Spanish, I decided to take a short course for a few months, where I learned basic conjugation (the most difficult part to deal with Spanish). I did not have to do this, but just wanted to learn more, and became an honor student and presented my history in Spanish in public.
- Travel (survival fluency): I traveled to Central and South America. In my first trip, I met a group of Colombian travelers with whom I went to Machupicchu together and slept in a small tent (6 people in a tent for 3 people). Then I started to meet more people I kept in touch with. Language expanded my social connection.
- Music (vocabularies): I listened to some music based on the recommendations of my friends (Mana, RBD, etc). They were easy to listen to. I printed out the lyric and looked into the meaning in the dictionary, and kept singing. But I realized words mainly used in the music were romantic, so they were not useful in daily conversation (except when I try to ask for a date…)
- Journal in Spanish (personal writing): just like English, I kept a journal in Spanish. Nobody corrected, but I could do lots of outputs in a relevant way.
- Talk to yourself (personal fluency): Whenever I could, I talked to myself in Spanish (whether I was at home or outside) to build my language muscle. I tried to pay attention when I was doing it outside so that people will not think I am crazy (probably they did anyway though…)
- Test (spontaneous fluency and knowledge): I decided to take a test to prove and improve my Spanish, and chose DELE. I studied for the test in the library, and failed once for the level B2 (4th out of 6 levels) but made it in my 2nd trial. In Chile, I managed to get C1 and C2. It’s important to know the characteristics of the test by practicing previous examples, knowing your weak point and work on.
- Work (real use): I started using Spanish at work (kitchen and office). I learned by doing and imitating others. Acting skills also helped to conduct the presentation. I am still making mistakes and continue to learn.
- Teaching online (speaking and vocabulary): I also started teaching Spanish online, particularly via italki (for more detail, please see 10 reasons to use italki to learn languages). Actually, it helped me to learn more, as teaching is the best way to learn.
- Blog (writing): If you don’t use, you lose. To avoid this, I kept writing in Spanish. For the same reason, I translate in English, French and Japanse (yes, I could forget Japanese if I don’t use)
That’s pretty much it for my case. What worked for me might not work for everyone, but I believe it is good to have a variation. It is quite different from the ways I learned English (I started with books and study). It is worth noting that when you speak different languages, your personality can be different. I could realize by comparing Japanese and English mode from Spanish mode.
One thing I would like to highlight again is that Spanish, just like any other language, is a tool and mean to the end, not the final goal. For example, you can have a great screwdriver (tool) to construct a house (goal), but you need to know how to use it (use). In other words, even though the tool itself is not great enough, as long as you know how to manage, you get to meet the objective (e.g. having a conversation with limited vocabulary).
The learning of this time
I started Spanish, a language widely spoken especially in Latin America, with real conversation, which motivated me to study and practiced naturally instead of imposed one, and it also makes me happy when I use it.
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