Why you think you can speak Spanish, but actually can’t

As you are learning a language you will have lots of ups and downs. It is a long process of trial and error which hopefully in the end will reward you with a new language skill! To learn a language we learn, talk, read, listen and write for hours, weeks and months. Sometimes you think you are finally getting it and it all feels like a breeze. But other times you simply fail and feel absolutely miserable because it feels like you are just not getting it! There is a reason you feel like this. And here is why:

Listening is the hardest skill to obtain when you are learning a language. Talking in a foreign language is often easier, because you have control over the context and words being used (that you obviously know) to create sentences in Spanish.

However, when you hear Spanish you have no control over the vocabulary, you need to understand the context of it and also get familiar with the accent, speed and way the person talking to you in Spanish is using. The person talking to you might use constructions of sentences, words or expressions that are not limited to your knowledge.

To practice, we often listen to a lot of different variations of Spanish accents, topics and scenario’s. This is most of the time passive listening, because you are just listening to it without studying it. If you are listening to the radio and you think you understand everything then this is because your brain is just filtering out what it knows, which is why you get the impression that you think you hear everything and that you understand. Simply because you are training yourself to recognize the words that you know and put them into context. This type of passive listening is a great way to get better at a language, but it could also be your downfall.

The passive language skills will come to great use in an actual conversation in a group. You trained your brain to recognize what it knows and recognizes to construct what the conversation is about. Say you would understand 40% of the conversation. That is enough for you think you know what is being said. But now try to include yourself in the conversation. Most people strike out soon enough because they obviously missed very essential things of the conversation, because it simply got filtered out by your brain because it didn’t know the words or meaning. And that is the tricky thing about learning Spanish or any language for that matter.

As you learn your vocabulary expands. You start with your first 10 words, then build it to be a 100, 1000 and so on. But even with a vocabulary of 2000 words it’s very hard to enough knowledge to understand every word of every sentence. The average sentence is around 9 words long. What are the odds you will have learned all 9 words on your language learning journey? What if 1 of the words you don’t know was actually crucial for the context of the conversation and you didn’t realize it?

As a Spanish learner I can only assume that you recognize yourself in this scenario. Maybe you read this article because you know what I am talking about or you might have just gone by this phase!

So what is the solution? I have created 3 tips that can get your past this phase. 3 things to watch when you are doing your learning activities.

3 Tips to become fluent in Spanish:

  • When listening to Spanish, focus on the words you don’t know!
  • Try to learn the “melody” of Spanish. How are sentences constructed?
  • During passive listening, always try to listen with a transcript first so you know exactly what was being said.

Some great Spanish sources to practice your listening skills

Intermediate level:

When will you be able to speak Spanish?

If only there was an amount of hours that you can name that makes you officially speak Spanish. The truth is there is no amount of time you can put on it. It all depends on your ability to learn foreign language, the way you are learning and the amount of time you make for it.

However if there is one thing that I’ve noticed about people that want to learn Spanish: They all take the goal in sight to be able to speak fluent Spanish within 5 years. That sounds like a reasonable goal and if you make enough effort to study, try, learn, understand and improve yourself, then you will be fluent in 5 years. It might feel like it will take you forever and it is not an easy journey, but so worth it in the end!

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