Though it may go by other names, and even occur on days other than the 14th of February, the idea and sentiment surrounding el Día de San Valentín (Valentine’s Day) is as important in Spanish-speaking countries as it is in other parts of the world.
Like many of the holidays celebrated around the world, the celebration of “el cinco de mayo” (the 5th of May) has its roots in an important moment in history that is often completely unknown to the people that continue to observe the day in modern times. Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of this particular holiday is that it is primarily celebrated in the United States, despite its origins being purely Mexican.
With about 20 countries (plus the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico) counting Spanish as their primary language, it seems natural that variations in accent and colloquial vocabulary have emerged over the past several hundred years. What many people don’t realize, however, is that grammatical variations have appeared as well. One of these variations continues to create a minor separation between the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish spoken throughout most of Latin America and parts of the Caribbean. It’s a pronoun called “vosotros”.
Why do you want to learn Spanish? Most likely, your goals have something to do with speaking the language. If you’re learning Spanish to travel or communicate with friends and family, you’re probably pretty focused on the goal of speaking specifically. Speaking is, of course, an important part of practicing and learning any language. Unfortunately, in the rush to learn to speak, some students lose sight of how valuable just listening to the language can be. Listening as a skill is probably both more important and more difficult than you may think!
There’s no question that vocabulary acquisition is one of the fundamental aspects of learning a new language. Although estimates vary, you’ll probably need to know at least 3,000 words to be able to interact in day-to-day scenarios. That’s a mountain of words to learn just to hold basic conversations, and that’s only a fraction of what it takes to achieve native proficiency. How can you learn all this new vocabulary efficiently and effectively, without drowning in an ocean of flashcards?
As a language learner, you may be familiar with the goal of “thinking in the target language” — that is, expressing thoughts and speech directly in a foreign language, rather than generating ideas in English and running them through translation to get to your target. In some respects, avoiding heavy reliance on translation makes sense. It takes much longer to have a thought and translate it into the target language than it does to articulate the thought directly. Additionally, it’s easy for beginning Spanish speakers to look for word-for-word translations. If your foreign language goals include syntax or automaticity, it’s easy to see why translation might seem like the enemy.
Anyone who’s taken an online course can tell you that nontraditional learning can be challenging. Conventional classrooms offer resources, discussion, and collaboration that can be difficult to replicate in a virtual setting. Because of this, it’s easy to focus on the pitfalls of individual self-study when learning a new language: the lack of easy interaction with other students, the potential to feel isolated, and, often, the dearth of external motivators. However, online and other types of self-directed learning provide the opportunity for personalized instruction and, more importantly, autonomous learning.
You may have heard the traditional “wisdom” that children learn second languages more easily and more quickly than adults, and that it’s therefore best to learn a new language before puberty. Fortunately, additional research in the fields of linguistics and learning theory paints a picture of a more complex model for language learning.
It’s no secret: if you want to speak Spanish, you have to practice, well, speaking it. Conversation in a foreign language is hardly effortless at first — it takes time and patience to attain a semblance of automaticity, or the ability to speak and be understood with relative ease and spontaneity without the need to focus on the individual components of each phrase.
For many learners, achieving well-defined fluency goals is an important motivational factor in the learning process. It’s much easier to work towards a singular goal than to chug away with no endpoint in view. One question many new learners might have, then, is how long it will take to learn Spanish. The short answer? There is no one answer. It’s up to you: frequency and length of study sessions, quality of study, and your specific goals will determine how quickly you reach your desired proficiency level. If that seems like a cop-out — and it might! — I’ll go into a little more depth. Measuring how long it takes to “learn Spanish” is a pretty complicated question, and you might need to redefine the parameters.