The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #23 September / October 2016
Learning Spanish
The trials, the tribulations and one triumphant learning hack
by Eldon Mirjah
September / October 2016 | 

Spanish - it's the language of passion, of love and of a beautiful tapestry of cultures. Spoken by more than 400 million people worldwide, it comes an impressive second on the most common of all - out pipping English by more than 25 million speakers. Little wonder then that it serves as such a fascinating language to learn, yet it's not without its unique challenges for those that take on the feat of mastering Spanish.

The trials

Spanish presents quite the collective of challenges to conquer. Here's a brief summary of some of the core stumbling blocks for the typical learner...

1. Spanish is a rapidly spoken language
Spanish is the second fastest spoken language of all - being outdone only by Japanese (Time Magazine).

2. Spanish is a language of an almost innumerable number of accents and dialects
In Mexico alone there are 10 varieties of Spanish, whilst Argentina features five dialects, and three subset dialects.

3. Spanish from Spain is a whole lot different to Spanish from elsewhere
Spanish speakers who hail from Spain sound a world apart when it comes to their South and Central American counterparts. Most notable of all between these two sides of the Atlantic is the rhythm with which the words are spoken.

4. Gender agreement can be a little confusing
As Spanish is one of the five Romance languages, its Latin roots do it little favor for easy gender structures. For the average learner, this means a whole lot of grappling with nouns, as well as inanimate objects, as they try to decipher which is feminine and which should be masculine.

5. An alien letter and topsy-turvy punctuation
Spanish has a single letter that isn't found in any other alphabet: Ñ. Given that it's a single letter, you may well think this a simple thing to learn, yet there are also double LLs to master too, and other things such as rr and ch. Then there's also the double punctuation - featured at the start and end of an exclamation or interrogative.
¡¿qué?! (What?!)

The tribulations

The rewards for learning Spanish are as richly diverse as the native people who speak it. Here's a summary of some of the most compelling reasons to tackle the challenges that accompany this language.

1. Spanish words are phonetic
It's not all bad - Spanish has one thing that many, many other languages don't - and that is that Spanish words are pronounced the way they are written.

2. Spanish peoples are notoriously open to helping you learn
Native speakers of the Spanish language are known for their friendliness toward those learning Spanish.

3. You can forget about the past (verbs)
If you've attempted to tackle either Italian or French, then you may have been confused about the past tense verbs. Thankfully, Spanish only has two common forms of the past: preterit (which represents completed actions) and the imperfect.

4. Plurals are easy as pie, too (well, almost)
Spanish has a few things in common with English, not least of which is the similar approach to plurals. In Spanish, you simply add -s or -es to the end if you're dealing with a noun. The only exception is where the noun ends in -ión or -z (much like in English when nouns end in S). However, this topic is easily understood over the course of a lesson or two.

5. Spanish shares many words with English that are either the same, or very similar
These words include: actor, admirable, agenda, alcohol, altar, animal, area, artificial and auto - and those are just the As!

The triumphant learning hack

Now that you can appreciate both sides of the coin when it comes to the trials and tribulations of Spanish, wouldn't it be great if you could overcome the challenges that we've covered with one learning hack tactic?

For this, in steps street Spanish. If you've not heard of "street learning" before, then here's how it works: the term literally means to learn by listening to those who are found in the cities, towns and streets of Spanish speakers around the world. It is authentic, passionate and inclusive.

Street Spanish today

Street learning gained its name from those who immersed themselves in the Spanish culture first hand, traveling abroad whilst learning. Today, however, Street Spanish is far more accessible by digital means (so you needn't leave your job and book a plane ticket just yet).

When it comes to Spanish, it tackles the issues with speed, dialect and accents by allowing listeners to hone their ears as they learn. Rather than learning traditionally which moves at a snail's pace and only involves well-spoken Spanish speakers. This does away with the shock to the system that many learners can get when they arrive on holiday, only to find the Spanish speaking people there seemingly talking another language altogether.

A fun and engaging listening and reading audio program such as Gritty Spanish will be super helpful once you decide to step away from some of the typical programs out on the market. Gritty Spanish is the gold standard if you want to understand the type of Spanish the way a typical Spanish speaking person speaks it.

But then there's the sticky issue of gender agreement. This notoriously tough nut to crack can demand much study, repetitive exercises and soul sapping activities. By comparison, street learning provides real-life situations, with gender agreement placed into the context of an entire scene, alongside which can be a transcript which allows learners to read as they follow the scene. This latter point also helps when it comes to that tricky Ñ, which will inevitably be heard and read, in context, in a scene where "normal' ns feature.

All in all, it's little wonder that Street Spanish may be considered the ultimate learning hack when tackling the language of passion and of many diverse peoples.

Eldon Mirjah is the creator of Gritty Spanish, Gritty Spanish is a course that's entirely based on informal learning - where students get to grips with the language through urban stories - featuring the eccentric, the bizarre and the real-life. This is a form of learning that is defined by storytelling.

Learning Spanish: The trials, the tribulations and one triumphant learning hack
Writer: Eldon Mirjah
Petey: All images used are Public Domain

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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