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The Truth: Speaking a New Language Takes a Lot of Time


We are tired of seeing it everywhere. A lot of sites on the internet, as well as gurus, books and methods, state without hesitation that they can get learners to speak a language fluently in such a ridiculous periods of time as three, six months or a year. In view of this, I can say without doubt that we are in front of a commercial strategy and we shouldn’t trust it much, because the truth is that:

Learning a new language is a slow process and we have to pass through some phases

Once again we have to go back to the beginning, to that epoch when we were children and learnt our mother tongue with total effectiveness. From the moment of the birth, a child is completely exposed to the language of his surroundings; however, they don’t say their first word till one year passes. Moreover, those first attempts are still very far from the true command of a language which, much we may resent it, takes some years.

That is because before we are ready to talk, we must go through an assimilation phase in which the language is slowly integrating in our mind, so that, the first step of the process is comprehension. To speak a language, it is necessary to understand it and once we have achieved it, the rest comes naturally. In fact, children start talking on their own and they do it exclusively when they feel ready for it, regardless of their parents’ wishes.

That is why I don’t recommend starting to talk for the first year

What is more, I don’t even recommend it till we feel ready for it, regardless of the time it takes, just to keep the great enemy of the learning languages process away: pressure. In fact, a lot of people fall prey to frustration and abandon their studies because they don’t see fast results, and that’s why we need to be clear how things work, accept it, understand it and set long term realistic goals, even if they take some years. With this in mind, we are certain to be successful.

So, the next time you think about the process, keep in your mind the image of the children, the best learners of the world. If they need five or six years to speak fluently a language, and that being immersed in it, imagine how much time it can take for the rest. But I also have to say that to speak a language we don’t need to be perfect and, of course, it is perfectly appropriate to jump to it in spite of our failures. Even children do it at the beginning. Knowing this, we can always shorten the timeframe.

Before all of this, we can get inside the conversations, if possible with the guide of a tutor, but knowing what we are likely to achieve and with the right expectations. I mean, if we are realistic, an adult with less than an intermediate level can have talks such as “mi favorite color is blue” or “hello, mi name is John and I work as a teacher”. While this is not bad, we have to admit that basic levels are not suitable to keep an entertaining conversation between adult people, which can lead us to boredom or what is worse, to feel frustrated for not being able to have a normal conversation. That’s why I say again:

Speaking well takes a lot of time, so it is better to release the pressure and start doing it when we feel ready and comfortable. 

Lately I have noticed that a lot of people with beginner or basic levels are looking for Skype pals to practice and this leads inevitably to failure. Unfortunately, when those students realize that are unable to develop a conversation, they think they have to give up, and this can cause them to abandon learning definitively, which is even worse.

We don’t learn because we talk. On the contrary, speaking is the consequence of having learned.

Nevertheless, in reference to this topic, there are still some appreciations to make:

  • Not all the languages are the same. If we choose a language of the same linguistic root as the one we talk, the process will be obviously faster.
  • Not everybody is the same, each one has their own pace and there are some who fell comfortable earlier. That’s one we have to consider individually which the best time is for us.
  • There are personal facts that make us different, which means that while some individuals may need a good background to start talking, other ones aren’t worried about making mistakes and prefer to start practicing.

To summarize, we could say that, as in other facets of life, people would like to know how to obtain fast and miraculous formulas, but these rarely exist. The good news is that with patient and will, we can get it, so forward!




Linguistic Challenges


In previous posts I commented on the great importance that motivation has when learning languages, in fact, it is one of the most important factors, see: 3 Keys to Effective Language Learning

A lot of people have a high level of motivation on their own, up to the point that they have made this learning one of their main hobbies. Those privileged don’t need more advice; they are going to do it well for sure. But the rest would certainly benefit from a bit help, and extra dose of motivation that help them achieve their goals.

How to get more motivation?

First of all, we should ask to ourselves, because nobody can know what we really like as well as us. In this manner, it would be advisable, when you want to learn a new language, to focus in those parts of the culture of the country you like the most. If there are some countries where it is spoken, then you are lucky to have a great range of possibilities to find something you like: Music, series, people, etc. If there is something about the local culture that interests you, use it as foothold. This is very personal and depends exclusively on you.

However, leaving aside our own interests, there are also some resources we may turn to get more motivation. Today I am going to talk about one of these resources: Linguistic challenges.

What are linguistic challenges?

Challenges are, overall, objectives to be achieved. They are defiances, games, incentives that invite us to take action. This, at a linguistic level, could be done in so many ways, but the most important thing is to have an aim, or in other words, something we really want to achieve. Then we only have to find our wish. Some examples could be:

  • One degree or certificate.
  • Travelling to the country whose language we are learning and being able to speak to people from there.
  • Reading a book saga in the original language.
  • Finish all the levels of one application.
  • Watching a full soup opera. One thousand hours of listening!
  • The only limit is your imagination.

All these good purposes can help a lot. Nevertheless, if you are studying a language, it is certain that sooner or later one plan will show up in your mind. Ideas usually appear on the fly and most of the times the only thing you have to do is to move ahead. Then things may appear suddenly.

Nonetheless, it is possible that you are studying just because you have to; maybe you need languages to find a job. If you live in Spain you know well what I am talking about. If you don’t please share with us the experience in your country J. And yes, I also think that the requirements to get a job are excessive these days. The point is, we always put more passion in the things we do just because we like and no when we are forced to. However, we can always find a challenge in our way that can make things change.

For my part, right now I have a couple of challenges in view. The first one is to take the exam to get the well-known Proficiency or CPE, how it is named now. I am thinking of doing it by the end of 2016.

The second one is another Proficiency, but this one not that acclaimed. I want to take the test that the well-know application Duolingo provides, this time in Portuguese. Yes, this certificate is not as prestigious and I don’t even think that is proves much about your real knowledge of the language, especially taking into account the level of the “the butterfly eats the elephant” app. However, I have notice that in certain arenas this game-application certificate is recognized, so now I have a good reason to pass all the levels and learn more and more. Whatever happens, I have nothing to lose but something to learn. I will talk about this experience in more detail in the future. Regardless to the date of the event, it is still to be determined, I am just a beginnerJ.

And what about you? Have you had your challenge yet? Would you like to share it with us?


3 keys to effective language learning


Learning languages is a unique and special process in which a lot of different elements take part. The way is long, but fascinating, and there are a lot of resources which can help us to achieve our goal, but if we really want to succeed, there are 3 main factors which stand out from the rest and undoubtedly we must take them into account:

  1. Motivation

Regarding motivation, there aren’t many things we can say today that haven’t been already said. However, it’s always positive to remind ourselves of this driving force that each day pushes us a bit closer to our target.

The word motivation comes from the Latin term “motivus” which means “movement”, and the suffix –tion, “action” or “effect”. Therefore it’s a word directly associated to what stimulates us, it makes us get down to work.

Motivation gives us the positive energy to push ourselves forward. Because of this, those who really want to learn the language are very likely to achieve it.

With this in mind, now’s the time to think about your own reasons. Maybe you need it to promote your career, because you are interested in the culture of the country, because it’s challenging or simply because you like it. Whatever your reasons, if you are truly convinced, you can be sure that you are going to succeed.

Personally I think that the study of languages should be more vocational and I dislike the immense pressure that some people receive when they start to learn languages. Nevertheless, it seems that a lot of people get hooked in the process and in the end, they get a positive experience.

  1. Patience

There is no other alternative. As we saw in previous posts, language acquisition is an intrinsic process common to all of us, and it takes place progressively and gradually. The maximum exponent of this process is the mother tongue that we learn when we are children. As we can see, children need some years to reach a good command of languages, despite their brains having a much higher plasticity than adults’ (or at least that is what is said). At the very least, we have to admit that their attitude towards learning is much more open.

Furthermore, some scientific researchers suggest that there is a maximum limit of words we can learn per day (around 10). In any case, the truth is that our mind needs some time to complete the adaptation cycle and this cannot be forced.  Because of this, pressure and speed should be removed from this matter. The best option would be to flow and to let the process slowly consolidate without worrying about dates, deadlines or any other kind of quantification. If you have to compare your progress, wait from one year to another, then you will clearly notice the difference.

 Having eventually clarified the relevant facts, now I can’t help specifically mentioning all those magical methods which promise fast fluidity and results. I haven’t tried any of those methods by myself, but if there is something I can say for sure, is that there aren’t shortcuts nor miraculous formulas. For one, the base of language learning is that it takes a lot of time, and this has to be respected, and the more relaxed we are, the better results we will get. After all, stress doesn’t give any benefits. For all these reasons, if we ever find one of the above methods, it is better to ignore them, because it is likely to be a scam.

I don’t doubt about the existence of certain polyglots who are able to make the most of a reduced amount of words and some grammatical rules in a way that they can develop some basic talks in a short time. I suppose they were awarded with a special ability to make such connections. It is something that I ignore, but in any case, these individuals are the exception, not the rule.

In conclusion, don’t feel bad if you notice that your progress is slow, in fact, it is very natural, and is to be expected. It is very important to keep this clear to avoid frustrations and unnecessary demotivation.

  1. Daily practice

Now that we have the necessary motivation and are aware of the time that this process requires, we only need to set how much time we have to dedicate to succeed in the project.

In the case of languages, to keep up and improve them as much as possible, the best thing you can do is to practice every day. The process is inevitably slow, but you won’t go faster just because you devote a lot of hours to it every day, and less if you do it one day per week. For this reason, it is always better to dedicate sometime to it every day, even if it’s only half an hour, which on the other hand is positive because it can prevent us from getting tired.

Practices should include listening, reading and some grammatical exercises overall; this last thing is especially important if we are beginning.

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Do we really need a teacher?


As we have seen in previous posts, language acquisition occurs naturally through a process that is in all of us and cannot be forced. Languages are not like other subjects, because they work in a totally different way. Languages are learned, not studied. Having said that, some questions may come up. For example, what is the importance of classes?

I could talk about my own experiences, the hours I spent learning grammar and the repetition of exercises about it. Did I learn something? Of course, in fact I attained a good base that helped me much later; but in those times I found speaking quite difficult. Some important parts of the process were missing and without those parts, it was not possible to complete the task.

Some years later, when learning English became a priority for me, I started researching  the topic; I spoke to a lot of people and analyzed different theories. Finally, I reached a conclusion. I tried to explain everything about this in my articles “Secrets of Learning Languages”. If you take a look at them, you will see that all is very logical. Actually, it is something easy to understand for me because I have tried it through my personal experiences.

The truth is that a big part of my own learning is due to my own efforts. In fact, we are the most important makers of the achievement because we are responsible for the activation of language learning mechanisms; that is, reading listening and providing great doses of motivation. No one can give us all of these.

Taking this into account, then it is necessary to have a teacher?

Having a teacher is not indispensable, but a good teacher can be a great help.

First of all, it is not always easy to be exposed to the language we want to learn, or to talk to native people, so if we have someone close to listen, it is a help. What is more, a teacher will always have more patience to listen to us and to explain us all the doubts than the people we may meet out there. Besides, even if the lessons are a bit mediocre there will be always something we can keep, so that our base can grow.

Apart from all of this, I have to recall that one of the main factors of success is motivation, and for a lot of people, to attend a class and have someone who assists them can be a good reason for going on.

But, despite all of this, there are also excellent teachers who know how to create interests and keep the attention of the students. If you find someone who knows how to guide you, gives you good recommendations and makes the lessons fun, you can improve a lot. As frequently happens in life, those who are passionate about their profession do a great job, just as those who do it merely to have an activity will get average results. The advice in this case would be not to resign yourself and to be a little selective. Then we should find someone who gives us a good feeling and uses the best methods. The current systems favor this because you can try some professionals till you find yours.

Having said that, the truth is no matter how good our teacher is, we won’t achieve our goal if we don’t really want to. We can never forget that the responsibility of learning is ours, so we are the principal actors.

In conclusion, provided that we are willing, a good teacher can help us a lot. If he or she is a good professional he can stimulate and guide us. But, we are in the twenty-first century and we have a lot of materials available: online courses, videos, applications, etc.; so it is not strictly necessary, because we can expose ourselves to the native language in many different ways. However the support that a great professional can give is without a doubt, so if we have this support, it will be always better, especially for those who are beginning. The decision is in your hands.

Also see:

Secrets of Learning a Language I

Secrets of Learning a Language II

Secrets of Learning a Language III


Secrets of Learning a Language III


When children start attending school, they get to know the other great vehicle of word transmission: the written language. Written language, which allows associating words with precise and clear symbols, help the messages to be transmitted in large quantities and in a very effective way.

  • Reading is the other great tool to learn a language.

Either by the text books of every subject, or by just reading for fun, the truth is that due to this exposure children improve a lot in the use of the language. Reading allows the process and rules of a language to keep recorded in the mind in a subconscious way, while we are focused in the contents.

It is a proven fact that, in all cultures and nations, those who use the language best, are those who read more. The culture is strongly reflected in the way we express ourselves. The more we read in the target language, the better, because then we can integrate its structures without realizing. I must add, that a large part of the vocabulary that we learn in our lives, comes through reading.

  • Don’t forget to add some nice readings to the process. Look only for things that you really like, that make you enjoy, and suitable for your level.

As in the case of the listening, remember that the process is slow, so that, we have to be patient. Besides, we should always choose the most attractive topics for us, because fun makes us relax, and relaxation makes much easier this process.

The last point is probably the most polemic, and it is the grammar. As I commented before, languages used to be generally studied through grammar books and rules in the past, but the results were poor and students didn’t get hooked. It is clear that by studying only the grammar, learners won’t improve much because we are ignoring the two great pillars of learning, listening and reading. However, I disagree with the big opposition that some current gurus have declared to grammar. Let’s see why.

Grammar gives us rules, and rules are good in a lot of occasions.  Knowledge of grammar rules reduces making mistakes by learners. Those parts which are more irregular and don’t have rules, are more difficult to learn. It takes foreign learners much less time to learn grammar rules that are explained than to figure out grammar rules on their own intuitively from texts because grammar rules may have exceptions and other peculiarities.

We learn basic grammar when we start to put sentences together as children. But, the actual knowing of a language is much more complex. Grammar teaches us how to build sentences, about the types of words that we use and when we should use them. The organization of grammar all depends on the logic. And, understanding grammar will mean you can think more logically.

In conclusion, neither we should base all the learning in the repetition of grammar exercises, as in the past, nor leave it apart as some of the current methods intend. It is always positive to know and to understand the grammar, and to use it whenever we have doubts.

  • Have always a good grammar manual to help you know, understand and to solve your doubts.

And that’s all! I hope you like this saga of articles and find them useful. Soon we will analyze much more things. See you!

Also see: Secrets of Learning a Language I,  Secrets of Learning a Language IIWhy “Why Create the Languages”