The Unconventional Way of Learning a Language

Nora L. Cavazos received her Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Masters of Arts in International Studies with an Immigration focus from Texas State University. She is currently working with the University of Texas Health Science Center-Houston as a Coordinator of International Affairs. Her interests include foreign policy, state and national politics, and U.S.-Mexico relations.

In today’s world, the world bilingual seems to appear on almost everything. You see it on job announcements, grocery signs, television ads, and more. But to know that not only 50 to 60 years ago Spanish was not allowed in schools, is crazy! Since then, those times have definitely changed with educational initiatives today pushing the importance of learning a second language.

I started my first Spanish lesson in the 7th grade, which continued well into high school, and 6 semesters in college. A Master’s degree later, my level of fluency was at a standstill. It is not because I did not try hard enough in Spanish class, because I am pretty sure an A constitutes success, but it is because I was never given the opportunity to really practice the language for what it was.

In general, it is not easy to learn Spanish, as it is not easy for others to learn English. It takes practice, which largely lacked in most of the classes I ever took. That’s why as of last year, I took the initiative to further my fluency, or lack thereof, through avenues of creativity that I never even seemed to acknowledge in college. So, if you are like me and studied a language for several years but still have yet to be fluent, don not lose hope and consider these options.

1. Read, Read, Read, and Read Out Loud
There is something about reading and reading out loud that gets the tongue’s juices flowing. Whether it is the accents that your mouth is not used to speaking or the complexity of words, the ability to read aloud to yourself really presents the opportunity to pronounce your way to fluency. It’s a challenge at first, and your mouth will get tired, but trust me, it does work. Whether you start with a baby book, a newspaper, or an online journal, you will find that reading and listening to yourself doing it is one of the best ways to start.

2. Conversation Exchange
There are many different free websites on the internet that help connect fluent speakers of different languages together. It may sound a little creepy at first but sites like Conversation Exchange provide the opportunity to speak to people who are fluent in the mainstream languages being taught. Some websites provide the opportunity to face to face chat, email correspondence, or chat via skype. It is might be above some people’s comfort zone, so go as you feel is appropriate to your level and safety.

3. Public Library
Not many people are aware of this, but usually larger public libraries provide FREE language workshops to the community in Spanish, Chinese, French, and more. All you usually need is a library card and sometime either during the day or after work. You can’t beat free language training!

4. Friends from Other Countries
I have definitely made friends with people all over the world because it is good to be culturally aware. It is also nice to have a buddy to practice the language with. For instance, I met a good friend in college who is from Ecuador and helps me practice my Spanish now and then. Not only do we talk in Spanish, but we correspond through text and email in Spanish. She has made me aware of the mistakes that I make while providing some great insight into how to learn the language properly. Don’t know where to find a friend like that? My advice is to go to an International Diversity Fair, eat some great food, meet some amazing people, and connect with those who can help you learn.

5. Travel
Nothing beats learning language like being in an actual place that uses it. Last summer, I took a trip to Cuba through a legal scholarly exchange program that helped me practice my Spanish everywhere and anywhere I went. Let’s just say, when I got back I definitely had a better understanding of how to speak and use the language.

6. Pod Casts, Television, and the Radio
Listening is also a big part of picking up a language. I encourage listening to podcasts, television, or radio in the language you are trying to learn. Realistically, it may not be possible to listen to a language other than Spanish on TV or the Radio here in the states, but you can usually find that sort of stuff online. The more you hear, the more you get better at pronunciation and understanding.
Maybe you’ve heard of most of these ideas or none of these ideas, but the point is to get creative. You have to actively seek the level of fluency you want, because unless you have a private tutor, it is not going to be easy. So, don’t limit yourself to what you can learn and how you can learn it because fluency in another language will take you so much further in life than you know. It has for me. So get out there, be cultural, and get fluent!

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