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Silvina’s Language Learning Tips

Language Learning Tips – Los Consejos de Silvi

In this podcast episode we talk about the process of learning a language, and Silvina gives us some of her top tips…

Recognise it’s a Process

Like most things worthwhile, learning a language takes time. It will require more than a little patience, and for that reason it’s best to try and enjoy the process of learning the language, and the stage at which you find yourself. In most cases there is no feeling that it’s complete and you have learnt all you need to know.

It may seem like you aren’t making any progress at all, which is why we’ve found it useful and motivating to make recordings of each other as we have progressed. Listening back to some of our first recordings a quite embarrassing, but it can really prove that you are making progress, maybe not day-by-day, but certainly month-by-month.

Peope will treat you like an idiot

One thing both of us have experienced, is being treated like we are stupid, simply because we do not understand a language, or cannot express ourselves properly.

An example of this is when people will repeat the simple part of what was said i.e. they will say “four wobars” – and when you ask them to repeat what they mean, and they will say: “four! FOUR!” and hold up four fingers, when what you really meant was – “what the hell are wobars*?!”

There have also been numerous examples where because we have not been able to follow a conversation, people will somehow forget that anything visual, which doesn’t require any language skills, you are perfectly capable of understanding.

It can be difficult to remember that other people who cannot speak your language, are still capable of understanding complex ideas and concepts, it’s just that that cannot necessarily explain them to you in a foreign language. Learning a language (and finding ourselves on the other side of not being understood), has given us a greater appreciation and tolerance for tourists and foreigners in general.

Try, try again

Don’t give up if you find yourself unable to say what you want to. Try and express yourself using the words that you do know (even if you are losing a lot of the meaning), even using gestures will help as the person you are talking to may say the word you are looking for and you will recognise it as correct, even if you didn’t know it outright. In hindsight, some of the most frustrating conversations are when I look back and think “that was when I was really learning”.

Don’t get too hung up on writing…

To me, there are different levels of fluency, and being truly literate is a whole different level. There are plenty of people who are not fully literate in their own language, and getting to that level in a foreign language is very difficult to achieve – it may well be not worth the extra effort for marginal gains! Remember that before you can produce output (speaking), you will need to have heard the language many times. The same with writing, if you really want to get good at writing a language, then you will probably have to read 1000s and 1000s of examples of good, written Spanish – by reading books!

Crear un nuevo ‘yo’…

Make a “new you” – this is Silvina’s way to describe not translating things literally. It will take a while before you can ‘think’ in Spanish, and at first you may find that you translate things word-for-word. But whenever possible, try and use phrases that the locals use – this is great as it not only helps you to sound more natural, but can also give you a different way of thinking. Remember that who you are, and your values won’t change, also, you don’t need to change the way you sound (yes, you need to ‘do the accent’ to be understood, but you don’t need to change your voice completely). Some people I know sound very different in different languages!

Some more ‘tips’

Use a Vocab Book – Both of us have used a notebook to record new vocabulary while we are out and about. Now we are probably more likely to use our phones than paper, but either way is great for learning words which you know are useful – words that you have actually come across in your daily activities, rather than writing down long lists of strange words like apio (celery – if you listen to the podcast!). I also found that including ‘el’ or ‘la’ and putting the different genders in different colours helped me to memorise their genders better. Including an example of the word in a sentence (particularly the sentence or occasion when you first discovered it) will also give you a better chance of getting it to stick in the memory.

Talking to yourself – Not literally, but talking ‘aloud in your head’ in the target language can be a good way to practice. For example by playing eye-spy with yourself, but trying to remember the Spanish word for what you are looking at. It may help to reinforce words you have learnt – another advantage of this method is that no one hears your mistakes!

When starting out – mix with other people who are learning so you can share your frustrations and realise you’re not the only one. But, don’t stay within your comfort zone too long…

Once you can hold a simple conversation – mix with locals so you can hear how the language is really used (by volunteering, social occasions etc.). Don’t feel bad asking for a little extra patience. Most people are happy to help you on your way.

Those are some of Silvina’s tips which we discuss (in Argentinian Spanish) in the full episode of the podcast below – don’t forget to subscribe via iTunes for more episodes.

Los Consejos de Silvi…


You can also get our (free) list of resources sent to your mailbox by filling in the form here.  Thanks for listening, and sorry it’s been so long since the last episode!

Let us know your tips in the comments below – we’re both still learning, and we’d like to use them ourselves! Also, if you haven’t already seen it, you can read another 15 tips here


( * I have made the word ‘wobars’ up, as far as I know it doesn’t mean anything in any language! )