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On Learning To Speak Spanish...

On Learning To Speak Spanish...

Hello and good day!

I remember the exact moment when I became a good Spanish speaker. It would have been around the year 2003. We weren't in the chocolate business back then. We were still in the business of selling hydraulic hoses and nuts and bolts to a gold mine in Cajamarca, Peru.

My brother Brian lived in a little apartment where my dad stayed when he came to town. Brian subleased one room to a young English gentleman who taught English at the local university. If I recall correctly, his name was William, but I might be mistaken.

As an aside, when William moved back to England, he accidentally left behind a collection of CDs, which I subsequently took ownership of.

When I married my wife in 2004, we didn't have a TV or a CD player for quite a long time. I finally gave in and purchased a CD player and we listened to that collection of CDs for years.

Anyhow, William was a really good Spanish speaker. Brian was good too, but he was self taught. William had studied Spanish in college and then sharpened his skills by living in Peru and speaking every day. His understanding of the language was much more structured than Brian's.

For my part, I was a Spanish major in college. I could read and write in Spanish. I had read all kinds of plays and history and literature. But I could not speak well at all.

There were many reasons for that. But the two principle impediments were as follows. First, I was deathly shy about speaking in front of other people. I am so much taller than most Peruvians and I am a big, goofy, skinny white guy.

I always drew so much attention. Anytime I spoke, I would be speaking with 10 people looking at me and judging me. At least that is what I thought. In retrospect, people were probably rooting for me and appreciated my effort, but I allowed my mind to play tricks on me.

That kept from me from practicing as much as I could have in the beginning. Once I finally got over that barrier, my development accelerated very quickly.Secondly, I fell into a trap that I see a lot of people falling into.

I allowed myself to do Tarzan, caveman, speak because I was trying to speak in real time instead of planning what I wanted to say and doing a complete translation.

Here is what I mean by that. Let's take the sentence "The room is big". What I used to do is point at the room and say "cuarto grande". This directly translates to "room big".

The listener will get the point, but you will also sound like a 2 year old. My father in law is in town from Peru at the moment, and he is practicing his English while visiting. He is falling into this trap all the time and I am working with him on this exact issue.

What you really need to do is think about the entire sentence in advance with all of the little intricacies and translate it word for word. Este cuarto es grande. This room is big.

Now you sound like an intelligent adult. I did the caveman thing for a good long while before realizing my problem. At some point, I got over the shyness, but I still wasn't speaking well.  

Then one day a question popped into my mind. How do you say "would have"?For example, "I would have come earlier, but I was in traffic". I asked William and he said "you say hubiera and then you use the present perfect of the verb".

I asked him to walk me through it. He said "The word 'come' in Spanish is 'venir'. The present perfect of 'venir' is 'venido'.'I would have come' in Spanish is 'Yo hubiera venido'."

Yo is "I".Hubiera is "would have". Venido is "come" or "venir" conjugated into the present perfect. This little formula works with any verb you can imagine.

I would have eaten. Yo hubiera comido. I would have slept. Yo hubiera dormido.

You get the picture.When I heard that, something clicked. I realized that going forward, I would have to stop for a moment before speaking and think about what I was trying to say.

I had to lay it all out in my mind, word for word, and then translate it completely before speaking. I could only proceed with my statement once it was all translated in my head.

As time went on and I practiced more, this process became faster and faster, but it is still how I speak Spanish to this day. I remember a friend complimenting me on my Spanish back in the day.

He said "Adam, you are getting better. When you speak you sound like a doctor." I asked him what he meant by that.

He said that all of my sentences were always so perfectly formed. I sounded like somebody very formal, like a doctor.

That is the downside to this approach.Your sentences will all sound a little formulaic and be on the proper side.But sounding like a doctor ain't bad!

Doctor Adam, I like that. It has also helped that during our 18 years of marriage, my wife and I have spoken to each other almost entirely in Spanish. She worked for a long time before we had kids and had to speak English at work.

When she got home, she wanted to speak Spanish because she was burned out on speaking a foreign language all day.That was just fine by me because it helped me keep my Spanish sharp.

Anyhow, I leave you with these three tips if you are interested in learning to speak Spanish. These probably apply to any foreign language.

First, practice. The more you practice the better you will be. This applies to everything. If you live in a country where most people don't speak the language you want to learn, you'll have to seek out folks who speak the language.

For example, if you want to practice Spanish, seek out Spanish speakers in the store or in the street and talk to them. If you hear folks speaking Spanish, introduce yourself to them and try to get a conversation going.

Most people will get a kick out of it and be willing to participate. That brings me to the next tip. Second, don't be shy. This is such an important tip. Anytime you try to do something new, you will naturally feel insecure about it because you aren't good yet. You have to get over it.

My tip for this is to remember that most people are good hearted. They aren't walking around looking for somebody criticize. If you end up making a fool out of yourself and people laugh at you a bit, it is almost never mean spirited. It is usually a laugh with you and not at you situation.

Third, think about the entire sentence you are trying to put together in your own language and translate every single word. Tarzan talk will help you get an idea out, but it isn't really speaking the language.

Take your time and think through what you want to say before talking and everything you say will come out more beautifully. That is all that I have for you today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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