Aside from language, one of my (Rob) principal joys is of playing the piano. Having started at six years old, music has consistently been a part of my life since then. It wasn’t easy to learn, and I feel that I’m still learning and will do as long as I continue playing. I don’t believe there’s any point of perfection whereby you can learn no more, which is what makes the whole process so enjoyable. When I started learning Spanish, I saw various parallels between learning language and learning music, with a broad overlap in necessary skill-sets.
What does it take to get a perfect, native accent? Which of the myriad accents of Spanish would you choose, and why? Our accent when we talk any language makes a big difference in how we we are perceived by others, as well as how we perceive ourselves. Accents are tied in deeply with questions and assumptions of identity and background. Speaking Spanish with a perfect native accent is what many people aspire to, but why? And is it really necessary?
“Oh, you’re learning Spanish? Well, in that case, get a Spanish girlfriend! You’ll pick it up in a couple of months!” That was advice from my friend Maria, given to me soon after moving to Valencia. It took me over a year (sniff!) to manage to follow through on her advice, and I have to say that Maria wasn’t wrong. I was pretty competent in Spanish by that time, but hooking up with a Spanish girl definitely put me on turbo charge.
I’ve spent a good deal of my language learning life trying to learn vocabulary and phrases, and actually get them to stick in my long term memory. While there are so many ways to go about it, in this post I wanted to focus on “spaced repetition” systems, and how to get more out of them.
In our day to day conversations and interactions, we actually use a very limited set of words. An average person has a vocabulary of around 10,000 words, but in an average day, uses only 1,000 of them. We have a set of common words that we stick to, even when there are more interesting and expressive options available. Many courses sell themselves on the premise of a “minimum” vocabulary: Learn just 1,000 words, and master any conversation in Spanish/French/Chinese!
Mistakes by we English speakers when we speak Spanish instantly mark us out as foreign, and the consequences range from sounding a bit more foreign, to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, or completely embarrassing yourself (look up the Spanish for “I have a cold”…). While these mistakes are very easy for us to make, they are just as easy to rectify once you’re aware of them.