In praise of Spanish hip hop
“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.
Within a couple of months, I felt I had improved as much in that time as I had in the whole of the previous year. My speaking was much more fluent, and I seemed to understand pretty much everything with no problem. But why was that? What was it that helped me improve so much in that time? Everyone assumes that if you start seeing a Spanish speaking partner, your Spanish will automatically sky rocket. But it’s not quite that simple! Here, I look back at my own learning process during that time.
I was forced to up my game
I remember during Las Fallas having a few disagreements with my new Spanish mrs, the details of which I will omit! I don’t particularly enjoy arguing, but was determined to stand my ground despite my linguistic disadvantage. This put new communication pressures on me, and a lot more emotional attachment to the conversation. I’m convinced that this was a psychological “kick up the arse”, forcing me to improve my game and compete in a league above my own. That’s the reason that people who have to work in their target language improve so quickly – essentially if they want to keep their job, they have to improve! That’s pretty good motivation.
I cared more about the relations and interactions
Related to the above point, once you develop deeper relations with someone, your communication also enters a new level. You’re more committed to each interaction, so you can sometimes be under more pressure to understand and communicate (as with arguments!). Once you are comfortable and relaxed with someone you lose many of the inhibitions which can prevent you from full fluency with other people. I often found that I could talk accurately and fluently with my girlfriend, but meeting strangers I would sometimes stumble and make more mistakes. This was not due to my level of language or ability, but due to my level of comfort and familiarity with whomever I was talking to.
I entered her world, and got further ingrained in the culture
I got to know her friends, went out as the only English person with a group of Spaniards, and lived my life in a more Spanish way. Embedding myself in the culture further helped me to “feel” more Spanish, as well as providing more opportunities for practise and input. Acceptance of the culture and way of life is really important for language development, and this was one of the best ways to get involved further.
I got more input. Lots more input.
From the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep, I lived, breathed, and thought in Spanish, to the point that I was sick of it! This was undoubtedly one of the major reasons for my increases in ability. I’d acquire vocabulary and phrases in a totally natural way, and after a while started to inherit some of her idiosyncracies – certain phrases which would be said in a routine way, habits, and pronunciation. My accent started to imitate hers, and people would comment about my new pronunciation. None of this was deliberate per se, it was more a case of linguistic convergence – I started to take on a new linguistic identity.
So, go and get a Spanish partner!
Hopefully, you wouldn’t go out with someone just so that you can learn their language better! However, if you do find yourself in a situation where you are going out with someone whose language you are learning, I’m sure you’ll find that all of the above points will apply to you too! And the best part is, you can forget about trying to learn (in the “studying” sense) for a while and just go on auto-pilot. Your emphasis (as was mine) will be on communication and negotiating your relationship through language, rather than studying and learning vocabulary. That’ll come naturally.
If you’ve had a Spanish partner, I would absolutely love to hear your opinions on this! Did you find your Spanish receive a huge boost? Or did it just make you lazy? Let us know in the comments below!
PS: Liz, you’re much better than any of the others! Thanks for being there, and helping me learn!