Learn Spanish : The Cart
Before the Horse

This is the first part of a series of articles on learning Spanish by Douglas and Cindi Bower. These two expatriate Americans know more about learning Spanish and living in Mexico than just about anyone. It's hard to argue with people who have 'been there and done that,' and then wrote a book about it.

In this series, they outline a method of learning Spanish using a combination of commercial products, language schools and real-life use. Here are some great examples of what to do and explanations of what not to do if you want to be successful learning a language. Everyone has different needs and different learning styles, but it's great to gain knowledge from those with real experience.

Look for the link to the next part in this series at the end of the article.

Learn Spanish: The Cart BEFORE the Horse
By Douglas Bower and Cindi Bower

This article is about language learning methods. You may be thinking,

"Why isn't he talking about motivation first?"

The reasons I am starting with methodology first is that the wrong method of learning a second language is the biggest killer of motivation I can possibly conceive.

I hear this all the time from expatriate wannebees who tell me they would love to do what my wife and I did—move to Mexico. Many are highly attracted to Guanajuato because it is a Colonial, central Mexican town still largely untouched by Americanization influences. This is because the expats who do live here, all 200 of us, learned the language, to various degrees, in order to assimilate into the culture. To live in Guanajuato you have to learn the language and this frightens many Americans who could live here if they would learn Spanish.

Those Americans attracted to Guanajuato instinctively understand that—they would have to become bilingual and the thought intimidates them to the point of canceling their plans to move to Guanajuato.

Let me ask you this: For the sake of argument let's pretend that you researched the place to which you want to retire and Guanajuato is number one. You just have to move here. No other place will do. Why on earth, you reason, would you want to take the time and expense to move to Mexico and be doomed to living in one of the "Little America" enclaves where linguistically challenged expatriates move? Ridiculous you reason—"I want a genuine Mexican town!"

So, you know you will have to learn Spanish and want to start long before making the move. You have two or three years before retirement, so you have some time to engage in the studying of the language before actually taking the plunge.

What is the first thing that will pop into your mind or might be suggested by family and friends as to how you should start your Spanish-learning adventure?

"You should go take the Spanish courses at the University or Junior College."

This is exactly what you are going to think of or should be your course of action if you want to learn Spanish. You will think of enrolling in the Spanish sequence of courses at a college level institution.

Traditional Spanish courses, at either the High School or College level has always been a sequence of four courses. You have Spanish level I, II, III, and IV. You enroll in Spanish I and get a textbook, a workbook, and some CD or Cassette listening tapes. You show up at class where, in most cases, you will not have a native speaker but rather someone who has a Spanish degree or who studied for a number of years in a Spanish speaking country. Rarely would you be lucky enough to get a native speaker as an instructor.

The first day of class, you will be given a class syllabus where your course of study will be outlined for that semester. You will be required to memorize a certain number of vocabulary words and dialogues, you will have to do textbook, and workbook exercises, listen to the CD's or tapes, and be tested on all of this.

If this doesn't scare you into running out the door screaming for a refund on textbooks and tuition, and you manage to make it to levels II, III and IV, the classes will most likely be conducted entirely in Spanish. Not one word of English will be allowed to be uttered or even thought!

How does this sound to you? You will spend a fortune in books, tuition, and your time and energy to participate in a traditional method of learning a second language that will, by design, not equip you to speak Spanish. You heard me correctly. This traditional language learning methodology is designed NOT to teach you how to speak Spanish!

"But, but…what of the conversation classes?"

Yes there are conversation classes, sometimes, offered in this sequence of courses. They are supposed to be the "speaking" component of the total immersion experience. However, there are grave problems with even these conversation classes that we will cover later.

So, if these classes, taught all over America, in all of its colleges, do not teach you how to speak Spanish then what do they do? That is a good question. But let me say this first. Just how much more boring of an experience can you imagine than this process of carting around books to a class where a lot of rote memorization is to take place with a bunch of other students lacking the same enthusiasm as yourself. How dreadful—The Motivation Killer Factor!

What these traditionally taught classes are designed to do is make you a good "exegete" of the language but not a speaker of it. What this means is that this method of textbooks, workbooks, memorizing vocabulary words and grammar rules, will equip you to be a good interpreter of written text in the target language. If you get through the traditional process of Spanish levels I-IV, and do well, you will have developed some good skills at translating written text and that is about it.

I cannot begin to tell you the number of cases I've heard of and of those with whom I have spoken personally, who have gone through the traditional approach of learning Spanish and about all they can say is,

"Hi, how are you. Where's the bathroom. Can I have a cheese sandwich?"

And they've taken fours years of Spanish! What are you to make of this?

A few years ago, I got it into my head that I wanted to learn the language in which the New Testament was written. This is called Koine Greek. It is no longer spoken. The approach to learning it is just like learning Classical Greek or Latin. You get a textbook, workbook, a course syllabus, and have to memorize a lot of vocabulary words and grammar rules. Does this ring a bell? This is how so-called dead languages are learned.

If you've ever studied Latin then you know what I am talking about. All you end up being able to do, using this process, is learn how to translate and interpret written texts of material.

Traditionally taught Spanish courses are taught in the very same manner. They are taught in such a way as to equip you NOT to develop a high degree of spoken fluency. You will learn to translate written text and that is about it.

Are you not pouring money down the drain, so to speak, if your goal is to learn how to speak the language?

I can just hear the conversation going on in your head. I can also hear the screeching coming out of the mouths of all those who have been teaching Spanish this way all their careers.

Traditions are a hard thing to break. And why they teach a live and fluid language the way they teach a dead language totally escapes me.

Let's resort to a bit of critical thinking if you are still having trouble taking in this concept that the language learning method used practically all over the globe doesn't work to teach you a high degree of spoken fluency.

Once I was trying to convince a friend of mine of the truth of this concept—that traditional language methods used in the U.S. schools was useless in teaching spoken fluency. To demonstrate this I asked his 6-year old to help me with a demonstration.

I asked her to walk from the living room and into the kitchen. Then I asked her to walk back through the door and into the living room. I then asked her to tell us what I had just asked her to do. She told me, with 100% accuracy what I had told her to do and what she had just done using all the correct prepositions (from, through, into). Then I asked her,

"Abby, can you tell me what a preposition is?"

She could not. She had not yet learned them and would not for a while in her formal education.

Now, how do you suppose Abby knew not only what the prepositions meant but how could she accurately repeat back to me what I told her to do using those same prepositions?

Did her mother and father send her to a formal English class with a textbook, workbook, some CD's or Cassettes? Did she get a course syllabus where she read what was required of her and on what material she would be tested?

Think about this very seriously for a moment. If you had children just think for a moment what degree of spoken fluency your child had when you first packed them off to first grade. Think of all they could understand and say before they ever started their formal education. When your kid was 6-years old, he or she had already achieved a high degree of spoken

English fluency and you didn't have to enroll them in a "Total Immersion" course in order for them to achieve it. They could understand and use prepositions, and other parts of speech, long before they ever learned what those were.

Long before learning formally, what the parts of speech were they learned to ride the horse—spoken fluency. Then, once a high degree of spoken fluency was achieved, they hooked that horse up to the cart—formal grammar.

This is why traditionally taught foreign language courses do not work to give you a high degree of spoken fluency. It is because they put the cart (traditionally taught grammar) before the horse (high degree of spoken fluency in the target language). The horse pulls the cart. The cart is inert and lifeless alone. It cannot move without the horse.

Does this not make sense? Is this not a sort of epiphany? I remember when this light bulb came on in my head how mad I got at how I wasted so much time and effort in my days at the university trying to learn Spanish. I passed the courses. I could translate written text, but could not speak Spanish.

Where I live in Mexico, there are scores of Total Immersion Spanish schools. These are built on the same traditional methods but the real kicker is that are all taught in Spanish. I am telling you that if you cannot speak one word of Spanish and come here expecting the miracle of Total Immersion instruction to magically work you will be sadly mistaken!

Can you imagine the horror!

This is another "myth" about learning a second language and is quite common. For those who finally figure out that the traditionally taught language courses are not working are soon told you must engage in Total Immersion in the target language's country.

Ok, back to critical thinking: If traditionally taught second language instruction is by design unable to teach you a high degree of spoken fluency through its boring process, just imagine going through the process when the instruction is given entirely in Spanish.

I haven't the slightest notion how this idea came into being. Haven't you heard this pitch?

"You can't learn Spanish here in the states. You've got to go to the Mexico to get into Total Immersion."

This notion, I am convinced, was born as the result of someone figuring out that traditionally taught foreign language learning in America wasn't working. Someone saw that the process designed to teach you how to be a good interpreter of the written text of the target language wasn't working to give you spoken fluency. So they concluded that you would have to travel to the country of the target language, spend a fortune to do so, and then the magic of Total Immersion would transform you into a native speaker.

Egad, what a rot of illogic! If the process wasn't working in the States then what made someone think that it would magically work in the target language's county—and taught all in Spanish! It is a small wonder why less than 9% of Americans are fluent in any foreign language!

If you start with the cart—formal grammatical instruction—the cart cannot do a thing for you without the horse—spoken fluency to pull the cart! Remember your 6-year old learned first how to climb on the horse long before ever learning there was a cart to pull. Don't forget the Mexican nationals in the resort towns who managed to learn how to climb on the horse without the benefit of a cart.

This is so essential to understand that to learn Spanish you have to use the same natural, fluid method you used to learn your native language. In the same manner and method, you learned your native tongue you have to use to learn your second language. Bilingual Mexicans, too poor to afford English lessons do this all the time. More than half of all of Europe do this and are fluent in multiple languages.

Listen up, America. Learn to use the right, natural method and you too can become bilingual. You do not have to attend formal classes or spend a fortune to study in another country. It is possible, where you live, right now to begin and achieve a high degree of spoken fluency in Spanish!

First, it is the horse you must seek. Then, later comes the cart!

Expatriates Doug and Cindi Bower have successfully expatriated to Mexico, learning through trial and error how to do it from the conception of the initial idea to driving up to their new home in another country. Now the potential expatriate can benefit from their more than three years of pre-expat research to their more than two years of actually living in Mexico. The Plain Truth about Living in Mexico answers the potential expatriate's questions by leading them through the process from the beginning to the end. In this comprehensive guide, you will learn not only how-to expatriate but will learn what to expect, in daily life, before coming to Mexico. BUY BOOK HERE: www.universal-publishers.com/book.php?method=ISBN&book=1581124570

Article Source: EzineArticles.com

Go to part 2 of this series - Learn Spanish : The Horse

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