Learn Spanish : The Horse
Learn Spanish : The Horse
The Horse, as I previously wrote, is spoken fluency. I made the point that children, long before they go off the first grade, already have a high degree of spoken fluency in their native tongue before learning the parts of speech or memorizing grammar rules. It is my contention and the premise of this article that this is exactly what you need long before you enroll in a formal foreign language course of study. Long before you begin to learn the difference between the preterit and the imperfect tenses in Spanish you need to be using them with the same degree of fluency that a Mexican first graders does when he goes off to his first day of formal education!
Ok, calm that heart rate down! Don't get all twisted in a knot over this. What I am suggesting is not only possible, but if you have the time and the money—and yes it is going to cost you—you can engage in the same process learning Spanish that you did when you were a little kid learning your native language.
Look at the cost factor to which I just alluded. What would you rather do? Would you want to spend a small fortune that could solve the debt problem of some small "third world" country in books and tuition for classes design NOT to teach you spoken fluency, or would you rather spend the money on something that will work?
Having said that, let's take a look at the Horse and just how little kids learn their native tongue as well as how they seemingly learn second languages better than adults do.
I have gotten into many a verbal "knock down drag outs" over this very issue. Americans are convinced, and I am talking in the majority of Americans, that children can learn a foreign language faster than adults do. Have you not heard the very same thing? I hear this as the standard excuse all the time from those tourists who express the dream of expatriating to Mexico but who are firmly and inextricably convinced that because they are in their 60's that they are UNABLE to learn a second language!
The wonderful truth is that what you've always heard about kids being able to pick up a language faster than an adult SIMPLY IS NOT TRUE! It is not too late because you are an “older learner”.
Most new studies are showing that when an adult learner is involved in the right method of language instruction, that they learn the foreign language faster than do children. What I am saying is that if an adult is immersed in the correct method that will teach the second language in the same manner in which they learned their native tongue, that they will learn the language faster. This assumes the absence of some sort of organic disease process in the adult.
The difference that has been noted between children and adults trying to acquire a second language is that those who learn the language before puberty generally will have no "accent". They will not sound like an English speaker speaking Spanish. I can immediately tell a non-native Spanish speaker by their accent.
The reasons for the noted accent factor between adult and child learners maybe due to developing brain issues and the individual learning experiences of the child versus the adult.
The research specifically shows that, as an adult gets older there is NO diminution in the ability to learn. Unless there is a disease process going on in the hearing, vision, or something like Alzheimer's taking place there is no reason why an adult cannot learn a second language and do so well. It is a myth that adults cannot learn a second language. That is not to say there are no adult related difficulties in learning a second language. There are indeed but they are not what you think.
The biggest difficulty in an adult, and I am talking even those as young as college-aged adults, learning a second language is an emotional issue. They have so bought into the popular myth that because they didn't start learning Spanish as a child that it is too late for them now.
I recall reading a study about language instruction at Harvard. I cannot locate the source. Where students routinely put off their foreign language requirement until their Senior year. Or, they got so freaked out that Harvard had to develop some sort of therapy resource to help students get through their language requirements. There are some Universities that developed a Bachelor's of General Studies degree program just so students could avoid having to take a foreign language. That is how frightened and paranoid Americans are of learning another language.
It is an emotional disorder that prevents adults from trying and successfully learning Spanish. They buy into the popular myth and consequently America has a bilingual rate of less than 9%.
Researchers Krashen, Long, and Scarcella showed that, “Studies comparing the rate of second language acquisition in children and adults have shown that although children may have an advantage in achieving native-like fluency in the long run, adults actually learn languages more quickly than children in the early stages (Krashen, Long, and Scarcella, 1979)."
The conclusion this study represents is that adults can develop a working ability in the targeted language much faster than a child can.
So just where did this hideous stereotype about adults foreign language learning originate? It came from some very old science. There used to be a theory on "brain development", from the 60's, that taught that there was a "crucial period" that an individual had before the brain lost its "plasticity" making learning a second language too difficult. It was a believed that if you didn't get your second language learning done before puberty that your goose was pretty well cooked. (Lenneberg, 1967)
Modern studies have shown that though there does exist some differences in how a child learns a second language from the adult that the older learned has the distinct advantage. The adult learned of Spanish can learn the language faster because of the following:
·The adult's maturely developed brain has the superior ability to understand the relationship between semantics and grammar.
·The adult's brain is more mature in its ability to absorb vocabulary, grammatical structures, and to make more "higher order" generalizations and associations.
·The adult learner's better-developed brain is better at "putting together all the pieces" with a more developed long-term memory.
The biggest obstacle for the adult is, as I've said, the emotional factor. They have bought into the myth that they just cannot do it. They are also afraid of making fools of themselves. I have often thought that this is the reason children seem to learn Spanish faster than adults do—they are not afraid of the embarrassment factor!
Kids also seem to learn Spanish faster because of the natural method to which they resort. They approach learning a foreign language in the identical manner they did with their native language. If you had children then you witnessed this event.
Was there not a time when you just knew that your "yet to speak anything other than, goo-goo and ga-ga" child was understanding far more than he was letting on?
We had these friend for whom we often baby-sat. There was a point when I could see that little Scotty was more on the ball than he was letting on. Though he could not speak yet I could say, "show me what you want" and he could not only comprehend the question but also show me what he wanted. I am sure you had the same experiences with your children.
Kids have an "intensive" period in language learning where all they do is listen. Whether it is their native tongue or the learning of a second language, they do a lot of listening. Before your child began to speak his native tongue he went through a silent period of listening and taking in everything.
He said nothing—just listened. Before developing the high degree of spoken fluency he was destined to develop, he listened to literally thousands of repetitions of his native language coming from his Mom and Dad's mouth.
The little kid trying to learn Spanish will go through a period of listening intensely to thousands of repetition of the target language. He will not speak much of anything—he will just listen. During this "period of silence", the child does almost no repeating but only listens to how the sounds of the language sound and the meaning of the words. They see pictures and actions associated with words and sentences. This is how they learn vocabulary and functional grammar.
Then one day, whether it is their native tongue or the new second language, after the "period of silence"—poof—they start talking and have largely conquered the basic of the new language. It seems fast and easy as we adults observe it but it is only the natural and fluid manner we all acquired our first language.
It could be the same way—the same identical method—that you, oh adult learner, CAN learn Spanish!
Adults will get it into their heads that if they enroll in a conversational class that this will solve the problems. It won't and here is why: You will be in the same class of non-native speakers trying to do what you are trying to. Mostly what you will be exposed to are more non-natives speaking BAD Spanish. You will be constantly exposed to students making huge pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary mistakes. This will hinder your progress and teach you more bad habits.
What would work is a private one-on-one tutorial experience with a native speaker. But, as they say, who of us could afford that?
Conversational classes work when you are the only student and can interact with a native speaker without other non-native students hindering your progress.
Remember the little kid: he is listening intensely to the native speaker speak correctly the target language and during that silent period is learning a correct accent, vocabulary, and natural grammatical structures.
What the Horse is, that horse that you must seek, is to develop a high degree of spoken fluency in the target language in the same way a little kid learns languages.
In a study by Postovsky, 1974; Winitz, 1981; J. Gary and N. Gary, 1981, they postulated that the most effective methodology for the adult learner of a second language is one in which listening (that "period of silence") before any speaking is done.
"According to this research, effective adult language training programs are those that use materials that provide an interesting and comprehensible message, delay speaking practice and emphasize the development of listening comprehension…" Listening first, lots and lots of intensive listening, speaking second is how you, Mr. Adult Wannebee Bilingual American, learned your English and it is the same method you must use to learn Spanish. It is the Horse—the high degree of spoken fluency—which you must develop first before trying to pull the Cart (formal grammar instruction).
This is not only possible but I am going to tell you how I did it later in this series.