I can’t even begin to count the amount of Gringos that I’ve met all over Latin America who come here with the goal of “getting fluent” in Spanish or Portuguese only to find themselves leaving with regrets and limited language abilities despite having spent an extended period of time in here. So why is this happening?
Here are 5 reasons why:
- You surround yourself with Gringos
So many people complain that they can’t get their Spanish/Portuguese fluent because they don’t have anyone to practice with. No wonder this is the case when you surround yourself with fellow Brits and Aussies in a hostel playing beer pong and sipping on Caipirinhas. Don’t get me wrong, hostels are great fun, but spice things up a bit by Couchsurfing with locals, getting in touch with friends of friends and venturing to places off the gringo trail. This way, you’ll immerse yourself in the local culture and give yourself opportunities to practice the language.
A great personal example of this would be in Rosario, Argentina, where after getting in touch with a friend of a friend (a guy I had never spoken to before) I managed to spend the night at a private birthday party in a top end bar/nightclub at a table with around 30 different Argentinians. Talk about a great opportunity to practice my Spanish!
- You refuse to leave your Comfort Zone
This one is a killer, and affects everyone including myself. We, as humans, do anything we can to protect our egos and avoid looking like a fool. However, the harsh reality is that you aren’t going to improve your language skills without going through the horrible beginner’s stage of sounding like an imbecile and making plenty of mistakes. Drop the ego, and embrace it, that way you have nothing to lose. These mental barriers severely hindered my German speaking. Despite having studied the language for a few years I avoided every opportunity of speaking with native speakers to ensure I wouldn’t sound like a fool. However, just a few weeks ago, I got my act together and seized on the opportunity to practice my German with a native speaker for a few days. The result; I learned more German in 4 days than I had in the past 12 months combined.
- Not learning the Grammar
No-one likes learning Grammar, but unfortunately learning the structure of the language early on can take a huge amount of time off the learning process. So stop spending all your time on Duolingo and invest in a good grammar book. For both Spanish and Portuguese I would highly recommend the Hugo “in three months” books and Michel Thomas’ Courses which are fantastic at drilling in the grammar and it is surprisingly addictive. By spending less than an hour a day you can master complicated grammar structures in just a few months.
As with all things in life, practice makes perfect, and this especially applies to learning languages. It’s all well and good spending a full day speaking Spanish, but if this is just once a month this isn’t going to get you far. Consistency is key, so putting yourself in a situation where you’re forced to speak on a daily basis is going to put you two steps ahead.
But I have no-one to practice with I hear you cry? Get into the habit of forcing yourself to think in the foreign language, even if you’re knowledge is limited. Finally, spend 5-10 minutes a day reading new material and learning new words. My personal recommendation is the immerse app (http://www.immerse-app.com/en/), a language learning app full of a wide range of reading materials for people at different skill levels. This means that you don’t even have to look for reading material anymore and can just open to the app to find anything from politics articles to surf magazines right In front of you. Now where’s your excuse to not gaining fluency?
- Placing too much importance on Classes.
So many people believe that in order to gain fluency in a language you have to study it at university or invest lots of money in language classes. This is far from being true, and I actually find that this can be counter-productive. The often dull environment of a classroom isn’t made for everyone (especially myself) and can demotivate you and can even put you off learning a language all together. Stop believing in this myth and accept the fact that you can gain fluency by yourself with a few good resources and determination. On the other hand, one on one conversation classes can be a huge bonus, but this doesn’t have to be with someone from a high end institution.