Two attributes that a learner must have when it comes to learning a foreign language are: patience, and persistence. If you are REALLY curious as to how to become fluent in Spanish; there are three essential ingredients or “must haves” -along with patience and persistence, you will need in your endeavor.
I get asked this all the time, “Dan, how do I become fluent in Spanish? I really need to learn and retain it.” Well, the answer I first come to is, “You’ve go to have repetitions.” What I mean by this is that you need to hear the phrases you are trying to acquire somewhere in the ballpark of 50-75 times -with full comprehensibility, to really LEARN AND RETAIN the language; and become fluent in Spanish.
So, you might ask, “How is this accomplished?” First of all, a quick question to you. Did you know that a child gets around 20,000 hours of immersion in his/her first language up to age six? That’s A LOT OF REPETITIONS! We as language learners need practice and time as week. Ok, so how does this work? It is mostly accomplished through questioning by a Spanish instructor in the target language -Spanish. You the learner need to see, read, and participate in a story that is relevant to you, and contains a compelling plot. In this story, there needs to be 3-6 phrases that will be focused on for retention. For example, if one of the phrases being used for retention in your story was ‘Fue al centro comercial’- went to the mall; questioning strategies (in Spanish of course) would be implemented around that phrase, to get you the comprehensible input needed to acquire it. So, here is what it might look like, Rico fue al centro comercial el sábado a las seis de la tarde con su amigo Rafael. Now, the questioning begins after this statement. It looks like this
¿Quién fue al centro comercial? – Who went to the mall?
¿Cuándo fue al centro comercial? – When did he go to the mall?
We would continue with: At what time? What day? With whom? Where did he go? Who did he go with? At what time did he? etc.
There will also be negative questions: Rico fue a la discoteca? – No
Rico fue al centro comercial con su amigo Miguel? – No
Rico fue al centro comercial a las ocho de la tarde? – No
You see, for each statement there can be a plethora of questions around one of the phrases in the statement. This provides the repetition/practice needed for acquisition. As seen above, we could have generated a possibility of 30-40 reps of “fue al centro” – went to the mall.
These are the reps that would be given in the story creation part of the lesson. You would additionally get/need more reps in a follow up reading -or ‘extended reading’. On to that in the next section. So, this questioning method is extremely intricate, and requires a considerable amount of skill on the behalf of the instructor giving the comprehensible input. Therefore, it’s imperative to have Spanish instructor that understands theses methods. Now that you know you must have repetitions to become fluent in Spanish, let’s take a look at some more essential element to attaining fluency.
2. Listening- Becoming Fluent In Spanish Through Storytelling/Story-asking
Ok, now that I’m off my high-horse about repetitions. You the learner need to be in an environment where the instructor -or you, creates a story that is relevant and meaningful to you. Then, this story needs to be asked by the instructor (in the target language). Storytelling gives the language structures meaning and context; which helps the
3. Reading- How To Become Fluent In Spanish By Reading Stories
Reading is essential for getting the language connected in our brain. Without context and meaning, (which reading provide) you will be learning random words and phrases. Drilling random words and phrases for recognition and memorization WILL NOT LEAD TO FLUENCY! Just think about it, when you were a child, you were consistently being presented with stories and role plays around you. Every situation growing up was a language-learning opportunity. These ‘stories’ (visual, kinesthetic, mnemonic devices, non-verbal gestures, emotion in voice, children’s books with pictures you read, and explanations of how to say things from you parents) are essential to the language developing in our brains. So, now you know that listening and storytelling are essential to become fluent in Spanish.
Do you remember your favorite story book as a child? I do. It was The Billy Goats Gruff. I remember the dialogue, the picture, and even some locations of words and callouts on the page! The story ‘struck a chord with me’ and connected to me emotionally. This type of reading experience is what we need as language learners. You might be saying, well Dan, that’s right but I don’t know Spanish words. True. But, did we know those words as three-five year olds? Probably not. What happened is that we were being exposed to vocabulary and repetitions of the vocabulary. Most people don’t realize this, but it is a myth to think that adults cannot learn a language. Adults actually have an advantage. How is that? Well, you can draw on your first language (L1) vocabulary to determine the meaning of second language (L2) vocabulary. Believe it or not, you already know a lot Spanish, you just don’t know it yet. This is why reading is essential in second language acquisition. First of all, it’s good exposure to the language. Secondly, it can yield repetitions of vocabulary structures. And finally, it’s a perfect avenue to make connections with (L1 & L2).
Furthermore, readings can be similar to storytelling. If you have an instructor that provides you a reading piece and questions you over the reading, you can have significant results here. In my Spanish teaching in the last ten years, I would say that my students learned most through readings, than any other method.
Well, I hope that you have grasped the three essential elements to become fluent in Spanish in this article.
If you’d like to take your Spanish learning to the next level with style of learning and really become fluent in Spanish, you can get my FREE 3-Part Video Series that contains whiteboard instructional videos of storytelling, mini-stories and readings with questioning strategies, PQA or Personal Question Answer sessions and much more!
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