Advice for learning Spanish...


Thank you Kevin, for your question: “What advice could you give me regarding my incorrect approach to learning Spanish by talking from the very first day, and not receiving correct input. I also translated word for word and still have a lot of problems having to think about almost every word before speaking. Any tips would be appreciated.”

I don’t know of any way to undo what’s been done, however we are all learning new things all the time. Will your study get in the way of acquisition? Yes. It is this point that draws the most criticism from the language teaching community. The problem is, we see it all around us.

So let’s not worry about what’s happened already. Past is passed.

Let’s think about improving from where you are.

The only way to acquire a language is to gain more input. See my blog: The Airside and the Brainside of Language. We must find ways to gain experiences in that culture/language.

What can thatinput be? What can you do to gain input?

Follow your interests in the society – Do you like football? Get together with others who like football too. Listen in on their conversations. It’s much less important what those interests are – in other words, don’t worry too much about balance.

Watch movies in the culture/language. Watching with subtitles will focus your attention on the words, rather than the whole experience and thus keep you from developing your ability to “hear”.

Use Crosstalk. One way you might use this is to make regular appointments with Spanish speaking people who want to learn English, or any other language you may be fluent in. You use that language with them, while they use Spanish in communicating with you. For a very short period, your ears will need to adjust, but you’ll soon be surprised at how much you can communicate in this way. The key to using crosstalk successfully is to never give in to the tendency to translate something. If it’s not readily understood, always look for a way to ‘show’ them rather than to use verbal language.

The basic rule is this – input that leads to acquisition must be understandable, and interesting for you. It can be any sort of happening, direct involvement, or third party observation. Don’t focus on language however, because that will detract from the happening!

Good luck to you! 🙂

What do you mean by understandable input? Understanding the language or the happenings? I am quite confused on this point.

Thanks for this question Julien. Understandable input in the view of ALG, always relates to the happenings. I venture an educated guess here but most language professionals who follow Krashen’s concepts of Comprehensible Input (educators, linguists, etc.,) tend to focus on understandable input with regard to the language. In this dedication to a focus on language per sey, the power of natural language growth is diminished.

Thanks a lot for your answer.
Could you tell me your opinion on the TV-method? Do you think watching movies in the target language from the beginning could be beneficial, even if you don’t understand a word of it?

The key is finding input (experiences) that are understandable. The language as a focus, must always remain in the background as it were. The question with any activity, including movies, would be this: How much of what’s going on, do you understand? There are many sorts of input, and it can be experiences in which you are a passive, third party, such as watching TV or a movie. The problem with many forms of input for adults is that it’s based on the verbal too heavily. In other words, if you don’t understand the words, you won’t know what’s happening and this quickly gets very boring. There are some forms of input however, that offer high understanding even when you don’t know the words. Take a look at our level 1 videos at for example. What ever the input is, make sure that you’re understanding at least 70% – otherwise, you may just find that you train yourself to ‘tune out’ and this can actually be a problem.

A related aspect to your question is this – As adults, we normally focus on the verbal – so much of your ability to understand what’s happening depends on how much you turn off that focus. Instead of listening for meaning – try looking for meaning while ignoring the language. Don’t worry about ignoring language (another adult problem to be overcome) it all goes in and stays in your head as a part of the experience.

Thanks so much for your detailed answer.
Here is the link of the best blog on the TV method in my opinion:
By the way, I discovered ALG and your blog from him:-)

Reading your answer a second time, I am wondering what is the difference between as you wrote the risk to “train yourself to ‘tune out’” with the TV-method and your advice to ignore the language?

Everything depends on how much you understand of what’s happening. What we have found is that when a person goes into a situation and focuses on words, their understanding of that situation depends largely on the words they know. So what happens when that person doesn’t know any words? They don’t understand a thing – at least that’s what they will say and feel. But when the same person goes into a similar situation, and focuses on what’s happening, suddenly they understand most or even all of what’s going on. Their satisfaction level with that experience goes way up from the previous one. Movies tend to be advanced – meaning that what you see and what is said is not necessarily congruent. In addition, there can often be several threads of things going on at once that must be understood separately in order to understand their connection with the story. This tends to require a certain level of verbal understanding. In any case, ignoring the language while focusing on the story opens you mind up to take in all that you hear. Your brain will naturally sort out all that input, weeding out what’s not needed, and linking up what is to form the language in all respects.

I am unable to comment on the TV-Method as I’m not familiar enough with it – but I have a student, who lived in a province. He was unable to come study with me and knew no foreigners there. He called me regularly asking for advice and acquired his English almost solely from TV and movies. Later on, he went to work as the concierge of a 5 star hotel in Bangkok – he got the job because of his superior English skills.

One of the goals of ALG is to create many varied opportunities for input – TV is definitely a great source and from my perspective, is a largely unused source for this.