So you want to learn Spanish, huh? That’s awesome!! Wondering where to start? The first thing that probably pops into your head is Rosetta Stone, right? (Makes sense considering how much advertising they do!) So what IS the best way to learn a foreign language? When I was younger I wanted to learn French…what young girl doesn’t want to learn French–it’s romantic! So I went to French class with my friend, which was actually tutoring sessions with her neighbor who had fought in some war (sorry History and Timelines are not my strong suit) and had been stationed in France. Long story short, he tried to explain to me that words had gender, which I didn’t understand right away, and in those days (where my perfectionism had not gotten the best of me yet) if I didn’t understand and master something right away (without having to work at it and practice) I quit–like clarinet, violin, piano, gymnastics, dance, performance, you get the idea.
My next attempt to learn French was with a set of cassettes (yes I am old enough to know what those are) and books and a dictionary. I think I maybe listened to it twice, thumbed through the book, was totally overwhelmed, and yes, you guessed it: quit. Who wants to learn a language when you start with boring stuff like the alphabet!?
So I gave up on foreign languages–trying to learn them that is. I always went around with dreams of knowing five foreign languages before I died (still a dream of mine), but I never put forth any effort to make those dreams a reality (it humbled me to have to work at something). I didn’t know how to get from being totally overwhelmed and scared at the idea of beginning to learn a new language, to being fluent like those Lee’s Summit High School students that all came over and hung out with the German foreign exchange students (one of whom we were hosting at our house). How cool was it that they got to speak another language to people from a foreign country, and then they got to travel and stay with those same students they were visiting with! I wanted to do that!!
In high school I chose Spanish as my foreign language of choice. I used one of those conversational, “immersion” type programs like Rosetta Stone called Power Glide. It taught me vocabulary with pictures instead of text; it came with lots of CDs I listened to and followed al)ong with for each lesson; but all I can remember learning is how to say: “El rey y la reina están cantando en la torre.” (Translation: The king and queen are singing in the tower.”) Not very helpful. Author’s Note: This does not mean those programs are not good, or that they do not work; I lacked the dedication and interest it took to learn a new language.
It was not until college that I found the secret to learning a foreign language: you need to get a “Brown-Haired Dictionary.” Those are the famous words of the World’s Best Spanish Professor: Dr. Brown. What do they mean, you ask? Well, it means you need to fall in love–now don’t quit reading if you’ve already fallen in love. What I mean is this. If you want to learn a language you have to be excited about it–whether it’s the culture, the food, the art, the people, or a “Brown-Haired Dictionary” (aka boyfriend or girlfriend that speaks Spanish as his or her native tongue), or just the plain love of learning. You won’t learn the language if you don’t have something that you love that is driving you to do the hard work of grammar, memorization, vocabulary, and practice, practice, practice!
So when this girl says that Rosetta Stone sucks…and this guy says that Rosetta Stone won’t help you read or write the foreign language you’re learning (or even be fluent)…the truth is they are right. What will help you learn a foreign language is you finding a good reason, a reason that motivates you to learn. So go fall in love today–fall in love with some awesome Mexican food (have you tried Guadalajara Cafe? Or some great recipes from Rick Bayless?); fall in love with some good Spanish music (maybe some Latina Jazz? Or some Latin music from Putumayo?); fall in love with the Spanish-speaking peoples and cultures of the world (if you can’t travel by plane, travel with Rick Steves on your couch! Or strike up a conversation with someone who speaks Spanish and “travel” to his or her hometown through stories!); fall in love with some great art (like Frida Kahlo, Diego Velazquez, or Picasso). Just like language comes naturally to babies who are excited to explore their new world, language is much easier to learn if you have a reason to learn it.