Learning Espańol

James Prashant Fonseka
4 min readMay 13

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I have decided that I would like to become fluent in Spanish. My reasons for this are plentiful, though to achieve to goal I will have to significantly shift my trajectory. Learning a second spoken language for me has thus far been a long and largely fruitless endeavor.

I first took Spanish classes in elementary school as an after school activity, and then took them as real classes in middle school. In line with my birth name, I recall my Spanish teachers giving me Spanish names starting with P. I remember that one was Pedro and the other was Pablo, though I can’t remember which was in elementary school and which was in middle school. I learned some Spanish vocabulary and grammar but couldn’t speak much at all and was moreover afraid to, so I dropped Spanish in high school and studied Latin instead.

I loved learning Latin and was very good at it. I to this date cite Ovid as my favorite poet. Just a few weeks ago I was geeking out about that with an Oxford chap who studied Classics, as at one point I was contemplating doing myself. It was convenient then that no one outside the Vatican speaks Latin, so I was kept at ease only having to write translations and not having to speak or converse. I don’t regret studying Latin, but the truth is that it was a bit of a cop out.

In college, I took two semesters of Spanish to fulfill a requirement, mustering my way through an accelerated intro course because I had studied Latin and some Spanish, and still left with only the most rudimentary of language skills. I can say where I’m from, ask for a bathroom, and kind of order food. That’s pretty much where I’m at. Where I want to be is, I would like to be able to converse with locals in Spanish speaking countries well enough that I could live in one and comfortably interact with people speaking in their primary language. This will require a lot of time, focus, and dedication, but I’m convinced it’s possible. I am now mapping out a course to follow to maximize my speed to fluency. Step one to achieving this end is consistency.

Being immersed in a Spanish speaking country and studying the language full time would be the best way to become fluent. I can’t do that right now, so it’s essential that I find ways to stay on top of studying. Duolingo is great for learning vocabulary and is highly gamified and easy to use as a phone app, so I use that everyday during down time. Maintaining streaks on there is a good way to keep my eye on the prize, though it’s just building a foundation.

To practice speaking out loud and pronunciation, as well as learning vocabulary and idioms, I’m taking live classes as often as possible (aiming for at least once a day) on BeepBoop. Not many people have heard of this company, but they are applying a tried and true language learning method that was first pioneered in universities. I get instant feedback and the benefit repetition through them. This moves closer to real speaking.

For comprehension, I am consuming audio and video content that is geared towards Spanish language learners. Videos like this fake news story are very helpful in training the ear and picking up everyday phrases and vocabulary. The best content breaks down the videos and goes through translations to ensure ultimate comprehension. There are also plenty of podcasts geared towards Spanish learners that work to a similar effect. All of this will help to prime my brain for speaking.

Once I get to a solidly intermediate level of Spanish from a vocabulary and grammar perspective, I will start doing 1 on 1 tutoring, likely with someone from a Spanish speaking country. Remote tutoring in such a fashion can be a very cost effective way to study and practice speaking in a more actionable, conversational manner. I have yet to look much into group classes and other immersion opportunities, but my push to myself will be to put myself in places where I have to speak Spanish as much as possible. All that I have spelled out will take time and persistence, and it will be a real test of dedication to see if I can actually see this through.

Learning language as an adult isn’t easy but it’s definitely possible. Babies pick up languages by just hearing them spoken, even picking up on sounds and words to prime their brains for hearing those phonemes while in the womb. If I ever have children, I will do my best to ensure they begin their secondary language learning journeys as early as possible, well before they have to think about it or can be unwilling. If you start early enough, language skills are picked up passively. I am far past that point.

Like almost all adults, I will have to exert will power to learn. It will be worth being able to speak to people comfortably in Latin America which is amongst my favorite places to travel. In twenty years, more than a quarter of Americans will likely be Spanish speakers, with Spanish as a primary language for many of them; I want to be able to converse with my fellow Americans in Spanish as well. So much of American history, especially in Texas and West, is intertwined with Spanish roots. I think it would be great if more Americans were bilingual, as is common in Europe. At the very least, I would like to be, so the task at hand is to see through a course of action that makes me that.

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James Prashant Fonseka