Learn another language- Dealing with Discouragement and Impatience

I teach English as a second language but have been working on my own Spanish for almost two years.  It’s so easy to feel frustrated about my slow progress.  In this video I describe my discouragement and what I know to be true about language acquisition.


Hey there, this is Maria from English without Fear. Today I’m going to talk to you about my progress in Spanish with speaking and how I am fighting discouragement. So, maybe you can identify either with your own experience in acquiring a second language or with the other speaking ability of your students.

(Intro: English without Fear where you can learn to speak English naturally, through listening to stories.)

It is not quite two years, 22 months, uh, since I started working on Spanish. And I have about 1100 hours of input. Every day I write down how much time I spend listening to Spanish podcasts, how much time I spend reading. I read my Bible in the morning in Spanish and I’m reading a novel. And how much time I spend watching some YouTube videos. And then the time I do spend interacting either by texting in Spanish or now speaking in Spanish with someone. 

What is new for an activity is I have started an ‘intercambio’, uh, a conversational exchange with a local Mexican gal. Tere is married to an American and has been here in Huntsville for eight years. So, her English is pretty good. But she’s interested in working on her English. So, we agreed to meet, um, by video, zoom, um, and we’ve tried Facebook video, messenger video.

And the first time we met last week, I modeled for her how I thought this should go. I don’t believe in correcting errors. Correcting errors don’t (doesn’t)  help me when somebody corrects my Spanish. It’s the communicating back and forth. So, we started first in English.  I said, ‘Tell me where you grew up, what your family is like, tell me about going to school, what you studied, that kind of thing.”

And as she was telling me, in her English, which is now eight years old, uh, I would feed back to her: “So, you spent three years in middle school in Mexico and then went to high school and you liked drama? So, you did a lot with drama, is that what you’re saying? And did I understand that you prefer the stage crew, the people who work on tech and theater and not the actors? Is that right? Because you said the actors were stuck up, egotistical?”

So, I was feeding back to her correct English, but getting clarification because she speaks speaks well. But there’s some, there’s some errors but again, error correction doesn’t work. But if she hears it correctly in context, when her brain is ready, the brain will make the switch. 

At the half-hour point we moved into Spanish. I tried to do the same thing. I tried to use my Spanish to talk about where I was born, where I grew up, my family, what I studied in school, that kind of thing. But the difference between her English and my Spanish is dramatic. I felt like my Spanish was halting. Lots of pauses, had to think and that was discouraging.

But, I know better. I only have 1100 hours –  22 months. Terry has eight years in America and we’re not even talking about what she did in Mexican school as a child.

I know from my own sons that by the time each was four years old, each had about 14,000 hours of ‘mommy talk’. That is interacting with um, family, friends, daycare, grandparents, mom and dad, cartoons, all that. Listening with understanding.  Language emerges. It is a natural process. I should not be impatient, but I am!!!  I have no reason to be discouraged. My Spanish is exactly where it should be, given the number of hours I have spent listening, reading, trying to understand. 

It’s just that I want to be fluent. I’m fluent in French and it feels good. I want that. I really am hungry for that. But you can’t rush the brain. I can’t rush the process. I don’t live in a Spanish-speaking environment. I don’t have a job where I have to use Spanish and hear Spanish all day long. So, I can spend about three hours a day, Monday through Friday, given everything else I do in my life.

And I have to be patient. I know better, but still I want to speak really well. In the meantime, Teri and I are going to continue this, um, twice a week.  And I continue to write texts. I continue to use my Spanish if I run into somebody. And once this quarantine order is done and we’re back to normal, one of my volunteer jobs, sometimes I run into Spanish-speaking women at the Pregnancy Resource Center. And I get to use my Spanish. But until then, I am going to practice patience. I’m going to practice what I preach. And I will continue to help people acquire English, naturally through storytelling.

So, what about you? Do you ever get discouraged? Are you impatient in your own language acquisition or in the ability of your students to become fluent, become fluid, speak naturally? Remember, it’s just a matter of hours and we cannot rush the process.

Well, that’s a report of where I am with Spanish and I hope it gives you some perspective. Thanks for listening. Talk to you next time. 

 (outro: Thanks for watching. For questions or comments. Here’s my email.)

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