Learn English or another L2 – How necessity helps!

Here is a personal story of my journey learning Spanish.  I’m finding that HAVING to use it is a big help toward acquisition!


Hey there. This is Maria from English without Fear. If you’ve watched some of my videos, you might have heard me say that the best thing I ever did to help me teach better was to start acquiring Spanish, to start learning a second language myself. 

Today I’m going to tell you about another useful tool, in my journey, acquiring a Spanish, and that is ‘necessity’, needing to use the language. So, sit back, listen, watch and let me know what you think.

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

I have about 900 hours of input under my belt. I gain input, I get my input mostly from listening to podcasts while I do chores and drive, from reading and from watching YouTube videos when I eat my lunch. But I have been thinking that it sure would be nice, my Spanish would really improve if I had to speak it, every day, if I had a job. 

But actually I don’t want a job. I don’t want to have to do something every day. So, what I have done is I have found a new place to volunteer. 

I tried volunteering at an established ESL class here in Huntsville, Alabama, but after a few months the director of the program made it very clear that she did not want me to help out because I use the ‘input method’ like these videos. Her program is all about correcting people’s pronunciation and teaching grammar rules.

Maybe those things are important but not, not for many, many hours. I know that somebody trying to correct my grammar or my pronunciation, it doesn’t help me. Input is what helps me and when my brain is ready, my brain notices correct grammar, my brain notices pronunciation. 

So, I was looking for another way to use my Spanish and somebody told me that the local pregnancy resource center for women here in Huntsville needed Spanish speakers. Now I’m only at the intermediate level with my 900 hours of Spanish input, but I’ve always believed and supported a crisis, pregnancy centers, resource pregnancy centers. 

So, I found out about how to volunteer, the training and I’ve been going through the training. And I want to share with you what has happened the last two times. 

I have been trained to be an intake counselor. That means when a woman comes into the center and usually they want to find out if they’re pregnant and they need resources. After they fill out paperwork, a counselor sits down with them in a private room for about 45 minutes, talks with them, goes over paperwork, does a pregnancy test with their pee, their urine, and then listens to them, helps them think about their options.

Of course as a Christian pregnancy resource center, we believe in carrying a baby to term or putting a baby up for adoption as this as a viable alternative. We do not recommend abortion and if somebody is thinking about abortion, we share with them the factual risks about abortion.

I have found out that about one in every three or four women who come into the center are Hispanic. And two weeks ago in my first session of counseling, there came a woman who spoke some English but not a whole lot. And I was able to make my way through my… using my broken Spanish to help her. And it was good, but I also came away seeing the gaps in my Spanish. It was very revealing. I knew that there were gaps. I know I’m only at an intermediate level, but this showed me specifically what the gaps were.

So, I went home and looked up how to say, um, “How many miscarriages have you had?” And I wrote down and practiced the difference in words “pregnancy, pregnant”. 

I have a lot of words that I know and I know sort of how to say them, but the endings are a mess. They’re mushy. So, you can see even in English:  “pregnancy, pregnant”, they end differently. 

Well, I practiced those. I practiced how to ask about miscarriages and I practiced how to ask about how many pregnancies, um, the pregnant woman has had.  

This week, I only volunteer one half day a week, this week I was mentally prepared and I had prayed: “Father help me use the Spanish you’ve given me, help me to be useful please.”  And sure enough, another Hispanic woman came in. She was from um, Guatemala, 21 years old. She did not know any English, maybe one or two words.

And she even had a problem with literacy. She couldn’t fill out completely the, the Spanish intake form. So, I brought her back into the counseling room and with my Spanish I went over the form. I helped her as best I could, stumbling through the Spanish. She supplied a couple of words when I was fishing. She knew what I was trying to say and corrected me. And somehow, by God’s grace, I made it through the entire appointment sufficiently, adequately. And that felt really good. I know that I helped her.

I also came away with more specific gaps, what I need to work on this next time. For example, using circumlocution, which means if you don’t know how to say something in a language, you use vocabulary all around to describe what you’re trying to say. So, using circumlocution, I said to her, because her pregnancy test was negative, “You can come back in two weeks if your period still hasn’t started.”

Well, I went home and looked up how to say that properly and I wrote that down and I’m going to practice it. And I will be better prepared for next time. But what this is doing for me, and I think it’s appropriate only at the intermediate level, what this is doing for me is it’s forcing me to use the Spanish I have and it’s showing me specifically what I need for the next occasion. Nobody’s correcting me, nobody’s saying “You need to learn this, you need to know learn that!”

I want to fill in these gaps. I need this vocabulary, I need these phrases. So, I believe that ‘necessity’ is a very useful tool for all language learners. Once you get to the intermediate level, and I’d say intermediate level is probably with 600 or more hours of input.

So, that’s my experience. What about you?

What do you think? Have you had to use a language or if you haven’t started acquiring a second language in your ESL teaching or teacher of another language, are you finding that your students pick up more English, make more progress when they have to use it? Tell me about it, leave me a comment below this video. 

And if you would like a transcript, if you are an English language learner –  intermediate, and you would like a transcript for today’s episode, just go to my website: www.Englishwithoutfear.com and there you’ll be able to download a transcript and see the other transcripts as well. Well, that’s it for this episode. I’m Maria from English without fear. Talk to you next time.

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

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