How to be polite in Spanish?

When I and my family were spending our vacations in Cancún, I took numerous opportunities to ask questions to natives about different nuances of Spanish. In some cases they would answer me: “Puede decir así, pero (…) es mas educado

It reminded me of how tricky cognates can be.
While educación means in the first place education, the primary meaning of educado is polite or well mannered and it makes no reference to your education. Una mujer educada can be señora de limpieza, while profesor universitario can be mal educado or sin educación.

Still, I think cognates are a great way to learn Spanish for an English speaker and you will be 100% when you say educación for education.

Lots of success with your Spanish!


How to motivate yourself to learning Spanish?

Why is it that some people learn Spanish so quickly? And others begin a few times, don’t succeed and begin again? The latter will probably say that the former have possessed some language skills. And that kind of opinion is often the cause of their failure. Especially, if parents say to their child: “Chris has a scientific mind, he is a genius in mathematics! But he is no good with languages…” And you will easily guess what the end of the story was. And it is motivation and positive thinking that’s crucial in second language learning success (or many other fields).

So, how to motivate yourself to study?

If you’re learning Spanish, it means you have some goal. I can only guess what that might be. Maybe you want to find a very good job, to communicate without any problems while on holiday in Mexico, maybe you wish communicate with your spouse’s family that comes from Chile or maybe you want to pass your high-school exam. Finally, it may be that you have always wanted to learn Spanish, but had so many commitments that you have never had a chance to learn it and when your kids have their own homes and kids and you have some more free time, you can eventually fulfill your dream.

Note that in this list of possible goals I have not included some like “I don’t want to be fired because I do not know Spanish”, or “I want to avoid being scammed in Mexico” or “I do not want to fail my high school exam and lose the chance to get into a good college” etc.

That is because your goal has to obey three simple rules:

  1. Your goal has to be positive. It should focus on achieving something and not on avoiding something. This almost guarantees you success. Because of two reasons: 1. Life full of positive goals in much more fulfilling and fun and creates pleasant associations with your goal and the way that leads to it, so you want to go this way and achieve this goal! 2. If you want to avoid something, first you have to imagine that terrible thing or situation that you want to avoid! So your brain focuses on this negative image and you learn Spanish having this image in mind? Isn’t it what we call sabotage?
  2. It is YOUR goal. You want to achieve it. It is not your boss who tells you to learn Spanish, you want to learn Spanish. This closely correlates with the first rule. By taking ownership of your goal and generally, responsibility for your life, you will be better motivated to work on your goal and will be more happy with achieving it, because it was your autonomous decision and you will feel a sense of fullfilment.
  3. Before stating clearly the third rule, let me briefly tell you about one research: Kasser and Ryan form the University of Rochester examined how people’s aspirations and goals (and achieving them) correlates with what we call happiness and well-being.  Research has revealed that having strong relative aspirations for extrinsic outcomes (wealth, fame, and image) had negative influence on one’s mental health, whereas  placing more importance on intrinsic aspirations (meaningful relationships, personal growth, and community contributions) was found to be positively associated with mental health indicators. Studies have also shown that people who attained their intrinsic aspirations reported well-being, which was not the case with attainment of extrinsic aspirations.

What does it mean for you? Well, while it is quite understandable, that sometimes your goals can be “down to the earth” and connected with money and admiration from others, rephrase them to reflect your intrinsic aspirations as well. The examples that I gave you at the beginning of this chapter can most of the time be connected with both extrinsic and intrinsic aspirations. It is only up to you what aspect you will choose.

Choose to learn Spanish because you want to spend wonderful vacations in Mexico, while learning Mexican culture and finding new friends. All of these are just pure personal development. Or you want to pass your Spanish exam in high school because you want to use your school years the best way possible and get to the best college possible to be a well educated person. Or maybe you want to have better relationship with your Spanish speaking extended family?

  1. It has to have a timeframe. That is obvious. You want to learn Spanish in this life, not in another, don’t you? Anyway, a goal without a deadline is merely a wish.
  2. It has to be ambitious enough, but at the same time achievable.

You may want to learn Spanish within a year to freely communicate with Hispanophones, which includes also discussing different topics. This is an ambitious goal, but you can achieve it if you are really committed. But how about: achieving native fluency within the same time framework? Don’t you feel discouraged? And how about this one: “Within a year I will learn how to order a beer and buy sombrero in a gift shop”. How will you be satisfied upon achieving this goal? Or do you think it is easier to achieve it? Really? Do you think you will get round to it right away or convince yourself you still have 12 long months to learn these few phrases?

Once you have decided on your goal, try to imagine what would happen if you already achieved it. Imagine yourself, shining in a pub somewhere in Mexico or a happy face of your mother-in-law when you talk Spanish with her. Imagine the wonderful feelings. Isn’t it great to achieve your goal? Imagine how great you feel then. You have become a better person, haven’t you? You are self fulfilled, you have better understanding for another culture, you are a better person!

Such a visualization of success will motivate you to study. Imagine also how easy it’s going to be and how eagerly you are going to start.

If you have some problems visualizing your success or the full learning process, you can use a motivation recording, which is easily accessible.

How we are taught language at school and what to do about it?

A few months ago, when I asked my readers what is their most burning problem with learning languages, I received tons of emails like these:

„I know that one has to be very methodical when learning a language, so I impose myself some targets, like I will learn 10 words a day, or I will read one page of text in Spanish”

„I can’t force myself to learning new vocabulary. All the time I persuade myself that I have no time and when I eventually have some free time, I rest, read, etc”

The bold print is deliberate. They are to show you how people talk about learning languages. What words they use. Most of them think it is a hassle, torment and all other terrible things altogether. Why so? Why is my little daughter so happy to learn new words, to repeat them, to listen to their sound? It is because language learning is fun in its nature until we go to school and we start learning Spanish to get good notes or to pass a test. Some may argue that this is because Spanish learning methods applied in school are boring and obsolete. Yes, this adds to it, but I strongly believe that the first and foremost reason is that young people enter into the word of coercion and doing things for someone else rather than for oneself. Yes, school can convert lots of fun into a boring chore.

At this point please accept my sincere congratulations and respect, that despite the fact that you went through the education system, you still want to learn this beautiful language – Spanish.

I went the same way as you are going now. I learnt my first language – Polish as a child and I do not remember it was a hassle. I took me maybe 3 years to reach the intermediate level. Then I started my education: when I was ten, I started Russian, being twelve I started learning English. And what? In spite of 4 years of Russian I could hardly say a few basic sentences about myself. How about English? It took me almost 10 (!) years to reach proficiency level. And the story goes on: do you think I liked learning Russian? Of course not! I scored the worst notes in Russian comparing to other subjects. After I finished elementary school, we had huge political changes in Poland, we no longer had to live under supremacy of Soviet Union and I did not have to learn Russian anymore! And what happened? Suddenly I realized how beautiful this language is and I wanted it back! I went through my Russian textbooks and this is why I still remember quite a lot of it (although my knowledge is strictly passive). My shift in perception, my ultra positive feelings caused that I still remember what I have learnt, although I do not use this language. This is a contradiction of the curve of forgetting.

How about English? Well, when we, Polish schoolchildren did not have to learn Russian, we had to learn… English. And the story began. I HAD TO learn it. Moreover, I HAD TO learn German as well. Adding on top of it the ridiculous methods of teaching English in school, no wonder it took me so many years… Moreover, maybe the last 4 years of study were really effective, when I started learning for myself and started enjoying it.

As you see I went the way from a natural passion for languages, through a hassle of language learning in the education system to approach shift and rediscovering the beauty and fun of language learning. So, when assumed learning Spanish, I did it because I decided to do so and I did it for pure pleasure. Result? I speak fluently 4 languages (including my native Polish) and I still cannot wait until I have time to resume my Russian!

So, if you already found your passion for Spanish, congratulations! I will give you tools that will help you to protect and develop it. To avoid burnout. If you are not yet sure if you like Spanish or you HAVE TO learn it, I will show you how to awaken that passion that drives your learning.

You will make it!


About me and why I help you learn Spanish

I am Polish, temporarily living in Florida. Apart from my native Polish, I speak fluently English, German and Spanish. Having seen how many Poles struggle to learn a foreign language, I have written a book “How to quickly learn foreign languages” that has hit a bestseller list and stays there for almost 2 years now.

I truly believe that anyone can successfully learn foreign languages. There are no unskilled individuals. Thorough my education, I have been told that I will have difficulties learning languages. I heard several myths, like: “a gift for languages goes with a gift for music” (I can’t sing a simple song without a false note ;)) or “you are an introvert, you won’t speak a foreign language” and others. I scored lowest in Russian comparing to other subjects in elementary school. Finally, I chose Finance and Banking for my Master’s Degree. Could I even more diminish my chances to learn a language? You don’t think so? So, I add to it, that I effectively started learning a language at the age of 17. Again, contrary to the popular belief that only a child can learn a language.

Spending the last year in the US, I had the opportunity to speak to a lot of people (you guys in America are so open-minded and easy going that it is easy to practice my English). Lots of them complemented my English and sometimes told me about their ordeal with Spanish.
What surprised me is that most people here just take regular stationary classes in a foreign language with a teacher and a group of fellow learners. Moreover, in many cases people learn Spanish, I would say, backwards. They focus on totally irrelevant aspects of this language.

In Poland, my country, it is a necessity to learn foreign languages. Our native language – Polish is not spoken by too many people around the world. When I first arrived in the US and went to a Barnes & Noble store in San Francisco, I was surprised at how small was a section with language learning textbooks, software and other aids. In any major Polish bookstore it is twice that big.

Altogether, I arrived at a conclusion that if the Poles needed my book, the Americans would at least need my blog :) And here I am to help you learn Spanish!

How to learn Spanish grammar continued…

I do not know if you are committing the same mistake as Callum – one of my American friends. He once told me how much time he spends learning Spanish grammar and how he does not enjoy it, to say it cautiously.
Then he showed me his grammar book. I do not remember the exact title of this book, but it was something like “The complete Spanish grammar” or “Concise Spanish grammar”. Anyway, the table of contents told it all. There were chapters named like “Futuro perfecto” “Pluscuamperfecto” “Pretérito anterior”. If you are not familiar with grammatical terms or if you did not study Latin you would have trouble finding out what this book is all about. And definitely you wouldn’t get the feeling what all this grammar is for.
And the drills and exercises: sooo many gap fillings and correcting mistakes. No wonder Callum did not enjoy it, to put it delicately.

Generally, I am convinced that if you are using good software for your Spanish or a good texbook with audio materials, you do not need any other grammar textbook. Your course materials will introduce the grammar gently and gradually, while providing the relevant context.

However, if you still need a more structured approach or if you like to have a reference when you would like to go if you want to solve a particular grammar problem, I recommend you grammar textbooks that adopt a functional approach. That is, the chapters are organized around the aspects of a language, for example: expressing the past, expressing the future, etc. This is not only more comfortable and useful, but also gives you the sense of feeling of purpose: what all this grammar is for.

I remember when I learnt English as a second language, an invaluable help for me was “English in Use” by Raymond Murphy. The book met all the criteria I told you about.

But when I learnt Spanish, there were not many grammar textbooks available on Polish market, so I have always thought there must be some good Spanish grammar textbook somewhere else. Can you recommend one?

Spanish numbers – the fun way

If you are a beginner and want a kick start in your Spanish journey, I prepared something for you: learn Spanish numbers and have fun. Continue reading →

Radio in Spanish

In yesterday’s post I forgot to tell you why I am obsessed with ‘Carita de Angel’. It is because I listen to a local Spanish-speaking radio when driving.

If you are serious about becoming fluent in Spanish please do so. It is not only a great source of Latin songs to become obsessed with, but also radio ads are invaluable. They are especially great for those who wish they could understand spoken Spanish better. They feature voices of professional lectors, so they are easy to understand and in most cases, funny.

Funny way to learn Spanish – when you are obsessed with a song

…and recently I am obsessed with this one:

Larry Hernandez – Carita De Angel

Carita de angel dueña de mi ser
tu carita es dulce como la miel.
Eres sencilla y tan natural
tu mirada es clara como un manantial.
Carita de angel mi linda mujer
despierto y no te veo al amanecer.
Te veo que duermes con tranquilidad
pero eres diferente en la intimidad.

Quien hiba pensar que anoche eras tu
la misma persona que me hacía el amor.
Llenabas mi cuerpo entero de placer,
tu cuerpo era fuego quemando mi piel.
Besabas mi cuerpo en cada rincón,
me decias cosas cositas de amor.

Me hacías el dueño de tu corazón
carita de angel carita de amoor
mi cariitaa de aaangeeeel.

Carita de angel dueña de mi ser
tu carita es dulce como la miel.
Eres sencilla y tan natural
tu mirada es clara como un manantial.
Carita de angel mi linda mujer
despierto y no te veo al amanecer.
Te veo que duermes con tranquilidad
pero eres diferente en la intimidad.

Quien hiba pensar que anoche eras tu
la misma persona que me hacía el amor.
Llenabas mi cuerpo entero de placer,
tu cuerpo era fuego quemando mi piel.
Besabas mi cuerpo en cada rincón,
me decias cosas cositas de amor.

Me hacias el dueño de tu corazón
carita de angel mi angel de amoor,
cariitaa de aaangeeeel.
And I have added a new word to my vocabulary: manantial = source.
But learning from songs has another very important advantage: you learn a lot of popular expressions and idioms without any toil: it just flows to your brain through music. You do not analyse it and therefore you also learn the melody of the language.

I will try to dig out some old songs that I was “obsessed with” in the past and that helped me improve my Spanish a lot. There were quite of them :)

Is there one best way to learn Spanish?

Let me tell you a story of my good friend Krysia. She is an accountant (or CPA, as you would call her in USA), working for a major company in Poland. After reading my book about language learning she once told me her way to fluent English.

At the beginning she learnt mostly grammar, built her vocabulary, practiced basic sentences and dialogues and was very methodical with it and very inquisitive. Doesn’t it sound like a typical school drill? She generally liked it, but, like most learners, felt she is not making a lot of progress. This was mostly due to the fact that she had no occasions to practice her new skills.
Then Krysia moved to Canada for personal reasons and she was astonished at how quickly she became communicative in English. Again, things clicked very quickly and she became fluent in English in a short time.

Now, a lot of people would argue that the way she chose to learn was boring and ineffective and that should focus on speaking instead. But this learning style matched very well her analytical mind. And she felt comfortable with it.

If she was more like a party animal probably she would be bored to death with such learning style. Yes, learning style. There is no one best way to learn a language. Although there are some obvious prerequisites, like that at some point you have to learn to speak because language is all about communication, it is up to you how you achieve this goal.

This concept I am talking about can be better understood by referring to seven basic types of intelligence defined by Howard Gardner in 1983.

Here are these seven types:

This area deals with the ability to visualize with the mind’s eye, so to speak and spatial judgment.

This area has to do with words, spoken or written. People with high verbal-linguistic intelligence display a facility with words and languages. They are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and memorizing words along with dates. They tend to learn best by reading, taking notes, listening to lectures, and discussion and debate. They are also frequently skilled at explaining, teaching and oration or persuasive speaking. Those with verbal-linguistic intelligence learn foreign languages very easily as they have high verbal memory and recall, and an ability to understand and manipulate syntax and structure.

This area has to do with logic, abstractions, reasoning, and numbers. While it is often assumed that those with this intelligence naturally excel in mathematics, chess, computer programming and other logical or numerical activities, a more accurate definition places less emphasis on traditional mathematical ability and more reasoning capabilities, abstract patterns of recognition, scientific thinking and investigation, and the ability to perform complex calculations. It correlates strongly with traditional concepts of “intelligence” or IQ.

In theory, people who have bodily-kinesthetic intelligence should learn better by involving muscular movement (e.g. getting up and moving around into the learning experience), and are generally good at physical activities such as sports or dance. They may enjoy acting or performing, and in general they are good at building and making things. They often learn best by doing something physically, rather than [by] reading or hearing about it. Those with strong bodily-kinesthetic intelligence seem to use what might be termed muscle memory – they remember things through their body such as verbal memory or images.

This area has to do with rhythm, music, and hearing. Those who have a high level of musical-rhythmic intelligence display greater sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones, and music. They normally have good pitch and may even have absolute pitch, and are able to sing, play musical instruments, and compose music. Since there is a strong auditory component to this intelligence, those who are strongest in it may learn best via lecture. Language skills are typically highly developed in those whose base intelligence is musical. In addition, they will sometimes use songs or rhythms to learn and memorize information.

This area has to do with interaction with others. In theory, people who have a high interpersonal intelligence tend to be extroverts, characterized by their sensitivity to others’ moods, feelings, temperaments and motivations, and their ability to cooperate in order to work as part of a group. They communicate effectively and empathize easily with others, and may be either leaders or followers. They typically learn best by working with others and often enjoy discussion and debate.

This area has to do with introspective and self-reflective capacities. People with intrapersonal intelligence are intuitive and typically introverted. They are skillful at deciphering their own feelings and motivations. This refers to having a deep understanding of the self; what are your strengths/ weaknesses, what makes you unique, can you predict your own reactions/ emotions.

You probably already feel what type of intelligence is dominant for you and what learning style goes best with it. So, let me just briefly recap:

Are you an interpersonal type? Great, in that case you will be inclined to communication; you will like group learning with lots of interpersonal interactions, like drama play, etc.
If you are intrapersonal, you will find internal motivation for self learning, you will like computer aided learning and will be good at setting learning targets and achieving them.
Persons with Visual-spatial intelligence may like to graphically represent words, use various colors, draw diagrams and grammar schemes. They will find the mind mapping techniques especially useful. In the case of language learning this would mean building subsequent associations around on word.

For persons with musical intelligence it is advisable to learn poems, songs, mimicking the speech of famous people on tv, playing with accents.

Bodily-kinesthetic types will lie playing drama in foreign language, writing foreign word and sentences, because their hand will remember the movement.

Those gifted with Logical-mathematical intelligence like to deal with grammar in detail, analyse sentence structure, build them by themselves according to learned rules. They would group the vocabulary by subjects.

Finally verbal-linguistic intelligence. Such person would like to discuss things in a foreign language, build their vocabulary, analyse usage and meanings of words. They would enjoy reading and finding new words.
I am sure you already know what learnig style is best for you. Stick to it!

Lots of succes in your Spanish!

Are you also in the minority?

“Should every American be able to speak at least two languages?” Poll results.

languages poll results