Best ways to learn to hang out in Spanish

What do you need to know to enjoy hanging out in Spanish?
What do you need to know to enjoy hanging out in Spanish?

The main reason people want to learn a language is to hang out with new, cool people. This week I asked myself, is that what our schools are teaching? I wanted to interview my children to see how well school Spanish helped them do what was most important to teenagers: socializing.

My kids just got back this week from Spain. We went as a family for 10 days, and then they stayed for another couple weeks. They stayed with two families. One was the family of our former exchange student. The other was the grandmother of my daughter’s friend.

Of my two daughters, the older had taken a year of standard high school Spanish. The younger had no formal Spanish other than a few weeks of Duolingo practice.

I interviewed them to see how it went.

  • How well did they feel prepared? What could they do successfully in Spanish?
  • In attempting to learn Spanish, what worked? What didn’t?
  • If they could spend the next year learning Spanish, what would they focus on?

What works in the classroom


People don’t speak languages, communities do

Entering the community means unexpected conversations
Entering the community means unexpected conversations

I have often heard, “Talking to people is one of the best ways to learn a language.”

The truth is, talking to people is the only way.

People use all sorts of means to learn languages. Recommendations vary from listen to music or watch movies, to study books, memorize vocabulary, and post on social media. Modern technology changed the method of delivery of language data, but not the content.

Nevertheless, every method is preparing you to talk. As a baby, everyone learned how to speak their native language. Reading and writing came way later. Polyglots are judged on how they speak, not how much grammar or vocabulary they mastered.

How do you learn how to speak? You can’t learn how to speak by yourself, or even with one other person. You find a group of native speakers and you talk to them. You need a community.

When I learn community languages, I aim to speak to the people in my town who speak them. Setting speaking in a community as the goal of your language-learning will determine your success.
No language without speaking in community

5 ways to overcome fear and awkwardness in language learning OR How to talk to strangers

Don't just listen! Break the ice and start talking.
Don’t just listen! Break the ice and start talking.

I get shy sometimes. Some days I hear one of my languages and I jump right in. Other times, I find it hard to insert myself through the awkwardness into a potential conversation.

With Somali I have to count on conversations with people. I have not found many materials, plus I’m getting past the stage where materials help me that much. Now I just have to talk to people. I went to one of my favorite Somali cafes today for conversation.

As eager as I was to talk, I was silent, bashful. When I ordered my food, the gentleman told me to sit and he would bring me my food. I was too shy to sit. “Where do you want to sit?” he said, food in hand. I shrugged.

“Sit here!” He set down my food next to a man about my age in a room of folks involved in a football (soccer) match.

I had to figure out something, or waste my practice visit.

What should I say?
How I overcame the awkwardness

Week 29 of Loving Somali: More fruit, thanks to the labor of me and others

Speaking your language in a cafe can really pay off!
Speaking your language in a cafe can really pay off!

Persistence paid off. Please forgive the cliche, but I’ve been trying to manifest in the past several posts—at least to myself—the progress I’ve been able to make over many months. This week I:

  • found a local teacher;
  • carried on a decent conversation;
  • dedicated some time every day to study; and
  • won a Somali grammar contest.

An additional truth came to me this week: I can’t do this alone. If it weren’t for my on-line tutor and my new conversation partner—not to mention my friends at work—my progress would be even slower than it is. I’m very grateful for these supporters I have.
Read how I did it

Week 28 of Loving Somali: Looking honestly at progress

Take a better look--your happiness may surprise your!
Take a better look–your happiness may surprise your!

My life is wonderful, yet sometimes I imagine I’m supposed to be living a different life than the one I’m living. At those moments, I get overwhelmed by so many things, find I’m not letting myself sleep enough, and feel down. Languages are my passion, but they’re not everything in my life, or even the best part of my life. They make me feel alive and happy. The moment they no longer make me feel good reminds me to take a step back and look at the totality of my life and remember how wonderful my life is. What am I really doing in my life? What progress am I actually making in my language?
The reality of my life

Week 27 of Loving Somali: Bliu Bliu and comprehensible input

Artificial intelligence solves an intermediate learning problem
Artificial intelligence solves an intermediate learning problem

My learning Somali hits some difficult spots, similar to when I was learning Farsi. The problem is intermediate language learning. I’ve discussed this with multiple polyglots and language-learning companies. I even posted about it here, here, and here. What do I do when I have learned most of the grammar and acquired a decent amount of vocabulary, but cannot understand basic articles or podcasts aimed at native speakers? This week, I discovered a fantastic way out: Bliu Bliu. And they even work with Somali!

See what I learned

Week 26 of Loving Somali: What does a half-year of progress look like?

A six-month victory to celebrate!
A six-month victory to celebrate!

I realized that this week marks six months of learning Somali for me. A couple years ago, I learned from some friends a few phrases that we used often, but I wasn’t learning any grammar or vocabulary regularly. A half-year ago, though, I started getting more serious. Focusing on Somali has been difficult, but looking back I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made. I live a busy life, so I can’t dedicate large chunks to language-study. As a result, I learned what I can accomplish in 6 months.

Are you a busy professional with a full social and domestic life? Do you have lots of demands on you from your home and community? That’s my life. I hope that this list shows what you too can accomplish, even with a busy life.

See what I accomplished!

Week 25 of Loving Somali: Sharing language love

Curiosity of language is shared by many of us
Curiosity of language is shared by many of us across languages and cultures

This week a Somali friend of mine at work was willing to help me with my Somali. I know my questions are unintuitive to native speakers, so I feel uncomfortable imposing sometimes. I was so grateful when he accepted my invitation to lunch. I learned a ton about grammar and relations among words, and he made me feel very comfortable, and even said that he enjoyed forcing himself to think about this language on a deep, detailed level. We were able to spend a nice time admiring and loving the Somali language together.

Continue reading “Week 25 of Loving Somali: Sharing language love”

Week 24 of Loving Somali: Somali grammar is still beautifully crazy

Obscure is exotic, and exotic is beautiful.
Obscure is exotic, and exotic is beautiful.

Today was a good Somali day, in spite of some challenges over the past few weeks. I listened to a brief news podcast. (I found that SBS Australia has news podcasts in lots of languages, including obscure ones. Samoan or Assyrian, anyone?) I didn’t understand much and I didn’t have time to look up words, as I was driving.

I spent a long time translating a news article from ”War Somali”. It took about 90 minutes to translate a 74-word article, including the headline. Time-consuming, but I ran across a couple of tough grammatical features that my book doesn’t cover.

Imagine a language where you take all the nouns and put them together, and then you take all the pronouns and prepositions and put them together, along with some adverbs. The latter also form contractions, so the original pronouns and prepositions are not transparent. Your job then is to intuit which preposition belongs with which noun or group of nouns. Genitive constructions are not marked, so you also have to intuit which nouns go with which other nouns. In the meantime, I’m still seeing some prepositions among the nouns.

I can understand why my book hasn’t tackled this yet. I need to spend some time searching for more information and working with my tutor. If I can figure this issue out, then I’ll certainly be way ahead of where I am now.

Any suggestions on how to figure this out? Do you know any resources that explain these issues?
What baffles you about your language?

Photo credit: KyL 2014 / Foter / CC BY-NC


HELP! How do I get out of the intermediate level doldrums?

How can you help me progress to the next level?
How can you help me progress to the next level?

I’m running into the doldrums of language-learning, making slow, even imperceptible progress. What do the following language-learning activities have in common?

  1. Translating sentences in my book;
  2. Translating actual news articles or podcasts;
  3. Visiting a Somali cafe.

They are all a) great activities and b) very time-consuming.

Continue reading “HELP! How do I get out of the intermediate level doldrums?”