To learn a language, start with your personality
If you’ve ever set out to learn a new language, you’ve discovered that there are many dimensions to the project:
- vocabulary (should I learn nouns or pronouns first?)
- grammar (why are there so many rules?)
- idioms (how do you say “not at all” in Spanish?)
- pronunciation (why do people look at me funny when I say “verdad”?)
With so many options to choose from, it can become overwhelming, and you can feel like you’re going around in circles. After a few weeks building your vocabulary, you realize you’ve been mis-practicing the words through wrong grammar and poor pronunciation, reinforcing bad habits that you’ll have to make extra effort to reverse.
Mark Twain said “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” But I would add that the secret to KEEPING ahead is getting started the right way.
Does that mean that you have to learn every aspect of a language from the very beginning? No, of course not. Although you want to start off on the right foot, you need to make your first steps simple, or else you won’t get anything done.
But what it means is that you should start with something that will make everything else easier. You set yourself up for success in every aspect of the language.
What should you start with to make vocabulary, grammar, idioms, and pronunciation all fall into place?
With the “voice” of the language.
Different language = different voice.
Have you ever noticed that when you walk down the street, it’s easy to recognize the voice of a non-English-speaker… without even hearing their words?
There’s something different about the way they talk. The whole sound is completely distinct.
For example, it’s tempting to think that Spanish speakers were born with a different variety of voice box or mouth. They make certain sounds that we never produce in English.
But it’s simply not true. Spanish speakers’ vocal and oral apparatuses are physically identical to those of English speakers.
The difference is in the language itself.
Let’s do a quick exercise to demonstrate. Here are a few names that are quite common in Spanish and are also known in English:
If you were to read these names off in an English voice, they would sound extremely different from the Spanish way of saying them.
But on the other hand, if you go to the effort to pronounce a Spanish speaker’s name the correct way, the way he or she has said it and heard it his/her whole life, it’s a big compliment to them. They’ll be honored and will feel a much closer connection to you.
Bottom line: If you truly want to communicate on a personal level, it’s much more than just saying the right words. How you say those words makes an enormous difference.
Different language = different personality.
Check out the names in the image above again, and this time see if you can alternate between reading them in an English voice and reading them in a Spanish voice. It’s a great exercise for practicing your Spanish pronunciation.
But now we get to one of the most interesting aspects of this whole thing: In alternating back and forth like that, it’s almost as if you’re two different actors reading the same script!
In fact, the term “actor” is a good analogy for language learning. When you switch into a different language, it’s not just just your voice that should change. There are many, many other aspects of communication that use a different mindset.
Here’s where the grammar, vocabulary, and idioms are going to fall into place.
Create a character in your mind, a person separate from yourself, that represents your language to you. Imbue that character with personality, and start to switch back and forth with pretending you’re that person.
For Spanish, my personality is Joel, and for memorability purposes, I’ve made Joel a bee.
Let’s take an example from the Spanish verb for “liking” something, where the grammar is completely reverse that of English. The subject and the object are switched. There’s no literal way to say “I like tea” in Spanish. The equivalent is “me gusta el té”, which literally means “the tea is pleasing to me”.
This confuses a lot of English speakers, and even after learning the grammar and memorizing loads of stock phrases with the verb “gustar”, it can be all too easy to make a silly mistake with this verb.
But I take a different approach: When I’m Timothy, my English self, I “like” things. It’s something I do: It’s my opinion of the tea, my own action. However, when I’m “Joel”, my Spanish self, I actually don’t “like” things. In my “Joel” personality, I’m too lazy to “like” things. If Joel likes something, he doesn’t want to be the one doing the action; instead, he wants the thing itself to do the action.
So instead of saying “I like tea”, Joel says “The tea is pleasing to me.” This is automatic for me when I switch into my Spanish personality; I don’t have to think about it. It’s a part of who I am.
Now, every time you come across a Spanish word, idiom, or grammar rule, you can associate it with your Spanish character, and you’ve effectively tied it into your Spanish self.
The best part: It scales
Turning a language into a personal entity has even more benefits.
One of the biggest is that you can now learn even more languages, simply by creating more characters. Now that you’ve associated Spanish with an isolated personality that you can turn on or turn off, you can add more languages by adding more personalities.
Put this into practice! The first lesson of our free Accelerated Spanish course is all about bringing this character to life in your mind and memory. Plus, if you join our premier coaching program, you can get *YOUR* Spanish personality built, nourished, and trained by native speakers.