Language Learning is Hard, Even When Immersed

I know language learning is a challenge and I still expected to be further along by now. Not fluent, no, but not feeling so much like my tongue is a fish flopping out water when I try to speak Spanish.

I thought that it would be much easier to learn a language when one is immersed in it. In some ways, it does help to live in a country that speaks the language you desire to learn. In others, it is frustrating and it feels like I’m learning so slowly.

Picture of English words and their Spanish counterpart in language learning

Speak from day 1

I currently speak Tarzan Spanish. Before moving, I’ve read that a language learner should start speaking the language on day one. That part is pretty easy with the access many of us have to technology. I can use my cell phone to access youtube videos and quickly master a few phrases immediately. Which I did when we found out we were moving to Mexico.

“Donde esta el baño, por favor?” Where is the bathroom, please?

I was really hoping that by placing myself in a new country that I’d pick up the language by osmosis. While I quickly started taking Spanish lessons, I haven’t progressed all that fast. I took French in college and then studied it some last year on Duolingo. While I am far from fluent in French, those are the words that want to pop out of my mouth when I am attempting to speak Spanish. It’s so weird.

I’ve learned some power verbs and I can actually construct sentences. But I haven’t been studying as much as I think that I should. It wasn’t helped by the fact that my teacher was sick for two weeks.

My favorite Language Learning Apps

I have used the app Tinycards to make flashcards and that has helped me memorize around 90% of the verbs I’m working on. It isn’t helping me with the words for this, these, and that, though. There are some words that I may need to try a different approach.

I also use Duolingo. While I love the app and have learned from it, it is also better to have a foundation in the language before starting. It’s really hard to figure out the grammar solely from Duolingo. I still find it mostly fun, especially since they added in conversational bots and you can get extra points for saying/typing a sentence.

I speak as much of my garbled Spanish as possible. There are many times where I am forced to converse in Spanish, which is as wonderful as it is terrifying. We live in a gated neighborhood (which is pretty common within Mexico) and I have to call or otherwise inform the guards that I will be having guests coming. I cannot understand most of what they say to me. They are often understanding of my crappy Spanish, but I have been handed off to a different person. I was confused when it happened.

“Hola?” the second guard said into the phone.

“Habla inglis?” I inquired. The answer was no. So I repeated myself in broken Spanish. This time, the guard understood thankfully. I really appreciate their patience with me.

A woman faces the Pacific Ocean while wearing a child on her back in a carrier.

Pondering language at the Pacific.

Use technology to further language learning

One thing that occurred to me is that I need to improve my listening comprehension. Again, technology to the rescue! Youtube is a great place to find videos in any language in which you desire to listen. There are also many apps that can help you learn languages or find language speaking partners.

It is frustrating to not be understood. It is an amazing feeling when you string words together with no grammar and have someone understand you. It’s even better when I say a complete and grammatically correct sentence. I’m so grateful for the people who take time to try and understand me. Every little bit of understanding inspires me to keep learning. It would be incredibly easy to give up and rely on google translate during my time here.

But that would really defeat quite a bit of the point of living in Mexico.

What are your favorite language learning apps?



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