How to Learn Spanish from English Despite Age

How do you learn Spanish from English

You might be wondering how to learn Spanish from English, if English is your native tongue, and if your age really matters? I have met a lot of people who think that they are genuinely too old to learn a new language. Indeed, if you think that you are too old to learn Spanish, you will never learn. But if you ignore your age and start focusing on learning Spanish and stay committed, you will learn lots of Spanish.

Age should not stop you!

I do not believe that age should be any kind of excuse to not learn a new language. Children who are exposed to two languages certainly have it a lot easier, but you must remember that sometimes children resist speaking their mother language and prefer English because it is spoken in the world around them, and at school. This resistance is difficult to break. Now, consider adults who WANT to learn a new language. That desire can be much stronger than a child’s resistance. So, do not let your age make you think that you cannot learn a new language.

Mexiko 2006; Mexico City

De Gorgo – Photo taken by author, Dominio público, Enlace

What about all the different countries and dialects?

But how do you learn Spanish if you are a native English speaker? How do you grasp the fact that there are so many different countries that speak Spanish? There are dialects within each region of those countries, and lots and lots of slang?

While you certainly want to be open to any help you can get of Spanish regardless of culture, just focusing on one culture is a good idea to get you started. I focused on Mexico because where I live, there are lots and lots of native Mexicans. Learning Mexican Spanish would prove very useful to me.

But what about all of the different dialects within Mexico? Here is one simple gift advice: Just don’t worry about it. In your journey to learn Spanish, you will hear different opinions on words and word usage among Spanish speakers of the same country! Yes! You read that correctly. Spanish speakers do not obsess themselves with learning a bunch of different dialects, or hearing a ton of different opinions on word usage. That does not mean that you should not hear those opinions or take concern for these things.

What this means is that you can still be proficient in Spanish even if you don’t know everything there is to know about the language. My children’s father did not want me to use the word “huevo” because of the sexual implications. The word huevo literally just means egg, like the eggs you eat, but just like in English, many words are twisted to mean other things, such as in this case, testicles.

Huevo or blanquillo??

However, when I discussed this with matter with a cousin in law of his, she laughed and told me he had a dirty mind. “Huevo” means egg, and that’s the word it is intended to be. His substitute word for me was “blanquillo” which literally means little white. I wasn’t sure then what you are supposed to say if the eggs you were referring to were brown!

So how do you learn Spanish from English? The first step is to realize that in some respects you can’t literally learn Spanish from English. Whenever you learn any new language, you have to realize that you must think outside the box. Think of the language you speak as a rigid box, and think of learning a new language as a way of sort of breaking that box. Spanish will twist your mind a little and break you out of the box that you live in called English.

De Wolfgang Sauber – Treballo de qui la cargó, CC BY-SA 3.0, Enlace

Americans are not always honest about their Spanish

The first thing I want to point out to you is the success rate of learning Spanish among Americans. I have met a lot of Americans who profess to be able to speak Spanish. Some have even spent a significant amount of time in Spanish speaking countries. Yet, my Spanish is more advanced in their’s, and I have literally spent only five days out of my life in Mexico.

Now, I did spend years living in a Mexican community in my home state, but in my immediate household, my children’s father spoke English to me, not Spanish. I certainly had plenty of chances to converse with his relatives, but by no means did they “make me” learn Spanish.

Ego plays a role

How well you learn a language somewhat has to do with your ego. I am going to be honest here. I have met too many people who claim that they “know” Spanish due to some level of exposure, but they can’t hold a conversation with a Spanish speaker.

I strongly suspect that this has a lot to do with not being honest with oneself about how much Spanish one really knows. In order to be able to converse with a native, you need to know how to conjugate Spanish verbs. You probably need to have some experience reading Spanish because it significantly improves the speed of your speech.

I stayed committed to Spanish and remain humble about it

I am not here to brag, I am simply going to point out that one reason I have been more successful than many Americans in learning Spanish is a) I obviously stayed committed to it, and b) I have remained humble about it as well.

I don’t profess to “know” Spanish, I just continue learning and learning. While other people were satisfied with how much Spanish they “knew,” I was seeking to learn more and more. I dared to learn the verb tenses, not just stay in present tense.

I didn’t buy into programs that promise instant results!

How did I learn Spanish? I read dictionaries, I did work books, I read children’s story books, I listened to Spanish music, I watched Spanish television shows, I did apps, I embraced Mexican culture, and with the coaxing of my children’s father, I eventually developed the guts to actually hold conversations with native speakers (even though, like I said, he always annoyingly spoke to me in English!)

Here is a video of me with a Spanish English translation that I created:

I know that the idea of doing workbooks and reading dictionaries may not sound appealing, but the reality is that we live in a world where people want some all in one program that delivers instant results. We want to learn Spanish fast in 7 days, and I simply do not believe that this is possible.

I’m not saying that you can’t enjoy learning Spanish, and I’m not even saying that you will take the same amount of time to learn Spanish that I did. There are too many factors that influence how long it takes to grasp a language, and since we are on the subject, it is also true that you never truly LEARN Spanish once and for all. You are always learning.

You can’t learn Spanish THAT fast!

Not only do I not believe it is possible to learn Spanish in a short amount of time, but I want to venture to say that I KNOW that this is not possible. You would have to have a very laser memory to remember all of the verb tenses and a ton of other vocabulary words all at once. Not only that, you would have to know how to put those words together into sentences in a way that makes sense, since obviously the sentence structure between Spanish and English can be significantly different at times.

Why do I spend my time writing this? It certainly isn’t to discourage you or brag about my own accomplishments. It is to give you a realistic viewpoint on what it is like to learn a new language, especially from an older age (I started at the age of 15). I don’t want you to waste your money on all of these programs that promise you fast learning results, when we all know that a) learning Spanish fast (as in a week for example) is simply not possible and b) how fast a person learns something is very individual. We also know that there is too much material to cover to possibly learn a language that fast.

So how can you learn Spanish?

So what can you do to learn Spanish and become a confident Spanish speaker? Surround yourself with Spanish material. Children’s story books, Latino music, Latin culture, Spanish speaking friends, traveling if possible, grammar books, verb books, work books, and dictionaries.

Be leery of electronic translators!

Translators are not a great way to learn Spanish. Why, because it is difficult for a non-human translator to put the words that you are trying to translate into context. The translators online are so far off from being correct that you could literally laugh at what they come up with.

They don’t make sense, so don’t bother. Human translation is much more accurate. A human knows how words sound, and how to convey ideas. Often, when translating, you have to focus on conveying the idea, not the word for word sentences. Just take a look at how I translate sentences in children’s books that do not have Spanish translations (If you know some Spanish, you should catch on that you cannot simply translate every sentence directly over to English without some thought):

What is your success story?

If you are an American who has learned to speak Spanish well, I would love to hear from you! What methods did you utilize to learn Spanish and what wisdom can you impart unto those enthusiastic adults (or teens) out there who really want to learn? Drop a comment below!

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2 Comment

  1. You’re never too old to learn most things and Spanish is a great example. I have a lot of contact with the Spanish language here in San Diego. My skills are weak, though. Taco shops are my #1 choice if I’m not eating at home. I’ll say hola or gracias but the time I tried to say “to go” — para llevar(?) the guy looked at me with a blank stare. I repeated myself and then he told me to just speak English:-)

    Like anything, learning Spanish just takes time and practice. Good practice. If you have a native to practice with you’ll go faster. It’s all about how bad you want it!

    1. Hello and thank you for leaving a comment! I personally think it is a bit rude for someone to say that, you were practicing and sometimes that is the only exposure you get. By the way, para llevar is correct! He may not have been expecting to hear you speak Spanish so it caught him off guard. Or maybe your pronunciation just needs to improve, but that is correct. Either way I don’t like his response! lol

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