Fake it ‘til you make it: Convince yourself to speak better Spanish

Convince yourself to speak better Spanish - Picture by ediciondigital.wordpress.comI can still remember my first Spanish lesson in Spain. After months of evening classes, books, cds, and flashcards, I decided that a truly immersive experience was what would give my Spanish the push it so desperately needed. I was in Valencia, where I’d decided to move for a couple of years fresh out of university.

In that first lesson, my teacher said something along the lines of “I’m Maria, and I’m your teacher”. At least, I think that’s what she said, because at the time I had no idea! All those hours of studying and classes up to that point, and I was stumped by the first real phrase I actually heard. I spent the next couple of weeks staring stupidly at my teachers, trying in vain to unscramble the gibberish they seemed to be producing.

My co-students didn’t seem to struggle, and that’s what annoyed me the most. I didn’t (and don’t) view language learning as a competitive event, but I was irked at the difference in ability between them and me, despite us being in the same class.

That’s when I stumbled across a technique I used that super-charged my Spanish from that moment on. I decided to convince myself that, despite what my brain and mouth were telling me, I was actually a fluent Spanish speaker. I started, literally, to pretend to myself that I knew more than I did. I watched Spanish TV and convinced myself I could understand it. Likewise, I scanned through newspapers and texts far beyond my current level, telling myself that it all made sense. I told my teacher that the class was too easy, and I needed to go up a level.

Convince yourself to speak better Spanish - Picture by montagepages.fuselabs.comWhat happened? Believe it or not, my brain actually started catching up. Before I knew it, I was getting closer to the Spanish level I was striving for. Why? Classes were too hard, spoken Spanish was too fast for comprehension, and the newspapers all used very long words. However, I believe my brain adapted. My brain stepped it up a gear.

Imagine you are in two races. In one race, you are racing against schoolchildren; in the other, you are up against Usain Bolt and Olympic sprinters. In which race do you think you would be quicker? That’s right, you would most likely run faster when up against competition that is much quicker than you. I found that the same principles apply in my language learning. When surrounded by Spanish that is above your level, you pick up your own pace.

The “fake it ‘til you make it approach” is well documented to be effective in other walks of life. Whether it’s simulated confidence, charm, or other attitude shifts, the effects of faking it are like a self-fulfilling prophecy. In these, our predictions about an event can invoke a new behaviour that leads to the prediction coming true. Sports coaches use this technique with positive visualisations, and it’s well known in training for public speaking. With language learning, we provide a positive expectation for quick learning, which our brain soon picks us as the actual reality.

I managed to refine the “fake it until you make it” approach after much trial and error, and you can also apply it to your Spanish learning by following these tips:

• Aim for a difficulty beyond what’s comfortable now. Think about what’s known in foreign language tuition as “comprehension + 1”. You should be able to understand enough of something to convince yourself you can understand everything, even if it’s beyond your level.Top 5 Best Spanish Language School Discounts in Spain in 2014 - Picture by abc.es

• Be aware of your “learning situations”. Wherever you learn, whether that’s a classroom, talking with people, reading books or watching movies, make sure that you apply the “+1” rule. Maybe that involves moving up a class, or upgrading the reading material you’ve been using.

• It’s a frustrating process. You’ll feel constantly overwhelmed. Just remember that this is the point of this exercise. You’ll go through pain before you make the “hard gains”! Managing your emotions is as important in language learning as any intellectual ability, and this is a great way to develop an iron resolve.

I admit it may not be for everyone, and flies in the face of much of modern language tuition, but if you’ve found your Spanish stagnating, give it a go. It may provide just the push you need.

Bio: Rob is an avid hispanophile, and with his Colombian partner Liz creates resources and podcasts for all levels to help people learn Spanish, at Spanish Obsessed.

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