Spanish language learning resources and motivation

The Little Language Hero: Become It!

Don Quijote, Sancho Panza Spanish Language HeroThe Little Language Hero

Can you remember a time, when someone did something, that inspired you to keep going, to be where and who you are now?

Let’s be clear fellow language learners… your  actions inspire others.

You’re about to embark on an adventure with an ant and its colony.  Together, you’ll discover that the actions of the individual, you, serve the evolution of the whole.

One night I was up late watchingTV….I had the volume on mute. . . so as to not wake anyone as I casually flipped through the channels until finally, I settled upon a program… ants in the wild..

Little did I know a seed began to grow..out of the green of the a time just before dawn..a mob of ants swarmed en masse…their black bodies flowed like dark water.

They approached a long trough, an obstacle..carved by a trickle of running water.

For the tiny appeared much more like a vast chasm…separating them from the direction they were heading.

Picture yourself..midway through your language learning expedition..stepping out of the forest of books and flash cards and on to the steep bank of the advanced beginner level armed with words and phrases before a wide and rushing river of new adventures with native speakers below,… and remember,..your actions inspire others.

At that moment, the camera’s eye focused in on one particular unassuming ant…. poised at the head of the swarm….at the edge of the ledge…

The other side was at least 3 or 4 body lengths away.

Without hesitation, this little fellow…no name tag….no red cape….or any sort of noble crown…..extended his head and torso out and over the divide.

Suddenly another ant climbed onto his shoulders…wrapping it’s legs around it’s bug buddy below, it stuck its neck out…then there was a number three, a four, a five and six…all doing the same thing……by the time the 7th made it across the ebony plank… scores of other ants all followed suit…

Within seconds… a living bridge was built…and those that formed it were buried by the mass of bodies of those that crossed it.

Slowly, the camera pulled back, out of the swarm, millions strong, lit by the morning sun, converging at the crossing before spilling out on the other side beyond.

I never could make out my little friend again as they all marched on towards the new day…

However, I never lost sight of the lesson.

By finding the courage, to do what you can.., to get a little closer to the goal… your actions inspire others, making the impossible a path.

You see, it’s the path that I’m traveling with you.

Because as I first looked across the vast chasm of my insecurities and my ignorance while I began learning to speak a new language filled with foreign vocabulary and grammar rules, and I peered out and over that divide,  between the limiting me and who I dream to be, thru those fears I saw a possibility.

That maybe, if I tried, I would make it too! 

And before I knew it, the vast colony of other language learners were climbing on my shoulders with encouragement and experience, friendship and Love building a living bridge of successes.

And from that I gained a confidence, so that I can speak my truth, no matter the language, and not just feint from fear.

You and I,  supporting one another, not just for me and not just for you but for all of us, we continue reaching, we continue achieving.

What is your purpose?

The little hero, the seemingly insignificant ant, me, you, through our actions, we answer that question.

It’s what MLK Jr meant when he said, “Everyone has the power of greatness; not for fame, but greatness. Because greatness is determined by service.”

You know this as well, because your decision  to learn a new language…to make the effort… to risk speaking out in front of others and become stronger communicators and bridge that language gap…that example, that courage, inspires others… others like me.. to grow and to do what I’m doing now…

So this is it!

No matter how large or small the deed may be, Do it!…it may be that one encouraging word that makes all the difference…Say it!… 

Find the courage to make it happen.

The courage to act, is the catalyst, the inspiration, that takes us from where we are…and leads us to where we most need to be. 

Real Second Language Fluency: Moving from beginner through the essential “Threshold” conversational level

Real Second Language Fluency: Moving from beginner through the essential “Threshold” conversational level

Threshold Level

The foremost concern of many beginning language learners is conversational fluency.

Consequently, educators are approached by students with questions such as: “how can I take what I have learned on paper and apply it to real-life situations?” Similar concerns are how to go beyond using simple phrases to describing experiences and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans in the target language?

The ideal reply to such inquiries is both simple and complex simultaneously.

Simple, because the answer ultimately boils down to the old adage, “practice makes perfect,” and complex because of the multitude of methodological approaches educators utilize to facilitate SLA. Language learners who are familiar with the Common European Frame of Reference know that the transition between the elementary  level (A2) and the beginning intermediate threshold conversational level (B1) is challenging, and that vocabulary drills and grammar exercises are limited in achieving the desired results.

Time, Methodology, and Expectations

The length of time required to achieve threshold level competence depends on various factors: the amount of hours per week that a student is willing and able to apply toward his or her goals, the student’s personality, and the student’s access to educational resources and other language learners.

Comprehensible input, frequent aural repetitions of targeted material in the development of stories primarily in the target language, and maintaining student interest are requisite when implementing the interactive language learning approaches espoused by SLA theorists such as Stephen Krashen and Blaine Ray.

Krashen cites low anxiety and high motivation as factors that positively affect SLA. He maintains that second language learners acquire a command of the language via the communicative act itself, not from formal aspects alone. Ray takes a similar approach toward SLA, emphasizing the production of language itself, and advocating the use of storytelling and creative dramatization in the classroom.

Assuming the effective utilization of these approaches, reaching threshold level competence can realistically take anywhere from 3-6 months to a year or more.

However, if an individual has had previous exposure with the target language, the time required to attain and/or surpass the threshold level could be substantially lessened.  This is due to the phenomena referred to as recall in memory:  the mental process of retrieving information from the past. 


The key to success in bridging the gap between A2 and B1 level competence lies in forming realistic expectations. Students often give up too soon, falsely believing they must master many of the formal aspects of the language before they are able to communicate effectively.

When language learners continue to communicate freely in an interactive environment, knowledge of the formal aspects will come naturally. Taking too much time off is another pitfall, given that language learners tend to forget learned information.

This leads to decreased self-confidence and increased anxiety. The only way to mitigate this problem is to regard second-language acquisition as a continuous process.


The benefits of achieving the threshold level of competence are most evident when using the language in unfamiliar situations. These include visiting a foreign country or conversing with a native speaker of the target language. Conversations become multifaceted, allowing learners to navigate around unexpected inquiries and problems, making the communicative process more positive.

Learners acquire the ability to take initiative in discourse, giving them the opportunity to take conversations in new directions, and communicate about the causes and concerns that interest them in diverse settings.

This rewards learners by feeling accomplished and empowered, ready to take on greater challenges personally, professionally, and socially, and to travel more independently.

The Real Advantages To Online Language Learning and You

The real advantages to online language learning and you  (Part 1)

The real advantages to online Second Language Acquisition (SLA) are the multitude of resources available.  Any where from rock bottom free to high priced online software programs that allow for speech recognition.

Spanish online practice in school using Fluency FoxSo what is the best approach?

Well, it depends.

First, what is your current level of target language exposure?

If you are a total beginner then there are so many resources to choose from that will get you started.  Don’t be afraid to try as many as you can.  The more exposure to “what’s out there” the better.  You will soon find what works for you and what engages and holds your interest.

If you already have some target language exposure, i.e. high school, online, living abroad/travel or from some neighbor, friend or ex or current significant other, then I suggest going to a resource that can adequately get you to the next step in your language learning journey.

Because we are talking about online resources, this consists of some sort of structured course/program and/or online target language community.

I don’t like this either per se, but if you want to take the language you’ve started to learn and finally make it the language you’ve always wanted, then its best to face the facts.

The reason for this is that once you have some background in the target language, the “FREE” material for the most part will only refresh what you already know or have forgotten. 

“FREE” may offer up some new vocabulary and hopefully some entertainment, but when was the last time you used what you learned from the free stuff and got meaningful results via entering into a conversation with a native speaker and feeling like a confident partner in that exchange?

Just saying…

If you want to progress further, it is time to invest, either monetarily in a comprehensive course that meets your language level goals or with a time commitment within the chosen target language community.

I cannot overstate that you get what you pay for.  Not that you have to give a months salary for the privilege of learning a new language, but if you want quality instruction with a few of the SLA bells and whistles, it comes with a cost: either time and/or money.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, what are your goals?  (Again it’s going to get back to either an investment of time and/or money.  What follows is how to make the most of that investment so that you reach you goal.)

If you want to give adequate instructions to your Spanish speaking gardener or negotiate pricing, then a minimal thematic run through should start you on the right path.  For this, there are programs out there that will get you going. Your favorite shrub may still get butchered or you may pay way more than expected but at least you will know you need to study a bit more vigorously for next time.

If your goal is a bit more lofty, perhaps, planning to travel to a foreign country for the cultural experience or maybe wanting to communicate with your significant other’s family, you may need quite a bit more.

And when I say more, I mean, more time and effort both researching what meets your learning needs and how much time and money you are willing to spend to accomplish those goals. 

But here is the thing. . .

The real advantages to online language learning and you  (Part 2)Spanish speaking advantages Starter-Ch24-img

Do you want to speak the target language or learn its grammar?  By this I mean, do you want to communicate orally with native speakers or read a book?

Many people feel that knowing the correct grammar rules is quintessential for communication. 

Is it?

Well, let’s think about it for a moment.

Not that this is bad.  Grammar has its place, but placing grammar “perfection” before communication is counter productive.

It’s just not realistic.  The mental processing required in referencing grammar rules referred to as the “filter,” (Krashen),  hampers oral fluency.

Unless you have SLA academia in mind as your goal, my suggestion is that you start by getting the best conversational instruction available and start speaking at every opportunity that presents itself.

So, what is the best conversational instruction available?

Well, let’s start with the basics of SLA.

Get the sufficient aural input of the target language.  That means a lot of repetitions.  The more the better until you understand it completely. 

So how do you accomplish this?

1. Have that input be comprehensible.  Use resources that encourage understanding.  Gibberish will not suffice.  No matter how long you listen to intelligible information, you won’t grasp it until you understand it. 

2. Allow/force yourself opportunities to create “pushed output”.  This means that you attempt to interact with what you learn.  Don’t just sit back and passively listen.  Engage in the language learning experience.

3. Shadow, or mimic/repeat what you hear.  Affirm that you understand a statement.

4. Respond either mentally or verbally to questions posed. 

This is active participation and is the key component in SLA.  (2, 3, and 4 are essentially the same but bear repeating)

The only way to progress is to get involved.

(Sleeping with a text under your pillow just won’t do it. Darn it.  That would be so much easier.)

However, the rewards of interacting with your learning materials will give you the gains that you aspire to obtain, albeit over time.  I’m not saying that it’s easy.  I’m saying that if you want to join in the conversation with native speakers with as much confidence as you can muster, it’s easier to practice before hand and have a base comprehension knowledge of the language material that you have practiced.

Otherwise, you will be painfully lost.

Even if you do practice ardently, you may still find yourself lost.

However, there is a difference that should become apparent.  If you put in the work in an effective manner, the results will be a noticeable accessibility to what is being communicated in the target language.

You may not understand it all and that is fine.

What is important is that you begin to understand bits and pieces of the conversation during daily language exposure and that will allow you to engage deeper into the interaction.

Once this happens, you will know the process is taking shape.

The starting point is knowing where you are at and what you want to achieve.  From there, you investigate, decide and commit to taking action.

Patience is key.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and having a full blown conversation with a native speaker covering a wide range of topics will not likely happen immediately either.  What will happen is the glimpse into the possibility that you can do it. It’s the “Sí se puede/Yes, you can” attitude.

If you apply that, you’ll accomplish whatever your learning goals might be.

How important is a “good” Spanish accent?


intermediate Spanish accents and conversation

Quite often I begin with the answer to a nonspecific question with the following: “It depends.”

And so it does especially in regard to spoken language accents.

For starters, one must recognize that even a native speaker from one distinct region will sound quite different than a native speaker from that same country who prevails from another region. 

You don’t need foreign travel experience to know the validity of this.

If you are from the US than you most likely know that a southern drawl is something very different than a mid western twang.  Similarly, it’s easy to tell the difference between a New Yorker and a born and bread Southern California native.

Who’s to say which is better?

Let’s just recognize that their accents are different and leave it at that.  It’s still English either way.

With that said, let’s move into Spanish and what constitutes a “good” Spanish accent.

How’s your Spanish accent?

I’ll start by saying that there are indeed some pronunciation rules in Spanish.  If you know them, then you are well on your way to getting it right in terms of being able to be understood by other native Spanish speakers.

If one doesn’t know those rules it is akin to an English learner walking into a store and asking to purchase vine-gar when what they want is vinegar.  (Hopefully, the sales clerk has some patience and a sense of humor so that they eventually walk out with what they wanted.)

And so it is with your Spanish accent.

If you are fortunate enough to have access to audio language learning materials then you are bound to learn the accent of the country and region of the the speaker or speakers performing the audio.

Here in lies what is know as acquired accent learning.

It is unavoidable and beneficial.  The more you listen, not simply hear, and attempt to reproduce both the cadence and intonation of the material you’re using the more you will sound like a speaker who originates from that part of the world.

At this point, the question should be raised, what is this based upon?

It’s a valid question and here’s the answer.

I’ve had the opportunity to acquire a few unique accents along the way in my Spanish language learning journey.

At this stage, after some 25 plus years, I’ve cultured my own Spanish accent and sound quite unique and hard to pin down as far as country of origin. 

In the beginning I had a very distinct Mexican accent.  I started learning Spanish in high school surrounded by Mexicans and using audio material generated by neutral Mexican native speaker accents.

Since I was new to Spanish, I repeated what I heard.  It’s as simple as that.

In most audio language programs, the idea is to be as neutral accent orientated as possible in order to reach as wide of an audience as possible. 

That makes sense and is what happens.

Imagine if you were trying to learn English and your audio material was heavily deep south accented and orientated.  For starters, it would present learning challenges as there are deviations from the standard pronunciation guidelines.  (Hopefully, if you have ever been through Louisiana, you get the picture.) 

Later, I moved to Spain to further my Spanish at the university in Madrid.  You might think that I ended up with a Castilian accent and I would have, except for one major development.  I ended up living with an Argentinian roommate, and I witnessed how Spanish speakers preferred that accent over their own.  (Not all but many, especially females.)

Because I was still formulating my Spanish both in word choice/vernacular and with respect to my pronunciation/accent, I choose to emulate the Argentinian accent over Castilian.

Since then and after a number of other moves and travels, my accent has changed evermore over time.  As I mentioned earlier, I am generally recognized as a native speaker, but listeners are not quite sure from where I hail.

This brings us to the next point.

It is important to note that no matter what your accent preference may end up to be, pronunciation rules still apply.  For instance, the consonant “d” in between vowels is pronounced like the English “th”.

Give these examples a try: todo, ciudad, dedo.

If one disregards that, no matter what country and/or region the rest of the accent might sound like, you will be recognized as non native.  Plain and simple.

Therefore, if you want to have a “good” Spanish accent, start with the pronunciation rules and then you can pick and choose to delve deeper into the specific geographical accent you most prefer.

Personally, I never cared whether or not I could pass as a Mexican, a Spaniard or an Argentinian, what I wanted and still strive for is to pass as a native Spanish speaker.

For me that’s enough!

What is keeping you from speaking Spanish?


What is keeping you from speaking Spanish?


That was easy enough right?

Each one of us can do what we want anytime we want to do it.

“It’s not what you do that matters, it’s how you do what you do!”

And so it is with learning to understand and speak Spanish.

Take for instance, the base scenario of someone, who over the course of several years possesses an underlying burning desire to feel comfortable while engaging in a conversation in Spanish with a native Spanish speaker.

Take a moment to digest that event.

Moreover, put yourself in that event.

Picture yourself, listening, understanding and responding (and better yet, adding) to a conversation in Spanish with someone of interest.

It may seem a long way off, especially if you have had countless experiences where you started off full of good intentions to do just that: initiating an exchange, only to suddenly find yourself way over your head at some point in the conversation feeling totally lost and frustrated.

You are not alone!

It has happened to us all.

But in the words of Conan the Barbarian, (or Nietzsche) “That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.”

And so it is with learning to understand and speak Spanish.  (And pretty much everything.)

Rarely is something of great value gained without considerable effort. 

The trick is to maximize from that effort and reap the greatest results.

By this I mean, find the method that best serves you and your interests so that you stay motivated and continue pursuing your goal.

It may be baby steps at first.  That’s fine, take them.  Take a bunch of them.

Learn what works for you.

Today’s post will be succinct.  In Spanish: “Vamos al grano”

You have to take risks albeit calculated risks.

Study up with materials that will ignite what Spanish you’ve learned in the past. 

Once you’ve done that, “Take it to the streets.”

Start speaking!

Make mistakes and keep on keeping on.

Your efforts will produce the desired results.  But only if you do it!

We can all wish, but actions will achieve the goal, eventually.

The best part is that the actions that will have to be taken will be available.  They are called opportunities.  Its up to each of us to know they are there and give it an honest go.

The saying, “Fake it until you make” applies here as much as anywhere.

Don’t cut yourself short.  You can do it!

It is the “Sí Se Puede” attitude.

If you want it, its for the taking!

Top Secrets To Learn Spanish: The 4 And A Half Essentials [Infographic]

Having trouble learning Spanish? Learning a second language doesn’t come easy for everyone. But it’s not an impossible thing to achieve. When learning Spanish or any new language, it’s important to understand the cornerstones that contribute to acquisition of second language. These are comprehensive input, high frequency words, aural repetitions of interesting stories, and shadowing. Take a closer look at these important aspects that will help you in learning Spanish successfully:

  1. Comprehensive input – This basically refers to comprehending the words and sentences you hear. Learn to understand what is being said to you, so you can get closer to success. The more words and sentences you understand, the easier it is for you to fully learn the language.
  2. High-frequency words – Your best bet is at starting with words that are commonly used. Think of the 20/80 rule which states that 20% of words make up 80% of spoken language. So if you learn to understand these most commonly used words, you’ll be on your way to understanding the rest of the language.
  3. Aural repetitions of interesting stories – Listen to people speaking and visualize the situation described in the speech. You can then learn how to repeat the story and retell it to other people.
  4. Shadowing – Active mental processing is essential for success in second language learning. It’s important to mentally or verbally repeat what you hear. This can engage your mind at a deeper level and help you comprehend the language even better.


Additional ways for learning Spanish

In addition to the key aspects mentioned above, it’s also necessary that you follow some other steps that are essential for learning anything. For instance, practice a little bit of it every day. This will help you gain fluency in the language and keep your mind alert in processing it.

Think about the prospective rewards you will get from learning the language. Maybe it will help you secure a better job or maybe it’ll open up prospects for you to make more money. This will motivate you to learn it. This doesn’t just apply to Spanish or other languages; it applies to everything else. Check out the infographic on Top Secrets to Learn Spanish: The 4 and a Half Essentials to learn more.

Spanish Phonology

The phonology of a language is defined as the study of the systematic organization of sounds in that language. Because of its Latin roots, Spanish shares a number of phonological characteristics with other Romance languages, with some distinct variations. Of particular interest is the acquisition of the ability to distinguish between particular phonological sounds when learning the language.

When learning Spanish (or any language) as a second language, the order in which different phonological developments occur is likely to depend on ways in which the learned language is and is not similar to the speaker’s native language. However, clear levels of development can be identified when the language is acquired as a first language (usually in children learning to speak). These levels can be thought of as requisites; if a speaker is able to make distinctions in speaking on one level, they are very likely to be able to make distinctions on every previous level.

Levels of Phonological Development

The first level includes nasals and stops (but with no voicing distinction). It does however include a labial/coronal place difference (for instance, an ability to distinguish between [b] and [t]). The second level adds voicing distinction for stops, and an additional ability to identify coronal and dorsal place difference (such as the differences between [p], [t], and [k]). The third level adds fricatives and affricates (such as [f]). The fourth level adds liquids, besides [l], [ɹ] and [ɾ], which have likely been acquired previously. Finally the trill [r] is acquired.

The final characteristic (known as an alveolar trill, or commonly known as the ability to “roll an r”) is of particular interest because of its difficulty. It is usually the latest skill to be acquired in development, and often takes speakers who are learning Spanish as a second language years to acquire (unless it is part of their native language as well). In children learning the language for the first time, it is most commonly developed between the ages of three and six, but children are not always successful at acquiring this skill.

Works Cited

Carballo, Gloria, and Elvira Mendoza. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics. 8th ed. Vol. 14. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Ser. 2000. 09 July 2009. Web. 1 Apr. 2016. <>.

Cataño, Lorena, Jessica A. Barlow, and María Irene Moyna. “A Retrospective Study of Phonetic Inventory Complexity in Acquisition of Spanish: Implications for Phonological Universals.” Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics 23.6 (2009): 446-72. Web. 1 Apr. 2016. <>.

Goldstein, Brian, and Karen Pollock. “Vowel Production in Spanish-speaking Children with Phonological Disorders: Dialect and Sampling Issues.” Journal of Multilingual Communication Disorders 2.2 (2004): 147-60. Web.