It is said that the most important thing to have in real estate is location, location, location. Miranda Gonzalez, a Livemocha Blog contributor and LiveEnglish with Livemocha teacher, proposes that in language learning, the most important thing is repetition, repetition, repetition. With a goal of bolstering her already-fluent Spanish, she came to this realization on the road in Mexico.
by Miranda González
At the end of this summer, we took our (almost) annual trip to Mexico City to visit my husband’s family. Even though I’m fluent in Spanish, I look forward to learning new words every time we go. Here in the U.S., we speak Spanish almost exclusively in our home, but both my husband and I have a terrible habit of filling in any Spanish deficiencies in a conversation with an English word. For example, let’s say I want to talk about how my sister went to a concert and a crowd surfer got dropped on her head. Because “crowd surfer” is not something I have ever had to learn in Spanish, the sentence will go something like this: “Y luego mi hermana estaba en el concierto y se le cayó un ‘crowd surfer’ en la cabeza.” If I say something like this to my husband, he won’t even bat an eye because he’s used to the pervasive and commonly accepted Spanglish that exists in our community and the U.S. at large. However, if I go to Mexico and say the same sentence, someone will say to me, “Se le cayó un QUE? (A WHAT fell on her head?)
So when I am in Mexico, I’m glad when people point out the English words that I have subconsciously been substituting in my sentences. This year, I went with new resolve. I was going to learn, like, 50 new words. That was the plan, anyway. As we were waiting in line to cross back into the U.S., I was making a mental list of all the words I had learned. “Well,” I thought, “I’ve learned ‘acotamiento’ (shoulder of the road), ‘bandas de alerta’ (rumble strips), ‘refacciones’ (spare auto parts) – wait a minute…” Then it hit me. Who knows how many new words I had learned during our time in Mexico, but the only ones that stuck with me were words I had seen repeatedly on road signs as we were traveling in the car from Mexico City to Acapulco and back. I was there for three weeks! Was it really possible that I had only learned car-related terms? I was disappointed in myself, but because of this experience, I have reached the following useful conclusions that I think can apply to any language learner:
1) In order to retain a word and be able to use it, you have to be exposed to it multiple times. The number of times may vary, but some studies suggest that the number is somewhere between 5 and 16.
2) You can wait for those multiple times to happen on their own (like seeing a gazillion road signs on your way to Acapulco), or you can speed up the process.
3) To speed up the process, you can write down words you see or hear for the first time. If you hear it and don’t know how to spell it, you should ask someone how to spell it. Then you should check your list daily and remind yourself of the words’ meanings.
4) You need to use the words from your list in authentic situations. Instead of saying, “I learned the word ‘spare auto parts’”, you should look for the opportunity to say something like, “Is it hard to find spare auto parts for this car?”
This theory, of course, requires that you have a pen and paper on hand. Perhaps it is not realistic to assume that you will always be carrying around a pocket-sized notebook in your jeans. However, when you hear a new word, you should find a napkin, some toilet paper, the palm of your hand – whatever you can so that you don’t let that opportunity slip away. Because if you don’t write that new word down, I can almost guarantee you that you won’t remember it later. Trust me, I know! So, my friends, let us make a habit of carrying a pen around. It is a small price to pay for a large vocabulary. You better believe I’ll be taking a pack of ballpoints with me on my next trip!
Grab your pen and be on the lookout for vocabulary words that will beef up your language learning. Stay tuned for more helpful posts from Miranda, and be sure to visit the LiveEnglish with Livemocha page on Facebook.
Miranda is an English and Spanish teacher. Find her free English classes on Facebook every weekday at LiveEnglish with Livemocha. She currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, where she and her husband are raising two bilingual children.