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Learning a Language Is Like Running a Marathon

marathon

Photo by Barry Yanowitz

Many want to learn Spanish and they want to learn it now. No wait, they want to speak Spanish and they want to speak it NOW. They don’t want to go through the trouble of learning another language but want to speak it as soon as possible.

And many language learning products on the market tell you (or at least want you to believe) you can learn Spanish within 20 days, or within 200 hours. Bee es! There’s no such thing as learning Spanish within 200 hours. Every idiot can cram enough Spanish for his upcoming holiday in Cancún, and that’s fine. But don’t expect to have a decent level after 200 hours, especially not if you’re going for the input-based approach, because that’ll let you rock harder in the end but will take more time upfront.

I like to compare learning another language to running a marathon. You don’t wake up one day and think: “Dude, I’m totally going to run the marathon of Los Angeles today”. No, running a marathon or any significant distance requires practice and a healthy lifestyle. If you can’t or don’t want to do that you’re either going to fail or run yourself to death.

If you dive into this language learning thing without a plan you’re probably going to fail. Step one in order to succeed is setting a realistic goal and a realistic timeframe. Expect to be able to produce some Spanish that makes sense after 6 months (with enough input), but don’t expect to be even near fluency. For that you need more time, more input and more dedication. It’s simple as that.

Also, don’t expect to instantly win this ‘marathon’. It takes years of practice to end high in the rankings. In the sense of language learning it also takes years of input and practice to really become fluent. You can become more or less fluent within 2 years, yes, but true ownage only starts after that. It’s not like that you say one day: “Now I’m fluent”. It’s a gradual process and you need your time to get to that phase.

Don’t get discouraged if you’re not progressing as fast you would like. The ultimate goal is to learn Spanish, not how fast you learn it. If you want to learn it within 2 years then that’s fine and absolutely possible with the right approach. However, if you can’t spend enough time on Spanish to become fluent within 2 years but you need 3 or 4 years instead, then that’s fine as well. Just don’t burn yourself out.

In the end the most important thing is having fun. It’s not that you’re only going to have fun as soon as you’re fluent in Spanish, no. The most ideal situation would be that you’re having fun from day one. That way you’ll be able to continue to incredible journey without burning out. Pick native materials that you like and don’t waste time on some lame learning product. If you’re having fun and just relaxing while learning this cool language you’re only doing good things. Next to that, you might end up fluent without a pain!

The most important thing is reaching the finish line, no matter how long it took you to reach it.

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A Spanish teacher by trade, Ramses is a true language learning addict. He started Spanish-Only.com and The Language Dojo, and isn't even thinking about quitting language learning; it's in his blood!

Latest posts by Ramses (see all)

18 Comments…

Suzi Bewell November 3, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Can I please copy this article to put on my French blog http://www.allsaintslanguagesblog.typepad.co.uk I think it would be a great starting point for a discussion with my pupils! Tweet me @suzibewell

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Ramses November 10, 2012 at 11:46 am

Knock yourself out! But please, provide a link to this article :-)

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Ramses November 3, 2009 at 6:40 pm

No problem, as long as you link back :-).

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Balint November 4, 2009 at 12:14 am

I cannot agree more! When I started learning spanish (a bit less then a year ago), I listened to the Pimsleur tapes, Michel Thomas and stuff and I thought: "Hey, I will speak Spanish in 6 months". Yeah, sure.

Then I found really useful resources (Antimoon, AJATT, Spanish-Only :D) and started to realize: "Hey, this might take a bit more time, but, hey, I can enjoy it!" So this "language learning burden" became simply just fun! And I can't wait to "start learning" every day. :D

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Christy November 4, 2009 at 6:59 am

I am so glad I found your blog/web site. A few weeks ago, I decided to start learning Spanish and bought one of those "you'll be speaking full sentences in a few days" courses and am going to return it, as by the time I'm done I'll know their words and none of the other words in the language to become fluent. I felt I wasn't going to have a good basis for growth. For example: the course was teaching "I like" as "me gusta" and I wondered why it wasn't "Yo" then the Spanish word for like, then after doing some research I found the phrase really meant "pleasing to me". This was a big deal to me as it meant that I could possibly be learning something incorrectly just so they could dumb it down for a beginner. I wanted to know why it was "me" instead of "yo".

Then I wondered is there was a way I could do learn Spanish by reading and listening and reading and listening. And by reading your site, I see there is. I have a few children's books from the local library book sale that I'll start 'reading' and found a couple of sites where I can hear and read the books. I also have a kindle where I can download books and with a Spanish dictionary can get the gist of the sentences. I can see how I and others have learned as a kid – words, sentences, then grammar. I figure I can use the grammar when I come across verbs to learn the endings for various tenses.

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Daniel November 8, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Si quieres practicar español, estaré encantado de ayudarte.

Un saludo

Daniel dacghfh@yahoo.es

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Tori April 1, 2012 at 3:28 am

I know this is many years old now so I'm replying for any future person that reads this and is confused, but "Me gusta" IS the correct way to say "I like." At least in 98% of contexts. "Me gusta mango" Literally translates to "Mango brings me pleasure." That is correct, and every Spanish speaker says "I like" just like that. You should really have found that out in your research.

To say "You like mango" it's "Te gusta mango" which is "the mango brings you pleasure." He likes is "le gusta mango," we like "nos gusta mango," they like "les gusta mango."

On to the original post, I didn't learn Spanish until living in a Spanish speaking country where NO ONE spoke English. I lived in Spain for some time, but everyone spoke English. When I moved to Honduras I became next to fluent in 6 months. There are still some sentiments I can't express, but in 99% of situations I've ever encountered I've been able to have a fulfilling conversation and most speakers think I'm 100% fluent.

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david November 11, 2012 at 4:53 pm

hey christy, do it!!! do it!!!,, i did it for french and my french is really good and most importantly fluent.. im also using it for spanish.. i have been cracking that nut for the last two years now.. and my spanish is getting more and more fluent…and importantly for me.. my accent is getting close to a native.. same for french..

here’s some websites for you and for everyone else..

albalearning.com
rtve.com.. has a bunch of series..
http://www.mitele.es/series-online/homicidios/temporada-1/capitulo-13/
lingq.com

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Steve Kaufmann November 5, 2009 at 1:18 am

I totally agree with your advice. However, I think language learning is more relaxing and enjoyable than running a marathon.

Come and visit me at The Linguist on Language some time. You may find a reflection of your own views.

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Ramses November 5, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Thank you for your comment, Steve. From my own experience I'm *sure* language learning is more pleasant than running a marathon, but it both takes courage and quite an investment of time and energy to reach your goal.

I'm already a regular reader of your blog, but I'm just too damn lazy to comment :-).

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Amber Phillips November 5, 2009 at 2:49 am

I couldn't agree with you more. It's a long, long process, and I can't wait to get closer and closer to a sort of finish line <3

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Daniel November 8, 2009 at 4:25 pm

La práctica diaria es fundamental para aprender un idioma. Constancia, dedicación y mucha fuerza de voluntad.

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Nettikasino February 28, 2011 at 6:33 pm

I agree with Matt that learning a new language feels like a marathon quite often. Everything what we learn when we are kids could be thought as a free lunch. After that learning is a long process. In my opinion the best way to learn a new language is to study first the basics and then force yourself out of the comfort zone in a place where you really need to use the foreign language to manage to get things done..

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Vippi June 14, 2011 at 7:08 pm

I think the only way to learn a new language is to use it everyday. I have studied four different languages, but I can only speak english properly, because I have to use it often. Others I don't need to use and that is why it gets more difficult to start over time. Speaking a foreign language feels uncomfortable then.

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Pikavippi June 20, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I don't know why, but I have only managed to learn english properly.. Is it just because english is the easiest language to learn or why? I have tried other languages but i haven't had the patience enough, I guess.

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pikavipit January 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Cannot agree more, it's like marathon. Girl friend is a spanish teacher now in local school and it seems that teaching is also hard.

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@benblasto June 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm

I totally agree with you, as one that learned Spanish as a child when i wanted to use it for work, it took me long time to perfect it to a level that i could use it in work, even so that in my home my parents always spoke Spanish to us.
You are so right!!

Ben

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