The chief problem we Americans have with developing a high degree of spoken fluency is that we take the wrong first steps in acquiring a second language. It's not our faults, really. We are led to believe through a host of venues that what we should do if we want to learn Spanish is to take a class. That's what everyone does, right? We enroll in the local Junior College's Spanish I and soon discover some of the most dreadfully boring and maybe even the most incomprehensibly vapid stuff we've ever seen in our lives.
This is because what most classes in second language learning do is teach you how to interpret and translate written text in the target language leaving you high and dry in the spoken fluency category. It is speaking the language that we are looking for, is it not? Here is the salient point that most fail to get:
A high degree of spoken fluency comes first. This is language acquisition.
Learning grammar rules and memorizing vast amounts of vocabulary comes second. This is language learning.
Trying to develop spoken fluency through learning grammar rules and memorizing vast amount of vocabulary first is to put the cart before the horse.
The horse—which precedes the cart—is spoken fluency.
The cart—which follows the horse—is the learning to read and write in the target language.
I've been watching the little six year old son of two of my wife's English students here in Guanajuato, Mexico. When I first met Diego, he could say lot's and lot's of words and follow simple commands in his native language, Spanish. He could not construct complex sentences. Over the past three years I have witnessed the child, though he cannot yet read or write, come from one to three word phrases, to using the subjunctive mood in his native tongue. He has a very high degree of spoken fluency now and once he begins Mexico's equivalent of the first grade, he will begin to codify this through learning the grammar, memorizing more vocabulary, reading, and writing.
I would love to speak as well as Diego. I am getting there. But just why, after almost five years in Mexico, am I not speaking like Diego?
That's because, if you think about it, the way Diego, or any of us developed the level of native spoken fluency that he has as a six year old, was through listening and repeating nothing but Spanish from the time this child was born to right now as I write these words.
He heard nothing but the target language since he was able to hear anything.
This is, by the way, one of the reasons gringos enrolling in Spanish classes in Mexico (and it is a big, big business here) leave wondering if they poured out all this money for nothing. They come to these Spanish schools expecting a miracle now that they are in Mexico learning Spanish, and leave no more fluent that when they came. This is because it, number one, takes more time, and number two, gringos come here and speak nothing but English with one another when not in class. We see this all the time. They pay an extraordinary amount of money to get to Mexico and enroll in classes, and then when not in class they hang out with other gringos and speak English. That isn't going to cut it.
It is not only possible to develop a high degree of spoken fluency in Spanish before coming to Mexico but it is done all the time in those in the Foreign Service, the Peach Corps, and Mexicans here often will acquire a high degree of English fluency before coming to America (I wish this was true of all of them). In the tourist areas of Mexico the workers in the tourist industry that services mostly gringos, like Puerto Vallarta, will have vast amounts of Mexicans who are bilingual (This confuses most gringos who come to central Mexico, where we live, expecting a high degree of English to be spoken—it's not!). We've asked them how they did it. Not one we interviewed said they took a class or went to America to learn English.
I find that amazing, don't you?
Check out these series of websites (my free article banks) that might give you some insight into how to further your endeavor to acquire a high degree of Spanish spoken fluency (copy and paste):
Here you can read FOR FREE most of what I've included in my book on acquiring a second language.
Good-luck and never give up!
Doug Bower is a freelance writer and book author. His most recent writing credits include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Houston Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Associated Content, Transitions Abroad, International Living, Escape Artist, and The Front Porch Syndicate.
He is founder of Mexican Living Print & eBooks