SFN Session 1

Welcome to Spanish From Nothing! This is the very first Spanish session where I document my Spanish learning starting from nothing. Come follow along! WHOOHOO!

If you don’t know what this is all about, go watch the Spanish From Nothing intro video. It will explain everything you need to know there.

The Setup

Normally I’ll start with recall, where I run through the phrases from last time. But there is no last time yet, so let me talk about my set up.

I haven’t started with anything fancy. In fact, all I have are these basic things:

  • Blank notebook
  • Blank 3×5 index cards (with box)
  • Scissors (to cut the cards in half)
  • Spanish grammar book (this can be any language resource or material of choice)
  • Laptop (to look up words, since I don’t have a dictionary)

You don’t have to start with anything too extravagant or expensive in order to start learning a language. You don’t really even need a computer. I am using one here only because I don’t actually (shamefully) own a Spanish dictionary. So I’m relying on google searches for my looking-up-a-word needs.

Again, going back to what is needed for lanugage learning – all you need is to recognize, understand, and familiarize yourself with new phrases in the language. As long as you have the basic tools to do all three of those things, you can learn a new language. It takes surprisingly little investment.

Utility Phrases

For this first Spanish session, I’m doing things slightly differently. Again, I would normally start my sessions with recall. And normally after that I would start creating interaction patterns by following the 6 steps to pattern creation. But there are a few phrases that I think all language learners should invest in learning first – whatever the language, whatever the reason.

I call them utility phrases:

  • What does this mean?
  • What is this word?
  • How do you say _______ ?
  • I don’t know.
  • I forgot.
  • I need to look it up.

The reason I call these utility phrases is because they are phrases we always use in our native language while we are learning a new one. We say them over and over again every time we run across words or phrases we don’t know. If we learn them first, we can use them as tools to help us learn more. I will be learning these phrases first so that I can use Spanish to help me learn more Spanish.

What does this mean? ¿Qué significa eso?
What is this word? ¿Qué es esta palabra?
How do you say _______ ? ¿Cómo se dice?
I don’t know. No .
I forgot. Se me olvidó.
I need to look it up. La tendré que buscar.

Here are the translations of each phrase broken down by their parts. I will take these phrases and make flash cards from them to practice later. However, I won’t make the flashcards exactly like this, using a direct translation. Normally I don’t like using any English at all when making interaction patterns. But since these are technically not patterns I will make an exception this time. Instead, I will replace the direct translation in English above with a situation. So it will look something like this.

Say this when you don’t know what something means. ¿Qué significa eso?
Say this when you are curious about a specific word. ¿Qué es esta palabra?
Say this when you want to know how something is said. ¿Cómo se dice?
Say this when you are stumped. No sé.
Say this when you used to know something but you can’t seem to recall it now. Se me olvidó.
Say this when more research is involved to learn a word. La tendré que buscar.

** NOTE: The thought behind this was to keep the brain more active and in turn be more connected to giving the answer. However, in practice it was the exact opposite for me. When reading the situations I felt less connected and struggling to even remember what I was talking about. So I think, after making this video and actually trying it out, I have since changed my mind.

Maybe in certain circumstances this could be good to help your mind snap out of monotony and stay more engaged. And maybe you’ll find it helps you more than a direct translation, in which case go for it! If you get a chance let me know if it did help or didn’t help you. For me, it didn’t this time. So I’m going back to direct translation for these utility phrases. Let’s list them again below:

What does this mean? ¿Qué significa eso?
What is this word? ¿Qué es esta palabra?
How do you say _______ ? ¿Cómo se dice?
I don’t know. No .
I forgot. Se me olvidó.
I need to look it up. La tendré que buscar.

So having these utility phrases at hand as I study, whenever I come across something I don’t know and have the urge to say one of them in English, I will instead do my best to say them in Spanish.

Notes on Pronunciation

As you may notice in my first session, I dove right into learning entire phrases. I didn’t spend my time on making flashcards for individual words. This was very intentional. Words only have meaning in context and I believe you can learn them faster by learning a whole phrase at once. I’ll speak more on this in a future post.

Regarding pronunciation proper, you may notice I didn’t spend time in the video going over the alphabet. This was … somewhat intentional. Here are the main reasons I didn’t:

I have already been introduced to the Spanish alphabet – and many of you already have too!

Spanish very similar to the English alphabet and sounds. You can get started by just reading the words as you would in English – even if it’s in an entirely “ ’merican accent.” Now, if this was a language that was completely different than English, I would definitely spend more time up front learning the alphabet script and sounds.

Even if I did feel like honing in a bit on pronunciation, I would still do it in whole phrases. What I mean is, I wouldn’t necessarily take on the whole alphabet at once. I would only learn the sounds to the letters that were in the phrases I was currently learning.

Take this phrase for example:

¿Qué significa eso?

There are a total of 10 letters in the phrase: Q U E S I G N F C O. When I make my flashcards for it, I only need to know how to pronounce these 10 letters, not the entire alphabet.

Granted, the Spanish alphabet doesn’t have that many letters and it doesn’t take a lot to get used all of them. In fact, if you have a Spanish audio CD or browse YouTube, you’ll probably always run across the alphabet being taught in whole all at once. And it is just fine to learn

However, the main principle is to simplify the learning process. I don’t want to spend time and energy on things that don’t require my time or energy at the present moment. If I spend my time learning how to pronounce letters I’m not currently using, I’ll just forget them later and end up having to re-learn them.

Also notice I didn’t wait until my pronunciation was perfect before I started saying the phrases. This is important. Your pronunciation will improve with time and use. You have plenty of time to learn the right way to say things. One of the major strengths of the interaction pattern strategy is that you can start using the phrases in the comfort of your own home with no audience judging you. So in that sense you also have plenty of time to butcher the pronunciation.

Pronunciation Tips

To summarize all of that, here are some tips you can follow regarding pronunciation:

1) Don’t wait to sound perfect before you start speaking.

This is especially true for the interaction pattern strategy. You will be making give-and-take interactions that you will be practicing yourself in the comfort of your own home. This is the time to make mistakes and be messy with the sounds! Take advantage of it. It will help build your confidence if you relax and just have fun with it.

2) Try learning the pronunciation only for the phrases you are currently learning, nothing else. Only learn new letters or sounds as they come in from the phrases you choose.

3)  If the alphabet in the new language is fairly similar to your own, start sounding them out the best you can right away.

4)  If the alphabet in the new language is fairly different than your own, spend a little more time getting used to the sounds.

You may want to review the entire alphabet/script. You may want to hear each letter individually at first, maybe even make flashcards for them. Then you may want to spend time listening to complete words and phrases.

5) Listen to the language being spoken often.

Don’t try to understand, just listen. Get used to the flow of it. Listen to music, news radio, sports radio, and podcasts. Watch TV and Movies. You’ll be surprised how your brain will start to become accustomed to the way the language flows without even understanding any of the words.

Interaction Patterns

In the next post I will be starting the interaction pattern strategy in full force! First I will run through the utility phrases again to refresh our minds with them. Then I will jump right into the 6 steps to pattern creation:

  1. Find a phrase
  2. Examine the phrase
  3. Choose a pattern type
  4. Create variations
  5. Build an interaction
  6. Engage the interaction

See you in there!

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