Give Me Fluency

Mastering Spanish & Obtaining Fluency

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Not Everyone Knows English!

One of the important factors that will lead you to success in a language is motive. For what reason do you want to learn that language? You need to answer this question honestly before you move on to diligent study, because it can determine your success or failure as a language learner. For example: Have you made that trip you always wanted to take to a foreign country and have come to find out that not everyone around you speaks English as you might have thought? By the way if you, the reader, are an native English speaker, you have probably come across the fact that may native English speakers navigate toward the belief that anywhere in the world they may visit, the people there will speak and understand our English language. Sometimes this can be the case, but not always. Let’s say you go to the foreign country of your choice. After a long monotonous flight, you arrive at the airport and get off the plane. You find that the personnel there greet you in English. You order a bite to eat one of the fast-food places at the airport and find that the clerk or waiter speaks decent English too. No problem, right? Then you take a taxi to that peaceful place in the middle of nowhere to relax and start that book you’ve always wanted to write. On the way, you and your taxi driver engage in conversation in your language. The guy speaks pretty good English, by the way. Of course he does. He gets a lot of practice and has become pretty fluent. You go into the nearest town one day to buy some groceries and what not, and find that when you speak to the folks there, they look at you with a blank stare. Why? Because not everyone everywhere speak English as many people tend to believe. So what are to do? Will you wait for those nice people to learn your language? Nope. You’re going to learn theirs, and learn it well!

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Beginnings of a Language Learner

I grew up in New Mexico and Texas, where it was common to hear Spanish spoken. I basically flip-flopped between states as a kid, moving back and forth, to this city or that city, changing schools and environments, and not to mention making new friends.

If you happen to be from the southern United States, you are familiar with the fact that there are many Mexican-Americans in New Mexico and Texas. I recall that there were many people in these two states that either only spoke Spanish, or spoke Spanish the majority of the time and English once in a while, when it was absolutely necessary. In addition, there were those, and many of them, that spoke “Spanglish”, using both languages in the same sentence and often “Mexicanizing” American-English words. “To take a shower” became “Hacer take un bath”. “To give someone a ride” became “Dar a alguien un raite”, etc.

I heard lots… And lots… And lots of Spanish growing up, but I didn’t speak a word. I wanted to understand it. Man, did I want to understand it, but I had no idea how to learn it.

It was early on that I developed an interest in languages and writing systems. No, not foreign writing systems, but my own silly concoctions that I created myself. When I was about 9 years old and living in Texas, I developed my own characters that coincided with the English alphabet. I suppose you could say it was more of a code than anything else. I thought is that it was cool. It was my own system. It was good for nothing though, expect for some temporal satisfaction for my curiosity. It didn’t stop there, I remember trying to make my own phonetic writing system, not realizing that there were others already in place and in use around the world, for example, IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) which has been around since around 1888.

Although my parents spoke Spanish, they never used to speak to me and my siblings in the language. By the way, they are not of Hispanic descent, per se. My dad was adopted by Mexican immigrants. My mom was raised, during her early childhood at least, by her Spanish-speaking step-mother and step-grandmother. As you can guess, they spoke Spanish very well, just not to their children.

Upon reaching the tenth grade in high school in New Mexico, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to take a Spanish class with Mr. Geidd, who had come down from New York and had taught Spanish and Italian up there. He was a great teacher and quickly became my favorite because of his own interest in languages. So, I was the kid in class that really liked learning Spanish. I liked the vocabulary, the listening to the Spanish on cassette tapes that complimented the lessons. I was the kid who would study next week’s lessons while the others were still figuring out last week’s. Now, I’m not saying that I was better than the others. That wasn’t the case. There were many intelligent folks in my Spanish class. But what I am saying is that there was something different about me. I had an unexplainable passion for this language learning thing, and not only for Spanish, but other languages. I remember struggling feverishly to understand the Spanish subjunctive – and loving every minute of it!

I would spend some of my lunch breaks in the school library looking at the dictionaries in Russian, French and Italian. I even completed a project for my government class in which I made a poster of a newly created town with all the street names, buildings, signs and statues it Italian, even though I did not know Italian at the time.

The following year I took Spanish II. At the end of these two years, I had a basic knowledge of Spanish. I could read simple sentences and could understand some of what I listened to. But… I still couldn’t speak it well. Why was that?

Then life happened. I was busy making a living, starting and supporting a new family, paying the bills. Throughout the years, I bought a couple of Spanish books and cassettes and attempted to study them. I never completed these books. They just went back on the shelf and sat there, collecting dust. I still had the interest. It felt like I still had the passion. But what was missing was not time, believe it or not (we can all make time if we wanted to). It was motivation. I lacked the motivation to make it happen.

I had told myself throughout the years that I would not only achieve a high level of Spanish someday, but also learn Italian and maybe some other languages as well. In 2009, 21 years after I graduated high school, I decided to purchase a couple of Italian learning books and get at it. I studied Italian vocabulary and grammar for six long years. Yep. Six. Long. Years. At the end of all this, I could speak Italian like a native, hold conferences in Italian, give presentations for large companies in Italian. Oh, sorry. I was off in fantasy-land there for a minute. The truth is, I couldn’t speak at all. In 2012, I discovered an app called “HelloTalk” created by Zackery Ngai. If you’re a language geek like me, you’ve heard of it. HelloTalk is an app that was created to enable language learners to connect to native speakers of their target language all around the world. I used the app to speak to folks in Italy. I found that I could barely write normal, everyday sentences in Italian, even after all that study. I did improve my writing skills quite quickly, but I could still not speak it well. I set up Skype session with someone I chatted with on HelloTalk. It went horribly bad. I just did not know how to “produce” the words and sentences that express my ideas. I just couldn’t do it. It was embarrassing. Good thing that my language exchange partner was very understanding.

It was then that I realized what should have been so obvious – you have to speak to know how to speak. See, I was able to read Italian fine. I could write like nobody’s business. I couldn’t speak worth a dime. It felt like I had done all that work for nothing.

After this, everything changed. I will be covering more of this discovery of mine in a future post…

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You Know Your Spanish is Improving When…

Yesterday I completed the book “Demystifying the Spanish Subjunctive” by Gordan and Cynthia Smith-Duran, of which I’ll be writing my review this weekend. It took a month and a half to get through it. Every minute was worth it. Very excellent book.

I thought about what to study this morning. I pulled out my “Ultimate Spanish Review and Practice” book. You know your Spanish has dramatically improved when you start a new book and it is so easy that it’s boring. I put the book back on my bookshelf. I may just go through “Demystifying…” again.

My review is coming soon!

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Anki Advanced Spanish Project


Today I dusted off my Anki app and created a deck called “GiveMeFluency Advanced Spanish Vocabulary w/ Audio” which can be found here.

As this is a brand-spankin’ new project for me, there are only 32 flash cards as of yet. I recorded the audio myself, so far. You linguists out there that have studied Spanish will be able to tell that I have more of a Latin American Spanish accent. I myself would call my accent a “neutral accent in desperate need of some work”.

This deck is being created to help people reach conversational confidence in Spanish. Needless to say, this project will in turn help me improve my accent and vocabulary as well. If you would like to contribute sentences or audio or even images, please email or leave a comment on this blog,

Update: On 05/30/16, I uploaded the new an improved deck, which can be found here. Please see the updated post as well. Thanks!

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Hating Swahili: The cost of bilingualism in the US

This article made me think. This shows what our society and culture are coming to in the United States. We need to do something about it.

Loving Language

Hatred of language: What can you do? This happened for speaking the “wrong” language.

Advocating for a multilingual public space may seem abstract or a “nice-to-have” feature for an ideal society. A recent event shocked me into the realization that language tolerance matters for life and death. Hatred towards languages begets real violence against others. We must all embrace and engage in public use of multiple languages for the sake of those who would be discriminated against on the basis of language.

Two weeks ago, someone was assaulted for speaking a language. A Somali woman, Asma Jama, was speaking Swahili publicly, in a restaurant with her family in Coon Rapids (a little North of Minneapolis), Minnesota. (Many Somalis speak Swahili fluently or even as their first language because they were born and/or raised in Kenya, the home of almost 2.5 million Somalis.) Hearing this non-English language upset a white woman, Jodie Marie Burchard-Risch, and…

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Trouble remembering? Write it down!

If your like me, you have trouble remember vocabulary. For some people, using flashcards or a flashcard app like Anki can help. For me, not so much. Well, I suppose I should explain that if I am just trying to memorize a single word, it doesn’t work. If I am reviewing full sentences on flashcards, seeing he word in context, than yes, it helps a lot.

One that has worked really well for me, is taking notes. If I am watching a YouTube video on Spanish vocabulary, for example, I’ll write down words or phrases that I didn’t know, or ones that I need more practice with, etc. Later I may look up the words in my dictionary and then try to write new sentences using what I’ve learned.

For me, this helps tremendously. There is something about writing it down that makes it stick.

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“To Become” in Spanish

There are a few different ways to express “to become” in Spanish. I don’t claim to be an expert, just so you know. But the following are my notes from today’s study:

Volverse = to turn into (something that is not planned)

  • Se volvió un estúpido. He turned into an idiot.
  • Se volvió una buena persona. She became a good person.

Hacerse = used for something you do on purpose, or to work to become

  • Se hizo enfermera. She became a nurse. (She worked to become a nurse.)
  • Me hice cantante. I became a singer. (I worked to become a singer.)

Convertirse en = to evolve into, to transform into (The en needs to be included.)

  • Se convirtió en una mariposa. It became a butterfly.
  • El niño se hizo un hombre. The boy became a man.

Ponerse =  followed by an adjective and indicates an involuntary physical or emotional change

  • Te pusiste enfermo en Ecuador el año pasado. You got sick in Ecuador last year.
  • El cantante se pone rojo cuando canta. The singer turns red when he sings.