Learning a Language from Home: Does It Always Work?

One of the realities of learning a language from home is the temptation to take it slow, take too many breaks from studying and then completely lose momentum.

As a language teacher, I know what to do to learn a new language. I need to give myself deadlines, use an accountability partner, seek out my Spanish-speaking friends and force myself to get out there and hablar– however imperfectly. But I don’t always follow my own advice. Last week was a case in point. Our Spanish/English bilingual family were visiting us from Costa Rica. We had a wonderful time- we hadn’t seen our little grandson for over a year and it was a joy to play with him and see how he has grown. He speaks English (and Spanish) perfectly at the age of 2 ½!  But I could have spent time practicing my Spanish with my daughter-in-law. Did that happen? Not so much.

We had a perfect visit , lots of fun times together… and the whole time spoke in English. Why? Completely my doing… My daughter-in-law is perfectly bilingual and she was just following my cues- it was easier for me. I knew I hadn’t practiced much Spanish lately etc. etc. – all excuses that contradict what I KNOW needs to happen to learn another language.

This is a reality check for me as an EAP (English for Academic Purposes) teacher. It’s easy for me to tell my international students to find Canadian counterparts who use English as their first language and to practice with them after class. After five hours of intensive, academic English they are tired! No wonder they like to kick back with their classmates and revert to their first language. I admire them so much for the effort that they do put in. For example, last week we accompanied these students on an hour-long bus trip  and I could hear two students seated behind me (who shared Spanish as their first language). They used all their  travelling time to chat with each other- in English with no prompting from us. Bravo! Felicidades!

My current routine for my own Spanish language study is as follows- 15 minutes before work listening to the news from a Costa Rican live-stream. Then 15 minutes late afternoon following an online course when I’m on the treadmill and 30 minutes at night reading, studying or participating in an online oral class. If I do this 5 days a week consistently, I definitely make progress. But I do feel the need for an immersion experience to take me to the next level. Otherwise my progress is too slow and I don’t solidify what I’m learning.

What tricks do you use to keep on track with your language learning? What are your biggest frustrations with learning a  language from home?

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