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The Secret to Learning New Words in Spanish

When you begin to learn a second language you will quickly notice the importance of learning new words, as clear communication simply isn’t possible without them.

Body language can be helpful, and sometimes, if you are a true beginner with a very limited vocabulary, it may be the only method (unless you have a pen and paper to draw) available to communicate your message. However, if you’ve ever played Charades or Pictionary, you’ll know that while relying solely on body language and images can be quite entertaining, it is certainly not the most effective way to convey a message.

Unfortunately most of us go about learning new vocabulary in a very dull and inefficient way. We have been conditioned over the years to study languages instead of learning them. We create lists of words and then try to memorize them by reviewing them repeatedly, in the exact same way, over and over again. This form of deliberate learning quickly becomes a chore which we are not motivated to do.

However, learning new words doesn’t need to be this boring. In fact, if we can make the process more interesting, our ability to comprehend the new words and remember them will increase dramatically.

And while most of us know that repetition is important, the secret is that there are two different forms of repetition.

The first one is the most common, as it involves forced repetition of isolated words. For example, writing a list of verbs that you want to learn and looking back over this list each day.

The second method is to approach the word in a new way each time, to hear or see the word used in different contexts.

Reading books and listening to or having real-life conversations are great ways to do this, as they give you the opportunity to be naturally exposed to the word in a number of different ways and through different situations.

I like to refer to this second method as Dynamic Vocabulary Acquisition.

Again I will highlight that it’s crucial to recognize that learning a second language is a skill that you acquire, it is not a subject you study.

So just like any other acquired skill (ie. riding a bike, learning to swim or surf, etc.) it must be approached hands on, in different contexts and through a variety of strategies. The more dynamic the approach, the more novelty will be present in the learning process and therefore the better the results will be.

Why novelty plays a vital role in language learning

The human brain loves novelty and automatically takes interest in new concepts and situations.

This is why social media can be so addictive. New images and trends are constantly being presented to us. Novel situations like this are very stimulating and recent neuroscience studies have discovered that novelty actually increases dopamine levels in the brain.

The brain reacts to new things, people, environments and situations by releasing the feel-good hormone “dopamine”, which makes us want to go exploring the concept further, in search of a reward. So in other words, it increases motivation.

Studies also reveal that brain plasticity (the ability to create new connections between neurons) is also improved by the influence of novelty—both during the process of exploring a novel environment or stimuli and for 15–30 minutes afterwards.

So by introducing unfamiliar variables to the learning process, we can also increase our brain’s ability to form new neural pathways. And as we get better at forming new neural pathways, our potential for understanding concepts that we’ve never seen or heard of before AND our ability to remember them, also enhances.

So how can you apply this to language learning?

By incorporating a variety of different resources that interest you and utilizing different strategies, your overall comprehension will improve. Combining old information with bits of new information, is also very effective for boosting your memory.

If you continue to do this over a period of time, it will have a compound effect. So as you experience more exposure to the language, your desire to continue learning will also increase, and therefore you will look for ways to get more exposure to the language, and the cycle goes on. Soon you will be more addicted to the language than you are to social media! Most polyglots (people who can speak multiple languages) approach foreign language learning in this way. They carefully select materials, methods and situations that excite them. This creates motivation which in turn increases their interest and eventually they become so passionate about learning the language that they immerse themselves in it (even without being in a country that speaks the language) and reach a high level in a short amount of time.

Motivation can morph into passion and feeling passionate about something you are trying to achieve is extremely powerful. Passion involves emotions and strong emotions not only affect your level of motivation, but also your ability to comprehend new concepts and store them in your long-term memory.

So whether you are taking classes or learning on your own, make sure to look for and request to learn ways that interest you. Incorporate new information and methods to your learning routines as often as possible. Even a change of environment can have a profound impact on your results.

Recent neuroscience discoveries are changing the way we learn languages. Teachers are transforming into coaches, so that they can shift from dictating how and what is learned, to instead help create more idealistic learning environments and methods for each individual student.

We’ve all experienced the traditional way of learning languages at some point in our lives, and know how tasking and long-winded it can be, because let’s face it, doing anything that we are not interested in, pretty much feels like torture.

And it isn’t just because we’re part of a generation of compulsive email checkers or internet addicts, or because we don’t appreciate life enough. It’s actually hardwired into our brains to appreciate and seek out novelty.

Thus, language coaching was born. To learn more about neurolanguage coaching and how it can help you learn Spanish at an accelerated rate, schedule a breakthrough strategy session with Nadine de Panta.


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