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When you think back five years ago, did you ever think that you would be where you are now?
Maybe so, maybe not. However, I most certainly didn’t. Five years ago, I never in my wildest dreams would have thought I would be living in Colombia with my wife, speaking Spanish.
But here I am now. It all started with a boring accounting job, then it became a trip to Argentina, and then a longing to be fluent in Spanish. Looking back, I think to myself: “thank goodness I found myself in a boring cubicle job.”
I imagine my story might be like your own in one way or another. At some point in time you decided you had had enough and it was time to start speaking a second language. At some point, you realized it was worth it to take on the tough task of learning a language.
In this article, I am going to show you how speaking from day one helped me finally learn a language, and changed my life forever.
Speaking from Day One – Why it Matters
Let me preface by saying that I didn’t start learning languages with a “speak from day one” approach. I had 4 years of high school Spanish class where I proceeded to learn very little except for the conjugation of words I didn’t understand. That, and my name in the class was Juan.
Like most people I had a tiny bit of Spanish knowledge and could say introductory phrases like ¿Cómo estás? and Me llamo Nate. Part of me longed to speak Spanish, but I just wasn’t there.
I finished school and got a regular job. However, after five years of accounting, I decided that I was done waiting for “someday” to learn a language and chose to take six weeks off to go to Argentina.
“Someday” can mean “never” if you let it. Thankfully, I didn’t.
I went to Argentina to take language classes and quickly found that my immersive program wasn’t going to make me fluent anytime soon. Most people spoke to me in English (in Argentina!) and I couldn’t really hold any actual conversation in Spanish.
I came back home to the states frustrated and looking for answers.
How I Found Fluent in 3 Months
Thankfully, around this time, I stumbled on Benny’s blog and signed up for his awesome Fluent in 3 Months Newsletter.
The main thing I took away from Benny’s teaching was to start speaking in the language right away. It seems so clear now, yet almost everything I was doing at the time was the opposite to this.
I was using boring textbooks and attending large classes. Instead, I should have been conversing in the language and worrying about the grammar later. I had always made the worst mistake of all – waiting until I felt ready to start speaking.
Looking back from where I am now, I do wonder why it is that most school systems start off teaching the grammar structure of a language. It all seems so backward now. Just as children learn to speak by hearing a language spoken and then attempting to speak it themselves, likewise we need to hear the words and start speaking them early on.
The Game Changer: Signing Up for italki
With Benny’s prodding, I signed up for a free account on italki and Conversation Exchange. I quickly found some new friends for informal language exchanges.
There was a limitless number of people that were eager to speak Spanish with me in exchange for me helping them out with their English. I met so many great friends from these two sites.
Never before has it been so easy to connect with people from all over the world – even 10 years ago it would have been much more tricky than it is today.
I found that many people I met for language exchanges just wanted to meet a new friend and preferred to speak Spanish the whole time. So, I essentially had free Spanish lessons despite me asking them if they wanted to switch to English.
Not only that, I took Benny’s advice and started trying out a few Spanish tutors on italki. For less than $10/hour you can schedule language lessons that are 100% focused on your language goals.
I scheduled two or three lessons a week with a few of my favorite Spanish tutors and soon found myself speaking new words and phrases. The main teacher that I used was great and always spoke Spanish to me and even corrected my errors as I went.
I liked him so much as a teacher that I even sent him a Christmas card.
I was soon having natural conversations with native Spanish speakers. I even started to think in Spanish, which to me was a great sign that I was making progress.
I did this all from the comfort of my home. Amazingly, I was making more progress with my Spanish in Austin, Texas than I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The difference was the way I was learning. I stopped focusing on grammar and hearing about all the intricacies of the language and started to speak. Of course, as I talked with natives I was slowly picking up grammar and improving my pronunciation and vocabulary along the way.
It turns out this Benny guy knew what he was talking about!
Searching for A Language Friend and Finding Love
Around this time that I met this one Spanish friend on Conversation Exchange named Andrea. We quickly swapped Skype usernames and started up a language exchange online.
We immediately hit it off right away. There seemed to be some sort of connection even though she was thousands of miles away living in Colombia.
We kept talking for the next year and a half online a few times a month. I improved my Spanish with her and I helped her in her nearly perfect English.
Then, one day, I told her casually that I was planning on hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru with friends in the upcoming year.
She mentioned that it was always her dream to go and see Machu Picchu. I quickly jumped on the opportunity and invited her to come with us and to bring a friend.
Naturally, she was hesitant at first and it took a lot prodding for her to finally decide to come with us on the journey with a guy she met online. We planned for it to be traveling as friends only.
The Month Long First Date…
We did start out as friends in Machu Picchu, but a week or so into the trip it became what in retrospect was a month long first date. We traveled through Ecuador to the “Mitad del Mundo” and then on to her beautiful home country of Colombia where we saw some incredible sights in Bogota and Cartagena.
The month long first date had to end at some point and I headed back to the States with a commitment that we’d remain together. Anyways, she ended up coming to the US to volunteer for half a year in which I got to know her more closely. I eventually realized that I wanted to make her my wife!
What If I Never Took the First Step and Started Speaking from Day One?
As you can see, learning Spanish and speaking from day 1 has been life changing for me to say the least. I am not just saying that to be dramatic.
I often think back as to what would have happened if I didn’t find myself in a boring job and a desire to travel for six weeks in Argentina. If I didn’t travel to Argentina, I might never have taken Spanish seriously and followed Benny’s advice to speak from day one.
I certainly wouldn’t be embarrassing myself each week on my wife and I’s Spanish conversations podcast.
By speaking from day one, I met many great online tutors and Spanish speaking friends, one of which is now my wife. The timing all seems so perfect looking back.
When I finally did go to Machu Picchu a little over a year after starting the “speak from day one” approach, I was already conversationally fluent in the language.
When I look back at how much progress I made it is quite mind boggling. In less than one year, I went from speaking very little of the language to having normal everyday conversations with native speakers.
It was, as they say, Vale la pena! (“Totally worth it!)
Why You Should Start Speaking Your Target Language Right Now
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I believe speaking right away is essential to learning whatever language you want to learn.
I cannot promise that you will find love, nor do I recommend that you learn a language to find a soul mate. But what I can guarantee is that you will be pushed and challenged more than you ever have. Good things never come easily.
You will soon find yourself picking up new vocabulary words and improving your grammar and pronunciation as you hear and speak with natives.
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.