Your Emotional Health Affects Your Language Learning Ability

Do you know someone whose emotional wellness is affected negatively when typical Winter weather rolls in? It happens to approximately 10 million people in the United States, and is called Seasonal Affective Disorder. What does this have to do with learning Spanish? Nothing directly, but it’s the affective part that applies. (Just in case you didn’t know) Affective spelled with an “a” at the beginning means “having to do with moods, feelings and attitudes” (New Oxford American Dictionary).
The ability to learn a new language is affected by our emotional state, especially our stress level regarding our ability to learn a language. This isn’t a disorder, but it has been called the “affective filter” by world renowned linguistic expert Stephen Krashen.
I’ve never heard Mr Krashen explain the filter analogy, but I’ll go out on a limb here, and attempt to illustrate. Essentially, the more anxiety you feel about your ability to learn a new language, the more the affective filter gets clogged. It’s like an air filter in a car, an air conditioner, etc. When dirt clogs the openings of the filter, less air gets through. So, when our affective filter gets clogged by emotional debris, like low self-confidence, high anxiety, etc., learning slows down.
To summarize the language of Krashen’s academic theory, I would say that, for best language learning results, we want to be relaxed and feel that we truly can succeed at learning the language.
If you want to find the best way to learn Spanish on the Internet, Krashen has said, “The best methods are … those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear.” That rules out nearly all of the language learning programs and games on the Internet. But, it includes Proficience eSpanish.
Where this program shines is in its low anxiety, high comprehensible input approach. A teacher who used this in her class not long ago told me that her students were learning when using the program, and that she thought it would be great for learners who have a naturally high affective filter. Yes, foreign language teachers actually do use the term “affective filter” freely when geeking out on language learning talk. 🙂

Hopefully the program’s story of Robert and Gabriela is something that learners can be interested in. Not everyone likes the same kinds of stories, but no matter how entertaining learners find it, it’s still a LOT better than random grammar sentences with no relevant context (i.e. the typical high school foreign language homework assignment). That’s my opinion, anyway.

I invite you to try the first three lessons, and decide for yourself. They’re free, and you will really learn Spanish. Look at the endorsements to see what others have said. You’ll understand everything, and the Spanish will stick with you. It might even relax you and improve your attitude. (Can’t hurt, might help!)

Let me know what comments, questions, observations, etc. you have. I want to know what works for you, what can improve your experience, and any relevant thoughts that come to mind during the lessons. May you enjoy what you see and hear, and learn what you need to know.

Mark Mayo has an M.A. in Instructional Design for Second Language Education, and lives in Northern California with his family and two dachshunds.

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Lesson Three is complete! Choose your own ending.

Lesson three is now ready to go, right on the heels of lesson two. This lesson has a new feature, where you get to a decision point, and Robert has to make an important choice. You have the power to choose on Robert’s behalf, but choose wisely.

It kind of reminds me of that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where the old knight was guarding the goblet which held the water of immortality, or something like that. You don’t want Robert to dry up and blow away like the guy in that movie who “chose poorly”. (Just kidding, that isn’t really the “bad” consequence in lesson three.)

The lessons continue to use verb forms from the 100 most frequently used verbs in Spanish, and a whole lot of vocabulary that is relevant to the story and to speaking with people in Spanish. I also threw in a Spanish language proverb towards the end that is very similar to its equivalent in English.

As you know, you must complete the first two lessons in order to get to lesson three. That way, you are familiar with the verbs that are being reviewed frequently (and you also get the occasional joke too). 😉

May you enjoy the lesson, and become a little more fluent in Spanish at the same time!

Mucho éxito

Mark Mayo

Lesson Two is done, and more…

Lesson Two is completed, and number three is well on the way to being finished!

Thank you to all who have left comments and suggestions. This program is designed for you, so sharing your thoughts and ideas is much appreciated. It helps me know what’s working, and also helps make learning Spanish more natural and effective for you.

When you complete Lesson One, there will be a link for starting Lesson Two. It’s also FREE! It will add a whole bunch of new vocabulary, and answer questions about the mysterious taxi driver.

Go ahead…sign up for Lesson One. You will learn Spanish in a new way you’ve never seen before, and it won’t be boring. 🙂

Do these e-learning lessons REALLY teach Spanish the same way I learned to speak my first language?

No and yes.

No, not in the exact same way. It took you several years to become fluent and obtain an adequate beginner vocabulary. You had no other language to compare with your first one. You learned much of the language in random, unfocused experiences.

Yes, you will learn naturally in the sense that it teaches in harmony with the way your mind is built to learn and remember language. You’ll just naturally understand more and more with each lesson, and it won’t feel like work. You will learn better than naturally because of the language-research-based features built in to the program that enhance comprehension and enable greater retention. Everyone who can read this can learn Spanish using Proficience e-Spanish!

If you ever took a language class where you learned a grammar principle first, and then practiced some random exercises to try and remember the grammar, I feel your pain! I’m not talking cutesy games and photos. Those don’t contribute to fluency (if they did, you would have been on your way to fluency after two years of high school Spanish).

You are in for a positive language learning experience unlike anything you have ever tried before.

I invite you to give Proficience e-Spanish a spin. You will learn Spanish faster and more easily than any other e-learning program that exists today. That’s the truth.

I want you to learn Spanish and enjoy the experience. I’m also continually looking for ways to make the learning more enjoyable, so any feedback you want to share is welcome. Just go to any of the posts on and leave a comment. I read every one, and will respond as quickly as possible.

NOTE: The teaching method that inspired Proficience eSpanish is light years ahead of the way most schools are teaching beginning Spanish. You may or may not have heard of Blaine Ray’s teaching methodology called Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS). Mr Ray is a genius at engaging students while teaching them a foreign language. His methodology is quickly gaining support by language teachers around the world. After using TPRS in the classroom, it seemed to me like the eLearning world was sadly lacking in anything even close to this effective teaching method. So, this is a tip of my hat and a thank you to Blaine Ray and his son Von, and the tremendous contribution they are making to foreign/second language learners everywhere.

Happy Learning!


Mark Mayo has an M.A. in Instructional Design for Second Language Education. He lives in Northern California with his family and two happy, hungry dachshunds.

Is It Hard to Learn Spanish?

If you are thinking about learning Spanish, but are concerned that it might be too hard, this article is for you. Is it difficult to learn Spanish? Here’s the honest answer in the form of two questions. How well do you want to speak Spanish? Are you willing to try new ways of doing things?

If you only need to go to a Spanish-speaking business or restaurant to ask where the bathroom is, or ask for an item on the menu, you don’t need to be fluent. If you want to memorize a few key phrases that will get you through a quick day trip across the border into Mexico, it may only take one semester or less in a classroom setting.

But, meaningful communication doesn’t happen by saying memorized phrases to another person. Communicating is a complex system of sharing thoughts, responding to another person’s questions and comments, and organizing your own thoughts so you can be understood. If you want to be able to confidently communicate with native Spanish speakers, it will take longer than one semester. Let’s say you want to become proficient at Spanish by taking classes at your local community college. Current estimates are that you’ll be studying for around 600 hours of classes. How does that translate to your personal schedule? In a typical college Spanish program of four-semesters there are only roughly 200 hours of exposure to hearing and reading the language. You still have 400 hours to go! And with all of the vocabulary and grammar memorization just to pass tests, much of that time is wasted just to get a grade. But, do you come out of that experience knowing how to speak Spanish with confidence?

Don’t be discouraged about what it takes to be able to communicate in Spanish. You can reduce your learning hours with a savvy combination of the most effective tools and improved methods based on current research. And the best part, you can learn faster and more easily than the outdated methods used in traditional classes.

When I say tools and methods, I’m not referring to the ads that are plastered all over the internet that promise you’ll learn Spanish in ten days for $10. I’m going to be blunt. I’ve tried these programs along with many other people, and can tell you the ads are not honest. I’m also not talking about a website full of grammar and vocabulary games. If you want to take a break during your lunchtime, these can be fun, but they don’t contribute to fulfilling your desire for Spanish fluency.

It doesn’t have to be hard to acquire Spanish proficiency. You only need three things:
– Lots of hearing and reading the language in a manner that you can understand (also known as comprehensible input)
– A significant amount of interaction with other people who speak the language
– Some help making sense of how the language is constructed (I’m referring to simple explanations as they are needed, not pages of boring grammar exercises).

To see an example of comprehensible input and making sense of how the language is constructed, I invite you to try my first e-learning lesson. It’s completely free, and is sufficient to give an idea of what I’m talking about. In fact, if you have any comments to offer, that will be much appreciated.

Lesson One can be found at the “Register for Lesson one here” tab at the top of this page. Part One should only take 15-20 minutes. If you want to try all three parts to the lesson, you’ll probably be about an hour. When you are done, you’ll be able to use three of the most frequently-spoken verbs in Spanish with confidence. In full sentences. (Hey, that wasn’t a full sentence.) Also, you’ll be familiar with a bunch of Spanish vocabulary.

This is probably much different than the way you have been taught Spanish in a classroom. If you’re willing to try something new, you can acquire the ability to communicate in Spanish this way (even if other methods haven’t worked for you).

Mark Mayo has an M.A. in Instructional Design for Second Language Education. He currently lives in Northern California with his wife, kids, and dachshunds.

Strong Latin American Families Immigrating to a Neighborhood Near You

Often I read or hear people complain about the influx of illegal immigrants into the United States. At first glance, I disagree with immigrating illegally anywhere. But, on a deeper, individual level, it’s easy for me to comprehend why someone might want to risk all to come to the United States from a country where family life and personal freedom is torn by violence or overwhelming corruption influencing all levels of local and national government. The United States is politically and economically free for now, but perhaps we could benefit from examples of strong Latin American families immigrating to our cities and neighborhoods.

While doing interviews for a Spanish-language radio project some time ago, I learned that it was common for Latinos who succeed in following their dreams in the United States to have lives that are effectively balanced between work and family. I spoke with Spanish speaking Latinos who live in the United States now. They came from Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and other Latin American countries. Some of them had careers in their home country before they left, and some had nothing but a dream and the courage to risk everything. Hector came here not speaking any English, with only $5 in his wallet, and within a few years was selling over $2,000,000 in real estate (mid-1990s dollars). Connie had a talent for singing in her home country, and developed it until she became an internationally known performer living in the Pacific Northwest. Buz grew up as a seasonal farm worker with his family in Texas, and became a millionaire construction company owner as an adult.

These acquaintances, and others with stories that are equally as impressive, have some things in common. Their marriages are strong, their families are an important part of their lives, and they have the faith and determination to follow their dreams. My many native Spanish-speaking friends who simply get by financially from day to day also have strong family values as shown by their actions and family unity. That, to me, is equally impressive. It should be noted here that I also know many native-born United States citizens who work hard, and are happily married with strong families. Nevertheless, as a culture, Latin America seems to provide a healthy balance to the United States.

I mentioned above that I did a Spanish-language radio project in the past. The example below is an interview with a successful family business (tortilla factory) owner named Petra. It illustrates some timeless principles to achieve a healthy family/work balance. It’s best for intermediate level and above. If you have beginning Spanish skills, the language may be too advanced and very fast. If that’s the case, you can still use the captions for understanding the vocabulary, and listen to the slower speed version of the interview (although this may still be too fast for a beginning-level speaker to understand). If you are on the edge of comprehension with the slower speed, I encourage you to listen enough times so that you can understand it without caption help, and then listen to the standard speed version to train your ear to recognize what is being said at a faster rate.

Click Here for Laptop/Desktop Version

Are Native-Speaking Language Teachers Better than Non-Native Teachers?

I was reading a teaching-related blog the other day, and saw a post from a native Spanish speaker who teaches Spanish. She said that even if a non-native (gringo) teacher has good pronunciation, it is counterproductive for him or her to teach Spanish if they don’t sound exactly like a native speaker. Counterproductive. That means having the opposite of the desired effect.

Is it better to learn beginning-level language from someone who has grown up speaking it? My native language is American English. I have taught Spanish and English as a Second Language. Which one do you think is more difficult for me to explain to beginning students? My native language, of course. I grew up speaking English without learning any of the rules first. I heard it being spoken for thousands of hours, and gained a feel for what sounds right. That’s the case for every native speaker of every language.

If a person has had to learn a second language, and s/he is now fluent in that language, s/he understands what an English speaker goes through in learning that language. That makes it much easier to explain the second language in an understandable way to others native English speakers who are beginning to learn the same language.

What about the teacher’s accent? Let me ask you this: which accent are you referring to? Do you mean a Mexican accent, an Argentine accent, a Spanish accent, a Peruvian accent? The English language equivalent is a typical accent from Boston, New Jersey, Texas, England, California, Wisconsin, etc… Can you recognize a difference between them? Of course. If you learn to enjoy speaking Spanish, and just get good enough for a native speaker to understand you, you can develop your accent the more you practice. The accent you will develop depends on the accent of the people you are listening to. Would it help you more to learn beginning Spanish with a Mexican accent if you are planning to work in South America or Spain? No. It wouldn’t necessarily be worse, but it certainly wouldn’t be better. It probably wouldn’t make a big difference either way. I think the whole idea of a native speaking teacher being superior for beginning language learners because of his/her accent is far removed from what’s most important. The skill of the teacher or quality of the e-learning program is what matters.

Do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

Are You Too Old to Learn Spanish?

You know how sometimes an incorrect belief gets around to becoming conventional wisdom? Like the world being flat, or you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? There’s another one to add to the list. Adults aren’t able to learn foreign languages. Neither practical evidence nor research support that way of thinking.  You may be 29 years old or 79 years old, and it just doesn’t matter. Do you want to learn Spanish as an adult? You can learn much faster than you learned English as a child. Essentially, there are two things you need to do, but the last one I’ll mention is more helpful than the first.

Katherine Sprang, Ph.D, Second Language Acquisition expert, says “in some ways adults have an advantage over children.” She explains that adults can use knowledge of English to organize the different elements of a foreign language. For example, in Spanish this is a big help, because most of the sounds are the same as in English. There are a few exceptions, like the rr sound with a tongue roll as in the word ‘burrito’, or the nya sound like in ‘señor’. But, since we already are familiar with the other sounds made in the Spanish alphabet, we can give priority to learning those new sounds. We don’t have to learn them all from scratch. Another help is spotting words that look similar in both languages. Examples of these would be words like actividad, celebrar, and televisión. You already know their counterpart in English, so you don’t have to work hard to relearn them in Spanish. By noticing the difference, you speed up the learning curve of understanding the vocabulary and patterns. But, this is really just learning ABOUT a language. It’s like what a typical public school or college Spanish class does. Do you become FLUENT in speaking a language this way? No! The truth is, the more you focus on this early in your study, the more it hinders your ability to speak in the target language without having to figure out how to conjugate and pre-think your grammar.

There’s another important side to learning languages that must be practiced to truly acquire (internalize) a second language as an adult. It may be easier or harder for you, depending on your personality type. Relax. Take a deep breath. No, really, that’s it. “When the mind is relaxed and not seeking explanations or patterns”, says Sprang, “it’s capable of categorizing and sorting out information about some elements of language without conscious effort.” One thing that can help is finding a language friend online through an online language exchange service. This gives you the chance to be both learner and teacher with someone else who wants to learn your native language. This is a great way to practice your language safely. You can talk about things that truly interest you, and share your culture with someone who is in another country right now. All you need is a broadband connection and Skype. As long as you understand what your conversation partner is saying, or at least the gist of their words, you are becoming a little more fluent with each conversation.

The alpha version of my Spanish e-learning program gives you focused listening and reading practice to improve your fluency. Fluency comes from listening, not from speaking. Be consistent in your practice with the yet-to-be-named Learn Spanish Naturally product. Watch it a few times, and remember to breathe deeply and relax. Whether you feel like an old dog or a young pup, you can learn Spanish.

Mark Mayo has an M.A. in Instructional Design for Second Language Education. He has lived in South America in the past, but currently resides in Northern California with his family (and dachshunds).

A Horse with No Name

After submitting all of the final details on my M.A. degree two weeks ago, and then a wild backpacking adventure (I actually helped put out a small forest fire too!) last week, the e-learning alpha version for the first Spanish lesson is finally complete! All of my alpha testing heroes (you know who you are) now have the link to get started.

While backpacking, one of the guys started singing an old America pop tune from the 70’s: “I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to get out of the rain”. It cracked me up, but I started singing along (well, that quote is really all I can remember of the song). It comes to mind because my Spanish e-learning product is kind of like that mystical horse.

Yes, the program still needs a name. It probably will even when the Beta version comes out. At that point, I’ll encourage all site visitors to try it and leave feedback. Actually, the alpha is available right now (at the “alpha test” link at the top of the page), but the beta will undoubtedly be more refined and friendly for visitors. Maybe taking suggestions would be good? The big box language products have names referring to language-related things like the Egyptian rosetta stone, fluency, or the name of the instructor who developed his own system. I don’t intend to be a big corporation. Keeping things small and agile feels like a good way to be right now.

Branding Expert Susan Gunelius says “Your product name needs to fit within your broader brand name umbrella (Learn Spanish Naturally) while telling its own unique story to consumers. It needs to be memorable, findable (particularly on search engines), unique, understandable, and relevant.” Hmm, okay, this is going to take some brainstorming.

What is this product’s unique story? The method I use is unique in several relevant ways. It focuses on three verb forms in each lesson, and goes deep into comprehensible input. Those forms are then understood. They are there to use when needed. The next lesson reviews those three target forms and goes deeply into only three new ones. This narrow/deep strategy helps the learner to internalize the verb forms fast, rather than going over lots of “vocabulary” words in such a shallow way that they are forgotten by the time the next lesson begins. Of course, many other words are used in each lesson, but they are picked up naturally by exposure.

Also, the verb forms are presented in the form of a story. This gives context for the learner to remember what s/he is hearing. This lodges it in the brain where it needs to be, in order to be retrieved when a person is speaking Spanish.

One more unique thing, and then I’ll stop. You know how in Spanish class, you don’t even start learning past tense until towards the end of the first year? In these lessons, you start learning it in the second lesson, which is supported by current language research.

So, lots of things to consider when coming up with a one or two word product name. I know one thing, for sure. I’m not going to come up with a name alone. I would like this to be a collective effort. Granted, there aren’t many people visiting the blog yet, because it’s so new. I expect that in the next few months traffic will increase gradually in jumps and spurts. But, if you are visiting and have read this far, even a few months from now, please leave a name idea. There are no bad ideas. Your idea(s) could be the seed for the ultimate product name. It’s okay to horse around with ideas. That way, it won’t be the product with no name for much longer.

Follow up note:  It now has a name! And the beta testing is complete. You can sign up for free by clicking on the tab at the top of the page called “Register for Lesson One here!”

Mark Mayo has an M.A. in Instructional Design for Second Language Education. He has lived in South America in the past, but currently resides in Northern California with his family (and dachshunds).

Speak When You’re Ready

You know how, in most beginning and intermediate foreign language classes, the teacher explains a grammar principle, and then you practice speaking the language in pairs or small groups? If this is familiar, can you say from your personal experience that your practice in speaking the language has developed your ability to communicate fluently? Ignore what conventional wisdom dictates, and think about your actual personal results.

I’ve taught Spanish to both youth and adults, and in my first 2 1/2 years I used this traditional language practice method. Sadly, I saw little or no language improvement as a result of classroom speaking exercises. At first, I thought it was me. I felt bad that the students weren’t learning to speak or carry on even simple conversations expressing their own thoughts. I did a lot of research to find a better way.

You will find that I often refer to the findings of language education researchers. Everyone has their opinions about what is effective in language education, but I strongly prefer principles that are backed by credible research. One of the most important researchers in the field is Stephen Krashen. He has been a leader of effective language learning research for decades. In the last post, I quoted Krashen talking about comprehensible input. The quote goes on to refer to the ineffectiveness of producing language in the early stages of classroom instruction. Starting from where it began in the last post, Krashen continues, “the best methods are…those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are ‘ready’, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.” The traditional method of expecting students to produce contrived Spanish conversations from assigned textbook topics will never succeed in producing fluency. What does work well is using a few frequently-used Spanish phrases or verb forms in an engaging manner. Sufficient repetition in a relevant way provides input that a learner can comprehend and eventually acquire.

I have seen this working in the classroom. When a student has listened to enough comprehensible input to acquire a Spanish verb form or phrase, s/he then understands how and when to use it. This is the time when the student is ready to speak with confidence. My observation as a teacher and experience as a foreign language learner supports this. Spanish, and any other foreign language, is acquired by listening to comprehensible input, not by speaking before the language is acquired.

Mark Mayo has an M.A. in Instructional Design for Second Language Education. He has lived in South America, but currently resides in Northern California with his family (and dachshunds).