I predict this will be a somewhat controversial blog title in the world of Spanish learning. Before you accuse me of joining the ranks of online companies making grand spammy promises that can’t be kept ⏤ you know the ‘Our one week course is equal to fifty million years of university classes’ kinda thing ⏤ give me a chance to explain.
Learning Spanish ain’t easy. But of the many ‘ways’ or methods for learning Spanish ⏤ classes, apps, memorising vocab lists, conversing, filling out workbooks ⏤ there is one that is. Easy. Like easy peasy lemon squeezy easy.
That magical method is passive learning; exposing yourself to Spanish without actively thinking about it. I’m going to protect myself with bold font here. When passive learning is used in conjunction with the methods above, it’s a ruddy awesome way to get better at Spanish.
My favourite ways to engage in a spot of passive learning include watching ‘Narcos’ on Netflix (they mostly speak in Spanish and it has English subtitles, but I warn you - it's violent!), listening to a Lingogo audiobook, or playing Kat Dhalia’s 'Gangsta' in Spanish on Spotify while I’m working. You don’t need to understand every word. Just practise getting used to the flow of the language and you’ll be surprised how much more sense it makes each time.
Is this sounding like I’m making up a concept to legitimise laziness? Cast your votes in the comments below, but first scan this article which quotes cold hard science to back up passive learning done right.
Want to know the real clincher though? The key to it all, the Big Mac secret sauce, the knock-out punch? Passive learning will make you better at Spanish because it’s the kind of learning you’ll actually do regularly. And the secret to success in language learning is as plain jane as regular practise.
Say you attend a two hour Spanish class every week and you have a workbook for homework (which requires active learning).
On Wednesday night you get home from work zonked. You spend some time with the kids. You finish off your slides for a presentation tomorrow. You might even cram some exercise in. Finally, you allow yourself a glass of wine. You know you should open your Spanish textbook that’s sitting on your bedside table but you really, REALLY can’t be bothered. Because your brain is already packed to the brim and simply refuses to co-operate with any material other than Gilmore Girls (the new series).
That’s not laziness. It’s the reality of adult life.
At your next class you feel guilty and have to spend time revising instead of moving onto new material. When you do learn something new you’re re-motivated. You think ‘I love this. I’m definitely going to practise this week!’. And then… well just re-read the previous paragraph.
Over time, even for the most crazily motivated among us, we run out of the energy needed to regularly and actively practise Spanish. At this point language learning morphs into a chore instead of a joy.
But let’s introduce a bit of passive learning into your routine. Go back to that Wednesday night. The kids are tucked in. You’re tuning into Netflix and instead of your usual you try out Velvet. The next morning you play an Enrique tune through Spotify on your way to work. Later that week you listen to that month’s Lingogo audiobook.
When you turn up to your next Spanish class you have a few extra words and concepts residing in your long term memory (because you’ve learned them in context). Also, more importantly, you’re feeling excited, fresh and ready to go because you’ve actually enjoyed practising and using your Spanish passively all week.
So next time you have twenty minutes on a weeknight, or an hour to fill on a Sunday afternoon give it a go! Then come back to the comments section here or hit us up on social media to tell me what you think of passive learning and your own favourite ways to do it.
I hope you’re all loving our new ZEBRA series, we’re having so much fun writing it. If you're new to Lingogo you can check it out by downloading the app free from our home page. In next month’s story ‘The Chilled Kangaroo’ an intriguing new character with mysterious intentions gets under both our agents skin - though in rather different ways. Out April 1st - stay tuned!