From Google’s Linguistic to Nuyorican Actress. 4 Success Stories of Learning Spanish as an Adult.

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

As adults, we tend to think that it is too late to learn a language.

Children are “like sponges” and learn by mimicking their parents or teachers. They are less self-conscious and can quickly memorize. Plus, they easily learn new sounds, and their pronunciation is natural and accurate.

Adults are busy with work, family, social life, and hobbies. It seems that “learning a new language is hard”, and “I don’t have the time”.

But the good news is that, in our experience, adults have a set of tools that make them efficient language learners. And that, with the right resources, we can be highly motivated students.

This article is based on our experience teaching Spanish to adults in Los Angeles. We want to illustrate how adults can enjoy the journey, advance in their fluency skills!

We spoke with four of EDS MY CLASSROOM adult Spanish students in LA. With different backgrounds in Spanish and unique lifestyles, all are adamant about enhancing their proficiency and becoming highly fluent in Spanish.

Meet our star students:

  • Tracy, a Nuyorican actress, and writer who works for Netflix

  • Gretchen, an executive assistant in love with Spanish authors

  • David, a business owner proud of his “street Mexican” Spanish

  • And Erin, a Googler Linguistic reading “El Alquimista”

They answered these 3 questions.

1. Why do you want to learn Spanish?

2. What is your favorite tool/resource to study the language?

3. What advice can you give adults who want to speak Spanish and feel they can't learn it?

Tracy, a Nuyorican Actress and Spanish Immersion mom

My name is Tracy and I'm an actress.

1. Why do you want to learn Spanish?

I want to learn Spanish because it’s been a long time coming for me. I was born and raised in Spanish Harlem, NYC… in a household with Puerto Rican parents who spoke fluent Spanish but preferred my older sister and I to assimilate and speak the English language. Absorbing American culture, traditions and rituals was a big deal in my house. Of course, eating and celebrating any holiday or Cousin’s birthday was a typical New York/Puerto Rican (Nuyorican that is) experience but it was always laced in being an American. So, Spanglish is what I know from being raised this way but fluent is what I’m clear I want to be now.

2. What is your favorite tool/resource to study the language?

My favorite way to learn, and the ONLY way that works for me is in-person human immersion. I have seriously tried every other method...from Rosetta Stone, to Babble, to Santa Monica College Continuing Education Spanish Classes, to helping my own son at the Spanish Immersion School he attends, to even pushing my mother to speak Spanish to me all day when I visit NYC. It all helped in some way but never made me fluent.

3. What advice can you give adults who want to speak Spanish and feel they can't learn it?

One thing that blocked me from learning in each scenario was SHAME. I recently confessed to Ana that I think this shame that I SHOULD KNOW SPANISH because my family is Puerto Rican, they speak it fluently, and so deeply connected to the culture that I SHOULD KNOW THIS BY NOW. But once I realized how ridiculous and impossible it is to learn anything this way, I let it go. What I want is to be fluent in Spanish and that’s all that matters. My advice to any adult who wants to learn, I’d say 100% go for it. And don’t just do it the regular way, immerse yourself…read interesting Spanish books and articles, dance Salsa, watch any of the fantastic Spanish films on NETFLIX these days and conversate, conversate, conversate with Spanish-speaking friends over typical Latin meals from any or every Spanish-speaking country. Completely enjoy yourself as you get into it. And as travel restrictions improve and the world gets vaccinated, make an ambitious plan to visit as many Spanish-speaking countries before you turn 100. Oye que Rico! Vamonos amigos!

Gretchen Husting, from Chicago to Barranquilla

My profession is administrative assistant for a variety of companies that I work with on a contract basis.

1. Why do you want to learn Spanish?

My roommate from college is from Panama and she would laugh hysterically with her friends - in Spanish. When I asked her what was so funny, she said, "Oh, it doesn't translate." And that made me want to study Spanish. Many years later, I started taking classes at the Instituto de Cervantes in Chicago. Then, I traveled to Guatemala for a language program and I loved it there - I stayed in Antigua and went to Tykal - the pyramids and to Lake Atitlan.

I haven't stopped studying Spanish since then. I also read 100 Years of Solitude and loved it. Years later I traveled to Barranquilla, Colombia for four months - where Marquez spent time. I wanted to go to Aracataca which is the real location of Macondo, but my co-workers said it was too dangerous at that time.

2. What is your favorite tool/resource to study the language?

I have a bunch of tools that I really enjoy, including Spanish telenovelas, novels, poetry, and the local newspaper La Opinion. I also watch the morning news and entertainment shows where they dance like it's Carnaval time. Very different from news in English. Ha ha - Univision really likes to mix it up.

Taking classes at EDS pushed my Spanish to a much higher level - studying the subjunctive mood and all the others. It's fun to learn from Spaniards. I enjoy my lessons there so much.

3. What advice can you give adults who want to speak Spanish and feel they can't learn it?

Yes, you can learn it. Just remember that you won't be able to really speak it for a few years, but enjoy the ride. Beginning Spanish classes are hilarious because no one knows anything and it keeps getting funnier. When I learned that the Spanish word for handcuffs is "esposas" (wifes), it really killed me. I thought it was so funny.

I think I started to have real conversations after three years because I wasn't taking intensive classes, but I did travel to Argentina and Mexico for two week language programs which were really a lot of fun and useful to start learning that different countries have different words and different meanings for the same words.

My advice: jump in! It's also good for your brain, it makes it work and exercise and I've read that it can help prevent Alzheimer's. Plus, if you surprise a native speaker with even the most basic words or sayings, they love it.

David, business owner

I am a sales and marketing executive and business owner.

1. Why do you want to learn Spanish?

I wanted to take a lifetime of learning Spanish from my travels to a more fluent level by actually committing to the formal study of a foreign language. Furthermore, my business has put forth an opportunity to do business in Nicaragua, Panama, and Mexico, where a more thorough understanding of the Spanish language has become a business necessity.

2. What is your favorite tool/resource to study the language?

To date, my preferred method of learning Spanish is from using Google Translate for written conversations, and the use of Spanish subtitles on movies to hear in English and see this transcribed into Spanish in real-time. However, without going back to formally studying the language, I miss the proper training on verbs, verb conjugations, and the basic foundation of speaking Spanish.

3. What advice can you give adults who want to speak Spanish and feel they can't learn it?

I believe that any person of any age can learn a new language. However, aside from total immersion, such as living in a foreign country for a prolonged period of time, learning a language requires a commitment to do so, formal training, and practice.

I absolutely recommend that an adult take the time and make a commitment to learning a foreign language. It is very possible.

Erin, Googler

I am a linguist at Google.

1. Why do you want to learn Spanish?

Spanish is such a beautiful language with a rich history. Speaking better Spanish would offer a greater window of communication with the world. Also, I think it's just unacceptable that I don't speak better Spanish living in California.

2. What is your favorite tool/resource to study the language?

I love using pop culture to access languages: books, music, podcasts. These resources really bring the language to life in a way textbooks can't.

3. What advice can you give an adult who wants to speak Spanish and feel they can't learn it?

Use it as an opportunity to learn something about yourself. What parts of the language are you drawn to? What parts are difficult? Do you learn better by reading, hearing, practicing? Language is playful, mistakes are normal and welcome! Make it your own journey, no matter the destination you will walk away with a greater understanding!

In conclusion, learning Spanish as an adult can be a fun journey that will take you to be able to use the language to communicate, travel, and enjoy the world in a broader richer way.

Just pick a resource ( a song, an app, a show) and start today!

What is your favorite Spanish resource to practice Spanish? We would love to hear your comments.

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