In this post: We will review how high school Spanish classes and free apps have made you feel like a failure at learning Spanish when you’re really not.
Are you an adult who’s started and stopped learning Spanish so many times you’ve lost count?
And now you’re stuck wondering, “maybe I’m just not good at Spanish…”
Well, I’m here to apologize on behalf of all those methods you’ve tried that have made you feel like a failure: lo siento.
I want to say that to you on the part of all those High School Spanish classes where they said you just had to sit in your chair and memorize a vocabulary list or some conjugations.
I want to apologize on behalf of all those Spanish learning Apps that told you all you have to do is go on a learning streak, compete with your virtual ‘friends,’ and pass to the next level. Only to show up on your first trip to the local mercado in Merida and get tongue-tied when it was time to order el plato de cochinta pibil and an agua fresca.
Let me say that for them: Lo siento.
Why am I sorry?
Because you’ve had a lot of experiences learning Spanish that were not just bad — they were impossible. And because failing at those impossible learning situations made you think it was your fault.
Because here you are — left blaming yourself instead of the school systems, the learning Apps, the people and institutions you trusted — who were supposed to be helping you reach your dreams for your Spanish.
And instead, they’ve stopped you in your tracks–and made the idea of actually speaking Spanish as an adult seem impossible too.
One thing I have learned in this business is that those myths we tell ourselves — the things that hold us back from our learning — come from these impossible experiences.
So when I hear people saying, “I’m just not good at Spanish,” and see them ready to give up, it’s something I can’t accept. You deserve better than that.
It’s time to rethink all those things you learned to tell yourself when you failed at something impossible. I hope you’ll see your Spanish learning journey (and yourself!) with new eyes.
Because then you can learn the strategies to be really successful at learning Spanish, and you’ll be able to finally tell yourself something new: sí se puede. Yes, yes you can.
¿Listo? Excelente. Grab your warm cup of café de olla and let’s go.
How Your High School Spanish Class Failed You
No, it’s not just you.
If you’ve ever told yourself that maybe you’re just bad at Spanish, I know exactly how you feel.
Why? Because I’ve been there.
After taking years of Spanish in school, I moved to Barcelona to live with a host family for a year. I naively thought, with all those years of high school and college Spanish classes under my belt, that I would be able to manage my way through most basic social situations.
But, the day after I arrived at my host family’s house and started meeting the neighbors, my face turned bright red when I told someone I was 13 instead of 23.
I was so disappointed. I couldn’t even tell someone how old I was. It was then that I realized that my high school and college classes had totally failed me.
The truth is, way too many of us know what it’s like to fail at learning Spanish. Because we’ve all had language-learning experiences where it felt impossible to succeed.
Remember high school Spanish? If you’re like me, you can still feel the wads of gum under the desk and the cold, rigid chair while you hunch down and hope Señora Hernandez won’t call on you.
“Luckily”, you don’t have to talk too much because there are 30 other kids to call on. You watch her write el subjuntivo on the board. You try to pay attention, but even as a teenager, you understand on some level: this lesson does not apply to your real-life ability to speak Spanish.
Best-case scenario? You’re good at memorizing, and you write all the forms of el pretérito correctly on your lined paper and get an “A.”
Worst-case scenario? Señora Hernandez gives you a disappointing look and says, “¿Que pasó?” when she passes your test back to you. You stuff that
failure prueba into your backpack and forget about it.
And whether you thought you were failing in high school Spanish — or you thought you were succeeding, here’s the even harder truth:
As an adult, if you take your high school Spanish to the local Mexican grocery store, you’ll probably feel a little bit of panic (or a lot).
Because you want to ask the man restocking the Choco Krispies what aisle you can find the tajín on. Because you’ve got this great plan to make cocteles de fruta for a friend’s birthday party, and tajín is the essential ingredient.
You want to ask like an adult, but instead, you stumble over words feeling like a child. Until you finally just give up and repeat, “tajín por favor” and feel totally defeated. He points to aisle 7.
I know. It feels terrible. But it’s not your fault. It’s what happens when you take the Spanish you learned in school and actually try to use it in the real world.
But if that’s you, you’ve learned an important language-learning truth:
Your High School Spanish is just not working for you in the real world.
And I hope now, you’ve also realized that — it’s not really working for anyone.
Which is why it’s not ok to tell yourself you’re not good at Spanish when all you’ve had to help you is a high school Spanish class.
The good news, though? Now you’re free.
Free to start looking for methods for learning Spanish that actually work for adults.
But before you begin that search, there’s another elephant in the room that we need to address when it comes to giving you a false sense of hope with your Spanish — those addictive language-learning apps.
Why That Language Learning App Doesn’t Care if You Progress
Speaking of learning situations that leave you feeling like you can’t…
If you tried to learn Spanish with an App and failed… well, join the club.
At least your high school Spanish teacher probably wanted to do the best for you with the limited resources she had. But that language learning App that has you feeling like you’re not good at languages?
It doesn’t care.
Your App doesn’t care if you have a 90-day learning streak and then leave on vacation to Cabo full of hope that you’re going to have amazing conversations in Spanish.
It doesn’t care when you try to order those delicious chilaquiles verdes con un jugo de toronja — and get tongue-tied.
It doesn’t care when you decide you’d better stick to walking along the ocean by yourself instead of popping into the little shops at the market where you might actually have to use your Spanish to talk to someone.
No, “The App Who Must Not Be Named” doesn’t care if you’re in the middle of your vacation in a Spanish-speaking city but feel alone because you can’t connect through the language.
That’s because it was designed and optimized by a team of well-paid programmers and marketing experts.
Yes, it had all the resources it needed to be really great at doing one thing. Unfortunately, that thing is getting you addicted to a learning App — not helping you learn a language.
I know. You thought that App was a friend that was going to help you learn Spanish.
But it wasn’t. And here you are. No farther along in your Spanish dreams, your limited time wasted. Money spent. Your trust is gone. And that’s not the worst part.
What kills me is that you feel like that’s your fault.
You Can Learn Spanish as an Adult
It can feel confusing and scary to leave behind an App that made it all seem so easy. It’s a little like ending a bad relationship. It hurts, but you come away stronger.
And not having a teacher and a big textbook to tell you what to learn and what to study, well, that’s scary too.
Because now, it’s all up to you.
You get to decide where you go from here.
And, ok, it’s a little scary being an adult learning Spanish and calling all the shots.
But it’s also incredible.
Now you have choices that seemed impossible when you were in school or ‘with’ your App.
You can decide to learn only what you need for real-life Spanish. Whatever that means for you, from finding the right thing at the Spanish market to having a great time on your next vacation.
If you wanted to, you could even choose to jumpstart your Spanish learning by choosing what YOU want to learn based on your interests. Forget “Class, here’s what we’re learning today.”
Forget your App and whatever it had in mind.
Now it’s entirely up to you.
Sí, puedes… [Yes, you can]
Your takeaways as an adult learning Spanish:
Learning Spanish is not something you ‘pick up’ by just sitting in class while hoping your high school Spanish teacher won’t call on you in a class of 30 other kids.
And you don’t ‘win it’ by getting into the diamond league ‘doing Spanish’ every day on an addictive but not-so-effective language App.
Learning to actually speak Spanish as an adult is a long-term commitment and consistent effort–using strategies that actually work for adults.
Now you know how to avoid language learning strategies that set you up for failure. Now you know that you’re not the problem. And you know you’re free to go on and do incredible new things in Spanish.
Here’s what I want you to remember so that you can start a new Spanish language journey. And something I want you to forget too — let’s start with that:
Promise me you’ll stop telling yourself: “I’m just not good at learning Spanish…”
That’s not who you are anymore. Instead, tell yourself this:
“I’ve been through some impossible learning situations. And now I know exactly why they didn’t work for me, and I’m finally free to start learning Spanish on my own terms.”
≫ Tired of feeling stuck at the intermediate Spanish plateau? Grab a copy of my FREE Spanish Priority Plan for Intermediate and Beyond, my step-by-step video guide detailing exactly how to break through to the advanced level.
≫ Fed up with getting tongue-tied every time you try to tell a story in Spanish? Jump into Polishing the Preterit, my self-paced course for intermediate Spanish learners looking to master the preterit tense and speak confidently about events in the past. This is the exact same process I used to stop conjugating in my head and start using Spanish naturally with native speakers.