Adquisición del lenguaje

Different schools divide language acquisition into fewer or more stages, but the process always starts at the pre-talking phase, when we simply absorb and begin to understand. Then our vocabulary increases, and our sentences become more complex. Finally, we become fluent users of our native tongue. 

Language acquisition

This is called first language acquisition. 

In this post, I am talking about second language acquisition and Spanish levels of language acquisition.

There are many similarities between how we acquire our first language and the stages of learning a new language—it doesn’t matter if it’s your second, third, or fourth language.

First, in all processes, there is a significant delay between what you can understand and what you can say. Comprehension always comes before speaking. 

Second, although each one of us will advance at a different pace, we will all go through the same stages in the same order. 

Remember, both babies and second language students learn through mistakes! 

The significant difference, and a very optimistic one, is that you can learn a second language much faster than your mother tongue. Your cognitive skills and intuitive linguistic knowledge of the first language can significantly speed up the process. 

Six Stages of Spanish Language Acquisition

Remember, these periods may take more or less time, depending on your linguistic skills but also the level of immersion. The more contact you have with the language, the shorter your stages of language acquisition will be.

1. Pre-Production

This stage is comparable to the pre-talking period of a child. It’s also called the “silent period” because speaking skills are almost nonexistent. 

At this level, the student usually nods, smiles, or indicates with gestures only. 

What should you focus on to progress as soon as possible at this stage? First, basic classroom language, for example: 

No entiendo.
I don’t understand.

¿Cómo se dice…?
How do you say…?

¿Puedo ir al baño?
Can I go to the bathroom? 

¿Puede repetir?
Can you repeat?

Immersion is crucial at this point. Listen and watch as much as possible to get used to Spanish pronunciation and intonation. You’ll slowly understand more and more.

You should become familiar with Spanish sounds to read correctly and accumulate content. As Spanish uses the same alphabet as English, you can build a base using your native languages and quickly learn the differences between the two. 

You should also correctly recognize personal Spanish pronouns to know who’s speaking or who they’re talking to.

2. Early Production

Here you need the same strategies as in the previous stage: lots of listening, watching, and parroting. 

At this phase, students say their first words and sentences. 

There’s a lot to learn at this level, and your comprehension is still significantly bigger than your production. Again, remember that! 

At this level, you should be able to use the phrases you learned in the silent phase. So practice them, even if you don’t understand the grammar behind them.

It is good to start learning beginner conjugation, focusing on regular verbs and some most common irregular ones.

You can learn some basic, ready-to-go phrases and use them in dialogues. At this stage, you should be able to have a dialogue similar to this one:

Pedro: Hola, me llamo Pedro. ¿Cómo te llamas?
María: Hola, Pedro, me llamo María. ¿De dónde eres?
Pedro: Soy de los Estados Unidos. ¿Y tú? 
María: Soy de México. 

Pedro: Hello, my name is Pedro. What is your name?
María: Hello, Pedro. My name is María. Where are you from?
Peter: I’m from the United States. And you? 
María: I’m from Mexico. 

Get familiar with English-Spanish cognates. Learn the question words and practice basic phrases. Start building your vocabulary. Create mind maps with words useful in familiar contexts such as family, school, office, shopping, and directions. 

These might vary from student to student, depending on your particular needs. 

Don’t worry about mistakes. The objective now is for people to understand you, and correctness doesn’t matter much yet in this stage of language acquisition!

3. Speech Emergent

Here, you’ll discover that you’re able to communicate! Of course, on a very basic level, but still. 

Sentences become longer, and you can construct your own sentences, instead of repeating memorized phrases. 

You start to conjugate verbs with more confidence, your vocabulary increases, and words come easily to you when you talk to others.

You should be able to have interactions about familiar topics. 

Communication is still limited, but you would survive in a Spanish-speaking country.

What to do next?

Work on your vocabulary. Make complex vocabulary mind maps, listen to podcasts, watch videos on YouTube, and read simple books. The more you see, the better. 

This means that the vocabulary you already know will become a long-term memory.

Use conjugation. Keep a diary in Spanish, and create imaginary conversations. Challenge yourself to mix new vocabulary with new grammar structures. Speak, write, and produce as much Spanish as you can.

Work on your pronunciation to avoid mistakes that could be harder to correct later.

4. Beginning Fluency

Congratulations! 

In this stage, you can communicate fluently in social situations, and your errors are fewer. 

Maybe you still struggle with vocabulary related to new contexts and formal and academic language. You still may need some time to recall less frequent words and structures.

In grammar, you know most of the tenses, although some can still be challenging. For example, you may still make mistakes with irregular conjugation forms.

What to do now?

Challenge yourself with more difficult verbs. Start reading newspapers, and keep reading books to increase your vocabulary and push yourself closer toward the next stages of language acquisition.

Keep a vocabulary diary to write down words that you don’t understand.

Try to have fun. Watch movies and series, and find your favorite Spanish Youtuber and TikToker. Listen to podcasts. Find a Spanish pen pal or language partner. Keep surrounding yourself with Spanish.

5. Intermediate Fluency

Now we’re talking! Literally. 

Almost nothing can stop you when talking with a native speaker. 

Social language situations present no difficulty to you, and you can easily cope with new contexts and academic and formal language. 

Of course, there still might be some gaps in specific-purpose vocabulary.

But you know all the grammar structures and make very few mistakes.

You could function, study, and work in a Spanish-speaking country without any issues.

What to do?

Read, watch, write, and listen in Spanish. At this stage, you learn new words and phrases in context. Travel to a Spanish-speaking country.

Start the day reading the news in Spanish.

Polish your pronunciation.

Get yourself a grammar book for intermediate learners.

6. Advanced Fluency

This is almost the end of your journey—although we never stop learning.

At this level, you can communicate in all contexts, both formal and informal. 

You have tamed academic language, and you can learn new terms like most native speakers.

You might still make some errors with idiomatic expressions that you don’t use daily. But sometimes, only your accent reveals your foreign roots. 

Remember, you don’t have to have a perfect accent to speak like a native speaker! 

What to do?

It’s more challenging to progress when you’re an advanced Spanish learner. The progress is less visible, and you might lose motivation. So prepare yourself for a new Spanish routine and stick to it!

Get yourself a novel in Spanish. 

Watch even more movies and series. 

Subscribe to advanced podcasts. 

Practice specific vocabulary, academic vocabulary, and formal language. 

Practice different forms of writing.

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