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Self Development

Five Comprehension Skills to Develop Your Vocabulary – and Learn a New Language.

I have for some months now, being (trying to) learning the intricacies of the Spanish language. Being a regular pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago, with most of the trails being hosted by beautiful Spain, it is far more enjoyable to be knowledgeable in the local lingo.

I was really struggling and found it so difficult to progress with this new language. I put the difficulty down to my age. I mean, I have two young friends who seem to pick up the Greek language with such ease – it must be my advanced age?

When you really think about it though, it is not necessarily someone’s age that makes learning a new language difficult. It is the way you think about the language that presents the most difficulties. Well, so I have read in many articles.

I started to think about my home language of English. I have been brought up in a fully English home. My grandmother was born in England, and her friends spoke with some of the best vocabulary I have ever heard.

The older generation (older than mine of course) really spoke in a way that resounded with a dignified and proper command of the language. I was often spellbound at some of the words.

But even for native English speakers, the English language can be absolutely confounding. I am reminded that I now still try in all instances to develop my own vocabulary, so my difficulties getting my head around Spanish seem reasonable.

In any event, I read an article that mentioned that when we are learning a new language that it is paramount to use all five comprehension skills. I still use these to further master my English vocabulary, so it seemed the most appropriate method to implement to better my Spanish language skills too.

The Five language comprehension skills are:

  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Watching
  • Speaking
  • Writing

Reading

I have always been a voracious reader. I have also been very particular about the books I read, which when I do a “stock take” of my cabinet at home, the books are mostly theological in nature. I am no theologist mind you, but this subject in particular is of great interest to me.

I am also a documentary or autobiography fan. The figures I read about are, wait for it, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and a whole series on the Popes, as well as loads on Pope Francis.

I also love a good human spirit story. Lewis Pugh fills that genre for me. I love reading the descriptive paragraphs of his adventures into the unpopulated snowy reaches of our planet, or about his latest swimming expeditions somewhere on the globe.

Business books too. Mindset, productivity, digital skills, online launches and the journey into entrepreneurship, all make up my proud collection of books.

The point here, is that if you are wanting to develop, improve and maintain your own vocabulary, in whichever language, reading is an absolute necessity.

I have now started reading Spanish stories and articles. While it takes me an entire weekend to read just a newsletter, reading does help the learning process. My mindset when I started learning Spanish was that reading was for much further up the learning curve, but I was very wrong.

I read Spanish words now too. Despite my beginner’s status, I have made some great strides getting to grip with this foreign language.

I read. I write the words that I don’t understand in my notebook. I find out what those words mean and write down the English equivalent alongside the Spanish. Then, I read the passage again.

It is a labour of love for sure.

Listening

The way we all learned our current languages was listening to our parents and to those close to us when we were children.

It is the adult or the more proficient person in the language who would correct you. As they did, your vocabulary developed.

As we listen to learn a language, to listen will also improve your vocabulary. It takes some active listening, and I find that when I am listening to Spanish in particular, I am now listening with an intention to learn.

I would suggest that this type of listening, active listening in general helps us all in many ways, not simply to boost our vocabulary.

If we are listening with an intention to learn, surely this is what we should all be striving for?

Watching

I have some books that have been adapted for the screen. Either in the form of a movie or documentary, the benefit for overall understanding at least for me, is phenomenal.

Having read the words and then watching them being put into action or being displayed before your eyes lends some depth to the purpose and meaning of the book. In my opinion.

In my endeavor to learn Spanish, I now purposefully seek out Spanish movies. Although I might watch them twice, or thrice, at least once with the English credits and another without those credits, I am finding that I have a deeper understanding of the language.

My mindset around my learning is far more positive too.

Speaking

Many will agree, that without speaking the language and having conversations with other speakers who are better at that language, you are selling yourself short if you are wanting to learn, develop or maintain your own vocabulary.

Speaking holds the key to many instances of learning. While I was doing face-to-face training so many years ago while I was presenting on the subject in my field of compliance, I really did so much learning in the process of speaking.

The exchanges and questions that came up were a breeding ground for knowledge share, and in so doing, I got better at it, as well as got better at presenting in my own language of English. Speaking about the subject gave me more context and I was able to develop and grow to using better words and vocabulary as I progressed into the speaking role.

Productively speaking, and to whom you speak, can never be underestimated for learning and improving your own vocabulary.

Writing

All writers who read this (thank you very much for doing that) will surely agree that as you write, and as you engage with other writers work that you become better at your craft. As you read and then write from your own experiences, so much seems to happen to a person.

The writing conjures up feelings that well up from deep down inside and bubble up to the surface. It is not an experience that I have ever had before and writing my blog has given me a deeper sense of purpose and understanding towards my own goals.

To do those feeling and thoughts justice you invest in your skill to help you develop language and the most effective use of words.

Writing, for me, is the culmination of all the above skills. I read to be able to write better. I listen, watch and speak to do the same.

I keep a little journal of all my notes that pop into my head, or when I am in purposeful research. This initial writing is a veritable cornucopia of my thoughts. Granted they might seem shallow to others, but for me, these writings are potential for what lies ahead. For what lies ahead as long as I continue on this path to improve and grow.

Conclusion

What I have learned since starting my pilgrimage towards learning the Spanish language is that, to learn a foreign language and similarly to improve your vocabulary, the same five skills will get you closer to your goal.

They must be used effectively and productively and cannot be practiced in a vacuum. They are a set of five things leading you to one goal. They all culminate together beautifully, and even while I am watching a Spanish movie, I find myself saying the words out loud, as if I was part of the whole conversation.

I hope to be speaking excellent conversational Spanish in the next months. I sure feel better positioned to do so.

I am off to read a book!

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