English to Spanish ..when does it all "click"


New member
Aug 16, 2003
My proficiency level of Spanish, on a scale of 1-10 is around a "5"
I can hold conversations by understanding just enough words spoken in a sentance to get the meaning.
But, I find myself going thru long explanations in Spanish to describe something simple like...bebidas..I would say.. yo quereo una cosa para tomar... (just 1 example)

Fortunately I live somewhere in S. Fla where there is an abundance of Spanish, so I've been listening, reading and speaking a lot.
I am also guilty of making the conversion in my mind to English when I am exposed to Spanish.

My question is, while intently trying to learn Spanish, do you find yourself one day NOT making the conversion from Spanish to English in your mind....like pollo is pollo and you don't think "chicken"

I find that in the DR people really enjoy and support someone that is in the process of learning Spanish...something that rarely occurs here!

Thanks in advance !!!


Jun 24, 2003
Pollo is always chicken to me...:)

You sound like me! I have found I can understand what is said but can not get the spanish words out of my mouth..but at least I know when someone is speaking about me! :) Pam


Aug 27, 2003
don't know the answer

... but this is a good question.

A long time ago I was told that once one reaches a certain level, the best way to internalize a second language, to really own it, is to read the good literature of that language ... the nuances of humor and subtleties of expression are best appreciated this way.

This idea makes sense, but I've never put it into practice. D


New member
Aug 16, 2003
Thanks !
I've been told by more than a few that it will happen, even with someone learning English from Spanish.

I'm sold on the idea that the mental conversion process is more psychological than anything, because on more than one occasion (while sampling some of the excellent rums here), I can really speak well (even in a convo with more than 1 person) for a LONG time with little or no mental thought of converting words.

Can't tell you the GREAT feeling I get when you can clearly see the progress you made in learning and you are communicating !!

Another great thing that I've been exposed to here in D.R is that when I'm listening in Spanish, maybe my expression
(or response !...LOL) says that I dont understand,...most of the time I'll be asked in Spanish to explain what the person just said!
Most do CARE!



Aug 27, 2003
adults & new languages


I think you've hit on one of the biggest troubles for adults learning new ... well, new anything, but especially languages because so much depends upon good feedback and patient repetition of that feedback.

I don't entirely agree with the belief that adults aren't nearly as capable as children with respect to language learning... when a child does so, everyone close to that child offers encouragement and is endlessly patient in repeating correct pronunciations and so on. As well, a child has all day every day to practise.

I believe adults are much more sensitive about 'correcting' other adults, so as long as another makes himself understood, the grammar subtleties are allowed to pass, for politeness.

The Canadian city I lived in was very multicultural, and I learned to pay attention to those who apologized for incorrect use of language and help correct in whatever way came up during conversation.

Not once was this help taken as condescending... instead, the one learning English was delighted. Something to remember, maybe.

Anyway, I'm delighted to know that your experience bodes well for native speakers to help the process along.

Too bad there wasn't a universal word or phrase to let others know that you wish to be treated like a child when learning! hee.



Jun 28, 2003
two compartments of the brain

I have done some study of this question as I took up Italian language very late in life and have been bothered by the same question as the original poster.

Basically we must contend with the fact that there is a "compartment " reserved for us upon birth for our primary and first language. Second languages are learned through another system or part of our brain function and here the process is a lot different and harder. BTW--it is for this reason that it is recommended that older people work at mental activities such as learning a new language, in order to help themselves against Alzheimer and dementia illnesses.

Keith R

"Believe it!"
Jan 1, 2002
Re: two compartments of the brain

johne said:
Basically we must contend with the fact that there is a "compartment " reserved for us upon birth for our primary and first language. Second languages are learned through another system or part of our brain function and here the process is a lot different and harder. BTW--it is for this reason that it is recommended that older people work at mental activities such as learning a new language, in order to help themselves against Alzheimer and dementia illnesses.

Not quite sure I agree about this idea of a spot in the brain reserved for only one language. My twins were taught both English and Spanish from birth, no preference given. Both languages in effect are their "primary," with a fluidity that I greatly envy. They both, at our insistence, are now learning French. And both plan to learn Portuguese (in fact, I am bit by bit teaching it to them anyway). They have a Dominican cousin that speaks English, Spanish and Greek with equal ease.

Kids, especially young ones, are amazing in their ability to learn languages. They are learning sponges, and so flexible, adaptable, their minds not yet set in its ways. Which is why it is a shame that our school system in the US (as well as the system in the DR) does not require foreign languages at a very early age.

I taught EFL at the Dominico for 2 years, primarily adults. I always told them that as far as I am concerned there were two secrets to acquiring proficiency in a second language, both of them related to immersion: (1) stop being self-conscious about it -- stop trying to internally translate everything, make all sentences picture perfect, etc -- just speak, go through trial-and-error, the much touted process of "repair" (part of the reason kids learn new languages is that they tend to plow on, while we adults tend to dwell on our mistakes); (2) practice, practice, practice. If you don't use it constantly, you'll never imbed it and you'll loose it.

I learned Portuguese that way at the age of 22 -- in 3 short months in Brazil in 1979. My Portuguese since then is not grammatically perfect, but it is fluid and so authentic Brazilians are often floored the first time they meet me. And I exercise it every opportunity I get -- in correspondence, conversing, listening to TV & music in the language.

I had to re-learn Spanish that way when I moved to SD in 1995. I had learned it in high school and became so proficient I AP'ed out of the language requirement for college. But I lost it through disuse thereafter. I was horribly awkward and halting with Spanish when I moved to SD. It started getting better the moment when I stopped worrying about it and simply used it -- all the time, resisting the urge to fall back on English. BTW, that process of explaining things in long-hand in Spanish is much more valuable than you may know. You may consider it to be a pain now, but it's great exercise in getting you to think & reason in Spanish, rather than constantly rely on short-cuts provided by bilingual speakers.

It takes more time, patience & persistence when you're older, but it comes.

These days, I often find that I cannot at first remember terms in English, my "native" language! [ok, guys, no jokes about Alzheimers! ;) ] That's when you really know it's "clicked"! Another good indicator is when you actually start understanding the jokes & double entendres without having them to be explained to you....

I'm 46 and starting to learn a third language that I've been reading for years, but never really spoke before and couldn't write if I had to. [Won't tell you which one, because Scott would have a cow! LOL] It's not easy, but I plan to hang in there. I always find learning to be rewarding. Learning a language is particularly rewarding, because it ties into culture, and it makes one reflect on your own language and culture.

Well, enough ruminating.



New member
Jul 8, 2003
don't worry, it gets worse

I'm older and I'm not good at languages, even my own. So, i became a Sci major, but that is another story.
My solution in Spanish and German... I have heard that it offends the French. I start every conversation with "i'm sorry, but, my Spanish is bad, because, i don't practice, every day" Then i plow ahead and have a wonderful time. People are so nice.
Anyway, what i wanted to warn you about, is when you start getting automatic there is a short time when you get words wrong. The wrong word comes out again and again. Then be very careful or the wrong words just pop out. Not too bad when i kept using sweet potato for walking stick. I did not get my pinon walking stick. But, i do not discus rabbits, in public.... LOL

Also my SO is the other way arround. At least 5 languages as a kid. Then English before he was 10 years old. He worries that he sounds like a kid in them, but learns languages for fun. He can not translate, because he thinks in one or the other. If I need help with a German horsemanship article i get him to tell me a few words and can get the meaning faster than asking him to translate.

bye for now,


New member
Jan 1, 2002
Re: don't know the answer

dawnwil said:
... but this is a good question.

A long time ago I was told that once one reaches a certain level, the best way to internalize a second language, to really own it, is to read the good literature of that language ... the nuances of humor and subtleties of expression are best appreciated this way.

This idea makes sense, but I've never put it into practice. D

Let me suggest the novel En El Tiempo de Las Mariposas by Julia Alvarez. Not only is it a fascinating story based on true events in the DR, if you're like me, you'll be grabbing for the dictionary every other paragraph. I started reading this book four or five different times and am finally about a third of the way through it and now I'm hooked. The story's "getting good" as they say and I'll spend a couple of hours a night reading. I'm sure others will have suggestions.

About learning a 2nd language, I wish I'd save a piece that someone posted to a soccer mailing list I'm on about that. But, the gist of it was that adult brains and child brains don't function the same way when it comes to learning. Children, by heavenly design, aren't analytical until a certain age and by that time a language or two languages or three have been learned. It really doesn't matter how many languages. It's the state of the mind that's crucial.

Adults can learn a language by rote or by immitating native speakers the way kids learn, but normally that's the incorrect approach, Berlitz and others notwithstanding. Adults, again by heavenly design (I believe), consciously or subconsciously integrate structure and logic into their learning. You can no more stop this "rational" approach to learning than you can stop your sex drive. It's part of being an adult.

So, there may not be a "language compartment" in your brain, but there are "child-learned" and "adolescent-learned" and "adult-learned" areas, which, to me is just about the same thing. Trying to remember more of what this post said, fewer than 5% of adults will learn a 2nd language to the point that they don't interpret back into their primary language as they listen or compose their own sentences, according to this study.

The good news is that 50% of adults will learn a 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) language to the point that they are translating so quickly that they're virtually unconscious of doing it. And the other 45% will struggle to some degree.

Well, there's a lot of threads on this topic. Lots. Most of the posts are pretty helpful. Is everybody who's learning spanish getting their daily Chiste? You can. At www.cipotes.com/Chistes/ or www.chistes.com Subscribe and you'll get one in your email inbox every day. Won't even have to surf for it. Do you read a bilingual or spanish-language newspaper every week? You should. Are you watching Univision or Telemundo? There's so many ways to learn. And some of them are even fun. Don't give up.
your fellow spanish student,
st louis mike

ps the reason that the post was made to the soccer mailing list, was when Andres Cantor ( the original "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOL" guy) was broadcasting the women's soccer from the summer olympics in Australia. He sounded very "wooden" in english and some people wondered why the network would choose him.
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Mar 5, 2003
UP_time said:

My question is, while intently trying to learn Spanish, do you find yourself one day NOT making the conversion from Spanish to English in your mind....like pollo is pollo and you don't think "chicken"

Thanks in advance !!!

If you really apply yourself, I believe it can happen. In my case I'm dominican born, came to the US at the age of 12, by the time I started high school, I was completely american. When I visited the nuns at Sagrado Corazon de Jesus in Santiago they were not too impressed with me and suggested I take a spanish course, which I did, but even so when speaking spanish, I need to translate in my mind from english to spanish.


Jan 1, 2002
Re: Re: two compartments of the brain

[B]Keith R[/B] said:
These days, I often find that I cannot at first remember terms in English, my "native" language! [ok, guys, no jokes about Alzheimers! ;) ]
Oh god! I thought that only happened to me! phew... I can now relax.

Spanish is my mother's tongue, so I can't speak for learning Spanish, but I understand what Keith says about kids learning faster. Kids don't care if they make mistakes or are not worried about embarrassing themselves. That's why (among other things) they learn so fast.

My best advice would be to read as much as you can, listen to music, watch TV talk to people. Don't be worried about mistakes, it won't be in the papers next day.


Jan 1, 2002
Everybody's advice is great!
I was so proud the first day of Spanish immersion school for my son... He stated: "mom, I don't know the colors in Spanish!" I eased his mind by telling him his teacher would be there to help.
He had seen me speaking Spanish, all of his 4.5 years. The next proud day when he came to me in English and asked the name of the "white bird"... well, it took some explaining, but once he told me 'paloma', I translated 'dove.'
I find that little kids haven't yet categorized the meaning of their language, so if they learn paloma and dove at the same time, they will know both.
They don't have enough experience to have heard it another way, so that IS the way for them. As we age, we become more closed off to what we don't know, as if it were irrelavant.
I learned Spanish when I was 14. I started French when I was 16. I was lucky. As an adult, in about 2000, I began to learn Japanese. What a difference! Pronunciation is like Spanish, so it's great - thanks to the youthful experience. Phonetic alphabet, ok. Kanji is a big struggle. The pay off to learning kanji is in its meaning. It simplifies reading tremendously. Still a glutton for punishment, I took an Italian conversation class. Loved it! Felt competent. Drew heavily on French and Spanish to make the connections.
IMO, you can learn it whenever. Immersion is best. Young is best. To not learn it is a shame. Force yourself to make a mental immage of pollo, and it will be pollo. Tune up your ear and listen, listen, listen. Start with simple books and work your way up.
And don't be afraid to make a mistake! Most everybody appreciates your effort, and will help too.


New member
Jan 4, 2002
Five Clicks

1st Click: When you can converse with the locals

2nd Click: When you can carry on a conversation over the phone
without the physical body indicators. This is a huge

3rd Click: When you can understand Spanish television

4th Click: When you think in Spanish

5th Click: When you dream in Spanish

I do all of the above and native Spanish speakers say mine is good. Perhaps that's because my nouns are above average and I skirt around (no not that way Cris you idiot) verb tenses.


Aug 27, 2003
Accelerated Learning

This thread is so cool. Great comments everyone.

SL Mike... thanks for that book suggestion. I'm nowhere near ready to read a novel-- can't speak a sentence yet, but I'll get that book!

I had looked at language learning years ago with a method called 'Accelerated Learning'. It makes use of baroque music and relaxation techniques to create the best conditions for learning-- a combination of right brain and left brain. The baroque classical music works on frequencies similar to alpha brainwave patterns (meditative/creative states), as well as those found in the upper stratosphere. It's quite cool.

There's much more to it, of course. People have used the method and been able to converse in a new language in a few days-- learn 1000 new words in a day instead of the 300 (?) Berlitz promises in a month.

There's a new book on this method called 'Super Learning 2000' and it shows you how to make your own baroque music tapes, for one. The book is by Sheila Ostrander & Lynn Shroeder, and it really digs into the concept thoroughly.

Children are unselfconscious, as Pib and others have said, and I think that's a huge aspect. So learning how to relax, to place the mind in a meditative state, is important. This is really critical with creative work too, because the Caliban on your shoulder shuts down the creative, imaginative, visual aspects of the mind, the ones also so important for memory.

Oh-- a note for Kay about the French. I found exactly the opposite there... the French, like everyone else, like to feel that their culture is being honored. I apologized all the time and everyone tried to help.

They are very unhappy when Americans (usually) show NO interest in attempting to speak the language; they consider it arrogant. The truth is that Americans have poor reputations as international travelers. They travel to Europe and demand everything as they would find at home. Perhaps one reason the A1 resorts are so popular? Obviously, the people here know differently. Regardless, when I was in France, any stumbling attempt to speak the language was received warmly. I expect it's the same everywhere... show a genuine interest and it brings out the best.



Jan 3, 2002
Santo Domingo
to sleep per chance to dream.....

I've dreampt that I could speak spanish well. But when I woke and was all happy, when the words spewed out of my mouth, they were the same old words I always spoke. Hate when you wake from a dream and reality hits you in the face. In my dreams I can speak spanish perfect.
But I do dream in spaniish sometimes and sometimes when I talk to someone in english spanish comes out. Mind you, not good spanish, but its spanish! I also catch myself talking to Sniffy (the dog) in spanish without even thinking about it.
Just hope that some day I can speak spansih where people dont chuckle at me or try to convince me that my spanish is good. People are so understanding when you just try a little.


New member
Mar 18, 2002
6 months to a year

of immersion in languages seems to be the point where things begin to "click" according to my own experience and that of many of my English speaking friends who lived in the DR.

At first you learn words, basically translating word by word. Then you begin to think in phrases and begin to absorb the word patterns commonly used. Next comes entire sentences and thoughts.

The key thing is to remain positive about your ability to learn. I don't buy that argument for a minute that kids learn faster than adults because adults have less learning ability. What we have is a more rigid thought pattern that must be altered to enable language learning. Be positive!

We learn different "languages" every day and give little thought to it. Nearly every occupation has its own proprietary set of words and phrases that may have unique meaning within that industry. Computer programmers must learn to write code while adhering to strict rules; much like grammar.

Even a chef must learn to decipher the code in recipes in order to be successful. If he adds ingredients in improper order he may ruin the dish!

Now I have to go walk beans, then cut pigs when it cools off a mite! :)



*** Sin Bin ***
Sep 15, 2002
Very Interesting Thread

It's fascinating to me to see how other folks have responded to adding more languages to the repertoire. It appears in many ways that it may be different for just about everyone. A few random thoughts:
  • I always joke that the second language (French for me) is always the hardest, if you didn't pick it up at birth. After that, the third, fourth, fifth, etc. really are just a collection of new words.
  • Spanish for me is number 6. Well, 5-1/2. I am not sure I count it yet. The others are English, French, Malay, Tamil, and Hindi that I've about completely forgotten now, in that order.
  • I still dream in French oddly enough, not in Spanish.
  • When I am feverish from a flu I'll start gibbering French without realizing it. At least until Alba pokes me.
  • I never really ever translated from English to Spanish in my head. It's just Spanish to me, except when I don't know a word and have to look it up.
  • When translating for others who don't speak Spanish I don't translate words usually, but whole sentences or ideas. Only if a really accurate translation is required and for me that is much harder to do because you have to stream one language in one ear and spit it out through your mouth in another.
  • I also often have to actually stop and think a bit for words in English because they're just not up front and center having to speak Spanish here constantly. Alba does not speak English.
  • French is hard to pull out anymore for me. The words and structures are so much like Spanish I start speaking French and without realizing wind up speaking Spanish in 5 seconds or less. That's frustrating because my French is (or was) much better than my Spanish.
Tom (aka XR)


Mar 2, 2003
I have been speaking Spanish for over 17 years now, and I still would have to say I think in English.

I know what you mean about the "click" though, this happenned for me after only six months when I was thrust into a situation where there were no English speakers available to me.

The second "click" for me occurred after 1 year when I found myself the only bilingual in a small company in Mexico with American management.

In neither case did my Spanish improve, in fact in retrospect it was often embarrassingly bad but I became much more agile with the little I knew.

As I get to know both languages better though, I am surprised at how much philosophy is built into language and how many though processes common to the English speaking mind are improbable or even impossible in Spanish. Possibly the inverse is true as well, but generally Spanish seems better suited to the Latin American art of evading responsibility.

An example would be the simple difference between:

"I like you" and "Me gustas". It's the "Spanish equivalent" but it's not a direct translation and though it seems a small difference it is not really the same thought, because in the Spanish version the speaker does not accept responsibility for his own preferences, but transfers it to the person he's speaking to.

This kind of subtle difference is common in Spanish, and I don't think it's any coincidence that the same attitudes prevail in Latin American business practices and government.


New member
Aug 12, 2003
Having grown up in Arizona, I am ashamed to report that my Spanish is very poor. Is it worthwhile to spend, say $1000 or so over about 6 months, to learn some rudimentary Spanish before going to the DR? Or is it better to jump in with both feet and immerse yourself in the DR -- devil take the highmost?

I also came across a book,Quick And Dirty Guide To Learning Languages Fast, by A.G. Hawke. Has anyone used it? What's your opinion?

Lastly, (applause?) I think the French get a bum rap. I have been to France many times with French that is even worse than my Spanish. When you make the effort of using French, the French person will correct you. After two or three attempts to get it right, he will usually smile and nod at you. From then on, there is practically no favor you cannot ask of him.