Yes, it's a slightly weird question in terms of the official purposes of the site, and yet....

Learn to think in Spanish?

now migrated to Language Learning: Learn to think in Spanish?

Here's the text of the question:

I hope this isn't too broad of a question and I can receive some guidance because it's something that's been troubling me for years.

I have been studying Spanish for 5+ years and people tell me I have a good vocabulary. I can speak around most topics even when I don't know the specific words. I married into a Spanish speaking family so in addition to the audio, video, workbooks, programs, and software resources I have real live people to whom I can speak. The problem is when I have to speak in Spanish I immediately feel a weight come down on me that drains my energy and hangs over me like a cloud. It's not fear I feel exactly, more of a sense of melancholy.

I've thought about this but have no idea how to overcome my dread of speaking in Spanish.

I've realized that in English I love speaking. I love words. I like to joke and tell stories. I read a ton and spent a lot of time learning about the finesse of one word over another. In Spanish I tend to remain quiet and often feel the effort is not worth the payoff because I don't feel I'm conveying the proper emotion or sense of the story. I get blank looks and little response to my efforts.

Given my family connections I know I should take advantage of my opportunity to learn about others and the culture. The problem is I just want to speak with words that have meaning to me because I connect more deeply with the story.

Am I the only one? How have others overcome this? The only advice I'm ever given is to "just talk" but that sounds mostly like telling someone, for example, to ignore their arachnophobia by handling spiders, which doesn't provide much guidance to me. The other one is to "stop thinking in English" but certainly that's far easier to say than do.

Thanks for any advice!

  • 1
    I don't think that this question can be salvaged, due to the nature of the problem and the scope of our stack. Thus said, we can be creative about how to help this user (which we really want to do). We are considering migrating his question to the Language Learning stack, where he might be able to find additional advice.
    – Diego
    Jul 21, 2017 at 15:53
  • I hope you will migrate it. I am going out of town but will try to catch the question at the right time so I can migrate my answer. (I don't suppose you could migrate my answer too?) Jul 21, 2017 at 21:02
  • 1
    I'm not planning to migrate this meta question, I was going to migrate McArthey's original question. I don't think any answers are migrated and I was going to "clean" some comments (those do get migrated). I talked to mods on that stack to make sure that question was on-topic there (so it didn't get closed there or bounced back, etc.). It is on topic there, but it might be a duplicate. I actually think that this meta question adds a lot of value to our stack. It's a good reminder that we are here to help people, not just to follow certain rules
    – Diego
    Jul 22, 2017 at 2:19
  • @Diego - As you like. I've never visited that SE site. Jul 22, 2017 at 3:38
  • @Diego great work!! It's always inspiring how well you handle situations. The answers will also get automatically migrated together with the question. Aparente can post his answer here in the migrated questuon if he wishes (I hope he does!).
    – fedorqui
    Jul 23, 2017 at 9:50

1 Answer 1


OP asked how to overcome his dread of speaking in Spanish.

McArthey, I would like to share something that may be helpful for you. Given that your question was closed, the only place I could find to record a contribution of this length was here.

Story #1. My mother left Germany as a child during the prelude to WW II. She was traumatized both by the Nazis and as a result of family tensions. The whole time I was growing up, she did her best to hide her German heritage. She never wanted to teach me a single word of German. Everything related to Germanness brought painful associations. She was never willing to talk to me about anything related to her early life.

But the tide turned for her on a snorkeling vacation we went on when I was a young adult. How? One day walking back from the beach she hit it off with a gentle, friendly young woman from Italy, who didn't speak English. They discovered that the only language they had in common was German. Lo and behold, my mother started talking German to this woman! It came rusty, slow, labored and accented at first. We visited a small, charming lagoon together the next day, and my mother opened up some more. She started remembering more words, more phrases, and her German started to flow a bit better. This continued over the next couple of days.

Even after the Italian tourist had left, my mother continued to take steps toward reconciling her past -- answering my questions about what happened when, what was it like when such and so?, etc.

Back at home, she joined a writers group and started writing about her early life!

Certainly, relaxing on vacation was part of this opening up; but I believe that making a connection with a specific person who only understood the target language, that she wanted very badly to be able to communicate with, was even more important.

And how can we use this story for your situation? Well, first we need another story.

Story #2. After I moved to Mexico for a job, after college, I started plodding along through a grammar book, making imperceptible progress day by day. It happened that a couple of months into this sojourn I fell quite ill, and missed several weeks of work. One day, during my convalescence, a coworker brought his three-year-old daughter with him for a visit. She was one of six children in a blended family. With no shyness, she climbed up and sat in the middle of the big bed where I was resting, and delighted in having someone (me) give her their undivided attention. She enjoyed the opportunity to take center stage. For my part, I could really see what the tongue does when pronouncing the D in verdad -- this little girl spoke slowly, exaggerating certain sounds to the point of almost spitting. She didn't care that I spoke pidgin Spanish, and said very little. She had her topics, and her questions, and nothing was going to stop her. This experience changed my approach to the new language I was struggling with. Maybe not as dramatically as in Story #1, but still, it was a turning point for me.

Thus, I believe that things will change for you when you find a person with two characteristics: this person doesn't understand English; and you and this person really want to communicate with each other. The reasons for this could be anything -- and they could be completely irrational -- but when you find such a person, that's when the process of speaking Spanish will start to change for you.

Here's an example of how strange and irrational this choice of person could be: at one stage of my learning process, I found myself visiting a tiny shoe repair shop every afternoon after work. For days, even after my repair job was complete, I would go in and park myself for an hour or two in a small chair next to the repairman, and do nothing. The repairman always tuned his radio to the same station, broadcast from his beloved and much missed native village. The reception was terrible.

Customers and acquaintances would stop by, talk a bit, drop off some shoes, pick up some shoes, shoot the breeze for a few minutes, go on their way. Nothing exciting. But I just loved sitting in that small dark shop while the repairman took one pair of shoes or boots from the to-do pile after another and worked his magic on it. I can say that at the time, it felt soothing to sit in that shop -- although I wasn't sure why I gravitated to it. I didn't talk, other than to say hello upon arriving, and good-bye upon leaving. I didn't even try to understand the conversations that took place. Do you see how irrational this preference was?

I can't say whom you will connect with. But when you connect with someone, as my mother did with the fellow tourist from Italy, and as I did with my co-worker's three-year-old, or with the shoe repairman -- then I think you will start to experience speaking Spanish differently.

  • Wow, this is beautiful aparente.
    – fedorqui
    Jul 21, 2017 at 6:45
  • Thank you for migrating this question and for sharing your story! It's wonderful that you shared your experience and learned to evolve and improve from it.
    – McArthey
    Jul 21, 2017 at 18:59
  • 2
    The features of at least your first two examples is that they involve having a purpose other than just speaking language X. I suspect that is what motivates many of us.
    – mdewey
    Jul 22, 2017 at 16:22

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