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The Tacit Approach to Learning Languages

Hi guys, today I’ve got a guest post from Alberto Horihuela, who’s the head of business development over at Drama Fever, currently one of the few legal sites for watching full episodes of Spanish-language telenovelas in the United States (I just recently added Drama Fever to my very popular List of Best Free Sites to Watch Spanish-Language TV Online).  He contacted me because they had noticed that a growing percentage of their members were people who were using their service for the express purpose of learning the language that the TV show was in and he knew that was a method that I advocated.  They currently have several telenovelas available on their site–full episodes, for free–and they all have English subtitles available; I asked him if they had considered doing Spanish subtitles and he said that it was being considered, so let’s hope that happens.

Today he’s going to write about something very related to their service and the method that I advocate, that is learning a language tacitly versus explicitly.  Have a look.

The Tacit Approach to Learning Languages

Have you noticed how people who move to other countries tend to learn the language faster than those who studied it from their home countries? Intuitively, it isn’t hard to see how the constant exposure to a new language in day-to-day interactions would push one to learn faster. However, educational science tells us that it is more than just increased exposure, but also the method of exposure. Indeed, the improved rate of learning comes largely from the use of tacit vs. explicit knowledge creation.

Think of tacit knowledge as intuition – it is knowledge we already have or acquired through past experiences, yet we are unable to easily explain it. It’s what we have learned through observation, practice and repetition – think about knowing how to ride a bike, or more relevant, your own native language. You may not necessarily know the ins and outs of it, but you know what sounds right and how to speak it. Explicit knowledge on the other hand is what you learn from studying facts, policies, and rules, i.e. your typical classroom learning experience. Not surprisingly, language learners tend to focus most of their energy developing explicit knowledge, while those who learn a language in a foreign country develop a more extensive tacit knowledge drawn from exposure to television and day-to-day interactions.

A quick side note from Andrew: if you’re interested in teaching yourself Spanish…

I have a short post and video (that are free to read and view of course, won’t cost you more than a few minutes of your time) on how to do precisely that with the system that I put together which allowed me to become fluent in Spanish in just 6 months after years of trial-and-error by watching Spanish-language TV shows (like telenovelas, hence the name of the system) and movies, reading Spanish books and comics, and listening to Spanish music. If this sounds interesting to you, check it out by clicking the link below (the following link should open in a new tab or window for you when you click it so I’m not asking you to leave this article here):

“The Telenovela Method of Learning Spanish” (a “telenovela” is a Spanish-language soap opera, they’re what I initially used to teach myself Spanish!)

I also include some quick and valuable tips for learning Spanish as well as a couple of the most useful free Spanish-learning websites that I recommend.

That is the reason why most will tell you that watching foreign television is a great way to learn a language. Short of taking a long break and moving to another country, the best (and most amusing) way to throw yourself into a new culture is through the local entertainment they produce, which reflects the language, traditions and customs of a region. An immensely useful example is watching a traditional Spanish telenovela to practice listening comprehension and absorb the elaborate yet necessary colloquialisms. It’s no coincidence that this is the method recommended by many, including the great Telenovela Method we’ve formerly advocated.

If you live in the US, you may already have access to the Latin TV channels such as Univision. Or, if you’d rather watch from your computer, you can find telenovelas in YouTube or streaming platforms such as DramaFever, which subtitles full telenovelas from Latin American and Spain.

watch telenovelas, learn spanish

Nonetheless, we are not saying it’ll be easy: the tacit learning method requires active engagement and participation, not mere memorization. But it pays dividends! Auditory learning is more organic, babies learn languages by simply listening to the flow of dialogue and drawing logical connections. While you’re no longer a baby (we presume) your learning process will be somewhat similar. By watching telenovelas you’ll be listening to real dialogue, not perfectly annunciated Spanish, which will strengthen your listening abilities in real situations.

That being said, don’t toss your books yet – the best learning method is one which effectively combines traditional explicit learning with tacit knowledge creation – after all knowing the difference between what sounds right and what is actually right can save you a moment of mild embarrassment. Go ahead, enjoy some telenovelas and let us know cómo te va!

A Quick Note Before We End…

I’ve got two posts that I’ve put up that I’m recommending everyone interested in learning Spanish go read if they haven’t already (if you have, ignore this, sorry): How to avoid wasting months learning Spanish the wrong way (basically this is my “how to get started right in learning Spanish” post for complete beginners) and The Telenovela Method where I cover how to use popular media like movies, music, and books to learn Spanish. Additionally you can check out the front page for a more complete list of my best and most popular posts.

Cheers,

Andrew

Get my list of the internet's top 33 FREE Spanish-learning resources here!

I put together a list of the internet’s Top 33 Free Spanish-learning resources, my favorite language exchanges and Spanish chat rooms, and more. I’ve spent a great deal of time putting together a 3-part series of articles for you on the internet’s best free resources for the Spanish-learner that you’ll get when you sign up for my newsletter–in addition to all of what you get below, I’ll be sure to send you any updates about cool new sites, resources, and learning tips and techniques that I come up with (I’m currently putting together a whole series that will teach you in great detail precisely how I go about learning a new language):

Part 1: A very long list of my favorite Top 33 free online Spanish-learning resources (tools, references, sites with free lessons, articles, blogs, forums, etc.) that’s far too long to include here, especially with all the other stuff I’ve got here that’s available just on this site alone, and I’d like to offer it to you (completely free, you don’t have to do anything other than sign up) right now.

Part 2: I explain what language exchanges are (essentially they allow you free access to an unlimited number of native speakers to practice your Spanish with), why they’re absolutely essential if you’re teaching yourself (I’m serious when I say this: it’s impossible to get fluent without them if you’re learning a foreign language on your own), how to use them, and which ones are the best.

Part 3: I cover chat rooms which are specifically devoted to connecting you with native Spanish speakers who want to learn English so you can chat with them in Spanish (and they’ll help and correct you) and then you do the same for them with their English (these are completely free to use, but rather hard to find, but I’ll tell you where the best ones are!). Sign up below!

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