WHY DID MY SPANISH TEACHER LIE TO ME?
Probably your Spanish teacher didn’t lie to you. Unless they told you that ESTAR is temporary & SER is permanent, or as my first Spanish teacher told me, that only ‘gusta’ & ‘gustan’ exist. Both of these are ridiculous over-simplifications which some teachers still insist on spreading.
As a teacher of Spanish, I can understand WHY some teachers say these things, but I very strongly disagree with it. It’s much harder to ‘unlearn’ something which you have learned wrongly, than to learn it correctly in the first place.
However, when we learn a new language, especially when we learn as adults, we have to learn in a certain logical order.
Have you ever heard a non-native English speaker use it’s in the wrong place? ‘’It’s mine’’ is correct, & so sounds right. However ‘’It’s mine?’’ as a question, should be ‘’Is it mine?’’ We’d understand it, but we know that it’s wrong, & that it isn’t how we’d say it, as native English speakers.
Chances are, the speaker was taught to use contractions (that’s what they’re called for any grammar haters among you), before fully understanding what the contraction is all about.
If they said ‘’It is mine’’, that wouldn’t be wrong, but again, it isn’t how a native English speaker would say it. But you have to learn to understand what ‘’It is’’ means, & when to use it, before you can learn to use ‘’It’s’’ properly.
It’s the same when we start to learn Spanish. We have to learn how the basics of the language works. Gender, word order, how verbs change (conjugate) depending on who is doing the action. There’s no point learning how to use the pronouns ‘‘me, te, se, le, lo, la, nos, os, los, las & les’’ until we properly understand what they are replacing.*
* A pronoun replaces a noun in a sentence. I’ll buy you the shoes. I’ll buy them for you. ‘Them’ is the pronoun which replaces ‘the shoes’.
There are internationally recognised levels for language learning. A1 is very basic. You work through A2, B1, B2 & C1 before you reach C2 which is the highest level. Think of C2 as the gold taps. Even some native speakers would struggle to pass C2, just as many wouldn’t be able to afford to buy gold taps.
Take a look at this image.
Many adult learners immediately want to know how to say things in Spanish just as fluently as they would say them in English. Gradually most come to understand that this is a rather unrealistic expectation.
Firstly, in their native language they have the vocabulary of say, a 55 year old. It has taken them almost their entire lives to learn all those words, & they are probably still learning new ones. No-one can begin to have such an extensive vocabulary in another language even after studying for several years.
Secondly, they have to gain solid foundations (A1 & A2) before they can hope to understand the intricacies that we add as we work through the B levels & on to the C levels. At each level, the student should be able to make themselves correctly understood at that level of knowledge. In Spanish, pronouns are introduced at A2. By then the student should be able to confidently use complete sentences, in a simplified way, in the present tense. They’ll have an understanding of the basic structure of the language.
A good teacher won’t dump lots of complicated structures on a student, nor throw lots of tenses at them right from the start. Spanish uses more tenses than English, & three different ‘moods’. For most of what we want to say we use the ‘indicative mood’, so it’s important that students are comfortable with that before learning about the other two moods. We can also say a huge amount just using the present tense.
At A2, some other tenses are also introduced. Only when the student is comfortable with these foundations are they ready to move onto the B levels which I’ve described as the walls & roof.
I clearly remember being frustrated talking to my neighbours in the present tense & waving my arms around adding ‘en el pasado’, or ‘en el futuro’. They understood me. That was the important thing.
Yes I was frustrated, but when I started studying other tenses I completely understood why my teachers had made me wait until my foundations were pretty solid before they let me learn to build the walls.
It was around this time that I was half watching Spanish TV & someone said ‘’Le gustamos’’. My head shot up. What? But there’s no such thing as ‘gustamos’. That’s what my first teacher said & she should know – she was a native Spanish speaker & professional teacher after all.
So I did some research & of course ‘gustamos’ exists. We just don’t need to use it very often. Heck, some verb books only show ‘gusta’ & ‘gustan’. ‘’Le gustamos’’ as the girls on the TV were saying, translated as ‘’He likes us’’. OF COURSE ‘gustamos’ is used!
I was rather annoyed to put it mildly. However, now that I teach Spanish I understand why we were told that. Learning to use ‘gustar’ is hard enough, without the added complication of four conjugations that you might not need for a very long time, if ever. At that stage in our learning we simply weren’t ready to understand the complications that come from using all the different conjugations with all the various pronouns.
That doesn’t mean that I tell the same lie. I simply tell the students that all conjugations exist, but ‘for now’ we’ll just use two of them.
When they are ready, quite some time later, we play ‘Gustar Gymnastics’ mixing all the conjugations & pronouns, & by then they have a good enough understanding of how things work, that they actually find it fun. Well, most of them do, anyway!
As I went through my journey to learning Spanish – & I’m still learning, polishing, growing my vocabulary (& always will be) – there have been times when I’ve realised that as a student, most of the time we just aren’t told the entire story. It’s like a ‘need to know’. We ‘need to know’ different things at different stages. Just as we have to learn to add 1 + 1 long before we can do fractions, or work out areas & volumes, in maths.
At least once a week I say to someone that there’s no point making a roof before you have solid foundations & strong walls, & where would you put the furniture if you haven’t yet built the house?
So most teachers aren’t actually lying to you. They are simply giving you what you need as you need it & as you are ready to understand it.
If a student wants to know how to say something which is beyond their level, I will either offer a version AT their level, or tell them how to say that particular phrase, with a promise that when they eventually study at that level, it will all become clear!
Oh, & in case you’re wondering. The other two moods, the imperative & subjunctive, start to come into play about halfway up the walls of the first floor. Round about where the headboard of that green bed is.