Learning Spanish Is Like An Expanding Sponge… Uh?

I am really pleased to have decided to capture my learning experiences along the way. This is because I keep getting these insights into what it actually takes to learn to speak Spanish.

They are random flashes of inspiration and insight into how I can learn this wonderful language.

They only come about as I take the next few steps on this journey I have undertaken. As the path reveals itself, so do these insights. They appear to be random gems that I wish I had been aware of at the start of my journey.

This is because I think I would have been better prepared.

So the reason I am capturing them is so I can share them with you. It’s like I am just a few steps ahead of you, I can see the beach from here, and I am helping get there quicker.

At least that is how I like to look at things.

So what random insights have I got for you today?

An Analogy That Might Help

Well a really interesting analogy I have come up with that makes sense to me is about the activation of words in your vocabulary.

What do I mean by activation?

If you are following a route of pronunciation first, followed by vocabulary, then grammar, you will have learnt a lot of words.

But they will have been learnt in isolation, probably devoid of any context or contact with real Spanish speakers.

So you might know that “la ventana” means the window.

You see a flash card with the word “ventana” and straight away you think of a window.

You see a picture of a window and hopefully the word “ventana” springs to mind.

The system works.


In reality those words are lying dormant in your subconscious. Sure you know them.

But you don’t really KNOW them.

They are there and can be recalled in the safety of wherever you do your flash card practice.

What you have to do, is bring them to life.

And you will know the difference between a word that you have learnt and a word that you really KNOW.

It is like the word suddenly expands and grows and becomes multi-dimensional instead of just a concept in your mind.

In a strange way it sort of feels different. The word has now become a part of you.

Here’s Where The Sponge Comes In

The best analogy I can use is the difference between a compressed dry sponge and the expanded version when it has been immersed in water.

Here’s a video I found on YouTube that demonstrates that. Remember this is not about sponges, it is about the contrast.

It starts with a very small shrivelled up sponge. But as soon as it is immersed in water it suddenly expands like it has come alive from its dormant state.

Another way of describing it is when you just “Get It”.

Perhaps You’d Like A Sound Analogy

If you like more of an auditory reference then how about a huge CLUNK of something dropping into place?

It is like that “ahhhhh” moment which feels so good when things click into place. [Unlike an ahhhggggghhhh moment which is terrifying!]

I have had a few of those moments so far and they feel great (the ahhhhh not the ahhgggghhhh ones!). It is what keeps me coming back.

I had one this morning whilst out on my early morning walk.

Here’s My “Sponge” Experience

During my first online lesson a couple of days ago I learnt the word “aquel”. It means “that” but referring to something that is a long way from me (and whoever it is I am talking to).

So in my lesson it formed part of this sentence:

Aquel punto brilliante es una estrella.

Translated this means “that bright spot is a star”.

When my tutor shared that with me I understood what it meant. I got more familiar with the word when I created my flash cards for it. And I even started to learn it as I went through my flash card reviews. I


The magic happened and it suddenly became an ACTIVE part of my vocabulary when I first used it in a sentence I created myself. The sponge expanded the first time I took the word and I put it into a meaningful sentence.

On a hill in the distance I could see a tree so I created this sentence:

Aquel árbol en el cerro es verde

Translated this means “that tree on the hill is green”.

Ok so it probably won’t win any Spanish literary awards but it is something I have created. I know it is a unique sentence because if you google those exact words (inside “quotes”) there are no search results that are returned. I am now a published Spanish Author!!!!

Back to the point.

Because I made that sentence, “aquel” has now become a part of me. It has expanded and connected itself deeper into my memory. I now “own” that word…. it is mine.

And all because I used it myself in a sentence I created.

To a lesser extent, the same impact was made with the word “cerro” which I have never used before. I say to a lesser extent because the purpose of the sentence was to bring alive the word “aquel” and so “cerro” was a bit player here.

I have had a similar experience with the word “árbol” earlier so that word was already part of me. In that instance I had shared how to remember that árbol = tree to a mentor of mine which is how i “owned” that word.

What’s The Secret Then?

Well it is about getting out and using the words you know in new sentences you create yourself.

That’s it.

After receiving this flash of inspiration (well it felt good anyway), I used the rest of the walk to explore other words.

Earlier in the day I had learned the masculine and feminine versions of the word for “this” which are este and esta.

So for the rest of my walk I used them.

Este coche es rojo (this car is red)
Este árbol es verde (this tree is green)
Esta cerca es marrón (this fence is brown)
Esta hoja es naranja (this leaf is orange)

It was stimulating, challenging sometimes and fun.

But most importantly, I created more expanding sponges.

It Works For Grammar Too

It isn’t just about vocabulary either. Grammar benefits from this too.

For example the word order in Spanish is a little different to English in places. A perfect example of this is using an adjective to modify an noun.

In English we say:

A green tree – ADJECTIVE – NOUN

In Spanish it is reversed

Un árbol verde – NOUN – ADJECTIVE

You might “know” this and can talk about it until you are blue in the face. But there is a palpable shift in your apprecition and understanding of this fact when you “get it” – when the sponge has expanded.

Once you “get it”, your brain has changed and you can never put the adjective in the wrong place again.

My tutor explained the word order thing to me in my lesson but at that time I still didn’t “get it”. It was only this morning when I was thinking about this and making up my own sentences that the penny dropped.

Ahhhhhhhh! CLUNK… Expanding Sponge!

Another example this morning was the selection of the two forms of the verb to be (ser or estar). Which version you use is apparently quite complicated. I don’t really know because I haven’t got that far yet.

Well that was until my session with my tutor. She used an example “soy professor” (I am a teacher) and another example “estoy arriba” (I am upstairs). In these two examples I suddenly got ONE distinction of which word to use.

When I am describing what I am (eg profession) I use soy.
When I am describing where I am (eg up stairs) I use estoy.

Now I know there is more to it than just that BUT I have made one of the distinctions. My understanding of the others will deepen as I encounter them. But for now….

Ahhhhhhhh! CLUNK… Expanding Sponge!

So it is all about using what you have learnt.

Here’s What I Need To Do Next

Which brings me to something I have up to now been avoiding….

I have got to start talking to Spanish speakers in Spanish.

Benny Lewis advocates this from day one and I can see why now.

I have got to start having conversations.

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