Don’t neglect your native language

by David

I’ve had several people mention the fact that after studying Spanish, they’ve noticed they can’t spell as well as before in English. I’ve noticed the same thing happen with me.

So in this prospect of learning a second language, we need to take care not to neglect our native language. Here’s four things we can do to better our mastery of our native language. (Note: English is my native language, so this article is written from that perspective, but it can apply to whatever language is your native language.)

Pay attention to spelling

Others certainly pay attention to our spelling. Poor spelling has a negative effect on other people’s perception of us. How can I improve my English spelling? I hear you asking. What I do is first pay attention to the spelling. Look at it long and hard. How can you expect yourself to “remember” the spelling if you never really payed attention to it in the first place. My other technique is to say the English word– either outloud or to myself– as if it were pronounced phonetically. To remember the spelling of Wednesday, I say to myself wed-nez-day instead of wenzday, the normal North American pronunciation.

Study English grammar

You may or may not have a liking for grammar, but I guarantee you if you can study up on English grammar, it’ll help you learn Spanish and understand the Spanish grammar you’re learning. Long ago when I began my Spanish studies, I bought English Grammar for Students of Spanish and for weeks I carried that little green book with me everywhere (the latest edition is red, oh well), and read it whenever I got a chance. It helped me immensely– I was actually able to understand the professor’s lectures about the finer points in Spanish grammar, because I understood enough about English grammar to have something to compare it too.

Study Greek and Latin roots

Being the language aficcionado that you are, you undoubtedly know that English has many words derived from Latin and Greek. A thourough study of these prefixes, suffixes and roots will not only better your command and comprehension of English, it will make learning many Spanish words as well. For example, if you come across the Spanish words lápida (gravestone/headstone) or lapidación (stoning to death), and you already knew the English words lapidation, lapidary or lapillus, it will make it easier for you to draw the connection and remember the Spanish words. Those three English words I mention are by no means common, but if you know that the root “lap” or “lapi” has something to do with stone/rock, that’s a headstart right there.

Ok, I won’t leave you hanging:
Lapidation: n. the act of stoning, sometimes to the point of death.
Lapidary: (1) n. a cutter, polisher, or engraver of precious stones usually other than diamonds; (2) n. the art of cutting gems; (3) adj. having the elegance and precision associated with inscriptions on monumental stone; (4) adj. of or relating to precious stones or the art of cutting them.
Lapillus: n. a small stony or glassy fragment of lava.

Learn to express yourself

This is something I’m still working on. And I’m not talking about using flowery, overdone language, just for the sake of trying to appear erudite. I’m talking about being more precise, more expressive with the language. There is a big difference in the mental image you create when reading these two fragments:

“she walked across the old sidewalk which crumbled under her feet”
“she picked her way across the sidewalk as the ancient concrete crumbled under her feet”

Expressing ourselves is something that we need to work at, something we need to put time into. As we learn to be more precise and expressive in our native language, that will spill over to your foreign language studies.

So put in your two hours a day with Spanish, but look up English words you come across and don’t know, and keep expanding your native language vocabulary, just as you expand your target language vocabulary. Pay attention to your English spelling and grammar, and learn word roots.

You’ll be happy you did.

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