This is the third installment of our “Twin Brothers Race to Learn Spanish” case study.
In our last installment, we discussed how John and Bryan Tublin learned to see, hear and feel the 39 Elemental Sounds of Spanish.
But in Spanish conversation, the 39 Elemental Sounds don’t appear in isolation, they appear in combination.
Elemental Sounds combine to form syllables. Syllables combine (with melody) to form sentences.
Now that John and Bryan have mastered the Elemental Sounds, their next mission is to master full Spanish sentences.
In this post, we review what the Twins had to do to achieve this.
Language Learning through Deliberate Practice
The first time you pronounce a new Elemental Sound, it requires a lot of conscious effort.
You have to visualize the tongue position and movements in your head. You have to focus on physical sensations in your mouth to check if they align with what you learned. You have to listen closely to the sound you produce to check if it matches the native speaker’s.
It takes so much conscious effort to train new sounds at first, you have little brain capacity left to focus on understanding and self-expression.
Before you can focus on understanding and speaking, you have to push hearing and pronunciation to the unconscious part of your brain.
When an activity is unconscious, it’s automatic. Think about breathing and walking – you never have to think about these things; they just happen automatically.
The only way to automate hearing and pronunciation in your target language is through lots and lots of repetition and rest.
First, you repeat it over and over again until your brain reaches the limit of its capacity. Then, you rest your brain through relaxation and sleep, and then it builds the pathways for automaticity.
This process is known as deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice is what the top professionals of the world do to master their craft, be it sports, music, writing, or anything else.
Deliberate practice is about focusing your energy on your weaknesses and pushing your brain to its limit.
Most language learning programs focus on making “learning easy,” so they rarely expose you to deliberate practice.
Instead, they give you fun memorization games that are not that difficult to play.
But these games don’t alter your brain physiology the way deliberate practice does.
You know you’re doing deliberate practice when your brain shuts down with fatigue within an hour.
Most learning occurs while resting, so you need to work in extended breaks, naps, and full nights of sleep to progress through The Mimic Method at max speed.
Listen to the Tublins describe their experience with training this week:
As you can see, language learning through deliberate practice is a whole different animal than learning through smartphone games.
Our courses in The Mimic Method are designed to guide you through the deliberate practice of syllable and sentence pronunciation.
Language Learning through Syllable Repetition
People are often surprised to hear that a language as complex as Spanish has only 39 Elemental movements of the mouth.
But remember, we don’t speak in Elemental Sounds, we speak in combinations of Elemental Sounds – Syllables.
Mathematically speaking, from 39 Elemental Sounds, you could produce 1,521 syllables of 2 sounds only.
But syllables can also be 3 sounds long, which would theoretically add another 57,798 syllables.
That means that, to learn every possible 2 or 3 sound combination of Elemental Sounds of Spanish, you would need to practice repeating 59,319 different syllables!
Fortunately, most possible Elemental Sound combinations do not exist as real syllables in the language.
For example, you never see a syllable like this in Spanish /ktg/.
So how do we figure out what syllables to practice?
The best way to build syllable capacity is to perfect your pronunciation of the 500 most frequently used words in the language.
These words will contain 95% of the syllables you will ever hear in the language.
We gave John and Bryan Tublin a series of recordings of a native speaker saying the 500 Spanish frequency words and had them mimic.
Here’s an example:
Then, we went through and highlighted all the words they were mispronouncing so that they could listen closely again to fix their mistakes.
Through this process, they were able to self-correct most of their mistakes, but there were still a few words they couldn’t get right.
This is how you identify your “sticking points”.
Certain sound combinations will be tricky for you, and these are the combinations you need to focus your energy on.
John and Bryan would practice articulating these sounds slowly, gradually building up the speed to normal, then repeat over and over again until they were engraved into the unconscious part of the brain.
In the end, they were able to perfectly hear and pronounce all the most frequently used words in Spanish, and thus to hear and pronounce the vast majority of Spanish syllables.
Now, it was time for them to combine these syllables into full sentences.
Language Learning through Musical Repetition
Repetition is an absolute necessity in language learning, but it can be dull and monotonous. This is why most language learners don’t do ever do deliberate practice – they get bored.
When I first came up with The Mimic Method, I attempted to solve the problem of monotonous repetition by replacing it with musical repetition.
Music is the only context where repetition is fun.
Listen to the same beat over and over again, and you don’t want to fall asleep, you want to dance.
If an artist sings the same chorus several times, you want to sing along with her.
Also, music plays on the memory and emotion parts of the brain in a way that normal speech doesn’t.
If you remember the entire verse of a song, then you can practice singing it over and over again. This gives you the opportunity to train the flow of the entire sentence, in a way that would be difficult with normal speech.
So to build their Sentence Capacity, the Tublin twins took our Flow of Spanish program. In this course, you learn to sing and rap songs from native speakers with a perfect accent.
To do this, we break the songs down for you syllable by syllable, then you memorize them in chunks of 2-4. Once you’ve memorized a chunk, you combine it with the next chunk to form the entire sentence.
Follow along with the repetition audio, and these lines are effectively installed into the Unconscious part of the brain, where they become automatic.
Deliberate practice is challenging, but it works. You just have to trust your brain’s capacity to grow through resistance, the same as muscles do.
Listen to the Bryan describe the process:
As part of our competition, I had John and Bryan Tublin record themselves singing the songs they learned from 2 weeks of the Flow of Spanish. The person with the most entertaining video would win the challenge for that week.
Bryan ended up being the winner this time around. Let’s take a look at what he came up with:
Language Learning through Mimicry
As fun as all this training may be, our goal here isn’t to become pop singers in our target language – our goal is to be able to connect with native speakers through conversation.
So why bother with all this syllable and song training?
If the Tublins didn’t learn any vocabulary or grammar yet, what exactly did they learn in Spanish?
Watch the video below to see Bryan’s thoughts:
Now that the Tublin twins can hear and pronounce Spanish at the sound, syllable and sentence capacity, they have everything they need to be able to start “mimicking” Spanish speech.
To mimic is to listen to a phrase in the language, and repeat it back out loud EXACTLY how the native just said it, without having to see it spelled out.
When you have this ability, all you need to do is ask people “How do I say…?” “What is that called?” “What’s the word for?”
They will tell you the word or phrase, then you will mimic it. After a few repetitions, you will retain it. Then later, you will recall and integrate it in your speech.
You will be able to do this WITHOUT having to rely on reading and writing as a crutch. The new meanings go straight to your brain through your ear.
This is what it means to learn a language by ear.
Now that the Tublins have trained their ears to learn Spanish, they are ready to learn Spanish by ear, through mimicry in conversation.
In the next post in this series, you will see them do exactly that.
To learn the elemental sounds of your target language sign up for one of our premium language courses or download our FREE elemental sounds checklists.