The Big Picture

A Radical Approach to Speaking Spanish Fast

Written By Julio Foppoli
The Big Picture

When it comes to teaching a second language, there are two main approaches. The first, and the most common by far, consists in teaching each and every grammar structure systematically, making sure the student masters it perfectly through lots of practice and repetition, and then another structure that builds upon that is added, more practice is carried out and so on and so forth.

Although for someone not familiarized with language acquisition, this may seem the logical way to go, if you pay attention to children’s language acquisition you will notice that this is never the case. In other words, parents never go to the child and say:

Okay, today is the first day with our child. We will focus on greetings and introductions. Let’s say them so many times that the child can acquire them. Then in two days we will show our child examples of the indefinite article “a” and we will also contrast it with “an” when the following word begins with a vowel: an apple, an orange. Let’s have plenty of practice so that the child gets this right from the get go.

Of course, this sounds outright ridiculous. Yet, this is what 99% of language courses do regularly when it comes to teaching a second language. In each class the student is presented with simple grammar items, plenty of repetition and practice until the structure is mastered and then on to a new topic. The idea behind this is that one day miraculously the student’s internal grammar will click, and magically all the structures and vocabulary learned in isolation will immediately fall into place like a Tetris game. All of a sudden, the learner’s sixth sense will kick in and now he or she will be speaking like a native Spanish speaker.

Unfortunately, this rarely happens. Most language courses are designed around this concept and that is why they are doomed to fail. That is why so many people have studied Spanish for years, yet few in comparison have managed to communicate confidently.

No wonder this happens. They never get to see the big picture. It’s like having tiny pieces of the puzzle given to them in each lesson, yet they never see the big picture and how the little pieces are meant to fit together.

But I said there are two main approaches. The second way to teach language is what I call, the BIG picture. If you see parents in action with their children, they speak naturally to them (Yes, sometimes you make silly voices, I give you that, but overall we speak regularly to them. We do not slow down our speech or use simplified structures to facilitate their understanding) Parents unconsciously focus on the big picture, and that is why a child can get an amazing mastery of the language in as little as 3 or 4 years.

When it comes to second language instruction, the big picture means to focus on enabling the students to communicate from day one, giving them tools so that after the first 15 minutes of their first class they can already make their own phrases in Spanish. I am not talking about repeating memorized phrases such as “Hola”, “Buenos Días”, “Adiós”. I am talking about the students learning basic patterns that when combined can enable them to create their own sentences and phrases. It is all about giving them tools to use right now, not waiting for a magic click to occur three years down the line.

Now I am not saying that focusing on specific grammar items is not important. There is a place and a time for that, but initially, it is all about the big picture, about giving them basic tools to enable them to get where they want to go, FAST.

Think of it like a car. You don’t want to learn the names and functions of each part of the engine of a car, you just want to drive. 99% of courses focus on the many different parts that an engine has with the assumption that one day, when you know all of their parts, their names and their function, you will be able to put the engine together, just like that AND at the same time you will be able to drive because you know all that information. That can take years and more likely than not, your driving skills will be poor to say the least.

My approach

I just ignore the names of the parts of the engine. I want to be a driver, not a mechanic.  With students starting from scratch, I just teach them some basic commands and patterns, like putting the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th gear, etc, how to accelerate, how to slow down, how to brake. Something very simple but that once it is mastered can get you anywhere. That is the focus on the big picture.

But as they say, actions speak louder than words, so I am going to give you a sample lesson from  JUMPSTART YOUR SPANISH, a program for complete beginners of Spanish or for those that have studied before but in spite of that cannot communicate very well. And you will see how in just 10 minutes you will be able to express ideas that usually take months following standard protocols.


For more info on this program, please visit

Your comments and feedback are always welcome.

Happy Spanish Learning
Julio Foppoli



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