Updated: Oct 30, 2019
I want to tell you about one of my clients. She had a very specific goal: She wanted to learn the simple past tense (el pretérito) in Spanish, particularly 6 specific Spanish verbs. Her bigger goal was to speak more comfortably with Spanish-speakers in Houston in order to better express herself and build community. Her motivation to achieve was quite high.
Now, my Spanish speaking skills are limited, so I was hesitant to help. But she had been following my journey in Neurolanguage Coaching® (registered US and European trademark in the name of Rachel Marie Paling) and thought the process might work for her. We decided on six sessions as an experiment.
I’m happy to report that the experiment was a success. During our sessions together, she and I learned a lot, and she was right: Despite my not being an expert Spanish speaker, the brain-based techniques that we used to learn the verbs worked. Let’s explore how that was possible.
The Power of Self-Awareness
First of all, I was lucky in that my client was a very self-aware learner. She was open about how she liked to learn and how she learned best. Knowing this is important in Neurolanguage Coaching® because the more I can personalize learning activities to your learning style, the more efficiently and easily you will learn.
For example, my client and I learned that she was a visual learner and also learned well using mnemonic devices. The website Psychcentral defines mnemonic devices as, “techniques a person can use to help them improve their ability to remember something. In other words, it's a memory technique to help your brain better encode and recall important information.” These are a great way to create and reinforce connections in the brain. Coincidentally, I use them often in my own language learning, so I knew how effective they could be.
For example, she was having a difficult time remembering the difference between I did (yo hice) and he/she/it did (é/ella hizo) in the past tense. So, together we explored ways that she could remember the two conjugations. I allowed her to create her own solution because I knew based on how the brain works that she would remember it better if it came from her. So, she created a simple pictograph.
As you can see, she turned the O in hizo into the face of a girl to help her remember that it is used for she/he/it. And she also made the face into a clock and an added arrow so she could remember it’s the past tense. After she created the image, she was better able to recall and self-correct every time we practiced this verb conjugation. It was highly effective for her, and she developed the idea all on her own.
After our sessions were over, my client told me that she had an experience that proved to her that the sessions had a positive and lasting effect. She has a Spanish-speaking friend who she speaks Spanish with each week. After spending time with her friend one day, my client told me this:
“I was telling my Spanish-speaking friend Elia about a trip to visit my daughter in Austin. We were speaking in Spanish. I suddenly landed on a verb Stephanie (Cup of Tea) and I had practiced. I said pusieron and Elia helped me say it correctly. Then many more sentences followed with my attempting different verbs in past tense with her correcting me. Elia knew about my coaching lessons with Cup of Tea and that I was trying to become more competent in the simple past (Pretérito Simple Perfecto)."
She went on to say...
"In the past my friend would just read my mind and not correct me. With her help I also got some -ar verbs in simple past, too. It was so exciting to realize all my lessons with Stephanie had stuck enough to recall the verb endings and with a little nudging from Elia, I felt hugely successful.”
What I love about this testimonial is that it is so authentic and very “real world.” My client didn’t tell me that she suddenly was speaking Spanish fluently in the past tense, but she was able to pull the information we worked on together from her mental database. She and I had established those connections and by having regular conversations with her friend, she was reinforcing them. Perfecto!
How was I able to coach a language that I am not proficient in?
Because the sessions weren’t about me at all. My client took ownership and created strategies to help her remember. I was simply there as a coach to encourage her and point her in the direction of possible solutions.
Had I used a more direct approach like rote memorization, I believe the sessions would have been far less enjoyable and more stress-inducing. Instead she and I often laughed together as we created new pathways to Spanish. Our sessions were very “brain-friendly” and fun.
I would also like to add that my client had very clear, personally-relevant, and measurable goals. We always knew exactly what we needed to work on during each session to make her goal a reality.
I definitely consider this a success story!