10,000 Hours To Mastery: How Does That Translate Into Learning Spanish?
Monday, February 22, 2010 at 11:48AM
Jeanne Bielejeski in Beginning Spanish students, Learning Spanish

In his popular book, "Outliers: The Story of Success," Malcom Gladwell proposes that 10,000 hours of practice are required to achieve mastery of any skill. How does that translate into learning Spanish?

Gladwell's work clarifies the concept of “mastery”: it requires time, practice, and patience as much as intelligence. But mastery doesn’t mean the learning ends. Thank God it doesn’t end because that would mean the adventure is over. If mastery is the destination, there’s more to do once you arrive. It’s knowing how to navigate a skill in uncharted territory. I really like the way Mattison Grey of “The Performer's Paradox,” a webinar I attended, interprets mastery:

 “You know enough to know–that you don’t need to know enough.”

Being able to navigate the unknown, to deal with what shows up. Instead of thinking of mastery as “completion,” it’s more like riding a wave of acquired knowledge that has its own momentum. It truly is an adventure.

There’s no way around it, 10,000 hours is a long time. It doesn’t mean that the time in between is worthless or without merit. That would be like believing the language development of a five-year-old means nothing. Observe the native language skills of a five year old, they’re not too shabby actually, and they have a pretty good time from what I can tell. They haven’t been shackled by the limitations of the ego yet. A five year old has the perfect attitude for learning a language.

One way or another you will have to make an investment of time to learn Spanish. The amount is up to you, but it's never a waste of time. The following scenarios describe different roads that will point you in the direction to mastery.

Scenario A: The Classroom Investment Plan
While I was studying Spanish in college, I remember hearing that it would take seven years to become proficient by attending classes in high school and/or college, without any extracurricular practice whatsoever. On a typical class schedule of almost an hour class period every weekday for 30 weeks (52 weeks per year, less a 12 week summer vacation): 5 hours of class a week, multiplied by 30 weeks a year equals 150 hours total per school year, not counting any practice outside of class. 150 hours, multiplied by 7 years equals 1,050 hours total class time invested in 7 years. (See “Scenario A” in the chart below.) In this equation, it becomes clear that practicing Spanish outside of class is essential, and it also states the case for integrating foreign language at the elementary school level instead of the high school level, but that is a topic for another article.

Scenario B: The Passive Mastery Plan
I like this equation better: on a schedule of 10 years to mastery of a language, or any skill, divide 10,000 hours of practice by 10 years, which equals 1,000 hours per year. Divide 1,000 by 365 days in a year, which equals 2.74 hours per day of practice. (See “Scenario B” in the chart below.) As we age, 10 years passes whether we like it or not. After the age of 20, it seems to happen at an exponential rate. You will turn 25, 30, 35, etc. anyway, why not do it speaking two languages? Think of the things you’ve been doing passively for around 2.74 hours a day for 10 years, or close to it. Driving is a good example, there’s also cooking, navigating the internet, housekeeping, reading, etc., the list goes on. You’ve already mastered skills and you didn’t even know it! 

Scenario C: The Travel Abroad Plan
Now, if 10 years is not on your schedule to gradually acquire a second language, there are ways to speed it up. If you were to live in a Spanish speaking country for a year: 16 hours of immersion a day (24 hours minus 8 hours of sleep), multiplied by 365 days in a year equals 5,840 hours total. In this case, you’re over halfway to mastery. Obviously, after two years you would have invested over 10,000 hours. (See “Scenario C” in the chart below.) This is also true for immigrants to the United States, keep that in mind.

If living in a Spanish speaking country isn’t a viable option for you, focus your efforts on proficiency as a more realistic goal. It doesn’t have to be black and white; different shades of proficiency exist within mastery. Mastery is the ultimate destination, but proficiency is the way there, the road we must travel. Proficiency still allows you to:

Like everything, there has to be a beginning and that is where I have felt a calling: to inspire beginning Spanish students to get on the road that leads to mastery. My entire platform to learning Spanish is one that bridges the gap for the beginner: learn the basics and use modeling and immersion to practice language skills that will evolve naturally. The free Spanish report offered on my web site, “The Preterit and The Imperfect, A Love Story,” includes all the details about modeling and immersion. In addition, beginning Spanish students can rely on my Spanish verb guide, “The Spanish Verb Conjugator” as their ‘training wheels’ to navigate in Spanish until verb conjugation becomes second nature.

Like the old saying, once you get to your destination you realize it was the journey that mattered the most. Maybe your investment turns out to be 100 or 500 hours, it still counts. It’s better than not making any effort at all, now that would be a failure. I guarantee something good will come from your intention to learn Spanish, it’s cause and effect in action. If it’s not mastery, it will be something else that is of benefit to you or someone else. You won’t know what it is until you try.


Article originally appeared on Free Spanish Verb Charts (http://thespanishverbconjugator.com/).
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