Learning Spanish? Make Twitter Work for You!
Yesterday I talked about how Reddit® can help you better your Spanish and one of our readers, Ben, asked me if we could do something similar with Twitter®. I said, why not! Although this post has been in the works for quite a while now, I think the time is ripe to finally bring it out in the open. Because if years of experimenting with an obscene number of language-learning ideas have taught me anything, it’s this: You’ve gotta squeeze every fruit in your basket. Anything and everything around you is a potential language-teacher in one way or another. Twitter is no different. With a little initial discomfort and perseverance, you can turn Twitter into a very effective Spanish-learning tool in no time and this post will show you how.
The biggest and most obvious advantage of making Twitter work for you is the sheer amount of time you spend engaging with it. You tweet, you retweet, you participate in hashtag madness, you read others’ tweets – basically you spend close to an hour a day on Twitter! Twitter accounts for more than 10% of the total time you spend online. That’s not one hour spent productively. That’s not one hour spent making money or learning stuff. That’s one hour thrown away probably saying things you might regret later. But like most things social, Twitter is an addiction. Why struggle quitting when you can make it productive instead? Imagine the amount of Spanish you can absorb over time if you got an hour worth of it each day just from Twitter. The idea is to squeeze Spanish out of everything you do in a day’s work – everything. Let’s see how you do that with Twitter.
Change Your Location
This is the first thing you should do right off the bat. I know it’s a big change and is gonna render you out of touch with the goings-on in your city. But I’d rather think of it as a small price to pay for Spanish fluency. All you have to do is to visit your Twitter homepage and look for the area that says “Trends.” Once in there, hit “Change” and you’ll see a popup asking for the city you’d prefer following.
Basically, the city or country you enter there is the one you’ll see your trending hashtags from. This is an extremely useful feature that lets you stay in the know of what’s going on around you. Oftentimes, this is where a news breaks even before it does on the TV! So you can see how changing this to a location you don’t have anything to do with can throw you off the mainstream. But that’s alright.
The location you should enter here is either a Spanish-speaking country or a city in one (even better). Once you do that, all your trending updates change to reflect whatever’s hot in that new location. Why does it matter? Because if your Twitter telescope is trained on a Spanish-speaking part of the world, most of the trending hashtags are going to be in Spanish. That alone is a big opportunity to drill some Spanish into you given how catchy and repetitive hashtags are by their very nature. To add to it, even if you try digging into just one of those trending stories, you’re going to be exposed to even more Spanish because an overwhelming majority of participants are going to be Spanish speakers tweeting in – surprise, surprise – Spanish! For example, I changed my location to Mexicali (Mexico) today and got hashtags like #SiMeSacasDeLaFriendzone (If you take me out of the friend-zone) and #CuandoLlueveMeDanGanasDe (When it rains, I feel like). And that’s just two. Consider the possibilities.
Change Your Language
Make Twitter talk in the language you’re learning. If you’re learning Spanish, it only makes sense to expose yourself to as much of the language as possible. By default, your Twitter account is probably set to English which makes sense since that’s a language you understand. But what if you switched it to Spanish?
Now that sounds like a big, big commitment! I get that, I really do. I admit, using Twitter is going to be a bit uncomfortable and at times even downright annoying if all its options suddenly turn into Spanish. But you underestimate your knack to adapt. Human brain learns surprisingly quickly when it’s offered no choice. Initially you’ll see seguidores and rush for the dictionary. The dictionary will tell you it means followers and you’ll know what clicking the option would do. Relief. Next time, of course, you would do the same because you don’t remember. Relief again, albeit with a slight discomfort because you had to look up the word for a second time. This will happen maybe once or twice more and then, you’d just remember seguidores forever! This is how it works – no magic, no gimmicks. Pure compulsion. You compel your brain to remember new words because you are too lazy to look them up every time you see them.
So go ahead, hit settings and look for the section where it says “English.” That’s most likely the language drop-down menu. Pull it out and you’ll find “Español” among your options. Click it and save your settings. Bingo, now your Twitter is all Spanish! The initial discomfort shouldn’t last more than a couple of days depending on how heavily you use the site. The more time you spend on Twitter, the quicker you’ll get used to its new mother-tongue.
Hop on the Hashtag Bandwagon
This isn’t something new. We all do this all the time and that’s why hashtags even exist. Now, what if instead something like #WorldCup, you participated in #CopaMundial? This isn’t going to be terribly convenient, I confess. Absorbing the trend is not going to be an instant affair if you have to first translate the tweets into English so you understand what they’re trying to say. But given enough time, a lot would start coming naturally to you. No grammar, no vocabulary, no sentence construction rules – pure instincts at play here! I don’t know how but you’ll just learn to get it.
When you click a hashtag, you are presented with a never-ending stream of tweets containing that particular hashtag. A hashtag is like a topic everyone’s talking about. How does Twitter know your tweet is on topic? You tell it by using the topic’s hashtag in your tweet. The more a topic gets discussed, the more frequently that hashtag appears, and the higher that hashtag trends. That’s how the game is played – very simple, yet very powerful.
Now, if the hashtag you click through happens to be in Spanish, it’s pretty obvious the tweets you find in its stream are going to be in Spanish as well. At least most of them. That’s one rich source of bite-sized Spanish for you right there. A good thing about Spanish on Twitter is that a tweet can only be so long. That means there’s no long-winding story to dissect. Just one or two sentences written by someone who speaks Spanish. No flowery language, no double-entendre, no complex constructs. Just Spanish as it is heard in the streets. This is the most easily digestible source of Spanish you can ever get your hands on.
But how do you know what hashtags to participate in to begin with? That’s easy. Remember we changed our location for trending news in the previous section? This is why we did it. The Tendencias (Trends) section will always list out at least 3-4 good Spanish-language hashtags for you to peep into.
Tweet in Spanish
You can’t learn to drive by just watching driving-lesson videos. You’ve got to get your hands on the wheel, sooner or later. Same goes for learning anything. Same goes for learning Spanish. You can’t get proficient in it simply by reading stuff in that language; you’ve got to start producing some of your own. Speak Spanish. Write in Spanish. Produce some output of your own in Spanish. That’s how you make real progress.
In the context of Twitter, your output is whatever you tweet. So, yes, I am urging you to start tweeting in Spanish! I admit your tweets are gonna look ridiculous and downright hilarious in the beginning, given your broken Spanish. But hang in there and sooner than you think, your tweets will start making sense! You might not have much of an audience interaction if your tweets are random incomprehensible mashups in a language you’ve no handle on. But then, your purpose is not to gain retweets and followers; your goal is to learn a language. Keep that in mind all the time. You’re no attention-starved sophomore, you’re a language learner making the most of everything around you.
Since a tweet can only be a 140-letter long, it’s much easier and less taxing on your brain to do it in Spanish than writing an entire essay in a new language. Feel free to use an online translation service in the beginning if you will. But don’t fall back to English under any circumstances. It could be something as mundane as Me voy de compras este fin de semana (I’m going shopping this weekend), who cares! With time, you will automatically and gradually learn to express more complex thoughts in Spanish, that I promise.
Accounts to Follow
It’s easy: Just follow anyone who tweets in Spanish. The biggest sacrifice you’re going to make is unfollowing every English-speaker on your profile. That includes friends, family, and favorite celebs. Sorry Kim but we’re done here. Remember, you have one and only one reason to be on Twitter: To learn Spanish. Kill all other reasons.
But you don’t even have a Spanish-speaking friend; how do you find people to follow? It’s easy. You could start with any Latino celebrity you know of. Chances are most of them are tweeting in Spanish more than in English. If being a star-struck fan isn’t your game, check out some Spanish-language newspapers and magazines. Today, every such publication has a Twitter profile without exception. Follow them and your feed will be an incessant stream of nuggets in Spanish in no time.
I could list out a whole lot of fun and informative accounts to follow and spare you the treasure hunt. But that would be a colossal waste of time as the wheel has already been invented. Check out this excellent post by FluentU that neatly lists out some of the choicest accounts handpicked by them. They classify them under humor, people, Spanish learning, and news, which makes it extremely easy for you to take your pick.
And this, mis amigos (my friends), is how you finally put your Twitter time to some good use. All it takes is a little ingenuity and you can discover Spanish in unexpected corners of your everyday life. If you have already given this a shot and discovered an awesome account to follow, do let us know in the comments below. Who knows, you could just help an undiscovered gem get the fame it deserves on Twitter!