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Episode 03: Why It’s Easier for Salseros and Bachateros to Learn Spanish

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    Learn Spanish Con Salsa Podcast

    Episode 03

    Why It’s Easier for Salseros and Bachateros to Learn Spanish

    5 – 6 – 7 – 8! What if I told you that dancing salsa could help you with your Spanish? In this week’s podcast, we dive into the specifics of why dancing to Latin music gives you an immediate advantage in learning Spanish. The skills you’ve developed as a dancer enhance your language learning ability–beyond just language exposure and cultural immersion. Listen to this episode to explore the reasons why listening and dancing to Latin music can accelerate your Spanish learning.



    ¡Bienvenidos! Welcome to the Learn Spanish con Salsa podcast, the show for Spanish learners that love music, travel, and culture. Close your grammar textbooks, shut down the language apps and open your ears to how Spanish is spoken in the real world. Let us show you how to go from beginner to bilingual. Here is your host, certified language coach, Tamara Marie.


    Hola mi gente, bienvenidos. Welcome to episode three of the Learn Spanish podcast. Now this episode is especially for my fellow salseras y salseros. So if you love Latin dance, whether it’s salsa, bachata, cha cha, merengue, reggaeton, this episode is for you. Now, if you’ve never heard the term salsero or salsera, it literally just means a person who dances salsa.


    Now salsero is the masculine form and salsera is the feminine form, but they both just mean salsa dancer. Now, as you know, the Latin dance community is very diverse. There are people from all over the world, from different cultures, different generations, different backgrounds that all love to dance to Latin music. You might be surprised how many people have been dancing to Latin music for years but don’t understand or speak a word of Spanish.


    I find that pretty interesting considering the fact that the music we dance to is in Spanish, which means that you’re dancing to songs that you probably don’t even understand, and it can also be pretty awkward since as a salsero or salsera you’re probably making friends that are Latino and speak Spanish fluently.  So you definitely have exposure to the language through both the music and the people you know, but despite that fact, you still may not know how to speak Spanish because as you know, just like with dancing, being around phenomenal dancers does not automatically make you a good dancer.


    You have to have some interest and put forth some effort to become a good dancer, and the same thing applies to speaking Spanish. Now you’re probably wondering what does learning how to dance have to do with learning Spanish? Despite the fact that the music is in Spanish, you might be thinking these are two completely different skill sets, but I’ll actually show you how some of the skills that you’ve picked up when learning how to dance will actually help you with learning Spanish.


    But before I break down exactly what those skills are, I want to talk a little bit about some of the ways that dancing to Latin music can actually get in the way of you learning to speak Spanish. Some of these may be the reasons that you do not already speak Spanish fluently. And even if you understand a little bit and can pick up a few words, you still may not be comfortable with having a conversation.


    So the first reason why dancing may actually get in the way of learning Spanish is simply your interest. You’ve already decided that you want to learn how to dance, and you’ve probably committed quite a bit of time and energy to taking classes and practicing and really becoming a better dancer. So if you’re already committed to dancing, it might be a little bit of a stretch to now try to learn a foreign language on top of that. We only have so much bandwidth, mental energy, time, capacity to learn new things at once that it can be really difficult to now add on a new skill, but we’re already learning salsa or another Latin dance and as you know, salsa is match as a casual hobby. It’s really more like an addiction. Okay, so it definitely takes up a good amount of your time. Once you start learning how to dance.


    There’s always a new skill to learn a new class, to go to a new event to travel to another opening night at a new venue. So we spend quite a bit of time on dancing and it can be really difficult to find the time and the interest to then also learn Spanish on top of that. Now, I do think this is one of the easiest obstacles to overcome simply because once you get comfortable as a social dancer and you really mastered the basics of salsa, you’ll shift to spending more time in socials than in classes which will free up your time and your mental capacity to then learn a new skill.  So while it may be difficult to start learning both Spanish and salsa at the same time, unless your schedule is super flexible and you already have a lot of free time, I would recommend waiting until you at least get the basics of salsa down before you start learning Spanish.


    The second way that dancing to Latin music can actually get in the way of learning Spanish is that the lyrics in the song are competing with the music. So as a dancer you may be much more in tune to the bass or the drum or the guitar or the trumpet than you are to the actual lyrics and the words that are being spoken. Especially if you have an interest in musicality, you’ll be looking more for instruments rather than words to accent your dancing.


    And in most cases, if you don’t understand what the words mean anyway, they quickly become background noise and you tend to focus a lot more on the other elements of the song. And the third way dancing may actually hinder your ability to learn Spanish has a lot to do with the socials that we attend. So if you started learning how to dance salsa or bachata or another dance, you probably started taking classes at a dance studio or a school. Usually the studios will host events to give you an opportunity to practice what you learned in class in a social dancing environment.


    So even if you’re meeting people that speak Spanish, the dance socials are usually really difficult to practice conversation. There’s usually loud music playing. There’s people having conversations in groups which can be really difficult to understand if you’re just starting to learn Spanish and you want to practice conversation. Some of the socials are at bars or clubs where there’s alcohol involved and it might be really difficult to understand someone after they’ve had a few drinks.


    Although I have heard some people say it actually helps them feel less inhibited when they’re speaking Spanish, if they have a drink or two because it really makes them relax and calm down. Now obviously you don’t have to drink in order to speak Spanish, but some people have said that that helps them and they also say that the loud music makes it feel a little less intimidating because if they make a mistake, likely the person didn’t hear them, but I think in general these socials are just not ideal environments to have quality conversations,


    so those are just a few ways that Latin dancing can actually get in the way of learning Spanish, not having the time and interest because you’ve already committed yourself to dancing, being more focused on the music than on the language, and not really having opportunities for quality conversation practice in some of these social environments.


    These are just some of the reasons that many of the dancers that I know don’t even try to speak Spanish, but to all of my salseros and salseras there, if you haven’t tried to learn Spanish yet, I encourage you to give it a shot.


    For starters, you’re already listening to Spanish music all the time, so you have the perfect opportunity to use that language exposure to actually help you learn Spanish.


    Secondly, you’ve probably already made a few friends that speak Spanish, so you already have people that you can practice speaking Spanish with, which is something that most language learners struggle to find, so use that to your advantage and start trying to have at least some basic conversations with your Spanish speaking friends.


    And third, I’ve really found that once you understand the lyrics and the meanings of the songs, it can really enhance your experience as a dancer. There’s a very popular salsa song by Joe Arroyo from Colombia and it’s called Rebelión. I always bring it up because it has a really catchy, upbeat tune.


    It’s a really popular song to dance to and you’ve probably heard it before. I’ll also include a link in the show notes so that you can check it out. But I always make a point to bring this song up because even though it’s a very upbeat and fun song to dance to, it’s all about a slave uprising in Cartagena, Colombia.


    The chorus literally says ‘No le pegue a la negra’ which means ‘Don’t hit my woman’ in this case, ‘negra’ refers to a black woman. So you never know what you’ll learn from a song. So my challenge to you as your first assignment to learn Spanish is to pick your favorite song to dance to and use that as your first Spanish lesson. And I show you exactly how to do that in a free online class called how to learn Spanish with Latin music. I break down five steps that you can use to learn Spanish with your favorite song.


    Now this is a little bit more than just going to google and searching for the song lyrics. I’ll actually include a link to that in the show notes so you can get started right away. Just go to learnspanishconsalsa.com/salsero and you’ll be able to access the free online class, How to Learn Spanish with Latin music.


    Now let’s take a look at some of the skills that you’ve picked up as a dancer that will help you learn Spanish that much easier. Number one is practice. Now you definitely know that if you’re learning salsa or any other form of Latin dance that you absolutely must practice in order to get better.


    You can’t just walk into the dance studio, learn a step a couple of times and then be able to execute it flawlessly. Not only do you have to practice on your own, but you also have to practice with an instructor that can give you feedback on what you’re doing right and what you can improve, and then you have to practice with different dance partners so that you can execute the same moves with a variety of different people.


    This same principle applies to learning Spanish. You can’t just sit around with your head buried in grammar textbooks or collecting trophies on different apps on your phone and really expect to be able to speak Spanish with any level of confidence. You have to actually practice speaking Spanish in order to get good at it and it really helps to chat with an instructor or a tutor or a coach that can really give you feedback on what you need to do to improve. And also let you know what you’re doing correctly and from there, having conversations with different people really helps improve your Spanish conversational skills.


    As a dancer you also probably learned what worked for you and what didn’t. You probably noticed that you had better chemistry with certain dance partners and others the same way you’ll find out in Spanish who you find it easier and more effortless to speak to.


    You probably learned what practice schedule works best for you. The same way in Spanish. You’ll have to figure out how to incorporate speaking Spanish and practicing into your schedule and routine. You also probably have an idea of about how long it’ll take you to master a new skill and this will be really valuable in setting your expectations for improving in Spanish.


    Many people who have never learned a new skill or at least haven’t learned anything new as an adult may have unrealistic expectations of how much time they need to put into learning a new language, but since you’ve already learned how to dance, you already know what your strengths and weaknesses are. You know what works for you and what doesn’t. You know, what kind of feedback is helpful for you and what things motivate you to practice and what don’t, so you’ve got a wealth of knowledge about yourself that’ll really help you as you begin to develop your own personalized Spanish learning routine.


    So knowing how to practice is an invaluable skill that will definitely help you make progress in Spanish a lot faster. The second thing you’ve learned as a dancer that will be really useful as you’re learning Spanish is pattern recognition, and I’ll explain what I mean by that.


    When you first start learning salsa or another Latin dance, you quickly learn that there are some small skills that you need to master before you can become a good dancer. Let’s call those micro skills. This could be something as simple as knowing where to place your hand during a particular move or how much tension to give your partner or where to place your foot during a particular step and on which count, and all of those micro skills link together to form a pattern.


    So typically what’s done in most salsa classes is you’ll learn each micro scale or each step at a time and you’ll end up linking those altogether into a pattern that you can execute.


    So for example, the basic step of salsa is a series of micro skills that you learn and you put them all together in a pattern that you can now recognize and execute fairly easily. So you don’t need to be told each component of the basic step. Once you have that pattern down, someone can just tell you, start with the basic step and you know exactly what to do.


    That is pattern recognition and as you continue to learn, you recognize more and more patterns. So for instance, you might learn the cross body lead and then the cross body lead with a turn or a left turn. So there’s more and more complex patterns that you can put on top of the existing patterns that you already have learned. That makes your brain really good at pattern recognition and you really get to the point where you can execute those steps without much thought.


    Now, the reason that gives you an advantage when it comes to learning Spanish is because learning a language is all about pattern recognition, except in learning languages we call it grammar. So that’s all about the different forms of words and the order in which you place those words so that you can be understood.


    So an example of a pattern in Spanish is using the pronoun ‘Yo’ which means ‘I’. You might notice that ‘Yo’ ends in the letter ‘o’. If I wanted to say I dance I would say ‘Yo bailo’. So you notice that also ends in the letter ‘o’, the word ‘bailar, which means to dance, when I’m speaking about myself. So I would say ‘Yo bailo.’ If I wanted to say I eat, I would say ‘Yo como’. So again, ‘como’ ends in ‘o.’ So without even having to pick up a grammar textbook, you’re going to start to notice these types of patterns and this is because your mind is really good at pattern recognition because you’ve had so much practice with learning, practicing and executing different patterns as a dancer.


    The third skill you have as a salsero or salsera, that will really give you an advantage when it comes to learning Spanish is the concept of chunking. Now this relates a lot to the previous skills we talked about: pattern recognition and practice. Now the term chunking as it relates to learning refers to linking together related items into one block of information. And this is something you naturally do when you’re learning how to dance. So chunking is the process that any dancer uses when you learn a new choreography or a new turn pattern, for example.


    So normally if you want to learn an entire dance routine or choreography, instead of trying to learn the entire thing at once, you’ll break it down into sections or chunks in order to learn one at a time.  And eventually you link all of those separate chunks together into one big routine and then you’re able to execute the entire thing.


    But in order to do that, you first have to break it down. Now here’s how that relates to learning Spanish. Now let’s say you’re trying to watch a telanovela and you want to understand the entire show. So instead of trying to watch the entire episode, it’s much better to take it scene by scene, conversation by conversation, line by line, and learn it in chunks. So anytime you’re approaching learning something in Spanish, you’ll want to break it down into chunks instead of trying to learn the whole thing, that also applies to learning Spanish conversation.


    Instead of learning individual words, you’ll want to learn chunks or what’s called phrases when it comes to language so that you can say those phrases and recognize those phrases much easier. So for example, I wouldn’t just learn the word ‘hola’ and then learn the word ‘como’ which means ‘how.’ I will learn an entire phrase that can be useful in a conversation.


    Something like ‘Hola, ¿cómo estás?’ which means ‘Hi, how are you?’ So learning that phrase instead of the individual words is immediately useful and can really help me when I go to have a conversation. So breaking things down into manageable chunks is not only a good way to learn how to dance, but it’s also a good way to learn language.


    Now your last superpower as a dancer that will really help you make progress learning Spanish is the concept of muscle memory. This really ties together everything we’ve talked about so far. Chunking things down into smaller pieces, practicing them over and over again with different people, going through that repetition process and recognizing executing patterns all come together to form what’s called muscle memory.


    And this just means that we’re able to execute something without having to think about each step deliberately. So in our basic step example, once again, if someone tells you to do the basic step, you don’t have to think about moving your right foot forward or your exact hand position, the count of the music that you’re on.


    If you’ve mastered at least the basics of salsa, this should be second nature to you. If you’re a really good dancer, you can probably hold an entire conversation while executing some pretty advanced patterns and dance moves while you’re on the dance floor and you’re able to do that because of muscle memory.


    And this is the same approach when you want to take when learning Spanish. Once you learn some different chunks that you can put together into patterns and you practice both speaking and listening to Spanish over and over again, you’ll be able to recognize and understand certain parts of the Spanish language without having to put a lot of effort into it. And that’s really what takes you to fluency – being able to understand without a whole lot of deliberate effort.


    The more that you practice making the sounds of Spanish, which can be very different than English in most cases, the more you will get making those sounds into your muscle memory. But instead of our legs or hips we’re talking about the muscles in our mouth and our tongue. So you have to practice speaking Spanish and using music is a great way to do that because even if you can’t sing, you can always sing along with the songs when no one’s listening and you can practice your pronunciation of Spanish.


    So those are the four skills that dancers have that give you an immediate advantage in learning Spanish: knowing how to practice, how to recognize patterns, how to break things down into chunks and get them into your muscle memory.


    These are all skills that you’ve built in the process of learning how to dance. And there are skills that you can transfer to learning another skill, especially learning to speak Spanish. And don’t forget about the challenge that I gave you earlier in this episode.


    Your action item is to go to the show notes page at learnspanishconsalsa.com/salsero and sign up for the free online class, How to Learn Spanish with Latin music. Pick your favorite song, go through the steps in the class, and you may be surprised how much Spanish you can learn with just one song. As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. Definitely drop us a comment on the show notes page or contact us directly on Instagram @learnspanishconsalsa. That’s it for this episode. I hope that something you heard today has helped you go one step closer from being a beginner to bilingual. Bye for now.

    dccb Download Episode 03 Transcript

    Links and Resources

    • How to Learn Spanish with Latin Music: Free Online Class
    • Get Lyrics to the Song La Rebelión by Joe Arroyo

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