Learn Spanish while you sleep? The cruel truth about marketing and language learning!

Jun 15, 2020 | Learning Strategies

from Henning

Henning lived for several years in El Salvador, working as a teacher. He is Co-Founder of the SAY ZONTE! project. Writing for this blog is his way to give s.th. back to “el pulgarcito.”

Learn Spanish while you sleep?

The internet is full of webpages and blogs that offer language learning strategies, no matter what language you want to learn.

They promise you to learn Spanish in 1,2,3 or 6 months. Learn to speak Portuguese fluently while you are sleeping, no problem! Be fluent in two weeks with a full immersion Spanish course in Ecuador – nothing seems to be easier than that!

Language learning with fun, for free and fast. Or even learn Spanish while you sleep! That’s what some webpages and posts on the social media platforms promise you.

In this post, I would like to write about my thoughts of what it takes to learn a language. After reading this article, you might be more aware of what is only pure marketing and what is a good option.

I hope that you find it easier to optimize your learning process and find your way to learn the Spanish language.

language learning

Let’s have a look at the typical marketing phrases first and see what’s behind it.

Language learning “for free and fast.”

These days, we don’t have much time, and if we can have something NOW, we take it. And if there’s something for free, it’s even better. But after doing a lot of research on the internet, we believe that everything with decent quality costs money. 

And what is even more critical: Learning a language takes time. Depending on your personality, language learning experience, and dedication, you might start speaking a language faster than others. But in general, there exists no shortcut to learning a language. There’re just more effective ways to do so.

There are some YouTubers, for example, who offer language learning videos for free. They are excellent and very educational. We have written a review of some of them in this post. 

In our opinion, they are an attractive complement to your language lessons, online, in groups or one-to-one. But pretending to make you SPEAK a language by watching some videos is pure marketing, to be honest. Why? Because you don’t have a good reason to communicate with someone!

Repeating phrases from a language learning app or a YouTube-Video is not what makes you learning a language. In 90% of the cases, it’s no meaningful content for you in the actual situation. The following video from Stephen Krashen, who was a professor at the University of Southern California for English as a foreign language, is worth watching. It’s from the 80s, but in my opinion, it’s still valid:

Speak Spanish fluently in just 3 months

Well, this is one of my favorite marketing phrases. And it might work! If you’re very organized, very determined, and an essential point: If you have learned a foreign language before!

Learning a language and being fluent in just one, three, or six months sounds fantastic!

But in 90% of the cases, a person won’t be able to have a fluent conversation in just three months by making an online course or taking classes once or twice a week.

The most crucial point is that you SPEAK the language that you want to learn. It’s the only way to make your brain learn!

So let’s say you live in a Spanish speaking country, with almost no one around you who speaks your mother tongue, and there’s no other way to communicate in Spanish to survive. In this case, you might be able to have a fluent conversation after three months. You might make some mistakes, but speaking fluently in daily conversations.

Everything else they tell you is marketing. This YouTube video from Marc Green is worth watching if you want to learn more about fluency in language learning:

Which leads us to the next big marketing show concerning language learning:

Free Spanish learning apps

Language learning apps have become very popular in the last few years. And they’re great. Babbel and Duolingo, to mention just two of them, are fantastic.  They’re well designed, motivating and easy to use.

So, where’s the problem?

As we said before, language learning doesn’ work passively. As long as you don’t SPEAK the language in meaningful contexts, your brain knows the language structures (vocabulary, grammar, syntax, etc.) but is not able to use it.

As SAY ZONTE!, we had students that used language learning apps intensively before they came to use. Some of them weren’t even able to have a simple daily conversation in Spanish.

But we must say that these students also learned very fast after having a two-week Spanish course with us. They were USING the vocabulary and grammar intensively they learned before with the language learning apps. And suddenly they started speaking kind of fluently.

A language learning app can be a handy tool to complement your language learning process. But in our opinion, it’s just not correct to say that you can learn a language only by using a learning app.

And by the way, most of them are not for free if you want to use all the professional features.

In this YouTube video, Steven Kaufmann is talking about his evaluation of Duolingo. If you’re a total beginner of learning a foreign language, you shouldn’t compare yourself with Steven Kaufmann. But we thought it might be interesting to hear the opinion of someone who speaks 16 languages:

Language Learning with fun

Yes, we know, everything in the world has to be a delight, no stress, no hassle. And also, language learning has to be fun.

After seeing a lot of websites, materials, and blog posts about the “fun way” to learn a language, we must say that some are just marketing.

There are useful methods and exciting content that keep you motivated to learn a foreign language. But the one and only “fun way” doesn’t exist.

The “subjunctive,” for example, is a difficult topic of Spanish grammar. There’s no fun at all learning the subjunctive unless you’re a grammar nerd.

Good teachers are using motivating methods and a well-structured syllabus. It’s more about the teacher who knows how to keep you motivated and not the technique or “the fun way” itself.

But one thing is right: Anxiety is the worst teacher ever if you want to learn a language. Krashen called it a “negative affective filter.” In a nutshell, you won’t be able to learn a language when negative emotions are blocking you from doing so. There are a lot research articles about this topic on the internet. Here, for example.

Nevertheless, the one and only “fun-way” learning a language doesn’t exist – sorry! Language learning always takes some effort and your motivation to do so.

Our youngest students showed us in a very impressive way how important emotions and motivation are in the learning process. But in general, it’s not different if you’re an adult.

How to learn Spanish? Stay curious! One of our youngest students so far was Derek from the US, 6 years old!

Language Learning with Netflix or “Learn Spanish while you sleep!”

Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Do some series binge-watching with an online streaming platform like Netflix, for example, and learning a language?

Listening to some dialogues while you’re having a nap, wake up, and speak a foreign language. “Learn Spanish while you sleep is probably” one of the biggest marekting inventions since we a big computer company invented his apple like fruit logo.

Nope, it doesn’t work. Unfortunately. But yes, it an excellent way to practice your listening comprehension and your passive vocabulary. Not less, not more. Anything else they tell you is marketing.

language learning

Learning a language with “full immersion”

“Full immersion” is the idea of learning a language while you’re speaking and listening to it 24/7.

Lots of Spanish Schools in Latin America, for example, offer homestays with local people, so you’re forced to speak and to listen to Spanish all day long.

And it works!

But there’s one thing that we need to mention: Your motivation and your self-esteem!

Do you sincerely want to learn a foreign language? How big is your motivation for it? And why do you want to learn it? Is it because your boss obliged you to do so or because you need it for your job that you don’t like? Is it because you need to pass that stupid exam at the university or school?

In general, your intrinsic motivation and your self-esteem is the key to learn a language successfully. “Full immersion” is a good thing, but it’s not the holy grail of language learning. 

A good motivation to learn a language is to get immersed into a different culture that you like!

Capital of El Salvador

Conclusion: Learn to realize what is marketing and what helps you to learn Spanish!


With this post, I wanted to let you know that marketing is one part; language learning is the other.

First, try to find out why you want to learn a foreign language.

If you wish to order a beer in Spanish in a bar in El Salvador, it’s a good idea to watch some YouTube-Videos and memorize the most common phrases!

But if you decide to get deeper into learning a language, consider a combination of language learning apps, Youtube, private or group classes, even if it’s online.

There are a lot of possibilities. Find your way, and don’t get distracted by marketing slogans.

Try to find out where you want to invest your money and spend it wisely.

Be aware that language learning takes time, effort, and a significant portion of self-motivation. Find out why you want to learn a language and make it as a motivation for your efforts.

Also it’s ver important to mention: Try to find an excellent teacher! If you found one, don’t hesitate to pay him or her a bit more, because teaching a language isn’t for free, like any other profession.

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