One Key to Master Learning a Language

Why do we use language?

At its core, we use language to navigate the world more easily. Travel, work, commerce, can all be done internationally if we have a shared language. But even if we all speak the same language doesn’t mean we’ll have a shared language. No, a shared language is when each person participating in the language has a uniform definition for something – for example, a traffic light, or a computer. We all know these things by what they do or the utility they provide.

Shared language around intangibles is easy; it’s when we try to put constraints around concepts, deep-seated cultural norms, or thought patterns that disparities emerge.

Though some cultural norms we can see, the majority we cannot. Knowing the existence of a cultural norm is one thing; knowing why the norm exists is another. This is why history is so important. Want to know why pork and ham products are so populous in Madrid? It goes all the way back to the Spanish Inquisition and was one of the ways the Moors were flushed out of the city. Curious about coca usage in Colombia? Spoiler alert: it’s not to make cocaine; it’s rather a centuries-old practice to handle the altitude and altitude sickness. Why are there so many anti-drug policies and attitudes in the U.S.? It’s due to the “War on Drugs” policy and slogan from the Nixon era, specifically, 1971. Why is racism so prevalent in Latin America? It goes back to the encomiendas framework, which came about after the 1492 Conquest, and the fact that Europeans played off on the racial tensions that already existed in order to ensure their new social order didn’t unite against them.

These are just a few examples of why people do what they do. While you don’t need to study every scrap of history and memorize exact dates of every important event in a country, it helps to know key cultural facts and key historical events- especially in relation to the rest of the world at the time. The 1940s were a tumultuous time for many: Spain (Franco dictatorship begins), Germany and Western Europe (Hitler takes over many cities and countries by force), the U.S. (Pearl Harbor and the entrance to World War II), and Japan (the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Simply being cognizant of the country’s history will break down so many barriers, and in turn, make your language learning journey so much easier.


Megan Miller
Megan Miller
As one enamored with deep thinking and deep conversations, Megan Miller shares her findings and experiences as a word nerd and language lover worldwide. With more than 2 decades of Spanish under her belt, Megan has experienced firsthand the benefits of bilingualism. Megan is the founder and owner of Aprovechar Language Solutions, a translation and Spanish/English language coaching business that focuses on mindset, habit, and real-world examples to improve people’s confidence and comfortability in speaking and communicating. When she’s not coaching or translating, Megan uses her communication skills as an IT Project Manager to produce technological solutions and likes to travel and bake in her free time

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  1. Good stuff as always, Megan. My son just finished with his Modern World History AP and so our family has been steeped in a greater understanding of world events. My history education was abysmal, but luckily my husband’s passion for history won out. He, like you, has a gift for finding the connections between world events and culture. Finally, history is coming alive for me!

  2. Loved this, Megan. Not only is it important to read history for the sake of “not repeating it”; it also casts so much light on why other peoples do such strange things.
    If we can assume that there is a good reason – we just haven’t yet discovered what it is – it is so much easier to live among foreigners. The alternative is often slight disdain and that is never a good starting point for any relationship. (Actually, that goes for people in our own culture as well.)

    Thank you for providing the tidbit I didn’t know about Madrid. It is a sight and scent to enter the “Hammeries” with literally hundreds of jamons hanging under the rafters. With olives and Jerez and you are good to go for the rest of the afternoon.