“The more mistakes I make, the faster I learn” – Interview with Jason from Spanish Vault

All right, I’ve got a good one today. I interviewed Jason, who runs the awesome site Spanish Vault. I discovered his website a few months ago and love his approach to languages. I asked him if he would answer a few questions, and he graciously agreed.

Check out what he’s all about, the eclectic Spanish accent he has, and the one mistake he sees Spanish learners make the most.

By Adam Jones [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Panama City Skyline
By Adam Jones [CC BY-SA 2.0], Image Source


LS: So tell me about yourself and your background.

Jason: I’m Jason and I’m from the United States (Minnesota, more specifically… “Fargo”-like accent not included). I live here with my wife and my crazy puppy, Luna.

When I was in middle school, I decided to start learning Spanish because, like everyone else here, I was forced to learn a language in school and figured that would be the most useful. I grew to love it, especially after I started working at a restaurant with a bunch of people from Mexico and got a chance to use it, and I got to know them better through talking with them in Spanish.

LS: Cool. Why did you start Spanish Vault?

Jason: I eventually left Spanish for a while during college, and when I came back to it to learn on my own later, I had no idea where to start. Without the structure of the classroom, I didn’t know how often to study, for how long, what to do, or what to focus on.

I started Spanish Vault because I wanted to help other people to learn Spanish faster, without getting caught up in all the usual mistakes that slow people down in the process. There are so many common mistakes and so many bumps along the way that can be avoided, and I wanted to create the place that I wish would have been there when I first started learning Spanish on my own.

LS: When I studied Spanish myself, I focused on what some people would call “Latin American Spanish.” I know even that term is problematic, since there are a lot of variations among Latin American countries and regions, but basically I tried to learn a version closer to what you’d speak in Mexico rather than in Spain. Is there a particular dialect you’re studying?

Jason: Right now I’m trying to focus as much as I can on Latin American Spanish, specifically the dialects you’d hear throughout Mexico. Being in the U.S., it just makes more sense as far as usefulness goes because you’re way more likely to meet Mexicans than Spaniards here.

With that said though, I actually started out learning the European dialect just based on the resources available. After doing a lot of research, I saw a ton of recommendations for Assimil, which only comes in European Spanish, and I went all in on that.

Even though there are some pretty significant differences in accent and word choice (sometimes), I still feel like that helped me build a really good base that carried over across dialects. I still get called out for my accent (which can be kind of a weird mix of Latin American, European, and Rioplatense Spanish depending on the day), but I don’t have any regrets about starting the way I did.

LS: What’s a typical day of studying Spanish look like? Is there a typical day?

Jason: I try to have one main activity that I do every day and then supplement it with a mix of other things. I see that activity as the non-negotiable for the day, and I usually try to make that something really intensive.

Outside of that though, I just try to add on as many things as I can throughout the day. I’ll listen to music in Spanish, listen to the radio on my phone, watch TV shows, read blogs, text a language exchange partner, think in Spanish, or read a book for a little bit before bed.

I think it’s important to know yourself and what works for you. Knowing myself, I get bored easily, so I know I need to have some variety to make things work.

LS: I get the sense from your site that a big draw of learning Spanish is getting to connect with and help people. You said that you now get to help Spanish speakers at your job in rural Minnesota, which I think is awesome. How does this outlook affect your studying? Does it affect the way you set goals?

Jason: I always love getting to connect with people in Spanish, even if it freaks me out in the very beginning. Being able to use it at work has been a huge motivator for me, and since I have that clear goal, it pushes me when I get lazy.

It definitely affects the way that I study because with the end goal being to speak and to speak well, I know that I have to make that a priority, as comfortable as it might be for me to keep my nose in a book all the time. Even when I am doing things by myself and not talking to others, I picture myself using words I’m learning or trying to express whatever it is I’m learning.

LS: What’s the number one mistake you see people make with their Spanish?

Jason: I think, in general, the number one mistake is being afraid to make mistakes. This was definitely something I’ve been guilty of over the years, and it held me back for a long time. I thought I’d look stupid if I wasn’t able to speak perfectly and that people would judge me for it. I hear a lot of people saying the same thing and that they are hesitant to talk to people because they are kind of embarrassed to make these mistakes.

For me, there came a point though when I just became totally unapologetic about it. I told myself that if I actually want to reach my goal, I’ve got to start somewhere, and the more mistakes I make, the faster I learn.

LS: Okay following on with that. What’s the number one thing you see people doing right?

Jason: Going back to the connecting part from earlier, I think people are doing a great job of engaging with others. I’ve seen a bunch of Spanish learning groups on Facebook, forums, language challenges, and other things online where everyone is really rallying alongside each other.

It’s really cool to see people supporting each other the way they are and helping out with advice, resources, and encouragement. It makes a big difference when you don’t feel like you’re alone in trying to learn a language, especially when it’s not something that’s a huge priority for people around you.

LS: Jason, thank you very much for your time. Hopefully you’re reaching a few new readers today. If people only had time to check out one article at your site, which one would you say is an absolute must read?

Jason: I’d probably start with “Why Fluency SHOULDN’T Be Your Goal.” Whenever I ask people what their goal is in learning Spanish, they say they want to be fluent, but then everyone has a different idea of what it means to be fluent.

George Harrison said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” In that article I tried to break down why “fluency” is a terrible goal and what to set as your goal instead.


Thanks, Jason, for your time. Be sure to check out the site, follow him on Twitter, and follow him on Facebook.

  • http://allthetongues.hol.es/ Roman Shinkarenko

    A question to Jason: what is “Fargo” accent, and what do you have instead?

    • Jason Eckerman

      Hey Roman, “Fargo” was a movie from the 1990s that was supposed to be based in Minnesota, where all the characters had terribly thick accents. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-XEHwUBubk (Here’s a link to a clip to give you a look.) The stereotype of the Minnesota accent is with the long o’s. While it might be more common further north, it’s definitely not all that common here in the Twin Cities.

      I think I have a more neutral American (US) accent, but I’ve had a handful of people tell me I have a little bit of a “southern twang” sometimes. I don’t think so (and I’m definitely not from the south), but that’s what some people have told me anyways.

  • http://www.5minutelanguage.com/ Agnieszka Karch

    I totally agree that the only way to learn is to make mistakes. I used to be afraid of making the tiniest little mistakes in the languages I was learning but then, when I first went to live abroad, I realised that native speakers make so many language mistakes in their own languages! Or they ask other people what the correct way of saying something is. Despite that, they are understood by other native speakers. Mistakes are not a disaster – you make them once or twice and you know how to say things next time round!

    Bye the way, I LOVE the Fargo accent 😛

    • Jason Eckerman

      Hey Agnieszka, that’s a great point. I think a lot of times our expectations are totally unrealistic. We think we’re making a huge mistake when, like you said, we’re doing things that natives do all the time. That definitely takes some of the pressure off!

      • http://www.englishforlunch.pl/ English for Lunch

        Being afraid of making mistakes can make people avoid speaking the language and in this way make the learning process more difficult.

  • http://lightonspanish.com/ Jorge Sivit

    Hey, Jason, Ron, nice interview!
    I definitely agree; mistakes are necessary. We only learn by doing. And, as you say, if we want to speak, we have to make it a priority to speak with other people; get out of our confort zone.

    • http://www.5minutelanguage.com/ Agnieszka Karch

      Yep – by saying nothing, you’re learning nothing. So it’s better to learn something (with mistakes) than nothing (without mistakes)!