Every year, Jan. 1 comes around and we redefine our goals. If you are in Costa Rica, invariably, learning Spanish is on your list. In truth, learning a language should always be on that list. There are few things more nourishing to your brain health and memory than learning a second language. That being said, there are also few things more frustrating and challenging than second language acquisition. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? We can quip all we want, but the struggle is real. People constantly tell me they are just not good at languages, as if the brain is to blame. But could the real problem be fear of disapproval and embarrassment? Here are some simple tips to make this year’s attempt to learn Spanish easier.

People think your accent is sexy.
You might think you sound like a complete bonehead, but the locals around you are tickled by your accent. Our brains are wired to enjoy an outsider’s attempt to speak our language. To a local, it’s a show of respect to engage in their language. You are taking the brunt of being the fool and they appreciate it immensely. Always try to engage in Spanish first, and then smile your way through the rest. It really does get easier each time.

You don’t need to conjugate.
This one is huge … conjugation can drive even a native to a stiff drink. All those changes and endings can be seriously overwhelming and cause you to go back to believing you are just not worthy of learning. The truth is, all immigrants learn a basic version of their new language first called pigeon language. It is void of conjugation and complex structure. Like a child, you piece things together and the more you do it, the more your brain can access the information.

Stress is the wall!
When you stress, you are blocking any possibility of accessing your memory. It fogs thinking and slips you into a mode where you just want to give up and go home. There’s a good reason why alcohol and caffeine can aid us in speaking a second language. As your stress melts away with the second or third drink, you have easier access to memory. I am not suggesting you develop an alcohol dependence to learn Spanish. However, finding a happy place, removing stress and simply enjoying the moment will allow you to access more of the things you study.

Lower your expectations.
We never understand everything someone says, even in our own language. I need subtitles to watch “Duck Dynasty” on TV, for example. When someone is speaking to us, we need to stop focusing on the words and focus on the bigger picture. Take in the speaker’s hand gestures and expressions, and allow your brain to throw thoughts, images and concepts back to you. If you relax and let it happen, your brain will give you the gist of what is being said, for you to grasp and run with it. People who fill in the blanks and points of confusion with their own imagination are better language learners.

So in essence, language learning is whole lot of winging it. A laid-back mentality allows your brain the space and time to learn.