Creativity: ‘the ability to create.’
Simple. So before you tell yourself that you are not a creative person, think again. We often associate creativity with (curated) artistic expression, which is partially correct.
Creating is bringing or making into existence something new. But creating is a very human thing: from cooking to building an IKEA piece of furniture, taking photos (and publishing in social media) or writing the shopping list or mindless doodling while we are on the phone, creativity is what exudes from us all the time.
Learning a language is in and by itself a creative activity already, why? Language, words are an act of creation. Humans created languages so they could express themselves beyond gestures and guttural noises. We needed nuance. We needed individual expression. We needed communication. So we created languages, which are in origin, a pure creative action. They are pure creativity. Were those first humans artists? Not necessarily, but what those early humans were, was creative.
So, if you are human, you are creative.
If you use your mother language, you are creative.
If you are learning a new language, you are creative.
Now that we have cleared this out of the way let’s see how you can honour this inherent creative action, learning a language, getting creative not only in your expression but also in your acquisition or learning process, because they go hand in hand.
Beginner’s Mind: Shoshin
Shoshin is a word from Zen Buddhism, meaning “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when learning at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.
“The practise of seeing life with wonder.”
What would it be like for you to approach life and any activity to fill your life up with a beginner’s mind?
What would it be like to approach your Spanish with shoshin?
“Sometimes, what you know gets in the way of what you need to learn.”
How does this quote land with you? Do you agree?
Maybe all the theory you know about how the verb ser is permanent and estar temporary is getting in the way of experiencing these two verbs in action. Or all you know about the subjunctive being the mood for the uncertain is getting in the way of experiencing the subjunctive in its full glory of serving as a filter of “you” and your subjective personal expression.
It’s easy to keep your beginner’s mind when you are a beginner, but it gets increasingly difficult as you become less of a beginner and more knowledgeable in the language. And this applies to those who are experts in the language.
I would ask you mostly those who have an intermediate or advance level in Spanish (or any other non-native language) to ask themselves: How what I know is getting in the way of what I need to learn or of what I still don’t know?
And I find that the question is often answered when we stop looking at the language from the knowledge we have and start looking at it with beginner’s eyes.
Two seemingly opposing things can be true at the same time. For example: “el mar es plateado” (today, because it’s calm and reflects the cloudy but bright sky). Shouldn’t I say, “el mar está plateado” because I am talking about something temporary? And the truth is, yes and no, both are correct. And an experienced person will consider “el mar es plateado” incorrect because it doesn’t follow the rule they know. Still, in doing that, they are ignoring the possibility of learning that “el mar es plateado” is correct and standard, because it expresses the essence of what is in that moment, without focusing in the possibility of changing.
When I say “el mar está plateado” I am expressing the “state” of the sea, and I perceive it or express it as something that changes, and that before was not “silvery”. When I say “el mar es plateado” I am talking in an absolute term of how the sea is right now, not thinking about how it was before and how it might change later, but it’s true now. Accepting this doesn’t contradict the rule of ser or estar. It only goes a little further.
This is what adopting a beginner’s mind allows: the possibility of being open to seeing the truth in something that we know and learn as different, which allows us to understand it a little deeper.
How can you adopt a beginner's mind in Spanish?
Being open-minded about the ways you can learn and assimilate the language, approaching the grammar with fresh eyes every single time. And instead of searching how the new information is negating or opposing what you already know (as a frustrating exception that one must learn by heart but in doing that we only leave it non-integrated), search how it confirms what you already know or how it makes sense or combines with it.
Taking a creative approach to languages is not only a fun thing to do when you are tired or unmotivated with your regular Spanish practice. It is as necessary and beneficial as the most widespread and often dull activities. Why? Because the creative expression is just the other side of the “learning” coin.
Any language is a conglomerate of the logical side (grammar and structures) and the irrational side (how the language ends up behaving). A language is not a computer language, so why would you learn it as if you where a computer and the language was a computer language? The way to access the “irrational” or chaotic in the language is through self-expression, through emotion, play and pleasure…
Few ways you can work on your Spanish creatively
Word Related Activities
How can you create with words? How can you be creative with them?
– Journaling. You can journal in general or about specific topics or to practise specific grammar points. Read this article to get an idea of how.
– Creative Writing, like blackout poems or writing your poems. I have written extensively about this point, so you can read one of my articles about it: “Why poetry is great to learn Spanish?”
If you are into speeches, debate, join a Toastmasters or any speaking group alike where you can prepare a topic and deliver it in front of a group of people (either in person when we leave this pandemic behind, or online). Never underestimate what researching on a topic you are interested in in the target language can do.
Do you like poetry? Maybe find your favourite poems in Spanish, memorise them, perform them in front of a mirror, record yourself delivering them, or impress your friends at the dinner table with your recitation skills.
Do you like music? What are your favourite songs in Spanish? Why don’t you learn them by heart and sign them? Sing along with the singer (which is a form of shadowing) or do it alone in the shower. Train your mouth to speak in Spanish and feel the emotion of the song in you. Dance it out!
Create a recipe
If you like cooking, you have probably followed Spanish recipes for both your Spanish learning and your pleasure. And that is a great practise because you are experiencing the language by replicating/creating a dish. Now, to turn the things up a notch, why don’t you make a dish of your own making and then write the recipe? Or even better, write a recipe book in Spanish or create a recipe blog in Spanish? That is creativity in Spanish squared! Double the experience, double the learning.
Part of the learning process is the free expression, not only the spontaneous but also the uncensored, uncorrected expression that comes from a place inside of you that do not abide by the rules because it is only for you.