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For extranjeros learning to speak Spanish, the quickest way to learn is to take as many tango classes, yoga classes, martial arts, pilates, and/or music classes in Spanish. In any class that connects the mind, body, and social environment, learners can observe how the same vocabulary is repeated in the many drills and exercises that maestros ask their students to perform. In an interactive bodily practice like tango, learners can rehearse the same questions and responses with each new dancer: Como te llamas? De donde sos? Estás de vacaciones? Querés bailar un poco antes de clase? Podés repetitir el paso? The conversations have become so rehearsed, I can now jokingly beg my new partner not to ask me where I am from, what I do for a living, and how teaching writing is not the same as teaching grammar.

Dwight Atkinson (2010) explains how “bodies link minds to the world—we experience, understand, and act on the world through our bodies” (p.1). Atkinson applies a “learning is adaptive principle” that is based on four premises: 1. Learning is relational; 2. Learning is experimental, participatory, and guided; 3. Learning is public; and 4. Learning is aligning and learning to align. Atkinson concludes that learning does not only occur within a person but between people within a social environment. In a second-language learning context like a tango class in Buenos Aires where students like myself are learning both castellano and the kinesthetic language of tango, students familiar with universal tango vocabulary words and bodily movements like ochos, paradas, sándwiches, boleos, barridas, planeos, lapices, ganchos, and giros will observe their favorite maestros reusing the same vocabulary as they repeat the movement for students. And because tango is labor of love, sweat, and tears, maestros have to repeat the same lessons at least 5 times in a single class allowing learners to both observe, listen, and experience familiar and new vocabulary.

5 Tips to advance your Spanish:

  1. Commit to a particular maestro and she or he will recycle the same words.  Only make note of unfamiliar words that are repeated over and over. Once your comprehension has improved, visit another maestro’s class to learn how that person explains the same bodily movements.
  2. Our brains do not process every single word uttered to construct meaning. In this one example from the LiveScience website: it deson’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod aepapr, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm. Learning Spanish is quite similar in that we do not need to process every single word if we already know quite a bit about tango or yoga. Get the gist of the lesson based on your prior knowledge and the social context and don’t stress over the words that you don’t understand.
  3. Copy and move. If you’re a leader, find your favorite dancers in the classroom and copy their movement. If you’re a follower, just relax, engage your core, and follow. Similar advice applies to yoga, martial arts, and pilates–copy and move.
  4. Specialized books like Tango Spanish or magazines in Spanish on topics like yoga or running are particularly helpful for expanding your Spanish vocabulary in a particular context. 
  5. Find some of your favorite maestros on YouTube conducting interviews or teaching class in Spanish and turn on the Spanish subtitles. If that’s not available, slow down the playback speed to .75, if necessary. 

Spanish Subtitles are Available in the Alejandra Mantiñan interview.


Atkinson, D. (2010). Extended, embodied cognition and second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics31(5), 599-622.

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