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My approach to learning Spanish 🤔

6 months to Spanish fluency: good idea, bad idea, the worst? 🤷‍♀️

Written by Eva Dee on (about a 6 minute read).

The Idea 💡 permalink

Since January 1. of this year (2021), my wife and I have switched to (almost) exclusively speaking Spanish at home. My plan is to become some sort of fluent by the end of June (2021). Fortunately, Valerie, my Mrs, is on board and has agreed to help me.

I'm not a native Spanish speaker (Valerie is), nor have I had any formal Spanish training. But enough is enough, we've been together for almost ten years, and I find it almost embarrassing that I haven't learned it yet. Also, we currently speak English to each other, which is just odd since neither of us is a native English speaker.

And for the added bonus, we are also stuck at home with no exciting plans of leaving the house much, so... might as well?

The Background 🗺️ permalink

I suppose I'm ( used to be 😭) alright when it comes to learning foreign languages. I speak Slovenian (my native language), have a BA in English and another one in Mandarin Chinese. I've lived in China for five years, picked up some Japanese on the way, and was at some points able to understand Tsingtao beer-fuelled Russian screamed at me at the wee hours of the morning... Oh, how I don't miss my student days...

I also worked as a teacher and translator for a while; I was part of a two-person Chinese learning podcasting empire (hah!), but then life (ahem bills) got in the way, and I decided to look for a slightly more stable and less stressful career. Thus I landed in programming.

Blah. Okay, that's done.

Disclaimer: I should first say that before this, my Spanish could be described as super elementary. I did do a bunch of Duolingo way back when that didn't stick. I also picked up some from listening to Valerie talk to her family, some from watching movies or series, some from randomly studying.

Before starting all of this, I would describe my Spanish level as:

  • reading A2
  • listening A2
  • writing A1
  • speaking A1

The Execution 🔪 permalink

Every day for the past 60 days, without exception, I've done the following three things:

  1. I start the day with some gentle Duolingo warmup (if anyone wants to be pals on Duolingo, this is me) - I know that's kind of lazy studying, but I'm sleepy in the mornings, and the colors are so nice. I aim for 200xp points per day, and this currently entails:
  • 5 lessons (I'm on a pro plan so I can keep jumping over levels)
  • 4 stories
  1. I really like Language Transfer and usually do 20-30min of listening to that while doing the dishes etc. It's great for learning grammar and making connections between languages. I'm currently doing it the second time around.

  2. Most importantly, as much as I can, I try talking to Valerie exclusively in Spanish (or at least, my take on Spanish). We tend to pause this during stressful working hours (because it just takes too much brainpower) and when I really excitedly want to tell her something (for example the kitchen is on fire!).

This has gone... surprisingly well (my opinion 😬). I mean, it's been really difficult, and I sound very... basic and make 90 mistakes/minute, but because Valerie is an 👼 (but grown-up) in disguise, it's at least less horrible than it used to be (again, my opinion).

I can comfortably express myself in the present, past, and future tenses but regularly mess up irregular verbs and everything else that isn't straightforward (conditionals, subjunctive, commands, past perfect (past in the past))... I got all of our most common phrases nailed, and I can say: "Did you bring a doggie poo bag?" (we do have a dog) in my sleep.

My vocabulary is alright, my listening skills are improving, and my pronunciation is decent.

The Nitty Gritty 😬 permalink

Besides the three regulars, there's also the miscellaneous bucket of consuming content that I like, but in Spanish, that includes:

Books permalink

Thanks to Valerie, we have lots of Spanish books, and I can't understand any of them. I've now started reading Agatha Christie's novels in Spanish, it's still super difficult, but at least I already know the genre 😳.

Music permalink

My favorites are Jesse & Joy, La Oreja de Van Gogh, Los Auténticos Decadentes, Lila Downs and Café Tacuba. Also, Nortec Collective, but that's instrumental, so I guess that doesn't count 😆.

Podcasts permalink

Lots of Radio Ambulante, which features content from all over the Spanish-speaking world, so you get to really practice those accents (or, in my case, get frustrated because you can't understand any of the accents!).

News permalink

We tend to liten to Spanish radio during our lunch breaks. So far I've tried RTVE and Cadena SER. Spaniards talk so fast! 😱

Phone permalink

I changed my phone's language to Spanish! And now, every time I see "Tienes más mensajes Nuevos" pop up on my phone, I get to read it (in my head) in a dramatic Spanish accent (think Antonio Banderas).

Movies permalink

El Secreto de Sus Ojos being my favorite, but I also enjoyed the telenovela Mirada de Mujer featuring a romance between a 50 something lady and a 35 something man (woooohooo Mexico!).

Also, Almodovar (Dolor y Gloria!), the documentary Midnight Family is really really good (about a family-run private ambulance. Yes, that's a thing in Mexico!). If possible, with Spanish subtitles. If no subtitles, pretend to understand stuff and laugh at the same time wife does.

Grammar permalink

I pick some up from Language Transfer, and I have two grammar books that I sometimes peek at. Otherwise, pester Valerie.

Thinking in Spanish permalink

I try to talk to myself in Spanish. This normally results in both of us getting confused.

In conclusion permalink

So, how comfortable am I today, 1/3 into my learning journey, that I'll be able to achieve Spanish fluency by the end of June?

After having done 60 days of studying around 2 hours each day, I would describe my Spanish level as:

  • reading B2
  • listening B1
  • writing B1
  • speaking B1

There are days (like today) when everything I say is wrong or mumbled, or just complete nonsense, and I feel I'll never get it. And it's tiring hearing yourself (poor Valerie ❤️) making the same mistakes over and over again, or saying things like Me no want salad, me want potato". Sigh.

But then again, there are better days. When we have pizza.

In any case, I'll keep you posted.