2016 Habits: Spanish Update

Three or so months ago I shared my Spanish progress with you; as a reminder I had made a goal to practice Spanish for 15 minutes a day. I was tired of being frustrated with my lack of ability to communicate with Sergio’s family and it came to a head this Christmas. So I committed to DuoLingo (add me here!) and decided I wouldn’t stop until I finished…

#storyofmylife, but sometimes it’s three languages…

And I haven’t missed a day yet! As of today I’m on a 170-day streak! I finished “the tree” (the first “50%” of fluency, or the little units I’ve been working through) and am still reviewing units because I’m not quite ready to move on to the translation.

I’m really proud of my improvement because I didn’t know I would be able to learn as much as I have. While immersion is always the best option for language learning, given the circumstances I’m really happy with what I’ve been able to achieve.

But it feels like I have so far to go. It’s overwhelming to learn a new language, so I’ve identified three areas for improvements:

Verbs, verbs, verbs: I get French flashbacks when I have to confront verbs and picture this gigantic book that I hauled around for a few years (look familiar to anyone?). What in the heck is the difference between irregular future and past perfect and infinitive when you have to conjugate the thing?

Verbs are killing me. I need to spend some more time… something with them. We’re in a long-distance relationship but it’s time to get intimate, verbs and me. It’s time we took this to the next level.

Picking up the pace: Señor y Señoria Duolingo (what I call the male and female voices in the app) speak very slowly and clearly (and there’s even a turtle button to make them slow down even more), so I’m a bit lost when I’m with native speakers. When Sergio talks to his dad on the phone? Forget it. And because I’m used to his accent, I’m much more hopeless with Southern Mexican accents, not to mention Colombian or Dominican or Cuban or Argentinian accents — or even Spain Spanish ones. Give a girl a break!

So I’m figuring out the best way to do this. The obvious answer is actually watching Spanish-language movies or television, though to be honest the telenovelas are easy to understand even without understanding any of the language. This point bothers me mucho because the whole point of learning the language is communicating with S’s family.

Family, this is all for you!

Learning new sentences and words: I love DuoLingo and all, but it does have a few attributes that I don’t like. I won’t get started on the algorithm that tells me how fast my proficiency degrades (nice try, but I will never forget “hola” or “gato” now that I’ve learned it, so you can stop making me practice those) — but in this case, the one area I’d like to expand is my vocabulary. DuoLingo says I have learned 2330 words in Spanish, which seems like a lot until you realize that because one needs ~50,00–100,000 words to be considered fluent, I am, at best, 4.6% of the way there.

Because this is supposed to be fun, I’m trying two new techniques:

  • “Como se dice…?” is a great way to add new words. Last week we had a conversation in Spanish for about five minutes straight, and I could have gone much longer if I didn’t have to talk around words I didn’t know. At some point, I just gave up in frustration and had to ask, “Como se dice bathtub???” — it’s bañera, by the way, and not baño, which is what my brain thinks it is.
  • Read, read, read! My reading level is somewhere between preschool and second grade, and thankfully our local library is filled with picture books in Spanish. My goal is to read a few books aloud every week — that helps me learn new words and see how sentences are actually put together!

When I don’t feel like I am making progress, I watch a video that S filmed before Christmas last year when I read Buenas Noches Luna to him. My God it’s painful. He shot me reading a few pages of a Dr. Seuss book a few weeks ago and it’s crazy awesome to see my progress. I might not always pronounce it correctly, but I’m going back and self-correcting more and more (damn you, accents!).

New Year’s is only six months away! I have much more to learn before I feel proficient enough to be proud to introduce my new Spanish-speaking self to la familia Rico!

xo, Sarah

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