Zero is an interesting place from which to start a Duolingo course, as it was when I began Spanish about two years ago. I recognised a few words, but to give you an idea, when I saw the word mujer I thought “what the hell is that”. The private disappointment that I knew hombre but not the word for women made me more determined to gain some Spanish. Two years later, I’m at an intermediate, B1-B2 level (see the Central European Framework of Reference). How does that happen, and what does it mean?

Merchandise from classic Hollywood in Madrid

It’s possible to finish a Duolingo course in a few weeks, but as fast as you accumulate lesson badges, the faster they ‘fade’. I was interested in Spanish but not in a hurry, so I set my daily goal to the basic level and concentrated on revision as much as progression. That approach took me a year – quite a while, but it felt more valuable than finishing and dropping the course in five months.

The advantage of Duolingo has always been that it gives you a taste for the language as well as some familiarity – in more concrete terms, when I began evening classes a year ago, I was on the cusp of A2, or upper beginner.

How did I get from beginner to intermediate? In the past year I’ve had 40 hours of super good group classes, regular conversation with a tandem partner, active learning time with apps, and passive time spent listening to podcasts, watching Easy Spanish, etc. etc. What does B1 mean?

  • I have a good understanding of Spanish but I rely on clear communication and I have to be in familiar situations. If I overhear some Spanish teenagers on the train, it’s like snatching words of a whirlwind.
  • I can write simple texts (with errors) – for example at work I sometimes trade emails in Spanish with a colleague (who sympathises, because he’s always trying to improve his English).
  • I can discuss opinions and plans with native speakers.

What’s next? B2, upper intermediate, means you can talk to native speakers without either of you making a lot of effort. At the moment, there is a ton of pausing, and questioning, and switching between English and Spanish. So – next stop, effortless Spanish! Easy!