2 Years of Spanish: What Does That Mean?

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?

IMG_0640
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!

German Verb of the Week (No.3)

bummeln

Bummeln describes strolling or sauntering (as well as dawdling) and it is excellent for three reasons:

  1. It describes a pleasant and serene activity
  2. It confirms the stereotype that German sounds ridiculous
  3. It contains a childish British word which relates to the point above

Try and use it in a sentence! Bis zum nächsten Mal!

Let’s Talk “Failure”

Language learning can feel full of setbacks if we start with super-high, new-year style goals. In an ideal world, you take up studying, speaking and writing in Spanish, and 18 months later you’ve got a mountain of vocabulary and speaking confidence. Most online resources – including bloggers like me – don’t often acknowledge lost motivation and ‘lost’ skills.

Snow in Berlin

Instead of goals, here’s my language failures and ‘abandoned’ languages:

French ||
My first – and worst – foreign language! Like most British kids I started French aged 11, and I always liked the language but I really disliked learning it. There were two classes sorted by ability, and it really put a nail in my French ambitions when, in my final year, I was moved from the ‘good’ class to the ‘less good’ class. The mandatory classes ended when I was 14 and I never looked back – until Summer 2017 when I spent a month cramming basic French for a vacation using Memrise… that convinced me French was still tricky but that I could actually enjoy it.

German ||
My school made us take two languages, which was a nightmare for some of us. I was randomly assigned to take five years of German (other option: Spanish), and I liked it, but by the end I had a B grade and could tell someone I had two sisters and lived in a detached house. Since 2015 I have gone from apps, to evening classes, to intensive courses, to using German at my job. But those feelings of inadequacy are hard to shake – while my understanding is 100%, I often second-guess myself or feel self-conscious when speaking. I know lots of people who are fluent in English but they focus on tiny weaknesses or small errors. It sucks that imperfections and anxieties feel like failures, but it happens to everyone.

Spanish ||
The second foreign language I can actually speak! I started an evening course a year ago, and I am at the intermediate stage – so still optimistic. Nevertheless, every day I regret all the learning I’m not doing: I started a diary in Spanish – stopped that! I have a lovely tandem partner to learn with – but when did I last see her? Where are the handmade flashcards? Why am I not reading El País every day? Will I ever finish ‘El Ministerio del Tiempo’? When I do pick up my phone to learn, I enjoy it, and that’s the important thing.

Okay here’s one resolution for 2019: there’s limited resources to learn Swedish (because it’s not super useful) but there’s course for German speakers called ‘Sprich mal Schwedish’ and my Noble Goal for the year is to have a crack at it. (I don’t know, I can enjoy the Scandinoir better? I’ll have a leg up if Sweden ever invades?)

My advice: keep your goals flexible, don’t feel guilty about taking a break from a language, and download a dictionary onto your phone!

Everything You Need to Start Learning a Language

It is almost the new year and if you are thinking about your language goals, here’s all the most useful languageuntangled tips for apps, podcasts, books and vocab.

Everything You Need
to Start Learning a Language

Resources

Game Plan

German Vocab

Spanish History for Dummies

I am one of those dummies. I know next to nothing about 20th century Spanish history but let me tell you why today is important – today is the anniversary of the Spanish constitution, which was ratified on 6th December 1978. Dictator Franco had died only three years previously. 

It is wild to me that both of the two languages I am studying, Spanish and German, were part of European dictatorships so recently, which only ended in 1978 and 1990 respectively. What is more crazy is that these democracies were rebuilt so peacefully – setting aside for a moment Spain’s attempted coup, which had no casualties.

This history occurred too recently to have made it into a British school syllabus, and my understanding has only developed in the last few years of trying to glean a little Spanish and German culture. (See my post on German reunification, also known as Die Wende).

I would be interested to know what others have learned about history and culture from their language journey!