Six Month Update

I have neglected this blog, but I’m happy to report I have not been neglecting my Spanish studies. I have been consistent with daily study. I practice at least an hour a day Monday through Friday, and then more than that on the weekends. I continue to use a combination of methods, including Rocket Spanish (I completed Module 1 of Spanish Level 1, and have begun Module 2), Memrise (I am working through several courses there for vocab), Duolingo (currently level 16), and I completed Level 1 Spanish classes from the Latin American Association (I have signed up for Level 2, which will start the second week of January).

In addition to the above, I continue to read something in Spanish most days. I am working through a beginner book (Learn Spanish with Beginner Stories by Kees Van den End), and I have acquired more study materials as well; Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish, Assmil’s Spanish with Ease (2014 version), Oxford Spanish Dictionary (Third Edition), Complete Spanish Grammar (Premium Third Edition, from the Practice Makes Perfect series), First Spanish Reader and Spanish Stories (both by Angel Flores), Sin tetas no hay paraíso (a novel by Colombian author Gustavo Bolívar Moreno), and – just arrived today – Living Language Spanish Complete Edition.

I have not dug in to all of these materials yet. For example I have skimmed but not started working out of the Practice Makes Perfect book. Same with the Madrigal book. I have not kept up with the Pimsluer courses. After day 17, I dropped it for some time, and then went back to start again from the beginning , but not daily. I have not tried to read from either of the Angel Flores books yet (the second one is more advanced, but I want to finish the Van der End book before starting the beginner Flores book, and then move on to the intermediate/advanced Flores book). After all of those, I will attempt to read the Bolívar Moreno book (which is not a parallel text). And maybe one day I will be good enough to read (and understand) novels by Gabriel García Márquez (one of my favorite authors, that I have only been able to read in English translation. And while we’re at it, let’s put Pablo Neruda on that list). I haven’t started Assimil yet. I want to work through more of my Rocket Spanish courses first. Perhaps all of Level 1. But to be honest, I’m quite eager to start Assimil. It’s just when I do, I want it to be my main daily practice, and I want to work it all the way through.

That said, as mentioned, I do work with Spanish consistently every day. At present I use Duolingo daily, and Memrise most days. I then add lessons from Rocket Spanish on the weekends (and sometimes during the week as well). I was also doing whatever homework my instructor assigned from the formal classes at LAA, working from the textbook Viajes: Introduccion al español (First Edition). I am currently on break between class sessions, but continue self-study, and review from what we have gone over so far. I also do listening practice several times a week. I have been listening to podcasts from Radio Ambulante, which is a Spanish language version of NPR, and also have been watching a series on Netflix (La Niña) in Spanish. These, along with periodic review of the Pimsleur lessons I have already done, and tuning in to Spanish language radio in the car, and Spanish language news broadcasts online, have all helped to acquaint my ear to the natural rhythms of the spoken language.

Self assessment (~6 month marker):

I started studying Spanish in early July (the 4th, to be exact). It is now December 22nd. So this is just under 6 months. I estimate I have around a 1000 to 1200 word vocabulary. I would say my pronunciation is perhaps “above average” for a beginner. I still stumble on some words, but I have worked hard to understand the phonetics and avoid many of the common “gringo” mistakes. I do still struggle with the trilled “R” (alveolar trill, the tap came easily for me), but have made some improvement recently. I plan on drilling this until it is smooth and natural. My instructor from the formal classes, who is a native speaker, complimented me on my pronunciation a few times in class  (not in regards to the trilled R, but with pronunciation/accent more generally). I can hear when other beginners are not so good with their pronunciation. It makes me cringe a bit inside, which I take as a good sign as it means I can distinguish the difference. I don’t say that to belittle others or prop myself up. There are beginners who are better than me in pronunciation and other areas as well. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and I have profound respect for anyone studying a second (or third, or fourth) language. I know first-hand it is not an easy thing. We can all learn from each other along the way. Cheers to all of the language geeks out there!

I have also purchased a voice-recorder and plan on starting to record myself when I practice, both reading aloud, and for the response portions of audio software (e.g. Rocket, Pimsleur, and Assimil). This way I can easily identify weak spots in my own pronunciation to work on, and also track my progress over time.

When I read, I read aloud. The beginner book I am reading comes fairly easily if I read at just under a normal reading pace. That is in regards to pronunciation. Comprehension, on the other hand, is still very minimal. I can get the gist of about 30  to 40 percent of the content (más o menos). Since the book is interlinear, what I am doing is reading a short story straight through for the first pass, then going back and reading it again, but looking at the translation when I need to (which is often). My thinking is that the first pass read-through without looking up anything is good practice for pronunciation, and training my mind to read/speak proper Spanish sentences. Then the second pass where I include looking up for comprehension increases my vocabulary (and therefore ultimately my comprehension).

I also practice writing, including correct use of accent marks. I have enabled the Spanish language pack on my laptop (Windows) and have learned to type fairly well in Spanish from that. I want to include more practice with longhand in my notebook, along with starting to work through the Practice Makes Perfect grammar drills. My plan for the latter is not to write directly in the workbook, but rather, to write out the exercises in my notebook, including the prompts from the book along with my answers. And while I use digital flash cards, like Memrise and Anki (mostly Memrise), I want to start a separate notebook dedicated to vocabulary that I write out by hand and periodically review. While I do like the idea of spaced-repetition algorithms from software for vocab memorization, I also think there is something to be said for writing out longhand. I feel that it  imprints to memory in a way typing on a keyboard might not accomplish. I think both methods are helpful, but perhaps in different ways. I’ve been doing typing mostly, so I want to include more writing to balance that out.

My weakest skill at present is spontaneous conversation. I really want to find a speaking partner that I can meet with at least once a week. I know there are plenty of online options for this (italki, for example), which I might have to eventually try, but my preference is someone local that I know and get along with that is a native speaker who is willing to work with me. If I can’t find that, I may have to settle for online options. I’m not totally opposed to that, it is jut not my first preference.

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