Learning a new language is a popular goal to set. Now that the world is more connected than ever it can be quite useful to speak a few languages. In addition to physical travel, we are now exposed to each other much more closely over the internet and interacting with people in multiple languages is much more common than it was previously possible.
I started learning Spanish mostly for fun. Spanish is a good fit for me because of where my wife and I vacation most frequently. We have visited Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica just in the recent years. We love the culture, weather, and the people and will continue to visit Central American and eventually South American countries in our future. She speaks Spanish quite well but up until recently I only knew an occasional word or a saying. So I decided to change that so that the next time we visit I can interact with the locals more. Also I love learning. Acquiring knowledge is a fun process and I decided to go after it.
I have been working on Spanish on and off for two years now, with some mixed results. Just to give an idea of the progress, I started with zero knowledge and the best I have done so far is have a somewhat decent conversation with a Spanish tutor on Skype. In between, it has been a lot of ups and downs, progress and frustrations, and all part of the learning adventure.
Duolingo has been the most influential and wonderful tool. You don’t have to know the language at all when you begin. If you spend a month with Duolingo you will get enough of the vocabulary for the most rudimentary conversations. I like their manageable sizes of the learning sections. That helps to get a sense of making progress. And making progress helps tremendously with motivation to continue to learn. The user interface is fun and it even has point systems and other “gamification” aspects to it to keep the learner engaged.
One year in with Duolingo, I felt like I knew a lot of words but speaking was still tough. I would “freeze up” whenever I had to say a sentence spontaneously. After all, you can’t hide from the fact that in order to speak the language you have to practice speaking it. It sounds so obvious but the mind has its ways of hiding that truth from us. Besides, for the most of us it feels so intimidating to approach a Spanish speaking stranger when you have absolutely zero confidence in your speaking skills. So you try to avoid for as long as possible. But the truth is, if you want to speak it, you have to actually speak it. That was when I decided to start looking for Spanish speakers.
Internet can solve many ills and that includes finding the language partners. Italki is by far the leader in language learner community. It is a site where you can find tutors as well as other people learning languages and connect with them via Skype sessions. I have had 5 tutoring sessions so far. Two of them awesome, one so-so, and two absolutely terrible. My first time around I think I had the best session ever. To my surprise I could explain to the tutor where I lived, what I was doing, what was my family doing, etc all in Spanish and without much trouble! I had never done that before so I was feeling ecstatic. But then once the initial excitement worn off, it was getting difficult to get any good use out of the tutoring sessions. I am not sure what was I missing, but I felt like I wasn’t learning much and then eventually started to dread the sessions. Currently I am taking a break from them and see if I need to try something different.
I also tried connecting with just regular Spanish speaking people that were learning English. The results again were mixed. You get to talk to people and practice language skills while learning about the culture of others, which is wonderful. However there are also some issues with the approach. First, I think it is much harder for beginners to talk to strangers who are so much more advanced than you in their native tongue and also speak great English. They end up dominating the conversation and have no patience for your slow pace. Second, most of the people I ran into were young students that loved talking about music and movies at the level that does not interest me at all. So basically finding a common interest was tough. After about five sessions I stopped as I was getting bored and learning very little.
So what am I doing now? To keep the vocabulary fresh, I am still doing duolingo. Also just started a course on memrise. I need to solve the issue of finding the native speakers or finding the reasons to talk in Spanish. Perhaps volunteer for some organization that will bring me closer to the natives where language learning is not a goal but a way to communicate to accomplish an organizational goal. Let’s see where I end up with this. Safe to say I am not giving up and will continue to move forward.
Eso es todo por ahora, hasta luego!