My long journey of learning Spanish

A great way to learn anything is to look over the shoulder of someone that’s already pretty good at that skill and observe their learning process. Hence why reading others’ learning updates is a much more valuable resource than a list of the “X best resources to study Klingonian”. There’s only so many Klingonian sources that you can use at a time but seeing how someone else does it lets you reverse-engineer the process.

That brings me to my learning Spanish. In this post I’ll give you a short unadorned version of how I learned Spanish to the point where I am now, and what my goal is and the plan as to how to get there.

Why I started Spanish

Spanish was the first language that I started learning completely independently, meaning without uni classes, group courses or other shenanigans. The sound of it has always intrigued me. It sounds masculine and powerful, vivacious and full of passion. I had to learn French and Italian in school but disliked the former (sounds girly and I don’t like the sound of their r) and had not much use for the latter, though Italian is undeniably melodic.

Thus, without having any practical use for it whatsoever, I decided to learn Spanish about 5 years ago. It was simply a matter of proving to myself I can do it. Did I achieve my goal? Well, keep reading…

My early language routine

It’s been a while since I started but if I remember correctly, I studied pretty diligently in the beginning. Meaning at least an hour, often more, daily or almost every day. I bought the very first book with good reviews I could find, which was Gente Hoy 1. On top of that I had a one-week introductory course at the local Instituto Cervantes for two hours per day (I know, I said no group classes but one week doesn’t really count). Initially I complemented that with using flashcards like Memrise and Anki.

I’d go over whatever was in the book for the day and solve the exercises as well as I could, listening to the audios, doing the writing and talking to myself. I was picking it up quite quickly thanks to my knowledge of Italian and French and I finished that first book quite fast, which took me to about A2.

That continued for a good three months or so until I lost motivation for the first time. I didn’t need Spanish and had no immediate plans of traveling to Latin America or Spain, so my resolve faded away.

Why I restarted again

My motivation returned as unexpectedly as it went and after some time, memory escapes me how long exactly, I continued with the next book from the Gente Hoy series. Around that time I also tried doing Duolingo for the first time ever. It undoubtedly helped me remembering much of the stuff I had learned before. In fact, I finished the entire Spanish Duolingo course, as well as the German course in Spanish, on my metro rides to and from work. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend doing it because it doesn’t teach you the context-based learning that you need to learn a language organically.

With Gente Hoy 2, I continued in the same fashion, i.e doing the exercises and listening. However, pretty quickly I noticed that I had the basics down and that it was time to speak. I got on Baselang, which offered Spanish as much as you can for a little over 100$ per month. Their tutors are Venezuelan and hence the low rate. I might write a detailed review some day, but in short, I wouldn’t recommend it anymore although the service undoubtedly helped me a lot. The biggest problem was accessing the same teacher every time so you don’t have to jump around and can get used to one person. The people were all nice though, and some of them are also decent teachers (definitely not all).

To complement my listening, I started listening to the Notes from Spain podcast, which offers bite-sized conversations of first Spanish and English and later Spanish only. That helped me a great deal with getting used to authentic conversations and made a big difference in my listening comprehension.

Around that time I was investing a lot of effort into it and did probably two hours per day, if not more. Often I’d have two hours of conversation and corrections with my teacher and I was working independently with my books and my podcast as well.

The push to B2

The whole process went on for a good few months, again memory escapes me for how long. I managed to finish the entire second Gente Hoy and do some of the third before I lost motivation again.

That brings us to 2020 and lockdowns. When Coronavirus hit, I and many other people around the world thought it’d be a good idea to learn a language. So I returned (yet again) to Spanish and started following the same routine. I tried doing Baselang again but the situation had become intolerable with ever-changing teachers, so I switched to iTalki and Verbling. I increased the speaking hours again and was doing two hours per day for 5 days a week, working with two different teachers. That got me through Gente Hoy 3 and after one to two months I had a solid B2 level (self-assessed) and started with a C1 book. Lucky for me but unlucky for my Spanish, lockdown in Russia was lifted and with that went my motivation (yet again)…

On the home stretch to C1

Which brings us to today and my final push to C1. After starting Spanish 5 years ago, I still haven’t achieved my goal. It’s disappoint but it’s all on me since it’s been a start-stop affair and something I could’ve realistically wrapped up in 18-24 months of studying consistently. That’s why I signed up for the C1 exam on the 22nd of May in order to finally tick off this damned process and prove myself that I can do it and that I should do it much faster and more consistently next time around.

At the moment my routine looks like this:

  • 60 minutes of conversation per day (will be 90 minutes from next week on). No off days.
  • Additional listening practice with a Youtube channel I enjoy. I’m going to incorporate an extra 20 minutes of listening per day to other sources in order to diversify and get used to other dialects.
  • Working through my C de C1 book and solving exercises there.

As you can see, I do no vocabulary revision and no flashcards. Though I’ve worked with them for a long time, my impression is that their effectiveness plummets after you have a basic level (A2). My theory is that it’s because the brain finds it hard to distinguish between what words are and aren’t important and therefore can’t retain them as well. In any case, I found that mass exposure to the language through listening and reading works much better for me.

If all goes according to plan, I’ll pass the exam two months from now and then, who knows? I might turn my focus to dusting off one of the other languages I have lying around in the back of my mind…

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