Learning Spanish – 2 weeks in

It’s been 9 years since I last attempted to start a new language; it was Russian and I had just started studying it at university. Only now, I have decided to pick up another language – Spanish.

When people ask me, “why Russian?”, I can never really answer. I think there was a little intrigue involved, but mostly I just revelled in choosing a slightly obscure and more-difficult-than-average language. This time, at least I can say “because Spanish is the 2nd most (natively) spoken language in the world”!

Spanish graffiti

The plan

So far, I have started myself off easily by choosing Duolingo as my main source of linguistic learning. I say easy because it’s fairly simple to fit 15 minutes’ worth of language into the working (and non-working) day.

However, I know, as a seasoned language-learner, that I’m going to have to ramp things up a bit a lot, if I want to progress at any real rate. Especially as I, like Clare, am going to try to keep to the “fluent in 3 months” challenge. No pressure!

So, progress so far…

2 weeks in

Duolingo logoWell, Duolingo tells me that I’m 32% fluent. Result! … Erm … not quite. I see what they mean, in that I’ve so far learnt basic grammar and vocabulary that may well recur 32% of the time in spoken and written Spanish, but I think I’ll take it with a pinch of salt!

My thoughts so far on learning Spanish in this way are:

  1. It’s handy to know French, as there are often comparable (and therefore memorable) similarities between words and sentence structure;
  2. Duolingo is awesome for working language-learning easily into your day;
  3. But it has quite a heavy focus (at least at this stage) on receptive language and multiple-choice questions – this means that I feel that I can often deduce the answer, rather than having to produce it;
  4. Having already learnt how to learn languages, I feel a real desire to do certain things, such as:
  • Learn pronouns (subject and object) and possessive pronouns
  • Learn verb conjugation in a more systematic way
  • Flash cards!! Both for grammar and for vocab. Clare, as always, is already ahead of me with this! 😉

This fortnight

I’ll be acting upon my urges by covering those 3 things. I’m really enjoying Duolingo, so I will continue with that, but it’s time to diversify…

16 simple language hacks to transform your daily routine into an immersion environment

  1. Change mobile phone and social media accounts into the target language – our phone is a portable language learning tool in our pocket, so make the most of it by switching it into the language you’re learning. The average person will spend nearly two hours (approximately 116 minutes) on social media everyday according to Social Media Today, so make the most of your minutes by learning common words such as ‘like / follow / share / comment’ and other useful vocabulary. 
  2. Change your computer’s language settings – as above, but only if you’re really confident navigating and finding things.  Especially take note of how to get to your language settings so that you can change it back!
  3. Set up a language lunch club – if time is short in the evenings and you can’t get to a event, why not bring the language social to you by setting up a language lunch club at your place of work or study? This is something I have done with British Sign Language and French in the last few years and I’ve made some great language buddies and friends along the way.
  4. Phrasemates – rather than go it alone, why not use a the Phrasemates app for iPhone and Android to get native speakers from around the world to help you translate words and phrases? The app also includes an extensive phrase dictionary that you can scour by searching keywords and is great for travelling when you need to communicate something urgent such as ‘I’m allergic to seafood.” Focusing on phrases, collocations and ‘chunking’ of vocabulary in this way is a really natural way to learn and if you help others out, you can get karma points too!
  5. Podcasts – another great way to make use of otherwise potentially useless time. Do you spend 30 minutes a day on a train or in a car? If so, download podcasts and spend that time immersed in a foreign language world of your own! Iain has some great tips on getting the most of podcasts in a recent blog post.
  6. Use Post-It notes our brains are wired to remember things by association and in context much more easily than when we see a list of words in a textbook out of everyday context. For basic nouns and phrases, it can be useful to put the word on the object to help it stick in your mind. I find it really helpful to allocate specific colours to different genders or types of words (e.g. masculine, feminine or neuter nouns or verbs and adjectives). After 1-2 weeks of regularly seeing the word associated with that object you won’t need the written cues anymore.

    Post It Notes Notice Board Sticky Notes Note
  7. Write to friends overseas – keep in touch with friends overseas by writing letters, postcards, emails or messages in the target language. If you don’t know any native speakers of the language, you can find pen pals online at Language Forever Exchange
  8. Learn with an online tutor from the comfort of your sofa – for a small fee you can spend an hour practising your languages with community teachers or learning with qualified teachers on sites like italki.  There is also the option to offer lessons for credit, so it can be a cost neutral way of learning. Sign up to italki via this link and get $10 credit from our referral link!
  9. Duolingo – this fun app has gamified language learning and will take you through various interactive exercises and introduce a range of vocabulary, grammar and phrases you’ll need for the language you’re learning. Great for short bursts of 10-15 minutes per day. They even have High Valyrian so you can find almost any language you’re passionate about!
  10. Get a frequency dictionary – Iain and I use the Routledge frequency dictionaries for French and Russian as find them well laid out and easy to use. This can be a good place to start when you feel you need to structure your vocabulary learning. I find up to 20 words per week is a good number to aim for so you don’t get overwhelmed but you can start to embed them into your active vocabulary. 
  11. Go to free Meet Up or Mundo Lingo socials – for the price of a drink, you can meet new people in your city and spend the night socialising with other speakers of the language you’re learning. It’s a really informal environment and great for language users at all levels. Read our Mundo Lingo blog post for a behind the scenes look at this language social that lets you meet the world on your doorstep.
  12. Listen to radio in another language – every morning while you’re getting ready or in the car on the way to work, have the radio on in the background so you can soak up the language as you get ready or drive.
  13. Sing along in another languagethis is useful whatever level you’ve reached; you could sing along to and learn children’s nursery rhymes, the national anthem or whatever song is at the top of the charts in the language you’re learning, depending on your level. Keep your learning fun and tailored to your music preferences. YouTube and Spotify have plenty of songs if you’re stuck for inspiration and are great resources for international music. YouTube often has lyrics to songs embedded in videos, which is really helpful.
  14. Read articles in the language, online or in printI find it useful to follow the key newspapers in the language I’m learning on social media so that the language regularly pops up in my feed. If you prefer to read in print you could always print online versions and read them. Alternatively, you could take out a subscription for a magazine or paper to be delivered to your door.
  15. Read books in the language – there are lots of language books on Amazon, at Grant and Cutler or even at your local Oxfam charity bookshop where you can often discover classic titles tucked away in the bookshelves. 
  16. Watch films on Netflix or Amazon Prime – many of us have access to hundreds of films and series on our TVs, but when was the last time you searched for the foreign language section? Take a look and discover some new series or films while soaking up the language.

Let us know which hacks you’re planning to use from our list and share your top tips for creating a language learning immersion environment with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Podcasts – for language learning on the go

What you need

  • Smartphone (or tablet)
  • Headphones
  • Internet access (not necessarily mobile data)

Step 1 – find and install an app

Any podcast app is likely to do the trick, but I’m going to recommend one that works well and probably does and has what you need. Either way, install an app of your choice.

I recommend Podcast Addict. It’s available on Android, and it’s free! Apple has its own ‘Apple Podcasts’ for iOS, so you could either that or search for an alternative on the App Store.

Step 2 – find something to listen to

You have a couple of options for your approach here and it may well depend on your language level.

Option 1: search for language learning podcasts, of which there are many. On Podcast Addict, you search for podcasts like this:

Podcast addict homepage
Click the ‘plus’ button in the top-right of the screen
Type of search
Choose ‘Search Engine’
Search for something
Search for something
Language learning results
Check out the results

Option 2: have an interest? Mine is technology; yours might be politics, travel, art, or anything else. I won’t guarantee it, but you’re pretty likely to find a podcast for any interest in any language.

So, search for podcasts relating to that interest in the target language. Podcast Addict makes this pretty easy. You can choose the languages that the search will return like this:

Filter by language
Tick ‘Filter language’ & click the ‘aA’ button.
Pick languages
Choose one or more languages, then press your back key
Enter your search terms
Enter your hobby or interest and go for it!

Step 3 – download and listen

You’re all set once you’ve followed the above steps, but I’ve put some (hopefully) helpful bits below about app settings for Podcast Addict.

Got a recommendation for a good podcast app? Let us know in the comments.

Extra info

Settings – downloading and deleting

Set up the Podcast Addict to download whenever is good for you.

Find settings
Settings are in the three-dot menu
Settings > download
From settings, click “Download”
Download settings
Change the download settings to suit you

Once you have set up your download settings, you may wish to setup the app to delete podcasts that you’ve listened to already, just to save space. Here’s how to do that:

Settings > Cleanup
Select “automatic cleanup” from the settings menu
Automatic cleanup
Change your automatic cleanup settings to suit you

Settings – WiFi vs. mobile data

Not everyone has unlimited data. If that’s you, you may wish to change your settings to download new podcasts and updates only when you’re connected to the almighty WiFi.

Network settings
Set you network settings to suit your data needs

 

Fluent in 3 months challenge – week 1 Portuguese progress report

The last time I picked up a new language was over 8 years ago so understandably it was a bit of a shock to the system after taking a degree in French and Russian and speaking them fluently, to find myself back to square one with Portuguese this week!

Read on for my highs, lows, and reflections for the week and let me know your thoughts in the comments if you have been down this road recently or have any general tips on Portuguese to share. Portuguese map puzzle

Portuguese is an official language in 10 countries

Why Portuguese? 

I visited Portugal quite a few times on holiday when I was younger and tried to learn a few key phrases such as ‘my name is…’ and ‘thank you’ but didn’t progress any further. I would also love to visit Brazil at some point in future, so I’m getting myself language ready for Carnival!

At my current place of work there is a Portuguese cleaner who I often speak with, but English isn’t her first language (and gesticulating can only get us so far) so I’m on a mission to be able to have an basic chat in Portuguese with her before the end of the first month.

What I’ve covered this week:

  • Basic vocabulary on people, food and animals using the Duolinguo app during my commute to work.
  • Introductions, asking questions and responding to questions, including learning more varied responses to ‘how are you? (tudo bem?)’, using the Rocket Languages website
  • Bedroom furniture vocabulary using Post-it notes around the room.
  • Subject pronouns (the person doing the verb) and differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese.  

    My learning resources from week 1

Highs:

  • Noticing the similarities between French and Portuguese vocabulary. Speaking another romance language has definitely helped me along with recognising vocabulary (even if pronouncing it is a bit trickier!)
  • Having a fresh start with a language as an adult learner. I’ve always had a passion for languages but when learning French and Russian as academic subjects a lot of my motivation became wrapped up in passing exams. As an independent hobbyist adult learner, I can really set the pace for my learning and focus on what I feel is most useful for me in my everyday life, which has been really refreshing.
  • Starting Benny Lewis’ Fluent in 3 months book and gaining lots of invaluable tips and approaches for purposeful and successful language learning.

Lows:

  • Feeling like I’m back at the bottom of the mountain with a long climb ahead to get to conversational level – although I’m very determined!
  • Finding time to focus on Portuguese as my ‘sprint language’, with Russian being my ‘marathon language’ of focus for this week.
  • Discovering the differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese and being torn between which one to focus on speaking and writing. I have decided to focus on European Portuguese because I’m based in Europe, but am using a Teach Yourself Portuguese book, which features both alongside each other, so I aim to recognise both.

    Learning a language can feel like a roller coaster of highs and lows, jump on and enjoy the ride!

Mini Missions for weeks 2-4.

  • Find out what direct object pronouns and indirect object pronouns are
  • Mastering conjugations of key verbs in present tense such as: to live, to work, to go, to have, to be, to like, to want, to do.
  • Learn numbers.
  • Learn time referents.
  • Continue with vocabulary learning of important everyday topics such as: the weather, clothes, shopping, cooking, hobbies.
  • Have conversation with the cleaner at my place of work in Portuguese.
  • Take a class on italki with a Portuguese tutor.

Keep an eye out for videos of me speaking my pidgin Portuguese coming soon to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram ..! Follow us to keep up with my language learning challenge and let me know how your learning is going in the comments below.