Learning Spanish via 'Fluent Forever'
I took courses in French in middle school and Spanish throughout high school, but I’ve never been comfortable speaking either one.
At the time I didn’t enjoy these classes. Memorization is not my strong suit, and trying to pronounce words in a foreign accent made me feel like a jerk.
After those 6 years of classes, I was so happy to be done! Later, I would regret not actually learning a foreign language to a useful level! Sure, I can “get by” in Mexico, but I’d prefer to make speaking and listening a little less stressful. But that’s a huge time investment, and who has the time?
I picked up a book called Fluent Forever which proposed a fun, efficient, and modern method of learning a language. I was intrigued, and I wanted to try this technique out to learn some Spanish.
Why learn a language?
Only discipline required! I’m good at performing recurring tasks, like going to the gym. All I have to do is show up, and I’ll surely make some progress!
It’s different! Most of my interests are very typical of an American male engineer in his 20s. Learning a language will increase my well-roundedness.
Sabbatical activity! My job gives me a sabbatical, which gets me a break of 4-8 weeks. I know I want to travel on mine, but I could double-down and make it a language immersion sabbatical!
Bilinguals are cool! Who doesn’t want to be cool?
I go to Mexico every year (no, not to the beach) and will have at least a week to use it. Mexico is great!
I know a bit already from school, so some good habits are surely ingrained!
What is my goal?
Be able to trill an ‘rr’ without hesitation.
Feel confident speaking to natives of Spanish-speaking countries.
Inspire my parents (and possibly others) to learn a language.
Create a strong foundation which I can build upon, rather than have the Spanish part of my brain overwhelmed and unable to integrate new words and grammar rules.
Stretch: I would like to be able to say I’m fluent and bilingual.
Progress expectations are laid out in this blog post.
- 2 weeks for pronunciations
- 1.5-2.5 months for 625 basic words
- 2-3 months for grammar/abstract words
- 3 months of language games (thematic vocab, reading, listening, TV, taboo, etc)
Overall, Gabriel seems to estimate 8-9 months on average for fluency.
If you understand the top 1000 words, you will be able to understand 80% of Spanish. 2000 words will let you understand 90%. Context goes a long way to filling in the rest!
I thought it would be nice to record my progress following Gabriel’s program for learning languages. In case you’re interested in following along, it’s under the learning log tag.
Here’s a page of quick links I used to improve my Spanish.
Learn Spanish pronunciation trainers are great for teaching you about “r” vs “rr”.
Gabe Weiner’s pronunciation videos are terrific for teaching you what to do inside your mouth. I’ve linked to the point in the video where the new sounds are made.
I use Anki on my PC and iPhone, which is the tool recommended by Fluent Forever, but it’s got a learning curve. It’s best to watch a couple videos.
Gabriel made videos for how to do this, however, the videos are tailored to the computer-illiterate crowd; it’s slightly annoying to listen to him explain how to “ALT-TAB” between programs. I’ve trimmed it down to the bare essentials, but watch the whole thing if you’d like.
- Get Anki with the Fluent Forever model deck [skip the video]
- How to add cards and study [11 mins]
- Bookmark Multi-search to generate flash cards quickly!
- Download the 625 words and remove the ones you know already. If unsure, add a card for them them without a spelling test.
tequila - taquilla
besar - pesar
sopa - soba
pero - perro - pedo
el - �l
Flash Card Tips
A few handy tricks for making Spanish flash cards.
Put (v. inf) after the picture, if you’re using a picture card.
Write something and submit it to Lang-8. You can do this on italki.com as well. Create a flash card when done.
Videos are a great way to practice your conversational Spanish listening skills. They also serve as a source for flash cards. I like to watch these on my PC and use the “Snipping Tool” to capture frames and create flash cards.
A note on Netflix: Netflix Original Series all have Spanish audio dubs. Don’t turn on the subtitles because they don’t match the audio.
I enjoy Destinos, which is a telenovela designed to teach you Spanish. The contrived situations designed to teach specific words are humorous and memorable. Destinos exposes you to Spanish speakers in Spain as well as Latin America.
Similar difficulty and fully Spain-centric is Extr@. This is a cheesy college comedy.
Childrens videos - Somewhat helpful. I don’t know if I trust the grammar but I’ll leave them here for now. Also a lot of the words are weird.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - seems to be very good. This show is actually funny and can be watched in Spanish without much work. It’s temping me to watch the English version. Available on Netflix. Note that the subtitles do not match the dubbed audio.
Gran Hotel - Has excellent reviews. I tried watching this, but the dialogue in the first episode is so fast that I need to turn on subtitles and pause to translate in my head. Of course I had only been studying Spanish for 2 months at this point. Watch it on Netflix.
A collection of other links.
Maestro Spanish - Spaced repetition system for memorizing Spanish verb conjugation. It will help give you a “feel” for Spanish conjugation and you’ll start to pick up on the patterns.
Rhinospike.com - Submit text and a speaker of the native language will read it aloud and send you an MP3. Free, but you need to return the favor!
Middlebury Language School - Supposedly the best language immersion programs available.
italki.com - Language exchange website. Useful for having conversations with people from your target language
Effective Swearing in D.F. - Blog about how to swear in Mexico City. These articles are a lot of fun! I find the high entertainment value aids in memorization. If you’re really serious about swearing, be sure to read the articles on pedo, guey, chingar, and pinche.
D.F. is “Distrito Federal”, which is the name of the state containing Mexico City. ↩