David A. Antler

Spanish learning log #5

This is a big update since it includes my sabbatical trip; a large goal of which involved improving my Spanish.

Prior to my sabbatical in Peru, I didn’t spend much time thinking about Spanish. You could say I was in a motivational valley. As usual I kept monitoring my flash cards but had stopped attending the conversation group in Portland and I wasn’t spending more than 5 or 10 minutes per day studying. My deck had only 1150ish cards at the outset.

During my sabbatical I spent 2.5 weeks taking 3 hours of lessons per day, and I also lived with a Peruvian host family. This was all arranged through CEICA Peru.

I told my teacher, Rosario, that I wanted to spend 75% of my time in conversation and 25% improving grammatical concepts. This was a fun balance–actually a lot of the time the conversations were too fun and I didn’t feel we were being very serious about improving, but my conversation skills advanced very well! I can now do many common conjugations without thinking about it, especially the present, past, and future (but not in the subjunctive). My teacher was brilliant and kept the lessons fun but also at the right level for me to improve.

The host family was a fun experience which I enjoyed. I was glad that it was possible to have such an experience at my level of Spanish. I learned some stuff about the culture and language in practice, but in reality the Spanish lessons were much more effective as a learning tool.

After the homestay and lessons I had a couple weeks remaining to travel Peru. The work I put into improving my skills paid off nicely! During my stay in the Amazon rainforest of Puerto Maldonado, hardly anybody I spent time with spoke English. The host of my hostel didn’t speak English either, but it was good that I could understand his silly sense of humor and highly informative tours. The jungle is a confusing place but knowing how to speak Spanish meant that I could always ask for help. I didn’t have to rehearse the questions in my head before asking them, either. So much progress! I feel a continent has been opened up to me.

I still would not say I’m fluent in Spanish, but I can speak at a level of competency that surprises people. Sometimes I get compliments from native speakers for having good Spanish, and although I know it’s not great, I do think I’ve achieved my original goal (not fluency but decent comfort) after about 1.5 years. The method from Fluent Forever basically worked! My Anki deck is now just above 1325 cards. Anki is starting to feel more like a secondary tool instead of the main focus of my studies.

Fluency was always a stretch goal, and since the journey thus far has been fun I will continue towards it. Listening to fast non-conversational audio from native speakers is currently the biggest challenge for me. I hope continued conversation practice, learning a few more words, and consuming some media will help with that. I’ve also started dropping more slang into conversations, which makes me feel like my Spanish coolness is about to take off as well.

I’m feeling more energized about Spanish again!