My recent learning methods and dealing with frustrations

It’s now been more than a month since I restarted learning languages. I’ve got to say, after such a long time out (more than two months), it wasn’t easy getting back into the swing of things – it’s even been frustrating at times. As its title suggests, this post is about how I’ve been learning languages and dealing with difficulties recently.

In preparation for my trip to Mexico, I’ve been working on Spanish again. In particular, rectifying my weakness in recalling and reproducing specific pieces of information. Another goal of mine is to improve my ability to express my ideas in Spanish. This means sharpening the precision of my vocabulary, strengthening my grammar, and gaining confidence and fluency when I speak.

A bit about my methods of late: I’ve been listening and reading with a pen and paper to take notes of key facts, new words and common phrases that jump out at me. At my level (B2), I usually understand quite a lot, but I’m not necessarily able to reproduce it later on my own accord. Therefore, I’ve been writing compositions from my notes and submitting them to Italki to get corrections from native speakers. I don’t always write in my own words – If I copy a sentence or a turn of phrase word-for-word, it just means I’m learning how sound more like a native! That’s my theory anyway.

To improve his vocabulary in a directed way, David Mansaray chooses one topic at a time to concentrate on. For example, he’ll learn spend a week learning exclusively about one issue his target language – abortion, the environment, migration patterns of African elephants, whatever! This sounds like a cool idea, but I tend to just go with whatever comes up in my podcast, Facebook or YouTube feeds that tickles my fancy. I’ve recently written about domestic violence, Oscar Pistorius, FC Bayern Munich, obesity, breast cancer…

Grammar-wise, I’ve been focusing on: accumulating new connecting phrases and separating the subjunctive ones from the indicative ones; when and when not to include the definite article; and sorting out formal and casual expressions for the same idea. I’ve been asking a lot of questions on Italki I’m too embarrassed to bother a friend about. For example: What’s the difference between trasdespués de and luego de 

It can be demoralising when I pour my heart and soul into a composition and it comes back covered in red ink. It can feel like there are too many questions I need answering. To stay motivated, I try to differentiate between not only my strengths and weaknesses, but also which of my weaknesses I’m trying to work on. That is, I don’t beat myself up about every mistake I make. The same applies to vocabulary – Don’t worry about sounding natural and fluent if you’re in a conversation about something you know nothing about.

I always fall back on my memory of Stuart MacGill in the 2005 Pura Cup final when he scored 11* to help NSW win by 1 wicket. He attributed his success to the fact that he knows he’s not a batsman; it doesn’t matter how bad he looks when he bats, as long as he can help the team. If it’s not an area of expertise, you should try to be open and receptive as much as possible.

Generally, I try to be broad when I set goals and make plans; I put faith in my methods, give them time, and see how they pan out. Looking back now, I can say I’ve definitely improved as the compositions are now easier to write and they’re coming back with fewer corrections! These set-ups usually last about a month before I think, “okay, yes, this is getting a bit repetitive now” after which I’ll make a change or add in something different. This week, for example, I went to a German Stammtisch on Tuesday and a Spanish Meetup on Wednesday. I should probably stop watching so much cricket and keep practicing before #America2015 though!

A few posts ago, I invited you, dear reader, to enjoy all the heavenly glory that language learning has to offer. This time, I finish with Anthony Lauder’s kooky but endearing take on the same topic. If you want to recommend me a YouTube video or just get in touch, leave a comment below, tweet to me at @TimSpricht or contact me at timspricht@gmail.com. Click “Follow” at the top right of the page to get me delivered to your inbox.

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