How I learned Spanish in stages without leaving Sydney

I wrote in my last post that I generally choose an activity or learning method to focus on and stick at it for about a month before moving on. I never planned this when I started learning languages on my own, it’s just how things seemed to pan – ‘one thing just led to another’.

When I started re-learning Spanish, the first resource I used was Michel Thomas. The program clearly has its limitations (namely, it’s light on vocabulary and can get a little repetitive) but the fact it lays a solid foundation of grammatical structures appealed to me. I listened to it religiously – while I was cooking, putting clothes on the line, doing sit-ups in my bedroom… – until, eventually, I found myself starting to look elsewhere.

That led me on to finding Memrise, which I became obsessed with. I was on it during Geography lectures, while waiting around for my (then-)girlfriend, just before bed, and on and on. It opened my eyes to how many words English inherited from the Normans (so did the History of English Podcast, which  I listened to around this time) and equipped me with an array of basic words to flesh out the skeleton I got from Michel.

As my knowledge grew, I slowly began reading in Spanish (usually about football or football-related gossip to spice things up haha). With that brought exposure to a whole host of new words and Memrise’s “1000 Most Common Spanish Words” gradually lost its appeal. Enter Brainscape, a flashcard app which I liked more than Anki, where I made decks and decks of flashcards of the new words I was reading. I distinctly remember sitting in a Centrelink waiting room memorising verb-preposition combinations on the Brainscape iPhone app.

If you’ve ever accidentally watched the news in Spanish, you’ll know they speak ridiculously fast and it’s almost impossible to differentiate between the words. Determined to improve, I went looking for audio more appropriate to my level. News In Slow Spanish was easy to find but quickly lost its appeal; then I found  A Mi Aire, a much more interesting and consumable podcast that comes with a free transcript. As I already enjoy podcasts in English, it wasn’t difficult to make a habit of listening in Spanish, and as I’ve improved, I’ve progressively sought out more advanced resources for reading and listening.

Where it all began, circa July 2012: Granada, Spain with my mate Edwin who got me on to Michel Thomas!
Where it all began, circa July 2012: Granada, Spain with my mate Edwin who got me on to Michel Thomas! Photo is my own.

I then began trying to activate my Spanish. The daunting thing when you sit down to write in a foreign language is that you realise there are still a million things you don’t know how to say! My early noodlings on Italki (which I’ve mentioned here countless times) were strenuous and time-consuming. I don’t think I persevered with it too long – getting my compositions back covered in corrections was pretty frustrating – but it was important to make a start…

For I would next stumble upon Sharedtalk, a language exchange chat room website – trust me, it’s less weird than it sounds. It was exhilarating to finally interact directly with another human being in Spanish. And as the conversations are text based, there was no pressure to respond in real-time – enough time to frantically check as many different definitions and conjugations as possible! Sharedtalk became a go-to website for a while for me. The time difference with Latin America wasn’t too difficult (Australian morning is their afternoon/evening) and there are many people on the continent interested in practicing English.

By comparison, practicing speaking out loud has always been a lot more sporadic for me. At times, I’ve gotten involved with the Sydney Spanish English Exchange Program (SEEP) and, of course, I attended the weekly conversation groups at uni with SUSLAS (Sydney University Spanish and Latin American Society). I also practice with friends from Latin America here in Sydney or over Skype. However, it’s never been something I’ve been able to practice every day, which I feel affects my fluency. Needless to say, I’m extremely excited about my trip to Mexico and Central America early next year!

Takeaway: When I started this blog in October 2013, my intention was to create a “language learning toolkit”. I was inspired to share all the wonderful resources I was using to (re-)learn Spanish (a project that began in July 2012 after a trip to Spain showed me how little I’d gotten from two years of Spanish at uni). In this post, I looked back on those first fifteen months of my journey to give you a better understanding of how I used those resources (click the hyperlinks for my reviews). As you can see, I’m big on habitual language learning, tend to follow my sense of curiosity, and try to enjoy the process even when things seem difficult. 

Looking into the future now, I intend to continue writing with the more vibrant, personal tone that has characterised the second half of this blog’s short existence. Having said that, I will be traveling from early-January to late-March and long blogposts may not be forthcoming (I may update my Twitter feed, though).

But don’t just listen to me, Stuart Jay Raj is a supremely talented and knowledgable Australian polyglot with a really uplifting way of giving language learning advice. If you want to recommend me a YouTube video, leave a comment below, tweet to me at @TimSpricht or write to timspricht@gmail.com. Click “Follow” at the top right of the page and get me delivered to your inbox. Thanks again for reading, and all the best for 2015!

2 Comments on “How I learned Spanish in stages without leaving Sydney”

  1. Very useful recap on your Journey that will save me asking you too many questions on how you got where you have. Thanks.

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