What is this blog, indeed? Well, to start things off, an introduction of sorts.
Hello! I’m bats. I’m a writer, artist, and monolingual English speaker. I like those first two labels, but I’ve never been happy about the third one, and toward the end of 2017, I decided to try and do something about it. Since then I’ve been teaching myself Spanish. I’ve come a long way since I started, but I still have a long way to go.
And that’s where this blog comes in. I want to document my language journey as I go week to week, detailing the path from where I am now to where I end up. In a way, this will be an accountability tool, keeping me moving forward and working, or risking skipping a day and knowing that any excuses I might have for that seeming feeble under the cold, stark light of a blog entry. Perhaps it will be more than that, too, and will be able to offer some insight into the process of language acquisition. Then again, it might not, and simply exist in an obscure corner of the internet as a place for me to talk to myself and keep my learning process organized and tidy. That all remains to be seen.
But that’s all rather nebulous, and it might be better to give a definitive answer for what this blog isn’t.
This blog is not expert advice on second language acquisition. I am not a polyglot blogger, like a lot of the folks occupying this same sort of space on the web. I am not a professional linguist, I am not a language tutor, and I am not a translator/interpreter. I’m just an average Joe who is learning his second language. A number of great advice resources exist out on the interwebs, if you stumbled across this blog somehow and that’s what you’re looking for. Go search for Steve Krashen, Olly Richards, Steve Kaufmann, and/or Benny Lewis, to start.
Okay, so, from that somewhat shaky foundation, I should define a couple of those terms: where I am now, and where I end up.
Where I am now:
If I had the presence of mind, I would have started this blog back when I first dove into Spanish, but alas, here we are some six months or so later, so I have to figure out my current point along the language journey. So, a brief language history of bats, starting in December, 2017.
Well, to be fair, I didn’t really start Spanish cold in 2017. I live in Denver, Colorado, surrounded by a rich history of Spanish speakers. My best friend as a child spoke Spanish at home with his family, and when Foreign Language was thrust upon me in high school I diligently completed three years of Spanish, most of which promptly flushed itself out of my head after each C+ ish test I took. But, of course, not all of it, not to mention the wealth of freebie cognates between English and Spanish that I knew even if I’d never seen them written in Spanish before. So going into my self-study, I was not a complete beginner, but just slightly above it.
My self-study kicked off by what is likely a common event for people who are idly interested in learning a language: I was gifted a copy of Rosetta Stone Spanish, levels 1-5. Really, gifted is the wrong word, a family member got it for themselves, and a copy of Rosetta Stone allows for multiple learning profiles, and for installation on two different machines. I got the second install and profile. Now, the ‘common event’ of getting Rosetta Stone seems to overwhelmingly be followed by “I then gave up in three weeks and started learning how to tap-dance,” but in my case I muscled my way through the whole thing. The first three months or so it was my primary source for Spanish, and it was a spotty three months, which could best be described as me fighting with a computer program, waging a war of stubbornness against frustration.
If you’re looking for a review on Rosetta Stone, here you go: it was barely worth the money I paid for it, which was nothing.
Rosetta Stone was gradually supplemented with other sources of learning. First was Anki, with a deck of the 5000 most common Spanish words flashcards. As my vocabulary grew from ¡Hola! ¿Cómo estás? El gato está en la mesa. El ratón come queso. Ve Spot corre, ¡corre, Spot, corre! into something a little more robust, I started reading children’s picture books in Spanish. I watched children’s shows on Netflix in Spanish (realtalk: Puffin Rock is great and I prefer the Spanish VAs to the English ones), and worked my way towards the goal of reading a book in Spanish. I tried Duolingo on a lark, wished I had started there instead of Rosetta Stone, and started filling in that as well. When I finished the Rosetta Stone course, I switched my focus for that chunk of time over to Duolingo. I started picking up books I read and enjoyed when I was young, and started in on trying to read one. Earlier this week I finished reading my first novel entirely in Spanish, Charlie y la Fábrica de Chocolate.
So that’s the quick version of what I’ve done to get to my current level. As far as what that level actually is, it’s a little bit of guesswork. I’m not much of a fan of self-assessment quizzes and the like, as I don’t think they’re terribly accurate. I think I’m probably the better judge of my own level, so long as I’m both trying to be honest with my shortcomings while also not ignoring my accomplishments. My guess at my current skill levels, with some notes as to why:
Reading: Intermediate, somewhere on the CEFR scale between B1 and B2.
My reading comprehension has improved faster than most anything else, largely due to the focus I’ve put on reading. I can read and understand all the street signage I’ve come across in Spanish, get the gist from books aimed at adults, and come close to reading books aimed at children without needing more than a lookup on the occasional unfamiliar vocab word. Charlie got easier to read as I went along, though there was plenty of that spot-lookup for the errant word, but overall I wasn’t mystified by trouble parsing anything in it.
Listening: Advanced beginner to low intermediate, somewhere between A2 and B1, though probably a bit closer to A2.
I am much improved from where I was at the start, where listening to a native speaker in Spanish sounded like a beautiful string of noise. Right now I can follow dialogue that’s aimed at children with pretty good comprehension, and I can tell where words begin and end and know quite a bit of vocab from material aimed at an older audience. The occasional speaker/accent throws me for a loop and goes back to the ‘beautiful string of noise’ problem, but that should get easier with time. Overall I rank listening on the low side because it’s almost overwhelmingly too fast for me to do much following; even if I know what all the words mean, in a conversation things move along too fast for me to get meaning out of the sentence.
Writing: Advanced beginner, somewhere around A2.
I have always been good at spelling in English, and English is bonkers nonsense when it comes to spelling. Spanish’s wonderfully phonetic spelling has made it a breeze to get used to. My writing is still ranked low, as it’s limited by the scope of my active vocabulary, which is middling. The vocab I have I know how to use, though, and I’m pretty good at constructing sentences to get me by though most situations.
Speaking: Intermediate beginner, somewhere between A1 and A2
So I’m a bit of a loner and I don’t have anyone preexisting in my life to practice Spanish with, so I haven’t had much practice speaking. On the plus side, my pronunciation is okay; I’ve grown up hearing Spanish, so I have an okay ear for its phonology and I, for instance, already knew how to roll my Rs. I have no grace speaking Spanish, it doesn’t flow naturally and sounds stilted and far too slow, so even if I have a slightly higher vocab, the speaking itself is rather shaky.
Okay, so that sets the stage with where I’m at. If I had it to do over again knowing what works and what doesn’t, I would probably be further along than I am now in the same time, but it is what it is and all I can do is look forward. Speaking of forward, let’s define goals and set something concrete regarding where I’m going.
In the short term, I want to read a whole bunch of books in Spanish. I have a handful, working my way up in difficulty from El Maravilloso Mago de Oz, El Principito, Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, up to Matar a un Ruiseñor. I plan on reading each and rereading where I feel like I’d get something out of it, and I’d like to eventually read all of Harry Potter in Spanish. Additionally, I feel very English-centric in my choice of books, as they’re all translations of works originally written in English, but the list was arrived at from asking myself the question of “What books did I really enjoy reading as a child?” which of course would all be English books. I am tentatively planning on poking my head into a Reddit somewhere and seeing if I can get the skinny from a native Spanish speaker on what books they loved as a child, so I can get a potentially more authentic authorial and cultural voice from my readings.
I also want to keep rewatching Puffin Rock until it’s all effortlessly understood, and add more shows to the list. I’m currently (re)watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, this time in Spanish, and a handful of movies. I have the same problem here of translated vs. fully native content, which I’ll try to course correct as time goes on.
I don’t have any immediate plans for writing and speaking, both of which I’m not terribly concerned about until my vocab and listening skills are both robustly in advanced intermediate, as I know those will catch up with the rest quickly with some dedicated practice, but in the meantime it isn’t particularly useful. Were I living somewhere with Spanish as the dominant language and I needed it to get by, I’d be approaching this differently, but right now it isn’t a priority. When I’m at a point where I feel I could really have conversations at a more than basic level with practice, I will seek out that practice.
So that’s where I’m going in the short term, but the long term is the big question, and the one that defines the scope of this blog. Where do I want to go with Spanish ultimately?
Well…much like with English for me now, there’s never a time when one is truly done learning a language, and I don’t plan on ever stopping per se. I hope to integrate Spanish into my every day life completely, read books and watch movies in Spanish, have conversations online and in real life in Spanish, basically utilize the language as fully as I can. It will likely never get to the same level as my English (I have thousands of hours head start after all), but my ultimate goal is to be as comfortable with Spanish as I am with English.
Which is a lofty goal that isn’t exactly a clear-cut finish line for this blog. And this blog might not have a finish line at all. And the goalposts always have the chance of moving, if perchance my desire to learn German or Japanese get the better of me and I add a third language. But that is getting way ahead of myself, because I am definitely not adding a third until I’m comfortable with the second. So right now all I’m doing is moving forward, a day at a time, fumbling toward fluency.
So, time to move forward. This will be a weekly blog, posted on Tuesdays. I’m tentatively planning on an opening section discussing something that happened in the week or a language topic that interests me, followed by a hard numbers rundown of what I did over the previous week to advance my language level. Any and everything is subject to change as time goes on.
If you, person out there, have stumbled across this blog by happenstance and want to follow along with me, I welcome your input, support, and vitriol. It’s the neighborly thing to do, after all.