Motivational Speech

So there’s an elephant in the room.  It’s just a little one, but I’ve noticed it, as I’ve thought over these blogs and the topics I’d like to eventually cover.  That elephant’s name is Motivation.  I’ve skirted around the topic a few times.  Having clear and compelling motivation is a key point of conversation in the assorted language-learning-advice places, for reasons that make perfect sense.  This isn’t a typical sort of hobby.  It takes an inordinate amount of time, patience, and dedication.  It is unsuited for dabbling if you want to actually get anywhere, and if your motivation is “I think it’d be neat,” or “People who speak multiple languages are impressive and I want to be impressive,” chances are you’re setting yourself up for failure.  There isn’t much lasting power with motivation like that, as time stretches on with little to show for it.

There’s a lot of advocating for a concrete, self-driven source of motivation for learning that won’t crap out on you after a frustrating month or five.  The most common narrative of language learning is getting bored or annoyed and giving up—or rather that’s the most common narrative for those with a similar social background to me, i.e. coddled middle-class mostly-white people who grew up surrounded by English—usually after/during required high school courses, but also in self-directed study.  Often the only motivation at play is for the credit hours, or a vague desire for “self-improvement,” that isn’t enough to carry someone all the way up the mountain.  So of course they quit as soon as the opportunity presents itself.  I mean, hell, this narrative perfectly describes me in high school.  Clearly a strong motivational drive is an absolute necessity then, right?

So then…why am I learning Spanish?  And why didn’t I frontload this whole blog project with an answer to that question, if it’s so important?

Well…to be entirely honest, I don’t really agree with any of the crap I just said.

Okay, no, it is all sound reasoning and is a very important thing to take into consideration when deciding whether or not to pursue language learning.  I’m sure a number of people starting out need to hear that, either to help temper their expectations to prepare for a long-haul, or to jump ship sooner and waste less time on something that they are going to abandon anyway.  What I don’t agree with is that it’s vital.

So to answer the question, I started learning Spanish on an absolute lark.  I’d been gifted a copy of Rosetta Stone Spanish, as I stated before, and hey, why not?  I’ve had a vague, hazy desire to know a foreign language for most of my life, and here the opportunity was presenting itself.  The reasons for Spanish specifically were slightly more complex and detailed than that, which is why I pursued the presented opportunity.

Spanish is the most common language other than English here in Denver, and is the third most spoken language in the world.  I’ve long found it to be a very beautiful sounding language, with a diverse range of rich and interesting cultures attached to it.  It would be useful to know in a pragmatic way, and would be enriching to know in a personal interest way.  For all the haziness of wanting to know a foreign language, Spanish has concretely been my top choice for which one to learn.  However, I feel it would be prudent to note here that had the gifted copy of Rosetta Stone been either Japanese or German, this blog would likely exist exactly the same, except with complaints about not remembering the words tabun or vielleicht instead of acaso, despite seeing them over and over again.  Were the motivational marker a bedrock truth, I would be a poster child for the last person to try learning a language.

The thing is, though, I am highly motivated to continue learning.  I have no tangible desire to stop my journey now, and I’m excited to keeping working at it and get better.  Seven months in and it’s solidly integrated into my day to day life.  I feel like I would be bored and frustrated were I to try and excise it now.  On the busy days when I have less time to devote to the goal, the primary reaction is one of disappointment.  So then, where is this motivation coming from?  I have no concrete reason to learn Spanish; it would look nice on a resumé and while I might some day pursue a job that utilizes Spanish there’s nothing on my plate for that now, I don’t have any serious plans to move to a Spanish speaking country, none of my family speaks it, I’m not dating anyone who speaks it, and it is not a cultural or ethnic heritage with which I’m trying to have a stronger connection.  Why am I bothering?

Well, for one thing, I am a very stubborn man, but that isn’t really why.  The simple truth is that I am enjoying myself.  I’ve been a lifelong reader and writer, someone in love with and fascinated by language.  Learning a different language just migrated that passion over.  It’s at times a frustrating and disheartening struggle, but the more time I’ve spent learning, the more invested I am in continuing.  I find myself intrigued by the differences that exist in the fabric of Spanish as compared to English, and intrigued by the places they are exactly the same.  I find the act itself of committing this new language to my head fascinating, both in the delight of reading something and understanding it without needing to translate a thing, and in the frustration of how difficult the entire process is.  I find myself interested by languages in general, beyond the specifics of Spanish, and enjoy reading about them and about language acquisition in my free time.  You don’t need a strong motivation when the motivation is the journey itself.

And hey, if I gave up now, I wouldn’t have anything to put in this blog.

So with that, let’s get to the numbers.

Tuesday 6/26

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 2052 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1 chapter of Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, ~40 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~20 minutes

Wednesday 6/27

  • Anki: 110 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 1639 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: .75 chapters of Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, ~40 minutes

Thursday 6/28

  • Anki: 1735 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 1110 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1.25 chapters of Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, ~60 minutes

Friday 6/29

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 1562 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1 chapter of Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, ~40 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: Zootopia, ~105 minutes

Saturday 6/30

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 967 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~20 minutes

Sunday 7/01

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 857 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 2 episodes of My Little Pony, ~40 minutes

Monday 7/02

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 840 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~20 minutes


  • Total Anki: 860 cards reviewed, 70 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 9652 XP, 420 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 5 tv episodes and 1 movie watched, 185 minutes
  • Total reading: 9 chapters read, 360 minutes
  • Total Time: 17 hours 15 minutes

This was a…rough week for me, for personal reasons, though that isn’t particularly reflected in the numbers as I leaned into the escapist quality that reading and studying can have.  Watching/listening was a little all over the place, but I hit stride in Harry Potter and I’m in the place where I remember how much I love the books and wanna just read all of them right now.  Earlier in the year I felt it was about time for a reread of the series, something I do once every five years or so, and intentionally put it off until I could do it in Spanish.  I am happy I am at that point now, and that I’m getting the same level of enjoyment out of it as I normally do.  Also I watched Zootopia in Spanish, which is my favorite Disney movie.  Still my favorite.  I’ll probably return to it more than once as this blog goes on.

The XP balloon with Duolingo is tapering off as I’m filling in the rest of the tree.  I’m guessing that within the next month it will be fully maxed and I’ll be focusing on the reverse tree instead.  Overall it was another good week, at least as far as this blog is concerned.

Additionally, as this week fills up the first full month I have of tracked numbers, let’s look at the totals for all of June, see what that looks like.

  • Total Anki: 4,510 cards reviewed, 300 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 20,457 XP, 1,830 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 25 tv episodes and 2 movies watched, 710 minutes
  • Total reading: 94 pages + 50 chapters read, 995 minutes
  • Total Time: 63 hours 55 minutes

Looks pretty good, I suppose.  I can see I’m averaging slightly over two hours of study a day, which is a little surprising as I would have expected to be averaging slightly under two hours, which goes to show that thinking conservatively about things leads to being pleasantly surprised sometimes.  I am a little surprised to see that the time spent on Duolingo is more than the time spent on watching stuff and reading put together.  I was expecting Duolingo to be larger than either, of course, but I figured my watching and listening was still making up for more than half of the bulk of my studying.  Guess not.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been expecting that, if I thought that I was spending less than two hours a day on average studying and knew that I was very consistent studying Duolingo for an hour a day…but I never claimed that math was my strong suit.  Anywho, as July continues, I think I’ll make a concerted effort to aim for my watching/listing + reading for the day to be equal to or greater than my Duolingo time.

And while I’m not surprised that watching is lower than reading, I’m surprised they’re as close as they are to each other.  I’d expect watching to be significantly lower than reading, as I’ve been a lot better with always doing the latter than I am the former.  Then again, were I to factor out the two movies watched, that would drop watching time down to 500 minutes total, which sounds more in line with what I’d have expected.  I’ll have to remember that movies are definitely a valuable use of study time in the grand scheme of things, and Netflix is fulla movies to watch.

Well, overall looks like June was a productive month, and July has started off pretty solidly.  Time to try and continue that trend.  TTFN.

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