Learning Vs. Getting Used to It

There’s a saying I’ve heard a few times bandied about by some of the folks that talk about language learning, which is, “You can’t learn a new language, only get used to it.”  I’m not sure who said it originally, or if it is a quote with a traceable origin at all, in contrast to Kató Lomb’s quote, “Language is the only thing worth doing, even poorly,” but regardless of where it came from, the quote struck a chord with me and I have thought about it a lot over these months of learning.

On the surface, it is a statement about learning methods, siding unequivocally with the Input Based Learning school of thought in language learning over the Skill-Building one.  You can’t learn a language, it says, gesturing towards the standard school classroom setting filled with textbooks, grammar drills, led instruction, and the parroting of canned phrases.  You have to pick it up more naturally.  I continue to not claim to be an expert, but I’d come out the gate siding with the input method and my whole routine has been set up more or less around it.

However, the part of the statement that resonates with me the most is that second half, the idea that you get used to a new language.  Early on, I used that phrase as a shield against doubt.  This thing and that thing in Spanish are really hard and I’m struggling to make sense of them, but that doesn’t mean I’m dumb or not cut out for learning languages, it means I just haven’t gotten used to it yet.  Further along the way, the stress shifted to the yet part, as I got more and more confident that me getting gud at Spanish was something inevitable.

There’s another element to the phrase that I’ve found interesting in the implication of ‘getting used to’ a thing.  Often times that phrase is used in a less than optimistic manner.  Something that you get used to is a thing that’s uncomfortable or distracting.  You get used to the traffic in Chicago or sleep deprivation with a newborn, you don’t have to get used to the taste of a really good pizza or the sound of a new song from your favorite band.

On the one hand, this works as an acknowledgement of the hardship that comes with learning a language from nothing; it is and often will be a lot of fun, but it’s also hard and frustrating work.  On the other hand, it invokes all the things that come along with getting used to something like the neighbor’s dog that barks from 10:00 PM to 4:00 AM every night.  It throws you off and messes up the comfortable groove in your life, but with enough time and exposure you settle back into your routine without trouble.  The new language wears you down until you just go along with it.  It isn’t a subject to be studied that demands the same structured nature of learning as stuff like math.  Rather, it’s more of a brain sandpaper, grinding down the bumps with each pass, although the metaphor breaks down a little as you’re really adding material instead of taking layers away.  Brain varnish?  Ehh, drinking varnish kills brain cells, doesn’t it?  We’ll workshop it.

This rough framework has been how I’ve approached language learning more and more, as it seems to be increasingly supported by my own experiences.  I piddled away for ages on Rosetta Stone and Duolingo—programs that aim to provide mostly input, but that do so from a structure of mostly skill-bulding—but the vast majority of my growth and improvement has come from reading books and watching cartoons.

Moreover, it’s been increasingly what I use when trying to calibrate my priorities with learning tools.  Anki was never a huge priority for me, and I’ve never treated the deck as a real honest to goodness set of flash cards the way I used flash cards in high school to learn stuff like dates, but rather as a way to trigger exposure to the words I’ll end up seeing the most often and get me thinking about their meaning regularly.  I haven’t ever used it for more than ten-ish minutes a day, nor have I let words that I stumbled over when using it get to me, because it wasn’t ever about memorizing, it was a reminder.

Duolingo has shrunk as a matter of course, not out of any real problem with it, just out of the diminishing returns of its use of my time.  In an hour of Lingoing the Duo, I was getting exposure to a variety of comprehensible sentences and engaging with them in a fun way, but the quantity could not and cannot hold a candle to the amount of comprehensible input I can get from an hour of reading a book.  And if all the two of them are doing is cumulatively installing layers of spray-foam insulation on my brain, one is working with a much wider-bore hose (that’s it, firing my metaphor guy), and that’s the one I’m going to give more weight.

Conversely, I’ve been steadily aiming for more and more time spent reading and listening to the language, trying to ramp up the amount of time I read per day and the amount of stuff I watch, because I know those things are the most valuable uses of my time.  The fact that those things are also definitely the most entertaining uses of my time is just a bonus, as I really think it’s the best way to work toward the goal of fluency.  The stuff I don’t know will eventually stick, the stuff I know already will grow more automatic to recall and nuanced in my understanding.  The most important element is quantity.

Alrighty, let’s get into the numbers.

Tuesday 8/28

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 54 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 1 chapter of 1984 1 chapter of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~70 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Magic School Bus, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes

Wednesday 8/29

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 53 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 5 chapters of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~120 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Magic School Bus, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes

Thursday 8/30

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 50 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Magic School Bus, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, 1 episode of Aggretsuko ~75 minutes

Friday 8/31

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 57 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~70 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 5 episodes of Aggretsuko ~75 minutes

Saturday 9/01

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 57 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 4 episodes of Aggretsuko ~60 minutes

Sunday 9/02

  • Anki: 140 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 50 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 3 chapters of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~120 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: Mulan, ~90 minutes

Monday 9/03

  • Anki: 150 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 51 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Magic School Bus, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes
  • Total Anki: 910 cards reviewed, 70 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 372 XP, 210 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 22 tv episodes and 1 movie watched, 480 minutes
  • Total reading: 17 chapters read, 620 minutes
  • Total Time: 23 hours 0 minutes

It was a great week, even in comparison to a streak of great weeks.  I finished up 1984 and opted against the appendix and afterwords, diving straight into Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, which has been treating me well.  I talked about hoping for a leveling-up after 1984 last week, and I don’t know that I can say I had one, but Harry Potter is at least far lighter and easier reading in comparison.

On a whim, I decided that I really wanted to watch Aggretsuko again, one of my favorite shows last year, and found that it has a Spanish dub.  I properly binged the show (much the same way that I watched it the first time around), without feeling guilty about “wasting my time” since it all counted as Spanish practice!  Further, I felt like a movie on Sunday, and watched Mulan, which was a pleasant diversion.  I said that I wanted to look for more movies aimed at adults, but I knew I was going out to see BlackkKlansman in the evening and thought it might be better to go with somewhat lighter fare at home.

The main TV Block is starting to feel a little neglected, though I got back on track with it going into next week.  I’m unsure if it’s going to stay on track or if I’m gonna rock the boat with something else different.  I’m also not quite sure about my next reading subject, as I’m approaching the halfway mark on El Cáliz de Fuego without having purchased a copy of La Orden del Fenix yet, because I’m not finding it online at the right price.  Borges Esencial might be showing up in recaps sooner rather than later.

And since August wrapped itself up this week in a nice little bow, let’s look at the whole of it.

  • Total Anki: 4,000 cards reviewed, 310 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 3,572 XP, 1,080 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 82 tv episodes and 1 movie watched, 1,715 minutes
  • Total reading: 87 chapters read, 2,385 minutes
  • Total Time: 91 hours 30 minutes

And here’s the money spent in August breakdown.

  • 1984, Fiction, New Copy, Barnes and Noble, $10.75
  • Borges Esencial, Fiction, New Copy, Barnes and Noble, $18.31
  • Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, Fiction, Used Copy, Thrift Books, $7.83
  • Netflix Subscription Standard HD Plan, Television and Movie Streaming, $10.99 per month, $10.99
  • Amount Spent on Fiction Books: $36.89
  • Amount Spent on Services: $10.99
  • Total Spent: $47.88

Looking back at the numbers of June and July, things are continuing an upward trend.  The daily average climbed up to just a hair under 3 hours per day, which is a little surprising, seeing as I cut back my Duolingo time very early in the month.  I’d been finding myself run down and out of time for everything when I had what amounted to three hours per day planned in, and assumed that just meant I realistically only had two and a half hours of brain power to aim at Spanish per day.  I guess with Duolingo relegated to a quick single sitting half hour thing that I can get done without much fanfare, it’s been easier for me to decide to “just keep going” when reading or watching something.  An idea supported by not only the watching/listening time increase of almost a thousand more minutes over the last month, but also by my reading time going up by around 400 minutes.

Looking forward at September, I’m starting to think it’s time to begin focusing on the other two parts of Spanish I have to work on that up to this point have been neglected: writing and speaking.  I’m at a point where I’m starting to think in Spanish to a limited capacity, and I’m feeling more and more ready to begin producing the language.  I don’t think I’m going to jump into online tutoring/exchanges just yet, though maybe later in the month.   There’s some groundwork I want to lay first.  That groundwork might be the subject of next week’s blog.  Oooh, cliffhanger.

Anyway, after a terrific August, time to smash September.  TTFN.

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