My Dumb Mouth

Toward the start of this blog, I stated that I had an advantage with learning Spanish growing up here in Denver, where there have been lots of native Spanish speakers around me.  From the start I wasn’t left totally unaccustomed to the phonemes of the language, and I already knew how to do things like roll my Rs, which are definite advantages.  The fact is, though, that despite those advantages being true, it paints a rather imprecise picture of what is and is not involved in actually speaking the language.

I mentioned last week that I’m at the stage where I’m ready to begin working on writing and speaking Spanish.  I’m not sure how far I could reasonably get doing either.  Both would lag behind my reading or listening ability, as I’m positive there is a whole host of vocabulary that I can passively understand but haven’t internalized well enough to actively use yet, and it would be a while before I could express complicated ideas in single sentences, even if I had all the words to express that idea, needing to break the idea up into several small, simple sentences instead.

Despite that lag, I think that were I to put in the work, I’d be able to get up to a reasonably competent level, somewhere that I could have fairly simple conversations with strangers over a large variety of topics.  Basically, I think I’d be at a place where if I were to take a vacation to a country where the only language spoken was Spanish, I would be okay.  Not effortlessly able to make myself known or understand everything that was said to me immediately, but able to answer questions, ask for things, have some light conversations, and be able to get people to repeat things that I didn’t understand in a way where we could end up communicating.  Not fluent, not comfortable, but able to get by.

And I think it’s time to make that push.  I wouldn’t consider being at that level (which I’m not positive I can actually get to, I just think it’s likely) as me being “done,” by any means, and it could wait longer without hurting anything,  but it also wouldn’t hurt anything to work on it now and there are reasons why I want to.  Mainly, that I do in fact want to.  I have started being able to think in Spanish in a limited capacity and I have a rather sizeable vocabulary at this point, but a lot of it is rather formless and unstructured.  I’m not at all used to producing much in this language in my head.  I do produce it a little, mostly on Duolingo, but not in a particularly organic way.  I have good familiarity with the general form and flow of the language from all the reading and listening, but I completely lack experience with taking those forms and flows and using them myself, and at this point that inexperience and lack of confidence feels more frustrating than intimidating.  I have all these words, but an extremely narrow command of using any of them.  It feels like with the push and getting that missing experience, my general comfort level with Spanish will increase even faster and I’ll be able to move passive vocabulary to active more quickly.  Overall, it feels like the right next step to be taking.

And now, recognizing that step, it was time to get to work on it.  Which means I started looking for speaking partners somewhere, right?  Well, y’see, I have this problem I need to work on first.  I can’t really say Spanish words very well.

I know what they’re all supposed to sound like.  Familiarity with the phonemes was a big leg up there, I didn’t need to spend a huge amount of time trying to recognize the difference between a Spanish B and a Spanish V, or distinguishing E, I, and A from each other.  The natural stress on an unaccented word, how an accent mark changes that, and the rules of Cs and Qs and Us interacting with each other all make intuitive sense to me, and I am used to the uniform, rather-short-compared-to-English lengths of vowels.

In my head.

See, my brain has a perfect lack of accent and comfort with how all these words are pronounced, but when it asks my dumb mouth to say anything, boy is my mouth a total mouth-breather.  I stumble and falter over so many words.  And being able to roll my Rs is a help, sure, but I’ve only really rolled my Rs in the context of showing someone I could, when pronouncing single, common words like burrito or perro.  I haven’t tried to use that trill inside much of a variety of words, let alone over the natural course of speaking a sentence.

I don’t blame my mouth for being dumb, because it’s lacking the same experience as the rest of me.  Where my brain’s got recognition down, my mouth’s still stumbling over forming these sounds in the proper order, with the proper cadence and speed.  It stumbles and falters over words that seem damningly easy to me, like probablemente.  A word that still looks ridiculously obvious to my brain, but that I stumble over when pronouncing, because the cadence and flow is entirely different than what my dumb mouth is expecting.

I stumble, I’m slow, I say things wrong compared to what I think I should be saying, and I get tongue-tied and tired very quickly.  If I found a language partner to begin working my way into comfort with constructing sentences, I’d be forced to fight my way through saying any of it as I go.  First thing’s first, work on my dumb mouth.

So, in order to do that, this week I started reading out loud to myself.  I was already reading every day, so it was just a matter of taking the first half hour of that reading time and making my dumb mouth say the words alongside my brain.  It slows down my reading pace a little, but not a huge amount, and I can already tell it’s helping immensely.  I’ve sped up a smidge in the few days I’ve been doing it, and the words I really have trouble with are getting further and further away from each other, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.  I’m shocked at how tired my throat gets doing it, as I’m not exactly projecting loudly as I go (my cats give me enough weird looks as it is), nor am I completely unused to speaking for long stretches of time.  It hasn’t been sore enough to where I’ve needed to take breaks or anything yet, but I’ll have to see if it lets up or gets worse as time goes on.  Maybe I’m just getting a cold.  Or maybe the smoke from all the wildfires is getting to me.

At the moment, I don’t know how long this exercise will go on, but it will definitely be temporary, as I’m going to be seeking out people to talk to as soon as I’m confident that my mouth will at least adequately do what my brain tells it to do.  Until that point, my cats will just have to deal with me quietly reading to myself.  They already put up with me doing things like saying ¡Eres una gatita hermosa! to them.  Which I say to them a lot.  Y’know, like a crazy person.

Okay, let’s get into the numbers.

Tuesday 9/04

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 60 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Magic School Bus, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes

Wednesday 9/05

  • Anki: 150 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 70 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Magic School Bus, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes

Thursday 9/06

  • Anki: 140 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 50 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~80 minutes

Friday 9/07

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 67 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ~110 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 9/08

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 58 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~20 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 9/09

  • Anki: 140 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 59 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~100 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~20 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 9/10

  • Anki: 140 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 56 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 3 chapters of Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego, ~120 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, 1 episode of No Hay Tos, ~70 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Anki: 940 cards reviewed, 70 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 420 XP, 210 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 10 tv episodes, 1 podcast, and 1 movie watched/listened, 340 minutes
  • Total reading: 15 chapters read, 650 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 120 minutes
  • Total Time: 21 hours 10 minutes

Just as a note, I’m not counting the speaking out loud totals as part of the “total time spent,” because it’s doing double-duty as a part of my reading time.  So as of right now, it’s still being documented for reference, but somewhat separately from my weekly totals stuff.  That’ll change when I move onto speaking with actual people.

So, this week was a bit of a disaster, but it doesn’t reflect too strongly on the numbers.  I missed a lot of planned watching/listening thanks to wonky days (including some football where the Broncos won—Woooo!), but that was at least mostly balanced out by me finding time for a movie.  I didn’t recall liking Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when it came out, mostly in how unfavorably it compares to the books, and my memories were confirmed in rewatching it in Spanish.  It has its moments, but overall it’s a pretty weak film.

I finally found a copy of Harry Potter y la Orden del Fenix at the right price and ordered it.  While it hasn’t gotten here yet, it probably will in the next few days, which should be right about when I finish up El Cáliz de Fuego.  As a result, there is a good chance that I’ll just be rolling straight into more Potter after finishing it up.

I stumbled across a Spanish podcast called No Hay Tos that I tried out on Monday, just for some variety in the listening practice (also because the audio for the Magic School Bus episode I was on was out of sync and I was annoyed), and it was pretty interesting.  It’s slightly above my comfortable listening skill level, but I could follow it enough to not be totally lost, so I’ll probably keep on with it and see if it can’t help me break through the listening wall I’ve been stuck at.  It may end up replacing Magic School Bus entirely, which is probably the thing in my watching/listening block that that I have least attachment to.  I’ll see how the next week treats me on that.

Also this week, I started spending some of my Duolingo half hour filling in the reverse, Spanish-Speakers-Learning-English tree, which seems to have more general content to offer me than the standard tree had.  I’m not devoting a ton of time to it, but it’ll slowly fill in as I go.

Anyway, that’s enough for this week.  TTFN.

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