Understanding Language Levels

Very early on in my journey to learn Spanish, a common theme among the blogs and videos giving language learning advice was about having a clear goal in mind for what level you wanted to get your ability in the language up to.  Overall I think that’s a really solid piece of advice when starting out with language learning, since so many people who start down the path of learning a new one give up pretty quickly from a lack of motivation, and not having a clear goal in mind at the start is a good way to lose motivation on something.

If you don’t know where you’re going and don’t have much of a plan for trying to get to that fuzzy goal, you’re going to get discouraged, bored, or both.  Plus, with something as big of an undertaking as learning a new language, the task itself feels nebulous, icky, and intimidating.  Having a better idea in mind of what level you want to get to unravels a lot of the ickiness and the path your on looks a bit more well-lit, making the undertaking easier to understand, and therefore easier to tackle.  When I started out and got that advice, however, there was an element of it that I found very frustrating.  Namely, that I didn’t have a clear idea what a “level” in a language really was.

I had an abstract, intellectual understanding.  There are a variety of different scales that people use for defining language levels, from the Common European Framework’s scale of A1 to C2, to the Interagency Language Roundtable scale from the Foreign Service Institute of S-1 to S-5.  They have nicely defined levels with examples of things that someone in the level would be able to accomplish, and give a good idea of what sort of goals you could set for yourself, if you’re unsure where to even start.

But in saying that, there are some downsides to those levels (mainly that their descriptions are almost always geared toward speaking ability, while input-based learning puts that as the lowest priority), and there is a lot of guesswork involved with really grasping their meaning beyond an abstract understanding.  I knew what knowing a language felt like, as I knew English, but I don’t really have any memory of what it was like to know it at a more basic level.  Sure, when I was a kid, I obviously didn’t have as strong a grasp of the language as I do now, but I was working without a reference and wasn’t exactly stopping to take note of my limitations.  Going into Spanish, there wasn’t anything I could point to in relation to my understanding of English, beyond my current level, which is that of a college educated native speaker, a rather lofty bar to have set up for myself on this new language addition.

At the time, I decided that I’d be willing to grit my teeth and go for the top of the mountain, settling on the rather nebulous concept of getting to a point where I was “as comfortable” in Spanish as I am in English.  Comfort is itself a kind of flexible goal, since I think I would be just as comfortable being able to read, write, speak, and listen to it at a high school level or maybe a little lower, as that’s the general day-to-day usage of a language.  I could save the upper education junk for if I ever end up having a need or interest for it some day down the line.  As a result, my level with Spanish would naturally be lower than my English, but still at a level where I was totally comfortable using it.

Now, though, it’s interesting, because I have a lot better of a grasp on these things than the abstract, intellectual understanding of language levels.  I remember what it was like back at the beginning, when I had a very small vocabulary and was struggling to understand the fundamental, underlying structure of how the language was used to communicate.  I remember further in, after building a more substantial vocabulary and understanding of the structure of the language, but still struggling with understanding things spoken at speed, and viewing everything through a lens of English.  Plus many stages in between and further beyond.  As a result, I have a much deeper understanding of what learning a language and getting to different levels in it feels like.  And with this understanding, and the gap in my current levels in Spanish and English being much narrower now, I can much more easily extrapolate how other, more advanced levels will feel like, too.

This makes it a good time to try and reframe my personal goals with Spanish beyond the “as comfortable” description, which I kind of did already further up.  I think I’ll be happy with my level in terms of the focused attention of this specific project once I’m rather solidly at a high school level of comprehension and production in it, where I can pick up practically any book outside of higher academic topics and be able to follow it with at most minor struggling, and can communicate with others in a comfortable way where it would have to be a specialized conversation to lose me.  This is, more or less, how I am in English, just with a lower overall level of standards on it.  I’m looking to get where I’d need to be to function entirely in Spanish, rather than a level where I can read academic articles or be able to finish a degree taught in it.  I’d be more than happy to get up to that point, but I can get there afterwards at a more natural pace of using the language, rather than from this concentrated study effort.

Additionally, I have a lot better of an idea of how I might go about setting goals for additional languages.  I have a strong suspicion that Spanish will not be the last for my language learning, and I think that once I hit a level in it that I’m happy with for this blog, I’ll keep going with a third one.  Still haven’t overall decided yet, but I’ve been thinking about it in the background.

Japanese and German are the two most likely candidates for a third language, and one conclusion I’ve come to is that in the case of Japanese, if I were to set the goal for the level I wanted in it, it would be to the same level as my current ability in Spanish.  I’m a fan of anime and, outside of watching a few of them in Spanish for this project, I’ve been a staunch believer in watching subbed anime because, even if I couldn’t understand what the characters were saying, I’d be able to watch it with the original directorial intention for the dialogue.

I’d love to be able to watch those same shows and read the same manga, and cut out the middleman of getting it translated into English at all.  Not exactly a lofty, communicative goal for a language, but it’s where my interest in the language lies.  It could very well be that if I were to get to that level, I’d feel similarly about continuing it as I feel about Spanish now, but it would be a good goal to start out aiming toward.  And really, that modesty might be worthwhile to have, since Japanese’s writing system is so intimidating I’d be tempted to weigh my options in German’s favor.  Although I still might go with German first.  Couldn’t tell you at this point.

Anyway, that’s all getting ahead of myself.  It would be nice if it were easier to describe and codify language levels for someone who doesn’t have a frame of reference, but it kinda feels like a “you had to be there” sort of thing.  You need the experience of learning a second language in order to understand levels of knowing a second language.  Lame.

Well, let’s look at this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 1/08

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 4 chapters of El Caballero, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Maniac, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 1/09

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 4 chapters of El Caballero, ~80 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 1/10

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 7 chapters of El Caballero, ~100 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: The Big Lebowski, ~110 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 1/11

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 3 chapters of El Caballero, 3 chapters of Máscaras de Muerte ~100 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Maniac, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 1/12

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 8 chapters of Máscaras de Muerte, ~120 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Maniac, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 1/13

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 7 chapters of Máscaras de Muerte, ~100 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Maniac, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 1/14

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 6 chapters of Máscaras de Muerte, ~100 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Maniac, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 1400 XP, 210 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 10 tv episodes, and 1 movie watched, 410 minutes
  • Total reading: 42 chapters read, 690 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 21 hours 50 minutes

This week was a mess for me personally.  I had some bad stuff happen one day and ended up having barely any time for myself, you can probably guess what day.  I had more time than normal on Thursday as a result of everything, and ended up watching The Big Lebowski, which didn’t really help me feel any better, but was enjoyable for what it was.  It’s the first thing I’ve watched for this project that really suffered in its presentation from being redubbed.  Too many iconic actors and voices delivering too many iconic lines.  It was fine, though.

I’m nearing the end of Maniac, which is incredibly strange, but enjoyable to watch.  I’m also nearing the end of what’s available for Little Witch Academia, sadly, but I still have another two-ish weeks’ worth of episodes to watch.  After Maniac finishes up, I’m planning on going back to my previous setup of That ‘70s Show, Little Witch Academia, and My Little Pony for the time being, and replacing LWA with something new once it runs out.  I’d like to at some point get back to A Series of Unfortunate Events, and I’d like to give Club de Cuervos another try without subtitles.  My watching/listening block is trying to be a mix of easy and hard to try and get my comprehension up over a hump to where I’m not missing very much when listening to people talk.  Right now I seem to have good days and bad days with listening, where some of the time it comes a lot easier than others.  I had that with reading for a while, but it’s evened out to where it’s all pretty automatic for me now.

Speaking of reading, I am still just plowing through Dresden Files.  As of Monday, I’m slightly over 2/3rds of the way through Máscaras de Muerte.  They’re mostly going quickly because I keep going ‘just one more chapter’ to myself and pressing forward, when I could reasonably stop for the day and feel good about what I’d written down.  I haven’t been wanting to stop, though, the books are too fun and exciting.

I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do when I run out of these books, but I should probably be thinking about it now considering the way I’m going through them.  It might be a good time to go back and reread something I’ve already gone through, but I’m not sure what.  I’ll be thinking about it, or seeing if a different series I’d like to read again or have been meaning to read pops into my head.

That oughta do it for this week.  TTFN.

One thought on “Understanding Language Levels

  1. Very interesting posts. I am learning Spanish too, but more like a hobby. The foreign languages I use most are English and German because I need them in my daily life and in my job. I am curious to see which other language you are going to choose.

    Liked by 1 person

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