Introversion and Language Learning

Introverted and shy are not synonymous. I just happen to be both.

I am a rather introverted person.  That claim might seem odd for me to make in the context of this blog, where I share large chunks of my life a week at a time publicly, but of course this is a very different venue than normal, day to day life.  In practice I’m a rather shy person who doesn’t spend a huge amount of time talking to people if I can help it.  This puts me in a camp that’s somewhat at odds from the majority of the internet crowd interested in learning new languages, as a lot of them are working from a desire to be able to really communicate with others, while for me, this journey is definitely not about that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be very happy when I’ll be able to have a conversation with someone in Spanish that’s comfortable, and I’d love to be able to have such a conversation to a similar level of depth and nuance that I could have in English.  The difference is in the focus and goals.  I often hear the sentiment from people like Olly Richards and Steve Kaufmann how there are so many people around where they live who speak such-and-such a language and how they’d love to talk to those people, so that’s why they’re learning the language.  While I could say the same about Spanish speakers here in Denver, the end-game for me isn’t being able to walk up to someone on the street and start a conversation, that isn’t my end-game ever.  I do understand how that can be something really appealing to other people, and it makes sense that those sorts of people would be naturally attracted to language learning as a pursuit, but if I had to pick a word to describe how that sounds to me personally, that word would be itchy.

This has led to me not spending much time at all really working on speaking Spanish as part of my learning process.  I’ve spent a lot of time reading out loud, so my pronunciation and flow are reasonable, but I haven’t sat down to work on having conversations thus far.  This hasn’t been from a lack of options, I could always go onto a site like iTalki and find a Spanish tutor to work with or set up a language exchange with a Spanish speaker who’s working on English.  Or, well, I could even walk up to someone on the street and start a conversation for a little while, if I was in the mood to be itchy.  I haven’t done any of those things.  A big part of my decision-making in that has come down to my listening comprehension, which is steadily improving, but not at a point where I’m all that good at understanding natural conversation, and recognizing that, I made it a focus at the start of this year to work on pushing through that wall.

That said, it would be disingenuous of me to claim that my listening comprehension was the only thing holding me back from working on speaking in earnest.  My listening comprehension isn’t great, but it’s still pretty good, I can follow a large amount of what I hear, and I wouldn’t have to ask most people to slow down all that much for me to understand them, especially not a language tutor or a student of English trading practice time with me.  It’s a limitation that would be easy to work around if I set out to do it.  But the truth is, my discomfort with it goes well beyond how well I think I’d be able to listen or talk in Spanish to where I have to admit that I’m just not terribly interested in making awkward conversation with strangers.

This has long been an issue that’s plagued me.  I’ve spent a lot of time working on learning Spanish up to this point with results that show me that I’m not doing the wrong things and wasting my time, but that work has been very, very focused on language input.  All the research I’ve read points to language input as being the real way to go, but there isn’t much that’s said in the research about how that input practice ends up translating to output.  The assumption, I suppose, is that with a strong enough grasp on the common patterns and phrases of the language absorbed from input, when it comes time to say something, there is less of a need to reach and dig for what to say, it’ll all just be there in your head already.  Something that sounds nice, and likely is true to some extent, but hasn’t entirely matched up to my own perception of how things have gone for me.

As I said, I don’t spend a lot of time speaking Spanish, but I have done so a little.  I’ve said hello to people, given some general directions to locations, ordered food, that sort of thing.  I’ve spent most of that time talking saying things like Aún estoy aprendiendo español, and ¿Puedes repetirlo más despacio? and I’ve been slow, halting, and have needed to say things over again in order to get out what I meant to say.

On the one hand, I do have things to say and know how to say them without having drilled any sentences or anything.  On the other hand, it’s hardly like all the input practice I’ve put in has resulted in me having solid speaking skills without getting any practice.  When I started my reading experiment in February and opted to keep going with reading only as my primary input method, something rattling around at the back of my head was that maybe I was wrong about my assumptions with output in the same way I was wrong about my assumptions with listening comprehension, and the reading input would bring up my speaking ability, but it certainly didn’t seem to do that.  Even without putting in the same sort of “test” with talking, I could tell I was still thinking through how I’d say things in Spanish the same way as I had been, with the same need for pausing and considering.  It seemed like speaking practice was going to be a vital piece of getting that aspect of Spanish up to snuff.

Which leads us to last week’s blog, written originally in Spanish.  In hindsight, I’m not sure why I was as reluctant to try writing in Spanish as I have been, as that’s a pretty private and introverted activity, and I’d largely put it off purely out of a disconnect on how I’d fit it into my schedule rather than from discomfort.  Which feels like a massive oversight now, because I have noticed a pretty big change in how I think in Spanish since writing that entry.

I’ve been thinking in Spanish in a limited capacity for a while now, both intentionally and unintentionally, and it’s been growing little by little over time.  After the blog, there was a huge jump, for intentional thinking, which has come more quickly and easily, but especially for unintentional thinking.  I haven’t really spent anywhere near as much time putting in a concentrated effort to formulate and express ideas in Spanish up until I wrote that blog, and I guess sitting down and doing it sort of got a ball rolling or something.  I haven’t had any opportunities to really speak since that bout of writing, but I feel like speaking would come easier to me than it has been.  I guess in some ways writing is like the output side of the coin to reading for input.  With the extra time and lack of pressure compared to the live fire of listening/speaking, it’s much easier to build strength and command of the language.

I’m considering how I can more thoroughly work writing into my, if not daily, weekly learning schedule than the current plan of writing the mid-month blog in Spanish.  I don’t want to try and write all of these blogs in Spanish first, because there will be lots of topics that I won’t be able to write about to the level of depth that I want to for this blog (plus it’ll take a long while before those entries stop sounding like elementary school book reports), but one blog a month seems like it isn’t enough writing practice with which to reap the full benefits.  I’ve been meaning to try and find a Discord channel or something that’s natively Spanish I could join and do some low-pressure chatting with people from time to time, but at that point things sound a little bit itchy and I’d need a while to find a place that felt like a good fit.  Might need to make searching out a place like that a bit higher of a priority.  The effort should be worth it in the end, I think.

All righty, let’s look at this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 3/19

  • Duolingo: 10 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of Pirómides, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 3/20

  • Duolingo: 10 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of Pirómides, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 3/21

  • Duolingo: 10 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of¡Guardias! ¡Guardias!, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 3/22

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of¡Guardias! ¡Guardias!, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 3/23

  • Duolingo: 26 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of¡Guardias! ¡Guardias!, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 3/24

  • Duolingo: 26 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of¡Guardias! ¡Guardias!, ~180 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~20 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 3/25

  • Duolingo: 24 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of¡Guardias! ¡Guardias!, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 126 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1 and 2/5 books read, 1,260 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 21 hours 0 minutes

A nice week overall.  After finishing Pirómides, which was okay but not anything special and not nearly as good as Brujerías was, I read ¡Guardias! ¡Guardias! which I liked even better than Brujerías.  One of my friends who’s been a big proponent of the Discworld books has told me repeatedly that the early part of the series is a little rough around the edges compared to later books, and that I’m working my way out of the rough patch here soon.  I wouldn’t have called this patch rough, because I can’t say I’ve disliked any of the books so far.  I suppose I’m soon in for a real treat, if they get that much better by comparison.

We’re hitting a month change next week, which means I’m about due for another listening comprehension check-in.  I’m probably going to hold off and do that on the following Tuesday, so I’m not juggling it with writing next week’s blog.  I’m not sure what to expect from it, though I’m hoping for a noticeable increase.  Seems like a lot to ask for still.

Meanwhile this week, Duolingo added in some new Spanish stories, which are little vignettes with built in exercises like a normal lesson, but which are a bit more enjoyable to use since they’re less random.  I’ve been doing one a day, which fits my limited usage of the site and has been nice.  I’ll be running out of the new stories soon, but it’ll be good while it continues to last.

I’m probably going to try and follow my own musings in this entry and spend a while next week trying to find a social chat place where I’m expected to use Spanish.  It might take a bit, because I’m kind of picky with that sort of thing.  It’s all well and good to find a Discord channel on, like, a fandom subject I’m interest in or something, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be a good fit for me.  It seems like nowadays almost all social chats are really just “post memes without comment” dumping grounds, and I am far too old a dinosaur to find places like that entertaining.  I dunno, we’ll see.

Anyway, that’ll wrap up this one.  TTFN.

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