Learning Languages Vs. Anything Else

The biggest difference is it's only languages that make me feel this dumb.

It’s kind of hokey to say, but I think of myself as a lifetime learner.  I wasn’t exactly what anyone would call a good student back in high school, but I still managed to learn quite a lot while I was attending (the problem being that what I spent most of my time learning wasn’t what was assigned in classes) and at no point after graduating did I say, “Okay, I’m done learning now.”  I like finding out new things, learning new skills, and expanding my horizons.  This language journey I’m undertaking is largely and extension of that drive: I am learning Spanish, first and foremost, because I find it interesting and I want to know it.  Up to this point, it’s probably been one of the most in-depth, time-expensive learning endeavors I’ve undertaken, because as far as “learning a skill” goes, it works entirely differently to most other things.

Recently, I started working on learning some web development.  Not for any specific reason, rather it’s just something I find interesting and would like to know, but it’s something I’ve started devoting a bit of time toward, and devoting that time is putting the experience of language learning into sharp contrast with it.

I’ve noticed the difference before, but this is the first major learning “project” I’ve taken on while learning Spanish, so it’s more readily apparent, and it also feels like it’s something that should lend itself as a similar pursuit.  There are a lot of fiddly bits with markup coding that you need to learn, where the codes have a sort of grammar and syntax that can break, to the point where it feels like it ought to be comparable to learning a spoken language, but there really isn’t any comparison.  Plugging away at learning to code is going pretty much just like how anything else I’ve decided to teach myself has gone, while learning Spanish has not.  Language learning is so intensely fundamental in its structuring for building a base of knowledge compared to anything else that it really can’t be learned the way I normally go about learning things.

In setting out to teach myself some web development skills, my first stop in was with HTML.  Full disclosure, I didn’t go in totally blind for it.  HTML was taught as part of a computer class I took back in middle school, and I continued to mess around with it for a few years afterwards, so it’s been more a RElearning experience instead of learning something new (in saying that, I went to middle school in the nineties, so HTML was a rather different sort of creature than it is now).  But, well, so was Spanish from high school.  One difference there being that I actually learned HTML in middle school and used it to make (awful, cringey, outdated) websites before eventually dropping it, rather than just passing some tests and doing some homework to get a passing grade without being able to convert any of it into workable knowledge.  Both skills were similarly atrophied starting in again, but they’ve been wildly different experiences to start in on.

Picking up the basics of HTML again was easy.  The explanations were all clear and easy to understand, the underlying logic made sense immediately, adding and using new concepts was simply a matter of having them introduced and explained once.  Now, I don’t have a photographic memory, often-times I wouldn’t remember the exact spelling/wording of a new tag right after it was introduced, but the logic was all there, it was just a matter of doublechecking the tag again.  I’m not terribly far along or anything yet, I haven’t been working at it that long and I’m only spending 20-30 minutes a day on it, but I’m confident that I could learn everything I could ever need to know for website coding and be able to do it competently if I put in the time for it, and that the time that would need to be put in wouldn’t be outrageously long, either.  There’d probably always be something new to know and learn, but which could be added on the fly as needed.

Spanish, in case it hasn’t been apparent over the months I’ve been running this blog, is not easy.  I’ve already devoted close to a thousand hours at this, if not more, and I still find myself questioning whether or not getting all this down and usable is something even possible.  I’ve seen drastic improvements and understand the basic logic of the language now, but it was hard and slow fought knowledge to absorb.  Nothing has the sense of being quickly earned, or could be learned as needed in a fast manner, it’s all just a steady, plodding cementing of foundations carried out over the course of months turning into years.

I’m willing to recognize that I might be looking at web development coding through the lens of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, where I can’t recognize how little I know and how high of a ceiling there is because I don’t understand it well enough yet to even see my own limitations, but there are plenty of things that I am an expert at, which are things I learned in a process that went much more like coding’s going compared to Spanish.  The real difference, I think, is in the monolithic nature of learning a new language.

In me learning HTML again, there are lots of things that I know already, and relative few things that are brand new for me.  I understand what a tag is and how it works logically.  I understand English so I can hazard guesses at unfamiliar tags and generally be right in their purpose and function just from what they’re called.  In high school, I was an editor for the literary magazine the school put out, giving me background knowledge in layout, so I can understand what formatting is supposed to be accomplishing in the first place.  I am a citizen of the internet, so I know what a webpage is for in the first place, what they tend to look like, what people expect from them, etc.  The things that HTML (note for nerds, I’ve been saying HTML, but I’m largely talking about CSS) gets used for all fits into a relatively robust tree of knowledge that I already had, and all I’m needing to do is learn the discrete pieces of the markup code itself to hang onto that tree.

A foreign language, though?  There is no working knowledge to build off of.

Okay, not really, depending on how closely related the language is to languages you already know.  Spanish has a ton of shared cognates with English, and as I’ve gotten better at Spanish, I’ve happened across sentences and things in Italian, Portuguese, and French, which I’ve been able to make sense of without ever having studied those languages.  I also have the base knowledge of “language” conceptually, I don’t need anyone to explain what a verb is to me and all (though I’ve never been a huge grammar nerd and sometimes slip up on more complicated grammar terminology).  But that knowledge base is rather small, and the relative number of things that are brand new to me is enormous.

At the end of the day, I think that trying to compare coding to language learning is foundationally unfair, despite the seeming similarities, because one is so much larger and more expansive of a thing, and requires the building of an entire structural foundation that can’t be expected to already be in place in a person.  A much more fitting comparison would be learning an entire field of study that you have no or extremely little working knowledge in.  I wasn’t ever all that enthralled with mathematics in school and don’t remember a ton of it, I imagine it would be years of slow, methodical work to get to a point where I could say I was well-versed in every single area of mathematics.  And even then, I have a better head start on math than I did Spanish.

I am not necessarily looking to be “well-versed” in every area of Spanish, I’m happy to aim for comfortable competent, but the concept there works the same.  It’s a major uphill battle to learn languages, but it earns that battle in scope and complexity.

Well then, let’s take a look at this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 3/26

  • Duolingo: 28 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 2/5 of Eric, ~150 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 3/27

  • Duolingo: 24 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 2/5 of Eric, ~150 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 3/28

  • Duolingo: 26 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of Eric, 1/10 of Imágenes en Acción, ~160 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 3/29

  • Duolingo: 18 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of Imágenes en Acción, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 3/30

  • Duolingo: 22 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of Imágenes en Acción, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 3/31

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

Monday 4/01

  • Duolingo: 36 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/10 of Imágenes en Acción, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of A series of Unfortunate Events, 1 episode of Club de Cuervos, 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 184 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1 and 4/5 books read, 910 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 2 tv episodes and 1 youtube episode watched, 90 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 16 hours 40 minutes

A pretty just-okay week overall.  I had a kinda rough middle of the week where I ended up getting worn down to loose ends and not spending quite as much time on Spanish as I would have liked, but it picked up again over the weekend.  One might be tempted to blame the time spent on coding I mentioned as cutting into my reading time, but I’ve been working on that during times when I wouldn’t be able to read, anyway.  Eric—which is a rather short book in the Discworld series, more of a novella than a novel, and I’m annoyed with myself that it took three days to finish—was pretty good, though a bit of a disappointment after reading ¡Guardias! ¡Guardias!  Imágenes en Acción has been better so far, but probably won’t dethrone my current favorite of the series.

I finished working my way through the added story lessons on Duolingo on Monday and will be going back to the normal lessons, which is a bit of a shame.  I like the story section a lot, I think it leverages the things that Duolingo can offer to the best result, but I understand why there aren’t that many available.  I imagine they are a lot of work to make.  Fortunately, in going back to the regular thing, the Spanish tree has recently been updated with new material, so I have some specific things to work on there, even in the very limited use time I’m giving Duolingo these days.

Monday, I opted to do a check-in on my listening comprehension again, and while I’ve noticed improvement, it’s just been a little bit, and a little bit strange at that.  The Daniel San GMR episode that I watched was surprisingly understandable in comparison to how it usually goes trying to follow episodes.  I don’t know if I just happened to pick an episode where by fate it was easier for me to follow him than it normally is, or if I’ve gotten used to him specifically and have an easier time with him in comparison to others, but either way it felt pretty good.  Club de Cuervos, on the other hand, was still very difficult to follow.  I maybe didn’t miss quite as much this time around as last time, but there was still a lot of me just catching the gist.

The biggest surprise was A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I hadn’t watched any of since before the initial reading experiment, and I was expecting to be able to follow it pretty well.  And yes, I could follow it better than I could before, but there was a lot that went by too fast for me to pick up the whole meaning.  Here I was expecting it to be a general ego-boost watch, something I could look at and say, “I remember only being able to follow this well enough to have an idea of what was going on, but now it might as well be in English!” but instead found a lot of gaps.  I can most certainly follow it better, but not to a high level.  I think it’ll be a regular re-check source going forward on these check-ins, alongside Daniel San and Club de Cuervos, because I think that when I can follow it perfectly, it’ll be a good sign that my listening comprehension’s up to a really useable level.

And as Monday brought in the start of the new month, let’s look at the numbers for all of March.

  • Total Duolingo: 1,774 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 6 tv episodes and 3 YouTube videos watched, 260 minutes
  • Total reading: 7 and 1/5 whole books read, 5,060 minutes
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 930 minutes
  • Total Time: 88 hours 40 minutes

And here’s the breakdown for money spent.

  • Mort, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $5.99
  • Rechicero, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $5.99
  • Brujerías, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $5.99
  • Pirómides, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $6.99
  • ¡Guardias! ¡Guardias!, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $6.99
  • Eric, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $4.99
  • Imágenes en Acción, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $6.99
  • Netflix Subscription Standard HD Plan, Television and Movie Streaming, $10.99 per month, $10.99
  • Amount Spent on Fiction Books: $43.93
  • Amount Spent on Services: $10.99
  • Total Spent: $54.92

Things continue to go really well overall.  It’s a little light as far as months go, not quite hitting February’s numbers, despite February being three days shorter in length, but nothing where I’m left feeling guilty about it.  Switching over from a book series with clearly defined chapters where I was always left saying, “Just one more tonight,” or reading to what I’d planned on for time and then finishing the current chapter I was on, in exchange for a series without chapters and all I can really do is track my percentage through the books, tended to hurt the amount of overall reading per day.  Again, not enough for me to worry, but something I’ve noticed.  I’m otherwise very happy with the experience of reading Discworld, so I’m not planning on changing much to my approach, but maybe I can figure out a different system for tracking my time and planning out my daily reading.  I dunno, I’ll be thinking about it.

There is of course a bit of frustration for me in this whole process, because for as much as I can see and feel progress happening, there’s a part of me that keeps expecting to be closer to, if not being done, then being ready to be finished with the intense focus on Spanish, where I can use it daily and not actively work on learning it, and it will naturally improve over time through use.  And, well, that time just isn’t here yet.  I’m not even ready to work on speaking in earnest, based on my listening comprehension.

I’m sure I’ll get to where I want to be at in time, and I can really tell that my reading comprehension is improving steadily, but it still frustrates me to close out yet another month and feel like I’m at the exact same “stage” of learning that I was at a month prior.  Not much I can really do about that except keep pushing forward, but it is discouraging.

As for my writing for the month, I had another really great one in that department.  In March I wrote 18,866 words of fiction and 11,049 words for blogs, for a combined total of 29,915 words.  Which is a lower average number of words-per-day than what I wrote in February, but only slightly lower, about 50 words per day, and is at a point that I’m overall very happy with.  I was aiming to keep up at the same rate as I’d hit in February, and I feel like I have in general, so I’m going to aim to keep on keeping on at this same rate.

I mentioned a plan last week to try and integrate more writing in Spanish into my routine than my current plan of a blog a month written in Spanish, and thus far I haven’t found any solutions that I want to go with (I’m trying to find a good Spanish language Discord channel or something that I’d fit into, so I have some idle chatting day to day in Spanish, but haven’t found any good candidates yet).  I’m going to definitely focus on trying to find something in that space that will work over the course of April.

Anyway, that’ll do for this month.  Here’s shooting for a good next month!  TTFN.

One thought on “Learning Languages Vs. Anything Else

  1. That’s excellent that you are trying to learn Spanish! I speak German (mother tongue) and am studying Russian since 1,5 years. I love it. The more you know, the better off you are.

    Liked by 1 person

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