Memorization in Language Learning

Wait, if I don't have to memorize anything, why does my head really hurt?

(This blog is the English translation of this week’s primary blog, which was originally written in Spanish.)

When I started learning Spanish, I thought that the most important thing for learning languages was memorization. That was at least a decade ago when I was in high school. At that time, I wasn’t a great student, I was lazy and I didn’t like to put much effort in anything, so I never applied myself in my homework if I wasn’t forced to. It wasn’t a surprise to me that I didn’t learn Spanish, despite all the classes in the subject. If I didn’t spend time memorizing the lessons, how could I learn the language? I stopped taking those classes as soon as I could, and I thought I would never learn another language.

Later, when I started this project, I thought that the problem I was having was my attitude. I was young and a bad student, I didn’t want to go to school, I wanted to watch movies with friends or play video games. Maybe, I thought, if I have more discipline, I can learn Spanish easily this time.

Well, I have more discipline this time, and I’m learning the language. Compared to my efforts in school, I’m improving much more, and I’m doing it much faster. But does that mean that now I try to memorize words? Well, no. I did in the beginning, or at least I tried to do it, but that was then, and I could never do it that well. I’d read a word over and over again, trying to remember it. I used Anki, a flash card app, and other stuff like that. Sometimes I remembered a few new words, and sometimes I didn’t. It was frustrating. I could never be sure that the things I did were working. At least I had discipline and was working, despite my doubts.

After a while, I began to recognize how the process of learning Spanish worked, because I changed the things I did. Most of the time I studied with Rosetta Stone, but I tried to read books from time to time. At the beginning, children’s picture books were too difficult, and I would read them several times, trying to memorize all the new words they had. This didn’t work very well, and I spent much more time than I should have on those first books. However, eventually I could read them, and then I could read more complicated books. Books like Charlie y la Fábrica de Chocolate and El Superzorro by Roald Dahl, or El Maravilloso Mago de Oz by L. Frank Baum. I needed to stop and look up words often, but I could understand them. And reading books in Spanish is much more fun than studying flash cards or using apps like Rosetta Stone or Anki. So, I kept reading books without trying to memorize any words.

Do I perfectly know all the words I want to use? Well, no, there are many things I can’t say yet, but I am much better now than when I started, without any memorization effort. I see words again and again when I read, and someday, these words will stick in my head, whether I try to do it or not. Trying to memorize isn’t worth it. Reading something you want to read is worth it, and it also works.

Okay, let’s see this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 4/09

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of Brujas de Viaje, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 4/10

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/20 of Brujas de Viaje, ~50 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 4 episodes of No Hay Tos, 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 4/11

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 3/20 of Brujas de Viaje, ~130 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 4/12

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of Brujas de Viaje, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 4/13

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/10 of Brujas de Viaje, ~90 minutes
  • Writing: ~1100 words written, ~150 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 4/14

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/10 of Brujas de Viaje, 1/10 of Dioses Menores, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 4/15

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/10 of Dioses Menores, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of No Hay Tos, 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, 1 episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1 and 1/10 books read, 900 minutes
  • Total writing: 1100 words written, 150 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 hours 30 minutes

This week was very strange. You can see that on Wednesday I didn’t read much, but I did listen to some podcast episodes earlier than I planned. My work brings me to a lot of places around Colorado, and I don’t usually know where I’m going to be. On Wednesday I went to Aspen, and I didn’t get home until very late. I didn’t have time to read that much, but I listened to those episodes during the ride home. On Thursday, I was very tired after the long ride, and I didn’t do much either. I spent more time working the rest of the week, and on Monday, I watched a little more as well.

I hadn’t listened to No Hay Tos for a long time, and the last time I did, I couldn’t understand it that well. This time, both people were much easier to understand. It’s still difficult, but I can follow the conversations now. I may be listening to No Hay Tos more often, because it’s easy to start up an episode or two while driving. Daniel San GMR episodes are still hard, but I can understand them better than I could before, and the last time that I watched A Series of Unfortunate Events, I was surprised that I couldn’t follow the conversations very well.  This time, I had more luck.  I think my listening comprehension is improving, but I still have to get better before I’ll be satisfied. Hopefully I’ll notice more improvement soon.

I finished Brujas de Viaje and I loved this book. I like the witches in Discworld and this was the best book with them that I’ve read so far. I’ve started Dioses Menores, and it seems fun. My friend who’s a fan of Discworld constantly tells me that Dioses Menores is when the series turns from good to fantastic. I’m excited.

This week I passed a year of using Duolingo every day. It’s still fun, although I don’t use it for that long of a time during the day. I’ll continue to use it anyway.

Writing these blogs in Spanish is still very difficult, and I need to find somewhere where I can practice writing more. There is a Discord channel somewhere for me, I’m sure, but right now I don’t know where. I should look for it pretty soon.

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

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