The Language Honeymoon

If the honeymoon is over, does that mean I get to let myself go?

When you first start learning a new language—provided that your language learning is going to last for any real amount of time—there’s almost always something specific about that language that catches your interest.  Whether that’s the people who speak it, the way it sounds, the mechanical structure of it, or something else, there’s a kernel of curiosity and excitement about that language that draws you to it, and as you start in on the long, arduous task of learning it, you enter what sort of feels like a honeymoon with the language.

At the beginning, there is a lot to be frustrated about when language learning.  There are just so many things that you don’t know, and you’re perpetually left feeling underprepared and scrambling, scooping up words like handfuls of sand that run through your fingers no matter how tightly you hold on.  You have very little to go off of and a mountain to climb, and it’s a constant minefield of frustration, which is why that glimmer of initial interest is so important.  When you have that curiosity in the language, a lot of those frustration points feel like opportunities for discovery.  Coupled with the right attitude, those pitfalls become just a fun and interesting part of the journey, letting you discover and deepen your appreciation for the language.

That’s all a nice feeling and can be a real boost in the early going.  It doesn’t matter how little you know, because there’s always something new and shiny to uncover that makes you like the new language that much more.  I remember early on into learning Spanish how difficult it was to try and keep all the verb conjugation forms in my head.  Spanish’s verbs are a lot more complicated than verbs in English.  English has one simple past tense, one past participle tense, a progressive tense, and a simple present tense that makes a distinction between he/she and everything else, and nothing else, not even a conjugated future tense, while Spanish makes distinctions for almost everything.  I remember back in high school having my eyes glaze over as I looked at a conjugation chart for Spanish, with its six (and sometimes seven!) different forms just for the present tense.  It’s overwhelming, and makes you feel like you’ve just been called on to answer a question that you didn’t even understand.

But unlike in high school, this time I was learning the language for my own reasons, and had the right attitude in mind as I was learning, and after getting over the initial flopsweat terror of how complicated it all is, I realized that it wasn’t actually any more complicated than English, just structured differently.  After all, you can tell in English who or what a verb is referring to by the words around it.  ‘I run’ and ‘you run’ contain the same amount of information as ‘corro’ and ‘corres’ do, it just relies on the ‘I’ or ‘you’ to impart that information.  In Spanish, though, that information is a part the verb itself, so you basically never even have to say most of the pronouns.  As a result, it really isn’t that there are more things you need to learn to conjugate verbs, you are just learning the phrasing for ‘you’ or ‘I’ or ‘we’ when attached to a verb as part of the verb itself.  It isn’t more information, it’s the same information, just packaged differently.

And with that realization that it wasn’t quite so complicated as it felt like it must be, came an appreciation for the elegance of it.  There’s a simplicity to the lack of necessary pronouns in Spanish, where more information is encoded into a verb from the get-go, where it feels like English is clunky and cluttered with all its necessary auxiliary words helping out to have a sentence make sense.  This ties into lots of little things with Spanish that give it another quality I find interesting and elegant about the language, which is a fairly fluid word order.  You can say lots of things in Spanish and switch around the order of most of the words, and still result in a sentence that makes sense.  You can do that in English, too, but it requires tons of little auxiliary words to reclarify the subject and object of the sentence, or you’d need to change conjugation around for it to make sense, stuff that’s just not necessary in Spanish.

For a fun example (that I often see used when describing word order in languages) we can consider the sentence El perro le muerde al hombre, or ‘The dog is biting the man.’  Meanwhile, Al hombre le muerde el perro, from how it would look in English, seems like it must mean ‘The man is biting the dog,’ but because of the articles present in ‘al’ and ‘le,’ the subject and the object are all accounted for in the sentence, and it still means ‘The dog is biting the man.’  Of course to write it in English using that order for the object and subject, you’d have to change the conjugation around and add some extra words, turning it into ‘The man is being bitten by the dog.’  And there are good reasons to switch around subject and object order in sentences like that, especially when writing, so it isn’t just a silly parlor trick.  There are real utilities for such flexibility, and Spanish handles that bending which much more grace than English tends to be able to accommodate.

Things like that are the lifeblood of the early going learning experience, when you can gain that appreciation and see what it is about the new language that you find cool, or interesting.  But, just like in real life, the honeymoon eventually ends, and it does so well before you’re done learning (can you tell I’m divorced?).  The things you like about it are still there, but the shiny newness of those things has worn off, and you’ve also probably accumulated lots and lots of stuff that you don’t like so much that you’ve had to shoulder in the meantime.  I still can’t believe that the word for handcuffs in Spanish, esposas, means ‘wives.’  And not in a silly nickname sort of way like how in English you can refer to a spouse as ‘the ol’ ball and chain,’ the word itself is just the word ‘wives,’ being used double-duty to mean handcuffs.  There’s actually quite a bit of baked in misogyny in the language that I find uncomfortable, but that I just kinda have to put up with.

Fortunately, though, despite the honeymoon being over, if you’ve spent your time well, you don’t have nearly as far to go as you did at the start.  I’ve seen that a number of language learners take that stage and that waning in the initial burst of curiosity as a good time to switch language focus for a while, maybe learn a new language or go back and study a previous language for a few months, to let themselves have a chance to regain some curiosity.  Which I think is a good thing to do depending on your personal goals with a language, but for me, doesn’t even seem necessary.

At this point, it doesn’t really matter to me how shiny and new Spanish seems anymore, because I already have a pretty solid grasp of it.  There isn’t much of a struggle for me right now in the things I’m doing, I read and enjoy books in it, I watch tv shows in it, I listen to podcasts, I am basically living with the language in a minor way day in and day out.  I don’t always understand everything that I hear or see, and still need to look things up from time to time or let things go with an, ‘Eh, I’ll catch that next time,’ but the real white-knuckle struggle to wrap my head around the language has gone.  Instead I can just enjoy it on my own terms and end up improving my understanding of it at the same time.  The honeymoon might be over, but I’ve learned to live with the ol’ ball and chain, you know?

Well then, let’s look at the numbers for the week.

Tuesday 4/30

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 15% of Música Soul, ~110 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 5/01

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/10 of Música Soul, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Valle de Cielo Gris, 1 episode of She-Ra, 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, 1 episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events, ~110 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 5/02

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/4 of Música Soul, ~180 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of She-Ra, ~20 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 5/03

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/4 of Música Soul, ~180 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of She-Ra, ~20 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 5/04

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/4 of Música Soul, ~180 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Tuca & Bertie, ~20 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 5/05

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/4 of Tiempos Interesantes, ~180 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Rilakkuma and Kaoru, ~10 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 5/06

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/4 of Tiempos Interesantes, ~180 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Magic School Bus, ~20 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1 and 1/2 books, 1090 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 7 tv, 1 podcast, and 1 YouTube episodes watched, 180 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 21 hours 10 minutes

So this week was a little rough and tumble for me.  I had family in visiting from Chicago that kept me a little extra busy in my off hours, and I also got hit by a monster cold.  The cold screwed up my Tuesday, where I came home after work and basically slept the rest of the day, then I spent Wednesday at home recovering and got a decent amount of work done because I didn’t have anything else to do.  Then I was feeling better over the next few days, but the cold came back in full force over the weekend.  I ended up not really falling behind on Spanish work, thanks to reading a book being something that one can do while sneezing and coughing constantly, but that’s about all I managed to do.

The extra listening practice around the margins has been a boon, because I am feeling a lot better about my listening comprehension after a week and change, and I had a pretty good-feeling check-in on Wednesday.  A Series of Unfortunate Events was easier to follow than the last watch a few weeks ago, and Daniel San GMR videos have been getting progressively easier, because I’m rather used to the host’s accent and vocal mannerisms now.

I decided to retry Valle de Cielo Gris, a horror podcast in a similar vein to Welcome to Night Vale that I tried months ago and found way over my head.  I could follow it a lot better now than I could then.  There are portions of it that are really difficult, though.  Segments of the show involve “citizens” calling in to the “news broadcast,” and those call-ins are degraded and fuzzy by design, and I honestly can’t make heads or tails of anything those call-ins are saying.  The main host, though, is clear and easy for me to follow.  I’ll probably listen to more of those episodes over time, now that I can understand it pretty well.

I ran out of the new season of She-Ra, which was a short half-season for some reason.  I guess they wanted to get new episodes up quickly and strike while the iron was hot, since the show ended up being fairly popular, and the episodes they put up were good, but I would have been happy waiting a bit longer to have a full length season, all things the same.  Though if this means it’ll just be a short wait before another half-season, I am definitely okay with that.

After finishing off She-Ra, I’ve been kind of floundering to try and find something new to watch day to day that’s appealing to me.  I tried out Tuca & Bertie, a new show created by one of the production designers on Bojack Horseman and I gotta say it wasn’t really my style.  I also tried Rilakkuma and Kaoru to similar unimpressed results.  The easy answer that I thought I’d have was finishing up my rewatch of My Little Pony in Spanish, but as luck would have it, the point where I stopped was the point where Netflix stopped carrying the Spanish dub of the show, so no luck there.  I watched an episode of Magic School Bus, which fit fine with my goal for the day, but isn’t exactly what I’m looking for as a daily thing.  I’ll be going into next week still looking for a good daily-watch thing.

Okay, now let’s look at the numbers for all of April.

  • Total Duolingo: 616 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 6 tv episodes 5 podcasts, and 4 YouTube videos watched, 280 minutes
  • Total reading: 5 and 1/2 whole books, 1 video game read, 4,760 minutes
  • Total writing: 1100 words written, 150 minutes
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 900 minutes
  • Total Time: 86 hours 30 minutes

And here’s the breakdown for money spent.

  • El Segador, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $6.99
  • Brujas de Viaje, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $5.99
  • Dioses Menores, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $5.99
  • Lores y Damas, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $5.99
  • Hombres de Armas, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $6.99
  • Música Soul, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $5.99
  • Netflix Subscription Standard HD Plan, Television and Movie Streaming, $10.99 per month, $10.99
  • Amount Spent on Fiction Books: $37.94
  • Amount Spent on Services: $10.99
  • Total Spent: $48.93

A pretty solid month overall.  Down a little from March, but the month did have one less day to it, and I had a kind of disruptive month overall, so it seems pretty good considering.  This is also reflected in my writing for the month, which came in at 16,798 words of fiction and 8,908 words for blogs, for a grand total of 25,706 words.  In April I low-key upped the number of words I aim for per day to an even 1000, as I was hovering just under that for a while, and I stuck to it without problems on the days that I wrote.  Which were most, but as I said, hectic month, and there were several days when I didn’t have time for it.  Still, though, could have been a lot worse, and I don’t feel bad about my output, either here or on writing.

Where I am feeling a little guilty is in pushing forward with the little goals outside of the daily work I’m expecting of myself.  Overall I’m happy with the daily work, especially with the inclusion of the upped listening practice, but I really do think that I’d be getting something out of spending more time practicing writing in Spanish.  As is, I don’t have time to really devote to that without cutting into other activities, but I do have a reasonable amount of downtime still where I’m hanging out online and not actively entrenched, working on something.  I spend a lot of that time now chatting with friends in a Discord server, and I’d be happy to split that time chatting with new friends in Spanish on Discord, if I could find a server where I felt at home, but as yet I haven’t come across the right place.

I might be going about this the wrong way and ought to be looking for different Spanish-speaking communities that might then have their own servers, rather than just trying to find a server that fits, but I dunno.  I’m in my thirties, guys, the internet keeps changing from the BBSes and Usenet groups that were around when I was young and hip and with-it.  It’ll happen to you, too!

Anyway, here’s hoping May continues to be productive.  And that this cold goes away soon.

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