Looking Back on a Year of Progress

It's a year in, and I'm not smarter, wiser, or fully fluent, but I AM fatter.

I can hardly believe that I’ve been running this blog for a full year now.  A lot of the time I’ve spent has really flown on by, between real life and putting in the hours to work at improving my Spanish.  I’ve come a long way in the year, from my stumbling first few steps into reading children’s books and watching cartoons aimed at preschoolers, up to devouring long-running novel series and watching movies and television aimed at adults.  I’ve watched myself improve in both my own head and in these blog recounts over time, sometimes rapidly and sometimes not, but always moving forward.  Every misstep or failure was just a learning opportunity, and every success a steppingstone toward more.

Just hitting the year mark is an accomplishment I’m happy to give myself, but the bigger thing for me to see is all of that work spelled out in numbers.  The tools I’ve used and the ways I’ve worked at improving have changed dramatically in the last year, but I’ve been recording all of it, and there’s a lot to dig through and look at.

We’ll start out with the grand total for the first six months’ worth of blogs (for a more detailed breakdown month to month, see this blog):

  • Total Anki: 21,960 cards reviewed, 1,830 minutes (30 hours 30 minutes)
  • Total Duolingo: 76,639 XP, 7,500 minutes (125 hours)
  • Total Watching/Listening: 282 tv episodes, 8 podcasts, 5 movies, and 64 youtube videos watched, 7,380 minutes (123 hours)
  • Total reading: 367 chapters, 3 short stories, 1 2/3rds whole books, and 94 pages read, 13,490 minutes (224 hours 50 minutes)
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 2,520 minutes (42 hours)
  • Total Time: 503 hours 20 minutes

With that as the baseline for what six months of progress looks like, let’s look at the next six months, and then the year as a whole:

December, 2018

  • Total Duolingo: 10,700 XP, 930 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 64 tv episodes, 2 movies, and 13 youtube videos watched, 1,980 minutes
  • Total reading: 106 chapters, 1/3rd of a book, and 1 book read, 2,670 minutes
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 930 minutes
  • Total Time: 93 hours 0 minutes

January, 2019

  • Total Duolingo: 6,200 XP, 930 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 73 tv episodes, 1 movie, and 8 YouTube videos watched, 2,090 minutes
  • Total reading: 164 chapters read, 2,870 minutes
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 930 minutes
  • Total Time: 98 hours 10 minutes

February, 2019

  • Total Duolingo: 3,080 XP, 120 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 8 tv episodes, 3 OVAs, and 2 YouTube videos watched, 335 minutes
  • Total reading: 240 chapters, 4 parts, 1 and 1/3 whole books read, 4,905 minutes
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 840 minutes
  • Total Time: 89 hours 20 minutes

March, 2019

  • 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 writing: 1000 words written, 150 minutes
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 930 minutes
  • Total Time: 91 hours 10 minutes

April, 2019

  • 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

May, 2019

  • Total Duolingo: 744 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 9 tv episodes, 11 youtube videos, 1 podcast, and 2 movies watched, 675 minutes
  • Total reading: 6 and 4/5 whole books read, 5,110 minutes
  • Total writing: 1300 words written, 150 minutes
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 930 minutes
  • Total Time: 98 hours 55 minutes

Six Month Grand Total

  • Total Duolingo: 23,114 XP, 1,980 minutes (33 hours)
  • Total Watching/Listening: 166 tv episodes, 6 podcasts, 5 movies, 3 OVAs, and 41 youtube videos watched, 5,620 minutes (93 hours 40 minutes)
  • Total reading: 510 chapters, 23 whole books, and 1 video game read, 25,375 minutes (422 hours 55 minutes)
  • Total writing: 3,400 words written, 450 minutes (7 hours 30 minutes)
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 5,460 minutes (91 hours)
  • Total Time: 557 hours 5 minutes

And the year grand total:

  • Total Anki: 21,960 cards reviewed, 1,830 minutes (30 hours 30 minutes)
  • Total Duolingo: 99,753 XP, 9,480 minutes (158 hours)
  • Total Watching/Listening: 448 tv episodes, 14 podcasts, 10 movies, 3 OVAs, and 105 youtube videos watched, 13,000 minutes (216 hours 40 minutes)
  • Total reading: 877 chapters, 24 2/3rds whole books, 1 video game, and 94 pages read, 38,865 minutes (647 hours 45 minutes)
  • Total writing: 3,400 words written, 450 minutes (7 hours 30 minutes)
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 7,980 minutes (133 hours)
  • Total Time: 1,060 hours 25 minutes

And that is just a whole heap of time and effort boiled down into a few lines of text.  It is also a lot to try and unpack.

The changes in the tools I’ve used and how I’ve used them are pretty clear between the first and second six months, where Anki vanished and the XP and time on Duolingo took a nosedive.  Anki was a short-lived, minor-time-investment tool I used for a while at the beginning of my studying, because I was convinced for a while that I really needed a Spaced Repetition System in order to actually force things into my long-term memory.  I never put in that much effort into structuring an Anki deck by building my own word lists or anything, but I figured a big deck or two that others had made would be a good way to force words into my head that the reading/listening practice wouldn’t be able to do on their own.

This notion was self-reinforcing in a way, considering how much of a struggle it was to really memorize any of the junk in those flash cards.  It was hard, so obviously I needed to bash my head on those cards to actually learn words, and if I didn’t do it, obviously I’d be forgetting a ton of stuff, right?  When I had a technical problem that wiped out all my progress on a deck and started me back at square one, I was already doubting that thought process, but shouldered on with a new deck for a while, until I got annoyed and dropped it.  Turns out that all I ended up doing was cut ten minutes of frustration from my day with no downside.  I’m sure Anki has its place for memorizing things in bulk, but it doesn’t have much of a place in language learning.

Duolingo, meanwhile, has been a service in a state of ongoing of reevaluation for me.  At the beginning, not only was it a lot of fun, it was also very useful.  It introduced me to a ton of new stuff and did so in a way that worked.  I started using Duo shortly before starting this blog, and it was the thing that helped rapidly bridge the gap between the painful six months or so beforehand of struggling through Rosetta Stone to being capable of reading children’s books.  However, as time has gone on, it’s suffered a lot of diminishing returns.  The scope is somewhat limited, and at this point my language ability is a significant chunk higher than Duo’s really all that concerned about.  Which is fine, it’s a great introduction, but at this point I already know 99% of what it has to show me, and as forms of comprehensible input for reinforcing that already-known information goes, it’s far less efficient than just reading a book.  I’ve been tapering off my usage of it in favor of more, actual input, and at this point I’m mostly maintaining it for the gamey reasons that make it fun.  Not the most useful anymore, but it takes so little time that I can’t really say it’s a waste.  Still, the XP and time have drifted off, until most of the last six months it’s been regarded as something free of time to do.  Obviously it isn’t free, but it’s maybe two or three minutes a day, and I don’t feel all that good about counting it as time spent learning.

The last six months also wasn’t all subtracting tools and methods, as time spent writing got added.  I’m still dithering around trying to figure out the best way to go about adding that more steadily to my routine, so in the three months I’ve been writing, I only have seven and a half hours of experience at it, which isn’t all that much.  I’d like to do more, but I also don’t have much of a way to do so all that gracefully.  The most obvious solution to me would be to do what I am already doing with writing time by way of writing all of these blogs bilingually, but that runs into its own problems.  I just don’t have the time to do that with my current schedule, and I don’t want to do the jank workaround I have in place for the once-a-month blogs I’m currently doing as a once-a-week thing.  My Spanish is getting better, but those Spanish language blogs are still feeling quite a bit like a kid’s book report, and I think the quality of these blogs would suffer overall if I was writing everything in Spanish first, then translating the somewhat simplistic material into English.  Still, the little bit of time I’ve made for it has begun adding up, bit by bit.

Additionally, it’s clear that while I did spend more time working overall in the latter six months, it wasn’t that much more time, and yet some of the constant things I do have radically different numbers from each other.  Time spent watching/listening dropped by a fourth, while time spent reading came close to doubling.  This is largely the result of my change in focus earlier in the year when I switched to reading primarily.  It’s kind of crazy to look at the latter six months and see that three quarters of my entire time investment went into reading.

It’s also nice to see that my time invested in practicing at speaking has gone over 100 hours.  That time is still not included in the grand total of time invested (else I’d be closer to 1200 hours total), since it’s primarily reading time and all I’m doing is reading those things out loud.  At the start that was to practice pronunciation and work on getting my mouth used to speaking in the phonetics of Spanish in a natural way, because while I could physically make the sounds with my mouth, I couldn’t do so in a conversational way.  There’s a world of difference from being able to correctly pronounce words in a vacuum and being able to deliver natural sounding sentences.

At this point, speaking comes fairly naturally and I don’t really slip up that much anymore.  Some words occasionally give me trouble, but I can speak pretty quickly and comfortably.  I’m unsure how useful the reading out loud practice is anymore, but it’s such a low investment to do I don’t see a reason to stop.  It doesn’t really matter that the returns may have been diminished if there’s zero effort to do it.

Last time I looked back at six months I was a little down that I wasn’t further along than I was, and I’m not really feeling that way this time.  I’m still nowhere near where I’d like my Spanish level to be at before I reduce my focus on it, but I’m a lot further along, and being further along I have a matured perspective of the pathway to getting where I want.  For a lot of language learners, my current level would probably be enough (with some additional live speaking practice first, anyway) for them, because I’m confident that I could survive entirely in Spanish if I had to.

I still struggle with listening comprehension compared to reading, but I’d know how to ask someone to slow down, so in real world scenarios I’d be able to understand and make myself understood for the vast majority of necessities, and for a lot of people that would be more than enough.  I’ve just never been the half-measures type of person, and I have trouble viewing my current level as anything other than a half-measure, so I’m happy to keep going.  It does seem like I can start to make out a light at the end of the tunnel, though.  I don’t know how long it’ll take to get to that light.  We’ll see how far away it is in another six months.

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

Tuesday 5/28

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of El País del Fin del Mundo, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 5/29

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of El País del Fin del Mundo, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 5/30

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of El País del Fin del Mundo, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 5/31

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/10 of El País del Fin del Mundo, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: El Laberinto del Fauno, ~120 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 6/01

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of El País del Fin del Mundo, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 6/02

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

Monday 6/03

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 1/5 of Carpe Jugulum, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1 and 1/3 books, 1170 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 1 movie, 120 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 21 hours 30 minutes

And a pretty good week it was.  I’ve eased back into things after the rough spot that was the subject of last week’s blog, feeling healthier and ready to actually get stuff done day to day again.  My writing time suffered a bit, especially this week, but I had more mental focus for getting through reading time.

El País del Fin del Mundo ended up being a lot of fun.  The Rincewind books are a bit low on my tier list for the subseries of Discworld, but the last couple have been really good, and this one continued that trend.  It felt, if anything, a little short (despite being on the longer side word count-wise for books in the series) and reminded me more of some of the earlier ones.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it was a bit less satisfying than some of the other books in the recent string, including the most recent Rincewind book, Tiempos Interesantes.  I’m not terribly far into Carpe Jugulum yet, but it’s a Witches book, which are among my favorites, and it’s had a promising start.

On Friday for my listening comprehension and as a way to sort of close out the month and end the year with a bang, I decided to watch El Laberinto del Fauno, which is better known in this part of the world as Pan’s Labyrinth, one of the most famous Spanish language movies in the world.  I’ve long wanted to watch it, but was sure I’d have a hard time following it.  As it takes place in Spain, it’s European Spanish, which I’m familiar enough with that I didn’t have any slip ups with vocabulary, but I’m not terribly used to the pronunciation differences.  For those unfamiliar, most Spanish around the world has a reasonably similar pronunciation, but European Spanish has the notable difference of pronouncing Zs and soft Cs as a θ sound (this is the TH sound in words like “thick”), while those letters are almost universally pronounced as an S everywhere else.  It made listening pretty tricky, and I resorted to subtitles every once in a while, but I did make it through the movie feeling that I’d understood every line of dialogue.  I’ll count that as a win.

And despite spoiling the month’s results already, let’s look at those numbers again.

  • Total Duolingo: 744 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 9 tv episodes, 11 youtube videos, 1 podcast, and 2 movies watched, 675 minutes
  • Total reading: 6 and 4/5 whole books read, 5,110 minutes
  • Total writing: 1300 words written, 150 minutes
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 930 minutes
  • Total Time: 98 hours 55 minutes

And here’s the breakdown for money spent.

  • Tiempos Interesantes, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $6.99
  • Mascarada, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $6.99
  • Pies de Barro, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $5.99
  • Papá Puerco, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $6.99
  • ¡Voto a Bríos!, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $6.99
  • El País del Fin del Mundo, 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: $40.94
  • Amount Spent on Services: $10.99
  • Total Spent: $51.93

A pretty solid month for having a rough patch in it.  The couple of movies I snuck in made up for quite a lot, I think, while my reading remained nice and solid.  It might then make sense that my writing took a battering, but it honestly didn’t, with me writing 15,851 words of fiction and 11,227 words for blogs, which is nothing to get upset about, coming in under last month’s fiction total by a little less than 1000 words, and going over the blog total by a little more than 2000.  It was a pretty messy month for writing overall, but I had a number of really good days that cushioned some of it.  I’ve had a bit of a stumble going into June with writing, but things are starting to even out, so it should be pretty clear sailing here pretty soon.

Speaking of writing, as an interesting aside that didn’t feel entirely relevant to the main blog, in that year I published 114,057 words to this blog.  That includes the Spanish language blogs and their translations, so that’s a slightly inflated figure by 3-4000 words, but still, that’s a good novel’s worth of words right there.  These blogs aren’t terribly time-squeezing for me, and it’s cool how it can add up like that.

Going into June, my biggest concern at the moment is finishing course-correcting from the schedule disruption I suffered from getting sick, but I’d really like to figure out a good solution to my Spanish writing conundrum that’s become a fairly perpetual issue.  It’s even more pressing looking at these totals here.  I think that I’d get a lot of mileage out of really putting down some good writing time on a more regular basis, but I just don’t have an easy way to do that right now.  Once things are more even keel, I think I’ll really sit down and figure out what I can do.

Anyway, this blog has gone on for long enough.  TTFN.

2 thoughts on “Looking Back on a Year of Progress

  1. Man, this is super impressive for a lot of different reasons. There are probably very few people in the world who can quantify and breakdown their exposure and gradual acquisition of a language. I certainly can’t—I know I put in about 800 hours last year, but that’s a SUPER rough estimate. The only other person I can think of the guy who used Anki to get to C1 or C2 in italian.

    And it’s not just the quantity of the hours you’ve been putting in, it’s the quality. Reading is incredibly demanding in terms of attention, which is one reason why I’ve never given it nearly as much as attention as I should. Even when I’m talking on iTalki I’ll often do other things at the same time like feed and burp my newborn or wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen.

    I find this very inspiring. Your blog and Matt vs. Japan have already been changing the way I’ve been approaching my language learning this year—I’ve dramatically increased my amount of reading (I’m nowhere near your numbers, but last summer I was reading El Principito and this summer I’m reading Game of Thrones and that feels like a nice jump). I’ve also started to track my reading by logging every book I finished into an Excel spreadsheet.

    When I don’t have time to sit down and read, which is most of the time, I keep a stream of Spanish media playing in the background and just try to make-up for a lack of quality hours with just pure quantity. I’m on summer break, so I’m looking forward to making some real progress over the next few months.

    Thanks for all the updates. It always helps to see someone else go through this process.

    Liked by 1 person

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