The Folly of Self-Assessments

You can't underestimate how bad I am at making estimations.

Something I’m constantly surprised by and reevaluating over time is my perceived current level in Spanish.  I’ve talked a number of times on this blog about how difficult it is to judge yourself in an objective way and how easy it is to both overestimate and underestimate your own abilities, and I can comfortably say that I haven’t gotten noticeably better with practice at it.

There’s a delicate touch to judging yourself.  It’s very easy and natural to overestimate yourself when what you’re doing is already sort of vague.  There have been a few shows or episodes of things that I was confident I could follow exceptionally well, but then returned to months later on a lark and was shocked by how much better I understood it compared to the time before.  Which of course then leads to the feeling that, well, I understood it so well now, I must have it 100% by this point, right?  So to recap, you take a show I was positive I already had down perfectly, prove to me that I most certainly did not have it down perfectly when I proclaimed that, and I’m left feeling like I must have it perfectly now.  Surely there’s no precedent set anywhere in this series of events that questions my reliability here.

On the other side of it, it’s also very easy to sell yourself short.  The further along you get, the more authentic content and real people you’re listening to and trying to communicate with, and with that comes stress and self-consciousness.  You struggle with things and notice your mistakes, you start to recognize and learn your own shortcomings when it comes to the language, and you linger on the times when you failed.  A lot of advice out there is centered around beating back some of those fears so they’re not crippling, but it remains a pretty natural reaction to get all flop-sweaty over something you’re not confident in, and it colors your view on yourself.

I have a friend who was born and raised in China and learned English in his teens there, before coming to America for college and refining his English here, and he is very self-conscious about his English.  Which he absolutely shouldn’t be, as he’s gotten what is easily C2-level mastery of English.  His accent is mild and very understandable, and he has no problems communicating when talking about practically any topic.  He does occasionally run into words that he doesn’t know—words he can talk circles around if necessary, but that he genuinely doesn’t know—and I can tell when talking to him that it’s those times when he doesn’t know a word that stick with him, not the hour of problem-free conversation leading up to it.  I see that in him and can totally sympathize, because those times stick with me, too.

And all that in mind, trying to carefully judge my own abilities where I’m both realistic and not overly critical of myself, I also have to deal with the fact that I have good days and bad days, but can’t always tell what sort of day it is in the moment.

Okay, that isn’t entirely true, people have off-days in their everyday lives pretty regularly and you can totally tell when that’s happening to you.  Conversely, when you’re having a really good day, you can feel that, too.  I have felt both really good and really bad about how things are going with Spanish on different days, where something clicked and I totally understood a thing that was giving me trouble before, or where no matter what I focus on I feel like I barely have a grasp on the basics.  Happens to everybody.  But I’ve also had days where things are pretty much normal and exactly like the days around them, except one day things came a little bit easier and the other things came a little bit harder.

Some individual aspects of language learning are more swingy than others in that front, as a “bad day” for reading is not terribly distinguishable from a good one, it just maybe takes me a little bit longer to read the same amount (though not enough to be worth logging differently on these blogs, which are already a ballpark estimation anyway) and maybe need to look up a handful of words that I would have remembered or figured out from context some other time.

Listening is much worse and leads to moments of frustration where something I understood well one day becomes unclear the next, and I get a little annoyed over feeling like I’m standing in place, but generally speaking nothing swings that much.  Things that are all at relatively the same comprehension level remain relatively comprehensible to the same percentage for me, it just moves a little day to day.

Writing is about the same as listening, if maybe a smidge more extreme of a swing, and speaking is the worst.  The output aspects of language have always lagged behind and been more extreme than input due to a lack of practice and focus, so that doesn’t surprise me, but it’s really noticeable how big of a gulf there can be from when I’m practicing talking to, like, my dog, and am feeling good and really able to say some stuff, and when absolutely nothing will come to my mouth.

I’ve been skeptical in the past over the value of level evaluations anyway, thanks to the many things that get in the way of measuring, but it’s still something one naturally does in the pursuit of learning.  You pretty much have to look at yourself to judge how things are going, which means assigning some form of value on how far you’ve gotten.  It’s a good idea to try and give yourself some slack when doing it though.  Not in the sense of placing yourself further along the mountain, but in the sense of not trying to look too closely at your level.  A vague idea of your current level is all you can realistically hope to guess anyway, so limiting yourself to a vague idea if you can manage it saves a bit of headache and frustration.

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

Tuesday 10/15

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of Me Vestiré de Medianoche, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 4 episodes of Daniel San GMR, 1 episode of La Zona Cero,1 episode of Arte Divierte, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 10/16

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 7% of Snuff, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 4 episodes of Daniel San GMR, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 10/17

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 5% of Snuff, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~20 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 10/18

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 5% of Snuff, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 3 episodes of Daniel San GMR, 1 episode of Kiwillius, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 10/19

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 7% of Snuff, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, 2 episodes of Kiwillius, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 10/20

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 5% of Snuff, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 4 episodes of Kiwillius, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 10/21

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 7% of Snuff, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 4 episodes of Daniel San GMR, ~70 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1/3 books, 510 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 26 YouTube episodes, 470 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 16 hours 20 minutes

Those were some numbers all right.  The week’s a little low overall, because I watched a football game on Thursday and didn’t have much time for other things, but other than that it was pretty normal.  I finished Me Vestiré de Medianoche, which was very enjoyable and an interesting turn for the Tiffany Aching character, and then started in on Snuff, which is, unfortunately, the final book focused on the City Watch characters, and even more unfortunately, doesn’t seem to have much of a focus on most of them, just Commander Sam Vimes.  Which, don’t get me wrong, Vimes is great, but there’s a real, palpable sense of loss knowing that the stories of all these characters are coming to an end, and in some cases already have ended without me taking note.  I’ve loved a good number of book series, but none of them have made me feel quite like Discworld has, where as they finish it’s like I’m losing a friend.  I’ve mostly joked about not knowing what the heck I’m going to be reading afterwards, but there’s a brewing existential crisis here, too.

I still have the partial seasons of a number of Netflix shows waiting for me to finish them in my queue, but I’ve been watching a lot of Spanish youtube lately, so they’ve just been sitting there for a while.  I’m fine with this in general, as youtube content has been more my style of “bingeable” media compared to more structured television, and the content is both accessible for me but also really authentic, much more authentic feeling than a lot of the dubs I watch.  I’ll get back to the Netflix stuff soon, though.  Well, probably.

On Duolingo this week, I, surprisingly, didn’t have the chance to answer that many questions.  Something about my timing for getting online or a low volume of questions asked resulted in all of the threads I looked at either already having been answered by others or unanswerable due to being jokes/someone complaining about the system without giving details/some other problem that a comment can’t help with.  I did notice among the sparse questions that there was an abnormal number of sentences in the system where the word carne was marked as beef in translations, which is kind of baffling.  I suppose in some contexts you could say meat/carne and it would be inferred that you were saying beef specifically, like, “I want a big, grilled slab or meat,” or something, but it would be weird to try and say those words are truly synonymous, and as far as I know, it operates about the same in Spanish.  At least in the dialects I’ve had more than passing contact with, anyway.  One of the strange idiosyncrasies of user generated content.

That about covers everything as far as this blog’s concerned.  This month has been sorta hard on me so far, but it’s comforting to know it hasn’t impacted this project too much.  Hopefully the world will stop making waves around me and I can settle back into a normal pace of things and get on track with my plans.

Anyway, that’ll do for this one.  TTFN.

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