Language Learning While Quarantined

Not that needing to stay inside and avoid people is a big ask for me...

So the last handful of blogs I’ve written for this project have been dancing around what’s currently happening in the world due to the fact that it has been impacting this project.  That isn’t particularly surprising or anything, as this pandemic has impacted most people in some fashion, but there’s been a certain, specific tone to my blogs over the past few weeks, and that’s been one of denial and disbelief of how big this all is.  Even last week’s where I discussed how it was finally starting to feel real still had an air of that denial to it, because it’s been hard for me to really feel that impact.

Last Thursday, my job loaded me up with computer equipment and sent me to work from home.  I’d been given the opportunity to work from home before that, had I wanted to, but I specifically didn’t want to for various reasons (my home is noisy, I don’t really have room for a work office, I like compartmentalizing spaces so having a “work” to go to makes it easier for me to get into the right mindset for doing a job, etc.).  My wants, however, don’t matter at this point, as it’s either work from home, or, well, figure out other methods to work, I suppose.  I’m going to be working from home like this until further notice.  And that’s the rub with what’s going on in the world, the ominous dread that hangs over that phrase: until further notice.

I recognize that I personally have a lot of privilege.  My work sent me home, but is continuing to pay me, because there is indeed still work to be done and the company offers a product that doesn’t go bad when people are confined to their homes, at least for the time being.  I have the luxury of feeling inconvenienced and cramped, while there are other people out there who have been impacted by this pandemic in ways that are truly difficult.  I try to remind myself of those privileges when I’m feeling too whiny.  If you yourself are feeling particularly whiny, feel free to join me in that reflection.

One fringe benefit of being sent to work from home has, however, made it a little easier for me to work on Spanish these last few days.  I haven’t been in the position that a lot of people out there have been placed in, where I suddenly have an abundance of free time I need to fill (my job has continued to be super busy, whether my desk is in an office building or just my personal office), but some things are naturally going to change when you suddenly don’t have a commute and always have your personal laptop nearby.  It’s let me streamline a few of my learning tasks, which has resulted in my daily numbers stabilizing a little without any other major changes in what happens throughout the day.  I’m still very busy and haven’t had as much time to read during work, but when everything is just a few steps away, you find more time in between the things you’re doing, you know?

This all has also got me thinking about how technology has really made this #quarantinelifestyle a perfect environment for language learning.  Netflix and Disney+ continue to have really robust selections of Spanish language media to dig through, I have millions of words of Spanish downloaded on my Kindle, and, if I really wanted to, there are tons of Spanish speakers and tutors who are just a skype call away.  I’ve talked before about how you don’t need to go and live abroad to learn a language, well you don’t need to leave your house, either.  If you yourself are in quarantine and are hitting the apex of maximum boredom, maybe now’s the time to pick up another language to learn.  If you don’t know where to start, I’ll help:

Step one is to pick your language, and your starting app of choice.  My personal recommendation of starting app is Duolingo, which has the benefit of being free, having lots of languages, and doing a good job of getting your feet wet with a new language.  Now, don’t misunderstand me, Duolingo cannot and will not teach you a language all on its own, and expecting it to do so is going to result in not making progress.  It is a tool for getting you started, nothing more.  Duolingo can get you from zero knowledge in a language, to extremely little knowledge in a language.  This is true of any app, regardless of what they claim to be able to do.  Which is fine, because that’s all you should be trying to accomplish with an app, because they are just a steppingstone for you to get to …

Step two is to start reading in your new language, as much as you can.  Start here, the online children’s library is loaded with picture books in a ton of different languages.  Don’t feel bummed out if you pick something up for a two-year-old and struggle to get through a single sentence, I’ve been there, it passes.  Just keep working on it, take frequent breaks to keep from wearing yourself out, and sprinkle in some additional work on your app for variety and/or a sense of easy victory.  Picture books will be difficult, frustrating, and exhausting for a while, but try to get comfortable with that feeling and to forgive the occasional bit of “noise” when reading that you just can’t follow.  Try to find books that you don’t hate.

At the same time, start listening to the language, too.  Pick up a show that’s aimed at preschoolers to watch, I started with Puffin Rock on Netflix, but there are a ton of other options out there.  The stories in shows like that are so simple that you can usually follow exactly what’s happening with the volume off, so you can start to get a feeling for how the language is spoken and pick up words in isolation.  Try to find shows that you don’t hate.

Step three you’ll naturally hit as the things you’re reading and watching become more and more comprehensible, and you start being able to get through more complex parts.  Move on to novels aimed at children, like The Wizard of Oz or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Watch shows aimed at school age kids, like Adventure Time or My Little Pony.  The first book or show will be monumentally harder than anything before it, but by the time you get to the end, you’ll be miles ahead, to the point where you’ll look back on those picture books you struggled with and chuckle at yourself.

Step four is, as you’ve probably guessed, repeat with the next thing until you know as much of the language as you care to know.  The good news is that that’s the last step.

I know, I know, I reduced something super complicated down to four steps, but it really is that simple in the grand scheme of things.  The really hard part is just how much time it takes getting through those four steps.  I’m creeping my way toward the end of year two of this blog project, and I’m still on step four.  This stuff just takes a lot of time.  And, well … we’re all on quarantine now.  Maybe time is something you can afford to give.

Now then, let’s take a look at my numbers for the week.

Tuesday 3/17

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 4% of El Espino de Plata, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of DSimphony, 1 episode of Arte Divierte, ~60 minutes Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 3/18

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 2% of El Espino de Plata, ~30 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of DSimphony, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 3/19

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 4% of El Espino de Plata, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of DSimphony, 1 episode of TED en Español, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 3/20

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of El Espino de Plata, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 2 episodes of DSimphony, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 3/21

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 2% of El Espino de Plata, ~30 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Castlevania, 1 episode of Club de Cuervos, 1 episode of Andrea Ga, 1 episode of Carole & Tuesday, 1 episode of Kiwillius, ~120 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 3/22

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 2% of El Espino de Plata, ~30 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Castlevania, 1 episode of Diablero, 1 episode of Seis Manos, 1 episode of Carole & Tuesday, ~120 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 3/23

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of El Espino de Plata, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Castlevania, 1 episode of Kiwillius, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1/3 books read, 390 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 9 YouTube episodes, 1 podcast, and 8 tv episodes, 540 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 hours 30 minutes

So a swing back upward as I said.  The starting portion of the week was on the old schedule, and then Thursday was a mess because I got to the office, worked for half an hour, and then had to pack everything up to go home.  Cut to two hours later after setting up a computer and stopping at a store to get an ethernet cable, and the new normal had begun, just, you know, after a really disruptive abnormal part.  Starting in on Friday, and I started to see the good parts of this setup.

I finished the series I was watching on DSimphony, and I think it was a really worthwhile use of my time.  At the start, I really struggled to understand what they were saying, but by the end of the series I had a much better handle on them.  Then on Saturday I tried watching Club de Cuervos again, which I haven’t tried in quite a while, and found it much easier to follow, too.  Feeling good about that, I tried Diablero again the next day, to similar improvements.  I’m still darting around on the listening front, trying to catch up on stuff that I’d put on hold while trying to finish the DSimphony playthrough, but I might try to focus on Club and/or Diablero next, see if I can see similar big gains from extended listening to something that is on the top end of my listening ability.  If I can improve enough to where I “more or less” understand everything in a show like those, I’ll have hit all my self-imposed goals on aural comprehension and really won’t have any excuses to avoid working on speaking practice anymore.  Gulp.

I’m enjoying El Espino de Plata so far.  I’m happy to be back into the rhythm of a long-running fantasy series again, as that sort of thing is my usual jam.  I’m hopeful I might be able to read this one at a somewhat reasonable pace, too, if this work situation continues to be stable enough to let me get through more reading throughout the day.

This blog is also the part of the month where I’m set to look back on how my yearly theme is going, but I have to admit that doing so seems kind of odd at the moment, almost tone-deaf.  The Year of Personal Fulfillment sounds rather self-absorbed in the context of a pandemic after all.  It is still something important to keep in mind even in the face of disruptive stuff happening, though, because trying to be selfless and thinking of others over yourself can be noble, but it can also cause you to neglect yourself and your own wellbeing.

Looking back over the month, and I think I ended up letting some things fall by the wayside.  A lot of it I had no control over, because it’s just been so busy with work that there wasn’t much I could do about it, but some of it was me dropping the ball.  I’ve known for a solid length of time now that the next big thing that I need to work on for the sake of my mental health is getting back into writing, since fiction plays such a big role for me, and I just haven’t done that yet.  I can say it’s because of how busy work has been all I want, but the only way this changes is if I force my way through the inertia, whether work is being friendly to me or not.  Maybe this work from home stuff will help me get back into that swing, too.  I really need to start trying for it.

Anyway, that’ll do for this week.  Stay safe out there, wash your hands.  TTFN.

7 thoughts on “Language Learning While Quarantined

  1. Glad to hear you still have a job! And that your Spanish studies haven’t taken a hit. I had a few days last week where I felt so down, and was so obsessed with the news, that my Spanish intake noticeably dropped, despite the fact that I’ve been stuck at home in quarantine since the high school that I teach at was closed on the 19th. For awhile I was stuck in this weird state where I just felt so shitty about the immensity of the virus that I would do this weird thing where if checked in on some media and it wasn’t talking about the virus, I’d be like, “ugh! BUT WHAT ABOUT CORONA??” and if they did talk about coronavirus I’d be upset that “everything is just about Corona!!”

    Feel better though. In a lot of ways I see studying Spanish as an escape. Sure, when I talk to my tutors we end up talking about the virus and how their country is responding to it and blah blah blah, but I’m currently reading The Death Note manga and watching Desenfrenadas and it’s nice to be able to put all that to the side and focus on an unrelated story. Since I’m likely going to be off work for quite some time I’m thinking of writing out some concrete numbers to hit in terms of pages to read and shows to watch and let that occupy my time when I get some occasional breaks from my two kids.

    By the way, you should check out the Language Learning with Netflix extension for Chrome. It lets you watch Netflix with multiple subtitles if you want, but the main perk for me is that you can use the keyboard to control all the speaking and loop lines of dialogue that are difficult to pick apart. It’s a big help with Desenfrenadas, which is roughly Club de Cuervos level in terms of difficulty. Some lines of dialogue I have to loop like 5 times before I can understand it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I might have to check that plugin out, it sounds interesting. I’ve long since hit a point in general where I have no patience for “going back” on dialogue that I don’t understand in recorded things and just tolerate there being more “noise” to that compared to reading, but part of that’s just because most interfaces are really not user friendly for it. Like, Netflix has the ‘jump back ten seconds’ button, but half the time that’s the wrong amount to jump back and I struggle to figure out where I’m at in the show let alone what it was that I didn’t understand, and half the time it re-buffers the video and makes everything feel annoying and slow. Having a tool that makes it just work as expected sounds like it might be pretty great.

      And I totally get the news paralysis. In some ways I’m reminded of how things were when 9/11 happened, it has a similar sort of “imprisoned watching the news, because what else are you supposed to do?” vibe to it, except it isn’t just images on tv, *everywhere* is New York. This is a weird time in the world.


  2. Just discovered your blog and I’m so glad you’re talking about the current state of affairs. As much as we want to continue normally, things are a bit different now and it’s not a slight on anyone’s blog for acknowledging it. Your recommendations are super helpful, always thought I’d have zero time for languages with uni but you made it seem so manageable. Can I ask what you do when you’ve forgotten much of a language due to being out of practice? What’s an efficient way of refreshing your memory instead of going to Level 1 Duolingo (because as useful as it is- that owl is rather passive aggressive).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It depends a lot on *how* rusty you are, but a lot of language learners out there have noted that when they come back to a language they haven’t touched in a while, they catch back up to the level they were at before pretty quickly, so going back to the sort of content that you were comfortable with before, even if it was sort of advanced and you struggle with it at first, is a good place to start. You might end up surprising yourself with how much you remember. And if it’s too hard, take a few steps back and try something easier. Maybe start looking through some children’s picture books in your target language and see how they treat you? If you really need to start at the ground level again, an app is probably the best place to start for self-guided language learning, though there are a whole host of them out there aside from Duolingo.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really like your reading with the children’s library idea! I will definitely use that for my learning. Good luck with your language learning. I am learning Chinese! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

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