Language Learning: Where to Start

The most important thing to remember about my advice is that I'm dumb.

So as we go into May, at the top of the month I thought I’d revisit a topic I’ve covered before, but one that I think naturally lends itself to evolution over time, and that’s answering the question: “I want to learn a new language, where do I get started?”  I’m of course not particularly an “expert” on language learning in general, but having gone through it for as long as I have at this point, with this blog approaching its three year anniversary, I have enough experiences and mistakes that I’ve learned from at this point that I think there’s something I can impart on the subject.  Before getting started, important caveats here: I am not an expert, I’m just a gal who loves language learning and has made a major hobby out of teaching herself Spanish for the last few years, seeing pretty good personal success in her results.  Don’t take my thoughts on the subject as authoritative, and if you’ve been learning languages a different way and have seen positive results, by all means, keep going with what works for you.  Different people enjoy and respond well to different things, and if something is working, you are, practically by definition, not “doing it wrong.”  Okay?  Okay.

Starting off in a language where you have little to no background knowledge in it is almost always going to be rough going, because there’s basically nothing that you know yet, and you really need a guide to start picking up the super basics.  This is where the usual “learn a language” programs or books come into play, of which the one that I tend to recommend is Duolingo, because it manages to move at a decent pace and not be mind-numbingly boring, but whatever program or book you have that you enjoy can work well for it, and sometimes you’re limited by selection if the language you’re learning is more obscure.  These programs are imperfect, but that’s okay, because there is something very specific you should be keeping in mind as you use them: the goal is to stop using them, as soon as possible.

Now, if anyone were to look down at the numbers section, you’d see my daily logging of Duolingo and raise an eyebrow at me, but I’m a simple girl who likes seeing numbers go up, have a daily streak of over 1100 days, and don’t want to lose that, so I do bare minimum to keep that going, I don’t use the service to “learn” things at this point, and I think this is a huge sticking point for a lot of “beginners” who get stuck at beginner for years and years without ever graduating to intermediate, they get caught in the lesson plan cycle forever.  Lessons can help build a foundation well, but they are not good at actual language assimilation, and the only thing that is good for that is raw exposure.

So you’re at the point where you’ve gotten the basics from a book or from an app to just enough to where you can understand some things and it’s time to get that exposure, so now what?  Input is the answer.  Find and consume as much input as you can, stuff that you understand enough to follow at least the gist of, and work on ramping up to where you understand all of it.  Start with picture books or tv shows presented at preschoolers if you can find them, at the start of learning Spanish I found a lot of material on the [LINK]International Children’s Digital Library, and I quite enjoyed Puffin Rock on Netflix as a preschooler show that didn’t make me want to shoot my brains out from boredom.  Read and reread, watch and rewatch as frequently as you can, then when you’re comfortable, move onto media aimed at older kids, then young adults, then adults, until it’s as elaborate as anything you listen to normally in your native language.  If you can favor material that was created natively in your target language, but all means do so, but don’t look down on translations or dubs, they can sometimes make up for unfamiliarity with the target language by way of familiarity with the source material, and in the case of dubbed shows, they can often be a lower challenge compared to native shows, I’ve found.

And, really, that’s it on how to get started.  I’ve qualified the timing and switching for some of these things as “when you’re comfortable,” and there is a definite question on what that actually looks like, because different people are going to be more or less comfortable with different things.  Something that in hindsight I’ve realized is that I spent a lot of time rushing to push myself, often reading books or watching shows that were a biiiiiit out of my actual understanding, because I wanted to push through to get to the higher level faster, and at this point I think that was a mistake, looking back on it.  I have, more or less, gotten to the comprehension level that I want for Spanish, and a lot of that didn’t come from the pushing myself stage, but rather the time since then, when I’ve just been watching and reading stuff that I want to watch and read.

Some of that’s pretty complicated, like La Rueda del Tiempo or some of the youtube shows that I watch where it’s just a native Spanish speaker shooting the shit in their native language to an adult audience they expect to just understand Spanish, too.  Other things, however, are not that challenging, like Steven Universe which I recently finished up, or Tangled which I just started in on.  In retrospect the interest is the important thing, not the actual difficulty.  Read and watch the stuff you’re interested in, not something that’s the right sort of challenge.  The increased, robust ability that moves you from intermediate to advanced will come with time, you just need a lot of exposure to get there.  So expose yourself hard and expose yourself often.  …Don’t take that sentence out of context.

On that stupid note, let’s take a look at this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 4/27

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 2% of Cielo en Llamas, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 2 episodes of Kiwillius, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 4/28

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 2% of Cielo en Llamas, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 2 episodes of Kiwillius, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 4/29

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

Friday 4/30

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

Saturday 5/01

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus, 1 episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events, ~120 minutes

Sunday 5/02

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 5 episodes of Tangled, ~120 minutes

Monday 5/03

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 2% of Cielo en Llamas, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 2 episodes of Tangled, 1 episode of Kiwillius, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1/10 books read, 450 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 10 YouTube episodes, 1 movie, and 8 television episodes watched, 540 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 150 minutes
  • Total Time: 16 hours 30 minutes

A pretty good week overall.  I finished up my backlog on a series from Kiwillius that I’d been letting build up while I finished Steven Universe, then found myself a bit at loose ends over the weekend.  There’s a show I really wanted to watch, Over the Garden Wall, which I tried and failed to find online in Spanish.  Gotta say, I am extremely disappointed with both Hulu and HBO Max’s Spanish offerings, which more or less don’t exist.  These shows all have Spanish dubs that were made and aired places, often including the US, but they’re just not available to stream here, and unfortunately Cartoon Network programming is only available there, and not on either Netflix or Disney+ which have a much more robust alternate language offering for their programming.  I’m half tempted to look into getting a VPN service and seeing if having my location “changed” might make these things a bit easier to find.  I dunno, not super my style, but I’m thinking on it.

Since my original choice turned up empty, I rewatched Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus and an episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events.  The former was just because I like that movie and wanted to watch it again, and the latter because it was one of the earlier things I watched that was a biiiiiit out of my comfort level, and I was curious how I’d do on it now.  The answer to my curiosity is that it’s something I understand every word on now, which is gratifying to know, but afterwards didn’t quite feel like devoting the time to a full rewatch right now.  Maybe in the future.

Sunday, I decided to try out Tangled off Disney+ because I’ve heard some good things about the show.  A chunk into it from Sunday and Monday, my initial reaction is that it is … okay.  It’s visually very pretty and the writing seems fine, but nothing particularly amazing or special as of yet.  It’s also just so straight, which is a bit of a drag.  I’m sticking with it for now, as I hear it gets more and more interesting as it goes, but I’m not expecting to like it half as much as I liked Steven Universe.

El Cielo en Llamas continues on in the tradition of other La Rueda del Tiempo books, in being a bit dry, but interesting enough.  I was concerned that I’d regret not continuing on right away to the next Memorias de Idhún book, but I’m happy to have it waiting for me next as another relatively breezy breather between these phonebooks.

Now, since we’ve also finished up April this week, let’s take a look at the month as a whole.

  • Total Duolingo: 600 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 126 tv episodes, 2 movies, and 23 youtube videos watched, 2,220 minutes
  • Total Reading: 9/10 whole books read, 1,730 minutes
  • Total Writing: 800 words written, 70 minutes
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 540 minutes
  • Total Time: 67 hours 0 minutes

And here’s the breakdown for money spent.

  • Cielo en Llamas, Fiction, ebook, Amazon, $7.61
  • Netflix Subscription Standard HD Plan, Television and Movie Streaming, $10.99 per month, $10.99
  • Disney+ Subscription, Television and Movie Streaming, $6.99 per month, $6.99
  • Amount Spent on Fiction Books: $7.61
  • Amount Spent on Services: $17.98
  • Total Spent: $25.59

A solid, fairly normal looking month.  My dedicating licensing time at work is wrapping up in the next couple days and my normal day-to-day will return to normal, and I’m glad that in the end it didn’t impact this project all that much.  The same can’t be entirely said about my writing, which has taken a heavier impact in the last week here compared to before.  I’m just hitting burnout time with the work project and it’s dragged down my energy levels enough I’ve been a bit lethargic on the fiction writing.  The month overall is rather low for that with only 16,739 words of fiction written, but the month started out with two solid weeks of editing work that didn’t result in numbers I could log, followed by a week’s break between projects, followed by some good writing that faltered out from the work stuff.  As things return to normal, I plan to hit the ground running on that and get back in gear with writing on a consistent basis, rather than the catch as catch can mode I’ve been in this week.

Going into May, I am now 100% vaccinated, so I have some other, not-language-nor-writing-related plans for me, so I’m definitely not going to worry about shaking things up with this project at all for the time being.  I have my shows to watch and books to read, and I’ll be back next week with how that’s been going.  Hope the year ahead is as bright and optimistic as I’m feeling right now.  TTFN.

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