6 weeks into my Spanish learning adventure and I can’t say it’s been the meteoric rise to fluency that Hollywood films are made of, but I have made progress. Here’s my second language learning progress report.
In case you missed the last update 6 weeks ago, here’s what it said in brief…
I’m Ashley (Lindsay’s husband).
I’m rubbish at Spanish.
We’re travelling through Latin America.
I want to know some Spanish.
After the last update, we found ourselves heading straight for Cuba, (my first Spanish speaking country), where I found (shockingly) they spoke Spanish…a lot of it. Although this shouldn’t have been a shock, I don’t think I truly appreciated how little English (or how few English speakers) there would be.
From the casas particulares, cafeteria vendors, hustlers on the street and coffee making pros, 99.9% of the people we came across daily only spoke Spanish. Which was fantastic but terrifying all at the same time!
From the initial taxi to arriving at our first town, my brain quickly began to melt with all the información and palabras washing over me. Like a tsunami of español, I felt like I was drowning.
Lying there on the first night, panicking at the mountain of learning that stood before me, I realised I needed to do more. So, I made a plan:
1. Memrise – Day and night.
There was no internet for the majority of our stay in Cuba, so my digital resources were limited. Nonetheless, I would do as much as I could!
2. Written question and answer practise.
I’d use my language journal to write down faux conversations between two people, using phrases I’d heard in the day and what I’d learnt from the Memrise course.
3. Start asking and using simple Spanish.
I’d try and use bits of Spanish whenever I could. Starting with basic ‘Quiero’ (I want), ‘Puedo’ (I can) and Tengo (I have) style sentences.
4. Don’t panic.
Just don’t…Easier said than done.
Luckily, Lindsay was there to do the vast majority of speaking, so I knew I’d never be truly lost and after a few days of prodding, probing and planning my Spanish speaking skills, I begin to use them.
To give you a basic overview of my Spanish learning process in Cuba, this was a typical day:
Starting slow, I began at breakfast describing our breakfast (Cuban casas particulares breakfasts are amazing!). I’d entertain myself by labelling and naming everything in Spanish, before describing with simple adjectives and then comparing with superlatives and comparatives.
El Café – El café fuerte – El café es fuerte y la piña es deliciosa – La piña es deliciosa pero el pan con queso es más delicioso.
During this time, I’d also try and use some ‘puedo’ and ‘quiero’ style sentences with the casa host, such as “Quiero huevo frío por favor.”
This was the most interesting gauge of my progressing ability, as the looks on casa owners’ faces went from a bemused stare at the beginning to a nod of understanding…nice.
After, I’d usually do some Memrise, before hitting the streets, beaches and mountains on our Cuban adventure.
During the days, I’d spend most of it listening to the locals and trying to absorb myself into Spanish speaking culture as much as possible.
I was kind of hoping for a moment like in The Simpsons, when Bart goes on an exchange program to a French vineyard, and after weeks of only hearing French from the harsh criminal farmers, he suddenly learns how to speak fluently and is able to communicate with the police in the nick of time…..this didn’t happen but I did get quite good at translating menus.
Finally, I’d end the day writing a few bits of Spanish, creating little conversations and doing bits of Memrise.
I did this as much as possible but with such an action packed few weeks, sometimes I’d lose track and ended up watching Sharknado instead.
By the time I left Cuba, I felt like my Spanish level had reached a point of ‘something’. It was still very much one way communication, as I was pretty confident in asking for things but what the answer was was still very much a mystery.
Since leaving Cuba and landing in Mexico (shockingly another Spanish speaking country), I’ve continued to develop and consolidate my learning, while we stay in the Yucatan. I’m still using Memrise and now Duolingo, as well as my simple Spanish phrases as much as possible.
However, now being in a country where we have our own own AirBnB, with a kitchen, bathroom and a Walmart down the street; the opportunity to speak to actual Spanish speakers has gone down dramatically.
This has had a real impact on my Spanish speaking confidence as, although I’m progressing in my independent learning, I’m getting nowhere near the amount of real life communication I was in Cuba.
That is however, except in one area.
Whilst being in Merida, I’ve been involved in quite a few running races (which I’ve actually won a couple of – go me) but I’ve been finding that when I get to the finish line, people have been wanting to speak to me! But instead of asking how I want my eggs or what colour my jumper is (like Cuba and Memrise), they’re asking me about my split time and running pace and how long it took me to run the race.
This is awesome but at the same time terrifying as I don’t yet know any of these terms! But it has presented me with an opportunity. I’m going to use running to improve my learning.
Although it sounds like a bit of a strange link, it’s already developed my Spanish, as I’ve had multiple conversations now across Merida, solely about running!
I’ve been scouring the web hunting high and low for races (carreras) across Latin America, with the hope of running them and using my Spanish speaking skills and learnt running terms (which I’m now learning with online tutor on italki) in the process.
So with another 3 weeks in Merida and a whole host of races, lessons and adventures left, I’m looking forward to seeing how my Spanish continues to progress.
If you’ve skim read all of that or you just want a more personal account, here’s my video update of where I’m at right now with my Spanish
What tips do you have for learning Spanish? Share in the comments below!