Learning a new language is hard!
And shut-up to anyone who says it’s easy… 🙂
I recently completed my 30 Day Spanish Challenge, where my goal was to learn as much Spanish as I could in 30 days.
Inspiration for the challenge
I’ve been living in Central America since July 2014 and have been getting by on the basic Spanish that I learned in school 10+ years ago.
Sure I proved that I could survive in Spanish speaking countries–but living is much more than just surviving.
For me, to live is to communicate.
Communicating is about being able to express my ideas and understand the ideas of others. My basic Spanish vocabulary made me feel limited as to how much I was able to communicate with friends (and strangers) here.
Anyone who knows me can verify that I’m a talker–so a limited vocabulary is a big hindrance for me.
Without a solid grasp of the Spanish language, I found myself having the same conversations in Spanish over and over again with people. Essentially I was having conversations based around the words I knew, versus talking about the things I wanted to talk about that I didn’t know how to say.
My goal for the 30 Day Spanish Challenge was to help me communicate better on a more personal and intellectual level, not just on a survival level.
Every day for the 30 Day Challenge I did a combination of these things:
1) Learned 20 new vocab words
2) Translated a song or news article
3) Studied grammar via http://studyspanish.com
4) Practiced speaking & listening with friends
5) The rule was: When I’m not working, I’m speaking Spanish.
The Biggest Obstacle
What turned out to be the biggest obstacle in the challenge was that… I’m always working!
Looking back at when I lived in Thailand 10 years ago, I remember picking up the language fairly quickly. The key difference was that I was “traveling” and my days were spent outside the house every day immersed with people who only spoke Thai.
Now things are different. I’m no longer 20 years old running around Southeast Asia. I’m 30 years old and have a business to run.
Even though I currently live in Managua, Nicaragua, I still work alone behind a desk Monday-Friday speaking in English with clients in the USA. (Need a website?)
And, as my officemates can testify, I often work morning to night, with only a few interruptions to eat and exercise. On weekends, I’ll often go out, but I’ve especially been busy the past couple months working on some new personal projects. So I don’t even go out every weekend anymore.
Ultimately, my schedule became the biggest obstacle in my challenge. I was doing a lot of studying, but not a lot of daily practicing. “Immersing” myself in Spanish mostly happened for just a few hours each weekend when I was with friends.
So what did I learn?
The Words I Learned
Here are my vocab cards. I learned just under 600 new words & phrases during the 30 Day Challenge.
There aren’t 600 index cards in that photo above because I would combine words within a theme onto the same card instead of using one card per word. For example, one card contained the words winter, spring, summer, fall and on the flip side of that card, otono, invierno, primavera, verano.
I created a set of digital flashcards if you’d like to see every word I learned.
Grammar I Studied
I used the website http://studyspanish.com to take free grammar lessons. I found the lessons to be extremely helpful in learning about sentence structure. The website was also helpful in learning about idioms (expressions).
Below are a copy of the pages from my notebook. Click the link to open each image in a new window.
So what were the results?
The Good Results
I actually learned A LOT of Spanish! I learned hundreds of new words. I understand how sentence structure works better than I did before. I also learned a ton of Spanish euphemisms, or non-literal translations for phrases, which are the correct translations.
I understand more when people speak. Just by expanding my vocabulary, I am able to pick up more words in a sentence and use context clues to figure out what people are talking about. For example, let’s say before I was able to pick up 10-20% of the words in a sentence when someone spoke, now I may be able to pick up 20-30%, which makes a big difference.
I learned lots of bad words. After this challenge, I can officially make fun of my friends in Spanish now too.
The Bad Results
I didn’t learn as much as I had hoped. I had high expectations. I thought I’d be champion of the Spanish world after 30 days. Go from zero to hero. I dedicated about an hour a day to studying Spanish, but that still wasn’t enough to become fluent.
It’s kind of boring to study. To be honest, my previous challenges (30 Day Weight Loss & 30 Day Bikram Yoga) were much more fun! I’ve concluded from this Spanish challenge that I prefer challenges that get me away from the computer. I’ll keep that in mind for future challenges.
In the end… well, I still suck at Spanish.
Don’t believe me?
I took an online Spanish test before I started the challenge, and then I took the same test after. Here are my results.
Before The Challenge
After The Challenge
LOL – I got the EXACT same results! I was hoping I’d at least go up a few points.. but nope! Failing grade both times.
I wish I had better results for you, but it is what it is.
I know I’ve improved a lot conversationally at Spanish during the challenge, because I can definitely understand more Spanish when I hear people talk. On paper, however, I’m still a failing grade.
Looking back post-challenge, I’m happy that I decided to take this 30 Day Spanish Challenge. It jump started my Spanish learning… something I should have done 6 months ago.
Lesson For You
If you’d like to learn Spanish, here’s a lesson I learned:
Don’t buy anything yet.
If you’re a newbie, there are so many free resources available online to start with like the ones I mentioned in this post.
Purchasing an expensive course like Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone won’t make a huge difference for you at the beginning. It all comes down to taking the time to study and practice each day. If you won’t do it with free lessons, you probably won’t do it with a paid program either.
Practice, practice, practice.
Until the next challenge amigos!
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