In my previous post, I talked about how 6+ years of Spanish classes left me still unable to use the language despite doing well on tests.
Finally, one day in September of 2016, I decided that enough was enough and that I was going to learn Spanish once and for all...
"That's it!" ... I said to myself. I remembered how a while back I worked with ESL students and told them to read one of those free (English language) newspapers to get better at English. I decided I was going to take my own advice only in reverse.
"I will read at least one article from a local Spanish language news website every day."
This I did for about two months. At first, I was looking up every other word. Getting through one article would take me almost half an hour. At the end of two months, I was able to read a little faster and didn't have to look up as many words.
I also heard that I needed to "speak from day one". I heard this one from a website that dominated the search results when I googled language learning. So off I went to bother some of my Spanish speaking friends whenever I got the chance. I'm sure I sounded a lot like Tarzan to them.
I also tried to write a diary every day of what I did in Spanish. I was relying heavily on Google Translate.
I thought I was doing great...
Until I turned on the Spanish channel in November (about two months into my project) to test myself and realized I could still barely understand a word. Though perhaps not surprisingly, I did understand a little (and only a little) better when I turned on the news. Two whole months, and the results quite underwhelming...
I came to the conclusion that what I was doing wasn't working. I knew the ten different ways to say shooting and robbery from all the news articles I read, but I couldn't watch a comedy show.
It also dawned on me that all of the speaking and writing I was doing was a complete waste of time.
What was I doing writing? How could I know if what I wrote was right or not? Who was going to correct me? Google Translate?
A quick story about Google Translate... I remember trying to find this book I wanted to read. The name of the book was Сын Человеческий (Son of Man) by Fr. Alexander Men. It was out of print, so the only English versions available were being sold for around $100 (I wanted to read it, but not that badly!). Fortunately I was able to find the original Russian text online. Although I grew up speaking Russian as a second language, I can only read at a snail's pace because Russian uses a different alphabet... and after reading the Cyrillic text for a bit, I finally gave up and decided to copy and paste whole paragraphs into Google Translate so that I could read them in English. Even though the words came out right, the syntax of the translated sentences was barely intelligible. I wasn't sure what was harder, trying to figure out what Google Translate was saying... or reading the original Cyrillic!
So as you can see, there was no reason for me to be confident about what I had been writing and checking in Spanish either.
And speaking? I kind of suspected that once my friends understood the general idea of what I was saying, they would stop correcting me and just tell me "you're doing great!" even though I was still making lots of errors. I knew from many other things in life that if you learn something the wrong way and keep doing it, it would become harder to fix later on. I'm always reminded of some of the immigrants in my country, who despite living there for 20+ years, keep making the same language mistakes over and over again.
And to make matters worse, when my Spanish speaking friends couldn't be bothered, I moved on to other learners thinking it was the next best thing... talk about the blind leading the blind!
Besides, even if I what I said (or wrote) was technically correct, was it something a native speaker would say? For example, there's a difference between:
I think I'd like to call actual grammar and syntax errors hard mistakes, and saying things that a native speaker would never say, despite being grammatically correct, soft mistakes. Google Translate never seemed to catch the soft mistakes. And I'm sure my friends never corrected them either, especially when there were so many hard mistakes to fix.
So here I was in November of 2016, re-assessing what I did over the past two months. So after thinking about it, I decided to try something different... which is what I will talk about in my next post.