What I’ve noticed about my language learning methods…

I’ve used a mix of online learning tools and conversation exchanges to teach myself Spanish in the run up to moving to Chile. There’s a plethora of advice on how best to learn a language so it takes a while to try different methods and work out what’s best for me. Early on in my language learning I came upon a blog I enjoyed a lot – Fluent in 3 Months – as the basis of the advice is that you actually need to USE the language from the start, not just study it.

I know I could do better with the multitude of free tools available and my approach to learning, but I really am quite lazy when it comes to being productive in my parental home. It’s always been a place I visit between studies and work, somewhere that I relax and do very little – not where I have to be sat on a sofa or my bed trying to work (no desk here!). I use Memrise a lot to build up my vocabulary mixed in with a bit of Duolingo. I try to use podcasts for improving listening and comprehension but it often gets pushed aside because it involves too much attention and note-taking. I end up back on Memrise because it’s easier, even though I’m probably not learning as much that will be useful when it comes to speaking and listening. I know it’s terrible to get in to that habit, but learning vocab makes me feel like I’m making progress.

Every conversation I have in Spanish still makes me nervous, even though after the first few minutes I’m back in to the flow of things and generally understand what’s going on. If I don’t, I’ve gotten to the point where I can isolate the word or phrase I don’t know, repeat it and ask “Qué es eso?“.

During my conversation exchange today with a Spaniard I realised that speaking alone for me won’t cut it, even if spoken fluency is my goal. I enjoy the mix of online vocabulary and conversation practice. Today when talking about my upcoming trip to Chile I was trying to explain how I’d bought a return flight, even though I don’t know when I want to fly home. He taught me the words “single” and “return” but right now I can’t remember them! This surprises me, and therefore scared me a bit, as I thought I was a muscle memory, do-it-learn-it person who learns best while actually doing things – not listening or reading.

I realised when we were talking about another subject – mosquito bites – that I felt best during my conversations when I understood something he was saying that I knew I previously wouldn’t have. The words “picar” and “mi piel” I’d learnt online, and I then felt really happy during the conversation when he used these words in context and I understood them without problem. I’d been confusing el pelo and la piel so hearing it in the context of a mosquito biting something, mi piel backed up that it was skin and not hair.

The week before I’d been learning lots of food items which came in VERY useful when we started talking about our favourite foods – completely unplanned but it was great timing, hearing things just learnt in a real situation, and not having to ask what every single food item was.

I definitely still need to do more conversation practice and listen to more podcasts, but having these little light bulb moments in real conversations makes me feel better about using vocab tools like Memrise. I don’t need to discard them completely in favour of more interactive tools, as evidenced today when I failed to learn a few simple words despite the context already being there.

Maybe paying for a teacher would be good too, but I’ve started without one and I quite enjoy the challenge of learning independently!


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