Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Learn in Sprints, Not in Marathons (My Diary on Learning Spanish

It’s been about a week since I arrived in Spain, and I haven’t written anything since arriving. It’s been a bit of a bumpy road so far, but in terms of Spanish improving, I can already feel myself improving.

The area where things are improving most is my comprehension. I’m fluent in French, and I have take some Spanish lessons off and on over the years, so it’s no suprised, I’d start understanding more than I could speak.

With the hectic life so far here I wanted to go over one of the most important lessons when you start learning a foreign language: piece-meal learning everywhere anytime.

Learn in Sprints, Not in Marathons

In real life, it’s next to impossible to balance enough time to spend several hours a day studying. As a student or retiree, you might have massive amount of time, but even then expecting to set aside tons of time isn’t easy.

Signing up for regular classes might force you into putting aside a couple dedicated hours per week. Obviously putting money down will help you keep focused on learning. At the same time though, I’m not a fan of being in a classroom or having a private tour during your initial exposure to the language. There are so many good resources out there for beginners and intermediate learners that it seems like a waste of money and teacher time to have a class when you are a raw beginner.

In my opinion, the best method to learning a foreign language is by studying during the various “gaps” or “pauses” we have during a day: when you take the bus, waiting for a coffee, just before bed or even while you are in the bathroom.

The “marathon method” of learning tends to require a major lifestyle change in order to set aside big chunks of study time.

Instead the “sprint method” focuses just on getting peristent and regular contact with the language. Learn when and what you can as often as you can in small pieces. If you can find 5-10 minutes of study 2-3 times a day, you’ll be able to “sneak” learning into your regular life without any major lifestyle changes.

You don’t need to change your life to learn a foreign language; you need to adapt how you react to the dead daily moments of waiting.

In a previous post, I wrote about Pimsleur and SpanishPod as great listening resources. While Pimsleur is much more scientific and works awesome, it really takes 30 minutes of dedicated time to do. It’s also highly focused on an extremely linear approach to learning. Instead, SpanishPod and other situation dialogue approaches to learning are much easier to find time to do. Rarely do the lessons exceed 10 minutes which means you can squeeze them in throughout the day–on the subway, bus or just walking to get the groceries.

In my experience, don’t expect to learn through complicated books, software and listening exercises that present learning as some huge block; approach learning in a piece-meal fashion. Learn words and phrases for the situations you need today or this week, while at the same time progressively adding on various language structures (i.e. grammar and conjugations).

With smartphones, it’s becoming easier and easier to approach learning in a more realistic, sprint-now-here, learning method than every before. Hopefully, I can write soon about someone of the cool resources I’ve been using so far.

Let’s Keep studying!

 

Personal Note on Life So Far Here in Barcelona, Spain

It’s been a bit of a bumpy road finding an apartment so far here in Barcelona. It seems that in spite of there being tons apartments to rent, there seems to be two problems: 1. many of the apartments available are not that great (small, no sunlight, poor area, etc), or 2. the owner doesn’t make it easy to rent (dislike of foreigners, requirement of a Spanish work contract, etc.).

Anyways, in spite of finding a great apartment and putting a deposit down to reserve it about a week ago, that apartment mysteriously became unavailable. It’s not clear to me why. The explicit reason was that the owner had found someone in the family so they didn’t need anyone to rent anymore. I’m not totally sure this is the reason and I suspect that they either didn’t want to pay or go through an agency OR they preferred to find someone more local.

Overall though, I’m fairly happy here so far. I still get to use my Chinese everyday in the shops and stores. Eating and drinking is quite inexpensive and I’m learning about a new place, country and language.

The only thing I need now is my own apartment to live in.

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