Archive for the ‘Fighting Windmills’ Category

(un pequeño experimento en L&R española)


L&R in Spanish today: 3 hours (“Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal”)
Background listening: 0.5 hours (music)
DELE review: 1.5 hours (reviewing sample tests for levels B1 and B2)
Total L&R in Spanish so far: 91+ hours
Sum total of Spanish immersion: 116+ hours

Today’s reading test: 90% [-2%] (“La Sombra del Viento”)


Today is the end of this particular experiment. After going through some DELE (Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera) sample papers, I now estimate my reading level in Spanish is around the high B1 to low B2 mark. I started off with no real knowledge at all, and didn’t really know what would happen. So this is a huge jump for me in only a couple of weeks, and I’m absolutely thrilled to now be able to understand so much more when I open a Spanish novel or browse through the Internet.

I can’t stress the importance of parallel texts enough, if you can get your hands on them, they’ll make your life much easier in the long run. In my experiments, I found that having a parallel or dual language text at least halved my study time and was invaluable for checking over things later.

I used “The Little Prince” and “Harry Potter” in that order because I believe they came much closer to Krashen’s i+1 principle and proved to be far more comprehensible and useful to me at this early stage. I would also recommend starting off with parallel text and “target-language only” audio from a good coursebook for languages that might be far more challenging or indeed very different to your own native language.

Luckily for me, Spanish was relatively transparent and the word order doesn’t vary too much from English most of the time, which helps a lot, but if I were doing this over with say Finnish, I’d really start with beginner-intermediate coursebook material to make life a bit easier. And for a language like Chinese or Arabic, which use completely different scripts, I’d definitely get a foundation in at least recognising the writing system beforehand too.

I also find it’s important to employ some fun and interesting techniques on the side to keep myself motivated and aware of ongoing progress and goals, some of which I’ve already mentioned in previous posts.

So anyway, as promised, here’s a quick summary of what I do now during my L&R phase, one section at a time, using Spanish via English as my example. I can’t think of a clever catch-phrase for this methodology right now, so I’ll just call it “study-and-click“:

Here’s a photo of a rough and ready table I completed for one of my sessions taken directly from my notebook, you can use this for reference if you like.

a study-and-click summary

a study-and-click summary

I start by making a 3 x 4 table with columns for “Time”, “Notes” (I write down a short name or number for the audio file and the chapter/pages in this second column header too), and “Results”.

Step 1. READ

I note down my start time for this session in the first column.

Then I read the section in English and enjoy this thoroughly. The key here is fun. I believe you’ve got to really love what you’re reading to remain properly motivated and get the most out of L&R. If you just don’t like the story or the voice of the narrator in the audiobook, choose another.

When I’ve finished, I write down a phrase that really sums up that section for me under “Notes”, e.g. “Harry, you’re a wizard!”, and write down the length of the corresponding Spanish audio file in the third “Results” column. That’s my first row done.

Step 2. STUDY

I begin by writing the start time for this step in the first column again, but on the next row down.

And here comes the hardest bit…

I listen to and read the Spanish text for the section (simultaneously), and pause at the end of phrases and short sentences, where I take my time to try to match the English translation on the right to reveal the meaning and logic of the Spanish text on the left . When I reach a more advanced stage, I only pause for a word or phrase when it’s completely new and I simply don’t understand along with the speed of the recording.

I’ve been able to successfully employ this technique by aligning two separate books, as well as creating a parallel text, but if you really want to get the most out of this and do it efficiently, a parallel text is the best way to go about it.

I often feel tempted to just compare the texts without audio, but I’m so glad I haven’t, as keeping the audio close by whilst reading the text helps prevent me from pronouncing anything too wrong at this stage, as well as getting my ears attuned to the new sounds and intonation and linking this all to what I see on the page.

Whilst doing this, I underline any really persistent words that I don’t understand, and make a mark on the side of the side of the page. And I mean here only words that you’ve seen time and time again and still manage to stump you.

When the section is completed, I note down the end time in the third row, first column again. I also write down ONE chosen word or phrase in short context in the “Notes” column, along with its translation in the row just below. If no such words come up in a section however, these couple of boxes simply remain empty.

Finally, I work out how many minutes elapsed between the start and end times for this step (i.e. my study time including pauses), and write that in the third “Results” column on the second row and underline it.

Step 3. REVIEW

This is where my clicker-counter is worth its weight in…well…erm…metal and plastic.

I listen and read through the whole section without pausing, and click my little tally-ho gadget every time I recognise a new word and understand the meaning. By “new word” I mean only words I just learned in my study during step 2 for this section. You need to be honest with yourself here for the best results.

I do this TWICE, and make a note of the highest count in the “Results” column on the third row and underline it.

If I’ve really started to become aware of a recurrent grammar pattern, and think I can infer a basic rule-of-thumb, I write down a very short note of this in the “Notes” column on the final fourth row for cross-referencing in my grammar book later. I sometime however just leave this box empty.

When I’ve finished my review, I note down the end time in the fourth row, and write the total time for this whole session (i.e. the last time minus the first in the column) in the final box in the “Results” column.

When all of this is done, I go over to the “Results” column, and divide the number in the first row by the number in the second row to obtain a rough metric of how quickly I’m reading a section now compared to the speed of the narrator in the audiobook. I then do the same for rows three and four, and work out the minimum number of words I’ve passively learned per minute during this session.

Step 4. LISTEN

I add any audio files I’ve completed that day to a playlist on my iPod, and listen to some of these in sequence last thing at night in bed before going to sleep (I don’t listen whilst sleeping though). This gives me a chance to review what I’ve learned by ear within 24 hours of acquiring a passive knowledge of new words, and hopefully guides my thoughts more towards subconsciously consolidating Spanish whilst resting.

So at the end of each session, I’ll be able to recall what it was all about (useful for future reference when returning to the book), I’ll have some idea of the progress I’m making in reading and passive vocabulary acquisition, there’ll be at least one phrase and translation to add to my Anki flashcards or wordlists for later, and if I’m lucky, I’ll have some good ideas where to start looking in my grammar book. I’ll also have a nice little playlist of Spanish audio that I’m already familiar with which I can use to improve my listening skills either in transit, out walking, as part of the background, or simply at the end of the day.

Spanish is a wonderful language and I look forward to opening up so many more doors and windows on this culture in the future. These are just my first few steps on a long road hopefully to fluency, and there’s much more adventure yet to come. 🙂

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(un pequeño experimento en L&R española)


L&R in Spanish today: 2 hours (“Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal”)
Background listening: 0.5 hours (music)
TV: 1.5 hours (“El Internado”)
Total L&R in Spanish so far: 88+ hours
Sum total of Spanish immersion: 111+ hours

Today’s reading test: 92% [ – ] (“La Sombra del Viento”)


Weekends are always busy or distracting affairs on the whole for me these days, and it’s hard to squeeze in the language learning hours I need with other demands so close to hand. Any extra time that I do have I would rather spend relaxing with friends, going shopping for some new summer clothes in Frankfurt, or napping on the sofa with a cheesy afternoon film to catch up on some hours of missed sleep from the previous week. There are also lots of responsibilities and household duties to catch up on. This is why I realistically put aside far less hours for Saturday and Sunday (a few hours a day is a real achievement to be honest), even during an intense experiment such as this. I agree that massive exposure is the key to beating the “forgetting curve” and retaining what you learn, but in terms of energy, it’s also important to take some time out to recharge the batteries and prepare for the week ahead.

I’m thrilled to be consistently getting marks in the 90s for my basic reading test at the end of the day recently, especially considering it’s not even 2 weeks yet since I started. I’ve had a couple of epiphany moments over the last couple of days too. The first was when I realised I could read ahead in Spanish and match this up to the corresponding audio that followed. The second was when I realised I could do this at an even earlier stage in my method. I believe this could be a good indication that I’m fast approaching the “natural reading” boundary for at least easier contemporary novels (e.g. Stephen King). When I reach the stage where I can generally read ahead of the audio and no longer need to pause much for reference whilst doing my first step of L&R in Spanish, then I hope to have jumped that hurdle.

Another strange byproduct of all this L&R over the last fortnight is that I can now read a book in German much faster than before. I found this out by accident only the other night, and I guess it must be something to do with my recent training and learning to “deal with uncertainty” in other languages. It’s as though I’ve learned to focus less on what I don’t know and use this time more wisely to work out things that I can guess. This is great! 🙂

I’m looking forward to looking up some of the patterns I’ve noted down in my grammar reference next week. I get a real kick out of working part of the puzzle out in advance and then building on this intuitive knowledge later. I even noticed the “vosotros” form the other day, when Harry said to his aunt and uncle, “¿Vosotros la sabíais?”, and I feel much more confident about recognising passive and conditional tenses.

If I dive into the middle of a difficult audiobook file I’ve never heard before (e.g anything by Zafón), I can generally pick out words and phrases and follow the gist sometimes. This is light years ahead of where I started 2 weeks ago, where it all sounded so incredibly fast and the only phrase I knew was “Vamos, muchachos!” (which sadly never materialised). It’s also very difficult when you know absolutely nothing of the context, and much easier to make mistakes on the fly.

My reading level by comparison is much higher, where I always understand the gist and only miss out on a word or two in a small section these days. This imbalance is to be expected though, as the whole listening process tends to be much faster, fuzzier and variable. In fact I know plenty of people at C2 level in English who still have trouble sometimes following tv or movies without subtitles. I look forward to addressing this gap in my listening skills more and more over the following weeks and in future experiments, and it’s great to already have some small ability in listening now too.

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(un pequeño experimento en L&R española)


L&R in Spanish today: 7 hours (“Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal”)
Background listening: 3 hours (music and L&R’d audiobooks)
Total L&R in Spanish so far: 86+ hours
Sum total of Spanish immersion: 107+ hours

Today’s reading test: 92% [+1%] (“La Sombra del Viento”) 🙂


I started the day with far too much baguette for one human to consume so early. This must have affected me somehow, for I seemed to spend the rest of the day with my mind more on food and drink than on Spanish text. First I hear about Hagrid’s “salchichas calientes” (sizzling sausages), which sounded very tasty indeed, then I receive an email on fine Spanish wines, and finally I go down to check my post only to find some tunantes (scoundrels) have shoved a dozen or so fast-food leaflets into mi buzón (my letterbox) this evening. Even the phrase “sin embargo” (however) is starting to sound like a reclusive island for holy guacamole. I guess the only way now is to just give in and buy a bottle of Rioja to celebrate the start of the weekend. 😉

When I first began reading Harry Potter, I had my doubts. I’ve been far more used to the works of Kafka and Koestler recently, and needlessly worried about picking up lots of strange Potteresque words along the way too. But much to my surprise, the core vocabulary is spot on so far, and I’m really enjoying the story and laughing or smiling throughout every chapter.

I actually found myself at the desk today, following a quick break, with a fresh cuppa in one hand and a Spanish text in the other, and pondered in temporary bewilderment “how on earth did I get here?”…I guess my routine is starting to become much more second-nature these days and I’m drifting towards working on autopilot. I hope that’s a good thing.

I tend to notice lots of interesting things I didn’t know before I started learning Spanish. For example, did you know that the word “muggle” (aka mud-blood) is very similar to the word “mugre” (filth). And I could well imagine how that care-free phrase “hakuna matata” (Swahili: “there are no problems”) from The Lion King could sound far more worrisome to a Spanish ear (matar means “to kill”).

Spanish, as I’ve mentioned before, is also a spicy and romantic language. I just love the sounds of some of the terms of endearment, words like cariña, chiquita, corazonita (lots of words beginning with ‘c’), they just roll off the tongue and seem so much more fun and intimate.

I’ve made a couple of small amendments to my study regime recently, inspired by advice from other members. The first is to make a quick note of any recurring grammar patterns I happen to notice during L&R, with a view to looking these up later in my handy grammar reference book “¡Búscalo!”. The second is to play the audio files I’ve completed last thing at night whilst in bed (I’m using an iPod docking system that’s ideal for this). I initially tried listening to these files last night whilst reading the text in English, but this wasn’t much fun at all. So I just started to listen to the recordings on their own and found this much more relaxing and useful. Spanish is such a lovely language to listen to, and even when I don’t understand what’s being said, I still like listening to the undulating wholesome sounds.

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(un pequeño experimento en L&R española)


L&R in Spanish today: 6 hours (“Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal”)
Background listening: 1 hour (music)
Total L&R in Spanish so far: 79+ hours
Sum total of Spanish immersion: 97+ hours

Today’s reading test: 91% [+4%] (“La Sombra del Viento”)


A very early start today, as the neighbours were unfortunately making a racket all night. They also kindly decided to wake up especially early the next morning to continue off where they left their last argument and join in with the dawn chorus. Oh, so very tired today…

As you can imagine, I was glad to take a short nap this afternoon to re-energise the batteries, but with a general lack of sleep from this morning’s hullabaloo, I managed to magic the alarm clock to the far reaches of the room and sleep for several hours undisturbed. I guess all these hours of L&R with Harry Potter are starting to rub off on me… 😉 I don’t feel too bad about losing these hours however because I really needed the extra forty winks, and still managed to reel in half a dozen hours altogether today anyway. [edit]

Following some good advice from Datsungking1, I also think that changing my exercise regime to late afternoon or early evening might benefit me in the long run. I’m hoping this will wake me up a bit in preparation for evening study and perhaps help me sleep much sounder at night.

On another upbeat note, I’ve got to that point now where I can sometimes read ahead in the Spanish text and match it to what I hear in time. This is a great feeling when it happens. I also get random words popping into my head later, perhaps whilst in the kitchen or out walking, strange words calling to me in the back of my mind that I must have picked up the previous day, words like “a la fuenta” and “la fuerte”, and yesterday it was “peligrosa” as I recall.

When I start to get a little bored of the monotony of study, I try to do a bit of time-boxing (or in my case, see how quickly I can get through the next section with my method). I also dangle carrots, like a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, but only upon completion of [I]one more[/I] session. This combination is quite effective when I start to lose a little energy.

I really appreciate people’s tips and advice on learning Spanish and am learning so much already. At this stage my head is constantly full of questions, having only done L&R so far and inducing patterns and rules. For example I was wondering only today:

i ) when is the letter “c” pronounced like “th” and when like “k” in Castilian (I imagine it probably has something to do with broad and slender vowels)?

ii) are there any general rules for predicting where the stress falls in a word (it often seems to be on the penultimate syllable, and sometimes on the first, except in cases where there’s an accent over a vowel indicating otherwise)?

iii) why are the order of conjoined adjectives usually reversed in translation, e.g. “damp and empty” becomes “vacía y húmeda” (empty and damp)?

iv) and did I hear correctly, or did the narrator just pronounce “llamando” with a “j”, perhaps this is another of those variable pronunciation things in Spanish that ellasevia was telling me about earlier?

So many “preguntitas” (little questions) today, I must apologise, but it’s a fascinating language and I’m so keen to learn more.

Incidentally, the only Spanish dictionary I have at the moment is Langenscheidt’s Pocket Spanish Dictionary (not that it would fit in any pocket save Hagrid’s), and I must say, it’s one of the worst mini-dictionaries I’ve ever used. It seems to be made for Spanish learners of English rather than the other way round (although this is not what it said in the original description when I bought it), and I’m often not able to find even the most basic words and have to resort to using Google Translate. Can anyone recommend a really good small Spanish dictionary or a decent website (similar to dict.cc in German)? This would come in really handy…

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(un pequeño experimento en L&R española)


L&R in Spanish today: 9 hours (“Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal”)
Background listening: 1 hour (music)
Total L&R in Spanish so far: 73 hours
Sum total of Spanish immersion: 91 hours

Today’s reading test: 87% [-2%] (“La Sombra del Viento”)


It’s amazing how many Spanish words I recognise from TV, but never knew their meanings until now. I learned today, for example, that the island of Tortuga mentioned in “Pirates of the Caribbean” refers to “turtles”, and now understand what my childhood hero “Speedy Gonzales” was saying all those long years ago to “el pussygato”. I also found out where chupa-chups got their strange name from today, the list just goes on and on…!

Spanish words and phrases are really quite amazing in their own right too, and I particularly enjoy the little (and sometime enormous) nuances between the original text and translation. I can also work out the meaning of many words simply via a basic knowledge of other languages, and not only Romance languages either (e.g. “mojado” –> “mokryj” –> “wet”). Other words just make me smile when I find out what they mean, like “fofo” (flabby). 🙂

Spanish is also very poetic, and I’m constantly having to refrain at this stage from trying to make up amusing phrases whilst reading and listening along, e.g. “Don Quijote con bigote”. I also find that similar words can take on very different meanings depending upon the context or word class, such as “sobre” (noun: “envelope”; preposition: “on, about”).

I find that I’m picking up recurrent patterns and passively internalising grammar rules all the time without even realising it till later.

For example, I’ve studied absolutely nothing of Spanish grammar yet (I haven’t even read the Wikipedia page as planned for preparation), but I already notice little patterns like future and conditional tenses seem to include the infinitive plus an ending (so I just look out for an “r” here), or that verbs in the perfect tense can be recognised by the presence of the auxiliary “have” beforehand (in this case, I keep a look-out for words beginning with “h” before a verb). There are lots of other little things like this, and I look forward to finding out the whys and wherefores later.

I find that starting off with an intuitive feel for declensions and conjugations, and spotting patterns on my own, is much more comfortable than jumping straight into verb tables and complex grammar tomes in the early stages. I’ll certainly take time out to skim through a simple grammar book next week as part of my second experiment, from which I guess I’ll benefit greatly, but for now I’m just really pleased that I’m already getting a natural feel for the grammatical structures without actually actively studying grammar. 🙂

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(un pequeño experimento en L&R española)


L&R in Spanish today: 10 hours (“Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal”; review of “El Principito”)
Background listening: 2 hours (music and completed audiobook files)
Total L&R in Spanish so far: 64 hours
Sum total of Spanish immersion: 81 hours

Today’s reading test: 89% [ – ] (La Sombra del Viento)


One of my joys at the end of the day (apart from sleeping or catching the odd Spanish telenovela of course 😉 ) is doing a short basic reading test. This gives me a faint glimpse of how I might fare with a more challenging novel by a different author. It’s wonderful to see that I can grasp the gist of a passage (as well as many of the details quite often), but it’s even more of a buzz to notice the new words and grammar that I only learned that day popping up like tasty young mushrooms in an otherwise obscured forest floor of words.

So far my new method seems to be working out really well (details at the end of this experiment), and consequently I feel like I’m progressing so much faster than before and gaining in confidence every day. There’s still a long, long way to go before I can follow Spanish TV or flick through a novel with ease, but with these new structures and techniques in place, the end goal seems that much nearer than a week ago.

As I was away from my desk for a good part of today, I also decided to go through “El Principito” again for review, this time listening in Spanish and reading in English as originally recommended 3 times in a row from beginning to end. It may not be my core method any longer, but I thought I’d give it a final try anyway to help bring up the listening side of things and make a final check that I’m moving my methodology in the right direction for me.

One thing I need to work on though is my sleeping pattern, as I’m slowly realising I can’t burn the candles at both ends and also hope to get the most out of study the following day. Putting in these type of hours is tough going, to be totally honest, and I admire anyone who can do this so easily. I guess I’ll just try to get more organised starting tomorrow and put in the required pillow-time from now on.

I’m happy I managed to stay on target today, and I need to just keep believing in myself and the effectiveness of my techniques. For once I’ve completed this experiment, there’ll be even bigger fish to fry, as this initial fortnight of L&R is only the second stage (first was preparation) in my fun-packed “Spanish in 1 month” programme, and I’m already starting to get seriously nervous over the thought of fitting in so much more into the second half. Ah well, midnight approaches and I must put these worries far from my mind now – it’s time to hit the hay! (…I wonder what that phrase would be in Spanish…?)

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(un pequeño experimento en L&R española)


L&R in Spanish today: 13 hours (Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal)
Background listening: 3 hours (music and completed audiobook files)
TV: 1 hour (El Internado)
Total L&R in Spanish so far: 54 hours
Sum total of Spanish immersion: 69 hours [edit]

Today’s reading test: 89% [+1%] (La Sombra del Viento)


I think the original L-R technique is really great, and the originator’s posts and ideas have been a real inspiration both personally to me and my studies. And I agree that my method has evolved into something different from that described in the original LR thread.

However, I also recall the originator of the LR method encouraging others to find out what works best for them, and to focus more on enjoying and being passionate about what you do. So I’m taking this good advice now, and really enjoying the stories as well as the whole learning process.

In essence, I’m still remaining focused on the core listening and reading skills, and following in the steps of many other wise members here on the forum, by gravitating over to including some active study techniques and working simultaneously just in the target language instead.

Still, to honour the wishes of the originator of the L-R method, I’m renaming this experiment so as not to upset anyone, and will remove any future references to LR or listening-reading from now on. For the time being however, I’ll simply use the term “Listening and Reading” (L&R) (basically what it is) to describe my main studies this week, until I can come up with something more fancy.

As regarding my exposure and commitment to Spanish, don’t count me out just yet. When I averaged out my hours for last week, it came pretty close to 6 hours a day (and this is just L&R). As I’m new to all this “massive exposure” business, as well as Spanish, I hope you’ll forgive me landing a bit off target in the first few days. This is to be expected really, especially with so many other friends and responsibilities at home craving my attention at the same time.

However this week I’m going to put in some real hardcore hours, closer to those originally suggested, and aim for the Spanish bull’s-eye. I’ve already started off on a good foot by getting up extra early and putting in 13 hours of L&R (17 hours total) today. So I just need now to keep on track, stoke the boilers, and try to steam ahead to success and believe in myself! 🙂

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