As a quick preface, I know that not everyone will be in the same situation that I am with learning another language. I’m learning Spanish and live in the United States. Within a 30 minute radius from my house I can find many thousands of native speakers, I can “press 2 for Spanish,” I can talk with my in-laws, and I can easily find a myriad of resources in Spanish. I’ll be sharing some of the most helpful Spanish resources I find, but I’ll also share some resources that have many languages available. In addition, I’ll be on the lookout for great resources for all of you who might be learning minor languages! I’m also not starting from scratch, so if you are a beginner in your language, you will probably want to modify your action plan to help you get a good foundation as you study.
Since I shared the Fluent Forever Challenge with you a few weeks ago, I’ve been digging into resources and trying to curate and organize the crazy amount of information that’s out there. One of my reasons for having a defined period of time (June through August) to dig in and focus on studying Spanish is that I could spend forever just looking through resources and never actually get to work. And while I love linguistics, I don’t just want to learn about learning languages. I want to actually learn a language, so it’s important to just go for it, even if I haven’t perfected all the methods.
In a nutshell, I’m looking for a mix of study (vocab, grammar, flashcards), comprehensible input (listening to and watching Spanish media that’s interesting and at or just above my level), and meaningful practice (real-life conversations rather than exercises in a grammar book). I think it’s helpful to have this framework as a guide for me, so that I keep all of these things balanced. There is SO much information about various methods and how we learn, and I think it’s helpful to have all of that distilled down into something bite-sized that’s easy to come back to:
study + comprehensible input + meaningful practice = learning
Recently, I also talked about goal setting in language learning. And now that I established the big picture in mind and know what my driving force is, I can more clearly define my goals in terms of language levels. There are various language proficiency systems out there, but one that is widely recognized and used is the Common European Framework (CEFR). There are three tiers: basic (A), independent (B), and proficient (C), and each of these tiers is broken down further into two levels.
In defining my goals for the summer challenge, I knew I needed to figure out where I am currently and how far I wanted to progress. I decided to take some proficiency tests, and these are my results:
- Lengalia.com (05/12/15)–Level C1 (proficient/advanced)
- Donquijote.com (05/13/15)–Level B2 (upper intermediate)
- Cervantes.to (05/25/15)–Level B1 (intermediate)
In a nutshell, it was all across the board! I anticipated testing at somewhere in the intermediate level, but during this process, I realized that these online multiple-choice tests are very limited. While it was somewhat helpful to take the tests, I also had to self-assess what I know my ability to produce language in the real world is. Based on that, and using some helpful guides (on Wikipedia and Gostudylink), I believe I’m at the Intermediate Level (B1).
My long-term goal is to achieve mastery or proficiency (C2), as I mentioned previously in talking about what I want to be able to do. For this 3-month summer challenge, my goal is to reach the upper intermediate level (B2) on the way towards my long-term goal.
[Tweet “Ready to kick it into high gear w/the #fluentforeverchallenge on 6/1! Let’s do this!”]
A few “rules” to guide me along the way (from Gabriel Wyner):
- Pronunciation first–this won’t be huge for me since I know how spelling and pronunciation work in Spanish already, but I will be focusing on improving some problem areas.
- No translating–this one is huge and one that I definitely agree with Wyner on. Many language apps and websites have you study vocabulary by reading the English translation or definition, but I think it will be much more effective to cut English out since the goal is to think in Spanish, rather than constantly remember translations. (This doesn’t mean I won’t look anything up in English at all, but when I study, I’ll be studying only using Spanish and pictures.)
- Use spaced repetition–if you read Fluent Forever, you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about, but here’s a short article from Benny Lewis that gives a good overview.
- Focus on frequency vocabulary–using a frequency dictionary of Spanish, I have access to the 5,000 most common words in Spanish. It gives me a place to start and helps me know how useful certain words are likely to be.
Since I’m at an intermediate level already, the first couple of phases will be brushing up for me. If you’re just starting out or don’t have much vocabulary to work with yet, you’ll probably want to spend some more time focusing on pronunciation and simple vocab. Check out the resources on Fluent Forever for more details.
- Phase 1–pronunciation cleanup during the first week! My main focus is b and v, along with a bit of practice with rr. Here’s a great pronunciation resource from StudySpanish.com
- Phase 2–simple words that are easy to find pictures for (from Appendix 5 in Fluent Forever). Weeks 2-3
- Phase 3–abstract vocabulary and grammar. Weeks 4-8
- Grammar I need to refresh: direct and indirect objects, reflexive verbs, commands, subjunctive triggers (there’s a great list in the frequency dictionary).
- I’ll also be throwing in some slang and idiomatic expressions! These are so important but often quite difficult for language learners to feel natural using.
- Spanish has tons of words that mean different things in different countries (you guys, it’s SO annoying). Many a language learner has lamented, but I’m planning some unique flashcards to help me remember differences. I’ll be using a map of a country along with the word (here’s a starter list from italki), and the flip side will have the definition for that country.
- Phase 4–reassess progress at the end of Week 8 and make an action plan for remaining 5 weeks.
- All along the way, utilize the resources below to get lots of comprehensible input and meaningful practice!
- Forvo.com (pronunciation by native speakers for my flashcards)
- Anki.com (flashcard software and app for my phone. You guys, it’s so not flashy or sleek. I wasn’t so sure about it either, but it works and it lets you be in charge of the process of engaging with and creating the flashcards, which is incredibly important.)
- Grammar books (a list of the books I was looking at before I unearthed two of my old college textbooks from the piles of dust in my basement)
- Frequency dictionary (I’m in love with this one!)
- Podcasts: Real Fast Spanish (iTunes, Stitcher, and online) and Spanish Pod 101 (this is subscription-based, but they have some content for free, and you can try it for a week to see if you want to subscribe)
- Netflix–TV series or movies dubbed into Spanish with no subtitles (they don’t make it very easy, but here’s a post that gives a little run down). I was hoping to find LOST (no luck), but so far it looks like Arrested Development or Orange Is the New Black will win out.
- Listening to an audio book and reading along with a real book (I’ve heard Harry Potter would be a good one, but still searching!)
- Radio Ambulante (iTunes, Stitcher)–might be a bit advanced for me, as it’s intended for native speakers
- Real Deal Spanish (iTunes, Stitcher)
- Learn Spanish with La Casa Rojas (iTunes, Stitcher)
- Coffee Break Spanish (iTunes, Stitcher)
- Spanish Obsessed–one of my top picks since it’s from Latin America and has different levels available (iTunes, website)
- Latin American Spanish (news in slow Spanish)–one of my top picks since it’s from Latin America, is updated regularly, and is news-based (iTunes, website)
- Tu Escuela de Español (Stitcher)
- Here is a listing of the many language podcasts that iTunes has available. (Many are also on Stitcher for all my fellow Android friends, but you have to search on the actual app by category.)
- italki.com or gospeaky.com–I plan to use a free language exchange program to find a native Spanish speaker who is learning English. We can swap time in each language and get practice speaking in real contexts. You can also use italki to find professional lessons or informal tutoring (both paid services, but reasonable).
- lang-8.com–writing practice (with corrections from native speakers)
- Change the grocery checkout to Spanish
- Talk with my husband and his grandparents in Spanish
I know that’s a lot of info and resources that I just threw at you! My goal isn’t to provide you with a prescription for your language challenge, but my hope is that this will be a resource, inspiration, and springboard for you to create your own learning plan.
I’d love to hear from you! Will you be joining us for this summer challenge, and if so, what is your goal? What are some practical ways you can study, get input, and practice in meaningful ways?
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