Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Spanish Goals

The previous post on this blog was about measuring progress and learning from mistakes. I mentioned that I noticed some mistakes I was making in speech while we were in Panama, and that I plan on making a study plan to address those mistakes.  This post is that plan and the specific subjects I will address to improve in those areas.  

One of the first problems I noticed was making mistakes with the subjunctive tenses.  I plan on addressing this through reading and doing the exercises in the book The Spanish Subjunctive Up Close  by Eric Vogt.  I’ve read through this book before, but could certainly use a review, and doing the exercises may help train my brain to pick the proper tenses.   I will also try to incorporate the subjunctive into my speech with my wife more, and she is definitely not shy about letting me know when I’m wrong.      

Another issue that I feel I could use some reinforcement on is choosing the proper pronoun.  Most of the time I feel confident with pronouns, but I get confused sometimes with when to use “la” or “le”.  I plan on addressing these issues by reading and doing the exercises in the book Spanish Pronouns and Prepositions by Dorothy Richmond.  I don't feel this problem was quite as extensive as my problem with the subjunctive, so I think a little review will be all it takes to clear it up.       

One final issue I’d like to address with my Spanish is to add more natural transitions in speech.  This one is harder to quantify, but I want to utilize phrases like “a proposito” and “por cierto” more.  Even transition words like “bueno”, “pues”, and “así que”  will make my speech pattern more natural and closer to sounding like a native speaker.   This is just something  I will have to be mindful of when speaking, as I don’t have  books or exercises to do.   I also plan on writing a blog post about colloquial expressions in the near future, so I will observe natural  speech  more so than usual.   Compiling that info should be a great help to me, and hopefully to you all.      

I’m sure after I improve on these areas, new problems will creep up.  Learning a second language as an adult is a lifelong venture.  I’m just glad that it is something I enjoy, and it is truly the journey and not the destination that is the best part.    My Spanish has helped me make new friends, and develop better relationships with my family.  That makes all of it so worthwhile.   I hope your Spanish journey is as enjoyable for you as mine is for me!  

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Progress and measurement

Sometimes progress feels hard to come by for foreign language learners, especially those who do not live in a country where their target language is spoken.  I have been fortunate to have an annual event to measure my Spanish progress, our yearly trip to visit my in-laws in Panama.  Thinking back on these trips gives me gratitude for my in-laws, who have been tremendously supportive of me in my Spanish learning, and grateful for the opportunity to travel and be immersed in the language and culture, which of course is very helpful!

When I think back to our first trip to Panama in 2007, I had just 2 semesters of college Spanish and some solo study under my belt.  With the in-laws I could greet and ask some basic questions, but I mostly relied on my wife for translation.  This was of course very tiring for her, and luckily through subsequent trips I have managed to attain fluency and no longer require someone to translate. 

The bulk of my learning happened at home: listening to Spanish podcasts, reading grammar and vocabulary books, enjoying Spanish media, and jumping on every opportunity to practice speaking.  I also had the incredible fortune of a mother in law who visited for 3 months after the births of our 2 daughters, and during these visits did not use her English.  Progress was hard for me to measure day by day, but our yearly trips created a great yardstick for comparison.  

This year, I received many compliments on my Spanish from our relatives in Panama.  I also felt that I incorporated natural and colloquial expressions into my speech.  I understood nearly everything and, with very few exceptions, almost never had to ask a speaker to repeat.   I also managed to note a lot of mistakes in my speech, most notably a lot of problems with subjunctive tenses.  I love mistakes, especially when I notice them, because that means I know what I need to work on, I’m already aware of a problem, and I know what resources I can turn to for improvement in that area (Book: Spanish Subjunctive Up Close).  

Now I know not every reader has the good fortune of being able to travel to Latin America frequently, but there are other annual events that could be used as a measuring stick for your Spanish learning.  A local Latin American festival is a great place to mingle and converse (If you are in Pittsburgh that could be the Latin American and Caribbean Festival at Pitt).  Many cities have Spanish language groups on   Even a bi-monthly trip to your favorite Mexican restaurant or grocery store can be used to measure your progress, you might even get the confidence boost of a compliment from your waiter!  You’ll also notice the places you lack in your conversational skills, and will be able to make a study plan based on what you find.  Buena Suerte!