I spoke English all day every day for the month of October while getting my TEFL certification. When the course ended, I expected to be speaking Spanish more regularly, but even now, with the students I’m tutoring, I speak to them primarily in English and only introduce a Spanish word if it’ll help them understand the meaning of difficult vocabulary. (Even then, I can’t do this super well because my Spanish knowledge is limited.)
When I hang out with Shelby, we speak English. When I’m at home, with my Italian flatmate, we speak English. (She keeps encouraging me to speak Spanish with her, but I’m intimidated. She’s fluent in Italian, Spanish (Castellano) and English. She also speaks some Catalan and Portuguese. I’m absurdly jealous.)
Recently, I’ve been reading a book in Spanish (Maktub by Paulo Coehlo) and laboriously translating it page by page. (Any idea how freakin’ long it takes to read two pages?) It’s actually pretty fun, but I feel like I’m cheating. I’m not really getting out of my comfort zone that way. (For me, speaking is the big hurdle.)
So, a couple nights ago, I forced myself to go to my first intercambio, where Castellano and English speakers switch between the two languages (every 10-15 minutes) for two hours. I sat at a table with a guy from Los Angeles, two women from Spain and a woman from Peru. We started out talking about the difficulty of learning a new language as an adult and how different learner types need different types of exposure to the elements of the language, and then we meandered into issues of politics, adultery, feminism and patriotism. I couldn’t believe I was able to keep up – and somewhat able to successfully express my views. I made a lot of errors in verb tense, I’m sure, and I kept repeating some of the same keywords, but at least I could understand the thread of the conversation, and it helped that we switched back to English every 15 minutes and could clarify where we were at.
It seems like I’ve been at the same Spanish level forever. I teeter on the edge pre-intermediate, and I never advance because I’m too scared to sound like a fool and make mistakes (and it’s been 10 years since I’ve been in a Spanish-speaking country for more than a week or two at a time). I think I’m finally thoroughly motivated to push beyond my current level. (Either that, or I’m just sick of talking about the weather, foods I like, the people in my family and what I do in my free time – since those are the only things you talk about as a basic learner!)
And sounding like a fool is all part of learning, right? So let’s bring on the folly and mistakes and embarrassment.
What about you? How do you learn a new language best? Any apps, sites or books you’d recommend?