Below is me with all my Spanish-learning books (bookmarked and dog-eared to hell) and my precious Macbook and Sennheiser headphones…
I’ve been haphazardly teaching myself Spanish on and off for about the past 3 1/2 years, starting out with Pimsleur because I had used it before in high school to help me with French and I it them and knew it was well thought-of, I moved on to Rocket Spanish and then Platiquemos (basically a cleaned up version of the old FSI Spanish course) plus a bunch of workbooks from Amazon and any random videos, podcasts, or radio shows I could find online that would help me. I had a dictionary, a verb conjugation book, and a burning desire to learn Spanish.
I did not, regrettably, have much of a plan. I went at it hard at the beginning, spending 2 or 3 hours per day working on my Spanish, and I really think this gave me an excellent foundation to work with that I still benefit from to this day. I did that for about the first year or so and then let it drop off to about 30-45 minutes per day or so due to other commitments I was making and had more interest in at the time. I was able to maintain, for the most part, what I had previously achieved and was even able to continue to make gains, however slowly. In my opinion, 30 minutes per day is the absolute minimum you need to be able to make consistent gains in a language, and that really is a bare minimum–I would highly recommend you spend more time than that if it’s at all possible.
As I stated in my About Me page, I am intent on learning, as in becoming fluent in, lots of different languages (although I am mostly focused on Spanish right now), and what I’ve decided to do is put up a blog for each language as I learn it where I will document my progress and, most importantly and prominently, post anything and everything I find useful in teaching myself the language. I’ve set a time frame of 6 months from now (so the beginning of December of this year) for me to get fluent in Spanish, and I personally don’t think it will take that long, but we’ll see.
As mentioned before, up until now I’ve been going about this rather haphazardly without much of a system, but when I recently decided that I was going to do this, I came back to forum I had found before and sort of set aside until some time in the future when I would get really serious about this whole language-learning stuff (like…now!), called How to Learn Any Language. I’ve been lurking, reading, and even posting a bit in the past couple of weeks, but almost entirely reading. And…I’ve formulate a rough system to get me started based on Iversen’s excellent Guide to Learning Languages. It’s going to involve a much more structure-oriented global approach (as opposed to the traditional sequential approach most language teachers use, which is nothing short of horrible) with more emphasis on shoring up any weaknesses I have concerning Spanish grammar (I’ve learned most of it by this point, but I guarantee you I’m missing some stuff, some of it likely important), word lists, passive listening, intensive and extensive reading, and…something else. Something…not at all part of Iversen’s approach, something I’ve always believed to be extremely useful up until now (I used it for a short period of a few months about a year and a half ago) and which was confirmed for me by a certain Irish vegan and fellow language geek, Benny the Irish Polyglot (who is on the How to Speak Any Language forums under “irishpolyglot”, by the way):
YOU. MUST. SPEAK. THE. LANGUAGE. (this means with native speakers!!!)
How, you might ask? God bless the internet, that’s how. Do you have any idea how many of these damned language exchange sites there are out there which are specifically set up to pair up speakers of two different languages (where each one is learning the other’s language) so that they can practice with each other? I spent half an hour on Google the other day searching for them, going through the results, chucking out the crappy, unpopular, and useless looking ones and I came up with a quick list of TEN of them!
These things are awesome, I personally think that the ability to talk via Skype (which generally means you get audio AND video feed, in other words you’re essentially having a real-time video conference with the person where you can not only hear them but see them as well) for FREE with native speakers of whatever language you’re trying to learn (provided it’s not too obscure), anywhere in the world, for however long you can manage per day (because there are SO many people signed up on these sites between the lot of them) is absolutely going to cause the biggest change to language-learning, give it the biggest boost, that it has ever seen before throughout its entire history. This, of course, presumes you’ve got broadband, but that’s not really asking that much these days.
Combine that together, the ruthlessly efficient and effective method of understanding the language (because that’s what his method is really all about: truly understanding the language as a whole as soon as possible) of Iversen with Benny’s insistence upon the necessity to speak, speak, SPEAK (with native speakers, not to yourself, the mirror, or your dog) and I think we’ve got a real winner here.
I realize this is long on words and enthusiasm and short on details, but many, many, many updates, tips, tricks, and even more long-winded advice are to come, believe me. For now, I what you really need to do is go read Iversen’s guide to language-learning that I linked to above and maybe peruse Benny’s old posts, they’re both excellent and know what they’re talking about. Iversen’s guide will likely take you quite a while to get through (took me a few days) and you’ll also probably need to go back re-read it a few times to fully understand it, so you should be good for now 🙂
A quick note before we finish up: if you’re interested in teaching yourself Spanish…
I have a short post and video (that are free to read and view of course, won’t cost you more than a few minutes of your time) on how to do precisely that with the system that I put together which allowed me to become fluent in Spanish in just 6 months after years of trial-and-error by watching Spanish-language TV shows (like telenovelas, hence the name of the system) and movies, reading Spanish books and comics, and listening to Spanish music. If this sounds interesting to you, check it out by clicking the link below (the following link should open in a new tab or window for you when you click it so I’m not asking you to leave this article here):
I also include some quick and valuable tips for learning Spanish as well as a couple of the most useful free Spanish-learning websites that I recommend.