Monday, February 29, 2016

How I have learned 2000 Spanish words in 10 months

Ten months ago I have started learning Spanish on Duolingo. I didn't know a single Spanish word back then. I didn't have any particular reason to learn Spanish. I just wanted to see how the Duolingo app works because my friend Radim told me that it is gamified really well. At first it seemed liked an innocent thing just a few minutes every day in the morning. After a few weeks I got used to it. It gets gradually more difficult especially because you start forgetting and you have to go back and relearn. I started spending more time learning Spanish even from other sources.

Let's jump to the present moment. I keep going. I spend thirty to sixty minutes per day actively learning and about the same time reading a book in Spanish or watching a TV shows just for fun. I know more than two thousand words. I understand about 60 % of both written and spoken Spanish. Those are the boring facts. Now let's get deeper into what worked so well for me.

Duolingo is based on translating sentences. They expect you to figure out the grammar by yourself and it works. At the beginning Duolingo worked pretty well for me. Everything was new. I had to pay a lot of attention to everything. After some time I understood the basic grammar and it became more or less just about memorizing new vocabulary. Then it started to go sideways. It became a mechanical process for me. I just typed the answers without thinking and also I tried to do it as fast possible because I thought that the faster I go through it the faster I am going to learn the language. Boy I was so wrong. In the app it looked all OK. But I wasn't actually able to use most of the it. I wasn't able to use new words when speaking and I wasn't able to recall the new words when reading even though I was able to translate the same word correctly in the app few minutes ago.

It turns out that mindfully paying attention to all the details of the sentence in foreign language is key factor in learning. That way you create much more connections and the new information become easily accessible for you to use it in real world situations. Here are two techniques which help me accomplish it:

  • Say the sentence aloud in your mother tongue. After doing so say it again but now in the foreign language you are learning. There is a huge difference between just reading or hearing something and saying it aloud. Saying it aloud brings a lot of memories into your consciousness. Like memories from your childhood somehow connected to the words some some emotional experiences or maybe some activities you like to do connected to the sentence you just said aloud. In the middle of all this you say the sentence in the foreign language. It gets connected into everything you just have in your conscious memory. This way you build a lot of useful connections to the new words really quickly. That is the important part for being able to actively use the new word later in a conversation. It is going to just spontaneously come up to you whenever you need it the same way as all the other memories came to you when you said the sentence in your mother tongue.
  • Take your time. This goes hand in hand with the previous point. Your brain just needs a few seconds to find the connections.
  • Be creative and playful. After you say the sentence in foreign language say next sentence which you create on your own. It can be related to the previous sentence or you can just take one word and use it. What helps me is that I am usually studying outside and I can use my surroundings and as an input and I can comment on anything I see around me in a language I am learning. This is a higher level and it takes a lot of time and effort so I don't do it with each sentence but just from time to time when I have some idea I stop for a few tens of seconds I try say something with the words I have just learned. Because the sooner I use it the better.
I keep everything I need for learning the language on my smart phone so I can study anytime and anywhere. I prefer to study outside especially when walking. Apart from Duolingo I note new vocabulary into Google Keep immediately after I encounter some new interesting expression. On a regular basis I put the vocabulary into Memrise. Here is my vocabulary named Random Spanish. It also includes pronunciation from Google Translate. I read a book in Spanish book on my smart phone in app FBReader it translates text you don't understand with just one click, so it is possible to comfortably read a text even if you don't understand most of it.