I’ve been studying Spanish for about 16 months now, starting in February 2022, and I’ve reached the highest level of comprehension I’ve ever had. I’m guessing I’m at a fairly solid B2 level at this moment. I took a few years of Spanish in high school but never in college, instead choosing a year of German to fulfill my language requirement. If I could do it all over, I’d keep studying Spanish and would have studied abroad in Spain.
In 2007, I needed to pass a second language proficiency exam to continue with my Ph.D. studies in English, so I enrolled in a program my brother recommended called Spanish Power, and it’s one I highly recommend. It’s roughly a one-year program in four levels (Basico, Intermedio, Avanzado, and Experto) each with a weekly curriculum, supported by a weekly 30-minute online conversation with a tutor. Spanish Power differs from a typical school curriculum because the program begins with about a dozen tenses, so you can begin constructing sentences in the present, past, and future. The rationale is that 80% of Spanish verbs follow the same conjugation, so once you master the patterns, you can plug in whatever new words you learn. Beginning high school and university classes spend more time on grammar and mechanics and stick to the present tenses and dive right into irregular verbs. It’s difficult because it’s much harder to pick up patterns, and I never felt like I could ever speak anything but halting German or Spanish. With Spanish Power, I developed a much better rhythm for speaking.
I’ve visited several Spanish-speaking countries—Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Spain—and used Spanish in the United States, and it’s very gratifying to speak to others in their native language, even when making lots of mistakes. I want to continue studying Spanish and visiting Spanish-speaking countries for the rest of my life, and I definitely want to get to closer-to-fluent in terms of proficiency.
After I finished Spanish Power, I didn’t have time to keep up with studying Spanish because I was in year two of a six-year Ph.D. program and promptly forgot most of it. In February 2022, with my career more settled, I prioritized learning Spanish, and I’m happy with my progress, though there’s a long way to go.
I’m now working on the Storylearning Intermediate Spanish class and listening to the daily Storylearning Podcast and I strongly endorse both. I also keep up with my 30-minute lessons with a tutor each week.
The second half of the Spanish Power program and all of Storylearning are based on the same principle: you need a daily dose of intermediate Spanish in audio with transcription to continue developing your comprehension to get closer to understanding a native speaker’s speed of speech and use of language. My pattern is to listen to the audio twice, then listen a third time while reading in Spanish, and then read the English translation. Usually, I get at least 80-90% of the meaning in the first pass, catch a few more details in the second pass and then understand almost everything by the third time. The English translation is really only necessary to learn words, phrases, and constructions that I simply don’t know yet. For example, here’s an excerpt from Season 2, Episode 22:
Season 2 – Episode 22. Late Night Surprises
-And you? she asked. It was always a little difficult
for me to understand the Argentines and the Uruguayans, because they said “vos” instead of “tú”. But I quickly got used to it.
Season 2 – Episode 22. Sorpresas de trasnoche
—¿Y vos? —preguntó. Siempre me costaba un poco comprender a los argentinos y a los uruguayos, porque decían «vos» en lugar de «tú». Pero me acostumbré rápidamente.
Here, for the first time listening, I didn’t catch most of this because it really comes out of left-field during a conversation between two characters. On the second listen, I understood it had something to do with understanding Argentines and Uruguayans and understanding. The third time, as I read the text in Spanish, I realized I wasn’t familiar with the construction me costaba nor the word voz and I wasn’t 100% sure on acostumbré either but I could piece together the basic idea: she addressed him using voz instead of tú, which he found tricky. Reading in English, I saw I was more or less correct.
But the real takeaway: it doesn’t really matter. The story is about 3 min long in total and I understood little of this section, but also that it a) lasts maybe 5 seconds, and b) is an aside, not central to the story’s overall meaning. I understood the shape and intent of the entire chapter even without 100% comprehension.
Being an academic, I’m well-aware of the phenomenon where the more you learn, the more you learn what you don’t know. With over a year in the books, I’m still enthusiastic and excited about my progress, even though I am still a long way off from where I want to be.