I thought it was time to share my Spanish learning curves, since it's pushing almost six months now and I've learned quite a lot, mostly what NOT to do. So here goes, this is a list of everything I use to learn Spanish.
I'll expand further on these individually in no particular order, but before I do, here's a list of stupid things I tried and decided they were too ambitious:
Progress in a nutshell :
How long since I started learning: August 2018
Apps used currently: 3
Online tutor: 1 (his name is Camilo)
Online course: 1
Mistakes: many but not enough
Lingvist recorded that I've learned 541 words thus far at an average of 75% accuracy, and 20 new words per day.
The Spanish intensive language class in Barcelona was 5 days a week from 1 pm to 5 pm for 2 weeks, with two different teachers who’re only allowed to speak Spanish and teach in 100% Spanish, with the occasional slip into English here and there when charades failed and we looked lost and confused. The course comes with two large and heavy text books. Our teacher called them the Libro Bonito (in full colour) and Libro Feo (the “ugly book” of exercises, in black and white).
Our class was made up of five to six students which consisted of 2 mainland Chinese girls, a couple of Swedish students, and us. I say 5 or 6 because not everyone would always be present every day. The first half of the class was taught by the funny and goofy Bea and the second half was taught by a serious sandal-wearing Spaniard called Moha. He loved throwing a little soft ball around for our counting exercise. By day 4 of that first week, we dreaded the existence of that ball so much and Tom started calling it "la pelota de perdicion" (the ball of doom). What made it worse is that sometimes Moha just wanted to fill the 5 minutes left on the clock with something to do instead of letting us go early, and that’s usually when the ball came out. One of the reasons I hated la pelota de perdicion was that he often wanted us to count backwards, or even skipping two numbers each time, so for example "uno, cuatro, siete…." which seems like a deliberate and unnecessary torture for a beginner-level Spanish class. Nevertheless, that was the beginning of my Spanish language journey.
While in Barcelona, we didn’t really get to practice that much, because everyone speaks enough English, and nobody really wanted to wait for me staring at the ceiling trying to come up with words. The best I could do was order “una croqueta” by pointing at the plate of croquetas on the next table in the cafe, or say "para llevar" (which means “to go”, or “ta pau” if you speak Singlish) after two weeks of ordering the same cafe con leche during the break. Thankfully we were not the worst in the class: Tom knows some French and has a memory twice the size of mine, and with better retention it seems. The mainland Chinese girls were doing so poorly that we felt bad for them but they were slowing down the class progress, while the Swedes were at best 50% absent. What did I learn in the two weeks of intensive beginner class? That it’s hard to be a student again, and Spanish is hard when you don’t manage your perfectionism.
The next thing I did a month or so later was buy an online course. It is Olly Richards’ “Spanish Uncovered” course on iwillteachyoualanguage.com. He sold it as learning through reading a whole book with a story line, instead of banging out grammar and vocabulary exercises without context or relevance. I get that, and I like stories. The course is 20 chapters and each chapter is a page of the story book titled “the man in a hat”. The course was well organised, very professional and costs $300. Which isn’t exactly a bargain but I thought if it’s going to help me learn at my own time and I can download it offline to study while on the road, that’ll be very good. In the first month after I bought the course I got up to chapter 6 officially, and browsed up to chapter 10 of 20. I do like this course, although Olly talks too repetitively about each point and loves the sound of his own voice a little too much. It’s broken into sections per chapter where I will be listening, reading, and watching videos about grammar and vocabulary, a short pronunciation video, and then exercises to wrap the whole chapter up. Downloading everything on an iPad was not so straight forward, and with patchy internet connections in some countries, like Morocco, it took longer than expected to get a whole chapter downloaded, and then to actually use it is another matter. I finally managed to get a system working where I could actually mark up the exercise sheets as PDFs and toggle between the pages directly on the iPad without having to print anything out. Olly Richards ended up being a hard seller and spammed my inbox with so many emails I had to unsubscribe. He’s not happy with just selling me the Spanish course, but wants to sell a coaching service to help me be the best Spanish learner I can be. Don’t even ask how much the coaching sessions cost. It is ambitious but I am definitely the wrong target market. I was by this point quite put off, and haven't done anything on it for the last two months. What did I learn in buying this online course? That effort pays off, and there’s no gain without pain. Pain here is a frustrating experience that can be mitigated by patience that comes after lots of cursing out loud and even more mumbled underneath my breath. I will pick up Olly Richard’s chapters again: I am determined to make money spent worthwhile, and since then, I believe I’ve gained more vocabulary and grammar using language apps.
The apps I currently use on a rotation are Duolingo, Lingvist and AnkiApp. I will be honest: I use the Anki App the least, mainly because I don't know how to use it that well and didn't want to waste time figuring it out. It helps that Tom is also using Duolingo daily. It felt like I’ve broken most of the A1 level comprehension’s back and gone a little further down the spine of this Spanish camel. I don’t think I’ve broken the back of it entirely but it felt like I’ve gone past a small hump at least. Duolingo is excellent because it makes me feel accomplished when I haven’t killed myself with mistakes by the end of 15 minutes. Lingvist is surprisingly great for memory retaining because it involves repetition. The idea is to fill in missing words within sentences. The free version limits you to 20 new words a day, but they really drum it in, and it gives you new words once you’ve repeatedly entered the same thing over and over again for about 5 times. After Duolingo-ing, I would Lingvist for about 15 - 45 minutes and then I would go to Anki cards, where I can download packs of words and phrases I want to learn, and go through them by flipping the cards from English to Spanish. The idea of Anki cards is to be honest when you rate your own failure and success based on how you did. It tracks your progress similarly to Lingvist, but the difference is you can manually repeat the same deck of cards as long as you want, while Lingvist automates it. Currently I am using two of these packs: Latin American Spanish Level 1 and 1001 Most Useful Spanish Words and Sentences. What I learned from these three apps after using them for about 3-4 weeks is that repetition works, and the more you do, obviously the more you remember. The more you remember the more you want to do. I do love the feeling of going from when I felt I was not improving at all, to gaining traction and confidence and eventually feeling more confidence and slowly wanting to be on these apps longer and longer, to becoming slightly obsessed.
Meanwhile, I have also started to use iTalki, which is a platform to match up tutors and students of languages from anywhere in the world to have online one-on-one Skype classes. At the same time I also signed up for conversationexchange.com which is even more informal. It is a meeting place for people who want to practice languages to meet each other worldwide. So far I’ve used iTalki to meet three different teachers/tutors for trial 30-minute sessions and then I can choose one to stick to on a regular basis. It is quite inexpensive, especially if all I want is someone to practice with who can correct me and offer useful tips to improve. I have chosen to stick to what’s called a community tutor, which is someone who doesn’t have formal language teaching credentials but is an enthusiastic casual tutor and a native speaker. I chose to try a few South American tutors and found Camilo, a guy from Chile who lives in Brazil and decided to stick to him. He is very enthusiastic about learning languages and is warm and shares a lot of tips he used himself. The last time I spoke to him, he was learning German and Italian. These apps I mentioned currently using were all his suggestions.
At this point, since those classes in Barcelona in August, I felt that what I needed was speaking confidence, and to work on that instead of perfecting the language itself. I felt the improvement will come when my confidence is up. I felt right now, while I am in South America, I needed to work on reducing the fear of speaking, and to increase my listening skills. Since arriving in Chile, Tom and I found out that Chilean Spanish is probably the most difficult of all kinds of Spanish because they skip letters and speak incredibly fast. Even native Spanish speakers have a hard time here. Well that’s a good start to feeling better about the slow improvements. Now that we've arrived in Peru, the Spanish used here is much more normal speed.
Conversationexchange was confounding, I’ve been exchanging messages with quite a few people, so far they all seem to be male, mostly from somewhere in Spain, and a few from South and Central America. Is this app used as a kind of dating app I wonder? I kinda don’t really know how to use conversationexchange to my benefit yet. Everyone who’s messaged me so far wants to improve their English, at the same time offering help to improve my Spanish. I find texting not really the best way to learn, or at least for now, it is not what I need because I’ve been relying too much on Google Translate on text as it is. The one time this seemed to work in a slightly sluggish way was when a guy who turns out to be a K-9 police officer in Bilbao sent me a recorded WhatsApp audio and asked me to send him a voice recording in Spanish so he can correct me. That was interesting. Perhaps that is the way to do it? Right now I enjoy texting with one or two people there but it is definitely not a regular thing. What did I learn? That this could also be a way to make new friends,... maybe?
Finally, my dad Bernard suggested the Lirica app, which is learning Spanish through songs. It’s very silly, and I cannot say I like their playlist, most of all when Enrique Iglesias is on it. I know it shouldn’t matter who sings, but it does matter when the song doesn’t sing to me. Plus I maintained what I’ve always thought, that Enrique can’t sing, unlike his dad Julio, he mostly moans into his lyrics. I just can’t learn with that. So thanks Bernard, I think for now I’ll stick to the apps that work for me. I love Spanish songs, but the songs I like aren’t in these play lists so I’ll have to learn Spanish from songs manually.
What did I learn here? There’s such a thing as too many apps.
I'll use what’s already working and the songs by osmosis will translate itself eventually, here’s an example of a song that is irrelevant to daily use:
Oye Como Va
Which basically translate to:
Hey how’s it going?
Gonna enjoy it
Mulata (Light skinned Latina)?
Sin embargo, vamos seguimos escuchar y hablar. (However, let's continue to listen and talk)
Tetouan is a town in Northern Morocco, 60 km from Tangier. Nicknamed the White Dove, with a sculpture of a white dove in a square, the city’s walls are predominantly white.
After about five days living in Tetouan, in the middle of the ancient medina, I got a sense that space is a lot different here than what I am used to. To get to our flat, we enter through Bab Al Okla, one of their seven gates. Bab al Okla is a beautiful gate, with cascading steps, high arches and palm trees. It is especially beautiful at dawn. Our little flat is 3 minutes walk into the medina from this entrance, and it's as one would expect, very busy with people selling fruits, breads, socks, shoes, vegetables, and more. Our little street is filled with rows of little shops selling olives, cheese, eggs, and chicken. On top of that there are the pop up/drop in sellers who just plop down with whatever their goods are anywhere there's space for a while, before moving on to another location. It was fascinating to see the egg sellers who sit amongst their pecking chickens brought in every morning from the farm. Talk about inspirational marketing. The eggs couldn’t have been more fresh! Their local cheese tasted more like a mix of cottage cheese and yogurt, crumbly but also slightly sour. The assortment of olives go from super sour, super strong to spicy in a cadence of colours of greens and black.
Yousef sells his olives left of our door, the vegetable man is across the door, the cheese man on our right and the chicken butchers, dry goods, pasta and milk further along. Apart from the occasional staring, nobody bothered us most of the time. The bustling sounds of the Medina are quite consistent from around 9 am until just past midnight when finally the cheese shop closes and we intermittently hear garbage bins on wheels being dragged through the streets. Once a while you'll hear someone talking really loudly or sounding angry and aggressively yelling into the street. I wish I knew what they're saying. There seem to be a lot of passionate communicating here.
Ro’s little flat is within a bigger house she has yet to renovate fully. It’s cute with steep stairs, which are common in Moroccon medinas, and uneven floors with unexpected wall bumps and crevices in the ceiling. The first few days we got here, both Tom and I were constantly stubbing our toes or banging our heads or body parts on something. While this isn’t something that we could have planned to avoid, it was still in the scale of 7 out of 10 for Annoying. Thankfully, we got used to it eventually. The kitchenette is adequate for making light meals, but not to make a full blown dinner because there’s only one electric cooker. We knew that going in so that’s ok. There is a strong cedar wood smell to the new wood furniture in the flat, and it’s so strong it transfers a natural cedar perfume on my clothes. Another interesting observation is the mosques' prayers which are very different from the ones in Indonesian mosques. There’s a more monotonous drone in their prayers, almost like a siren, while in Indonesia, there is a more singing kind of praying. To my relief, here the prayers are a lot shorter: 5 times a day for a maximum of one minute each time, versus 3-5 minutes in Indonesia (specifically what I heard in Yogyakarta) and sometimes longer.
A week into living in Tetouan, I am feeling less in a funk, less in a rut from lacking female friendly cafes I can hang out in on my own, and feeling less confronted by the very masculine public space, where it is mostly for men, and women go in twos or in a bigger group. We have made friends with our neighbour the olive man Yousef, and I finally decided to have ‘fluent’ French conversation with our host Said, who only speaks French and Spanish, over WhatsApp (with the help of google translate of course). This French ‘fluency’ after a few days made little sense since I have enrolled in a Spanish language course online and have committed to continue to learn Spanish. I have since switched to WhatsApp ‘fluency’ in Espanol so that it adds to my daily dose of Spanish. Vale!
Here’s a small list of groceries we have bought on our street and how much they cost. For reference, 10 dirhams is roughly 1 euro or SGD $1.60. You’ll notice that almost everything is roughly about 5D.
Khobz (Round Bread) 2D
Smaller Khobz 1D
Cheese (smallest round) 8D
Avocados (small) 4D
Large avocado 8D
100 g dates 5D
1.5L of mineral water 5D
6 eggs 5D
500 ml milk 3.5D
A fresh pile of cilantro off a lady with tooth decay was 3 dirhams but I think she short changed us that one time. Does this act of overcharging, on purpose or not, matter less when things are so inexpensive and done with a toothless smile? It sure does.
We passed many castles, but Leamaneh Castle, on the way from Bunratty to Loughrea was kind of special. It sits in the parish of Killinaboy, in the Burren region of County Clare (side note: Kil in the beginning of most places in Ireland like Kilreekil, Kilkenny, Kilinaboy means 'Church'.) I love folkloric stories especially when it involves really badass woman, in this case a pretty cruel woman. Reading up the legend of Leamaneh Castle, it is believed that the ghost of Máire Rúa, or Red Mary, walks its halls and her red haired ghost can also be seen in another castle. Her name was Máire ní Mahon, born in 1615; the name came from the colour of her hair as well as her foul temper. Mary MacMahon had at least 3 husbands however this article on the Irish Place says it's difficult to verify how many husbands she actually had, and this Abandoned Ireland article says she had 25 husbands. Leamaneh means Horse Leap, a folklore story about how Red Mary ordered one of her husbands to ride her favourite horse who took him to the cliffs of Moher and threw him off the cliff to his death.
The Castle had a 15th century tower and a 17th century manor house which was added later because of Mary's inherited wealth from her first husband. It has been left as an abandoned ruin since the late 18th Century.
By Susan Olij
We woke up in a three bedroom irish cottage on the 17th of July, 2018. My ills, aches and pains have died down. My bag mostly unpacked, Tom’s toiletries bags unrolled and hung. It’s really really quiet here, unless the cottage kitchen’s kettle is boiling, all we could hear is our own tummy rumblings and squishy digestive tracks settling down. We left Singapore 15 days ago, with two 20 kilograms roller Marmot bags, a backpack each, and my 15 years old Prada nylon bag. We packed our belongings into boxes and they’re in storage somewhere in the heartlands of Singapore. We gave our apartment keys back to our landlords and wished our friends and their 3 children good luck taking over our home. Tom and I have come out on the other side of moving and traveling stress. The battles of will, of speed and lots of our differences, strangely felt far behind us now in this little cottage.
Last night something was wandering around outside in the back yard, Tom thought it was a cat, I had to look and what we saw was not a cat, but a red fox, probably hungry and looking for food. A highlight to our arrival here in Bunratty, county Clare, Ireland.
Bunratty has a medieval castle and a folk park. It's walking distance from our cottage. There is also the so-called 'The Original Dirty Nelly Irish pub, where I had my first (half pint, don't laugh) of Guinness at. I consider a whole half pint an accomplishment, excluding the mild hangover later.
Later in the week, post lots of sleeping, some home-cooking and laundry,we drove to nearby Stone circles, Medieval Village of Killmalock and spend the day at a Lough (pronounced Loch like Loch Ness) which is Irish for lake. Lough Gur, the enchanted lake seen here has never looked so glorious. We had the luck of amazing blue skies and sunshine, perhaps rarely seen in Ireland in general.
Links for more informations if you're so inclined: