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Fluent in 3 Months team member Elizabeth is learning Spanish from scratch. This is her first ever three month mission. In this update, she’s sharing the insights she’s found (and blunders she’s made) during her first month of learning Spanish.
If you haven’t read the other articles about this mission, here are the links:
Well, hello again. It’s me. Your friendly language learner. In my last article, I shared about the planning of my three month mission to learn Spanish, what tools I’m using… and my ambitious goal of having a 15-minute conversation completely in Spanish in 90 days or less.
In this update, I’m going to share about my first 30 days of learning Spanish. How I went about choosing a teacher, how my Spanish is coming along, and the many hostage situations that have occurred.
I’m participating in the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge. This is a three-month online course that promises students they’ll have a 15-minute conversation in their target language after just 90 days.
My Day 30 Video — Here’s Me Speaking Spanish After 30 Days
I made it a few minutes after having a group practice session with my Dream Team. They are other students in the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge that meet weekly to practice speaking in Spanish.
Now, here’s what I’m doing to learn Spanish in 90 days:
I’m Taking Hostages on a Regular Basis
Yes, you read that correctly. My name is Elizabeth. And I’m addicted to taking hostages in the name of language learning. First, it was an unsuspecting neighbor on Day 15.
I pounced on Albert with my two-week-old Spanish as he was watering his lawn. To be fair, I’ve been telling him in English about my plans to learn Spanish for over a year now. I have a feeling he didn’t think it would ever actually happen.
Our first conversation was, um… interesting.
I'm at the utter confusion stage. My first three sentences sound like I've been studying longer than two weeks. Because I’m fluent in nodding, he thought I understood him. He launched into a paragraph of full speed Spanish.
I understood two words of his response. I heard the words “Latin America.”
So, I replied that I prefer Latin American Spanish because it's pretty. He understood me but cocked his head to one side.
Who knows if my comment had anything to do with his 60 mile an hour monologue? He could have been discussing the economic crisis of a particular Latin American country. To which I responded, “Latin Amercian Spanish is pretty.”
The beginner stage is equal parts pain and elation. Most of the time, my brain hurts and my tongue feels like it is doing 100 cartwheels. But a two sentence exchange that works sends me to the stars.
Another Five-Minute Hostage Situation
I can't help myself. My first successful target language was French. Coming from speaking French to starting Spanish is pretty fun. According to a recent survey, only one percent of the population speaks French where I live.
In comparison, there are a ton of Spanish speakers in my area. I’m spoiled with ways to make a fool of myself speaking my new target language.
The retirees in my neighborhood are easy prey when they garden. Luis was utterly confused about why I decided to shuffle up to him in my bedroom slippers and speak Spanish. We've always done just fine in English.
I need to start bringing baked goods to offer as payment for impromptu lessons. Or maybe that would be even more strange.
“Hi, here’s a cookie. Now give me an hour or so of your time while I form a sentence.”
It's like a nature documentary over here. I prey on those too feeble to outrun me. They're sure to wise up sooner or later and start gardening at midnight.
Finding a Spanish Tutor Was Essential
Alas, chasing down unsuspecting senior citizens will not result in fluency. I need to practice regularly. And one of my favorite ways to learn Spanish is speaking with a tutor.
Taking one-on-one lessons in the comfort of my living room sounds costly. And having a tutor come to my house every day could be pricey. But it’s not.
I use italki to schedule online lessons with personal tutors. My lessons occur over Skype which is a free application for video calls. You can download Skype on your phone or your computer. The best part? I can wear pajama bottoms to my lessons!
Here’s What I Look for in a Tutor
Having one on one lessons via my laptop is my one of my top tools for learning Spanish. I’m very selective about my teachers. In this quick video, I share about what I look for in a tutor as well as what progress I’ve noticed in the past 30 days.
Here’s my criteria for tutor selection.
- Patient. If you’re twitchy when someone takes…a…long…time…to…talk, you are not the right teacher for me. Having a patient teacher is at the top of my list.
- Kind. This isn’t difficult to find. But grumpy people do exist. I had a teacher raise her voice when I got something wrong for the fifth time. That was the last lesson I took with her.
- Engaging. During a Fi3M Challenge Q&A session, Benny Lewis, the founder of Fluent in 3 Months shared that the teacher’s job is to keep the lesson flowing smoothly. Sometimes the conversation will stall due to a temporary brain melt on my part. My tutor needs to be able to pick up where I fall off.
- Flexible. Because I am preparing for a 15-minute conversation in 90 days, I have specific needs. I’ve asked my tutor to practice basic conversations during the first 15 minutes of every lesson. If they are unwilling to change their lesson plan to fit my needs, we are not a match.
- Reliable. If I go through the trouble of scheduling time out of my day, I expect my teacher to show up on time. Life happens. So, I don’t get bent out of shape for a one-off. But I don’t waste my precious time with people that aren’t punctual.
- Easy to see and hear. If I can’t hear my teacher clearly due to their microphone, it adds an unnecessary obstacle. I also need to see their face. Sometimes reading lips is the best way for me to understand words.
Here’s What My Spanish Lessons Looked Like
In the Fi3M Challenge community site, we have the option of daily check-ins. We share about the tools were using. The wins we experience. And yes. The trip-ups, too.
The trip-ups are some of my favorite posts. It’s beautiful to see the Fi3M Challenge tribe surround a person that is suffering. Fear, disappointment, exhaustion pop up. The comments that flood in under a “I’m feeling low” post give me hope for humanity.
While I’m not going to share the comments of others in this article, I will give you a peek inside my Fi3M Challenge head.
Day 1: First Skype Lesson
Had my first 60 minute lesson. My brain was doing some serious push-ups during the dictation exercise. I have a teeny-weeny vocabulary at this point. You gotta start somewhere.
Side note: I spoke in caveman Spanish during the lesson. My teacher popped in and out of Spanish and English which I didn’t like. I prefer a teacher that figures out a way to speak Spanish 99% of the time. Sounds impossible? It is doable with a creative tutor.
Day 3: Second Lesson Includes 55% Stuttering
60-minute Spanish lesson. Not gonna lie. It was hard. My brain is now oatmeal.
The first five minutes was an annoying combo of French with a little Spanish. Finally, it leveled out with 5% French, 40% Spanish and 55% stuttering while looking up at the ceiling to find words.
Side note: Mixing French into my Spanish was not a problem I anticipated. I imagine this will get better with practice. For now, my brain assumes that my Spanish vocabulary is just a bunch of new French words.
Day 17: This Tutor Was Not a Good Fit
Lesson with a tutor. She was all over the place. I had a hard time getting my questions answered because she was talking so quickly. Alas, it was more listening practice. I showed up. So that counts. Not sure if she will be my long-term tutor, so I posted about it in the Fi3M Challenge community.
Side note: I received several replies to this post. People shared about what they look for in a teacher. Their comments helped me clarify my needs. Their encouragement helped me keep trying.
Day 19: Finally, I Met a Tutor That Works Well with Me
Best lesson so far. For me, I do well with a teacher that doesn't rush me. Sometimes I need a long time to complete a sentence. Like a caveman shot with a tranquilizer gun.
This tutor was patient, friendly and organized. I feel tired from all the mental work but invigorated from being able to actually understand him.
Here’s How I Found the Best Spanish Tutors
As you can see, I didn’t find the perfect fit right away.
After trying seven different teachers, I selected my favorite three.
Emanuel has a comprehensive lesson plan. We practice basic conversation for 15 minutes. Then he explains a few grammar points to me. He teaches me completely in Spanish. No English. He has never spoken a full sentence of English to me. Very cool.
Fabian doesn’t have a lesson plan. We practice my conversational skills for the first 15 minutes. Then I share my Spanish Uncovered lesson. I send him a premade PDF file the Spanish Uncovered supplies.
And last but not least, there’s Frank. My Fi3M buddies shared about him so much in the online community that I decided to give him a try. His schedule doesn’t match up well with mine. So, he’s my substitute teacher for times when the others are away on vacation.
I have lessons two times per week. I am considering upping them to three times per week because I enjoy them. The lessons I take are reasonable. They currently range from six to twelve dollars per hour depending on the tutor.
My Two Rules for Spanish Lessons
I have only two main rules for my Spanish lessons.
- I only speak in Spanish. The only time I will speak in English is when I’m stumped for a word. In which case, I will say in Spanish, ¿Como se dice _? which means “How do you say _?” I make a lot of thinking noises and weird faces while searching for a word in Spanish. But it’s worth the struggle.
- I don’t do homework. I never get around to doing any homework. This happens for many reasons. I’m pretty busy working through my other learning tools. Homework has a deadline. And I don’t like homework. Gone!
One Fi3M friend calls me the Hans Solo of language learning. I fly by my own rules! I show up to a lesson and tell the teacher, “Sorry. I didn’t do the homework.” Usually, the tutor gives up on the homework after hearing this a few times.
I Measure Progress by Consistency
Because I don’t need Spanish for a job, I don’t need to do things that I don’t enjoy. My progress is steady but not exceptional. Middle of the road fluency is alright by me.
I have a sordid history of failing at language learning. The taste of disappointment lingers for years. I do whatever I can to keep myself motivated. That means I don’t always do what I’m told.
Comparing Me to Me
As I’ve mentioned in another post, compare and despair is a gnarly trap. I avoid it at all costs.
The first week, I was comparing my French speaking self (intermediate level) to my Spanish self (infant level). I forgot how badly my French smelled when I first started.
I'm back to square one. Not being able to say what I'm thinking. It's frustrating at times.
That doesn’t mean I don’t measure my progress. The yardstick I use is me.
Comparing Solo Learning to Fi3M Challenge Learning
How does my Fi3M Challenge experience weigh against my solo learning experience? This is what I’m using to measure my progress.
I Am Doing Things in the First Month That Took Me Months to Even Consider Trying
- I’ve spoken with a number of different native speakers. Over ten in the past 30 days!
- I’m already reading a book in Spanish. At a snail’s pace but reading nonetheless.
- I am watching TV and understanding it. This is my great for mushy brain days when strong studying is not possible.
I Feel Less Alone
I spent hundreds of hours cobbling together a community while learning French. Those were hours I could have used for learning the language. With the Fi3M Challenge, my tribe is automatic. Just add water and voilà, I’ve got a community.
I Have Way Fewer Language Learning Emergencies
I take full advantage of the support, wisdom and kindness that my Fi3M Challenge buds offer.
When that mean ol’ teacher yelled at me, I immediately shared about it. Not only did I get a heap of supportive replies, I also received a few teacher recommendations.
I Am Learning How to Study
With help from the assignments that stretch my routine, my learning program is way better.
There are a few deep diving exercises. We are guided to look at our beliefs around language learning. It was during one of these assignments that I realized something important. I was comparing my intermediate French with my beginner Spanish.
No wonder I was annoyed. Seeing it. Sharing it. And committing to an action around it helps tremendously. It might have taken me months to even notice it without this written exercise.
That’s It for Now! More Spanish Updates from Me Very Soon
In my next post, I’ll share about month two of my 90-day Spanish mission. With the halfway point approaching, it's time to get my routine in order. You can read about what tools I’ve ditched, what resources I’ve increased and why.
I’ll also be giving you glimpse at my progress with a Day 60 video. It’s bound to be better than Day 30, right? Let’s hope so!
Maybe you’re planning on trying your own 90-day language mission. Maybe you’re in the middle of one right now. Maybe you’re in a Fi3M Challenge with me right now. Give me a holler in the comments. Tell us what you’re up to.
Wishing each and everyone one of you happy language learning!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.