Personal Project: Go Up Two Language Proficiency Levels in Three Months

So I’ve been learning Spanish for a while, and I’m pretty comfortable with my progress up to this point. But if I’m going to reach my goal of conversational fluency by late November, I have to step it up a notch.

As of today, I’m comfortable saying that I’m an intermediate Spanish learner. I’m beyond the basics, and I can do the following:

  • Listen to and understand the main idea of many (but not all) news stories
  • Watch popular Spanish-language television shows and understand the plot and most of the jokes
  • Read a popular magazine and understand the gist of 90% of the text I read, and be able to provide a word-for-word translation for about 70% of the text without a dictionary or translation aid
  • Handle “intermediate” books and courses with ease

A neighborhood in Bogota, Colombia
Image Source

Unfortunately, I still have difficulties with the language. My vocabulary isn’t sufficient. Some of the “easy” stuff I’ve learned hasn’t sunk in all the way yet. And when I’m watching TV or listening to the morning radio shows, I’ll miss entire passages, especially when the Spanish is spoken too rapidly.

But now it’s time to take things up a notch. I still have a long way to go before I reach my goal, and my deadline is rapidly approaching.

The Situation

Here’s the thing. If I were to sit down and take a proficiency test, I’d probably pass at an A2 level (CEFR) or 1+ (IIR).

I think that to reach what most people would consider fluency, I should be at a B2 level. According to the Council of Europe, I’d have to be able to describe my abilities as follows:

[quoted excerpts begin]

  • I can understand television documentaries, interviews, talk shows, plays and most films, provided they are in standard language and not in dialect.
  • In a newspaper article on a controversial theme of current interest (for example experiments on animals or the building of motorways) drafted in a way that makes it comprehensible for everyone, I can understand the different points of view put forward.
  • I can read and understand factual texts dealing with subjects I am not familiar with, provided that I can consult a dictionary from time to time.
  • I can speak fluently, effectively and in a generally correct manner on different subjects relating to my interests and my schooling.

[end of quoted excerpts – source]

The amount of knowledge required to go from beginner to A2 is less than what is required to go from A2 to B2. In terms of vocabulary alone, you probably need to learn 1000 words to get to the A2 level, but approximately 4000 words to get to B2–and that’s only talking in terms of vocabulary, and not everything else you need to know. That’s a really rough estimate, but you get the idea: the higher you go, the more you need to know.

Going up two levels in three months is difficult, but I think I can do it for a couple reasons.

First, I think I’ve built a really good base. I have a good visceral sense of the language and I’ve been exposed to a variety of texts.

Second, I have momentum on my side. I’ve been on a roll lately with my studying, and I’m itching to go forward.

The Plan of Attack

If I take stock of where I’m weakest, it’s in two areas:

  • Speaking–specifically putting sentences together
  • Understanding media language

To improve my speaking, I should probably speak more, but unfortunately I just don’t get that many opportunities. With the demands of family and work, I’m not on iTalki very often right now. But I can improve my speaking by practicing by myself and understanding grammar a little better.

To improve my media language, I’m going to listen to news broadcasts and complete news-related language exercises.

So my daily schedule is going to consist of four things:

  1. Studying a course and/or completing a module in GLOSS
  2. Listening to news stories
  3. Reading
  4. Talking to myself

I’ll explain the details, including which materials I’ll be using, in the next post.

Wish me luck!