Learn Spanish in a Year – Project Results

Last November, when I was still living in Germany, I began studying Spanish.

I’ve discussed why before, but briefly:

  • I had visited Spain and loved everything about it.
  • I knew I was moving back to the United States and would have access to Spanish-language media.
  • I wanted to visit Spanish-speaking countries in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

My goal was to speak Spanish fluently. Did I meet my goal?

Plaza de Puerta Cerrada, Madrid
Image Source

No, I didn’t. Unfortunately, I do not speak fluent Spanish.

Sure, I’m disappointed that I didn’t accomplish what I had set out to do, but I’m not exactly beating myself up either.

The Good

Look, I don’t want to sell myself short. I accomplished a lot this last year, especially considering I started out not even remembering how to say buenas tardes.

This week I took an online assessment test from the Cervantes Institute, which assessed my proficiency level as “B2,” or Upper Intermediate. I’m extremely happy about that, because B2 is a level that many language students never reach.

In more practical terms, this is the kind of stuff I can do with Spanish now:

  • I can read a newspaper or entertainment magazine and understand 90-95% of what I read. (Occasionally, I won’t know an important word in the headline and I won’t be able to understand the rest.)
  • I’m reading Harry Potter y la piedra filosofa (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) and can understand 95% of the words and 100% of what’s going on in the story.
  • I can watch Spanish news and understand the gist of almost everything.
  • I can follow the plot about 75% of the time on Spanish soap operas or TV shows.
  • I’m able to perform basic speaking tasks, such as ordering in a restaurant, describing my background and family, and discussing what I like to do in my free time.
  • I’m also able to do slightly more advanced things, like give my opinion and talk about (some of) my life experiences and plans.

Here’s a video of me discussing my Spanish results, in which you can see my Spanish in action. (If you click the CC button in the video, you can see English subtitles.)

I can now say that I speak Spanish, even if I don’t speak it perfectly. If you want to know how I did it without having taken a class, having moved to a Spanish-speaking country, or having spent my life’s savings, you can pretty much see my exact learning template in my book.

The Bad

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite make it to where I want to be:

  • My speaking lags pretty far behind my ability to read and listen. A small gap is normal, but I feel like I can comprehend much more than I can produce myself.
  • I could survive in a Spanish-speaking country and carry out most of my day-to-day activities, but doing anything requiring finesse–like, say, setting up complicated reservations with special requests–would definitely be uncomfortable.
  • I wouldn’t be able to work in a Spanish-speaking country right now.
  • At times, I have a lot of difficulty hearing words when they’re spoken in casual speech, such as in soap operas or morning DJ chatter. If I see a script or turn on captioning, I often realize that I know the words, but I just don’t hear them when they’re run together quickly.

Why Am I Not Fluent?

Why didn’t I meet my goal? Probably several reasons, but I’ll focus on three.

First, I didn’t spend enough time. For the first nine months, I studied about eight to ten hours a week. For the last three months, I studied about fifteen to twenty hours a week. Altogether, I got about 600 hours of exposure to Spanish. That’s great, but not quite enough.

Second, I didn’t spend nearly enough time speaking. I only spent about eight hours total speaking Spanish with people. I did things like speaking to myself, reading aloud, and language shadowing, all of which were vital in helping me get to where I am. But I need more practice speaking with real, live people.

Third, I don’t quite have the grammar down. Whether you learn grammar by simply picking it up organically or from a text book, you need to know it well enough to produce words. I spent quite a bit of time with comprehensible input and things like that, but to get to that next level I need to understand Spanish’s sentence structures and verb conjugation a little better.

What’s Next?

I had been planning to stop studying when my year was up, but I’ve changed my mind.

I’ve come to love Spanish. I enjoy learning it. I might as well keep my momentum and continue making progress.

And really, I’m so close to my ultimate goal of Spanish fluency. If I just make a few adjustments and spend more time, I’ll be where I want to be in the language.

I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing until I meet my goal.

  • http://www.rocketlanguages.com/ rocketlanguages2

    Wow, I’m impressed! I watched your video, and really think you should be proud of what you’ve achieved. You obviously love the Spanish language, and it’s great that you are motivated enough to spend over two hours a day studying. Being able to practice with native speakers is often the difficult part – either because you don’t know any native speakers, or because you are too shy to make mistakes in front of them. Being too embarrassed is definitely my biggest hurdle! Anyway, it’s fantastic that you will be continuing with your learning. All the best!!

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement. I definitely get shy when speaking new languages with native speakers, but I (sometimes) just make myself do it. Not always. It’s hard here in Orlando because it feels kind of weird to practice my Spanish with people trying to help me in a store or restaurant, but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I just made small talk? Do you ever get past that hurdle of being embarrassed?

      • http://www.rocketlanguages.com/ rocketlanguages2

        I guess you could try to sound things out first by greeting them in Spanish, and see where it goes from there. I think as long as you are friendly in your manner, people are usually very encouraging. I’m still not past that shyness hurdle! But I will persevere with it and with any luck my confidence will improve. Yours too, I’m sure!

        I’m exposed to many different languages on a daily basis, but Spanish is the one that I’ve managed to retain the best. Plus, I visited Spain for the first time this year, and loved it so much that I feel motivated to learn more!

  • raiDEr

    Hey Ron. Congratulations on all that you’ve learned! I agree with RL2 that you should be very proud of your achievement. That is a lot to undertake in the span of a year, and the fact that you can understand the majority of what is being said or written in Spanish is very impressive to me.
    I came across your site because I was looking to find assessments of the Pimsleur Approach, as I am going to attempt to take on Spanish in 2014. I have already listened to the free Pimsleur CDs at my local library (10 half-hour lessons), and am building on 4 years of Spanish in high school, but that was almost 30 years ago.
    My question for you is this: What (in addition to Pimsleur) did you find to be the most effective method of studying? I am really at a loss to pick a good free online course, as there seem to be a ton. I really don’t know where to begin, since I know from your review that Pimsleur by itself is nowhere near enough.
    Anyway, congratulations once again. It is good to hear (and see!) a firsthand account that it can be done. And to hear that you are continuing on in your quest to become fluent in Spanish is heartening as well. Best of luck with your continued efforts. Any feedback would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Hey, thank you for the kind words! It’s funny, I was at Universal Studios today (seeing as I live in Orlando and all) and I was eavesdropping quite a bit, and I was really able to understand people a lot better today than ever. So yeah, it’s definitely possible if you just keep at it.

      I’ve got two answers to your question. First, Duolingo is a good solid program. I’d never use it by itself (that is, without using other tools as well), but with it I saw a definite bump in my understanding of grammatical concepts and paying attention to the little details. Also, it’s free.

      Second, you can check out my free “Language Master Key” program to see a template of pretty much exactly how I’ve been studying. (The button/link to the hard-sell pitch–haha–is at the top of this page.) Just skip to Chapter Two to get the program. I started writing the book after some success with studying German and about six months of Spanish, and I realized that a couple things I were doing were working out really good for me.

      Thanks again! Good luck and let me know how your progress goes!

      • raiDEr

        Thanks! I am starting in earnest on New Year’s Day, and will let you know how I’m making out.

        • Lesther Lazaro

          Hi raiDer! what’s your Duolingo username? I’ll add you up Im one of Ron’s padawan here haha.

          • raiDEr

            Hey Lesther, my username is smizatch on Duolingo…don’t ask…happy learning to you.

      • raiDEr

        Well, here it has been a year! I haven’t put in the total amount of hours that I would have liked, but I’ve done at least a little Spanish most every day. I’ve learned a great deal of words, and I’m finding that the words flow more easily off my tongue every day. I am really enjoying it. I have a friend from Colombia who is always willing to answer my questions, but I find it hard to ask him too much (I’d ask him something every day) for fear I will bore him to death. Same goes for speaking aloud to someone. I know it’d be the best way to learn, but I feel I’d be taking up their valuable time with my broken Spanish. Oh well, I’ll continue on as best I can. Thanks again!

        • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

          Hey, it’s great to hear about your progress! Thanks for letting me know. You should be really proud of what you accomplished last year.

          “I am really enjoying it.” <— That's the key. If you actually enjoy what you're doing, you'll keep doing it. In the big picture, it doesn't matter if it takes you one year to get to your goal or two or whatever–as long as you get there.

          If you're making any kind of progress and you keep going, then you're getting better every day.

          If you're up for it, try getting in 10,000 words a day (I wrote a post on it) for 3 weeks. I think you're at the point where you can actually get something out of it.

          Looking forward to more updates on your 2015 progress.

  • http://www.neeslanguageblog.blogspot.com/ Teddy Nee

    Hola Ron, que chido, jaja. Creo que no puedo hablar tan fluidamente como tu. Pero he disfrutado escribir en mi blog y leer revistas y libros en Español aunque yo solo entiendo un poco, jaja. Ah, y me gusta también ver a Dora la Exploradora. En este momento, hemos tenido internet, una herramienta muy maravillosa para aprender idiomas. Pues, buen trabajo Ron. Espero que mejores más en este nuevo año.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.


      • http://www.neeslanguageblog.blogspot.com/ Teddy Nee

        Hola Ron, como que?

        • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

          LOL, sólo bromeando. Yo fingía que despues de un año, todavía no entiendo español. jajaja

          • http://www.neeslanguageblog.blogspot.com/ Teddy Nee

            ah, quieres hablar conmigo? Si, como no? tienes skype? vamos a practicar juntos.

          • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

            Yeah, man, sounds good! (I’ll message you back on FB with some details.)

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      ¡Solo bromeando! Gracias por el cumplido Teddy! Muy amable. Tu español es muy bueno también y algun día tú y yo nos vamos a hablar en español.

  • Max

    Well done on your progress, even if you didn’t reach your goal. Keep trying ! Spanish courses

  • Isidro Mendoza

    Hola, yo soy venezolano y te aseguro que tienes muy buena pronunciacion. En tu presentacion, aunque se puede entender la idea general del mensaje solo me percate de dos errores. Uno, cuando dices que el español es una idioma, la forma correcta es decir el español es un idioma y el segundo error es cuando dices que haces errores, aunque se puede entender lo que quieres decir la manera correcta es decir cometo errores, cometo algunos errores, cometo muchos errores. felicitaciones por haber avanzado tanto en tan poco tiempo. Espero dentro de un año tener un nivel de Ingles tan bueno como tu español…saludos

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Hola Isidro! Muchas gracias por el cumplido y el aliento. Estoy seguro que usted va a hablar ingles muy bien dentro de un año. Por favor vuelve y hágamelo saber acerca de su progreso!

  • Kurama

    Has usado el curso Assimil? que opinas de ese curso? o que otros cursos recomiendas para aprender online? yo quiero aprender ingles.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Hola Kurama! No he usado el curso Assimil, pero he oido muchas cosas buenas. Recomiendo Duolingo (duolingo.com) para aprender ingles y Pimsleur también. Buena suerte! Por favor cuéntame de su progreso.

  • H.F. Mason

    Hey Ron,
    I just happened upon your blog. My story almost parallels yours. 2 years of Spanish in HS. I am now 46. Went to Argentina last year and realized how many people in the world speak Spanish! I fell in love with the language and culture. In January set a goal to become proficient in Spanish in a year. Right now I am on lesson 9 of Pimsleur III. Also trying to hang out at the Mexican restaurants and tiendas here in my town (I live in Mississippi). I am a physician, and I am going to Guatemala in 2 weeks to take a medical Spanish course.

    I was encouraged by your video and I think you should be proud of yourself. You speak very well!

    What about Pimsleur 4? Do you recommend it. I also us Duolingo. I also just found LinQ.

    Keep up the good work!!

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Hey, thanks for the note and the encouragement! (Also, looking at this article made me realize I have to update my link to the no-longer free book.)

      I switched back over to studying German for a possible job opportunity, so I haven’t been studying Spanish for the last couple months,but I actually miss it. My friend’s wife, who’s from Mexico, spoke to me in Spanish the other day at a restaurant, and I understood her at first, but then got a little lost and truthfully felt a little sheepish. Part of that was that I was across the table in a packed BBQ restaurant and couldn’t hear very well, but I know that part of it was also that I’m not quite there yet. Can’t wait to get back into it.

      I didn’t try Pimsleur 4, but I imagine it’s a decent program. I finished levels 1 through 3 and liked the program a lot. I’ve heard that in level 4 they use the grammar/structures you know, and beef up the vocab.

      It sounds like you’re doing exactly the right things, and going to Guatemala (!) for some in-country exposure is going to give you a significant boost. How long are you going to be there?

      • H.F. Mason

        I bought your book on Amazon today. I like it so far.

        I will only be in Guatemala for a week. I fly into Guatemala City on 4/19. The next day I will take a shuttle to Santiago Atitlan, which looks like a very cool place on Lago Atitlan. In medicine we have to have a certain amount of CME (Continuing Medical Education) hours every year to maintain our license every year. This course is good for 25 hour. It seemed a great way to get CME and practice a hobby that I really enjoy. The course is at Hospiatalito Atitlan, which is primarily a women’s and children’s hospital, although they do surgery there also (I am a General Surgeon). They also allow medical volunteers, so it may be a place that I could come back to yearly to both volunteer and continue practicing my Spanish.

        You mentioned German. I took 2 years of German at Ole Miss when I was in school there

        • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

          That sounds like an awesome trip. Please let me know how it goes. Yeah, the nice thing about knowing Spanish is that once you learn it, you’re able to communicate with most of our hemisphere.

          Now that I’m back into it, I’m noticing some (slight) similarities between German and Spanish–I’m guessing from the Roman influence.

  • Troy Close

    You sound like any other Spanish speaking person I’ve ever heard. I think it’s great that you are dedicated to this – I believe we should all be taught Spanish beginning in grade school. But that’s just my opinion and I know others may not feel the same. In Europe they learn many languages. I believe it only creates a more well rounded and cultured individual.