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?
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.
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.
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.
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.