Update on Spanish Project

Okay, so I’ve been working on my listening-only Spanish project for about three weeks. Here’s a very quick post to let you know about my progress.

And I seriously thought about not mentioning this, but I’m going to be up front: I cheated. I’ll explain below.

A scene from the opening credits of "La Teacher de Inglés." If people dancing the Charleston in a place of business doesn't clue you in that there are going to be antics, then i don't know what.

A scene from the opening credits of “La Teacher de Inglés.” If people dancing the Charleston in a place of business doesn’t clue you in that there are going to be zany antics, then I don’t know what.


The listening is going well. Here’s the list of pretty much everything I’ve consumed:

  • La Teacher de Inglés – A Colombian telenovela (more on this below)
  • La Selección – Another Colombian telenovela about the famous Colombian soccer team in the early 90s
  • La Padre de Familia (aka, Family Guy) – Full episodes, dubbed into Spanish
  • Los Simpsons – Full episodes of The Simpsons, dubbed into Spanish
  • Destinos – A made-for-PBS, made-for-Spanish learners which I’ve mentioned before in this and this post
  • Notes in Spanish – Podcasts put out from a couple in Spain and available for free at their website
  • Caillou – A cartoon for preschoolers, dubbed into Spanish
  • Plaza SésamoSesame Street, but the Latin American version
  • Mater’s Tall Tales – Short cartoons with Mater from Cars, dubbed into Spanish
  • Los Anormales – The morning radio show for my favorite local Latino radio station, Rumba 100.3
  • Bachata and reggaeton songs – I listen while I’m working

A lot of those materials are available for free online. I have accounts for Hulu Plus and Netflix, so I get some of my shows through there. La Padre de Familia and Los Simpsons are on legal-ish websites that stream the movies from embedded YouTube videos.

The kids shows were great, but I got a little tired of them. Same with the stuff designed for “learning,” like Destinos and Notes in Spanish. I started looking for more grown-up stuff I’d enjoy.

Eventually, I found La Teacher de Inglés, a Colombian telenovela about a factory owner who hires an English teacher.

I like this show because I find it legitimately funny. I’m very motivated to pay attention to the language so that I can understand the jokes. And watching the episodes doesn’t feel like work because I’m entertained. My only criticism is that it’s paced really slow, being a telenovela and all.

Random observation: Shows dubbed from English into Spanish are much easier to understand than shows that have been filmed in Spanish originally. Kind of weird, right? They both use Spanish-speaking actors, and when I look at the subtitles, the language isn’t much different.

I suppose the reason for the difference is that when someone is reading into a microphone, he or she is paying much more attention to diction and clarity, and is also probably using a more “neutral” Spanish that is free of regionalisms and colloquialisms.


Speaking is going okay. With the holidays, my language exchange partner and I kind of fell out of our routine, but we’ll pick it back up. I’ve been doing some self-speaking and trying to talk about items around my house.

Okay, here’s my confession: I’ve been doing grammar drills.

I know, I know. I hate myself for it. But I discovered during my speaking that what’s keeping me back the most is being able to conjugate verbs. I’m not terrible with verb conjugation, but I’m not great either. That’s the one thing keeping me from being able to rattle off stuff like I know what I’m talking about.

So I started attacking the problem head on. Honestly? It’s been working very, very well.

I realize this takes away the spirit of the experiment a little bit. In my defense, I haven’t read anything, I swear. And as you can see, I haven’t been slacking with the listening. So there’s that.

But still…grammar.

*Hanging head*

I’m seeing a lot of gains, so I’m going to keep on with the experiment. Or more accurately, the experiment, plus one new added…bonus feature.

Do you guys think it’s weird for someone not wanting to give up studying grammar?

  • http://blog.fluenthistorian.com/ Natalie

    “Do you guys think it’s weird for someone not wanting to give up studying grammar?”

    Definitely not!! I know a lot of Russian grammar but I never tire of studying it. I even branch out into the grammar of other Slavic languages sometimes. So no, totally not weird (at least not in my world!).

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

      Haha, okay, good, at least there’s someone else out there. I have a love/hate relationship with grammar, especially verb conjugation. I only enjoy it when I know some verbs first, at least in one form (such as the infinitive), because then it’s just a matter of twisting it, and the payoff is swift. …AND I just had an epiphany on how to teach verb conjugation. :)

      • Lesther Lazaro

        Ron if I watch Spanish movies with English subtitles first, then re run with Spanish subtitles and then one more re run trying to imitate the dialogue(just like your listening and reading drill) do you think it will be beneficial? or am i better off with several short podcast audio? ( i think its a drill that I could do on weekends)

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

          Hi Lesther! I’ve tried exactly what you tried before. It’s good, but very time consuming. A ten-minute video becomes a half hour of listening. If you have the time and patience for it, I think you can see really good improvements with that method. What might happen is that your ears get used to the training wheels and don’t develop the intuition you need, but I really wouldn’t worry about that unless it’s the *only* kind of listening you do.

          My suggestion is to mix it up. The podcasts would be good, the drill you described would be good…just do it according to your mood and the kind of gains you’re seeing. And then please come back and let me know how it works for you so that I can pass this along :)

          • Lesther Lazaro

            Hi Ron, I think Im sticking with podcast then. Could you check out my podcast resource as I find the author’s translation somewhat inaccurate or maybe google translate is messing with me when i cut out short phrases. Here it is http://ssl4you.blogspot.co.uk/ .By the way I am a Filipino say “Kamusta” to your mother. Have you ever been here? I am confident I will be able to learn Spanish with your method and hopefully you keep on finding the drills that would help us all language learners.

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

            Wow, that’s a great resource. I hadn’t heard of it before. You can use it for listening practice, transcription/dictation practice, translation…lots of stuff.

            The translations on that page look mostly fine to me. They’re not 100% perfect and I can tell they’re written by a non-native English speaker, but they’re still very good all-in-all. I think if you combine that translation with the one from Google Translate, and then use your intuition as a tie breaker, you’ll get the right meanings. (If you have one you’re having trouble with, post it here and I’ll throw in my two cents.)

            Also, check out the podcasts Notes in Spanish and Coffee Break Spanish, which are both good as well. I’m sure you’ll reach your goal!

            I’ll tell my mom, thank you. I’ve been to the Philippines a couple times, but the last time I was there was when I was a little boy. I need to go back to visit, hopefully speaking some of the language.

          • Lesther Lazaro

            I actually thought of enrolling in a bi-weekly class at Instituto Cervantes before I came acrros your blog. I am doing the 21 day drill religiously now with some transpositioning, I do listen/read/translate/transcribe and write 20 phrases on journal first day and do the reviewing/memorization the 2nd day. The “free listening” part is what I do daily on schedule. I love the Dora the explorer sound of Coffee break Spanish haha, quite fun! I alternate it with Notes in Spanish.
            Just one question, do you think taking a class at Instituto would still be beneficial now? or should I wait and enroll later on when I have the skill to skip the A level and go directly to B.

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

            Okay, here’s my suggestion. Finish up the 21 days and see how you feel your progress is going. Then take another week (7 days) to let it sink in by switching to other activities.

            So at the end of 28 days, ask yourself if you’re happy with your progress. You can be completely honest.

            If so, man, just keep going for a while and don’t get distracted by a class. Alternate in 3-week phases. Then, like you said, when you’re ready, you can skip ahead directly to B.

            If you’re not 100% thrilled with your progress, try the class (which I understand is very good by the way) and just keep getting in your free listening and active listening/speaking on the side.

            By the way, I’m so excited that someone is giving the 21-day blast an honest try. I’m pretty confident that you’re going to see gains about as good as with any other program you’ve ever tried.

  • Joe

    Hey Ron! I think you should of also been listening to the music like Don Omar, Wisin y Yandel, Prince Royce, Jesse y Joy!

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

      Hey Joe! I catch some of their songs on the local radio station. I can dig the corre corre corre corazon…hahaha

  • Michael

    Hi Ron – I just found your blog and wanted to share that I’m really enjoying reading your thoughts on language learning – and I agree with your general philosophy and ideas.

    More specifically – thanks for the tip on La Teacher de Inglés! I’m moving to Bogotá from Australia in July and this is really going to help me hit the ground running (for example, hadn’t realised the sheer quantity of -ito/-ico/both that goes on!).

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

      Hi MIchael! Thanks for stopping by. That’s a big adventure, and it sounds awesome. Glad La Teacher de Inglés is helping. I notice that sometimes I can understand parts completely, with no problem at all. But sometimes I can’t understand a word–like when Don Kike is speaking with his main buddy at the office.

      I think you’ll pick up the language pretty quickly. Colombian Spanish seems pretty neutral, and you’ve already got a head start. Please keep me posted!

      • Michael

        Absolutely, this is something rarely mentioned in language learning discussions, the difference in ease of understanding between individual native speakers (based on their use of slang, clarity of enunciation etc). When I was in Colombia two years ago I found my understanding with a group of 5 locals at the same dinner table ranged from 25% to 90%, and these guys all had the “same accent”!

        I’ll definitely stay in touch on my experience pre and during my Colombia move. Keep up the great work, it’s a really useful and interesting blog.