Saturday, 5 January 2013

Feliz Año Nuevo

Ten years ago, when I first moved to France, I discovered that one of the things I like to do most in the whole wide world is learn foreign languages and speak them in real, natural contexts. At the time I was studying French and German; soon afterwards I picked up Italian. I spent another year in France, worked in Italy, visited friends in Bavaria and Berlin, moved to Paris, joined a language exchange club, made friends from all over the world.

And then gradually it all just trailed to a halt. A combination of relationships, a career and the realisation that when it comes to life experiences, you sometimes have to compromise quantity for quality mean that I no longer envisage a future where I can move to a new country every couple of years, learning a new language with every border crossing. Because the trouble with having the things you really want in life is that it would be stupid to give them up. And you know that you don't really want to.

It's true that I speak in French every day and I do read and occasionally communicate in Italian or (more rarely) German, but apart from the odd new word or expression, I don't really feel I'm learning much. In fact, I have a nagging feeling that the language-learning part of my mind is slowly rotting away and that the chances of experiencing that glorious moment when it feels as if your whole brain lights up as you produce a complex sentence in a new language without even thinking about it, are fast receding into the distant past.

And so, for 2013, I have decided on a new goal: I'm going to learn Spanish. And, if I pick up Spanish fast enough, possibly Portuguese as well.

This isn't the first time I've tried. I did a month or so of Spanish at school, then tried with cassette tapes (yes, it was that long ago!), and made a vague attempt before a trip to Andalucia a couple of years ago, but each time my efforts and motivation petered out and I was stuck not quite remembering the conjugations and turning every sentence into pidgin Italian.

That's the problem you see. If you speak French and Italian, Spanish should be easy. And it is. So easy that I get bored at the point when the textbook is trying to explain the differences between definite articles or the different forms of "you". But at the same time, I don't actually know what the words in the grammar points are, or quite how you pronounce that word in Spanish so that it doesn't sound Italian.

My plan to get over this has two main prongs of attack. Firstly, I'm going to learn the grammar so fast that I don't have time to get bored of it. The advantage of choosing Spanish as a language to learn is that there are tons of free resources out there on the internet, so you don't have to pay a fortune for endless repetition of things you kind of know already. And as soon as I've blitzed the main points and swotted up on some vocab, I'm going to try the Telenovela Method,  as described on this blog that I found through Jennie's site.

The last part of my plan relates to motivation. I've swithered over Spanish for so long because on the one hand it seems too easy, but on the other it's the language that I'm most likely to use, both in the near future and repeatedly in the long term. So along with my resolutions to study, I'm planning to go to Spain again this year, in the hope that I'll finally be able to talk to my friend's boyfriend and understand her toddler, while Understanding Frenchman and I are investigating the possibility of a trip to South America sometime in the next year or so ... by which time I will definitely hopefully be fluent in Portuguese as well (I can dream, OK?).

Finally, I'm publishing all of this on my blog in the hope that it will provide some extrinsic motivation. If anybody fancies being my online study partner, so that we can kick each other into gear any time we get lazy, please let me know!


  1. May I recommend you to listen to bands such as Sergent Garcia, the Mano Negra and Manu Chao to help with your Spanish? It did wonders for me when I was picking up Spanish.

  2. Thanks for the tip! Might be easier than watching Ugly Betty in VO, at least to start with!