This is a challenge to speak conversational Spanish in 90 days starting from a beginner level, using Speechling and other resources on the internet.
When I tell people that I’ve been living in Spain for a few months, people always ask for advice. How are you going about it? How do you find the culture? I want to do the same myself, or visit another Spanish speaking country, do you have any recommendations? My answer is always the same. Learn Spanish before you set foot in the country.
It’s actually the biggest challenge for expats, according to a survey done by The Telegraph. For companies relocating people to a foreign country, 61% of respondents have the hardest time adjusting to their new home because they don't know the language.
Most online sources say that you can easily immerse yourself in the language once you get there and I disagree. We tend to learn language in stages – first we absorb, then we try to speak the language. Waiting to absorb language until you get to your destination will not help you communicate effectively. Trust me when I say that it can be the most isolating experience. Your best bet is to learn as much as you can BEFORE you set foot in the country.
My experience has been this: I came to Spain a few months ago and the first two months were incredibly challenging. I had my partner who spoke Spanish, so she was able to do most of the talking, but it’s not wise to put yourself in a position where someone does the talking for you. It can strain your relationship and put you in an awkward position where you’re just standing there nodding politely, but not really knowing what’s going on.
As time passed, I’m definitely in a better spot. I’m in a good place and I’ve absorbed a lot. I can listen in on conversations and move forward in my learning. I do pretty well, but I’m not comfortable speaking in public. I guess it’s safe to say my confidence is a little low in that department.
My challenge is to move forward in my learning and create a program where I’m committed to learning as much as I can in 90 days.
I was definitely inspired by the story of how Speechling got created.
“A bet was made to become fluent French in 90 days.”
It’s a fun story, but my takeaway was that I could make the commitment to be fluent in Spanish in 90 days. In my work as a fitness coach, I am well aware that a lot can happen in 90 days. I’ve seen people transform their bodies and lives, why can’t I do the same with learning Spanish? As with anything in life, it takes commitment and time.
I’m going to take you on my journey of how I’m going about to learn Spanish in 90 days.
Where I’m at Now
Whenever you start on a new challenge, it’s always good to do two things: 1.) assess where you are now, and 2.) have a clear intention on where you want to be.
Right now, I would consider myself to be at a beginner level, or A1 according to the Common European Reference Framework. The CERF is the standard for learning and teaching languages across 40 different languages. Language Fluency is broken down into 6 levels, from A1 to C2.
At the A1 level, a person can understand certain words when people speak slowly and clearly, interact in a very simple way, use very simple phrases such as “Where is the bathroom?” and fill out a basic form.
The C2 level is full on language fluency.
Effectively, in English, I’m at a C2 level, and in Spanish, I’m at an A1 level.
My Goals to Learn Spanish in 90 Days
It is crucial to have goals when you’re learning a language because you have to have some way to chart your progress. If you’ve never set goals for yourself, I highly recommend using the SMART method to start. SMART goals are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-related.
My intent is learn Spanish to the point where I’m at the B2 level in 90 Days.
- Is it Specific? Yes, I know exactly the level I want to attain.
- Is it Measurable? Yes, I know what points I need to be able to achieve.
- Is it Attainable and Realistic? Yes, I think that setting the goal to be at the B2 level is a stretch, but realistic and attainable. If I were to say I want to be at a C2 level, I don’t think that is very realistic to do in 90 days. Going from beginner to fully fluent in 90 days, isn’t realistic because it can take years to become fully fluent in a language.
- Is it Time Sensitive? Yes, because I set the 90-day deadline.
To measure my success, I’m using the Council of Europe’s assessment guidelines, this means that:
I can understand extended speech and lectures and follow even complex lines of argument provided the topic is reasonably familiar. I can understand most TV news and current affairs programmes. I can understand the majority of films in standard dialect.
I can read articles and reports concerned with contemporary problems in which the writers adopt particular attitudes or viewpoints. I can understand contemporary literary prose.
I can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible. I can take an active part in discussion in familiar contexts, accounting for and sustaining my views.
I can present clear, detailed descriptions on a wide range of subjects related to my field of interest. I can explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
I can write clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects related to my interests. I can write an essay or report, passing on information or giving reasons in support of or against a particular point of view. I can write letters highlighting the personal significance of events and experiences.
As you can tell, I have my work cut out for me, but there is no doubt that with commitment and consistency, I will be able to attain my goal.
The Journey Begins
I decided to start my journey on August 1, so between now and October 30, I want to progress a few levels in my Spanish learning. That’s a big ask, but it’s entirely doable. How do I plan to go about learning? I have several tools, people and resources at my disposal and I plan to utilize a combination of things.
The one thing I must commit to is consistency. How do I go about doing this for 90 days and be able to create the space in my schedule? I know that I can commit to 30 minutes a day easily. I’m going to take that a step further and aim for an hour. I may have to build up to doing that full hour and making it as productive as possible, because I know the mental focus should be there all the way through for it to be worthwhile.
As far as tools go, I’m using Speechling, a grammar workbook, and I’m using my favorite magazines, like Vanity Fair, to read aloud for pronunciation. This way, I have my learning styles covered. I know that I learn best by doing, and by writing, so I want to be sure that the tools that I use are useful.
The final piece is to put what I’m learning into real life use. I have to be a little more forward when I’m out and about. I have to get over my shyness and actually speak up!
What I’m aiming for is to use the tools enough to the point where I have confidence to speak when I’m out and about. Confidence breeds more confidence, which breeds more understanding and more fluency.
How I’m Using the Tools
You can see in the video below, what I'm using and how I'm using the tools.
All I'm using is Speechling on my phone and I have a workbook on my iPad. I have a separate notebook for writing, but that's all I'm starting with. I'll probably incorporate flash cards as well, but for now, this is a good start.
My Challenges to be Fluent in Spanish
When I started out with Speechling, I read this guide about learning Spanish. It pretty much supported everything that I was currently experiencing, and really tied things together for me.
In the first week of using Speechling and focusing a lot on learning Spanish, this is what I have already learned:
I Need to be a Better Listener.
When you are fluent in a language, it is easy to tune someone out and still understand what they were saying. We all tend to do that from time to time, and I’m no exception. When listening in Spanish, I notice that I have to stay present and focused, because if I miss a word or two, I miss the entire point of what the speaker was saying. It can be tiring to focus so much, yet, I know that if I build up the mental endurance, I’ll be a much better listener.
Making my Mouth Move
Making my mouth move in certain ways that it’s not used to is a definite challenge. I see so many parallels between this and building a fitness plan for someone. I’m essentially building new muscles to work.
For example, when I would say “Él piensa,”, which means he thinks, my Speechling coach would point out that my vowel pronunciation wasn’t quite right. I am from New Jersey and my Spanish vowel pronunciation shows. I would pronounce él as I would the English letter L, not Él, with a short, crisp ‘ay’ sound to it. I noticed that I had to move my mouth in a certain way and it takes practice to get it right.
Reading vs. Speaking
I also noticed that there is a difference between when I speak a sentence naturally and when I read a sentence out loud. I found that with Speechling, I’m doing more reading than speaking naturally, so I’m much slower in my speech. I find that it’s harder to read and get my mouth forming the words properly, especially with questions.
I also found that there were certain word combinations that really challenged me. For example, if the word tiene was in a sentence, I had a very difficult time saying the rest of the sentence. In this case, it was Tiene veintiocho, or He’s 28.
Making it All Work
With barely a week into my journey, I have really discovered some weaknesses and areas where I need to improve. Most importantly, and especially as I begin this journey over the next 90 days, I have the mindset, the commitment, the goals, and the framework to make it happen.
I will be documenting how it goes periodically, the good the bad and the learnings. I'm excited for the journey and I can't wait to share it with you.