Fitting It In and I Think It’s Coming Together

Yesterday I had a marathon session adding new cards to Anki.

I am already doing the minimal pairs training and the pronunciation training.  So the addition of the extra vocabulary cards has increased the workload.

And yesterday because I was so busy, I left the review and recall of the cards to the end of the day.

But I had an unexpected invite for dinner from friends.  I had to combine that with a rushed visit to the gym to get my daily fix of endorphins.  That meant I found myself at 10.30pm feeling very tired with about 90 flash cards to go through.

I’d left it to the end of the day.

Once I got started, even though I was tired, initially it was quite easy recall the cards I already knew.

The hard part when you are tired is making new connections through the generation of new mnemonic imagery,

It soon becomes very difficult for me to think and concentrate.

I was so zonked and had made the fatal error of trying to cram in my daily review whilst sat in bed.

Bet you can’t guess what happened?



What’s The Lesson Here?

Well the lesson is to pace myself.

I have to get the recall of the cards out of the way early in the day when my mind is fresh.

That means I will bring the best of me to the learning.

When I am fresh and my mind is alert it will be easier to create new mnemonic imagery.

Because every session with the cards will be a review of ones previously covered AND new cards to learn.

I also need to keep generating new cards to learn if I am to maintain the momentum.

There is another strategy which will become more important as my backlog of cards to review increases.  And that is to have a few sessions throughout the day.

I think this is more preferable.

I didn’t take a note of the source, but I have read somewhere that distributing your learning across the day in small chunks is better than one huge marathon session.

The key is little and often.

I am going to start experimenting with a routine that balances the generation of new material to learn and the recall and review of stuff already learnt together.

Because that is the only way this is going to work.

It can’t be a feast and famine approach.  It has to be a consistent drip feeding of regular effort for the momentum to be maintained.

I Can Feel It Beginning To Work

One of the most rewarding things that keeps happening even at this early stage, is when I hear something on Spanish radio ( that I understand.

I get the same warm fuzzy feelings when I read something on the Noticias page of that website that makes sense to me.

Now the cause of the understanding can be one of two things.

It is either because I have worked out what it means from the context.  OR it is because I am now armed with additional vocabulary that has helped me make sense of the language I am learning.

When a word you recognise emerges out of the language you are either listening to or reading, it is like a beacon of light suddenly breaking through the gloom of a dark foggy evening.

It literally jumps out at you.

This is especially so in the spoken form.   For a micro second there is that moment of understanding that is just so satisfying.

It reminds me of the occasional perfect strike of a golf ball.  These use to happen once or twice a round.   That was just enough to keep me going back before I gave up ruining perfectly good walks for other pursuits.

This morning it happened a number of times whilst I was listening to Spanish radio.

On one occasion I heard the word “primavera” which means Spring.  I literally only learnt that yesterday.

It leapt out and for that microsecond I understood.

That is a great feeling.

Learning Spanish From A Hobby Or Interest

Over the years as I have tried and then failed miserably to learn a second language, I have picked up a few great tips.  One of those was from Tim Ferris, a renowned polyglot.

He recommends exploring a pursuit you are interested in, using your target language.

For him when he was learning Spanish it was Tango.  He became a world champion!  When he was learning Japanese it was Judo.

So I thought I’d experiment with this approach myself.

I practice yoga.

Today I started exploring YouTube to see if I could find any yoga instructional videos in Spanish.

I found a couple and watched them for a short period of time.

I heard the words cielo (sky,heaven), arriba (up) and espalda (back) – all of which I had learnt in the last couple of days.

Again, they jumped out at me and there was that hugely satisfying glimmer of recognition of understanding.  I actually understood something they said.

Later on there was mention of perro (dog) in the context of the downward dog pose.  Perhaps with more listening I could work out what what “downward” is in Spanish merely by taking a yoga class!

I also learnt and recognised the terms for the instructions to inhale and exhale just by watching.  These are key instructions given during a yoga class.  Because of the high frequency of use of these phrases, it became quite clear what they meant.

Their frequent repetition by the teacher meant I had multiple opportunities to hear, understand and become familiar with the term.

This will help me when I am on my motorbike tour of Spain later in the summer I’m sure.  All I need to do is find a pregnant woman going into labour on the roadside and I will be fully prepared for that situation!

But back to the yoga videos.

Every time I recognised a word, or I understood and learnt something, there was a little hit of dopamine with the achievement.

It’s small, but it is addictive.

That is what is going to keep me searching and learning and discovering how to speak and understand Spanish.

You will forget

In going through my cards this morning I had a number of experiences that spanned the complete range of how you might feel when you are learning a language.

On the one hand there were a few words that I know I had covered and memorised yesterday but I just couldn’t get right.

I had completely forgotten what they meant or what the translation was.

This was a bit frustrating especially when compared to those instances where the word and its translation goes easily and quickly into my memory bank and appears to be there forever more.

However what I have come to realise is that this is part of the process.

Sometimes some words require more work than others to be lodged into long term memory.

Occasionally, your mental state might not be at its best and even the easiest words seem hard to work with.


And there is a way through the frustration that occurs.

It’s inbuilt into Anki.

The thing I LOVE about the Spaced Repetition System is that words will continually be presented to you UNTIL you get it right every time.

This is why using the mnemonic imagery is so important for me.

The more I think about it, the more I like the analogy of the imagery being a “booster rocket” to get the translation and meaning into  the orbit of your memory before it (the mnemonic) falls away.

I had a “falling away” experience this morning when I was presented with the word pimiento and straight away I knew it was “pepper”.

I didn’t have to drag out strange imagery created when I first met the word in the hope the association with its actual meaning might be triggered.


Its meaning came immediately.

The system had worked.

For that word at least, it’s job was done.

Stages Of Recognition And Understanding?

This got me thinking about the possible stages I am inevitably going to have to go through as I develop my ability to speak and understand.

I suspect I am going to experience these different levels of appreciation and I suppose fluency when I encounter Spanish speakers:

Recognising they are foreign
– Thinking they are speaking Spanish
Knowing they are speaking Spanish
Suspecting they are in a {EMOTION} conversation
Realising they are talking about {TOPIC}
Getting the gist of the conversation
Understanding most of what is being said
Appreciating all of what is being said
Expressing  my own views on what is being said

I reckon, the language learning journey is about moving through each of these stages at different times with different contexts.

I suspect the development of my level of fluency through these stages will be an iterative process.


And A Final Thought On Formal Language Teaching

I reflect on the (in my opinion significant) progress I have made in such a short space of time.

And when I do, I get frustrated.

Because now I see, hear and feel a way to learn a second language that is working.

I spent five years in school being taught German and all I could show for it was a brief “danke”.

In just over 8 weeks, I have developed a working vocabulary of over 700 words and have started to understand lots of what I am reading and hearing.

Why couldn’t I have done that in school?

The education system has taken a perfectly normal and natural human process and *$%@ed it up completely for everyone.


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