My Second Practice Conversation And Why I Need To Start Writing In Spanish

Yesterday I had my second chat with my Aussie based Chilean friend.

I must admit I was dreading it.

That’s because I haven’t really done much Spanish learning in the last couple of weeks. I have been on the road delivering training courses at the other end of the country.

Then I spent a weekend slipping and sliding around steep muddy slopes in Wales on a large Adventure Motorbike.  I have the bruises to show for it!

So I Have Let Life Get In The Way.

Reviewing my flashcards has continued. But I have not done anything else.

In effect, my learning had stalled.

It was quite startling to see how the momentum I had generated dissipated so quickly. A classic case of out of sight, out of mind.

And then guilt set it. Phrases like “I really should be doing something” kept swirling around my mind.

In reality it wouldn’t have taken very much to get back to learning again. All it needed was follow through on a simple decision to act.

A build up of momentum keeps you going. In the opposite direction however, there is the build up of inertia. The self generated reluctance to brush yourself off and take some more steps in the direction of the goal.

Unfortunately the Inertia seems to build faster and stronger than momentum when the mind is weak.

The longer you leave it, the harder it is to get started again. At least that is true for me.

I Was’t Looking Forward To Speaking In Spanish Again

Which is why I was so full of dread when faced with my second Spanish conversation.

The last one had been mentally taxing for me – but in a good way. I anticipated this was going to be the same… but in a bad way.

There would be the challenges of trying to understand Spanish. But I would also have to contend with a lower level of confidence in my ability caused by my recent lack of application.

So it was with a degree of apprehension that I started today’s call.

At one point I thought I was going to get a reprieve because he wasn’t online at the appointed time.

“Phew” I thought. “We can rearrange if he is held up and then I can catch up.”

Momentarily there was a feeling of relief…

…But then skype rang.


And So The Conversation Began

Fortunately, he went first and so we had a good conversation in English. His mastery of the language after only about a year of learning is impressive.

Of course I did what everyone does in these situations but shouldn’t – I compared my Spanish to his English.

I’d found yet another way to undermine my confidence.

It was a pointless exercise because there is no comparison. First of all he has been learning 3 times longer than me. There is no way to understand our different motivation levels or the quality of the way each of us has undertaken our study.

Additionally he has the advantage of total immersion as he is living in an English speaking country. Though he is struggling a bit with the Australian accent and some of colloquialisms (“G’day Cobber!”).

So trying to compare is really a pointless exercise that is only going to end up badly…

….Which it did.

Perhaps I should flail myself with a wet copy of my “Spanish Grammar Basics” to deepen the misery even more!

Back to my Spanish chat…

It was hard work.

Huge amount of “ums” and “errs”.

Performance anxiety set it and I struggled to remember words I knew I knew.

Mispronunciation was commonplace.

And I struggled to understand most of what he had to say.

It was difficult.

My Conversation Buddy Was BRILLIANT!

However my Chilean friend was exactly that – a friend.

He was encouraging, he was supportive and he was extremely patient.

When I struggled, he took the time to speak slowly for me when I asked (in Spanish of Course). Additionally, he typed out the phrases he was saying and he explained the words he was using. When I repeated the phrases, he corrected my pronunciation.

A perfect practice speaking partner.

There are of course two ways you can take an experience like this where you feel completely out of your depth.

– You can feel completely overwhelmed, get despondent…. and give up.
– You can feel completely overwhelmed, get despondent… and work out what you need to do differently

Fixed Or Growth Mindset?

The first is a fixed mindset approach… the second is a growth mindset approach.

Which mindset you take will be the difference between you learning to understand and speak Spanish and NOT.

One path is harder than the other…though it needn’t be.

The path of the Fixed mindset would have me give up because that would be the easy thing to do.

Of course I’d rationalise the reason for not becoming proficient at Spanish… “I was too busy”, “I didn’t have the time” or perhaps sadly “Well I realised I didn’t really want to speak Spanish anyway”.

The harder path is that of the Growth Mindset approach.

Though perhaps “harder” is the wrong word to use. It will certainly require effort, and at times it will be frustrating.

But that is what learning really is.

I’d like to say that I find it easy to take this approach.

Unfortunately I don’t.

I really struggle with it.

That’s because I was bought up as a “trophy child” by a well meaning but misguided mother.  Which means I have “got to get it right and be perfect” engrained through my learning muscles.

So I get frustrated when I can’t do something straight away.

Of course I am in a bit of a double bind. Now that I understand the Growth Mindset approach and teach it in my leadership development programmes, I get even more frustrated when I am frustrated.

I Think I Need Therapy!

But I know I have to work through this and embrace the frustration.

It is hard (for me anyway), but possible.

I know I can do it because I have done it a few times.

The trick is to fool my brain that it is a good thing and to do it all the time.

My approach is still haphazard, wrought with angst and self recrimination, but it is a step in the right direction.

So after my conversation today, I had a ponder to see what I could do even better.

I won’t get into the good stuff that did come out because I did use words and phrases effectively and there was communication.

No, I want to focus on the big lesson I got from today’s conversation.

It was this:

I really struggled to formulate comprehensive sentences that I could use to express myself.

It’s not that I can’t.  It’s just that I haven’t had the call to do it very often.

The raw material in the vocabulary is there. I even have a bit of grammar I can call upon to string a few of those words together.

But the sentence making muscles are very underdeveloped.

Of course a simple answer is just to speak more often with more Spanish speakers.

Though that really is another double bind. I can’t speak very well because I can’t formulate sentences quickly enough which means I can’t speak very well.

The realisation dawned that I have to do something else.

I Have Got To Start Writing Stuff In Spanish.

When that hit me, it was like a cold dose of the bleeding obvious rammed down the throat like an unwelcome fishy spoonful of cod liver oil.

Throughout my research and general interweb roaming, I have picked up that some people practice writing in Spanish.

Because I have been focused on wanting to speak and understand the spoken language, I had discounted that as an approach.

There was a part of me that even thought those that did were avoiding the more uncomfortable practice of speaking with a native.

I had even started to get a bit smug about my “more difficult” approach to learning Spanish.

In my mind it was something I didn’t need to do.

That was until this conversation.

I now see how practicing to formulate sentences in writing will help me speak more effective Spanish. It will probably help me understand it better too.

I can choose words and work out the correct grammar in slow time. I can even get those sentences checked by native speakers on some websites.

That practice means I can start to move on from the Tarzanic Monosyllabic towards something approaching reasonable communication.

Another step in the journey is taken… I am making progress… Just not as fast as I would like.

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