Saturday Spanish #17: Make the progress you want in 2023

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Learning Spanish — especially after the first few months — can feel amorphous.

The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. And this gives many people the vague, unpleasant feeling of un-measurable progress.

Today, I’m going to share a simple idea to help you feel more direction in your learning.

This can help you shake that frustrating feeling of “where am I going and when will I get there”.

Unfortunately, people often lose steam when learning because they lack direction.

Here’s how to avoid that, step by step:

Step 1: Identify what you can’t do well yet

“Learning Spanish” is such a big task. When we break it down into parts, it becomes something we can tackle.

Be specific:

  • I can read children’s books, but get lost at the Harry Potter level
  • I can understand Spanish spoken to me, but get lost when native speakers talk with each other
  • I can talk about basic things related to my life, but struggle to describe anything more abstract, like my opinions on things
  • I’m comfortable describing things in the past and future, but always doubt myself in the past

In my case, when I was first learning Spanish, cooking wasn’t part of my life. It is now, and as a result I’ve realized recently that my cooking vocabulary in Spanish is weaker than I’d like.

Step 2: Consider what you care about improving

This is key, because not every weakness in your Spanish is worth focusing on. It depends on your life and how you use your Spanish.

Again, be specific:

Maybe reading and speaking aren’t what’s bothering you the most, and what would give you the most confidence would be to always understand the Spanish spoken around you.

Or maybe you can deal with listening deficiencies for now, and really want to be able to share your opinions with confidence.

It’s important to pick one main area of focus so that you can set a measurable goal to reach.

Step 3: Create a measurable goal

For example:

  1. Have three 60 minute conversations in Spanish by March, where we discuss my opinions on music, woodworking, travel (or whatever topics you are interested in)
  2. Be able to watch a TV show and describe what happened in Spanish (in the past)
  3. Read a short novel and understand 90% of each page
  4. Be able to sit at a table with native speakers and follow the conversations around me

Again, it’s good for these to be specific so that you can have the sense of accomplishment that a mental “finish line” provides.

Step 4: Create a plan of action

With your goal chosen, you can choose learning activities with purpose.

If your goal is #4, you can determine a few concrete things you can do to reach it (based around your current level):

  • Improve understanding of regional slang
  • Watch videos on topics you might expect to discuss with friends
  • 20 minutes of focused listening practice in each day, prioritizing conversational-type audio & video. For example:
    Beginner & intermediate side: Watch conversation-based videos from Spanish Playground
    • Advanced: Go to YouTube and search “podcast + topic”. Say I’m interested in scuba diving. I can search “podcast + buceo” and find a video like this one, with two native speakers discussing a topic I enjoy. Rather than getting overwhelmed by how much you don’t understand when listening to something like this, focus on what you can pick out, and try to follow the general ideas — not each word.

Once you reach this goal, it’s time for a new one. Rinse and repeat!

You’ll never be “100% finished” learning Spanish, but at some point you may choose to decide to stop actively learning it. If you’re interested to hear my thoughts on this, let me know.

In the meantime, I hope this can help you create a sense of direction in your learning.

¡Feliz navidad!


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Hey there, I'm Connor. I help motivated learners speak Spanish without slogging through grammar books or tapping through every new app. I started Breakthrough Spanish to give more people the confidence and focus to learn effectively Spanish from home. Learn more about me here.

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