Actualización Español

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It’s time for a Spanish update, but I’ve been having such a hard time writing one. I’m feeling very bipolar about the whole thing; there are some days I could jump with total joy at how far I’ve come, and other days I feel like the most linguistically challenged person in the world. Those days pretty much suck BUT I need to remember there’s a lot to feel good about.

First and foremost, I can roll my r’s with the best of them now, honestly to the point where I can’t remember the struggle. It’s like winking–once you can do it, you can just do it. No thought or effort required. I can also read fairly well–things that I saw when I first started studying and had NO clue what they meant, I now fully understand. My listening is getting better, too, and my pronunciation has improved quite a bit. At this point I’m just over half way through the second Pimsleur level, which means I’ve started with the preterite and the conditional. I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp on indirect/direct object pronouns, regular verbs in preterite/imperfect, and just a lot more confidence overall. The problem is that I’m at an impasse on where to go next, which is overwhelming and frustrating.

Kristen, meet brick wall

Kristen, meet brick wall

Other than Pimsleur, I’ve made myself stop moving forward until I feel like I’ve fully grasped everything I’ve covered thus far. I’ve got a fairly decent understanding of the preterite and imperfect, but don’t feel very comfortable with most irregular verbs, in any tense, and my vocab is also seriously falling behind.

For grammar I’m mostly following the studyspanish website, which I love. I bought grammar books, and while I do still love Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish, the website is far better than the workbook I bought. That said, the next section I’m up to is the subjunctive, and a big part of me feels like I should master the irregular conjugations, get a more comfortable with por vs para, and maybe review comparisons, which just refuse to stick with me, before moving forward.


That said, I have taken a break to review, and don’t feel like that’s helping much either. I think maybe the best plan is to move forward with grammar, continue with Pimsleur like normal, but maybe place a (much) higher emphasis on vocab. Considering I’ve basically only been learning the words from Pimsleur and the few duolingo words that stick, it’s probably prettttty necessary.

I also keep putting off getting a language partner, and I feel like I’m like so close to being ready for one. But maybe I’ll never actually feel ready for one and it’s just about making the leap. I think I’ll continue with the Pimsleur and self study for the next few weeks, and when Gareth leaves at the end of May, I’ll hopefully be finished with level 2 and then I will definitely get one!

Also I made yet another super embarrassing video of myself talking. It’s crazy how much I freeze as soon as I feel pressure, even just the pressure of a computer camera alone in mi oficina. But so I can continue to track:

I WILL trill my R’s!

Cooking. Algebra. Squats. There are some things I just can’t do. And for years I had convinced myself that trilling my R belonged on the can’t list, something I was perfectly fine with. I’d heard the excuses before–it’s genetic, some people, even native Spanish speakers, just plain can’t do it. Obviously, I was one of those people. I couldn’t roll an R and that was okay.

Until I decided to dust off the old Spanish and dive straight back in. Suddenly, there were all these words I couldn’t say. I was calling dogs buts and I couldn’t do anything about it. Spanish is already hard enough without adding in an entire letter (sound?) I can’t make.

So I started practicing. I watched all the youtube videos, I read all the articles. Nothing came close to working. Again, I came to the conclusion that I was just physically incapable.

But fun fact about me, I HATE being bad at things. At anything. I honestly think this is why Spanish is such a struggle for me–I hate how long it takes to learn the grammatical rules, the vocab. I feel like I’m failing if a week in I can’t read Harry Potter or understand native speakers in Spanish youtube videos. That is obviously the WRONG way to approach learning a language, and I really do think I’m learning to relax into the process, not put too much pressure on myself, and just let the learning happen. That said, I think all my perfectionism and impatience found an outlet by zeroing in on one thing. That thing being the trilled r.

Hence, the practice. For weeks now I’ve been trying. Sometimes I’d think I was close and I’d show my roommate and she’d laugh like a terrible person and I’d realize that only in my head did it sound like anything at all.

But then I realized, you couldn’t hear it (I tested this by recording myself). But I could FEEL it. I could feel my tongue starting to vibrate. I knew I was close. Last night I locked myself in my room and made crazy sounds for HOURS. The more frustrated I got, the crazier I sounded, until I was SURE I was doing it. Spoiler alert: I was not. But I really was close. I showed my roommate, she was a little more encouraging. I sent it to my boyfriend and he was shocked I couldn’t just do it, he didn’t know it was a sound people struggled to make (PS I hate him). I sent it to roommate’s Spanish speaking sister in law, she said I really was close. To move my tongue closer to my teeth.

(This video is highly embarrassing, I was never planning on showing anyone. BUT if it gives just one person hope or insight into the process, then it’s worth it. That said, excuse the crazy hair, terrible angle, and oversized t-shirt.)

I spent all day sitting in my office like a true psycho, trying to whisper a trill to myself. Probably not the most effective method, but it loosened my tongue up. Then I had to run an errand and was so pent up and just READY to have figured it out, I started doing it REALLY loudly. I had read this could help. Also that singing  can make it super easy, and also that it could make it damn near impossible. I started making the sound in gibberish, because it felt like that’s kind of what my tongue should be doing. Basically, I was throwing anything and everything at my alveolar ridge, trying to crush its spirit. (In my head we were in a war.)

And then like magic, something happened. A trilling sound came out. It was almost like I could roll my r. There were all kinds of limitations: only for a few seconds, pretty much only when the word STARTED with an R, and it only worked about 50% of the time. BUT. SOMETHING was happening.

I took a million videos because even though I wasn’t at 100%, I was at something and I was so scared it was a one time occurrence. For one night only, watch Kristen nearly roll an R! But also to remind myself that it IS possible. Obviously I’m not completely there yet, but there’s no anatomical reason why I can’t do it. The only thing holding me back is my own self doubt. Also to maybe give other people hope, because I was pretty much hopeless and lookie here, I’m really kind of doing it!

**Please ignore the fact that I look and sound like a CRAZY person in all of these videos. I can’t really do it unless I go really fast and kind of loudly. They’re gonna love me in Spain.

30 Before 30 – Learn Spanish

This goal is definitely my trickiest one. I think it’ll be even harder than making it to 11 different countries in five different continents, actually. The thing is, I’m just not good at languages. I studied Spanish from 8th – 12th grade and by the end could barely string a sentence together. My classmates seemed to understand it in a way I never could.  I’d listen to them have actual conversations with our professors and not get how they could do it, when we had been in the same class and I DEFINITELY couldn’t. It just did not, and does not, come naturally.


And that was fine, until I went to Spain, and then Guatemala, and then El Salvador and Mexico. Honestly, even working in a restaurant or living in Los Angeles. Spanish is everywhere. And I want to travel and be able to communicate with people other than Americans and Brits. I want to feel as comfortable walking down the street in Madrid as I do in any random English speaking city. I want to be able to hold a steady conversation with the driver for an entire cab ride. I don’t want to have to think… between… each… word when trying to say something. I want it to be natural.


So, I have goals. But wanting is not nearly the same as achieving. It’s not even the same as working towards it. For the past year (and for many years before), this has sat on my list as something I really want, and something I’ll get to… some day. Which meant it was future Kristen’s problem–and it’s easy to keep making things future Kristen’s problems, until the only problem is that I failed to even try at something I really want.


So, the plan. I’m diving into Spanish. This is going to be the start of something real. I bought a grammar book. I bought a beginner’s book that tells a story that I’m finding I can actually read. I’m doing duolingo every day. I’m watching Mi Vida Loca. I’m listening to Notes in Spanish. I’m strongly considering weekly group classes. And at the end of March, no matter what my level is, I’m finding a partner and doing weekly (or more) Skype dates where I speak in Spanish. Because actually speaking Spanish is by far what I’m worst at. Thank god it’s not something necessary to the core of the goal *rolls eyes*.


I’m going to track my progress, once I have any progress to track. I’m excited/nervous about this one. A huge part of me really believes this is something I just can’t do. And the other, smaller, part of me knows the only way it’s impossible is if I let myself think it is. It’s also so much easier to not try and not fail than to try and be bad. But I just have to let myself struggle, embrace the struggle even, until it all starts clicking a bit. Which it will. It has to.

Wish me luck!