How I am Going to Learn Spanish in 6 Months

I’ve always wanted to learn a foreign language, but a few things have been holding me back.

  1. I’m bad at memorizing things. I’m terrible with names, useless facts, dates, etc.  I can figure things out if there is a formula, but it’s really hard to derive Spanish words from their English counterpart.
  2. No necessity. I spent a few weeks in Spain last summer, but that didn’t really force me to learn any Spanish.  I spent a few months in Costa Rica in 2008, but was also graduating college in the months leading up to it, so I didn’t really put forth an effort to learn it.
  3. I’m lazy. Learning a new language takes a lot of work!  Hours a day and you don’t see the improvements immediately.

Well my impending South America trip is really sparking my motivation.  I intend to do a lot of the trip solo, and I’m seriously considering doing it on a motorcycle.  Being able to communicate effectively in Spanish will be critical for a successful journey.  I don’t need to be fluent by the time I leave.  I just want my Spanish to be better than most locals’ English so that our default language is Spanish.  If you are seeking out English speakers the entire time, you won’t learn much Spanish.

The 6-Month Plan

I’m starting out at a beginner level.  I barely passed my second year of Spanish in high school, so I really don’t have much of a foundation.  My plan is essentially to surround myself in the language every day, and force myself to understand it.  I’ll be attacking from all angles:

  • The 1,000 Word List: I found a list of the 1,000 most commonly used Spanish words with their English translations.  I printed the list out, which is 5 pages, double sided.  I’ve committed to memorizing 10 words a day for the next 100 days.  On the 100 day mark, (June 22nd) I’ll be testing myself on all 1,000 words.  I carry this list with me wherever I go, so I can keep studying wherever I go.  Standing in line, waiting for a friend, eating lunch, etc.
  • Skype Spanish Tutor: I found a Spanish Tutor in Mexico who I Skype with 3x per week, 50 minutes each session.  She charges $9/hour for a 1-on-1 Spanish lesson.  We chat back and fourth, go over exercises and she corrects my speech.  The lessons are rough, but very good practice.
  • Watching Telemundo/Univision: Instead of watching garbage like Storage Wars or Ice Road Truckers, I’ll just put on one of the two Spanish-language stations we get.  Just listening to people speak Spanish helps familiarize yourself with the pronunciation, word order and common phrases, even if you don’t understand what they are saying.  As a bonus, sometimes I’ll be able to pick up pieces of what they are saying, and be able to assume what some words mean based on the context and what I see on the screen.
  • Getting Sucked into a TV Series in Spanish: When I was sucked into the show Lost, I would always look forward to watching the next episode.  When the series ended, I felt like crap knowing how much time I wasted.  I vowed never to get sucked into another series again.  I recently realized that I can use that excitement to force myself to watch series in Spanish.  I started watching The Walking Dead in Spanish.  I’ll watch each episode in Spanish first, so I’m frantically trying to understand what’s going on.  I usually can’t quite figure it out, so I’ll watch it again in English to keep me interested in the plot line.
  • Reading Goosebumps in Spanish: I loved Goosebumps books when I was a kid because they were easy to read, and the story was always pretty captivating.  I bought a few of them in Spanish, along with their English versions and I’m slowly chugging through them.  I’ll read a paragraph in Spanish, try to understand what’s going on, then read that same paragraph in English so I stay on track with the story.
  • Speaking Spanish with the Roommates: I try to use my Spanish around the house as much as I can.  Playing ping-pong, we’ll keep score in Spanish, and even curse in Spanish if we lose a point.
  • Switching my Phone and Computer to Spanish: There are language settings on most devices, so switching to Spanish helps you get that much more exposure throughout your daily life.

Hopefully this will be enough to have a solid foundation by the time I leave for South America this fall.  As long as I keep the motivation up, I believe I’ll excel.  Maybe I should get a Spanish-speaking girlfriend?  Or maybe I should start posting on my blog in Spanish?  No es una buena idea!

If anyone else has some good ideas, let me know!

Adios amigos!


Getting my Travel Mojo Back

You get really complacent by spending all your time in one city.  Living in Portland, I’ve noticed that life is no longer a challenge.  There is hardly any adventure.  I’m not learning or growing as much as I was while traveling.  My passion for life has been dwindling.

Today, I decided that I was going to plan out my next adventure.  My lease here in Portland is up at the end of September, the best time to get out of town before another dark winter.  What better place to go than South America.  I’ve got my eye on Bogota or Buenos Aires.  Or both.  While I’m there, I’d like to visit Ushuaia, Argentina (southernmost city in the world) and take a cruise to Antartica.  That way, all I have to do is hit Africa and I’ll have successfully visited every continent in the world.

Once the summer ends in South America (April-May-ish) I’d like to head up to Sweden to visit my brother who will be studying abroad there.  Then off to Denmark (I passed through DK twice on my last trip, but never stopped to smell the roses) and ideally a tour through some Eastern-European countries over the summer.  I’m thinking: Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Romaina, Serbia, Hungary, Bulgaria, etc.

Finally, once the summer was coming to an end, I’d make my way through Africa, down to Cape Town, South Africa for the summer.  At this point, I’m forecasting nearly 2 years out, so who knows what will actually end up happening.  If all goes according to this plan, and I head back to the US indefinitely afterwards, I’ll have enjoyed 5 summers in a row.  I better bring my sunscreen.

The whole point of me coming up with this travel plan and posting for all to see is goal setting.  I’d like to have my business and investments almost entirely automated before leaving on this trip.  I’m setting deadlines and planning out how I’m going to have everything structured and worry-free by the time I head south.  Now I’ve got some tangible goal to look forward to.  Some light at the end of the tunnel.  Some reason I’m putting all this hard work in.