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How to Learn a Language from Scratch | My Experience Studying Spanish

How to Learn a Language from Scratch | My Experience Studying Spanish

After Lindsay and I decided to take a break from our language buddy study for Korean, there was a small part of me that wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep learning Korean, if I wanted to go back and study something I worked on in the past (read: Russian or Croatian), or take on something new.

This isn’t to say that I’m going to give up learning Korean completely!

I don’t think that I am going to drop Korean, but I may give up one of the other languages I’ve studied in the past because I really wanted to stop at eight. I’ve just always had this goal in my head, and when it comes down to it, I don’t want to try to juggle any more than that.

When Lingoda approached me to do a review, I had the option of studying French, German, or Spanish. And since I speak French at home and am not ready to do a German refresh yet, Spanish seemed like the best option so that I could really see how their program worked from the ground up.

But choosing Spanish wasn’t a decision that I made just because I needed to review something. It was already something that I was thinking about and the review only gave me the opportunity to pursue it.

Since I don’t get to talk about starting new languages very often, I thought it would be beneficial to document my learning process for you. So in today’s post I’ll talk about
– Why I Chose to Study Spanish
– What I Used to Start Learning the Language
– Things That I Struggled With Learning a New Language (especially since it was similar to languages I have already studied)
– A Summary of My Learning Strategy
– Videos of My Progress Over the First Months

Why Did I Start Studying Spanish?

To be 100% frank with you, I started studying Spanish because I just got tired of people making comments about the fact that I *don’t* speak Spanish.

When people find out that I speak multiple languages and that Spanish isn’t one of them, they’re often surprised. Especially since I live in Southern California.

I get comments along the lines of:

“Really? You don’t speak Spanish?”

“I bet you’ll learn Spanish next.”

“Oh, why do you speak Croatian? You should learn Spanish.”

It was a little frustrating and it wore down on me to the point that even I started to feel like I really didn’t have any more excuses not to learn the language.

This was only part of the reason, of course, the other parts being that 1) it’s super useful for my work; 2) I *am* surrounded by it so immersion is easy; 3) I’ve started to really like it; 4) it’s not that far from other languages I already speak; and 5) I already own resources for it, so why not learn it?

And then, like Chinese, I started working on it and thought “this is the best thing ever.”

It’s been a love affair consisting of Spanish music, long Memrise sessions and #languagehacking videos ever since. And there are a lot of experiences available to me in my own backyard that I no longer have to miss out on because I don’t speak the language.

A Quick Side Note

The Spanish language isn’t entirely new to me. In fact, we were spoken to in it when we were children (I have family from Columbia and the relative who cared for us spoke to my brother and I in Spanish), but my parents quickly decided it was better for us if we just learnt one language so the transition was made to an English-only environment. I was probably about four years old at the time, so the only Spanish I remembered was “hola” and “agua, por favor”. I barely even remember how to count. During my lessons, I kept saying cinque instead of cinco for the number five!

I also had some exposure to Spanish a couple years back when my husband and I went to Barcelona. But again, I just crammed for the trip and forgot everything that I learnt immediately after.

So TL;DR – I really didn’t speak Spanish until a few weeks ago. At all.

Learning Spanish from Day 1

What I Used to Learn the Language

When I made the decision to study Spanish, I had two resources that I wanted to use. The first was Lingoda and the second was Benny Lewis’s book Language Hacking Spanish.

My first day, I worked through the first mission of Benny’s book. It gave me a bit of useful vocabulary and prepared me for my first lesson on Lingoda which was later that same day.

I then completed a couple weeks of lessons through Lingoda (five one-hour lessons total) while continuing to work through the various Language Hacking missions.

My tutors on Lingoda were absolutely excellent and I highly recommend them. Especially if you’re looking for structured lessons.

After my lessons with Lingoda ended, I continued to work through Language Hacking Spanish, but I knew that I needed to begin supplementing it with other materials so I added in Memrise and Coffee Break Spanish.

Language Hacking Spanish and Coffee Break Spanish both gave me a great “dip your toe in the water” introduction to Spanish while Memrise offered me an easy way to boost my vocabulary. But I wanted to quickly move past the beginner stage and jump right into the intermediate stage, so I decided to try out extensive reading (something I’ll touch on more in the near future).

When I started to do extended reading in the language, I found that my comprehension was surprisingly high. This is likely due to my background in French and Italian, but it gave me the feeling of a nice “win” as a language learner (which I really felt like I needed after studying Korean). It gave my language learning confidence a little bit of a boost, which in turn, made me love the Spanish language that much more. It’s amazing how much those little successes matter when it comes to maintain your motivation to learn.

Especially when you hit obstacles like I did when it came to speaking.

As a quick recap, the resources I used to start learning the language were:

– Online Language Lessons
Language Hacking Spanish
– Coffee Break Spanish
– Flashcards (Memrise)
– Extended Reading (a book I bought that I’ll share as a part of the Language Reading Challenge)

Things That I Struggled With Learning a New Language

Language Interference

Spanish, along with French and Italian, is my third Romance language. Because of this, when trying to speak Spanish, I experienced more language interference with the language over any other I’ve studied in the past. For me, “por” was pronounced as the Italian “per”, “que” as the French “que”, “cinco” as “cinque”, and the list goes on.

It wasn’t my first experience with language interference, but in the past, it was usually my newer languages that affected my older languages, not the other way around. So this was pretty new for me.

For the most part, my interference issues could be summed up as follows:
1) When I would speak in conversation or read aloud, my French strongly influenced my accent and pronunciation.
2) When I tried to guess words that I didn’t know (or forgot), I usually pulled the Italian word out from my mental word bank rather than anything Spanish.


Spanish is my ninth language and so finding the time to study it around maintaining my French and Chinese (and occasionally studying Russian, Croatian, Korean, Italian, and German) meant that I had to do a lot of prioritizing.

Especially since I also work full-time AND part-time, have a new baby, and other commitments.

See Also
All Documented Language Learning Projects on Eurolinguiste

Basically, what ended up happening was that I put all the other languages on hold EXCEPT for French, Chinese, and English (which are a part of my day-to-day life) and focused all my energy on learning Spanish.

I think that focus will pay off. Especially since I’ve made relatively quick progress that will allow me to go back to those other languages and take a break from Spanish without worrying too much about if I’ll lose it.

A Summary of My Learning Strategy

Since this may be the last time I learn a language from the ground up (at least for a while), I thought it would be a good idea to share my experience and summarize my strategy.

So here’s what I did:

Step 1: Selected a small number of resources to work with so that I wouldn’t be stuck working through the first few lessons from a variety of tools and not really make any forward movement with the language.

Step 2: I made sure that the resources I selected fit with the time I had to study the language. This meant I could only really work with one course book (Language Hacking Spanish), that I needed a lot of audio to work with due to the time I spend in the car (Coffee Break Spanish), that I needed something I could do during my short periods of downtime (Memrise), and that I could utilize during my lunch breaks at work (Lingoda or extended reading).

Step 3: I focused on Spanish and removed any other distractions (read: other languages, Facebook, Youtube binges, and the news).

Step 4: I made sure I had something to listen to passively just to get familiar with the sounds of the language and for when I was too tired to focus on an actual audio lesson (the Youtube music playlist below).

Step 5: When I noticed that a certain aspect of my ability in the language wasn’t where I wanted it, I focused on it and made sure that I had a resource that helped me strengthen it whether it was listening, speaking, reading, or writing.

Step 6: I wrote all my notes out by hand. There’s something about this process that helps me retain things.

And that’s it!

If you’d like to know more about my tips for starting to learn a new language, then I suggest checking out this post.

What about you?

What are some of the things you do when you start learning a new language?

And if you’re learning Spanish, do you have any tips or suggestions?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

© 2020 Shannon Kennedy & Eurolinguiste. All Rights Reserved.

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