Last month I decided to dive into the Spanish course as a complete beginner, 4 weeks before I had to take the kids to Spain for a dancing event. It’s been a fun rollercoaster ride, and a success so far. Here is the (very long) story, in case it is of interest…
I reached quite a good rhythm in the end, although not exactly as recommended. (More on that later.) I managed to listen through all of course 1, the tourist course, and the first 7 lessons of course 2, in the course of the month, and also tried it out a good few times. I spoke to a few random people in S. America. (It’s really easy to find native speakers for Spanish-English swap.) I had a fun learner-exchange session with @jamesmahoney, talking about our brothers and sisters in pubs! And above all, @daeld-daeldia deserves a medal for his unending patience with my early efforts - it was a real treat to be able to try out with a native speaker who is also familiar with the SSI method. (And a bonus to do a bit of swapping with his excellent Cymraeg too!)
I when we got to Spain, it was absolutely lovely to be able to say simple things and not to have to be a completely monoglot Brit - although obviously it was still very basic, and I picked my moments. Some people answered in English anyway, to the vast amusement of the kids! But in general I was pretty chuffed for a few weeks’ work.
The last month has also been an opportunity to think about the method in general. As you know, I’m one of the greatest fans of SSI, but in recent years I have worried that the advice seems increasingly unconventional, possibly to the extent of scaring off potential learners early in the process. My greatest fear about the method as it currently stands is that it could come across as too intimidating and put people off.
It was really interesting to start again at the beginning and try the Challenges as they were intended. I learnt Welsh with the original Courses, at the time when the advice was to repeat each lesson several times, until it felt comfortable. So this was the first time I had tried the current strategy of pushing on without repeating anything.
As I had decided to listen to all of Level 1 and the tourist course in one month, there wasn’t time to be tempted to repeat lessons anyway. I really meant to try and do it ‘by the book’ - honestly! But I have to confess that I soon started to find continuing without repeating anything to be extremely stressful. I felt that I was having to put a disproportionate amount of effort into the pure recall and time pressure element of it, at the expense of almost everything else. From my more leisurely experience of the Welsh lessons, I was used to having time to carefully consider the speakers’ responses - and also to physically work on getting my tongue round things, which is also an important part of a new language. (And after all, the resources themselves are so brilliant, it seems a shame not to stop and pay full attention to them.)
After a few lessons, it was ‘doing my head in’, and I capitulated and printed off the vocab lists. My strategy that then developed was to write down some of the key sentences from each challenge on the paper with the vocab lists and spend some time looking over them fairly regularly in between. (When I got a chance to note them down - I didn’t obsess about it.) I found that if I spent just a bit of extra time consciously learning the key sentences and the bits I was having trouble with, those seemed to settle into long-term memory much more quickly. Then I felt I could free up the brain space to concentrate on saying those phrases better when they next came up, rather than just trying to make any approximation. Personally, that made it more enjoyable and productive - and crucially, less stressful.
I see this as significant, as I had been fully anticipating the stress and frustration problem. In fact I’d been worrying about it in principle for years. But when I caved in because of time pressure, I felt terribly guilty about it! I’ve been thinking about this. To my mind, putting in a bit of extra conscious learning didn’t contradict the spirit of the material - it just gave my brain a bit of a sorely needed a ‘turbo boost’.
We were then in Spain for nearly a week, and I found time to do a few more lessons when we were out there. However this time I didn’t write anything down or look at any vocab lists. That went OK for 8 and 9. 10 was getting hard, but I soldiered on. Then I got to 11, and completely stalled. In the first few minutes, there were several sentences where I didn’t even understand the response when they said it. I restarted the lesson 4 times, then gave up. I presume the advice would have been to continue through the next 5 lessons then go back and see what I had picked up. But I felt that that would have been a bit of a waste of time, as I was missing so much of the meaning by then. (It’s possible that my concentration wasn’t as good as normal when I was in Spain, but my feeling is that the difference was mostly due to the lack of revising between lessons.)
When we got home last week, I printed off the vocab for 8-12, and listened to 10 and 11 again, going back to writing down and learning the key sentences. After that, I felt much happier, and went on to do 12 too.
What bothers me is that I have found an absolutely brilliant introduction to learning Spanish - but instead of just enjoying it, I felt rather guilty about not being able to do it ‘right’! As you know, I’m one of the greatest fans of the SSI method, but I have always feared that I may have been one of the dropouts in Welsh, if I had started a couple of years later and taken the advice too literally. (I probably wouldn’t, of course, as I don’t necessarily follow instructions!) I think the experience of the last month has born that out.
I don’t know exactly what the policy is at the moment for new learners - and I guess you must have a huge body of new evidence now with the 6 month course. But I hope there’s enough leeway that people can easily adjust the strategy to how much brain-stress they can cope with, without feeling that they are getting second-best value out of it.
The other question is concerned with writing things down. I wonder if there is any particular reason (apart from pronounciation) not to use written cues for memorising? I felt, seeing that I was trying to learn so much so quickly, it was a huge advantage to have the ‘double-pronged’ approach of writing things down too. I wonder how you stand on that, @aran?
Really sorry for the super-long story - I hope it’s of some interest. It’s certainly been a fascinating ride for me! (And thank you for teaching me some Spanish! )