Netmouse does Spanish - the story so far…

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! :slight_smile:)


Diolch yn fawr - as interesting as ever… :slight_smile:

I’m pretty certain that it makes it feel easier, at the cost of slightly less effective actual memory formation. But it’s clearly not an absolute roadblock, so the whole complicated question of the individual emotional journey comes into the equation (which is why we’ve made the Spanish lessons for Level 1 available as videos, and will in due course do the same with Welsh, while warning against using them…:wink: ).

Overall, we’re currently finding that the completion rate for the 6 month or 2 year approaches look to be at least an order of magnitude greater than the ‘help yourself’ approach - and I’m sure we can still improve on that - so that looks to be very much the direction we’ll be going in - but while much more structured, it does also explain the choices in a lot of detail, and all the people I’ve seen doing extra repetitions of lessons on the courses have seemed to be doing so without any added burden of misplaced guilt… :slight_smile:


I know that the 6 month and 2 year courses are much more guided, but I don’t know any detail about the kind of guidance, so I admit I’m not really placed to comment. I’m glad to hear that they are going so well! [quote=“aran, post:2, topic:12949”]
all the people I’ve seen doing extra repetitions of lessons on the courses have seemed to be doing so without any added burden of misplaced guilt… :slight_smile:
Ah well, anything extra I can find to feel guilty about… :smile:

Of course, I fully accept that there are plenty of people who react rather differently to the courses - but I lack the imagination to see it from the point of view of a different learner to me!

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@netmouse I think you and I are really similar learners, and we followed a very similar path with SSIW. I enjoyed reading your “synopsis”. I don’t (at least just now) plan on learning Spanish, still plenty of Welsh to learn, but maybe someday I’ll see what it’s like to start from scratch with SSI-something. It would be a really interesting experiment. Thanks for sharing that! :slight_smile:


Ha, yes I know we like to work the same way!

I’m still disappointed I didn’t manage the ‘approved’ method. But I’m chuffed at how much quicker I’ve got through the material than I did in Welsh, when I was doing a strict no writing but repeating lessons until comfortable method. It certainly is an interesting experiment!

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That surprises me a bit from someone with your experience - you’ve watched hundreds of people go through different learning journeys on this forum, and you’ve always been willing to voice careful and detailed doubts about the various experiments we’ve run - I would expect it to be ingrained in you that there is no ‘one right way’!.. :slight_smile:

I’d say there isn’t an ‘approved’ method, just different tests, with more (always!) to come…

And also, I’d say you didn’t ‘not manage’ it - you chose to go at it in a different way, because it wasn’t a comfortable emotional fit for you: ‘After a few lessons, it was ‘doing my head in’’.

It’s always, always better for people to take charge of their own learning than to press on with an approach that is making them feel unhappy. So I’d say you did exactly the right thing…:slight_smile:

Sorry Aran, that was meant to be a light hearted comment - I should be a bit more careful. But I do feel a certain level of frustration that I just can’t see it! I would have liked to have tried the no-repeat experiment properly but I think I panicked under time pressure and went back to what I know. (I was talking to Milla about it last night who is living proof that it works…) However I did find it emotionally extremely uncomfortable when I couldn’t remember / understand stuff.

On the other hand, the lessons aren’t infinite. (Especially in Spanish.) If they went on for ever, circling round the material, I guess I could happily listen to one a day and wait for it to sink in. But quite soon I’ll have reached the end of level 2, and it will be good to have that at the ‘ready to go’ stage before moving on to something else.

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I think this is the key - that in most cases, it’s to do with the emotional journey more than the neurological journey - and while it can always be interesting to have some extra ‘self’ work to do, it’s not about getting it right or wrong… :slight_smile:

Yup, I know you don’t tend to be consumed by angst with this stuff… just wanting to make sure that no-one reading it ends up beating themselves up… :wink:

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