While I’m mostly enjoying the switch from being an into-English translator to being an active language learner, I’d forgotten just how exhausting it can be 🙂 And how slow and steady a process it is to move knowledge from the passive to the active part of the brain! Evidence indeed, if any more were needed, of the entirely different skill sets we use as linguists, as opposed to as professional translators.
Overall, I’m surprised and really pleased about how much progress I feel I have made in polishing and refining my knowledge of Spanish over the past two weeks. I don’t think this is simply because I am here in Spain, although we all know that when push comes to shove, absorption is the way to go. I’ve had other absorption experiences which were not this successful. I think my success is down to a combination of things which seem to be really working for me:
- the school has some excellent language teachers who are clearly experienced in teaching ELE (Spanish as a foreign language) to advanced level and/or experienced language learners. I’ve noticed this before too – at this stage of the game, the average language school or language class is simply not going to cut it when it comes to helping me maintain and/or further master my working languages.
- I’m really focussed on purely language skills. No trips to flamenco shows, concerts, sightseeing or other “cultural” events this time – I’ve had plenty of chances for all that 🙂
- I’ve enrolled to sit the DELE exam, and the fear of showing myself up by getting a bad mark is the best motivation ever! Now interestingly, there’s a couple of reasons why this shouldn’t make a difference to my motivation levels. Firstly, in theory it shouldn’t be much of a stretch for me given my background. Secondly, I don’t even need to tell anybody I’m doing it – so what if I do badly? Thirdly, my performance is no reflection of my abilities as a translator as plenty of professionals do a good job of working from their passive or C languages without ever learning to speak or write them. But for some reason, as a matter of personal pride, I just don’t feel I can afford myself these excuses… whatever works, eh?!
- I’m not sure why, but I’ve been very aware of what works for me as a language learner during my stay. Now, I’ve always considered myself to be an active language learner as I’m constantly striving to perfect and indeed maintain my second-language skills in various ways. But I’m not usually so hyper-aware of my learning processes, and especially not in relation to other learners in the class, e.g. the areas in which I am different from and/or the same as them, the things I know I’ll need to go away and work on myself because no amount of explaining will make clear even as everyone else in the class is nodding their heads in agreement, etc. I feel more in control of my learning than I have ever been and it’s a nice feeling, even if it takes a little getting used to. Maybe this is part of growing up 🙂
- My expectations have been pretty realistic in terms of what I want to achieve. I used to get very frustrated thinking about how much more Spanish I felt I “knew” when I lived here years and years ago, and the sense of grief would almost overwhelm me. But it’s not bothering me anymore. I can clearly see how what I knew then is quite different from what I need, and want, to know now. I think it helps to be studying with a small group of other learners who are all at different stages of life and who have very different reasons for studying Spanish. I can almost see the ghosts of my past, present and future language-learning selves in that one small room and it’s funny how that clarifies how I’m looking at things!
- It’s all about timing! While I know three weeks is nowhere near ideal, I firmly believe you can make a LOT of progress with your language skills within this relatively short period of time. My model of two weeks of classes and just under one week of self-study and consolidation is just right for the way I learn, but I’d also consider taking classes over three weeks but on a less intensive basis to really give things a chance to bed in (although this depends on what the school is offering too, of course). However regardless of your learning style, based on the discussions I’ve had with other students it seems that one week of classes is simply not worth it – your brain has scarcely even registered that you are in intensive language-learning mode by the time you’ve finished. If you really are limited to only one week of classes either due to financial and/or time constraints, I’d recommend thinking long and hard before enrolling in a language school.