Spanish Project

New language project!

For the last four to five months the wife and I have been talking about picking up a new language. We have been torn between Spanish and Japanese. After making a couple of pro's and con's lists, and thinking about our motivations behind it we settled on learning Spanish first. With us both knowing English and Chinese to varying degrees, after learning Spanish, we will know the three most spoken languages in the world.

The plan is to start around the beginning of April. I would like to post about my learning experience as it comes along. Maybe, do weekly posts. My own little language mission kind of like Benny does on his website, but I have no plans to reach conversational fluency in 3 months. I will try to post about my struggles and success, as well as what I am doing to learn. I may even do some video posts. :)


Once the language was decided I started to try and gather some data about learning Spanish. As an English speaker I took a quick gander at a reproduction of FSI's chart. This gives me an example of what it took their students to learn Spanish. The chart calls it a category 1, which should take up to 600 class hours.

I look at the FSI ratings like I look at the BMI (Body Mass Index). They are a decent reference, but should not be taking as law. I also understand that these are 600 hours learning apply for learning in a certain manner, within a certain time span, with a specific goal. Maybe I am a better learner, or maybe I am a worse one. I probably have different goals. I don't know. But at least now, when I say I am gonna learn Spanish by August 2016. It is not a completely fictional time span I made up. Any who, by using that 600 hour figure, I came up with the following.


Weeks @ 8hrs/day x 5days/week Weeks @ 4hr/days x 5days/week Weeks @ 2hrs/day x 5days/week Weeks @ 1hrs/day x 5days/week
15 30 60 120
Months Months Months Months
3.75 7.5 15 30

Because I want to keep my full time job, enjoy holidays, and maintain other hobbies The plan is to aim for the third column, 60 weeks, or 15 months pretending every month only has 4 weeks.. There will be times where I clock both more, and less than 10 hours a week. That is OK. It is my goal, not a fixed number.

As a comparison I figured what Mandarin would be at FSI's 2200 hours in my spreadsheet.

Weeks @ 8hrs/day x 5days/week Weeks @ 4hr/days x 5days/week Weeks @ 2hrs/day x 5days/week Weeks @ 1hrs/day x 5days/week
55 110 220 440
Months Months Months Months
13.75 27.5 55 110

While I still have a ways to go before I am satisfied with my Chinese, I was able to reach my current level in about sixteen  months averaging roughly 2 hours/day.  At my current level I am probably a B2 on the CEFR ratings, and I passed the HSK level 4 over 6 months ago.


All the above measuring and guessing was done so I could set some decent goals. I looked into DELE testing, frequency lists, various courses and word lists, as well as grammar books. 

I plan to try to maintain the same pace I do with Chinese when I am actively studying it. That means attempting to learn 50 new words a week while maintaining old ones. Learning 5 - 10 grammar points a week, and speaking with a native with whatever I have learned every week. 

I am also going to try and test myself every two months. I am thinking the DELE tests are the best option but if someone knows of something better please let me know! Hopefully as long as there are not any negative consequences for failing ( besides wasting money ) I will have a frequent independent measure of how I am progressing.

I don't think it is unreasonable for me to reach a basic survival level in three months or so. Hopefully in six months or less I will also be able to have basic conversations, and in a little over a year converse with ease.

What do you think? 

Am I crazy to start another language project? Am I pushing myself too hard or not enough? Is there a better way to guesstimate my progress? Have any suggestions? I would love to hear from you.


Getting more out of your language exchange.

This blog post was prompted by me reading through a post and it's replies on Chinese Forums.

The question posed was "What is the appeal of language exchanges?" There was some good answers about the general benefits, and some of the pitfalls people also encounter. The four benefits I post below are the major benefits I get from the exchange.

General Benefits

Wife and I, sun in our eyes, waiting on sunset.
  • Meet interesting people that speak your target language
  • Exchange cultural views and ideas.
  • Appease your inner altruist by helping someone
  • Practice, Practice, Practice

Guidelines For Success

What do you want to get out of a language exchange? Most people realize it's supposed to be a partnership and not a free teaching session. I think you can take it a bit farther and use some ground rules to enhance your experience. Here is what I attempt to do.

  1. Converse in the language
  2. Make intentions clear
  3. Be positive, try not to complain
  4. Multiple 5 - 10 minute chunks of time in each language
  5. Limit explaining time
  6. 1 on 1 only
  7. Similar levels is preferable


This one is the most important. To me, language exchange is about using what you have learned to talk to other people. You could say this is where you practice putting it all together. Most people learning the language are working toward using the language in a real world situation. Language exchanges are a safe place where you can practice that. I'm not saying you can't be friends or ask your partner out on a date. Those things may evolve naturally, but the first objective is to talk.


Make intentions clear has been an important one for me. I am a married 31 year old male. I never add anyone on my We chat, italki, or local exchanges that I think might be less than college age. I also try to prominently display in my profile or inform them ASAP that I am married and am not looking for anything romantic. Once boundaries and intentions are made clear there is less worry for embarrassment or misinterpreting a situation. I am willing to make new friends. I have no problems making friends with a 25 year old, or a 50 year old. Both will have had life experiences that interest me.


This is a personal rule. I know some people love drama, to talk about it, and to hear about it. This rule isn't for those people. But for me, I like to fill my day with positive interactions. The last thing I want is for my conversation partner to complain for half an hour about his parents, or her boyfriend. I'm not saying it needs to be unfailing, fake positive. I want real conversations, not the same boring recycled ones. Sometimes, bad things happen and there's nothing wrong with letting your partner know your a bit down because your grandpa died, but try to keep the majority of conversations positive overall. 


The short time spans help both parties feel like they are getting something out of the exchange, even if one party has to abrupt leave 30 minutes in. Also if the timer rings half way thorough me talking about Dennis Rodman, my partner gets to use and hear some basketball related English. You can find 5 minute interval timers on youtube, and I'm sure there are apps for that as well. Another thing people forget is that talking in a foreign language can be draining. Keeping it in shorter chunks with multiple breaks helps both parties recover from language fatigue, and stay engaged.


The limit explaining time goes back to keeping it a conversation, and in the target language. Teachers can take a question like "What's the basic word order for 把 again?" and turn it into a hour lesson. I would also suggest instead of asking for a definition, which beginners usually need in their native language ask for an example, which you can use to pick out the definition from. 


1 on 1 keeps 2+ people from running away with the conversation and leaving the shy one quite in the corner. It also makes the conversation easier to follow. If it's just me and my partner they are reading my facial expressions, or speech tempo, and adjusting accordingly. If there's more people, that attention is being split between the other parties.


Similar levels helps keep the conversation balanced. It also lets the two of you kinda grow together. If you get lucky and can sync it where they are taking University English 2 and your taking University Chinese 2, it's probably a good bet that your vocabulary, and lesson topics are going to match up well. In the case where you hit that middle plateau, common interests can be useful. Maybe you both like outdoor sports or are both in the same job field.

Give it a try

This is what I attempt to do in my language exchanges. I hope you find it useful. What about you? What rules do you follow? 

Aforementioned sunset.


About the move...

And..., we're back! We got all moved over the weekend. Our new place is much, much smaller than what we had in Missouri, and I am content with that. Over the course of the move there were a few things I found interesting and wanted to blather on about in this post.

Too much stuff!

While moving I was repeatedly reminded we have too many things. Because we had such a large place in Missouri it was easy to hide away how much stuff we had. To give you an idea of the size restriction We moved from a 2800 square foot home to a 825 square foot apartment. We got rid of a ton of things. Several friends benefited from us moving by getting items they needed that we had extra of. In some cases it was unused extra's.
Everything in this box was produced 15-20 years ago, and is worth almost nothing. Why was I hanging onto this box?

Besides giving away and selling many things we still had stuff we wanted to keep because they have a (potential) monetary, educational, or sentimental value to us. We rented out a storage place for them and sent them off. I'm happy to say it is not as much stuff as I previously was afraid it would be, but it is still a lot more than we should have. The good news is I have a plan to reduce about 1/3 of the contents of that storage shed over the next 3 - 4 years.

My plan is to push us to downsize what we have at the apartment even further over the next year. For example, we brought three card tables to this little apartment. We only need one of those card tables.  Another example is back when we were buying a lot of DVD's we kept putting off watching certain new ones. They were never opened. The vast majority of DVD's that I brought with us are those. By limiting our choices I'm forcing us to watch them and make a decision on whether they are good or not. I figure if we don't get to them by the end of the year we should get rid of them.


Two things repeatedly reminded me that I am a bit different. First was people kept congratulating me on my move. At first I didn't get it at all. I thought "I'm moving, it's something people do, why congratulate me?" This made me a bit uncomfortable, but I wasn't really sure why. After thinking on it a bit I realized a few things. 
  • Some people see Florida as a dream place to live. 
  • Nowadays, most people don't move across multiple states. Especially without a good, big reason. 
  • Common talk is that you retire to Florida. 
After realizing this I understood why I felt uncomfortable. People were congratulating me on doing something they saw as either hard, far off in their future, or requiring luck. Once I understood this that uncomfortable feeling went away. I didn't win some sort of cosmic lottery. I made a choice and a plan, and brought them to fruition. 

Why move?

This second question was expected, but I was surprised how people reacted to my answers. I have several little reasons, but they can be summed up as I like the weather, and moving here makes me happy. Generally speaking, this response bothered people or worse they didn't believe me. Most people assumed there was just one reason, and that that reason was something important. For example a new job opportunity. This reminded me of a key difference between myself and a lot of people I know. I work remote. I can work from just about anywhere with internet and my laptop. So when I moved to Florida, my job came with me.

Once I explain to them that I have that freedom, then they start trying to figure out why I don't want to stay in Columbia, and again, an answer of the weather and/or for my happiness isn't usually satisfactory enough, but they have gotten frustrated enough at that point to drop it. I don't hate Columbia, it and the friends that are still there are dear to me. It is just time we move somewhere different.

What about you? Why don't you move?

Most everyone has in mind a place they would consider it a dream to live at. Maybe it's Hawaii, New York, or Paris. Where ever it is, what is stopping you from moving there? Will your parents love you any less if your farther away? Have you hit some sort of friend quota? Jim is friend 12 no more. Are you are unwilling to make new friends in a new place? Do they not have a job you can do at the place they are going to? I'm sure Hawaii has Fireman, and office workers. Are you afraid if you move somewhere else you will get stuck? Isn't that what you are now? I can go on but, you get my point. Most everyone can move to their ideal location. It is just a mater of choosing to and working out a the details.

Whatever you do make sure you think about how it will affect you and those closest to you. One of the things that moving did for me was help me realize how great my friends are.